With the announced retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Congress will lose its longest female serving member. But there’s still an enormous gender gap in our country’s legislative branch.
There are currently 20 women senators (20 percent) and 84 women in the House of Representatives (19.3 percent, and some of those women are non-voting representatives). The vast majority are Democrats (76 in all) compared with Republicans (28 in all). And those percentages — in either party — are as high as they have ever been. There have been more than 13,000 members of Congress in U.S. history, and only two percent — fewer than 300 elected or appointed representatives or senators — have been women.
The U.S. ranks 77th in the world by the percentage of legislative seats held by women. In Rwanda, women make up nearly 60 percent of that nation’s legislators. Countries throughout Africa and Europe have percentages of female representation in the 30th and 40th percentiles. Some countries even employ a quota system to ensure female representation in legislative bodies.
Yet in the U.S., three states — Delaware, Mississippi, and Vermont — have yet to elect a woman to Congress, although Delaware and Vermont have had female governors. Iowa broke its logjam by electing a woman to Congress for the first time: Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, in 2014.
Why the gulf? According to a 2012 paper titled “Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics” by Jennifer Lawless of American University and Richard Fox of Loyola Marymount University, the biggest factor is that fewer women run for office. A lot fewer. The two academics list seven reasons why:
- Women are more likely than men to see the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
- Hillary Clinton’s and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in elections.
- Women are less likely than men to think they are qualified.
- Potential female candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse.
- Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
- Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office.
- Women still handle the majority of childcare and household tasks (no surprise there!).
Yet, the two say in their summary, “Study after study find that, when women run for office, they perform just as well as their male counterparts. No differences emerge in women and men’s fundraising receipts, vote totals, or electoral success.”
Another factor often cited is sexist media coverage of female candidates. A nonpartisan group called “Name It. Change It.,” a joint project of the Women’s Media Center and a group called She Should Run, released two studies in 2013 reporting on media’s focus of women candidates’ appearance and the use of sexist language in covering campaigns. Female candidates lost ground when media used terms like “ice queen” and “mean girl” in describing candidates, and also lost ground when media focused on a candidate’s appearance, whether those descriptions were positive or negative. When female candidates insisted that coverage and campaigns focus on issues instead of appearances or name calling, the candidates regained ground.
But it’s a tall order. Every time Hillary Clinton changes her hairstyle, it’s covered as news and is interpreted as sending a message about her presidential intentions. How much has been written about her black pantsuits? How much about Sarah Palin’s clothes?
Of course, the tactic can backfire. In 2014, a Republican state lawmaker called Rep. Annie Kuster “ugly as sin” and predicted that the Democratic incumbent would lose to her “truly attractive” opponent, Marilinda Garcia. That was even too much for New Hampshire voters; Kuster won.
The first woman to serve in Congress was Rep. Jeanette Rankin, a Republican from Montana who was elected to the House in 1916. She was one of 50 legislators to vote against joining World War I, which killed her House re-election chances in 1918 (she ran for the Senate as a third-party candidate and lost). She was elected to Congress again in 1940, when she became the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan. “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else,” she said of that vote.
Rankin had worked successfully to give Montana women the right to vote in 1914, so it was no surprise that she worked hard to pass the 19th Amendment in Congress during her first term in Congress, guaranteeing women the right to vote nationwide. “How shall we answer the challenge, gentlemen?” she asked her male colleagues “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”
The first African-American female senator was Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois who was elected in 1992. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, was the first African-American woman to serve in the House and was first elected in 1968. Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first female Asian/Pacific Islander to serve in the House; the Hawaii Democrat was first elected in 1968. Sen. Mazie Hirono became the first female Asian/Pacific Islander to serve in the Senate; she was elected from Hawaii in 2012. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Latina to serve in Congress; the Florida Republican has served two separate districts and was first elected in 1988. There has never been a Latina in the Senate.
What about the top positions? Nancy Pelosi became the first-ever House Speaker in 2007, and she’s still House minority leader. But when it comes to leading a country, that’s a glass ceiling the U.S. has yet to crack. There have been female leaders on six continents (seven if you count female penguins leaving the males at home to tend the eggs), but not in the U.S. There have been female presidents, prime ministers, and governor-generals in Western and non-Western countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Israel, Nicaragua, Pakistan, South Korea — and many more. A woman, Soong Ching-ling, was even the acting co-chairperson of China.
March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. The next national election day is not until Nov. 8, 2016. It’s likely there could be a woman at the head of the Democratic Party’s ticket in Hillary Clinton. Might it be too much to hope for that there would be more women on the ballot in other races, too?
What made so many people identify with a character who showed no emotion and had pointy ears?
You don’t have to be a sci-fi nerd or old enough to have seen the original series when it was on in the 1960s to love Mr. Spock, although I admit to being both. Sorry, Capt. Kirk, Capt. Picard, and all the other actors and characters, but when you think Star Trek, you think Spock and Leonard Nimoy.
When someone makes the comment “Fascinating,” you think of Spock and can almost hear the echo of Nimoy’s voice. When you hear the words “Live long and prosper,” your middle and ring fingers automatically separate. And don’t you wish there was an actual way to do the Vulcan mind meld?
For all of the praise and tributes deservedly being given in Nimoy’s memory, for his talents as an actor, a writer, a director, and a humanitarian, it was Spock and the whole show’s concept that became a part of us. All of us who have ever felt like outsiders — which I guess means most of humanity — identified with Spock, even though he was half human and half Vulcan. He felt like one of us. He always remained an outsider even though his character was fully accepted and appreciated by the crew for his leadership and his intelligence.
Full nerd disclosure: I attended a Star Trek convention once, as a reporter for my college newspaper in the 1970s (It was a hoot; the convention’s security personnel were all dressed as Klingons); I have seen every episode of the original series (Sorry, Tribble fans, best episode was “City on the Edge of Forever”); I have seen every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Best episode: “Yesterday’s Enterprise”); I have seen quite a few episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, although I never much liked the prequel Enterprise; I have seen all of the films; and I have argued passionately with other fans that the new J.J. Abrams movies aren’t following the established Star Trek logic of time reverting to previous history once the problems caused by time travel were corrected (as evidenced in the two episodes mentioned). Until I just accepted the alternate-story-and-universe theory. Oh, and my family once gave me a communicator pin that lit up and played the distinctive sound, although I have resisted buying it for my phone’s ringtone.
President Obama says he loved Spock, too, and it wasn’t just because of a shared characteristic of oversize ears. “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy,” said Obama’s statement on Nimoy’s passing. He was “cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.”
The inclusiveness certainly was apparent. After all, Star Trek was the first program to show an interracial kiss on TV, between the white Capt. Kirk and the black Lt. Uhura. Or kisses between humans and alien life forms. We met humanoid and non-humanoid beings (and other life forms harder to characterize) on the original show and its multiple spinoffs — many of them crew members. Heck, by the time Star Trek: TNG aired, the Klingon Worf was on the Enterprise crew instead of being an arch enemy.
Star Trek gave us an optimistic and better view of the future. The original Enterprise crew had a black Uhura in the real civil rights era, an Asian Ensign Sulu during the Vietnam War, and a Russian Ensign Chekov while America was stuck in the Cold War. In Next Gen, we were told that by the 24th century, there was peace, no more poverty, almost no disease, no pollution. When you use dilithium crystals for power to achieve warp drive, there’s no carbon footprint (unless you accept the argument in the Next Gen episode “Force of Nature” that using warp drives harms the fabric of space).
When the first show ended after three seasons, the show’s influence grew in scientific as well as popular culture. The flip-phone model of early cell phones mirrored communicators. The flat pads the characters used look like today’s computer tablets. NASA named its first space shuttle the “Enterprise.” NASA even hired actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, to try to convince African-American women to become astronauts. It paid off with astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly in space.
Through it all, there was Spock. Spock was the character used in multiple spinoff series episodes and multiple films, even in the 2009 first prequel film by director Abrams. Of course, it helped that the Vulcan lifespan is more than two hundred years, making it logical to use the character of Spock when other characters would presumably by dead. And where would a Vulcan character be without logic? Of course, we can’t pay tribute to Nimoy and Spock without a deep appreciation for the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, series creator Gene Roddenberry, whose ashes were fittingly carried into space.
“Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” Dr. McCoy asks Spock at the end of The Wrath of Khan, when Spock sacrifices himself to save the crew by absorbing the energy of the radiated warp core. “No human can tolerate the radiation that’s in there!” Spock, of course, answers, “As you are so fond of observing, Doctor, I am not human.”
“I have been, and always will be, your friend,” he tells Kirk before he dies.
We can only be grateful that we got to go along for the ride.
When Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Laura Ingraham of Fox News agree on something, you know you’ve stumbled onto something real.
I don’t mean to downplay the threat that Islamic State zealots pose in the Middle East. But we’ve gotten to the point where one YouTube video sends American media into a feeding frenzy of endless loop coverage, without context or information.
On his All In show, the liberal Hayes literally applauded the conservative Ingraham as he showed a clip of her schooling the hosts of Fox & Friends. “I don’t think we should jump every time the freaks with the Ace bandages around their faces put out videos,” Ingraham told them. Hayes’ reaction was “Amen, sister.” Ingraham urged Americans not to react “emotionally” every time ISIS released a video of a beheading and called for “clearheaded debate.” Hayes has been making the same points on his show for some time.
Of course, it would be easier for Americans not to react “emotionally” if cable news stations didn’t go hog-wild every time there was a new video from ISIS. Ingraham and Hayes are correct in their analysis, but both of their cable networks, as well as CNN and the broadcast channels, go overboard whenever a new video is released. And as for “clearheaded debate,” we’re certainly not getting that from politicians or talking head pundits who have brought scaremongering to a new level.
The latest video came not from ISIS but from the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab, which called for an attack on the Mall of America in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota is home to more than 25,000 people of Somali ancestry, and Minneapolis’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood houses some 14,000 Somali immigrants. The neighborhood even is known as “Little Mogadishu” after the capital of Somalia.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rightly saw the video as a recruitment tool for disillusioned Somalis in her state, but she stressed that the threat should be seen in context.
During an interview with a Minnesota CBS station, Klobuchar said state authorities have had success in going after recruiters and would-be terrorists. “Twenty indictments on al-Shabaab alone, nine convictions so far,” she said. “That is all because we were able to work [together], our law enforcement, federal and state level, with the community.” Minnesotans should not avoid the shopping mall, she said — advice echoed on Sunday morning talk shows by U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Al Shabaab was the group that led the 2013 brutal attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the group doesn’t have the capacity to launch an attack on a mall half a world away — just the capacity to make a video that U.S. media can play over and over to frighten Americans.
Al Shabaab has targeted Minnesota before, with marginal success. In 2013, al Shabaab released a video called the “Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise,” profiling two Minnesotans who joined the terrorist group to fight in Somalia and became suicide bombers. Some 40 Minnesotans apparently have joined the al Shabaab fight since 2007.
It’s hard to assess the real strength of any of these foreign terrorist groups. Western reporters — understandably! — can’t cover what’s really happening for fear of kidnapping and execution. So we’re left with partial news and overreaction from YouTube video-driven threats.
Richard Engel is the respected NBC News chief foreign correspondent who has worked and lived throughout the Middle East and speaks Arabic. His reporting and his tweets show that ISIS still controls a large amount of territory and has about 20,000 fighters. While Kurdish fighters have made major gains, he reports that Kurdish leaders say the U.S. airstrikes haven’t been enough.
Another report, however, from Vox News, says that ISIS is losing. Despite the executions of Christians in Libya and its horrific videos, ISIS is losing territory it once held — not everywhere, but in places that matter. “Coalition airstrikes have hamstrung its ability to wage offensive war, and it has no friends to turn to for help,” the Vox report says. “Its governance model is unsustainable and risks collapse in the long run.”
Yet CNN.com has a screaming headline that “3 tried to join ISIS” and that “Suspect vowed to shoot Obama, court papers say.” So three losers from New York who thought they’d fly to Turkey and cross the border to Syria, only to get arrested by the FBI first, are worthy of overblown coverage? Other plans from these dim bulbs were to shoot a police officer and steal a gun and a bullet-proof vest and then “shoot all police,” or to go to FBI headquarters and kill everyone there. Like any of that could ever happen.
Meaningful context and more responsible reporting from the news media would be a welcome change. If Chris Hayes and Laura Ingraham can agree on this, surely the rest of us can, too.
As NBC News’ Brian Williams serves his six-month unpaid suspension over fabricating his experiences in the Iraq War, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly is facing similar accusations of “misremembering.”
Williams ‘fessed up to exaggerating what happened in 2003 while covering the Iraq War. It turns out he hadn’t been in a helicopter that was hit by RPG fire after all. O’Reilly, on the other hand, is adamant in insisting that he is exactly right about his claims that he was in the middle of “combat” during the 1982 Falklands War, all evidence to the contrary be damned. So what’s the difference? He’s on Fox “News.”
Mother Jones published a story calling out O’Reilly for his falsehoods about his work covering the Falklands War during the conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina when he was at CBS News. He has repeatedly told audiences that he experienced “combat” while covering the war.
“He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could,” the story says. “As he once put it, ‘I’ve been there. That’s really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I’ve seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven’t.’ ”
According to multiple journalists who covered that war, O’Reilly was nowhere near the action, the Mother Jones story says. “Robert Fox, one of the embedded British reporters, recalled, ‘We were, in all, a party of about 32-34 accredited journalists, photographers, television crew members. We were all white, male, and British. There was no embedded reporter from Europe, the Commonwealth or the US (though they tried hard enough), let alone from Latin America.’ ”
So — no O’Reilly, although he loves to claim that he’s been “in combat” and in “a war zone.” The closest he came was in a street protest in Buenos Aires, 1,000 miles away, where he exaggerated the amount of danger: He claimed there were fatalities (there weren’t) and that he saved an injured cameraman (no one else verifies that claim). On his 2005 radio show, he said, “I’ve been in combat. I’ve seen it. I’ve been close to it.” Um, actually, no.
Ah, but O’Reilly points out that he never actually said he was in the Falkland Islands. He just uses the “in combat” line and allows listeners and viewers to draw their own conclusions. Funny, but when I hear someone say he has been “in combat,” I think he’s saying he served in the military. O’Reilly’s loose language serves to his advantage, giving a false impression that he can walk back. If he ever thought it was important to do so. In a sense, O’Reilly is using a classic ploy from the Republican playbook: Never admit you’re wrong, and never apologize.
The Mother Jones piece gives numerous examples of O’Reilly’s false claims, claims that also have been disproved by other witnesses. Yet O’Reilly sits in his Fox chair every night, and his Fox bosses continue to say he has their “full support.”
A piece in Politico gives some answers on why O’Reilly is skating while Williams fell through the ice. Williams was a respected news anchor while O’Reilly is a blowhard partisan pundit from whom everyone expects exaggerations. Williams did the honorable thing and said he was wrong, while O’Reilly digs in deeper, instead attacking the messengers. Mother Jones is a liberal magazine, and the two writers, David Corn and Daniel Schulman, are liberal reporters. How could they possibly be trusted, O’Reilly asks anyone who will listen.
The Politico story also suggests that the Mother Jones piece used a subhead it couldn’t deliver: “The Fox News host has said he was in a ‘war zone’ that apparently no American correspondent reached.”
“Corn and Schulman picked the wrong battle,” Politico said. “They chose to highlight claims that could be argued away on semantics, instead of focusing on matters that could be fact-checked.”
O’Reilly has decided to stick to his counter-attack. He has started issuing insults and threats to others reporting on this story. O’Reilly said David Corn should be put “in the kill zone — where he deserves to be.”
Several of O’Reilly’s colleagues from his time at CBS disputed his version of the facts. CBS’ Bob Schieffer said that “nobody from CBS got to the Falklands. For us, you were a thousand miles from where the fighting was. So we had some great meals.” O’Reilly responded by calling him a plagiarist.
A similar story calling O’Reilly’s statements into question and the growing controversy the entire matter has generated ran in The New York Times. O’Reilly’s response to a Times reporter: “I’m coming after you with everything I have. You can take that as a threat.” On his own show, O’Reilly said he wanted to move past the dispute and that “I want to stop this now.”
So I guess if you build your brand on yelling, interrupting your guests, thumping your chest, and out-shouting everyone else, it doesn’t matter if what you say is true, half-true, or an outright lie. As long as it fits into your network’s and your listeners’ world view, all will be well in your world. As long as your bosses and your listeners never demand actual accountability, and your show has high ratings, there’s no problem. Even though a 2014 report by Punditfact, an arm of Politifact, showed that Fox was telling the truth only 18 percent of the time.
Still. Even Fox News viewers must know at some level that they’re being lied to — right?
As of this writing, there are more than 21 months until the next election for president on Nov. 8, 2016. Yet to no one’s surprise, there’s no shortage of polling data for political pundits to sift through.
Clarification: There’s no shortage of opportunities for pollsters to get paid for polling, and for pundits to get paid for pontificating.
A new “Swing State” poll from Quinnipiac University of voters in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia paints a fairly close race between former Democratic Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. She beats other possible GOP candidates, by a tad more, and Clinton doesn’t top 50 percent. OMG OMG — Clinton must be vulnerable.
But wait! Other polls paint a totally different picture. The latest polls by Public Policy Polling show that Rand Paul is on the way down and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is rising. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is up there, too, along with conservative activist and frequent Fox News guest Dr. Ben Carson. Three PPP polls within the last month (three! In the winter of 2015!) show those three potential candidates on top.
Confused yet? A CBS poll asks self-identified Republicans whom they would consider voting for, and voters give Bush and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee the top spots, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to be toast — 43 percent of GOP voters say they wouldn’t vote for him. The key takeaway from that poll is that “more than half of Republicans nationwide don’t know enough” about several potential candidates to express an opinion.
I realize that I’m going out on a limb here, but maybe journalists should do stories about the possible candidates and their accomplishments, histories, views, and plans instead of running story after story about who’s up and who’s down in the latest polls. It’s true that no one has declared or even formed an exploratory committee, thus allowing them to rake in as much money as they can right now, but people might want some specifics, especially if they’re stuck at home in the cold. Just a suggestion.
Politico has a special 2016 elections page just for political junkies, political consultants looking for customers, and journalists desperate for something to write about. It’s updated fairly frequently — several times a day — also by reporters who can’t think of anything more important to cover. There were 13 different 2016 election news stories just yesterday. And that’s with nearly 650 days to go before election day.
What does any polling show now besides name recognition and party affiliation of those being polled? Not much — if anything at all. Remember who won the Ames Straw Poll in 2011, as Iowa Republicans picked over potential GOP candidates much as they would examine an ear of sweet corn? Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann. How’d she do again? Oh, that’s right, she didn’t even run for re-election in 2014, no doubt fearing that she might lose.
No, this is all about the money. The Ames Straw Poll brings in riches to that state and the state party. Iowa Republicans voted to keep the straw poll because it’s a “cash cow,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Accompanying charts show that the winner of the straw poll has won the GOP nomination only twice since 1979, and that other candidates don’t even show up to campaign for meaningless votes, worrying that they might look bad. “In 2011, nearly 85 percent of the votes were won by Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Jon Hunstman, Thaddeus McCotter, and others who never won a state,” the Post story says.
But who did win? Iowa Republicans. The state party took in more than $1.5 million in 2011, before expenses — an important figure, as state parties nationwide struggle with fundraising.
Throughout the polling cycle in 2011 and 2012, an array of Republicans rose to the top and led polls in the GOP presidential race: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and finally Mitt Romney again. Michelle Bachmann never led. So much for the Iowa straw poll.
All of this poll-heavy and substance-free coverage leaves us with a disengaged electorate. According to the CBS story, “Fewer Americans are now paying attention to the presidential campaign compared to this point during the 2008 campaign, the last election in which an incumbent was not seeking re-election.”
Indeed, why should Americans pay attention, when all they get from the news media is horse race journalism?
As President Obama asks Congress to pass a measure clarifying and making official the United States mission in the Middle East against the Islamic State, it’s worth taking a step back to consider just who and what U.S. forces are up against — and if there’s any meaningful way to make a difference.
News media run video and photos of beheadings, burning, and other killing, and the public is appalled. The most recent atrocity is the reported beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had gone to work as laborers in Libya, drawing a swift response from Egypt. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is urging the United Nations to intervene in Libya, and Egypt started bombing what it called offshoots of ISIS training centers within Libya. The burning of a Jordanian pilot while still alive enraged that country, causing Jordan’s King Abdullah II to launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
So what exactly is the Islamic State, or ISIS (for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), or ISIL (for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), or DAESH or DA’ISH (an acronym of the group in Arabic, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham)? We’ll stick to ISIS or Islamic State for simplicity.
A recent story from The Atlantic with the headline “What ISIS really wants” paints a detailed and often frightening picture of the Islamic State, its aims, its view of itself as a caliphate, and its ultimate goal of the apocalypse. The lengthy piece describes an ultra-conservative view of Islam that developed out of Salafism, the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism. ISIS seems willing to incorporate medieval punishments for apostates (killing Muslims who have rejected Islam, at least according to ISIS), thieves (cutting off hands), and other such outcomes, including poisoning wells and crops.
Author Graeme Wood, an Atlantic contributing editor and a lecturer in political science at Yale University, says ISIS subscribes to “the Prophetic methodology,” meaning it follows the prophecies and examples of Muhammad to the letter. In a true caliphate, there are no borders, and there are no elections. In its approach to constant war, ISIS expects to fight “the army of Rome” at Dabiq, Syria, which it conveniently captured, and then expects the apocalypse to ensue. U.S. forces are supposed to be a good substitute for the army of Rome.
I couldn’t begin to sum up the entire article, which says ISIS rejects modernity. But it loves Twitter and YouTube — after all, where would it be without all those videos? How would it recruit? The story has a subhead that promises to tell us how to stop ISIS, although the prescription is murky at best. Wood’s conclusion is that what we’ve done so far is wrong, both in describing the phenomenon and in fighting it.
Another, more measured piece by Middle East expert Juan Cole, the respected Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, gives a less-bleak response, suggesting that it’s too easy to overstate ISIS’ power and influence. The title of that online post is “Today’s Top Myths About Daesh/ISIL.” Although he doesn’t downplay the atrocities, he describes many of the assertions about ISIS from security analysts and Western journalists as being “exaggerated or just incorrect.”
Sure, ISIS holds land described as being the size of the UK. But much of that land is uninhabited desert. Cole describes ISIS’ presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan as more of a brand than a presence. He also rejects descriptions of ISIS adherents as being “pious,” saying they’re more likely to be gang members and criminals who espouse pious slogans. The Danish shooter who targeted cartoonist Lars Vilks in Copenhagen was recently released from prison. Some of the “lone wolf” attacks in Australia and Canada were committed by men with criminal records and who were supposedly influenced by ISIS ideology. To call them ISIS fighters is a stretch.
As far as ISIS being a part of mainstream Islam, Cole also is skeptical. “We all know that Kentucky snake handlers are a Christian cult and that snake handling isn’t typical of the Christian tradition,” Cole writes. “Why pretend that we can’t judge when modern Muslim movements depart so far from the modern mainstream as to be a cult?”
The two authors’ estimates of ISIS’ size is vastly different, too. Wood uses the figure of 8 million, which counts the number of people living in the area controlled by ISIS. That doesn’t mean they’re ISIS adherents. Cole says the number of people living in the same area is more like 3 million to 4 million, and that “Plans are being made to kick ISIS right back out of Mosul.”
So Obama has submitted an AUMF request to Congress, government-speak for asking for the “authorization for the use of military force.” All action up to this point as been based on the 2001 AUMF Congress passed after the Sept. 11 attacks. The reactions to Obama’s proposal have been mostly predictable, and along party lines, for different reasons. Democrats don’t like it because the plan gives too much discretion for the use of ground troops, which Obama says he doesn’t want to use, including a provision forbidding the use of “enduring ground operations,” whatever that is. Republicans say the proposal is too restrictive — they don’t like the proposed three-year limitation. I guess they don’t want to limit a future president, hoping that it will be a Republican.
Republicans apparently want to go whole hog. Conservative activist Dr. Ben Carson, who claims to be considering a run for the 2016 GOP nomination for president, wants a guarantee that U.S. troops will never be prosecuted for war crimes, just for doing something that he called “politically incorrect.” So I guess torturing Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison, including stripping them naked and walking them around wearing dog collars, was OK with Dr. Carson? After all, many in ISIS say the U.S. crimes against Iraqis committed at Abu Ghraib, for which 11 U.S. soldiers were convicted, were a main motivation in the growth of ISIS. There wouldn’t be an ISIS if there hadn’t been an Iraq War.
Cole’s piece takes the approach to ground troops apart. “Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War,” he offers as another myth. “The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years! But they left the country a mess. Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one?”
At least one lawmaker apparently is advocating the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS. An Arkansas state senator, Republican Jason Rapert, posted on Facebook that it was “time to annihilate the strongholds” of ISIS. “I imagine a nicely placed intercontinental nuclear weapon would shut them up for awhile.” Needless to say, he received deserved backlash for these comments.
Public beheadings are a horrible thing to behold. But the key Arab ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, beheaded 113 people in the two years since ISIS first captured U.S. journalist James Foley in 2012. That’s way more than ISIS — the country just doesn’t show it on YouTube. And just for the record, the most recent executions in the U.S. haven’t gone so well, either. Those witnessing the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in May 2014 reported that he cried out in pain and grimaced, and that his body buckled repeatedly. Prison officials finally closed the blinds, and Lockett died of a heart attack later that evening after the assault on his system. The practice of lethal injection is so flawed that the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily stayed any more executions in the state.
According to opinion polls, Americans don’t like what Obama has done so far against ISIS. But they also want to give him what he wants to fight the group of insurgent thugs. A CNN/ORC International poll says 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s actions against ISIS, and 78 percent want Congress to give him authority to fight ISIS. But to do what, exactly? Overreaction to frightening videos can make people want to thump their chests, but that doesn’t change anything in the long run.
“Politicians should just stop promising to extirpate the group,” Cole writes. “Brands can’t be destroyed, and Daesh is just a brand for the most part.”
Wood’s Atlantic piece takes a more elongated and nuanced view. “Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.”
We’re left basically where we were on ISIS. Air strikes, ground troops, Arab allies, European allies, whatever. There are no good options.
Comedy fans received a blow to their funny bones with Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’ll be leaving The Daily Show later this year.
For 17 years, Stewart has walked the nation through the pitfalls and idiocies of the news cycle. It didn’t matter if you were a politician or a pundit, a celebrity or an everyday Joe or Jane, a news anchor or a foreign dictator, a Republican or a Democrat. If you did something stupid, chances are that Stewart and his cohorts would find a way to skewer you on their “fake news” program. He called out Republicans for hypocrisy and Democrats for cowardice. Stewart seemed as comfortable interviewing an obscure academic author as he did a senator or a president.
Sure, the humor could be sophomoric — sometimes you got the feeling the writers were middle school boys trying to sneak in as many dirty jokes as possible. Stewart’s interviews of celebrities often turned into gushing love-fests or meaningless in-jokes. His “accents” always ended up sounding like a New Jersey or New York tough guy. But how often did you see a headline or hear a piece of news and the first thing you thought of was, “I can’t wait to see what they do with this on The Daily Show“?
Stewart was brutal about the Iraq War, or the Mess-o-potamia, as the show often referred to it. Bush administration officials were the brunt of many barbs. But President Obama, too, was on the receiving end of much not-so-veiled criticism.
Stewart’s favorite target was probably the news media, mostly Fox News. The Daily Show became masterful at running contradictory clips of the same speaker giving completely different opinions, depending on who was being praised or criticized, for the exact same action. Stewart wasn’t afraid to call out lies — something other media are often too hesitant to do. Stewart would play a clip, deliciously drawl out the words, “Go on,” in his inimitable style, and then play the second clip, exposing the speaker’s hypocrisy.
Perhaps nothing summed up Stewart’s attitudes toward the news media as much as his piece on the Brian Williams controversy. The NBC Nightly News anchor had given a false account of his experience covering the Iraq War in 2003, saying he had been riding in a helicopter that was shot down by RPG fire. In fact, he was in a later helicopter that may or may not have gotten hit by machine gun fire (no doubt I’m “misremembering” the details).
If you’ve seen Williams as a guest on The Daily Show, you could tell that the two men genuinely liked each other and shared a rapport. That didn’t stop Stewart from calling out his old friend for his falsehoods. But the close look at the Brian Williams’ brouhaha brought up a more salient point.
“Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War,” Stewart said to laughter and cheers.
You can guess what came next. “It might not necessarily be the first person you’d want held accountable on that list.” Never again will Williams “lie about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual fucking war. In fact, why is the media so up in arms?”
Stewart showed clips from various news shows talking about a “credibility crisis” that the Williams lies had caused. They were silly and got only sillier. He then showed clips of Bush administration officials touting the war, ending with Vice President Dick Cheney repeating the now-debunked statements about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
“The run-up to the Iraq War was kind of beautiful in the evil efficiency of its media manipulation,” Stewart said, “Not that they weren’t hard on themselves, post cluster-fuck.” The next set of clips showed figures from major news organizations such as The New York Times, CNN, NBC, and ABC congratulating themselves on their fine and “fair” work covering the war, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer reminding reviewers that journalism is just the “first draft of history.”
“But it wasn’t even your draft,” Stewart said. “You were just copying off Cheney’s paper.”
Stewart then went on to skewer the coverage of the Williams story — how it had become over the top, especially in right-wing media, to the point of a local TV reporter asking whether it was one or two puppies that Williams had rescued in a fire.
Here’s another important thing Stewart did for the country. He got at least some younger people to pay at least some attention to the news. According to a report from Pew Research, 29 percent of those younger than 25 say they don’t pay attention to news, whether it’s from digital or traditional news platforms. Those in the 18-29 age group get news primarily from the Internet — 71 percent — with 55 percent getting news from TV. But those same people watched The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. The 18-29 age group made up 43 percent of the Colbert audience and 39 percent of The Daily Show audience.
When it came to actual news knowledge — again, according to the Pew survey — viewers of The Daily Show knew more about news than consumers of many other news media. When asked four questions about today’s news, 61 percent of Daily Show viewers scored either three or four questions right. Only viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show, readers of the New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal and similar publications, or NPR listeners scored higher. Far down the list of people getting three or four questions right were those who listened to talk radio, which is heavily right-wing (22 percent), those who watched local news programs (38 percent), and those who watched Fox (39 percent) and CNN (35 percent). A Washington Post column asked the question, “Where will young liberals get their news now?”
Stewart was not the first political satirist, nor will he be the last. Remember that Thomas Nast invented the political cartoon in the late 1800s, basically bringing down William “Boss” Tweed in New York City. Saturday Night Live will continue to lampoon politicians and celebrities. Many also are offering predictions and putting in their two cents about who should replace Stewart. While no one can really replace him, I’m going to offer my suggestion: Tina Fey. It’s about time there was a female host of a nighttime show.
Interestingly, news of Stewart’s departure came an hour before NBC announced that Brian Williams would receive a six-month suspension with no pay, and many news organizations had to cover both news items simultaneously. The effect of both men’s tenure was discussed and debated and will continue to be in days and months to come.
But for the future generation, maybe NPR reporter Don Gonyea summed it up best in a tweet: Here’s what 17 yr old in my house said when asked if Stewart or Williams is bigger story: “Who’s Brian Williams?”
It’s ironic that the movie Selma is in theaters and up for two Academy Awards as the state of Alabama tries to turn back the clock on the civil rights issue of same-sex marriage.
Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders led historic marches in Alabama over voting rights for African-Americans. The actions started in Selma as marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to the state capital of Montgomery in an attempt to secure voting rights. Alabama Gov. George Wallace famously stood in the way, just as he had in 1963 when he refused to integrate Alabama schools. Wallace refused to protect the marchers, and they were met with billy clubs and tear gas by state troopers and county posses. As told in the film (even if some details are incorrect), President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, getting rid of impediments to voting such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and the like.
Fast-forward to 2015. The state’s ban on marriage equality was deemed unconstitutional by federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay on those rulings. Alabama was set to become the 37th state where same-sex couples could be legally married. But then — enter Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
The ultra-conservative Moore infamously made a name for himself when, in his first go-round as Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, he installed a monument of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building. He then refused to remove it, even after being ordered to do so by a federal judge. He was suspended and finally removed from his judicial post in 2003 by a state ethics panel. But voters returned him to the Supreme Court in 2012.
Just as Wallace disagreed with civil rights laws in the 1960s, Moore has decided that he disagrees with federal civil rights rulings in 2015. So even though the state of Alabama is now required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Moore ordered county probate judges not to issue the licenses. The outcome was mixed, as some counties followed the federal ruling and some followed Moore’s directive. Some counties avoided the problem altogether by refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone.
Fifty years after Selma, Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Republican governor, decided that he’s no George Wallace. He gave at least a lukewarm nod to the federal civil rights decision. Although Moore passed the buck himself, saying it would be up to Bentley to take action against probate judges who issued same-sex marriage licenses, Bentley said he would not penalize judges, and that he would allow the issue of same-sex marriage “to be worked out through the proper legal channels.” News flash: The issue already has been worked out through the proper legal channels. It’s over.
Moore and other opponents of same-sex marriage apparently still think they have a chance to win the fight, but it’s over. The Supreme Court’s refusal to let the same-sex marriage ban stay in place until it rules on the issue nationally — probably in June — gave a clear signal that there are not enough justices on the side of discrimination any more.
Public opinion has shifted, too. More than half of Americans now support same-sex marriage. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Americans are in favor, while 40 percent are against. In 2001, those numbers were reversed: Only 37 percent favored same-sex marriage, and 57 percent were against it. And still worse for conservative culture warriors is the fact that 67 percent of Millennials say it’s fine. Battle lines are mostly along age lines and between conservative Christians and most everyone else.
Those still fighting the culture wars aren’t giving up. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who may have missed some history classes growing up, thinks a constitutional amendment is the answer — besides the amendment that he wants banning same-sex marriage.
“We’re a nation of laws, that’s why I said I want the Supreme Court not to overturn our laws,” he told CNN. “If the Supreme Court were to do this, I think the remedy would be a constitutional amendment in the Congress to tell the courts you can’t overturn what the states have decided.” Actually, governor, Marbury v. Madison established the power of judicial review in 1803. It’s a little late for that.
Except, perhaps, for the GOP. In a compilation of polls, an October ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that only 26 percent of those who identified as Republicans favored same-sex marriage, while a whopping 64 percent of them were opposed. What will this mean for the 2016 GOP presidential field? Just about all of them are on record supporting “traditional” marriage over same-sex marriage. As they face conservative voters in GOP primaries next year, those same voters probably will want to hear them take the traditional marriage pledge — a position that could make them sound as out of touch as George Wallace come Nov. 8, 2016.
The latest newsman to own up to a major fib is NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. The funny and likeable Williams has been telling the same story for years — that he was shot down in a helicopter during the early days of the Iraq War in 2003. Except he wasn’t.
Then some soldiers who really had been shot down in a helicopter in the same incident called him out, saying Williams was nowhere near the incident and arrived by helicopter an hour later. An article in the military publication Stars and Stripes gave an account of the story and Williams’ explanation: He “misremembered.”
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
I’ve never been in an aircraft that’s been shot down; few of us have, and many who were shot down didn’t survive to talk about it. Still, it’s hard to believe that Williams could have confused being in a helicopter that was hit by enemy RPG fire and came tumbling out of the sky with being in a helicopter that landed safely. (UPDATE: Apparently now a pilot says Williams’ helicopter was hit by machine-gun fire. That’s a far cry from RPG fire. And even if it’s only an exaggeration, it still doesn’t let Williams off the hook.)
It’s a story he’s apparently told for years, on and off the air — as recently as a New York Rangers hockey game, where Williams accompanied a retired soldier who had provided ground security for those same grounded helicopters. The soldier received a public tribute and a standing ovation, and Williams repeated his own downed-helicopter story on the nightly news.
So Williams has apologized and, he hopes, moved on. Twitter is not so kind; #BrianWilliamsMisremembers has become one of its most popular hashtags. There are Photoshopped pictures with Williams’ face in place of Neil Armstrong’s face in an astronaut suit, taking the first step on the moon; Williams’ face in place of Ringo Starr’s in a shot of the Beatles; Williams’ face substituted for the face of one of the Seal Team 6 members, like the ones who took out Osama bin Laden. You get the idea.
Nor have those who did survive the incident forgiven and forgotten Williams. “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it,” said Lance Reynolds, who was the flight engineer, according to the Stars and Stripes story. “It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Of course, Brian Williams isn’t the only journalist ever to stretch the truth.
There was Stephen Glass. He was a rising star at The New Republic, only to come crashing down in 1998 when it was finally revealed that about half of his stories had been fabricated. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for a profile of an 8-year-old heroin addict called “Jimmy’s World” that ran in the Washington Post, but she was forced to return the award when she admitted she made up the character. She later claimed that the “high-pressure environment” of the Post forced her to “corrupt her judgment.” Jayson Blair resigned in 2003 from The New York Times after he was called out for fabrication and plagiarism. He said his main motivation was the fear that he would not live up to what was expected of him.
Misremembering from Brian Williams. High pressure on Janet Cooke. High expectations of Jayson Blair. Stephen Glass’ editor at The New Republic said he thought that Glass “lacked a conscience.”
Besides these reasons, you could add the increased worry over TV ratings, especially the desirable young demographic, who watch very little TV news and barely look at newspapers. And as more newspaper staffs are laid off and newspapers close, what’s filling those papers looks more and more desperate for readers. Perhaps, as there are fewer reporting and editing jobs available, those competing for those jobs might cut a few corners to make a story look better.
These examples don’t even take into account the obvious falsehoods delivered every night on cable news stations. Don Lemon on CNN kept a straight face when he asked his guests if the missing Malaysian Flight 370 had disappeared into a black hole, or if its disappearance could be based on supernatural events. Jon Stewart could fill The Daily Show with examples of daily fibs on Fox — and often does. (Suggestion for a new motto: “We Distort, You Decide.”) A 2014 evaluation by Punditfact, a branch of Politifact, found that Fox told the truth only 18 percent of the time, compared with 31 percent at MSNBC and 60 percent at CNN. Not a record that any of those cable news stations can be proud of.
Is it any wonder that Americans hold journalists in such low regard? A 2014 Gallup Poll reported that only 24 percent of Americans rated the ethical standards of journalists high or very high. But hey — at least they beat out members of Congress. In the same poll, only seven percent of Americans gave lawmakers those ratings.
Gone are the days when Americans could turn their televisions to “Uncle Walter” — that would be legendary CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite — and know they were getting it straight. He anchored the news on CBS for almost 20 years, taking America through the assassination of a president and a man landing on the moon. He signed off every night with the words, “And that’s the way it is.” And America knew that that’s the way it was.
And gone are the days when a newsman like Edward R. Murrow could call out a lying senator on national TV, as he did to Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin in 1954. McCarthy had gained notoriety for making spectacular and specious claims about people in government he accused of being Communists. As head of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he browbeat witnesses. He and some others in Congress saw Communists in the State Department, the Army, Protestant clergy, Hollywood, libraries — just about anywhere in America where McCarthy could call a witness and question his or her patriotism.
Murrow was having none of it. On March 9, 1954, Murrow devoted an entire episode of his See it Now program on CBS to McCarthy. Using the senator’s own statements, Murrow painted a picture of a man who was reckless with the truth and made ugly attacks on critics. McCarthy, Murrow said, had contributed to a climate of deep fear and repression in American life.
“This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve,” Murrow said in the closing moments of that evening’s show. “We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”
If Murrow said these same words today, would anyone believe him? Or even care?
Or even be listening?
In trying to pander to likely libertarian voters, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may wish he had received a shot against foot-in-mouth disease.
The nation is finally beginning to realize the importance of universal vaccination. The ongoing outbreak of measles in states across the country, mostly in California, where a large number of people were believed to have been exposed at Disneyland in mid-December, is causing at least some people to think twice about skipping the regular vaccination schedule for their children.
California has one of the laxest laws in the nation about mandatory childhood vaccination. Although most states allow for some exemptions for religious or health-related reasons — if a child’s immune system has been compromised because of treatment for another disease, for instance — California allows parents to opt out basically for personal reasons. No religious or health-related reason is necessary. Hence the large number of measles cases there — 91 cases in California out of a total of 102 total measles cases in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On a London trip, Christie, who just launched a fundraising committee for a 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination, said there should be a “balance” between what the government is asking for in mandatory vaccination and parent choice.
“It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official,” Christie said, as quoted by The New York Times. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
His office tried to do some damage control the next day, releasing more of Christie’s comments. He also added, “Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.” Just guessing here, but I don’t think that helps his argument. Here’s Christie’s babbling quote in full: “What I said was that there has to be a balance and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is and all the rest. And so I didn’t say I’m leaving people the option. What I’m saying is that you have to have that balance in considering parental concerns because no parent cares about anything more than they care about protecting their own child’s health and so we have to have that conversation, but that has to move and shift in my view from disease type. Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others. So that’s what I mean by that so that I’m not misunderstood.”
Even worse, there is now evidence that the New Jersey governor backed the anti-vaccination movement in 2009 when he first ran for governor. In a 2009 radio interview, Christie said: “We need to look at all the different things affecting autism in New Jersey because we have the highest rate in the country, not just the environmental concerns but vaccinations. Parents of children with autism need to be heard, they need a seat at the table to be talking about these issues.” So he’s been wrong for years.
Of course, his electoral opponent, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, was pushing for mandatory immunization at the time, so Christie felt he could score political points by being contrary. An anti-vaccine group also touted a 2009 letter from Christie, in which he said: “Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”
The trouble with this argument, of course, is that measles is an extremely communicable disease that can have very serious consequences. It is a great public health threat. Measles was considered eradicated in the U.S. in the year 2000, but thanks to the rise of the anti-vaccine movement, too many parents are choosing not to immunize their children, putting too many others — including their own children — at risk. Infants under one year, who haven’t gotten those shots yet, are susceptible. The “herd immunity” that kept unimmunized individuals safe for so long doesn’t work when there aren’t enough in the herd. The popularity of a now completely debunked study tying the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism started the movement, and now it just won’t go away.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who has his own presidential ambitions, decided to out-libertarian Christie. He said vaccines should be “voluntary,” and that “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He offered no specifics, only repeated the pandering statement that “Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual.”
Keep in mind that Rand Paul is a physician, an ophthalmologist. Of course, after initially being board-certified in the usual way, by the American Board of Ophthalmology, he invented his own certifying organization to certify himself. I think it’s safe to say that most people working in Congress would choose to go elsewhere in an emergency rather than turn to Dr. Rand Paul for treatment.
President Obama has urged parents across the country to vaccinate children, so I suppose it’s no surprise that some in the GOP take the opposite approach. But let’s listen to the nation’s top doctor.
On a recent trip to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, the new U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, a public health physician, stressed the importance of immunization. He said he learned in medical school what happened in America before there were vaccines. “We had many people we would lose to deaths. Many people who, as in the case of polio, were paralyzed.” He added that the success of vaccines has some parents thinking those vaccines aren’t necessary anymore — a factor in current outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and flu.
Republicans have been trying to use the “I’m not a scientist” line for a few years now in an attempt to avoid having to talk about climate change, or for taking any responsibility for not taking the issue seriously. Maybe it’s time for them to say, “I’m not a doctor,” and then listen to doctors when they tell people to vaccinate their kids.