Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Journalist who was not an Idiot

I am somewhat sad this Father's Day. Personally, I am sad that my own father, Danny, died two years ago and is not around. I am sad my ex-father-in-law, Lucien (a really wonderful man) is not around to see how wonderful his granddaughter turned out. I am also sad my godfather, Ray, is not around, taken far too early by cancer around this time last year.

But I am also sad that journalism has lost a truly great person, Tim Russert, struck down in the prime of his career. Russert was a great journalist. In an era where most political talk shows resemble verbal versions of "Friday Night Smackdown," Russert was a master of being able to ask tough questions without being rude or obnoxious.

Russert was an even better person than he was a journalist. It has been remarkable watching all the media tributes to him and hear the stories of the personal generosity he shared with so many people. But, the most important thing of all, at least to me, was how much Tim Russert loved his family -- his now-deceased mother, his father ("Big Russ"), his wife (Maureen Orth), and his son (Luke). I feel especially bad for Big Russ. Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. To all of Russert's family, his loss is irreplaceable. And the world just lost a true mensch.

I'm hugging my daughter Alana a little tighter today. I have some calls to make to my brothers to tell them I love them.

Danny, Lucien, and Ray would approve.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Idiot Scalia Dissent

I hate to call Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia an "idiot." That's not because I don't think Supreme Court justices can't be idiots (after all, Clarence Thomas still sits on the Court). But, in terms of his dissenting opinion in today's decision that grants military detainees at Gitmo habeas corpus rights, Scalia reveals his inner idiot.

Of particular note is this line from the 4th paragraph of his dissent:

"The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed. That consequence would be tolerable if necessary to preserve a time-honored legal principle vital to our constitutional Republic. But it is this Court’s blatant abandonment of such a principle that produces the decision today."

Let me address this point-by-point. First, the supposed "bait-and-switch" is that the President's Office of Legal Counsel in December 2001 said it was OK to indefinitely hold detainees at Gitmo. Is it my imagination, or might the Office of Legal Counsel be a bit biased? And, if the Office of Legal Counsel was the final legal authority, why do we have a Supreme Court?

Second, Scalia asserts that it is likely more Americans will be killed. He bases this on the fact that the military, before today's decision, released a number of prisoners, 30 of whom returned to the battlefield. Scalia then lists a number of examples of the murder and mayhem caused by some of those released detainees. It should be noted that the examples Justice Scalia cites does not include one killed American.

Finally, Scalia argues that because the military could not always tell who would continue to fight and who wouldn't, it shouldn't go to the courts because the courts will make even more mistakes. In other words, because the military screwed up, detainees should not have habeas corpus rights, because, if they do, the courts are more likely to release prisoners than the military would. Not only does Justice Scalia not cite any evidence for this assertion, he reveals that he has a rather dim view of the judicial system. Then again, when you think you are the only person who is right on the law, and everyone else is wrong, you would come to this opinion.

I'm not surprised that Scalia dissented. After all, on a recent "60 Minutes" profile, Scalia scoffed at the notion that torture was cruel and unusual punishment. I just didn't think he would make such idiotic statements and arguments as he did in this decision.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Idiot "Fist Bump" Coverage

At the speech celebrating his victory over Hillary Clinton last Tuesday (June 3), Barack and Michelle Obama greeted each other with a dap -- or fist bump -- a sign of solidarity.

This nonverbal communication has seemed to baffle a number of people in the press, not the least of whom (actually, it might be the least of whom) is Fox News' E.D. Hill. In teasing a segment for her Friday, June 6, American Pulse show, she said:

"A fist bump, a pound, a terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently. We'll show you some interesting body communication and find out what it really says."

After coming back from a commercial break, Hill introduced the segment by asking what happened to "the old pat on the back? A handshake? A hug?" She followed this wistful lament by having body language expert Janine Driver interpret the Obamas' odd form of communication. Driver assured Hill that the dap did not signal anything nefarious. It was merely two people signaling that they have a connection with each other.

On today's (June 10) American Pulse program, Hill offered this explanation:

"Want to start the show by clarifying something I said on the show last Friday about an upcoming body language segment. Now, I mentioned various ways the Obamas' fist pump in St. Paul had been characterized in the media. I apologize because unfortunately, some thought I personally had characterized it inappropriately. I regret that. It was not my intention. And I certainly didn't mean to associate the word 'terrorist' in any way to Senator Obama and his wife."

I'm sorry, but when you tease a segment by labeling a gesture "a terrorist fist jab," you are making an association -- that is, gesture = terrorist fist jab, Obamas use gesture, therefore, Obamas use terrorist fist jab.

Even more outrageous was the fact that Hill didn't even identify where or how the notion of the dap being a "terrorist fist jab" came about. It was just put out there without any context.

In my opinion -- and this is only my opinion -- this incident occurred for one of two reasons. The first reason it may have happened is that E. D. Hill is never going to be mistaken for a member of MENSA. Critical thinking skills are not exactly her strong suit.

The second reason is more troublesome for me. There is little doubt that FOX News is rooting for John McCain and against Barack Obama. I think the terrorist angle to the fist bump could have been put out there as part of the network's campaign to generate as much fear about Obama as possible. After suffering a lot of ridicule from other media outlets, FOX News backed off a bit today with an explanation as incredulous as the original charge was ... stupid. But, the network did manage to throw a bit of mud on Obama.

In the interest of full disclosure, my daughter and I dap all the time. But, please don't tell the Department of Homeland Security. We don't want to be mistaken for a terrorist cell.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Idiot Baseless Charges

This week, Chicago financier Tony Rezko was convicted in federal court on 16 of 24 charges of influence-peddling -- accepting kickbacks from those companies awarded state contracts during the administration of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich himself has spent much of the past year denying charges of corruption, and has watched his approval rating plunge to Bushian depths.

On this morning's ABC's "This Week," Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) charged that Rezko helped finance Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's house in Chicago. The only problem with this strategy of guilt by association is that it is untrue.

According to a number of Chicago press accounts, a few months after Obama became a U.S. senator, and flush with an advance that he received as an advance for his book, The Audacity of Hope, Barack and Michelle Obama bought a home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood for $1.65 million. At the same time, Tony Rezko's wife, Rita, bought an adjacent lot. Both properties were owned by a doctor who wanted to sell both properties at the same time. According to the real estate agent who handled both transactions, the Rezkos, who lived across the street, had been eying the lot for some time.

Six months later, the Obamas purchased a 10-foot strip of the adjacent lot from the Rezkos to expand their yard. At the time of the purchase, Rezko was under investigation for corruption, but had not yet been indicted. Still, Barack Obama has acknowledged that the purchase of the property from the Rezkos, while perfectly legal and above board, was "boneheaded" because it could have been perceived that the Rezkos were doing the Obamas a favor while Tony Rezko was under investigation.

Now, I am not an expert in real estate law or real estate financing, but how did Rezko help "finance" the Obamas' purchase of their home? True, the Obamas did purchase the home for $300,000 less than the asking price (the purchase price was $1.65 million), while the Rezkos paid the full price for the lot ($625,000). But, again, according to the real estate agent, there were no competing offers for the house, while there were competing offers for the lot. Again, I'm no expert, but what's the problem here?

If baseless charges, such as the one Senator Graham made this morning, are going to be typical of the upcoming presidential campaign, we're all going to need a long shower to wash off the campaign mud by November.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Idiot Overblown Media Sexism Charges

In the aftermath of Barack Obama wrapping up the Democratic Party nomination for president on Tuesday, the media post-mortems of Hillary Clinton's close loss have begun. Among the reasons cited for her loss was that the media were biased in their coverage of her campaign.

There's no doubt there was sexism in the coverage (her dress, her "cackle," her crying). But, there were far more important reasons she lost, such as:

1a) She hired Mark Penn. What a waste of money! If a strategist does not have a Plan B (such as what do do after Super Tuesday), they should be sued for malpractice.

1b) Bad budget management. When the campaign needed funds after Super Tuesday, it didn't have them. They have ended the campaign with up to $30 million in debt.

1c) Blowing off caucus states, particularly in the west. Obama was able to rack up delegates in those states because Clinton lacked organization in those states. Organization is crucial in getting voters to the caucuses.

2) Too much use of Bill Clinton. A selective use of Bill would have been much better. Not only did he become tiresome, but he often overshadowed her. He should have been spending his time working behind the scenes, raising funds, and continuing his foundation efforts.

3) The "gunfire" gaffe. Had she made the mistake about landing under gunfire in Bosnia once, that would have been one thing. But, she did it multiple times, and began first to insist she was correct -- until the video showed her to be wrong. It brought up too many memories about the perceived mendaciousness of the Clintons, and came at a crucial time.

4) Refusing to admit earlier she was wrong about her vote for giving Bush authority to go to war. By the time she did acknowledge her error, she had alienated many of the anti-war folks, the same folks who formed the core of Obama supporters.

There were people who were disgusting in their coverage of Clinton -- Chris Mathews foremost among them. At the same time, Obama had an entire news network -- FOX News and FOX radio -- against him.

I don't think either Clinton or Obama has gotten very favorable news coverage, certainly not the kind of coverage that John McCain has enjoyed. Every gaffe that Clinton and Obama made (or surrogates made for them) was covered for days. McCain has made serious mistakes -- such as confusing Shiites and Sunnis, even to the point where Joe Lieberman had to correct him on camera -- and they are brief media events.

So, yes, Clinton did suffer from sexism in the media coverage. Did it cause her to lose her quest for the candidacy? Not even close.