Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to tell the GOP candidates apart

I spent my career in advertising. The first thing any advertising professional learns is that a product needs a USP – a Unique Selling Proposition that instantly differentiates it from its competitors.

And that is the problem with the candidates who are running to secure the GOP nomination for president -- none of them have one. Their positions on the core issues are pretty much the same.

As a public service, here’s a USP for each of them that will make it easy for you to keep them straight. 

Jeb Bush
The Bush with a Mexican wife

 Ben Carson
America’s only Republican of African descent

Chris Christie
The one The New York Times is most afraid of,
which is a good thing for a Republican

Ted Cruz
Alphabetically the first of the Hispanic candidates

Carly Fiorina
The one who doesn't have a penis

Lindsey Graham
If The Bionic Woman married America's most famous evangelist she’d be ….

Mike Huckabee
Wants America to be a theocracy like Iran but Christian-based

Bobby Jindal
The one who made an idiot of himself
responding to Obama’s State of the Union address

George Pataki
The one who has been in the Federal Witness Protection 
program for the last 10 years

Rand Paul
The opthamologist with a vision for America

Rick Perry
Good hair

Marco Rubio
The only one who could possibly beat Hillary and even that’s debatable

Rick Santorum
Driven insane by abortion

Donald Trump
The one with a Las Vegas hotel named for him

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book review: Stonewalled, by Sharyl Attkisson

I’ve read thousands of books. Only two have scared me so badly I had trouble sleeping: The Shining by Stephen King, and Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington by former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson.

Stonewalled reveals an author who is:

One of the few honest reporters left in America
þAll of the above

Attkisson is bitter because, as a journalist specializing in blowing the whistle on wrongdoers, she was repeatedly marginalized and ignored by her bosses at CBS News, an organization she contends is a tool of the Obama administration. She became so frustrated at her inability to get stories about corruption at the highest levels of government on the air that she finally resigned the job she had once loved.

She is angry at her fellow journalists, claiming most have become complacent, lazy and dishonest, content to write stories containing talking points that are spoon-fed to them by partisan government spokespeople. Attkisson is one of those old-fashioned reporters who believes journalists have a duty to report all (as opposed to some) of the news and to let the public decide what’s newsworthy and what isn’t, rather than picking and choosing stories that make certain people or parties look good or bad.

Attkisson comes off as paranoid when she claims her computers were hacked and phones were tapped by the government because her reports about Operation Fast and Furious cast the Justice Department in an unfavorable light. She says she knows the administration official who authorized the intrusion. She can’t be sued for libel for revealing the culprit’s name, so why doesn’t she? 

That said, there’s so much solid (and ultimately disturbing) reporting within the pages of Stonewalled that readers can’t help but feel that Attkisson may well be one of the last honest reporters in America. 

She contends the Obama administration, which promised to be the most transparent in modern history, is, in fact, the least, a claim supported by the Society of Professional Journalists that sent Obama a letter objecting to what it called “the politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies.” She further asserts Obama’s minions effectively control much of the news and, therefore, the national agenda, through skillful use of propaganda for which the media willingly falls since it is run by a cabal of eastern lefties whose beliefs jive with the president’s. 

Attkisson is credible. She is the reporter who disproved Hillary Clinton’s claim during the 2008 primary season that she and Chelsea had to dodge sniper fire upon landing in Bosnia in 1996. Atkisson, who had accompanied Clinton on that trip, dug into her archives and found footage showing the Clintons leisurely exiting the plane, smiling and posing for pictures, proof that Clinton either lied or stretched the truth for political gain. (NBC anchor Brian Williams was removed from his job for claiming he was exposed to danger in a war zone and has been relegated to reporting “late breaking news” on MSNBC. Clinton may well be our next president. Go figure.)

Among Attkisson’s more sobering observations:
  • Congress – both parties – and the White House routinely ignore reporters who ask questions for which truthful answers would put them in uncomfortable positions. Journalists, who once would have shamed them into responding by reporting about their stonewalling, allow them to get away with it for fear of losing access.
  • Federal agencies and departments have used our tax dollars to build elaborate spin factories – broadcast studios staffed with hairdressers, make-up artists and wardrobe consultants, to which favored reporters are invited. There they are allowed to "interview" government spokespeople who recite talking points consisting of lies and/or half-truths.
  • Administration spinmeisters collaborate with web sites created specifically to counter negative press stories (in the unlikely event one gets published or aired). One such site, Attkisson says, is Media Matters for America, funded in part by Democratic donor George Soros. She says that stories Media Matters publishes are often picked up by other leftist sites such as the Huffington Post and Politico, reaching (and influencing) millions of readers. She points out these sites often question the credibility and/or motivation of journalists who break stories that scrutinize the administration, effectively turning the tables and making the reporters, rather than the perpetrators of the stories they report, into the bad guys. (Check out the Huffington Post. On any given day there are almost as many negative stories about Fox news reporters as there are glowing reports about the Obama administration’s accomplishments. In the spirit of objective journalism, be advised that I, personally, hold Media Matters and Huffington Post, and their right-wing counterparts, Fox News and the Drudge Report, in contempt. All are despicable for the ways they manipulate the news.)
  • The Obama administration resorts to out-and-out lies when it fits their purposes. Citing the Benghazi attack, Attkisson reminds us that the White House and/or State Department didn’t want it known they had ignored repeated requests for help from Ambassador Christopher Stevens and so, instead, sent UN Ambassador Susan Rice onto the Sunday talk shows to spin a ludicrous tale blaming a youtube video that insulted Muhammad for the attack that took four American lives.
  • The media knew Obama was lying when, during the second 2012 presidential debate, he claimed that, the day after Benghazi, he referred to the attack as a "terrorist" incident, but didn’t hold him accountable because most journalists wanted him to win re-election. CBS had footage of Obama’s entire post-Benghazi speech, proving he never once referred to terror or terrorists, but didn’t release it. Attkisson says that just before the debate, key reporters received calls from White House spin doctors reminding them (falsely) that Obama had called the attack a terror incident in his speech, and opines that moderator Candy Crowley, who came to Obama’s defense when Romney said the president didn’t call it terrorism, might have received one of those calls, so was predisposed to assume the president had said it. Romney had momentum  – he had easily won the first debate – but lost it after he came across looking like an idiot for mis-stating what Obama said when, in fact, Romney was correct. It was the ultimate use of propaganda that may well have determined the election. Joseph Goebbels would be proud (my observation, not Attkisson's).
  • The media picks and chooses stories that make the administration look good and purposely omits those that make it look bad, such as a series of reports about green energy companies, funded by billions of tax dollars delivered by Obama, that went bust. There were many more in addition to Solyndra but the mainstream media didn’t report about them because the media doesn’t want the public to question the wisdom of an administration that poured all that money down the drain.
  • The administration is vindictive to those who cross it. She says the administration knew all along that CIA chief David Petraeus was having an affair but didn’t leak the news until Petraeus publicly doubted the administration’s claims about Benghazi, at which point his affair took over the news cycle. The media, eager to divert attention from Benghazi, turned its focus onto the Petraeus scandal.
  • Broadcast networks, due to management’s fear of risking the wrath of administration officials for airing stories that make government look bad, no longer investigate stories on their own and will only report stories that have already been published by The New York Times or Washington Post, neither of which are objective news sources in the first place. She says management doesn’t want any controversy, which is why network newscasts spend so much time on weather-related stories that used to be the purview of local affiliates.
  • The media refuses to report gaffes made by Obama, who once boasted he has visited all 57 states, claimed that Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville are on the Gulf of Mexico (they’re on the Atlantic), and said that Austrians speak “Austrian” (they speak German). She pointed out the media has a field day every time a Republican makes a similar gaffe.
  • CBS News President David Rhodes is the brother of Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor and director of strategic communications and speechwriting (e.g. propaganda), which may account for CBS’ reluctance to report stories unfavorable to the administration. (Interesting aside: Attkisson says that Wikipedia, the online “free encyclopedia anyone can edit” is, despite its claims, anything but objective and that Wikipedia editors control and delete information that “threatens their agenda.” I looked up David Rhodes on Wikipedia. Nowhere in his bio does it mention his brother’s role in the Obama administration. And now back to our regularly-scheduled objective newscast.)
  • CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley spikes stories that might cause controversy and/or that clash with his personal beliefs and spent an inordinate amount of time re-writing Attkisson's stories, but lets stories favorable to the administration stand.

This has been a good week for the Obama administration. The Supreme Court affirmed both Obamacare and marriage equality. Supporters celebrating these wins have every right to feel good about what is happening in our country.

At the same time, all of us  Democrats, Republicans or (Attkisson’s description of herself) “political agnostics” – owe it to our country to consider the points Attkisson raises.

The Internet has changed news – the way it’s delivered and the quantity of it. It would be naïve to assume that the next administration, and the next, and the next, won’t recognize the easy ride Obama has enjoyed and the ease with which his communications experts have manipulated the media, and won't continue to employ the same tactics. Obama supporters need to ask themselves how they would feel if the Republicans win the next election and are able to control the news to the same extent the current administration does. Propaganda is propaganda and, ultimately, we all lose when we fall for it.

The government works for us. Officials need to be forthcoming, and to not spend our money and their time spinning bullshit stories that will be picked up by web sites that do their biding and disseminate the news to other sites that reach millions of readers.

The media also works for us. Americans can get our news from lots of sources. We need to be careful we are getting it from sources that aren’t intimated or in the pocket of any political party or politician, and that strive to report the facts, leaving us free to interpret them ourselves.

As Attkisson says in Stonewalled, “Think for yourself.”

Sound advice.

Post note: Once I finished writing this, I decided to see what The New York Times had to say about Attkisson’s book, which made its best seller list, so I looked up its review. There wasn’t one.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are you a "Critical Thinker?" Take this quiz to find out!

“Critical thinking skills” is a hot topic in educational circles these days. Many employers are discovering newly-minted college graduates possess little or none and are advocating that colleges include classes to teach students how to think through problems logically.

If you’re a college administrator, here is a test you can administer to your students to determine if they might benefit from a curriculum that includes instruction in critical thinking skills. The test was developed by Arnold Googlelink, Ph.D, of Southwestern Rhode Island University who last week published a paper in which he recommended that students who answer three or more answers incorrectly should be required to take at least one course.  

1. You are casting actors for a movie about Winston Churchill. Who is the most logical choice for the lead role?

A. Colin Firth
B. Jude Law
C. Oprah Winfrey
D. Daniel Craig

Answer: C. Everyone in Hollywood knows you don’t cast a Brit in a movie about an English person, just as you don’t cast an American in a movie about a Yank.

2. You are programming an 800 number for your employer, a leading cable company. Which of these recorded messages should customers hear first?

A. To order a Pay Per View fight, press *#
B. If your Internet isn’t working, visit our website for help
C. To continue in English, press one; para continuar en espanol, presione dos
D. To speak to a representative, press O at any time.

Answer: A, because Pay Per View orders generate incremental revenue for your employer. Do not under any circumstances offer option D; the company only has one call center rep and she is overwhelmed.

3. You are a news editor. Which of these late-breaking AP stories should you choose as the lead?

A. Kanye tweets Kim "Happy Anniversary"
B. Michelle Duggar pregnant again
C. 10 million killed in Asian tsunami
D. Dallas Prep defeats Houston Riverview 35-6 for state championship

Answer: 73 million Americans watch The Kardashians, 42 million watch 19 Kids and Counting, many Americans think there are too many Asians anyway (and 41 percent can't identify Asia on a map), and Dallas and Houston aren’t in your coverage area, so the answer should be obvious – A. (Exception: If you are a Texas editor, D.) Always go with the story that will interest the greatest number of readers. 
4. Your boss has assigned you to write a press release. What is the first thing you should do? 

A. Make sure there is enough toner in the copier
B. Determine the type font you should use
C. Find out what the press release is about
D. Order a BLT on toast, hold the L, mayo on the side

Answer: B. In PR, image is everything.
5. You manage a restaurant. Which of these situations should you address first? 

A. A customer is choking and turning blue
B. The health department just slapped a "Closed for Violations" sticker on your front window
C. The chef reports he is out of today's special
D. A customer just left a waitress a $500 tip on a $20 check and you want to post a photo of the note he left with it on Instagram so it can appear on Facebook under the heading, "You Won't Believe What This Hardworking Waitress Found" 

Answer: D. There are a lot of good people in the world and it is your responsibility to make sure everyone knows it. Plus your restaurant will get lots of free advertising out of it. 

6. You are a Wall Street analyst. Which of these events is most likely to have the biggest impact on the market?

A. Fed announces it will leave interest rates untouched for now
B. Apple to purchase every NYSE-listed company for 50 percent premium over yesterday’s closing stock prices
C. China says it will no longer accept U.S. dollars, demands payments in Russian rubles instead
D. Nation’s top 20 banks close; FDIC says deposits weren’t insured

Answer: A. Many events can “move the market” but interest rates, as determined by the Federal Reserve, are far and away the most significant.  

7. You are an Emergency Room physician. Place these patients in the order of priority in which they should be seen. 

A. Girl with paper cut
B. Man with flu symptoms
C. Woman with platinum insurance plan
D. Boy with a spear in his eye

Answer: A, B, C then D. First come, first served.

8. You are running to become the first female president. Which of these media reports should you address first?

A. You ignored the law and used your own server when you headed a major governmental department and had it erased 
B. You are running on a platform to empower women but your family's foundation accepted millions in donations from countries that oppress women
C. Like a news anchor who lost his job, you said you were in danger in a war zone when, in fact, you weren't
D. None of the above
Answer: D.  You will win anyway so what difference does it make? You don’t have to address any of these unpleasant issues.