Truth In Reporting?

A PunditFact scorecard for the three major cable news outlets includes some numbers of surprise to no one, and one that I did find surprising.

On the non-surprising front, Fox News lies. A lot. 60 percent of the time their stories are rated Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire False (PunditFact is a subsidiary of PolitiFact, and uses the same rating system. By comparison, NBC/MSNBC scores a 48 percent of the time rating in those three categories, though their Pants on Fire (the worst) rating is only half that of Fox. The charts below provide more information (graphics courtesy of Addicting Info).

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What surprises me is the extent to which CNN – the network still trying to work Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 news into its reporting – is far and away the most accurate, coming in as Mostly False, False, of Pants on Fire only 18 percent.

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Kudos, CNN. 

The Founding Fathers Electability In Today’s Religious Climate

Short discussion of five of the Founding Fathers, taken from an article on Alternet..org:

George Washington Let’s begin with George Washington: 

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation,” wrote Washington. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”

Not going to get too far in parts of the South, and well, all of Texas with that attitude.

John AdamsWhat about John Adams:

In February 1756, Adams wrote in his diary about a discussion he had had with a man named Major Greene. Greene was a devout Christian who sought to persuade Adams to adopt conservative Christian views. The two argued over the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity. Questioned on the matter of Jesus’ divinity, Greene fell back on an old standby: some matters of theology are too complex and mysterious for we puny humans to understand.

 

Adams was not impressed. In his diary he wrote, “Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”

 

As president, Adams signed the famous Treaty of Tripoli, which boldly stated, “[T]he government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion….”

Damn, compared to Washington, Adams is a freaking radical.

Thomas Jefferson

Do we fare any better with Thomas Jefferson?

His skepticism of traditional Christianity is well established. Our third president did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin and other core Christian doctrines. He was hostile to many conservative Christian clerics, whom he believed had perverted the teachings of that faith.

 

Jefferson once famously observed to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

 

Although not an orthodox Christian, Jefferson admired Jesus as a moral teacher. In one of his most unusual acts, Jefferson edited the New Testament, cutting away the stories of miracles and divinity and leaving behind a very human Jesus, whose teachings Jefferson found “sublime.” This “Jefferson Bible” is a remarkable document – and it would ensure his political defeat today.

 

Jefferson took political stands that would infuriate today’s Religious Right and ensure that they would work to defeat him. He refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and fasting, saying that such religious duties were no part of the chief executive’s job. His assertion that the First Amendment erects a “wall of separation between church and state” still rankles the Religious Right today.

So, that’s a “no” on Jefferson, then?

James Madison

Surely James Madison, an enthusiastic Christian as a young man, would be elected today.

Madison was perhaps the strictest church-state separationist among the founders, taking stands that make the ACLU look like a bunch of pikers. He opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and in the military. As president, Madison rejected a proposed census because it involved counting people by profession. For the government to count the clergy, Madison said, would violate the First Amendment.

 

Madison, who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, also opposed government-issued prayer proclamations. He issued a few during the War of 1812 at the insistence of Congress but later concluded that his actions had been unconstitutional. As president, he vetoed legislation granting federal land to a church and a plan to have a church in Washington care for the poor through a largely symbolic charter. In both cases, he cited the First Amendment.

Okay, maybe not.

Thomas Paine

That leaves Thomas Paine, who penned the pamphlet Common Sense, and inflamed the Colonies to the point of revolution. A towering figure who would make an imposing candidate, right?

He was also a radical Deist whose later work, The Age of Reason, still infuriates fundamentalists. In the tome, Paine attacked institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity. He rejected prophecies and miracles and called on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament “wicked” and the entire Bible “the pretended word of God.”

I guess not.

The lesson is today’s GOP has undertaken such a radical agenda under the leadership of the Religious Right that heroes of the young America would be unelectable today. What about 20th Century Republican leaders? Next week we’ll look at Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.

 

Justice for the Bush Administration?

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Another blog – the forthright and articulate Quiet Mike – is reporting on the latest developments in the lawsuit Saleh v. Bush, in which the plaintiff “Sundus Shaker Saleh alleges that the Iraq War was a premeditated war against the Iraqi people, the planning of which started in 1998. The war was not conducted in self-defense, did not have the appropriate authorization by the United Nations, and under international law constituted a ‘crime of aggression’ — a crime first set down at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II” (WitnessIraq.com).

This is an interesting approach to the lawsuit following a request from the judge for additional information in response to the Bush team efforts to have the case dismissed because everything that was done in the war effort was done in their capacity as employees of the government. Quiet Mike reports that a second, amended complaint was filed in June of this year, detailing the war planning effort, and the precedents under which these efforts fall outside the scope of governmental employment. The amended complaint utilizes two established legal precedents – judicial estoppel, and the case of Augusto Pinochet.

Judicial estoppel rests on three premises as outlined in New Hampshire v Maine: 1) That a party’s position in the case must clearly conflict with a position taken in an earlier matter; 2) That party must have persuaded another court or tribunal to accept the position such that an acceptance of an inconsistent position in a later case must indicate that the party was misleading either the earlier court, or the current one; and 3) Whether the party obtains an unfair advantage, or the opposing party an unfair disadvantage if not estopped. 

The US Department of Justice is defending the Bush nightmare team, and Saleh is asserting that the positions taken by the US Government during the Nuremberg Trials run counter to the positions being taken by the US Government in the current case. There are seven principles that came out of the Trials, including the famous one everyone recognizes, Principle IV: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” Less known is Principle III which applies the same code of conduct on government leaders, one of the Principles cited by Saleh. 

A second relevant Principle is VI (a)(i), which allows for the “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances,” to be considered a Crime Against Peace, “set out are punishable as crimes under international law.” (Side note – read the short synopsis of what the Principles detail at the seven principles link above; quite interesting). In short, the suit alleges that the Bush Devastation Squad began planning for the war prior to their election, and thus were not government leaders at the time, and even were their leadership to be validated, the third Principle says it doesn’t matter – they committed crimes against peace by acting aggressively. 

Their second claim involving Chile’s American-backed, brutal despot Augusto Pinochet is more direct. Again, quoting from Quiet Mike

In 1999, British Lawyers determined that Pinochet did not have immunity for certain acts he committed while in office such as torture and other violations of international law. These Brits held that Pinochet was not immune because Chile had signed the convention against torture.

In light of the treaties and charters that the United States has signed, [Plaintiff’s attorney] Comar stated that the defence can’t now claim that acts of aggression are above a leader’s authority. In this case, the Bush Administration.

The DOJ has until August 15 to respond to this second, amended complaint, and a hearing has been set for – of all dates – September 11 of this year. 

Stay tuned.

2014 State of the Child in America

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation has issued its annual report detailing the welfare – or lack thereof – of Children in America (you can download a copy of the entire report here).

Some disturbing trends from the report: The numbers of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and children living in high poverty area have all increased.

The news is not all bad, however: more children are attending preschool, showing increased proficiency in reading and math, and are graduating from high school on time. Health criteria such as low-birthweight babies, child and teen deaths per capita, and teens engaged in substance abuse have all improved. The number of children with health insurance has increased (Thank you, Affordable Care Act), and teen births have decreased. Sadly though, the racial gap in these statistics has proven difficult to defeat. In nearly all criteria Hispanics, African-Americans, and Native-Americans perform worse than the national average, the report finds.

With regards to raising children, the report figured all factors and found the five best states for do so were Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Minnesota, in that order. The five worst were Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and bringing up the rear in so many categories, Mississippi. Others include Illinois (20), New York (28), Florida (38), California (40), and hopefully-soon-to-be home to Governor Wendy Davis Texas coming in at number 43.

The report concludes that overall trends are improving, but the recession has destabilized families to such an extent that the effects will be felt well into the next generation. 

Atheists Equal the Ku Klux Klan?

In Warren, Michigan, Republican Mayor James Fouts has decided there is no room for an atheist-sponsored “Reason Station” in the City Hall atrium. Not across from the “Prayer Station,” not near the Ramadan display, hell, nowhere in the damn city! (See what I did there?)

All fun aside, the Mayor’s reasoning is outrageous, saying: “The city has certain values that I don’t believe are in general agreement with having an atheist station, nor in general agreement with having a Nazi station or Ku Klux Klan station. I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here,” according to a piece on Salon.

As expected, thankfully the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped in with a complaint on behalf of atheist Douglas Marshall (I’m not being facetious, by the way; I truly am thankful for the ACLU).

And by the way, if you are wondering, “where have I heard that name (James Fouts)?” then you might be a fan of The Colbert Report and this episode of “Nailed It.”

The NFL Has a Basic Human Values Problem

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Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of professional football, and of two teams in particular, the Chicago Bears and whomever is playing Green Bay that week. Back when I was in the restaurant business cuts on my hands would amaze everyone because the blood was navy blue and orange. 

The National Football League, and Commissioner Roger Goodell have a problem that is fast becoming a public relations nightmare – as it should. 

Ray Rice, a decent running back with the Baltimore Ravens was recently suspended two regular season games, plus an additional one-game paycheck for knocking his then-fiancée unconscious with a punch to the head at an Atlantic City casino. He was charged with third degree aggravated assault, which could have meant three to five years in prison, though it’s being reported that Rice negotiated a pretrial diversionary program which will likely include community service and the opportunity to wipe the arrest from his record. He is not going to face jail time. 

Earlier, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for one year following a failed drug test that included marijuana use. Gordon has an August 1 meeting to appeal his suspension.

Here’s the PR problem, and it’s not merely perception: Smoke a joint and you get suspended for a year. Meanwhile, beat the shit out of the woman you’ve since married (why?), and you get suspended two games, and lose your pay for three. Are you kidding me?

What makes it worse is we are not just talking about domestic violence versus drug abuse here. Deadspin has compiled a list of suspensions for various violations, ranging from drug and substance abuse, to assaults and worse, to Michael Vick‘s inhumanity towards dogs, in comparison to that which was handed down to Rice.

I understand being tough on drugs in the League, though I’m wondering if the policy will loosen as marijuana legalization expands. The League has a reputation to protect, and fielding teams comprised entirely of steroid– or performance enhancing drug-fueled behemoths makes it difficult to defend the game to children or their parents. The League’s concussion/brain injury problems are also exacerbated by PEDs. A tough stance on drugs is to be expected.

But how can the League defend a tougher policy on drugs than on domestic violence, assault, or even causing the death of another? For the past several years the League has been reaching out to women as a means for increasing their fan base. These are efforts for which the League should be commended. The League also deserves commendation for its charity efforts, its involvement with the lives of disadvantaged kids, and with a couple of notable exceptions, its moves to make openly gay players feel welcome. I cannot say that all of the League’s good is overshadowed by its misguided approach to policing violence committed by players of the field; that’s a judgment others will have to make. But it sure as hell doesn’t help, and given the awareness this nation has given to the issue of domestic violence, it looks ignorant at best.

I can do righteous indignation pretty well, and will do so in future posts; I can guarantee you that. But on this issue I am going to leave it to a master at the practice, Keith Olbermann. Watch the video, then get fucking mad.

2014 Midterm Elections

I keep getting emails from various Democratic Party organizations and/or leaders telling me that it looks like the US Senate will remain under Dem control; that such and such Governors race is tightening; that Nate Silver is saying good things; or that Mitch McConnell is running more frightened than ever before. I still think it’s too early to take a lot of this seriously, though sitting here in late July with McConnell in a race called a toss-up should say something, at least about Kentucky. That it says anything about national politics remains to be seen.

Thus, I should be here happy as an old man having just chased a pack of rugrats off his lawn, dammit. Alas, such joy eludes me; these are the midterms in the second term of a Presidential administration with abysmally low approval ratings. This does not normally bode well for the party holding the White House, and fears of another 2010 Tea Party revolt are in the back of my mind. 

Sadly, this report from Pew Research does not lend a great deal of encouragement to my dour demeanor. The focus of this report is on the “engagement gap,” or how engaged each parties voters are. In 2010, when asked if they were “absolutely certain” they would go to the polls, Republican supporters held a 13 point lead of Democrats (77-64 percent). The GOP still has an advantage for this election cycle, though not as big at nine percentage points (76-67 percent). Small solace to at least half the population fearful that Republican control of the Senate the last two years of Mr. Obama’s term would mean a complete stalemate at best, moving backwards on progressive goals and ideals at a horrifying worst.

What to do then? A good first start would be to contact the Democratic Senate and/or Governors associations. Hell, even get a little pie-in-the-sky optimism going and get in touch with the Democratic House committee. Or find contact information for your local Democratic committee. 

Maybe pick a candidate you’d like to support. Here in Illinois while Sen. Durbin is probably safe against the gaffe-prone king of mediocre ice cream opposing him, Gov. Pat Quinn is struggling.against a buffoon with a billions-plus net worth who would love to be worse on unions than that POS Cheesehead Smirk Machine governing the land just north of the Cheddar Curtain. Across the Big Muddy from Illinois, State Sen. Jack Hatch is struggling to unseat the scandal-ridden mustache currently occupying the house too beautiful for such a crass clown. And Bruce Braley is in a tight race against the Castration Queen who would set women’s rights back decades. 

But there is one thing everyone can do: VOTE. Don’t believe the “engagement gap” hype, or if you do, help to prove it wrong. VOTE.

The fate of your nation depends on it. VOTE.