Esquire Writer’s Embarrassing Historical Ignorance

Political commentators should leave historical observations to historians.

When writing political commentary, it’s always walking on shaky ground to engage in hyperbole, but it’s doubly problematic to employ historical analogies, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Case in point: in a recent political rant in Esquire, Charles P. Pierce wrote:

The Republican Party as it is presently constituted is the greatest threat to the American republic since Appomattox.

Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, Dec. 3, 2018

I’m sure Mr. Pierce thought he was making a clever observation about the American Civil War, but Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865 represented the end of the war, not the beginning. Did he really mean the end of the Civil War and the surrender of the CSA represented a threat to the American republic? I’m pretty sure he thinks the exact opposite of that.

His Civil War analogy is even more awkward because it was President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party who prosecuted the war to its conclusion and the Southern Democratic Party that tore the country apart with secession. Oops.

But that’s the danger when someone with a cursory knowledge of history tries to make a historic analogy.

In June, President Trump’s pick for our representative at the United Nations, Heather Nauert (then State Department spokeswoman), cited D-Day as part of our long history of close relations with Germany. Of course, we were at war with Germany when Allied soldiers landed on the Normandy beaches during the D-Day invasion.

While Nauert might be forgiven for making a stupid observation while speaking off the cuff, it’s hard to give Esquire’s Charles Pierce any leeway because he had time to sit down and think through his argument while writing it. His column has been up on the website for over a week without any correction.

Pierce’s rabidly partisan column contains so much exaggeration, fear mongering, and wild accusations it’s hard to take seriously anyway, but his tenuous grasp of American history tells this history buff he engaged in zero fact checking before hitting the “submit” button, and you know the editors at Esquire are asleep at the wheel.

Advertisements

Amazon Allows Profanity in Products but not in Reviews?

I received this email from Amazon this morning regarding my review for All That Remains album Victim of the New Disease. The album’s first song is called “Fuck Love.” I tried to comment on the song by using asterisks to mask the profanity, even though the song title is clearly displayed on Amazon’s website.

The alleged profanity is the only thing I can think caused my review to be rejected. It just doesn’t make any sense that Amazon would allow profanity on its website but not in its reviews. A reviewer ought to be able to use the text of the product to comment on the product.

White House Employees Warned About Violating the Hatch Act

A reprimand for engaging in politics on official accounts shows the importance of distinguishing between official and personal social media.

Last summer, in what seemed like an eternity ago as new scandals and outrage constantly emerge, there was a brouhaha over news outlets treating President Trump’s Twitter posts as official White House statements. Despite a contrary statement from then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, I still believe Trump’s personal Twitter feed should not be treated as official statements from the White House, and this latest incident shows why.

According to CNN, six White House officials were sent letters of reprimand from Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Noah Bookbinder for violating the Hatch Act.

The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in political activity while acting in an official capacity. Most relevantly, the Act allows federal employees to express opinions about candidates and issues, but prohibits them from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle.

Continue reading “White House Employees Warned About Violating the Hatch Act”

Dem’s anti-corruption proposal promising

Democrats unveiled their legislative agenda in the form of H.R.1, a reform bill that has potential but is woefully short on details.

Vox is reporting the new Democratic congressional majority plans to put forward House Resolution 1 after they decide on a new Speaker in early January. The resolution aims to tackle corruption on Capitol Hill, which will certainly be a daunting task.

Some of these measures sound promising, but others are problematic, particularly when it comes to campaign finance. Others simply need more explanation. Here is Vox’s breakdown, with my comments:

Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under Sarbanes’s vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over.“If you give $100 to a candidate that’s meeting those requirements, then that candidate would get another $600 coming in behind them,” Sarbanes told Vox this summer.

The main problem with public financing of campaigns is where the money comes from. If I donate $100 to a candidate, the federal government will match that with $600? Where does the $600 come from? Well, taxes, obviously. I’ve never understood this logic. Let people keep the money they earn and donate it to whom they wish.  You’re going to tax more of my income and give it to some politician I may or may not support? No thanks.

Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline (RI) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.

I think this is a good idea, and we should know exactly where campaign donations originate. It would basically require politicians and political action committees to report every single donation, no matter how small, which sucks for them from an accounting perspective but it’s a win for public transparency.

Continue reading “Dem’s anti-corruption proposal promising”

The End of Social Media?

The increasingly authoritarian behavior of social media companies is troubling and begs the question: are they worth our time?

The early days of social media were exciting. It was a new way to connect with friends, share photos and organize events, share your opinions and interests and promote projects.

I was an early fan of social media. I created my Facebook profile in 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to join. I’ve spent countless hours finding friends on Myspace (remember that?) and hundreds of dollars of advertising on Facebook. I used to think it had great potential.

As membership ballooned, however, it became increasingly difficult to reach out to the people you want. A few years ago, Facebook buried all non-promoted Page posts, so you had to pay just to reach your own fans. A page with thousands of fans might only get a few views on a non-promoted post.

Facebook has an obligation to its investors to make a profit. I understand that, but we have no obligation to use their service, especially now. Facebook started as a platform where anyone could go on and express themselves. Then they started acting like a gatekeeper. (Remember the controversy over Facebook removing photos of women breastfeeding?)

Continue reading “The End of Social Media?”

Are We About to Have a 28th Amendment?

This grossly inaccurate NPR article claims passage of an Equal Rights Amendment is right around the corner…

“Supporters hope to symbolically ratify an expired amendment” is the headline NPR should have ran with, if it actually wanted to report the truth.

Instead, it went with “Virginia Could Be The State To Give Women Equal Rights Nationwide.”

The article claims that after Illinois (again, symbolically) ratified the Equal Rights Amendment earlier this year, all that’s needed is one more state to ratify before it becomes law, and Virginia hopes to be that state.

Nearly 50 years ago, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, barring sex discrimination. But thirty-eight states had to ratify it before it took effect. Earlier this year, Illinois became number 37 and a bipartisan group of lawmakers is campaigning to make Virginia the final, historic vote.

NPR, Nov. 18, 2018

There are two problems, however. 1) five of those states later rescinded their ratification. 2) The deadline for 38 states to ratify the ERA expired on June 30, 1982. The article acknowledged the deadline expired in its final paragraph, but acts like that’s not a big deal.

The most prevalent argument against the ERA is more logistical than ideological. The deadline to ratify the amendment passed decades ago. But supporters are confident Congress can extend or even rescind that deadline, which it did once already in the 1970s.
But that’s a fight for another day.

NPR, Nov. 18, 2018

That’s a fight for another day? No, it’s not. You can’t extend a deadline after it expired. There’s even questions as to whether Congress can grant an extension in the first place. A federal district court ruled in Idaho v. Freeman that Congress had no power to extend ERA’s ratification deadline, and the Supreme Court neglected to review the case because no state had used the extension to ratify the amendment anyway.

Admittedly, I don’t follow NPR very often, but this is one of the most deliberately inaccurate and biased articles I’ve ever seen produced by that news organization. It’s because of articles like this that 69% of U.S. adults say their trust in the news media has decreased in the past decade.

What’s the difference between this NPR headline and a Weekly World News headline proclaiming the U.S. faked the moon landing? Both are claiming something is true that is objectively false. If news organizations are so concerned about being labeled “fake news” they should stop producing “fake news”!

Three historical films I’m looking forward to in December, and two I’m not

There are a couple “based on a true story” movies being released in December, three of which pique my interest, but two look like complete eye-rollers. There’s nothing worse than a flop that had the potential to be good, especially when it comes to historically-based films, and there are some major red flags here. I can’t wait to see if my predictions come true.

Interesting:

  • Mary Queen of Scots, directed by Josie Rourke and staring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. A historic epic about the rivalry between Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I sounds compelling if done right. I’m not familiar with Saoirse Ronan’s work, but Margot Robbie has been great in everything she’s done. I’ve already read a couple reviews that set off alarm bells. My fingers are crossed that the filmmakers didn’t try to shoehorn a modern social or political message into this.
  • The Mule, directed by and staring Clint Eastwood. Based on the true story of 90-year-old drug mule Leo Sharp. Clint Eastwood usually hits it out of the park, but we’ll see if his age has finally caught up with him.
  • Vice, directed by Adam McKay and staring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Sam Rockwell. This film purports to tell the story of how Dick Cheney became George W. Bush’s vice president. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Vice will portray Cheney, Bush, and company in an unflattering light, but the cast is filled with talent so maybe it’ll end up being a compelling political drama.

Eye Rolling:

  • On the Basis of Sex, directed by Daniel Stiepleman and staring Felicity Jones. The film follows a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she teams up with her husband to bring a discrimination case before the U.S. Court of Appeals. I don’t understand the celebrity worship surrounding Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I couldn’t care less about this. Courtroom dramas are boring and the only people who will watch this film are female undergrads at Harvard.
  • Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis and staring Steve Carell, Diane Kruger, and Eiza González. This pretentious art film tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, a guy who worked through the trauma of an assault by replicating a WW2 Belgian village in miniature in his backyard. The special effects are cool, but this obvious Oscar bait looks like it belongs on the Hallmark Channel. I think I’ll pass.