Category Archives: Musings

Stop Watching Propaganda

I recently saw this meme imploring “Trump voters” to turn off Fox News and pick up a “real newspaper.” I won’t argue about the biases of Fox. Despite plenty of Trump criticism on that network, everyone knows they advance a center-right perspective. But the idea there are “real newspapers” telling you what’s REALLY going on is laughable.

What is a real news source? The Washington Post? New York Times? CNN? Since President Trump got into office, they’ve lead a 24/7 assault against his administration. CNN has been caught lying about negative information about the president and even had to force the resignations of three “reporters” after they got caught.

Hollywood has joined the crusade by lionizing the Washington Post in a recent film, The Post (2017), which of course according to critics is one of the best films ever made (88% on Rotten Tomatoes). The narrative about “an unprecedented battle between the press and the government” (hmm, sounds familiar…) stars Meryl Streep, who used her Golden Globes speech to attack Trump.

So even though Fox is a favorite target for the left, let’s not pretend the other news outlets are telling you the unvarnished truth either. They are advancing their own agenda aided by allies in other forms of media and entertainment. There is no “real news” anymore–only propaganda. A great deal of critical thinking is required to sift through this partisan battle for the public’s hearts and minds.

As for the meme’s other claim, allow me to let you in on a little secret: every politician in the history of human civilization has lied to their constituents. That’s a truth you can always count on.

The Best War Films Show Both Sides

I recently watched 12 Strong (2018), Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest offering and a fictionalized account of the opening salvo against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. The movie was exciting enough, with a fair share of action and intense battle scenes, but it just wasn’t great. After writing my review (to be posted later this month), I started to think about what elements make a great war film.

King Edward I in Braveheart

Nearly every great war film has one thing in common (aside from epic music): they at least attempt to show both sides of the story. Think about Battle of the Bulge (1965), Patton (1970), Braveheart (1995), We Were Soldiers (2002), Gettysburg (1993), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). Each of these films involve a conflict between two sides and show the motivations of both sides, to varying degrees. The Japanese portion of Tora! Tora! Tora! (about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) was actually made by Japanese filmmakers.

Establishing an antagonist with clear, realistic motivations is key to creating a compelling story in a “man against man” conflict. This is especially true in war. In Braveheart, we see both William Wallace and King Edward I as they attempt to defeat each other. No one is confused about whether Edward I is the bad guy. We see him do bad guy things, like throw his son’s lover out a window. But he’s given plenty of screen time to develop his personality and explain his motives.

Vietnamese General Nguyen Huu An in We Were Soldiers

In We Were Soldiers, the story switches between the Vietnamese and American points of view. North Vietnamese General Nguyen Huu An was portrayed as a capable and worthwhile opponent. Battle of the Bulge, Patton, A Bridge too Far (1977), and even Enemy at the Gates (2001) all portray German officers as equally courageous, brilliant, and daring as the heroes.

In 12 Strong, the antagonist is Mullah Razzan, leader of the Taliban forces, a dark-haired, mustache-twirling villain who executes a woman early in the film for teaching young girls to read. That’s all we ever learn about him. What’s his motivation? Why is he fighting? Why does he think the Taliban can win? No one seems to care, and so neither does the audience. Razzan and the hundreds of faceless Taliban fighters are just paper soldiers to be blown up.

Col. Hessler in Battle of the Bulge

You could argue perhaps the Taliban are too dastardly to be given a more humanized role. But were the Nazis less dastardly? Battle of the Bulge was released 20 years after the end of World War 2. Everyone knew about Nazi atrocities, and Allied propaganda had done a good job of dehumanizing them, yet Col. Hessler is portrayed as a competent and worthy opponent. His background and motivations are clearly established.

There’s something to be said for showing both points of view from a historical perspective as well. These were real people who engaged in a real conflict. Film gives us a unique opportunity to learn more about why men of both sides fought and died, how they perceived the conflict, and what was at stake. That’s what separates a historically-based drama from an action movie where a musclebound hero lays waste to a horde of faceless minions.

Unfortunately, 12 Strong missed an opportunity to show a more accurate, compelling, and nuanced view of early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Bizarre Anti-Tax Cut Virtue Signaling in Cosmopolitan

The United States has one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the world. Or had, anyway. Given a penchant for wanting the U.S. to be more like Europe, and the average corporate tax rate in Europe is 18.35 percent, I thought there would be more celebrating when Congress lowered it from 35 to 21 percent. The bill also cut the top personal income tax rate by 2.6 percent.

Imagine my surprise when my social and moral superiors fell into hysterical fits about getting to keep more of their own money, even calling it “immoral”! Cosmopolitan Magazine, where I go to get all my fashion tips and information about U.S. fiscal policy, published an article titled, “4 Reasons You Should Be Disgusted by the GOP’s Immoral Tax Plan.”

Why should I be disgusted? I asked myself. According to the article,

  • It’s a Big Tax Cut for the Rich and Corporations
  • It’s a Small, Temporary Tax Cut for Everyday Americans
  • It Repeals the Obamacare Mandate
  • It Blows Up the Deficit and Will Crush the Poor, Disabled, and the Elderly

The first two reasons are essentially just an opinion that wealthy people and businesses shouldn’t be allowed to make more than a certain amount of money, and saying that the wealthy will benefit more than lower-income Americans isn’t an argument. By the way, nearly half of all Americans don’t pay Federal income tax. The richest 20 percent pay nearly 87 percent of all federal income tax. So yeah, lowering federal income tax rates will benefit the wealthy. So what?

Read the rest of this entry

Let’s be Insta-Friends on Instagram

Since I escaped the toxic swamps of Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been thinking of new ways to share projects and adventures. I always thought Instagram was a place for girls to post selfies flashing peace signs but it’s actually kinda fun. You’re just there to share pictures and video, so it seems innocuous enough. Let’s be Insta friends: www.instagram.com/ma_kleen/

Another Dishonest Headline from the Washington Post

Since I’ve disengaged with politics, I didn’t realize how many people were freaking out over the biggest tax overhaul in decades. If the Senate and House bills can be reconciled, it’ll mean the Federal corporate tax rate will lower from 35 to 20 percent. That’s huge, and the U.S. will be much more attractive to businesses.

It’s good for the stock market too. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Many companies plan to bring cash home from abroad and give a lot of that money to investors in the form of higher dividends and stock buybacks (which increase stock prices).”

Others have criticized the overhaul for potentially raising the national deficit and repealing the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance or face financial penalties. You’d think it heralds the apocalypse according to celebrities on Twitter.

So the Washington Post couldn’t help itself when President Trump seemed to equivocate on the final tax rate. According to a recent headline, “Hours after Senate GOP passes tax bill, Trump says he’ll consider raising corporate rate.”

There’s only one problem with this headline: Congress holds the purse strings. The President can’t do anything about taxes except sign or veto legislation Congress puts in front of him. This is Civics 101.

But that’s not even what happened. The entire article is based on an offhanded comment to reporters in which President Trump said, “Business tax all the way down from 35 to 20… It could be 22 when it all comes out, but it could also be 20. We’ll see what ultimately comes out.”

The President is clearly saying, “it could be 22 or 20… we’ll see what happens.” Meaning, stop freaking out about a bill that hasn’t even reached my desk yet. We don’t know what the final tax rate in the compromise bill will be. The sky could be cloudy tomorrow, or it could rain. Anything can happen.

The Washington Post interpreted this as, “Trump told reporters that the corporate tax rate in the GOP plan might end up rising to 22 percent from 20 percent,” which “could complicate sensitive negotiations to pass a final bill.” As though the President’s speculation has anything at all to do with what ends up on his desk! Sorry, our government doesn’t work that way.

You probably think this is a minor point, but the word “might” has intentionality behind it. It’s a prediction. Saying it might rain is different from saying it could rain. That turns into “Trump says he’ll consider raising corporate rate.”

Trump has no power to raise the corporate tax rate, nor did he say he’ll consider it. The Washington Post knows this, but decided to mislead its readers anyway.

My High School Years in Film: 1996

I thought it would be fun to do an overview of movies that came out while I was in high school. The first video covers August to December 1996, when I entered high school as a freshman at Maine West in Des Plaines, Illinois. Yeah, it’s blatant nostalgia, even though the ’90s was a lousy decade to be a teenager. What were your favorite films from the late ’90s?

Social Media Policy Crosses the Line in Case of Woman Who Gave Trump the Bird

You’ve probably heard this disturbing story of Juli Briskman, who was fired after a photo of her giving President Trump’s motorcade the middle finger went viral. Her employer, a government contractor called Akima, LLC, justified terminating her employment on the grounds that she violated their “social media policy” by using the photo as her profile picture on Twitter and Facebook.

“Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene,’” Briskman said. What a cheap excuse!

While it’s true Akima is a government contractor, and Briskman was clearly making a political statement, she did it on her own time, and posted the photo on her personal social media accounts. If this isn’t considered a direct attack on her freedom of expression, I don’t know what is.

In June, I argued that it was wrong for National Park Service employees to express their displeasure with the Trump administration because they were doing so on official government accounts.

It is inappropriate for Federal employees to engage in politics while at work, using government equipment, and in their official capacities, but I have no problem with them doing so on their own time, on their own social media accounts.

Likewise, if Briskman had been driving in a company vehicle, and the photo clearly showed Akima branding, I could see where they might have a case for reprimanding her, since it makes the company look bad. But not only was she riding her bicycle on her own time, you can’t even identify her in the photo.

There ought to be a separation between a person’s employment and his or her private life, and you shouldn’t have to fear reprisals at work for political opinions you express in your free time. Apparently Virginia is a state where an employer can fire an employee anytime, for any reason, but I still think this is ridiculous enough to open them up to a lawsuit.

Jenna Abrams Exposes American Media’s Stupidity

“Jenna Abrams had a lot of enemies on Twitter, but she was a very good friend to viral content writers across the world,” begins a Daily Beast exposé on a Twitter user that turned out to be the creation of the Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency. The article is meant to alarm readers about Russian influence in mass media, but in fact just shows how dumb the American media really is.

According to the Daily Beast, Jenna Abrams “at one point boasted nearly 70,000 Twitter followers.” Despite an “audience” amounting to 0.0002 percent of the U.S. population, her tweets ended up being quoted in articles published by a wide variety of news organizations and websites, including USA Today, The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Daily Caller, The Telegraph, CNN, and even the New York Times.

Why? I’ve talked about the tendency of lazy journalists to use Twitter as fodder to churn out articles and drum up fake controversy before. It’s easy to find a handful of tweets and quote them in an article, creating a perception of disagreement or consensus on an issue. The fake Jenna Abrams account gave them exactly what they wanted.

So who’s really to blame for getting trolled by the Russians? For an industry that supposedly prides itself on checking its sources and being the gatekeepers of factual information, they sure didn’t do a good job verifying to whom they were giving a wide platform.

Now media outlets are covering their asses by pretending Jenna Abrams and other fake accounts were “popular” and “influential” during the previous presidential election. A few thousand Twitter followers, many of whom were also probably fake, on a national scale is less than statistically insignificant.

Anyone can create a Twitter account, pretend to be whoever they want and say whatever they want. It’s ridiculous how much the news media cares about what anyone says on Twitter, or any social media for that matter, but that’s why the media’s credibility is at all-time lows.