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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.

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?

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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.

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.

Media Bias in JFK Doc Dump

I’ve been avoiding politics and enjoying the beautiful autumn weather, but I came across the following articles today and this blog post fell into my lap. This is another illustration of why I’m thoroughly disgusted with the news media, especially since this past election.

There are no perfect people or perfect presidents, and politicians are often the worst people you’ll ever meet. However, there’s no denying the national news media has taken off the gloves when it comes to President Trump, often completely fabricating controversies in order to paint him in a negative light.

Case in point: these “news” articles about the release of thousands of classified documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration. Look at these headlines:

They make it sound like Trump personally decided to release the files over the objections of national security officials. The Washington Post explicitly says so: “President Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents.”

The implication being that “unpredictable Trump” is once again putting national security at risk.

Completely disingenuous. The Washington Post admits, “The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act required that the millions of pages, many of them contained in CIA and FBI documents, be published in 25 years — by Thursday. Over the years, the National Archives has released most of the documents, either in full or partially redacted.”

So not only was the date of their release set 25 years ago (all classified documents have a declassification date), but most of them have already been released. Where’s the story? The Washington Post wants you to believe the documents fuel conspiracy theories. And how would releasing the information, rather than keeping it secret, fuel conspiracy theories?

(“Conspiracy theorists were rejoicing” according to Slate)

It doesn’t really matter. All they care about is using the issue to once again bring up how President Trump has mused over conspiracy theories and associated with conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.

Here’s a far more accurate headline from the Washington Times: “Trump says he won’t block scheduled release of secret JFK assassination files.” This is actually an informative article explaining what is happening and why, without the toxic spin.

So rather than take the opportunity to educate the public about the documents and their possible impact on what we know about JFK’s assassination, the usual suspects use it as just another opportunity to smear the president. My eyes can’t roll any harder.

Anatomy of a Media Hit Piece

lord_of_nazgulI came across this hit piece at the New York Times recently, that uses guilt by association to demonize White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon and scare its readership into questioning the Trump administration’s motives and legitimacy. The headline itself begins with dark and ominous tones. “Taboo Italian Thinker Is Enigma to Many, but Not to Bannon.”

Uh oh, who is this obscure Italian, and why is he taboo? And how can an obscure Italian philosopher be an enigma to many, when most Americans have never heard of him?

It begins,

Those trying to divine the roots of Stephen K. Bannon’s dark and at times apocalyptic worldview have repeatedly combed over a speech that Mr. Bannon, President Trump’s ideological guru, made in 2014 to a Vatican conference, where he expounded on Islam, populism and capitalism.

But for all the examination of those remarks, a passing reference by Mr. Bannon to an esoteric Italian philosopher has gone little noticed, except perhaps by scholars and followers of the deeply taboo, Nazi-affiliated thinker, Julius Evola.

The first sentence passes off opinion as fact, and sets the tone for how the reader is supposed to feel about the rest of the article. “Bannon’s dark and at times apocalyptic worldview.” (Cue ominous organ music.) The second paragraph delves deeper. It tells us Bannon made a “passing reference” to Julius Evola, a 20th-Century Italian occultist and fascist intellectual. What was this reference? You’d have to dig to the bottom of the article to find it.

Mr. Bannon suggested in his Vatican remarks that the Fascist movement had come out of Evola’s ideas.

As Mr. Bannon expounded on the intellectual motivations of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, he mentioned “Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the Traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian Fascism.”

As the article points out, Bannon was actually incorrect. Evola used the fascist movement to promote his ideas, not vice versa. The real intellectual architect of Italian fascism was Giovanni Gentile. But so what? Bannon’s crime is having a passing knowledge of obscure philosophers and interwar European history? That’s like saying anyone who has read about terrorism is a proponent of terrorism.

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Affairs of Honor: Political Culture of the Founding Generation

affairs-of-honorJoanne B. Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2002), is straightforward and compelling. In it, she argues that the political culture of the United States’ first generation of congressmen under the constitution of 1788 was based on a strong sense of personal honor, governed by “a grammar of political combat.” Because there were no formal political parties, representatives had to try to best represent their constituents in an unfamiliar environment, while working with people from diverse regions whose loyalties or support could never be fully known or assured.

Joanne B. Freeman is a professor of History specializing in the politics and political culture of the revolutionary and early national periods of American History at Yale University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Affairs of Honor won the Best Book award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.

Freeman uses many primary sources to flesh out her argument, including the diary of William Maclay, a member of Pennsylvania’s first two-member delegation to the U.S. Senate. Maclay’s diary was a convincing way to illustrate his contemporary political culture because he seemed to be an observer more than a participant, and was therefore in a good position to critique it. Maclay was not without his biases, however. He was an outsider who was critical of the non-republican nature of congress, and that certainly led him to highlight certain aspects of the political culture that played into his own viewpoint.

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Citizens and the Media are Asleep: A Reply to Adam Andrzejewski

Yesterday at Forbes.com, Illinois political reformer Adam Andrzejewski asked why Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan refuses to prosecute public corruption. The answer is simple: she doesn’t want to–and not enough people care.

He writes, “She’s allowed felons to serve in municipal office; out-of-towners to serve as city alderman; many politicians to hold multiple – and conflicting – offices; a junior college to award more than $4 million in compensation to its president without a lawful board vote; and much more…”

When Lisa Madigan, daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, ran for attorney general in 2002, she vowed, “It’s time that Illinois’ highest legal official takes an active, hands-on role in cleaning up government. And I will not let them down.”

What happened? Well, gullible voters believed her, and she got elected. A lot of politicians in Illinois run on promises of reform because Illinois’ politics is widely seen (rightly so) as corrupt. But then once they get into office, no one holds them accountable for these promises. Certainly not the media, and definitely not the voters, who continue to re-elect them year after year.

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