Dan Rather was fired for not checking out sources, but nobody from Fox lost their job in the Breitbart scandal.

Let’s take Mr. Peabody’s WABAC (Wayback) Machine to the not-too-distant past of September 2006, when George Bush II and John Kerry were just entering the final sprint of the presidential campaign.

Dan Rather, the most well-known and well-respected television anchor in America, fronted a report prepared by experienced and well-respected TV news producer Mary Mapes in a show called “60 Minutes Wednesday.”  The topic: some memos purported to be written by a Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian that proved conclusively that Bush II shirked his National Guard duty during the Viet Nam War era.

Too bad the memos were forgeries.  After defending Rather and Mapes for about two weeks, CBS admitted that the news team had inadequately investigated the memos.  Mapes was fired almost immediately, and Dan rather, who was set to retire anyway, went more quickly and less elegantly than previously planned.

Fast forward to today and the Shirley Sherrod scandal, in which Andrew Breitbart, an RWRBB (right-wing rich-boy blogger), edited the speech of an African-American employee of the federal Department of Agriculture (DOA) to make her sound like a “Black racist” and posted it on his site.  Fox ran the clip numerous times.

Now that we know that the RWRBB doctored the clip, why hasn’t anyone been fired at Fox?  Not the anchor, not the producer, not a research assistant who might be responsible for fact-checking or sourcing video.  Now why is that?  Is it because journalistic ethics have declined over the past six years?  Or does Fox have a lower standard of professionalism than CBS?  Is Fox perhaps more interested in building a case for its political bias than it is in factual reporting?

If Fox wanted to be a serious news-gathering operation, wouldn’t it publicly put someone’s head on a platter and announce a new protocol for authenticating videos? Instead, Murdoch’s network has been pressing the attack, supporting Breitbart and making fun of the firing and offer to rehire.

Another question: why hasn’t the mainstream news dumped on Fox?  Maybe because without Fox, they wouldn’t have a source for the many right-wing spins on issues that mainstream media is currently using to define and cover issues.  

I’ve already covered the failings of the news media in establishing Breitbart’s credibility and then in not excoriating him, at least symbolically, for his unethical use of a favorite technique of Nazi propaganda—and Soviet as well now that I think about it.  I understand that an article in the latest issue of Nation will detail the news media’s history of treating Breitbart with kid gloves.

A short take: I ranted against Parade Magazine some weeks back for publishing an article on “What Independence Day means?” in which seven out of eight people answering the question were actors.  In focusing on entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities, the news media trains both children and adults to participate in celebrity culture.  Celebrities thus become the aspirational role model, as opposed to scientists, engineers, elected officials, fine artists, literary writers, classical musicians, inventors, or university researchers.  It dumbs down society and makes us more susceptible to mindless consumerism, which after all is the point of celebrity culture.

 Parade is far from being the only media outlet to revel in celebrity culture.  The August-July 2010 issue of AARP Bulletin, AARP’s 48-page Parade-for-seniors, has an article titled “99 Ways to Save,” which details tips for saving money, some submitted by readers.  Included are photos of four famous senior citizens and the most youthful-looking female AARP member imaginable; next to each is his or her tip for saving money.

The four famous senior citizens: actress Pam Greer, actor Harrison Ford, actor Alan Alda and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (whose new book came out last September, so she was a little bit in the news when the article was being planned).  I guess one out of four ain’t bad.

Another short take:  On July 20, I analyzed a July 19 article by Ross Douthat in the New York Times in which he used a recent study on the admissions practices of eight colleges to explain why he says poor whites feel abused and look unkindly on minorities and immigrants.  In my blog entry, I demonstrated that even if Douthat was correctly interpreting the study that his article was full of logical holes and that his conclusion made no sense.

Yesterday, Time Magazine published an interview with the Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshale who authored the study.  As Time so demurely puts it, Professor Espenshale “was quick to point out that the newspaper article had overreached its data.”

In other words, Douthat misinterpreted a study to get results that would allow him to perpetrate a completely illogical conclusion based on a dubious overstatement, i.e., that poor whites dislike minorities and immigrants.  A truly shameful performance.

The evolution of villains into good guys in television commercials.

Remember Joe Isuzu.  For those not watching TV in the late 80’s, Joe Isuzu was the insincere, slimy, greasy-haired, double-talking fictional spokesperson for the Isuzu line of cars and trucks.  Played to obsequious perfection by David Leisure, Joe Isuzu used the oiliest and most transparently hypocritical of demeanors to state such outrageous lies as “It has more seats than the Astrodome,” with the true statement superimposed at the bottom of the screen.  Over the four years that Joe Isuzu shilled for Isuzu cars and trucks, he became immensely popular, kind of the advertising equivalent of the villainous J.R. Ewing, Long John Silver or Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Thus when Isuzu brought Joe Isuzu back for another run in 1999, Joe was suddenly a hero who uncovered and corrected the lies of others.  If my memory serves me well, in Joe’s last appearance the car he was driving zoomed by a Japanese car and then a German car.  Joe gives a wave and his trademark slimy smile to executive-looking gentlemen in each of the slower, poorer-handling cars.  Cut to one of the executives, who says in a thick German accent, “I hate Joe Isuzu.”  And we all know he hates Joe because he thinks Joe’s cars are such a better bargain for consumers.

The treacherous villain resurrected as good guy is a strategy employed by writers for centuries, especially in serial literature such as feuilleton novels, television series and movie sequels, which all chew up plotlines very quickly and whose authors are therefore always looking for new twists.  We are seeing a very weird version of this literary device unfold on TV today.  Whether as the oily salesman or just the irritating bringer of bad news to competitors, Joe was at least always selling Isuzus.  In contrast, Capital One, the credit card behemoth, has turned the bad guys who hurt customers into the customers themselves, or at least a good-naturedly oafish version of customers.

The “What’s in your wallet” series of ads for Capital One started with bankers depicted as Viking-like villains who pillaged their customers with high fees and charges.  Their attacks often involved elaborate mechanical devices, jimmy-rigged equipment and military techniques from before the age of gunpowder.  The elaborate havoc these Vikings could wreak on a middle class family’s vacation and other pleasures mimicked the low slapstick humor of the Three Stooges.

But for the last few years, these same Vikings—the former bad guys—have transformed into customers who use the Capital One card and enjoy all its benefits.  They do so in doltish, slapstick ways that end in breakage, bad manners or absurdities such as a goat at a ski lift.  Instead of the barbarian raiders, they are a more physical version of the Beverly Hillbillies, fish out of water in an upscale world of conspicuous consumption.

Joe Isuzu and the Capital One marauders share many things in common.  Both are comic villains, another sophisticated literary device that has a long history, for example in Rabelais, Cervantes and Twain.  Crudeness is also an important element in both these characters (taking the marauders as one) and leads to most of the humor.  In the marauders it’s overall crudeness, in Joe, it’s crudeness in the sell style.

Again a writer uses accurate facts to propose something that isn’t true.

Over the weekend, Yahoo’s home page linked to an article titled “The Middle Class in America is Radically Shrinking.  Here Are the Stats to Prove It.” on Yahoo! Finance. 

The article originally appeared in “The Business Insider,” and was written by Michael Snyder, editor of a website called theeconomiccollapseblog.com, which builds a case for a coming economic meltdown while selling survivalist paraphernalia.  The menu bar selections on Snyder’s website include Gold Coins, Silver Coins, Emergency Food and Water Filters, all leading to portals with links to articles and a display of products for sale, gold at Gold Coins, silver at Silver Coins, et. al.

The article lists 22 statistics that demonstrate that the middle class is shrinking.  While none of the stats cited references, I am fairly confident that all 22 are correct, as I have seen many of these facts before, for example at the Who Rules America website.

Some of Snyder’s stats:

  • 82 percent of U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
  • The top 1% of U.S. households owns nearly twice as much of America’s corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
  • Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

All well and good, until we come to Snyder’s conclusion, which is to blame the growing inequities in wealth in the United States on globalization and free trade.  For example, Snyder writes that “It turns out that they didn’t tell us that the ’global economy’ would mean that middle class American workers would eventually have to directly compete for jobs with people on the other side of the world where there is no minimum wage and very few regulations. The big global corporations have greatly benefited by exploiting third world labor pools over the last several decades, but middle class American workers have increasingly found things to be very tough.”

There’s one big problem, though: other Western-style industrialized nations have not seen the same growing inequality.  The economies in Germany, France and the other EU democracies are saddled with the same high labor costs and safety regulations, yet there has not been the same pulling apart of incomes, not the same gutting of the middle classes, not the same transfer of wealth upwards that we have seen over the past 30 years in the United States.  Even Japan, which has suffered through two decades of stagflation, still has less wealth concentrated at the top than the United States does.

Why is that?

Unlike these other democracies, the United States has been on an active program to redistribute wealth upwards over the past 30 years.  I’ve written about this trend before, but here are some examples of actions that our nation has taken that move money upwards:

  • A series of tax cuts, the most substantial of which being those of Bush II, have significantly decreased what the wealthy pay while giving only token cuts to the middle class and poor.
  • The outsourcing of government functions to private sector companies, whose executives tend to make more money than public-sector executives and whose lower level employees tend to make less money than public workers.
  • The gutting of our safety net for the poor.
  • The uptick in anti-union activity, such as the hammering of the air traffic controllers union, the reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board, the charter school movement (which seeks to substitute low-paid nonunion teachers for higher-paid unionized ones), and the current war on the salaries of public sector employees.  Remember that unionization creates middle class jobs, especially for blue and pink collar workers.

None of these things have happened in Japan or Western Europe.  Looking at the pay of CEOs you can see clearly why there is a greater inequality of wealth in the United States than in any other industrialized nation.  These particular numbers come from a PBS special of a few years:

Nation CEO Pay Compared To Average Worker
Japan 11 times as great
Germany 12  “              “
France 15 “              “
Italy 20  “              “
Canada 20  “              “
Britain 22  “              “
United States 475!!  “          “

By the way, in 1960, the average CEO in the United States made a mere 45 times what the average worker did.

All of these other nations are among the wealthiest in the world.  All have willingly globalized their economies.  All pay higher wages and have higher safety standards than third-world competitors.  But it is only in the United States that there has been a significant redistribution of wealth upwards from the middle class and the poor.

Snyder got his facts right about the U.S. becoming a nation of rich and poor, but his explanation that globalization is the sole cause does not hold water.

FYI, the first time I wrote about the U.S. becoming a nation of rich and poor was in five-part TV news miniseries called “To Have and Have Not,” which I did while a television news reporter in 1982 for “Business Today,”  a now-defunct national business news show.

Advertiser tells us that the highest sensual pleasure is eating sugar-coated cereal.

I’m guessing that most house dogs allowed to lollygag around the living rooms of middle class households have been neutered or spayed.  Left without sex, the highest sensual pleasure of house dogs would likely be when someone rubs them on their belly.

What are we then to think about the TV commercial, now around for about two years, in which a fit and attractive but not beautiful 30ish-looking woman tells her dog that the way it feels when she scratches its belly is exactly the way she feels eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?  Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a General Mills dry cereal which lists sugar as its second biggest ingredient. 

The setting is very cozy: on a plush sofa with lots of throw pillows in a warmly lit living room.  And the woman speaks to the dog in a voice of sensual, almost sexual comfort, a voice that puts one at ease at the same time it appears to entice with a hoped-for delight. 

Once again in an ad we see a person anthropomorphizing a pet, giving the pet the complex emotions of human beings.  But instead of using this literary technique to sell pet food, General Mills employs it to sell cereal to adults, and specifically to single adult women.

Even by today’s standards of self-absorbed and selfish solipsism, this ad is bizarre.    The advertiser has sexualized the act of eating a sugary cereal, but not through a comparison with an act of love between humans, but by comparing it to the passively received “substitute” (or “best case scenario”) pleasure a sterilized dog receives from its master.

As I have pointed out in the past, even the worst of TV commercials have behind them solid demographic research.  So when I see a TV commercial that’s bizarre, doesn’t make sense or is in particularly bad taste, I ask myself, who is the target market?  In the case of this ad, the primary target must be successful single women not in a relationship or in a dysfunctional one (because if they were in a relationship that was working, they wouldn’t seek sensual pleasure in eating cereal). 

Connecting food with emotional states and selling the ability of food to create a desired emotional state have been strategies of food marketing for at least a century.  But in this commercial, General Mills stretches the limits of credulity, perhaps because the conflation of eating cereal with sexual pleasure is a bit comical to begin with, and getting the dog involved as confidante adds a pathetic note.

And I think General Mills knows the ad isn’t working.  Unlike for the best contemporary marketing communications campaigns, General Mills does not have anything online that builds or devolves from this ad.  I searched for a while and all the General Mills websites featuring Cinnamon Toast Crunch I could find are for children.

Which brings us to the other social trend embodied in this short spot: the infantilization of adult life.  In general, infantilization means to make someone into an infant in appearance or behavior; and in this usage, for adults to retain the habits and predilections of childhood.  I’ve written before about the large number of adults in late 20th century and early 21st century America behaving like children and enjoying the entertainments of their childhood, e.g., Disney, video games and fast food.  The spot for Cinnamon Toast Crunch builds on this concept because it proposes that a product designed for and usually sold to children can precipitate the highest sensual pleasure in an adult.

Changing the topic:  Last Thursday I pointed out that the mainstream news media had let race-baiting blogger Andrew Breitbart off easy for his editing and dissemination of video tape that maliciously and falsely made Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod look like a racist.  I’m glad to see that over the weekend and today there are signs that Breitbart is beginning to get the condemnation he deserves in the media, although sometimes in a squeamish manner.  On Sunday, both Frank Rich in the New York Times and Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press chided Breitbart, as did two separate articles on the front page of the business section of today’s Times.  Much of the right-wing media, however, continue to support Breitbart and much of the mainstream media continue to ignore his unethical actions, which led to Sherrod’s firing.

A great new idea that’s decades old, Breitbart gets off easy, food writer tastes the Tea-aid.

Here’s one day in the life of this observer of mass media:

Yesterday afternoon: Read the latest issue of Nation magazine to find a wonderful article in which Christian Parenti proposes that the Obama Administration kickstart the move to cleaner energy sources by orienting government purchases towards the clean and green.  Parenti lists electrical vehicles, efficient buildings, paper, cleaning supplies and a slew of other products that the Obama Administration could buy green and thereby give a much needed boost to their industries.  Parenti points out that government purchases are what funded early microprocessor development by being the first major customer.   

Parenti has a great idea.  The sad thing is, Barry Commoner proposed the same thing in the 1970’s; Commoner demonstrated that if the military bought photovoltaic (solar) batteries for the field it would make solar competitive as a source for generating electricity. 

Why didn’t we do anything then, and why isn’t Parenti’s idea being discussed in the mainstream media today?  The answer I believe lies in an incident from the early 50’s. Energy advisors presented President Harry Truman (my choice as worst president of all time for ordering the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) with two white papers: the first proposed the government support development of solar energy, which would have created a decentralized electrical grid and an industry dominated at least at first by lots of small companies.  The second paper proposed government support of the development of nuclear energy, which by definition would lead to a highly centralized grid and relatively few companies, most of which were already in existence and big donors to political campaigns.  Needless to say, Scary Harry picked nuclear.  And that federal preference for “big” energy remains to this day.

Back to the life of a blogger on mass media—at various intervals yesterday evening and this morning, I checked out what various media outlets were saying about the Sherrod flap.  That’s the African-American woman who earnestly told an audience that she had overcome her former racist attitudes only to be fired when right-wing rich boy blogger, Andrew Breitbart, used only a piece of her comment to make her look like a racist.  While I won’t question the newsworthiness of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologizing for jumping the gun before the facts were in, I am very curious as to why the mainstream news media has not lambasted Breitbart for using the classic Nazi propaganda technique of editing a statement to make it sound as if the speaker is saying something entirely different.  In the National Public radio version this morning, for example, Breitbart fades entirely out of the picture.

It is despicable to use the editing technique Breitbart did to make a case or provide an example.  Just a few months ago, The New Yorker did a tediously long encomium on Breitbart and his growing influence.  I would hope that after the Sherrod incident, the mainstream media will now ignore Breitbart.  He has lost what little intellectual credibility he ever had.   

The early morning sun was coming up and I was sipping my second cup of tea when I ran across this opening to an article titled “This Tea Tastes Like My Yard” by Michael Tortorello in the Home section of the New York Times.  Pay careful attention to the last sentence, which I have bolded:

The first Tea Party got one thing right: drinking tea is un-American. Camellia sinensis, the common tea shrub, will survive in most warm, humid climates. But tea plantations never took root in American soil.

The evils of Asian tea and British customs duties may not top the Tea Party platform these days. But the Glenn Becks of the 1770s were compelled to invent their version of freedom fries — a drink they called liberty tea.

Who were “the Glen Becks of the 1770’s?”  Let’s see now, whom do we remember from the Boston tea Party and whose image do we therefore conjure on reading the phrase?—Why it’s John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush, some of the group of wealthy and connected white males who declared independence and wrote our constitution.  We have long called them “our founding fathers.” 

In other words, in an article about making tea from garden herbs, Tortorello finds time to propose that Glen Beck is akin to the great thinkers who shaped our governmental system.

Laughable, except that an accumulation of these sly references in the mass media gives credibility to Beck’s ignorant, mendacious and manipulative statements.  

I consider these three observations as representative pieces in the daily mosaic of information bombarding us.  That the news media have so far let Breitbart off the hook for his cheap propaganda trick and a Times food writer is using another cheap propaganda trick to promote Glen Beck are discouraging developments.  But it would be truly disastrous if Parenti’s article and ideas do not get a hearing beyond Nation’s readership.

We won’t know the true power or meaning of the Tea Party movement until the November midterm elections.

In a blog entry of February 28, I said that the mainstream media was paying too much attention to the Tea Party movement.  I stated rather bluntly that at that point, the impact of the Tea Party was zero.  This statement came before the primaries in which Tea Party candidates have tended to do ill against other Republicans running for office.

Earlier this week, Carville-Greenberg released an in-depth study of Tea Party adherents that pretty much substantiates my view that the Tea Party has had little if any impact, which I now want to amend to say, no impact of its own.  I’ll explain that caveat later.   

The Carville-Greenberg study is very interesting and worth looking at.  Here, though, are the findings that support my contention that the Tea Party has had no impact of its own:

  • 89% of Tea Partiers lean towards the Republican party.
  • Only 5% of Teas report having voted for Barack Obama.
  • Total Tea adherents are 25% of voters and 10% of those who give to political parties or attend rallies.

In other words, no matter what pundits might be saying, the Tea Party is not made up swing voters, but of people who were always going to vote Republican and never going to vote for Obama or most other Democrats.  So where’s the impact? 

Some might say that the Tea Partiers have moved the country right.  It is true that they have moved the Republican Party right by helping more right-wing candidates win.  But in the general election, the more right-wing candidate may not have the advantage in a battle for the swing voters who decide many elections.

While recent polls show dissatisfaction with President Obama, I believe our deteriorating economic conditions, and not an upswell in Tea Party adherents, has been the primary reason for the decline of the President’s ratings.  Again, the Tea Partiers never liked our President and so none of their votes changed in the recent surveys. 

The biggest impact of the Tea Party so far derives not in itself or its members but in its symbolic value to the mainstream news media, which from the beginning has given the Tea Party movement outsized coverage and exaggerated its influence.  In the infancy of the Tea Party movement, the mainstream media republished unsubstantiated and absurd overestimates of attendance at a ragtag Tea march in Washington, D.C.  In the recent primaries, the media gave outsized coverage to Republican races with Tea-tied candidates while in many cases ignoring the Democratic primary races.  Mainstream reporters essentially hushed up the verbal miscues of Rand Paul and Sharron Angle until after the primaries.  The result of placing the spotlight on the extreme right 25% of the country to the detriment of coverage of other parts of the political spectrum has been to move the debate right-ward on virtually all the issues under discussion in the media.

At the end of the day, we won’t know what the real impact of the Tea Party movement is until November.  Carville-Greenberg says that 94% of Tea Partiers are certain to vote, certainly a higher percentage than will vote among the core 25% that affiliate strongly with the Democratic Party.  But what’s new about that?  The core Republican constituency has always been more likely to vote than the Democratic core.  Elections have therefore usually turned on two dynamics:

  • Who captures the independents
  • Will the Democrats get their supporters to vote.

I’m predicting that the extreme positions of Tea Party candidates will drive centrists to Democratic candidates and compel many who would have stayed home to come to the polls to vote against the right-wing extremists. 

That doesn’t mean the Democrats will necessarily prevail and maintain control of both houses of Congress.  The most important issue remains the economy.  If I were the Democrats I would do two things: 1) Make sure that the Administration was pouring all discretionary money into job creation and help for the unemployed; 2) Before putting together any advertising budget for fall campaigns, make certain enough money is set aside to have lots of vans and drivers to haul voters on election days to the polls from every senior center, community center, YMCA, university and public library in every urban area across the country.

Ross Douthat blames racist views of some rural whites on the admissions practices of eight elite colleges.

In his opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat blames the racist and anti-immigrant views of some rural whites on the admissions policies of eight elite colleges.

In a masterpiece of specious reasoning and selective fact reporting, Harvard-educated Douthat declares that Pat Buchanan was right when he said that the American elite discriminate against white Christians.  Adding “rural” and “poor” to white Christians, Douthat then blames this discrimination for fomenting the attitudes of many rural whites.  With such scorn from the elite, it’s no wonder that the disenfranchised whites believe, as Douthat writes, “that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants…”

The linchpin of his argument is a conservative blogger’s analysis of a book-length study two Princeton sociologists did last year of the admissions systems of eight elite (read: Ivy) colleges.  According to the blogger, downscale, rural and working class whites needed higher SAT scores and grades to get into these exclusive colleges than minorities.

I could probably write a long chapter in a book on the errors in reasoning and outright deceptions that Douthat employs in this one Op/Ed piece.  Here’s a few “quick hits”:

  • Eight schools do not the ruling elite make.  Douthat uses these eight schools to represent the entire ruling class, much as some sports reporters once liked to use Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmiero to represent all major league baseball players.
  • Douthat keeps harping on the need for elite institutions to admit more rural students set to become farmers (to keep them from becoming gun-toting paranoids, he seems to suggest), but don’t these kids go to agricultural colleges?  Before pointing the finger Ross, check out the website or viewbook!  There are no agricultural departments at the eight elite schools of the survey.  Douthat should take a look at the “public Ivies” and see how many rural kids are going to their elite and rigorous ag schools like UC-Davis, Wisconsin and Washington (and others).
  • Douthat conveniently forgets to mention the studies that show that legacies get a bigger break than either African-Americans or athletes do in college admissions, that is that legacies have on average the lowest grades and SAT scores of any studied group.  A legacy, don’t forget, is someone who gets admitted because mom and dad and maybe granddad and greatgramps went to the college in question and have been giving it a lot of money for a long time.  Why doesn’t Douthat rail about the many places taken from deserving poor whites and given to legacies at Harvard and Princeton (and others) each year?

Why would the failure of elite schools to admit enough of the cream of the crop of the rural and working class white nation turn the larger population of all poor and rural whites against minorities and immigrants?  Elite educational institutions have always educated and been a special interest of the ruling wealthy elites, who have always been and remain to this day overwhelmingly white.  I think poor whites and rural whites know these facts.  Follow me carefully here: I didn’t accuse poor whites of racist views, Douthat did and excused them as well because not enough of them get into elite colleges.  The reasoning doesn’t stand up, since not getting into elite colleges for whatever reason, should turn poor whites against rich whites and not poor blacks.  That is, of course, until Douthat and his brethren get in the way and help these people connect their outrage to minorities and immigrants.

Chill out your sun-fevered brain with some interesting contemporary poetry.

Most book review sections approach summer as if it were a time to turn off the brain and wallow in escapist plots and fantasy characters.  Summer reading, we are told again and again, should focus on light, easy-to-digest genre fiction like mystery, sci-fi, gothic and romance.  The assumption, I guess, is that when sitting on the beach or in an airport your brain wants to join your body in doing nothing.

And maybe it’s true that a lot of people like to turn off the brain when on vacation, but I think to a great degree, the mass media approach to promoting summer reading material reduces to more indoctrination in anti-intellectualism, one of the underlying ideological tenets of our consumerist society.  We don’t think about it, we buy it.

I’m going to make a few recommendations for some books I’m reading this summer that I think offer a little more substantial fare; then do something self-serving and give you a list of poetry journals that have published my poems so far this year, in hopes that you will pick up a copy and delve into some interesting contemporary poetry as part of your summer reading.

First some books I’m looking at this summer:

Viet Nam: History of an Unwinnable War, John Prados: A masterful retelling of the Viet Nam war that pays special attention to narrating the sad litany of similarities between Viet Nam and Iraq-Afghanistan. 

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace: I haven’t started it yet, but the collective opinion of serious book reviewers is that it’s the literary masterpiece of the 90’s.

Poems of the Late T’ang, A. C. Graham, translator and editor: Some of the most interesting and beautiful sounding poetry I have ever read.

Populuxe, Thomas Hine: Okay I read this one last summer, but I thought this history of mass market product design and selling in the 1950’s was absolutely fabulous.  “Populuxe” in Hine’s shortening of the idea of popular luxury, which was a common theme to autos, house, appliances and vacations in the 1950’s, our first era of mass consumption.      

Now for a list of places that have published my poems so far this year, in alphabetical order, with the name of the poem, the date of the issue and a link if possible. 

580 Split #12 (Spring 2010): Forty Years Later

Cortland Review #46 (Winter 2010): “Instead of Sex

Ellipsis #46 (Spring 2010): “My Brother Still Runs Like Rain” and “Lament of the HR Director”

Evansville Review #20 (2010): “The World is Always with Us

Jewish Currents (Summer 2010): “The Mad Bomber of New York

Natural Language (Carnegie Library, 2010): “The Book of Littleman

Slant #23 (Spring 2010): “A French Peasant before the Revolution

Wilderness House Review Vol. 5, #1 (Spring 2010): “Remembering Darla

From time to time, people ask how they can support my blog.  My answer is: buy one or more of these issues of these journals; or buy my book Music from Words, which is available from the publisher, Bellday Books, Inc., www.belldaybooks.com or at most online or brick-and-mortar book stores.

Tea’d-up Republicans spout falsehoods and absurdities through mouths full of shoe.

Here’s a multiple choice question that would fit into any SAT or GRE test:

Which one of these verbal miscues does not belong?

  1. Sarah Palin confuses the California city of Eureka with Eureka College in Illinois.
  2. David Vitter, Senator from Louisiana running for reelection, suggests that an appropriate group should go to court over the false accusation that President Obama has refused to produce a birth certificate.
  3. Tom Corbett, Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, says that large numbers of people have refused to return to jobs because they prefer to remain on unemployment.
  4. Sharron Angle, Tea Republican candidate for Senator from Nevada against Harry Reid, reasons that rape and incest are part of god’s plan as part of her opposition to all abortion rights.  
  5. Rand Paul, Tea Republican candidate for Senator from Kentucky, says that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bad thing.

It’s Sarah Palin’s nonsense that doesn’t belong for two reasons, one nonessential and one very important for understanding how right-wing candidates use the news media. The nonessential first: Sarah’s the only one not running for office.

Now for the profound difference: All Sarah did was to make another one of her factual misstatements, demonstrating once again that she is a “know-nothing.”  The others all make inaccurate or inflammatory statements that are myths believed by their hardcore ultra-right constituency, e.g., there are people, goaded by the Vitters and Becks of the world, who inaccurately believe that President Obama was not born in the United States and there is a hardcore group of people who think that a 12-year-old girl raped by her father should not have access to an abortion. 

To most people and to the mainstream news media, these are shocking views.  The news media likes to report on them, but definitely tilts the coverage towards those who condemn these outrageous statements. 

But the core loves these messages because they believe them, even (or perhaps especially) those that are racist or dismissive of the poor and those who have lost jobs and homes in the recession.

I don’t believe the approach of playing to the basest instincts of the hardcore right-wing works, and so far, the facts back me up.  We know that after their remarks, Paul and Angle both dropped precipitously in the polls.  Corbett has already backtracked on his harsh comments on the unemployed after a hailstorm of criticism across the state of Pennsylvania.  And let’s not forget that Virginia Senator George Allen Jr. snatched defeat from the jaws of reelection victory by calling someone from the Indian subcontinent who questioned him at an event a “macaca.”

When politicians make these outrageously racist or in other ways absurd statements, it produces two negative effects:

  • It turns “centrists” against the candidate and makes them reconsider the other side.
  • It awakens some part of the eligible voters from the other side who were not previously likely to vote.  This second effect is particularly dangerous to the T-R’s (Tea Republicans) because the big lesson of the 2008 and 2009 elections was that when groups who vote in low numbers such as minorities and people under 30 have a reason to vote as they did for Barack Obama in 2008 then the Democrats prevail.    But when these voters stay home, as they did when Martha Coakley ran to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate, then the Democrat loses.

Another example of the news media turning discussions of important issues into a fight between personalities.

I know I’m not the first to point out the proclivity of the mass media to turn discussions of important issues into fights between people.  Instead of discussing the issues in a rational way or seeking to sift the truth from the obfuscation, the media prefers to focus attention on polls, slips-of-the-tongue, gotcha’s, false accusations and personal matters.

But could they trivialize the important issue of preserving and strengthening Social Security?  From the viewpoint of this left-leaning liberal, the current Social Security battle is between those who want to tweak what is a very financially strong system to make it stronger versus those who want to address the federal deficit by having the federal government default on the loans it has borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund.

But New York Times reporter, Robert Pear has found a way to turn it into a battle between two personalities, Stephen C. Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary who has worked for the Social Security Administration (SSA) for 37 years, and Michael J. Astrue, the Bush II-appointed Social Security Commissioner.

Keep in mind that the news impetus for his article in this past Sunday’s Times is the fact that two Congressional committees begin hearings on Social Security this week.  In the article, Pear raises none of the issues that may be under discussion at these hearings.

Instead, Pear’s lengthy article:

  • Quotes a number of Democratic Senators and Congresspeople on how great an actuary Goss is and the need for the Chief Actuary to be independent
  • Details examples of past tensions between the two men, all about power struggles and bad performance reviews
  • Reprints a “nice-nice” comment from SSA’s spokesperson.

But nowhere in the article is there any discussion of what opinions these men hold.  Let me repeat: But nowhere in the article is there any discussion of what opinions these men hold.

The entire article boils down to a personality squabble, and not the important policy differences that must exist between a man who has worked all his life to keep Social Security solvent and a political appointment by an avowed enemy of Social Security.

Pear is able to share an example of an actuary and a political appointee clashing over an issue, but its six years old and concerns a different actuary, the one whom a Bush II administration official threatened to fire if he provided Democrats with his cost estimates for the new prescription drug benefit.

Despite an easy-to-access public record, Pear is unable or unwilling to come up with the substantive differences between the men and talks only of the struggle itself.  I spent about 30 seconds on the Internet to discover in the recent past Goss has said such things as Social Security is solvent for at least 25 years and that in its projections, Social Security could comfortably raise the estimated rate of return for the money it loans the federal government.  Another quick search revealed that since becoming Commissioner Astrue has rarely missed an opportunity to say something negative about the future of Social Security.  For example, when the first baby boomer applied for Social Security, he said, “We are already feeling enormous pressure from baby boomers being in their peak disability years …”  

Now why would Pear not discuss the issues from the point of view of these apparent adversaries and instead of  focusing on the fact of their disagreement alone?  It’s hard to come to any other conclusion other than the obvious:  Pear wants to move the story of Social Security away from issues and to the same old dreary personality battles that pock election and legislative coverage.

It’s called trivialization of the news and if there were an award for it, I would certainly nominate this article for 2010.