Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why McCain may win—alas!

Pessimism should spring eternal within the human breast. Politics has proved time and time again that hope is a delusion. So here is why John McCain will probably beat Barack Obama in the presidential election:
Many Americans will vote against Obama because he is black.
Anecdotal evidence abounds. A customer tells a Reno barber that he will never vote for a “nigger.” A man at a San Francisco Bart station, asking directions from a black newspaper vendor, addresses him as “boy.”
More solid evidence: 17 percent of white voters in the Pennsylvania primary said “they wouldn’t vote for a black.”
Unspoken but real is white fear. This sort of illogic: “If Obama wins what will blacks want next?” Or, “If Obama wins, blacks will think they are running things.”
A black First Lady? What an absurdity!
The rebarbative Joe Lieberman, asked on Fox News if Obama is a Marxist, replied that he would “hesitate to say” but that some of his positions “are far to the left” of mainstream America. (Untrue)
The GOP smearmeisters will say Obama “lacks American roots.” His middle name is Hussein, isn’t it?
McCain will tout his foreign policy experience while declaring that Obama has none. McCain will cite his military experience while declaring that Obama has none.
The troglodytes on radio and TV talks shows will shrilly denounce Obama, calling him an appeaser, too willing to talk to “rogue” leaders.
Fact: American voters usually pick the worst presidential candidate. Look no farther than the White House incumbent.
Here is why Obama must win:
He is right on most of the issues. McCain, a Bush clone, is usually wrong.
Obama wants to pull out of Iraq. Warhawk McCain will keep troops in Iraq “100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years” just as long as there are few U.S. casualties.
McCain, the son and grandson of admirals, has that military mindset, a mindset that says war is good, peace is bad. He loves the U.S. empire with its 1,000 bases spanning the globe.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone writes that McCain believes war is “righteous and necessary, a tonic for the national soul, intrinsically noble.”
McCain wants to solve problems with force. He admits: “There’s gonna be other wars.” He declares defiantly: “Bomb bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.”
What a stunning contrast with the view General Grant expressed in his great Civil War memoir: “This war was a fearful lesson and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.”
McCain invokes the GOP ghosts of yesteryear. He uses fearmongering. He says Obama is naïve, weak on national security and soft on terrorism. All are bogus arguments but play well with boobus Americanus.
McCain, the soi-disant Mr. Clean, was involved in the Keating Five scandal concerning the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan. He has cozied with the K Street lobbyists.
Asked what he had been reading lately, McCain said he was inspired by the books of Texas pastor Joel Osteen, who preaches the gospel of greed. “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny he has laid out for us,” Osteen says.
McCain is a champion flip-flopper. He first opposed tax cuts for the wealthy but now he not only wants to make them permanent but proposes more tax cuts tilted toward the rich.
As a tortured prisoner of war. McCain once opposed the barbarous practice. But now he favors it. He once denounced Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh as “agents of intolerance” but now the religious right is OK. McCain once favored abortion but now is strongly opposed. He once favored gay marriage but now is opposed.
Indeed, McCain may be the only politician to oppose positions of two bills that bear his name, campaign finance and immigration reform.
McCain’s lust for the Oval Office leaves him devoid of principles.
Political writer Taibbi put it scathingly in another article: “The media-manufactured ‘maverick’ has remade himself into a dumbed-down Republican Party stooge.”
McCain belongs to the Grand Old White Party which pushes capitalism and corporatism at the expense of most Americans. He voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. He wants to drill for offshore oil although he knows it will be of little help at the pump.
McCain voted against limiting the CIA to the Geneva Conventions. He backs Bush wiretaps without warrants. He opposes a new GI Bill. McCain would stuff the federal courts with right-wingers.
The Brave New World of McCain offers the same dreary world of Bush.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama offers hope after gloom

Amid the uproar of empire…the gentle stirring of…hope.
--Albert Camus in 1957 lecture at Uppsala University

Presidential politics are fought in the center. You cannot be too leftist or too rightist to win a major party nomination. The middle ground is precisely where Barack Obama stands after wresting the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton.
Historian Howard Zinn observes that Obama offers no change from the status quo, just more “capitalistic greed and militarism.” Doubtless proper cynicism. That view is supported by Obama’s appointment of Jason Furman as his economic adviser, a centrist favoring Wall Street over Main Street.
Nevertheless, a President Obama would re-invigorate the Oval Office in contrast to the despicable foreign policy and musty domestic policies of Bush-McCain.
Obama’s instincts are progressive, McCain’s retrograde. As Lincoln phrased it in his First Inaugural, Obama can summon “the better angels of our nature.”
Two candidates on the Left were forced to drop out early, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Kucinch, the best, would have pulled U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and battled for Canadian-style universal health care.
The populist Edwards rightly denounced corporation money controlling politics and the ever-growing gap between the Haves and Have Nots.
As for Clinton, she is a warhawk. She vowed to “totally obliterate” Iranians in the event of a nuclear attack on Israel.
She is a gross exaggerator--if not a liar. She claimed that she had been against NAFTA “from the very beginning.” Truth squad: she spent 10 years praising trade deals. She ignored concerns of labor, farm and environmental groups to urge passage of NAFTA in 1993.
Even worse, when an Obama nomination seemed inevitable, Clinton hinted that she would not quit because he might be assassinated.
She slimed Obama. She said that when it comes to national security, she would prefer McCain to Obama.
Another truth: the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are not very nice people, betraying long-time friends and supporters.
Clinton’s first “concession” speech was no concession. It showed her utter lack of class, her gracelessness.
Yet it is clear why so many women supported Clinton. They were anxious for her to break the ultimate glass ceiling: the White House.
So many women have felt the sting of bias in the workplace: sexual harassment, denial of justified promotions, squashing of justified executive hopes, less pay than men in comparable jobs and advice ignored as “mere” woman-talk.
To them, the nomination of Clinton would have been wonderful payback, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
As it is, the Democratic nomination fight had important political and sociological significance. For the first time one of the two major parties produced a black man and a woman who were powerful candidates for president.
Obama’s record and speeches offer hope again after eight years of hopelessness under the wretched Bush administration.
Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” has observed of Obama: “He is a remarkable human being, not perfect, but humanly stunning as King was and Mandela is…He is the change America…must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people.”
Running for the U.S. Senate in 2002, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq. He pointed out presciently that such a war would “fan the flames of the Middle East…and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.” (Mission accomplished!)
In the Illinois Legislature he made his mark by championing civil liberties. So he rightly lauded the recent Supreme Court decision to grant Guantánamo detainees habeas corpus, hailing it as “an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law.”
In bleak contrast, McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”
Obama would raise the Social Security payroll tax from the maximum of $102,000 to $250,000, noting that it is unfair for most workers to pay the tax on “every dime they make” while millionaires and billionaires pay a tiny percentage of their income.
Even in relatively minor matters Obama exudes a marvelous feel for humanity, He advocates the end of federal intervention in medical marijuana cases, wanting states to make their own rules.
But the paramount issue in the presidential campaign is ending the sickening Iraq War quickly, withdrawing U.S. soldiers and shuttering military bases.
If Obama would do this as president the great bulk of the American people would applaud and the Muslim world would have far less reason to hate U.S. policies.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Top court sides with corporatocracy

It speaks volumes about the Supreme Court when it could not rule on a case recently because it lacked a quorum of six. Three justices recused themselves because they held stock in companies being litigated. A fourth justice recused himself because his son works for one of the firms.
Embarrassing, yes. But it shows that the justices are rich and therefore seldom rule for the vast majority of people.
Seven members of the court are millionaires. Justice Kennedy, poor fellow, has a net worth of just $750,000. Weep too for Justice Thomas who has gotten just $1 million in book advances since 2003.
Earlier this year Chief Justice Roberts recused himself in a drug case because he owns stock in Pfizer, the parent company of a defendant in the litigation. This resulted in a 4-4 decision, upholding the appeals court.
The same thing could happen when the court soon hands down a decision on the damage suit against Exxon in the Valdez oil spill. Justice Alito recused himself because he owns stock in Exxon.
Executive branch officials are required to divest themselves of stocks that could be a conflict of interest. Not the justices. They are a law unto themselves.
The Supreme Court is the least known branch of government. That’s why few people realize that it is very much a part of the corporatocracy ruling America, the unholy triumvirate of corporations, banks and government.
The court made clear its preference for that corporatocracy when it ruled in April that the Indiana voter photo identification law was constitutional.
In effect, the decision restored the poll tax, designed to hold down black votes in the South, which the Supreme Court had abolished four decades ago. The ruling also nullified the 24th Amendment which prohibits poll taxes.
The Indiana law, upheld 6-3, requires citizens to show a photo ID at the polls, either a driver’s license or a passport. The decision reverses two centuries of jurisprudence declaring a voter signature sufficent ID.
The majority opinion, fracturing logic, was written by Justice Stevens, once a liberal but now becoming senile at 88 and returning to his GOP roots. He claimed the risk of voter fraud is real.
Palpable nonsense. Voter fraud is so rare as to be nonexistent. The truth is that photo ID is part of a concerted effort by Republican state lawmakers to prevent blacks, Latinos and the elderly from voting. Why? They tend to vote Democratic. The court ruling has prompted 20 states to seek enactment of photo ID statutes.
Up to 13 percent of Indiana voters, most of them Democrats, will be ineligible to vote for lack of photo ID. Indeed, about 20 million Americans do not have a driver’s license bearing a photo.
In dissent, Justice Souter saw through the chicanery. He said the photo ID requirement was a serious burden, one that Indiana had not justified.
Comparing photo ID to the poll tax struck down by the Supreme Court in 1966, Souter said: “the onus of the Indiana law is illegitimate because it correlates with no state interest so well as it does with the object of deterring poorer residents from exercising the franchise.”
The New York Times noted the irony of the ID decision: “Seven years after it invoked the Constitution to vindicate what it saw as President Bush’s right to fair election procedures, we are still waiting for the court to extend this guarantee with equal vigilance to every American.”
Illegal immigrants voting? Ridiculous. As illegals, they would hardly risk exposure by trying to vote. However, vigilant officials did stop a subversive group from voting in the Indiana primary this year: a group of nuns without voter ID!
Driving down the voter turnout will help the corporatocracy rule in perpetuity. Keeping the poor, the elderly, racial minorities and college students--who are wild about Obama--from voting fosters that sinister design.
The head of the Republican Party in Alabama has admitted that the Republicans object to restoring voting rights of former felons “because felons don’t tend to vote Republican.” Positions are taken in politics, not because they are right, but because of partisan advantage.
America is far from the great democracy it boasts of being. Bush brags about the wonders of voting in Afghanistan and Iraq while his party denies the franchise to voters who do not have a driver’s license.
This is the reactionary Supreme Court that gave us eight years of the Bush stain and is now ruling so McCain can continue that imperial, unconstitutional reign.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Court decisions dent gay bias

Intolerance. Hatred. Bigotry. Prejudice. Discrimination. Ignorance. Fear. All were dealt a severe blow by the courts as gays and lesbians recently won two sparkling victories.
One declared the right of same-sex couples to marry and the other portended the end of the military’s absurd policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The California Supreme Court struck down state laws that had limited marriage to a union between men and women. And, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a suit against the Air Force, declaring that the military cannot discharge people because they are gay.
In the gay marriage case, Chief Justice Ron George wrote for the majority: “In view of…the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution…guarantees this basic civil right to all Californians.”

The ruling gives gay couples the benefits and protections of hetrosexual marriage. They can get tax and insurance benefits and the right to family leaves and hospital visits.
An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle had it right: “Two

people who love each other should have the chance to build a life

together, raising children, sharing dreams and balancing careers.”

Predictably, the Yahoos went beserk from their mental caves. They wailed about the sacredness of marriage, lamented ruination of the culture, decried the end of religious faith, declared that marriage was for procreation, labeled homosexuality immoral and damned “activist judges.”
Sanctity of marriage? What’s so sacred about marriage if one out of two end in divorce?
In dissent, California Justice Marvin Baxter complained that the majority, unsatisfied “with the pace of democratic change…subtitutes, by judicial fiat, its own social policy views for those expressed by the people themselves.”
But as Justice Holmes pointed out, courts must act for “the felt necessities” of the times. Chief Justice Warren reinforced that view when he declared that courts must act for fairness and justice.
“Judicial restraint has too often meant judicial abdication of the duty to enforce constitutional guarantees…for too long we have been sweeping under the rug a great many problems basic to American life,” Warren said. “We have failed to face up to them.”
Leaving public affairs up to the people often produces injustice.
Look no farther than California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law. Under this reprehensible legislation enacted by the people, some one goes to prison for life for a third felony even if it is as trivial as stealing a bag of golf clubs.
I.F. Stone rightly noted during the 1960s: “If you give power to the people we’d all be in jail.”
Under the Justice Baxter rationale, it would have been up to the states to outlaw segregation. But without the Supreme Court’s activist role, Alabama and Mississippi still would have apartheid.
The fear here is that a California referendum in November could nullify the humane court decision.
In the federal decision, the court said that the Air Force must prove that Major Margaret Witt’s dismissal farthered the military’s goals of readiness and cohesion.
The court cited the 2003 Supreme Court decision invalidating the Texas anti-sodomy law as an unconstititional intrusion on privacy.
Witt, a flight nurse, was suspended in 2004 after the Air Force learned that she had a relationship with a civilian. Dismissed in 2007, she filed suit.
But a U.S. district court tossed out her case after the military argued that gays are bad for morale and lead to sexual tension. (Some antediluvians in the Pentagon still argue that homosexuality is a mental disorder.)
Writing a concurrence for the appeals court, Judge Ron Gould noted: “When the government attempts to intrude on the personal and private lives of homosexuals, the government must advance an important interest…and the instrusion must be necessary to further that interest.”
An attorney for Witt, James Lobsenz, hailed the appeals court ruling as the beginning of the end for “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The military policy is so lame. It fires hundreds of highly capable gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors. It spends millions to recruit and train replacements. It turns down college students who are gay while practically enrolling the lame, the halt and the blind for duty in Iraq.
Social progress in this nation is maddeningly slow. It may take centuries before America is truly civilized. At least the courts are nudging the nation toward civilization.