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, May 30, 2009

Obama: fresh air but, but…

The change is wonderful: from the reactionaryism of G.W. Bush on everything to the progressivism of President Obama on many things.

He reversed Bush policies favoring corporations over people. He eliminated funding for the absurd Bush abstinence-only sex education. His Food and Drug Administration has overturned the right-wing stance under Bush, letting 17-year-olds use a contraceptive pill without a doctor’s prescription.

Obama’s White House released graphic torture memos written by Bush’s so-called Justice Department. His Labor Department will enforce regulations on worker safety, grossly neglected in the Bush administration. His Justice Department will enforce antimonopoly laws. Bushites never did.

Obama seeks to end the racial disparity in sentencing for crack (blacks) and cocaine (whites). His drug czar will ease the bogus war by stressing treatment rather than prison. Obama scrapped Bush plans to open the coasts to oil and gas drilling. He is halting the Bush rules easing power plant pollution.

He urges better car mileage and higher emissions standards, blocked by Bush pooh-poohing of global warming. He has overturned the Bush policy of more timber-cutting and ever more roads in national forests.

The Obama adminstration will no longer prosecute dispensers of medical marijuana, ending Bushite raids. Obama wants science to rule in medical matters, not ideology.

All of these Obama actions and plans are commendable. But Obama is a half-a-loaf specialist, a tergiversator. Instead of giant strides, he take baby steps.

Obama is not the “radical communist,” as the frenzied Right bleats. Nor is he the “blatant socialist” as the less frenzied call him. Obama is a liberal-leaning centrist.

Obama wanted to shut the Guantânamo prison but discovered an old truism: presidents propose but Congress disposes. Nevertheless, Obama wants to keep the secret military jail at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. And, to the outrage of civil libertarians, his administration will try alleged terrorists by a kangaroo court (military commission).

Obama proposed funding for stem cell research from embryos at fertility clinics only, gutlessly ruling out lab research. Obama lifts travel restrictions to Cuba. Good. But he does nothing about the shameful policies of embargo and nonrecognition.

He promised Planned Parenthood to sign an abortion rights bill but now puts such legislation on the back burner. He seeks to block a lawsuit on behalf of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was outed by Bushies because her ambassador husband exposed a spurious reason for war in Iraq.

But the biggest disappointment is Obama’s foolish pursuit of losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush wars have become the Obama wars. A hundred surges in Afghanistan won’t subdue the Taliban, the warlords, al-Qaida and the poppy growers.

Pete Seeger sang: “We were neck deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on.” Obama is no fool. But he forgets the folly of Vietnam and the wisdom of Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Obama’s Pentagon lifted the ban on coverage of the war dead--but half-bakedly. He is letting families decide. As DeWayne Wickham, USA Today columnist, writes: “Our free press is still being stage-managed by those who run the wars...News organizations shouldn’t let family wishes dictate how they cover war news.”

Obama listens to the military too much. He is back-pedaling on gays in the military. He resists court orders to release photos documenting the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama circles himself with permanent war party advisers.

CIA drones pound Pakistan, Obama’s third war. To pursue that war he wants to build a superembassy in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, garanteeing a long-term commitment.

Obama insists in “moving forward” rather than having a Truth Commission investigate the abuses of the Bush-Cheney criminals. But revealing crimes of the past are essential cleansing.

Obama surrounds himself with Jewish lobbyists who will defend Israel à outrance. He runs scared of the gun lobby, refusing even to fight for a ban on assault weapons. He vowed to usher in a “new era of openness in our country.” But in office Obama continues the discredited state secrets policy of Bush.

Obama will keep polar bears off the endangered species list as Bush did despite the rapid melting of the Arctic Sea. He promised to reverse of the heinous Bush policy allowing mountain-top mining that dumps rock and dirt into streams. But now his Environmental Protection Agency says it’s OK.

On the hustings Obama offered withering criticism of signing statements by President Bush. In office Obama issues signing statements. He opposes gay marriage so he refuses to exert moral leadership against prejudice.

Obama, the Great Compromiser, tarnishes a promising presidency.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Progressives delude themselves

MADISON, Wis.--Panelists here at the recent conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Progressive magazine were overwheliming optimistic. They are doomed to overwhelming disillusionment.
These wonderful optimists talk about organizing, solidifying and exhorting. They extol the power of labor. They urge pressure on politicians. They demand speaking truth to power. They talk about the wave of the future.
Their hearts are in the right place but they refuse to face reality.

That reality was exemplified by the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison’s only daily newspaper. It did not print a line about the two-day convention attended by 500 delegates nationwide and celebrities like Robert Redford, Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan.
Reality. Progressives and leftists make up a miniscule part of the population, maybe 100,000 out of 310 million. Their agenda has so few adherents. Progressive magazine has a paltry 55,000 circulation.
Reality. The system will not allow profound changes. Corporations and lobbyists, with their money, rule America. They get what they want. The bulk of the people suck hind tit.
Reality. America does not have a democracy. Four Republican senators from Wyoming and Alaska have power far beyond the number of their constituency of 1 million.
Wyoming, with 500,000 people, has two senators. The District of Columbia, with a population 100,000 greater, has none. California has 36 million people but just two senators.

The Senate with its archiac rules is woefully undemocratic, requiring 60 votes to halt a filibuster. This means it can override the will of the majority on such progressive measures as universal health and card-signing unionism.
One mossback senator, the rebarbative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, can singlehandedly hold up funding for national parks for one year. And: that same one man amends a credit card reform bill to allow loaded weapons in national parks, a totally unrelated measure.
The antiquated Electoral College has given the presidency four times to the loser in the popular vote.
Reality. Americans are innoculated with capitalistic abundance. They love it. The schools, the media and society inculate the American Way.
Nevertheless, the conference was enlived by panelists like Joan Claybrook and Ron Hayes with stiff doses of radicalism.
Claybrook, Public Citizen head for 25 years, offered 12 sensible reforms for corporations, among them: chartering of corporations, ability to revoke those charters, overturning the egregious Supreme Court ruling in 1886 giving citizen rights to corporations, closing corporate tax loopholes, eliminating tax-free outsourcing, setting up a corporate investigating commission and establishing a corporate criminal court.
Hayes, advocate for worker construction safety, declared: “We must make corporate misdemeanors the felonies they should be when workers are killed on the job.”

Sheehan impressed. She denounced President Obama for his warmongering in office after sounding anti-war notes on the hustings.
One panel noted that the civilized countries of Europe have measures uncivilized America does not: universal health, family allowances, maternity leaves, sick pay, longer vacations and strong unions.
Naomi Klein, author of the leftist bestseller, “The Shock Doctrine,” called the two-party system the fraud it is.
She demanded a much-needed Truth Commission to investigate the abuses of the Bush thugs. She correctly denounced Obama for wanting to bury the past, to look forward instead of cementing the past in America’s “historic memory.” She rightly denounced capitalism but never said socialism is the solution.
A sports panel endorsed the “Beer and Circus” of college sports. The panelists embroidered that view by telling amusing stories. But never once did they point out that sports don’t belong in universities. Never once did they observe that sports has become the opiate of the masses.

The conference had its frustrations: microphone-hogging questioners who delivered five-minute speeches, panel moderators who yaked and yaked when the delegates wanted to hear the panelists, standing ovations, self-adulation, preaching to the choir and cheers for commonplace statements.
And, oy vey, the many panelists who simply could not utter simple sentences without that terrible speech mannerism “you know.”
Nevertheless, Progressive deserves accolades. For 100 years it has fought the power of greedy corporations and predatory banks, exposed the plight of workers, battled for the environment, opposed war and decried empire-building. The magazine has denounced racism, sexism and homophobia.
As the weekly Madison Cap Times put it: “It has cherished our civil liberties and defended them against the Joe McCarthys, the Richard Nixons and the Dick Cheneys who would eliminate them.”
But overall the conference lacked the radicalism of Marx. He wrote in the “Theses on Feuerbach” in 1888: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point…is to change it.”
Marx’s vision of change for justice will never be fulfilled in conservative America.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Souter: star amid dim constellation

Justice David Souter could probably walk into a popular Washington, D.C., restaurant and not be recognized by 49 out of 50 diners.

In this celebrity-conscious land, the Supreme Court justices rank well below Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and The Simpsons in public recognition. The Supreme Court itself is a virtually unknown body unless it hands down decisions stirring outrage on issues like abortion and flag-burning.

Souter will happily retire this summer, going counter to the dictum of Jefferson that few in power die and none resign.

Souter had no flash, no dash, no flamboyance. He was quiet and unassuming, But he was a sterling man and a fine justice. He was decent and humane, so unlike the Five Horsemen of Reaction who control the court today.

Souter refused to join the court politicians who turn their prejudices into legal principles. He refused to join them in ruling for corporations, property and business. He chose the side of the angels: people, consumers and justice.

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, has written supercilious stories declaring that Souter was a careful, “a low-impact justice.” Liptak compounded the insults by writing that Justice Scalia has a judicial philosophy while Souter has none, that Scalia is highly quotable while Souter is not.

Memo to Establishment journalist Liptak: 50 Scalias are not worth one Souter.

The Supreme Court has had 110 justices. None wrote as well as Oliver Wendell Holmes whose opinions are studded with aphorisms and wonderful philosophical asides. But most of the justices have been poor writers, including the outstanding Justice Brennan.

What counts is decisions, not how well justices write or how much they are quoted.

Perhaps Souter’s most memorable decision was Casey, reaffirming the constitutional right to abortion. He led the court in reversal of a black man’s conviction of killing a white woman because the jury was nearly all white. He cast the pivotal fifth vote to uphold affirmative action.

But it was in dissent that Souter stood out. When the court upheld the notorious three-strikes-and-you’re-out law, Souter dissented. He noted the absurdity of sending a man to jail for life for a third felony like stealing a golf bag.

He dissented when the court struck down the Violence Against Women Act, calling the ruling a woeful misreading of the Constitution. When the economic royalists killed the overtime pay provision of the Labor Standards Act, Souter dissented. He denounced the violation of civil liberties and equal protection.

When the court killed a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Souter complained in dissent about the court’s “crabbed version” of the law. When the court upheld a law requiring the National Endowment of the Arts to take into account so-called decency, he rightly dissented.

He was dismayed when the court overturned an effort by schools in Louisville, Ky., to prevent resegregation. His dissent called the ruling profoundly unhistorical.

When the court ruled that public schools must be open to Bible study groups, Souter dissented because of the clear violation of the wall between church and state. When the Unholy Five smashed that wall by saying that the University of Virginia must subsidize an evangelical magazine, Souter dissented. He decried the violation of the First Amendment in approval of state funding for religion.

However, Souter was clearly wrong about one thing: cameras in the Supreme Court. He insisted that “the day you see a camera coming into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

The courtroom is a sacred place. But the “nine old men” adamantly refuse to enter the Digital Age. The Supreme Court is an appellate court. It studies the facts and decisions of lower courts.

Unlike jurors, the justices are not persuaded by emotions, by the tricks and pyrotechnics of trial lawyers. The Supreme Court deals with substantive constitutional issues. It would enlighten citizens to see and hear the oral arguments presenting the pros and cons of an issue, the fierce questioning by the justices.

Skelly Wright, the late, great appeals court judge, rightly argued that televising oral arguments would “be a matchless lesson in the meaning of our constitutional rights and principles.”

Justice is supposed to be blind--but not invisible.

Finally, a confession. I wrote after Souter’s appointment that nothing in his background indicated he would rise above mediocrity. So much for the omniscience of columnists!

Souter had a marvelous capacity for growth, a quality alien to the “brilliant” Scalia. Souter became a bright star among a dim constellation of reactionaries.

Cheers and jeers for Glick

Milton Glick has had an easy path to approval as president of the University of Nevada, Reno. His odious predecessor, John Lilley, may have been the worst president UNR ever had.

But Glick looks fine in his own right. Assessments of his nearly three-year stewardship are good. Typical comments:

“A decent, personable guy. A straight shooter. He has greatly improved faculty morale which sagged badly in the Lilley era”…“Self-deprecating. Hides little. Quick study who does not miss much.”

Joe Crowley, former UNR president, said Glick is doing an excellent job.

He has “deftly established himself as the most influential president in the system,” Crowley said. “Regents like him personally and admire him professionally…He is methodical, willing to listen, intent on staying open and in touch.”

Crowley said Glick is good in the Carson City corridors of power. “He understands the demands of politics and participates effectively in the political game,” Crowley concluded. “He represents the university so well in the political arena, meeting with key legislators regularly, knowing how to twist elbows and mold minds.”

But some are not so impressed.

One knowledgeable source says Glick is a politician who will not rock the boat. “He’s a straight talker when it comes to insignificant matters. But when it comes to important things, Glick is just another CEO.”

Or, to put it in the vernacular: he protects UNR’s ass.

Glick is too defensive about legitimate complaints. Whistleblowers should be praised, not fired. His dismissal of Professor Hussein Hussein, a celebrated animal nutritionist, was autocratic. It still rankles.

Glick insists that Hussein was a plagiarist and should have been fired. But Judge Peter Breen, retired from the Washoe District Court, ruled that he saw no evidence of plagiarism. Just one of four members of the investigating faculty panel recommended dismissal.

Another complaint is that Glick keeps people in key posts who should be gotten rid of. In other words, politics as usual in the supposedly hallowed halls of a university.

More politics: a dean of the College of Science was hired even though that person wasn’t a finalist. Bypassed were highly qualified candidates from the Desert Research Institute and a scientist from the University of California.

Nevertheless, most sentiment about Glick on “university hill” is upbeat. During a recent conversation in his office, Glick repeatedly called me Jake, often smiled and was the soul of amiability.

Doubtless the Glick charm offensive. But it is typical of how he wins over people. He considers himself, as he should, the first among equals, quite the opposite of the autocratic, imperious and grandiose Lilley.

Glick got off to a terrible start at UNR in 2006, engineering a raise for the basketball coach. But now, facing a budget calamity, he realistically envisions a need to slash the athletic department by up to $700,000. He called the $53,000 sports budget cut proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons ridiculously low.

Glick is also rejects the winning-is-everything attitude about sports in higher ed. “We will not tolerate criminal behavior,” he says emphatically.

He is convinced that the governor’s draconian higher ed budget will not be enacted, a prophecy likely to prove true. He calls the proposal to cut faculty pay illegal, a violation of the contract that professors sign with the university.

He is agreeable to restructuring the UNR Faculty Senate, which is badly malapportioned to favor of administrators over professors. “The very heart of a university is the teaching faculty,” Glick insists.

He doesn’t miss teaching (he taught chemistry for 17 years at Wayne State University in Detroit). Besides: “As president I can teach the whole university.”

He admits he was not a great researcher. (His research area was X-ray crystallography, an abstruse field having something to do with crystal structure.)

Incredibly for a Ph.D., he extols the value of writing while admitting that Ph.D.s can’t write. “Writing is essential whatever the discipline,” he notes. “Writing is so important.”

He opposes beer drinking at Wolf Pack football games. “I don’t like it but a survey showed that people want it.” (The people are right for a change. Prohibition was the worse social experiment the nation ever undertook.)

Glick is also wrong when he urges students to graduate in four years. UNR has a working student body. Students sometimes put in 40-hour weeks, ruling out graduation in four years.

Glick, a dapper man, lightly bearded, is charming guy, a good guy. He is the best college president in Nevada.

Despite the horrendous budget woes facing higher education in Nevada, Glick feels “very fortunate to be president. I love being here.”

Most UNR faculty, administrators and alums love having him here.