Category Archives: Commentary

Modern Tips for Consuming News Media 

The liberal media ain’t just liberal anymore. I may be stating the obvious to some, but seeing and feeling how divided our country is in the wake of #charlottesville, it occurs to me — a former business reporter from Springfield, Mo. — this could be a great time to offer some quick and valuable, if not obvious, tips for consuming today’s media. If you’re mad and you know it, the media might be partially to blame. Curse you, Fake News! 

1. Every publication has a niche and works to serve its audience. NYTimes serves the interests of different readers/advertisers than FoxNews or the Springfield News-Leader, generally speaking. Think of media like restaurants. Yes, McDonald’s and Black Sheep (high-end local) both have hamburgers on the menu, but their goals, approach and ingredients are wholly different. 

2. The vast majority of news organizations are working to establish facts that serve their audience — often by consistently trying to meet their expectations. FoxNews, for example, has, and I assume will, report accurate facts in news segments (when not offering commentary), but it’s not looking to report on a study funded by a left-leaning nonprofit that finds people in countries with universal health care spend half what the average U.S. citizen pays. No, but it may report extensively on a conservative-backed study that shows there is abuse within the Welfare system. Both would be news, but Fox (like CNN or MSNBC or anyone) wants to be a consistent brand distinguishable from other news outlets. 

3. I’ve said before that media has a money bias, and it’s true (they are all pushing stories they think will get the most attention to help generate the most revenue), but it may be more accurate to say media has a conflict bias. Conflict is just more interesting. “Peeps got along today just fine” is not a headline anyone cares about. There is an old saying, “if it bleeds, it leads.” It’s unfortunate, but often news is the most disturbing thing happening right now. 

4. If you’re a Democrat and you just can’t understand how or why anyone would support our president, it may be a good time to check out conservative-leaning news orgs like National Review or Red State. Or if you’re a Republican and can’t understand why liberals are so hell bent on ruining our country, it might be time to pick up The Atlantic or The New Yorker. 

If you’re angry and don’t know why, the conflict-bias you’re used to may be to blame. Solution: hide under the covers and plug your ears and turn off your smartphone. Or, just get your news from a various sources — particularly if it’s a story you care about — and apply reason to sort fact from audience development. The latter option is much harder, but satisfying. 

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Reading the Room: a white guy’s view on racism in America. 

“Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.” -Luke 11:35

For the better part of my life, racism has been a publicly condemnable thing. 

Oh, I’ve been under no illusions that it had vanished. But, from my white and privileged perspective, it had gone underground. 

This was most obvious in the subtle ways racists reveal themselves.

You see, people tend to project. They more often than not assume others are like them. White racists tend to believe other white people share their views. 

In my Midwest blue-collar work life, these folks would let down their guards in quiet moments on the job when other black employees or bosses or customers weren’t around. This was my wife’s experience, too.

While we are both white, together we have raised her oldest son, William, who is mixed. 

Will was 5 when I married his mother in 1997.

I remember being a skinny 20-year-old man-boy taking 3-year-old Will to Wal-Mart and being ready to fight the first person to disrespect me or him. Only that day never came. 

No one ever discriminated against us to our face. As Will got older, he’d have to experience racism on his own. Ever heard of “driving while black?” I know he’s been messed with by cops on a few occasions. And I’m sure there’s a lot he hasn’t shared. But Will is tough, and this is not a victim’s story. 

My point in sharing is that sometimes racists white people misread the room. They are so anxious to have their skewed views and exaggerated sense of superiority supported that they jump the gun and tell a joke about porch monkeys or mention to your wife that another white lady looks like the type to sleep with black guys. 

“When a person shows you who they are, believe them.” -Oprah Winfrey

On the few instances I had racists mistake me for a sympathizer, I always made it clear I wasn’t on board. I’d tell them my step-son was mixed, which usually garnered a pretty satisfying reaction. Invariably, they’d backpedal. I believe racism can’t stand up to moral scrutiny. It can only really exist in public when enough people in power see the benefits of propping it up. 

And this is what’s concerning about the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. White supremacist see today’s political environment as the right time to come together. 

And while the president condemned the violence that surfaced there, he stopped short of laying blame where it lies — with the passionate white nationalist movement that helped elect him.

The good news is there was wide and bipartisan condemnation of the white supremacists’ views on display in Virginia. Many on the right including Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voiced their opposition to the Nazi-evoking and Confederate-flag-waving alt-right demonstrators. 

But today feels different. It feels like a time and place where racists aren’t afraid to be racists anymore. I pray I’m just misreading the room. 

Hard Truths and the Politics of Helping the Poor

Conservatives and liberals are each only half right when it comes to helping the poor. 

That’s because their ideologies largely revolve around two different and hard facts of life. And while these truths aren’t necessarily competing — and neither is wrong — both sides seem only capable of accepting one. 

1. Government intervention often hurts the people it’s intended to help. 

Conservatives got this. They know we live in a hard, cold world. They love freedom and understand if you force companies to pay higher wages, businesses will naturally jack up prices, increase automation or reduce their level of services.

Business owners aren’t inherently evil. Well, some are surely, but they do want to stay in business. And they are certainly not more evil than consumers. In fact, they are consumers. 

Capitalism works because free people are naturally self-interested. If the price of a burger at a fast-food restaurant is too high, consumers will find a cheaper burger. Or eat less of them. Or grow their own burgers. (Yes, veggie burgers are an option, but the point here is too few know where hamburgers come from; That’s how well the free-market works). 

A new University of Washington study focused on the $15 minimum wage in Seattle unmasks this inconvenient truth. It confirms what conservatives think-tanks, salesmen and common-sense business owners have known for ages: government regulations can and do stymie the prosperity the free-market provides. 

Even if you dispute the study the Washington Post finds credible, surely you don’t have to look too far to find real examples of government overreach and its negative impact on lives.

2. The more we help the poor, the better off we all are. 

Liberals got this. “A rising tide floats all boats” is a cliche for a reason. Higher wages mean workers have more disposable income. More disposable income means more spending, which means more jobs and more prosperity for all. This is why disposable income is a key measure of an economy’s health. 

While many on the right decry the folly of higher minimum wages, those on the left argue for assisting those in need. Beyond moral arguments, did you know food stamps provide a great return on investment? According to those who track such impacts with the USDA, every $5 our government spends on new SNAP benefits generates $9 of economic activity. 

This is no shock to liberal researchers, educators and salt-of-the-earth union supporters. They know we need good schools, a robust transportation network and a strong social safety net to allow everyone a chance to achieve the American dream. Nothing wrong with a fair playing field. 

Many on the left and right have the best interests of all at heart. It’s up to us, as good citizens, to listen to both sides and give credit where credit is due. 

Now, who wants a burger? 

United We Fall

God’s provisions to mankind surely include unending opportunities to appreciate irony.

I’m thinking about America today, what it means to be an American, and I keep coming back to a single sing-songy phrase: “United we stand; divided we fall.” I’m 42 years old, and I’ve never seen my country so divided. If the phrase is true, the future seems bleak.

Standing in this reflective space, I can’t help but return to when I was 26. In September of that year, a group of determined terrorist changed the course of America – and the world – irrevocably.

Following 9/11, I saw America at its finest. I remember the pride I felt. I was proud of our president; proud of New York; proud of first responders; proud that I could be counted by some invisible hand among the Americans. I remember flags were everywhere – on bumper stickers, on shop-house doors, in front of big houses and small.

I remember thinking, the enemy has underestimated us. Their horrific act of terror – which had to be more effective than they could have imagined with the fall of towers South and North – resulted in a nation resolved to be free. (And to wipe the terrorists from the face of the earth.)

We set aside political parties. We were unified. Briefly.

Fifteen years later, a flip of the Uncle-Sam-feeling-good coin was complete with the presidential election of 2016.

Ironically, a billionaire living in a Manhattan penthouse decorated in 24k gold and marble was the voice of the small-town “forgotten” man; the former first lady of Arkansas was the darling of New York elites.

We know how it turned out. Let me be clear on one point, however: we wouldn’t be any less divided had Mrs. Clinton won. FoxNews could see to that; Rush Limbaugh still would have a show to do. As it is, the people who would like to see single-payer health care are leading the #resist movement.

Yes, in today’s world, socialists defend a free press while Christians fight for gun rights.

And the ironies run much deeper. In the age of the Internet, with information and perspectives at every turn, people get stuck in echo chambers where they’re own positions are never challenged; we may well know strangers better than old friends; and common human interactions require a web of electronic networks.

On this 4th of July, I’m worried about where we are headed as country. Oddly enough, I think this is a sentiment we can all share.

 

Ratings Bold: An Unfortunate Truth

Dear Resist Movement and all Americans and others rightfully concerned about our President, 

Can we have a moment? 

I want to apologize formally. You’re great people — better than me, in fact. You see, I think I like Trump. 

Yes, I know that’s terrible. No, he shouldn’t grab pussies. Yes, he’s an unashamed greedy egomaniac. He might be racist, too, which upsets me. He’s almost the Anti-Obama, and more than once I’ve been overcome by the same pangs of fear you feel … like the world is going to end, ransaked by Deatheaters.  It’s a shame. 

Also, it’s worth noting, I didn’t vote for him; his conflicts of interest are a far bigger concern to me than Hillary’s emails; his critics are right most of the time; and he probably shouldn’t be running the country.

On the last point, veteran conservative columnist George Will nails the reasons why. I can’t argue. 

But please hear me Democrats (left-leaning independent here) and other fine people: Donald Trump is to His supporters what Bill Clinton is to liberals. He’s what Kanye West is to music (Love you, Kanye!) He is, in a word, untouchable. He can say and do anything and the people who love him still will. 

And this, I admit shamefully, is part of the appeal. Maybe all of it. But if we are ever going to win power back for the good guys, I think we need to be bold ourselves and admit he’s not the boogeyman. 

When I was younger and dumber, I once wrote a blog featuring a picture of brass balls. I’d declared myself the best reporter in Springfield (Mo.) as I was exiting my first job in journalism and ready, with gusto, to take on my second. It’d be another six months before I was hired to write. 

Here’s the thing: I believed it was true. Looking back objectively, I can think of five reporters in the area who were better than me and there may have been more. But at the time, I had blinders on. That self-confidence, that belief in myself, eventually helped me secure a position with a better well-respected publication.  

While I am embarrassed now by my early swagger, my boldness furthered my resolve to be great, which helped me secure a larger platform from which to operate. “Fortune favors the bold,” said Virgil. “Freedom lies in being bold,” said Robert Frost.

Back to Trump: this guy is nothing but brass balls. For those not paying attention, here are a few (too many regrettable) examples:

1. He ran for president with no government experience.

2. He’s been involved in six business bankruptcies and ran based on his business acumen.

3. He called Sen. John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee and war hero, “a loser” while running for the nation’s highest office. 

4. While launching his campaign, he insulted Mexicans and alienated a key voting block – Hispanics – just four years after their strong support for Obama gave him a narrow victory (no political expert I know of thought this was a good idea). 

5. He has reorganized his debts in the past based on the power of his name. 

6. He ran for president without releasing his taxes. 

7. He has bombed Syria, thumbed his nose at Kim Jong Un, and hosted several successful seasons of “Celebrity Apprentice” (a TV show premise that should have never reached the air). 

And on and on it goes. I’m not saying this is a great man. But I get it. I get why people like him. 
Oh, btw, he seems to have fulfilled every dream he could have had for himself. I can’t say that. Think about it: he sits in the most powerful office in the world; he’s married to a model; he’s filthy rich; and he’s so bombastic and charismatic that historians will be saying his name for centuries.
This week, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Trump appointees and their ties to Russia. Already, calls for impeachment and comparisons to Richard Nixon are getting attention online. But be careful Dems: the last time Congress moved to impeach a sitting president, that president finished his second term with a 65 percent approval rating. 
Clinton’s lowest rating, in case you’re wondering, was 37 percent. It came about four months after he took office. Trump has been as low as 35 percent, according to Gallup, but he currently sits at 40 percent.   
Regarding “The Apprentice,” I wasn’t a huge fan, but I watched a few seasons like anyone else. And, yes, I mostly agreed with his takes. Here’s the problem: I can see 1,000 stories about how Trump is a nightmare, but there will still be a part of me that says to myself, ‘you know, Joan Rivers did deserve to win Season 9.’   

#justsayin 

Bold prediction: Amid WWIII, which Trump will help bring to fruition, The Donald will be viewed like Gen. Patton and leave a second term with a 67 percent approval rating. (Sorry, Dems. I need a shower.)

The mother of all conspiracy theories 

I’m not saying real estate mogul Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half doing everything in his power to undermine the Republican Party and get Hillary Clinton elected. That would be one crazy conspiracy theory. 

But if he were, the following facts would surely go a long way to explain what has been one of the most unbelievable presidential races ever. It also would make Hillary everything many Republicans already believe her to be: the most diabolical political candidate our country has seen in decades — maybe ever. 

Consider the following facts: 

  1. Trump and the Clintons were friends before the race. No one denies this, btw. The Clintons attended The Donald’s wedding in 2005. The notoriously cheap Trump has given money to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s senate campaign in New York. In fact, before this race, Trump always spoke highly of the Clintons. So when did he change his mind exactly?
  2. Bill encouraged Trump to run against Hillary. Ask yourself: why would he do that? Maybe he thought Trump was beatable. Or maybe he KNEW it. Out of the gate, Trump insulted Mexicans — a growing demographic and powerful voting block for the left. After the 2012 election, it was clear to anyone paying attention that Romney’s strategy of appealing only to white Christian voters was antiquated. Political experts agreed: the only way Republicans could win in 2016 was to broaden its appeal to minorities. Isn’t it odd then that Trump has taken the exact opposite approach. And it’s genius, right? Think about it: Trump is a well-known celebrity from “The Apprentice,”saying all the things the distraught and neglected Republican-core voters want to hear, making this political “outsider” an instant threat to stand out in a crowded field of primary candidates. Even if Trump failed, the long-term damage he could do to the Republican brand would be irreparable. Haven’t you seen more than a few stories about the death of the Republican Party this election cycle? Why would that be? I guess it’s just a coincidence that the Clintons’ loyal supporter and friend could be responsible for dismantling their opposition. 
  3. Trump allegedly said Republicans were suckers. While fact-checkers haven’t confirmed this, there are those who say the proof Trump believed he could easily hoodwink Republicans has gone suspiciously missing — plucked from YouTube. Conspiracy much, bro? 
  4. Trump appears to have done everything he could to lose. Usually after the primaries, candidates move to the middle. That is to say once they’ve secured their party’s support, they soften their stances to appeal to those on the fence. Not Trump. If anything he has doubled down on decisive rhetoric, even applauding cronies such as Newt Gingrich and Rudy Guilliani — who have terrible track records with women themselves — when they insult women like FoxNews’ Megyn Kelly for even questioning how Trump could answer charges of sexual assault from a dozen accusers. Look at the big picture here: From promoting illegal torture, to proposing that all Muslims be at least temporarily banned from entering the U.S., to saying Mexicans would pay for his wall, nothing he is doing matches any expert’s winning strategy. This is a guy who called John McCain a loser for being a POW. You can’t make this stuff up. 

Or can you? 

If this conspiracy is right, a vote for Trump is a vote against the long-term viability of the lone major party fighting against an oversized federal government. And a vote for Hillary accomplishes the same thing.  

The liberals and their media win no matter what. That can’t be right? That would be crazy. 

Reagan’s lost Republicans 

For reasons I don’t understand, the Republican Party seems to have no interest in my vote. 

I was raised a Republican. Reagan was the president of my childhood, and my younger self identified with his speeches centered on self-reliance, the American dream, and reducing the scope and influence of government. Those themes fit like a glove in my mother’s household. Her very biggest rule for me was “be honest.” Nothing could make her more upset than a liar, but certainly I knew she also valued self-reliance. Growing up, I knew I shouldn’t expect others to do for me anything I could do for myself. Although my mother was socially more progressive, “liberal” was a dirty word in our home. I’d be well into my teens before a guy named Bill Clinton made me consider the possibility that not all Democrats were freeloaders or misinformed; I began to consider some people might actually want to use the government to lift up society’s most vulnerable. 

Still, in ’96, my first chance to participate in a presidential election, I cast my vote for Ross Perot. I was going through a libertarian phase, worried about the size of our federal government and believing that people could do a better job of pursuing their own ideas of happiness if government would just get out of the way. Twenty years later, I still largely feel the same. 

In the late 90s, right-leaning radio grump Don Imus became a hero of mine. I found him on US97 and enjoyed his disdain for elitism while working the dough room at a pizza restaurant where I made $5.75 an hour. This was the hardest job I have ever had. My young family was very poor at the time despite the fact my wife and I both worked. For a while, we utilized food stamps, which freed up money for rent, and my kids were born on Medicaid. I remember just how grateful I felt that there was a safety net for people like us. I don’t know how we could’ve made it otherwise. Despite my admiration for the I-Man, I’d vote for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. I felt government health care, in particular, lifted a huge burden off working poor people like myself, allowing them to better care for their families and pursue their American dream. By 2004, we were off Medicaid, off food stamps, and I had returned to college, determined to carve out a middle-class life for my family.

In 2008, I would graduate with a degree in journalism. My first job was with a biweekly newspaper run here in the conservative Ozarks by a staunchly Republican family. This was not a problem for me. The editor and publisher trusted me to guide our ’08 election coverage fairly, and I did my best to cover local, state and national elections with an even hand. I’m still proud of the work I did. Though I supported government investments in infrastructure and education, I considered myself an independent. 

A fan of John McCain – based on my familiarity with the senator and POW as a regular guest on Imus – it was the 2008 election where I began to feel the charismatic Democratic senator from Illinois was not getting a fair shake. The market was tanking at the time and all of my research indicated keeping interest rates low and stimulating the economy through FDR-like spending was the best course of action for our nose-diving market. I quietly voted for Obama, and I’ve never regretted it. 

When the Tea Party sprung up in ’09 and ’10, I was exposed through my job to much of their rhetoric. While they would rail on about out-of-control government spending, the economists and contractors I’d talk to were much more supportive of the needed stimulus. Reining in such spending could actually cause a Depression and debt levels were still quite manageable compared to the size of the GDP. In WWII, for example, the ratio of debt to GDP was much higher. Here in southwest Missouri, I didn’t understand the anger I was exposed to. Couldn’t conservatives see what I was seeing? Bush, who I loved in early aftermath of 9-11, had cut taxes and started two wars. Now the economy was free-falling and debt spending was keeping it afloat. This was not the time to dig in heels. Obama’s course was not only not radical, it was the right course. 

And then there was health care. I supported Obama’s public option, which I thought would be the best way to drive rising health care costs down. But my Republican friends and colleagues freaked! This was subsidized care v. the free market — a completely unfair fight, they said. But Obama had what I thought was a strong backup plan: the Affordable Care Act, modeled after Republican “Romneycare” in Massachusetts and the proposed alternative to universal health care in the 90s. Surely, that would be agreeable. 

Not so much. 

The whole premise of Obamacare was that everyone needed to get insurance to help reduce costs for all because too many people weren’t covered, which puts the burden of costs on too few. My libertarian leanings didn’t like penalties for not securing coverage, but Medicaid expansion would at least protect the poor. Expansion also was made attractive to states with the federal government shouldering startup costs. I’m sure Obama thought opponents would fall in line. But he misread the room. 

The Supreme Court would rightly find states weren’t obligated to expand Medicaid, and so red states like my Missouri turned down billions of dollars to undermine the president’s efforts, ignoring or neglecting their often rural base, which could have benefited hugely from expansion. 

Now, over 60 times congressional Republicans have tried to overturn the ACA, the very system many prominent members of their party have championed in the past. Not surprisingly, rates continue to climb and it’s hard to imagine this system surviving as-is long into the next administration. 

And now we have Donald Trump, whom I once enjoyed on “The Apprentice.” The billionaire adept at avoiding taxes and securing bankruptcy protection, who has used in his campaign a fear of minorities and Muslims to solidify a base of support, has privately joked about sexual aggression against women, openly questioned the president’s citizenship, allegedly bilked small-business owners with the threat and promise of frivolous lawsuits and called war hero McCain a loser for getting caught behind enemy lines — a man who has built his business empire through media promotion — says he’s not getting a fair shake from the free press. 

Last night, in furtherance of his ongoing campaign nonsense, former Speaker and current Trump-waterboy Newt Gingrich, implored FoxNews show host Megyn Kelly to call adulterer and former president Bill Clinton a sexual predator, unsuccessfully, to make good I suppose for covering current sexual allegations against Trump. Kelly, rightfully, stood her ground. Has there been any acknowledgement on Gingrich’s or Trump’s behalf that Republicans in the 90s were wrong somehow to railroad Clinton for his unsettling indiscretion with a White House intern, which now looks positively tame compared to the allegations against Trump? Nah. I guess they’re too busy looking hawkishly toward the Middle East, planning to build a wall to keep out Mexicans all while cutting tax revenue for peers in their tax bracket. How can we pay for that?! Where is the outcry from debt-focused Tea Party conservatives now? 

The Republican Party of my youth promoted personal responsibility, eliminating government red tape and dependence, free markets and free people regardless of race, creed or nationality. Remember: Reagan called for tearing down walls, not building them. Just how is it that his party today easily demonizes those among us who fight for the upward mobility or the poor, good infrastructure and an educated workforce — things that actually open up the American dream to more people and create an environment for ripe for entrepreneurship and innovation. 

I never wanted to be a Democrat, but I guess that’s what I am. 

If the Republican Party ever begins to resemble Reagan’s type of thinking again, please let me and mom know (even she can’t stand all of Trump’s lies and posturing). We are just waiting for that ticket to earn our votes.