Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Seeks To Reassure Critics Of Controversial ‘State-Run News Outlet’

January 27, 2015 by  
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NEW YORK — When the Indianapolis Star broke the news Monday night that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a possible 2016 Republican contender, was planning to launch a “state-run news outlet” to compete against local media outlets, journalists widely took umbrage on Twitter over an idea that seemed more likely to come out of an authoritarian country than a Midwestern state.

Indiana journalists took particular offense at the idea of taxpayer dollars funding a service that would publish reports presumably favorable to Pence’s administration, under the guise of authentic news stories. (Monday’s report indicated that the outlet will be helmed by former Indianapolis Star reporter Bill McCleery.)

“Every professional journalist in Indiana should join me in denouncing Gov. Pence’s state-run ‘news service,” Indianapolis Star investigative reporter John Russell tweeted Monday night. And the paper’s opinion editor Tim Swarens urged Pence on Tuesday to “do the right thing and pull the plug on this horrible, terrible, really no-good idea.”

Now, amid the rising backlash, Pence may be backtracking on his plans for the news service, called Just IN.

Matthew Tully, a political columnist at the Star, suggested Monday night that Pence didn’t grasp the First Amendment. “When creating our government, our founders put freedom of the press into the constitution,” Tully wrote. “Right there in the First Amendment. Now Pence is acting as if he thinks the press should be our government.”

Pence apparently heard the criticism: The governor called Tully on Tuesday morning and walked back his administration’s plans for Just IN.

Tully tweeted that Pence had vowed to make sure Just IN was “just a clearinghouse” for news releases. (Pence himself said in a Monday night tweet that Just IN would be merely a spruced-up version of the Indiana state government’s current calendar of press releases).

The columnist told The Huffington Post that his impression after speaking to Pence was that the governor is not planning to go forward with the version of the news service that had triggered criticism from journalists. Tully also noted that Pence told him “he had little knowledge of what the staffers were working on.”

Kara Brooks, press secretary for Pence, did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Tully, Pence also made clear his “strong affection for a free and independent press.”

Pence, a former talk show host, has been more vocal than many politicians on the issue of press freedom. He has pushed for shield laws to protect journalists from being compelled in court to reveal confidential sources. And when he represented Indiana’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence was a staunch opponent of the Fairness Doctrine. The doctrine, before it was struck down in 1987, allowed the government more control over political speech on the airwaves. “The American people cherish freedom, especially freedom of speech and of the press,” Pence said in 2011, following calls by some Democrats to consider reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Such regulation, Pence said, “would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airways.”

But even though Pence has made these supportive comments, it’s not surprising that he, like most politicians, would consider ways to outflank the traditional press corps. These days, politicians can go directly to constituents and voters through social media, and cut out state political reporters by turning to talk radio hosts or partisan bloggers who are likely to be more sympathetic. The Obama White House has circumvented Washington reporters over the years by breaking news on Twitter, detailing policy initiatives on on, and, recently, publishing the State of the Union address in full on and giving three YouTube stars access to the president.

But what Pence’s administration was planning, according to Monday’s report, would go beyond simply bypassing the media filter. Rather, Just IN would be a media competitor — one with an inside track to the governor and a pro-administration agenda.

In the Indianapolis Star report, Tom LoBianco reported that the outlet would “break news” — which goes beyond Pence’s description of a service that just published press releases. LoBianco also reported that “one target audience for the governor’s stories would be smaller newspapers that have only a few staffers.”

Such a strategy, while anathema to many journalists, could be effective. The Indiana press corps, like those in statehouses around the country, has diminished in recent years as newspapers have either shuttered or scaled back resources in response to declining print revenues.

Mary Beth Schneider, who worked at the Indianapolis Star for 35 years and spent much of that time covering the state government, told HuffPost on Tuesday that there were probably three times as many reporters in the statehouse when she started covering the legislature in 1991. Schneider, who left the paper last year, expressed concerns that some smaller Indiana publications, which don’t have a reporter in the statehouse or can’t afford news wires like The Associated Press, would consider running state-generated articles.

“There will be a temptation to pick up these so-called new stories,” she said. “They’re not news. They’re press releases.”

Stephanie D. Lewis: Here’s Why You Should NEVER Start a Support Group!

January 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor

After they left, I was exhausted, but stayed awake all night tossing and turning. I toyed with starting another support group for women with insomnia. But when would we meet?

Read more: Women, Support Groups, Female Friendships, Relationships, Therapy, Satire, Support Group, Fifty News

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Former CIA Agent Jeffrey Sterling Convicted For Leaking Information To New York Times Reporter

January 26, 2015 by  
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A jury has convicted a former CIA officer of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter.

Jurors convicted 47-year-old Jeffrey Sterling, of O’Fallon, Missouri, of all nine counts he faced in federal court on Monday.

Prosecutors said Sterling disclosed the mission to journalist James Risen to get back at the CIA for perceived mistreatment.

Sterling was the handler for a Russian-born CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, who was at the center of an operation to funnel deliberately flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to the Iranians.

Risen wrote about the operation in a 2006 book. Risen refused to divulge his sources, and prosecutors eventually dropped their effort to force Risen to testify.

Sterling denied leaking anything to Risen, and said it was more likely Risen learned about the mission from Senate staffers who had been briefed on it.

Martha Lufkin: This Flight Is Just The Ticket

January 26, 2015 by  
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I recently had the pleasure of taking an overseas trip, and enjoyed the flight so much that when I got home, I wanted another. I talked to some friends, and after we all lamented that another vacation wasn’t in the budget for any of us, I decided to host a plane trip right in my house.

Read more: Travel, Airlines, Plane Flights, Overseas, Airline Food, Satire, Airplane Humor, Air Travel Humor, Flying, Fifty News

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Saudi Myths

January 25, 2015 by  
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Many are voicing surprise at the comments of IMF head Christine Lagarde following the death of the Saudi monarch:

He was a great leader. He implemented lots of reforms, at home, and in a very discreet way, he was a great advocate for woman. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country, but I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer.

After a reporter expressed surprise that a woman would say that, Lagarde added: “Very often, Saudi Arabia is portrayed as a place where women do not play quite the same role.” The last sentence hasn’t been seriously scrutinized, but it should be. “Quite the same role” is a remarkable way to describe a country that has a system of male guardianship.

But I think it’s noteworthy that the source of the comments was hardly some random woman. It was the head of the IMF, an international financial institution purported to aid the global development but that is frequently criticized as doing the bidding of the rich and powerful — such as the major U.S. and European banks. And, like a good managing director, Lagarde is probably on the lookout for more funding for the IMF, it’s not straightforward to find out how much the Saudis have already ponied up. But once again, we see here the emptiness — even on the most limited basis — of a shallow diversity that seeks to put a woman or African American in a prominent position while maintaining incredibly oppressive power dynamics.

Back in 2011, when the Arab uprisings were in their seemingly promising first year I vigorously questioned Saudi Amb. Turki about the legitimacy of the Saudi regime. I did this because I could see what was happening: The uprisings were taking root — and deforming to into violent proxy wars — in secular states (Libya and Syria), which were at times somewhat critical of the U.S. establishment — while the pro-U.S. establishment regimes, largely monarchies like Saudi Arabia, were getting let off the hook. Those repressive monarchies would therefore be able to mold events in the formerly secular states. Democracy, equality and the voice of the people would not be on their list of goals.

So, when he came to the National Press Club, I asked Turki what the legitimacy of the Saudi regime was. I was immediately suspended from the Press Club for my actions, though that was receded by the Club’s Ethics Committee some 10 days later. I was very gratified for having received support from a good number of people during my suspension, but one unfortunate aspect of the suspension is that it drew attention away from what Turki said in our exchange.

His first line of defense to my questioning the legitimacy of the regime was this:

I don’t need to justify my country’s legitimacy. We’re participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from Saudi Arabia but through all the international agencies that are working throughout the world to provide help and support for people.

I thus wrote at the time:

Turki’s response that Saudi Arabia gets legitimacy because of its aid programs is an interesting notion. Is he arguing that by giving aid to other countries and to international organizations that the Saudi regime has somehow purchased legitimacy, and perhaps immunity from criticism, that it would otherwise not have received? This is worth journalists and independent organizations pursuing.

I suspect that that’s exactly what we’re seeing manifested in Lagarde’s comments. Some have noted aspects of the collusion between international financial institutions like the IMF and the Saudis, see for example, Adam Hanieh’s piece “Egypt’s Orderly Transition? International Aid and the Rush to Structural Adjustment.” Too often in poor countries around the world, the form of “development” that’s funded is a collusion between what the IMF wants and what states like Saudi Arabia want. Not exactly a prescription for fostering meaningful democratic development. But an excellent example of backscratching between elites. Really, a manifestation of Husseini’s first law of politics: the powers collude and the people get screwed (and not in a good way).

The relativistic part of Lagarade’s comment — “appropriately so probably for the country” — also echoed Turki: “After how many years since the establishment of the United States did women get to vote in the United States? Does that mean that before they got the vote that United States was an illegitimate country?” Indeed, my questioning of Turki was cut off when I tried to follow up with “So are you saying that Arabs are inherently backward?” — that they should be 100 years behind U.S.? Though perhaps the most amusing part of Turki’s comments about women were not in response to me, but the obsequious question that followed mine — asked by a worshiping female — where he refers to a “colleague” being “a woman as you can see.”

The initial media wave of calling “King Abdullah” — why exactly should a reasonable person actually use such absurd titles without scare quotes? — a “reformer” has brought on some minimal backlash. But it’s largely constrained to domestic issues.

The geopolitical threats to democracy and peace are even more daunting — and full of myth. Saudi Arabia has been a center of counter-revolution and worse in Arab countries. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, as did the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh for a time. The Saudi regime reportedly tried to prevent the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from stepping down. Saudi Arabia moved into Bahrain to stop a democratic uprising there. But much of its power is more indirect — for example, through a sizable media infrastructure that highlighted uprisings in secular republics and ignored democratic moves in monarchies.

All this has totally deformed the Arab uprisings the last four years, leading to horrific civil wars and the prospect of wider wars — and it was foreseeable, which is why I and others sought to challenge it from the beginning.

On the U.S.-Saudi relationship, now, the Harvard Political Review tells us:

The partnership was straightforward: Saudi Arabia provided special access to oil for the United States, and in return the superpower developed military installations across Saudi Arabia to advance mutual security goals.

In fact, it was not about “access” to oil as Noam Chomsky has noted, but about control of oil, as well as investment in Western banks, not in real regional or global development. As Eqbal Ahmed was fond of asking: How did the wealth of the Mideast get separated from the people of the region?

The Saudi regime paved the way for the U.S.’s wars against Iraq and elsewhere, postured as helping the Palestinians while in a tacit alliance with the equally hypocritical Israelis. Saudi regime fosters violent al-Qaeda type violent extremism and its U.S. violent mirror image.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. backed the Saudis to undermine Egypt’s Nasser and slay the prospect of pan-Arabism. Robert Dreyfuss has written: “Choosing Saudi Arabia over Nasser’s Egypt was probably the single biggest mistake the United States has ever made in the Middle East.” Though “mistake” is probably wrong — it has benefited elites tremendously at the expense of people in Arab countries, the U.S. and around the world.

Liberal love making much of the Bush-Saudi connection, which is true enough, but the Saudi-U.S. bond was forged by the great liberal FDR.

Shortly after World War I, the British Foreign Secretary “Lord” Curzon spelled out British aims: “Arab façade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff.”

So, similarly to Lagarde’s comments, how could any person awake to global dynamics be surprised by the sorrow from elites in the U.S. or that the British flag should be at half-mast with the passing of so useful a native?

Fox News Raises Alarm Over College Course About Race

January 24, 2015 by  
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Fox News is raising alarm bells over an Arizona college course that studies whiteness.

The network’s “Fox and Friends” show ran a segment Friday titled “Trouble with Schools,” criticizing an Arizona State University course called “U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness,” portraying it as an attack on white people. The professor of the course, Lee Bebout, is white.

“Fox and Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who has not sat in on the course and was unable to reach the professor for comment, referred to it as “quite unfair, and wrong, and pointed.”

Hasselbeck based her comments on criticisms leveled by ASU student Lauren Clark, who objects to the course’s books, including Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory and Jane Hill’s The Everyday Language of White Racism.

“All of these books have a disturbing trend and that’s pointing to white people as a root cause of social injustices for this country,” Clark told Hasselbeck on the segment, adding that such a course “causes more problems than solutions.” Clark is not herself enrolled in the class.

Delgado’s Critical Race Theory is commonly read and taught by academics who study race. Hill’s work exploring the language of racism among whites, first published in 2008, has been positively reviewed in several scholarly journals.

“Jane H. Hill has made a significant contribution to the scholarship of antiracist literature by describing how White racism is reproduced in everyday language in ways that are made to appear natural and normal,” University of Regina professor Carol Schick wrote in a book review for the Journal of American Ethnic History in 2008.

Bebout told the The Arizona Republic that he’d been stressed out after receiving a flurry of hateful emails following the Fox News segment. Neither Bebout nor Clark responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.

The university, however, issued a statement Friday after the segment, reading:

This course uses literature and rhetoric to look at how stories shape people’s understandings and experiences of race. It encourages students to examine how people talk about — or avoid talking about — race in the contemporary United States. This is an interdisciplinary course, so students will draw on history, literature, speeches and cultural changes — from scholarly texts to humor. The class is designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions. A university is an academic environment where we discuss and debate a wide array of viewpoints.

Tensions over how to teach race have erupted repeatedly in Arizona in recent years.

The state legislature passed a law in 2010 to restrict the teaching of ethnic studies, arguing that a Mexican-American studies curriculum in the Tucson public schools had bred resentment against whites.

A state-commissioned audit published in 2011 said the Tucson courses fostered critical thinking and recommended expanding them, while independent researchers found the courses raised student achievement on state tests and boosted the graduation rate in the majority-Latino school district.

State officials nevertheless declared the courses illegal and the local school board discontinued them in January 2012 in order to avoid losing state funding.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by former students of the Mexican-American studies courses that seeks to overturn the law.

Watch the Fox News segment in the video above.

Illinois Is Not Actually Requiring Students To Hand Over Their Facebook Passwords

January 23, 2015 by  
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A barrage of news reports over the last week reported that Illinois students are now required to give schools the passwords to their social media accounts because of a new bill.

The panic was brought on after the Triad Community Unit School District No. 2 in southern Illinois notified parents in a letter, obtained by Motherboard, that their children may be requested to provide their passwords.

However, this is “clearly just a misinterpretation” of a new law enacted in the state, Ed Yohnka, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told The Huffington Post.

The bill in question, which took effect Jan. 1, expands a school’s responsibility to prevent cyberbullying. It says that if cyberbullying is reported to the school, school administrators can investigate the claim even if the cyberbullying occurred outside of school hours and buildings.

In this way, the bill does extend schools’ reach into students’ online actions.

“We opposed the bill because we thought that the grant of authority, or invitation to investigate, was overly broad,” Yohnka said.

However, Yohnka explained, state Rep. Laura Fine, who led the bill, made it very clear that the bill would not allow schools to require that students hand over social media passwords.

“The intention of the bill is just to help kids. We want to give them the best experience and the safest experience in schools,” Fine told HuffPost.

Fine said she created the bill after speaking with parents and child psychologists about the effects of cyberbullying.

“We have kids who are bullied on Facebook, through text messages. It’s happening on the weekend or at night, and they’re scared to go to school the next day,” Fine said. Parents told her that when they went to schools to get help, they were told that schools could not investigate bullying done outside of school.

Under the new bill, parents can bring screenshots or other proof of cyberbullying to school administrators, who can then investigate using their existing bullying policies.

“You can read the bill upside down and backwards; there is not one word about handing over a password,” Fine told HuffPost.

In fact, a bill that took effect in Illinois Jan. 1, 2014, made it was unlawful for a school to request or require a student or parent to provide the school with social media passwords.

“I think there’s some misinformation about [the new bill], because that’s been on the books for over a year,” Brian Schwartz, general counsel for the Illinois Principals Association, told HuffPost.

Last year’s password bill says that the unlawfulness of requesting passwords does not apply when a school “has reasonable cause to believe that a student’s account on a social networking website contains evidence that the student has violated a school disciplinary rule or policy.”

But this is not a broad exception. A school could only request passwords if there is ample evidence of a school rule being violated — such as a football player drinking alcohol. Moreover, students weren’t required to provide the passwords — schools were simply allowed to request them under these circumstances.

“We’ve advised our members that it’s really something that should only be used in very dire circumstances, if ever,” Schwartz said.

In a press release obtained by HuffPost, the Triad School District clarified that it was not requiring students to hand over their passwords. Rather, it was notifying parents in case the rare circumstances arose. It noted that it had not yet had occasion to request a password.

“Certain media reports have taken the letter out of context and created an unnecessary controversy,” the press release states.

Sophia A. McClennen: The Anti-Extremist Satire No One Is Talking About

January 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor

While everyone is debating the pros and cons of French satire, they are ignoring the robust and vibrant world of Middle Eastern satire. Through irony and puns they are able to send messages that expose the absurdity of those they target.

Read more: Charlie Hebdo, Satire, Fox News, French Satire, Anti-Extremist Satire, Isis, Al Qaeda, Politics News

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Martin Scorsese Documentary On Bill Clinton Is Put On Hold After Disagreement Over Control: Report

January 22, 2015 by  
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Martin Scorsese has tackled the mob, the Dalai Lama and the real-life Wolf of Wall Street.

But Mr. Scorsese appears to have met his match in Bill Clinton.


Renee Fisher: Why So Many Women Over 50 Are Choosing To Have Babies

January 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Humor

While I’ve been frittering away my time keeping track of international terrorism and the antics of several unnamed heads-of-state, I have failed to notice a growing trend that poses a threat to all women worldwide: the exploding number of post-50 women who are choosing to give birth.

Read more: Boomers, Humor, Satire, Late Life Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Children, Motherhood, Women Over 50 Having Babies, Having a Baby Late in Life, Parenting post50, Fifty News

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