Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sheila Mullowney Punishes Her Readers, Part 1

From time to time, the Newport Daily News runs an op-ed by Captain Mike Caldwell, a retired Navy pilot and current corporate jet pilot. Cap'n Mike's op-eds always consist of a series of Republican talking points. In fact, when the story of the Pentagon's program of using retired military officers to spread White House propaganda was revealed, I seriously wondered whether Cap'n Mike was part of it. However, as far as we know, the Pentagon only targeted TV networks, and not third-tier local newspapers, so it's possible that Cap'n Mike's parroting of the GOP party line is not part of a larger government-run propaganda effort.

Nevertheless, my heart sank when I found in today's issue of the Snooze the first of a two-part series by Cap'n Mike titled (and heaven help me, I'm not making this up) "Are we losing our nation's soul?" Without even glancing at the piece, I was able to guess two things about it: 1) Cap'n Mike would not be citing the Bush administration's policy of torturing prisoners, even though that is probably the clearest example you could wish for of our nation losing its soul; and 2) either Barack or Michelle Obama would figure somewhere in Cap'n Mike's catalogue of lost-national-soulitude. A quick perusal of Cap'n Mike's piece revealed that both guesses were correct.

At this point, you have to wonder what Executive Editor Sheila Mullowney has against her paper's readers. You'd think that subjecting them to a weekly dose of Kathleen Parker's wingnuttery would be punishment enough, but apparently not. Well, if Sheila can take it, so can I. Time to hold our collective noses and see just how bad "bad" can be.

First, a note from Sheila herself (presumably), informing us in italics that This is the first of a two-part series. Today's installment examines the proposed question, "Are we, as a nation, losing our soul?" (BTW, Sheila, the short answer to this proposed question is, "Yes, but not for the reasons Cap'n Mike thinks.") from a cultural perspective. (Yes, that's right, we get to hear a lecture on culture from a right-wing corporate jet pilot. When I die, I'm goin' straight to Heaven, 'cos I've done my time in Hell.) The second installment, which will appear in August, will explore the question from a political aspect. (Or maybe, if we're lucky, the Earth will be destroyed by a Cylon battle fleet before then, and we'll be spared the second installment.)

What follows is something we in the blogging biz call fisking: Cap'n Mike spews out his wingnut jeremiad, and I respond with my own rebuttal. Take it away, Cap'n Mike!

Ladies and gentlemen,

and chiiiildren of aaaaaaaallll aaages!

how the heck did we get here, to this point in our great nation's history where it appears we may be losing both our cultural and political soul?

Well, it probably started with Nixon's Southern Strategy, when the GOP cynically decided to pander to the worst instincts of millions of white bigots. But it really began to pick up steam when we let a mean-spirited, arrogant, overprivileged, incompetent dimwit with a messiah complex and some serious daddy issues steal the presidency.

Each day bears witness to yet another example of America-bashing by citizens and media apparently convinced that the "evil" United States is singularly responsible for the woes and ills of the world.

Given that the United States has launched a war of aggression against another nation resulting in over a million civilian fatalities and several million refugees, and has set up its own version of the gulag archipelago, complete with inmates suffering indefinite detention and systematic torture in a series of secret prisons, those scare quotes around the word evil are looking pretty damn unnecessary to me. Any nation with that on its record can jolly well expect to suffer some "bashing" from its citizens and media. If you ask me, the United States ought be getting a lot more bashing on that score from its citizens and media than it actually is.

While those parties are free to express their views,

For now. You traitors.

it is at once discouraging and depressing to see those benefiting from the unequalled blessings, bounty and opportunity afforded by this great nation -- a nation to which a goodly number of the planet's population owe their very existence and survival -- abuse her in such a visceral and misguided fashion.

In other words, shut up, you whiners!

Some notable examples include:

Here are my top six whiners. And bear in mind, I find it both discouraging and depressing to learn that these people are saying that the United States isn't living up to the high standards our founding fathers set for it, because as a good wingnut I believe that the United States is the GREATEST NATION IN THE WORLD (or would be if we could just get rid of these dirty hippie liberals).

According to Joe Bish, outreach and program coordinator for the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population

What's that? You say you've never heard of Joe Bish, or the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population? Don't feel discouraged, because neither had I before Cap'n Mike mentioned them. A quick trip through the magical Google machine turns up this website, and this blog, where we learn that the NECSP is an organization consisting of ten board members and two staffers (one of whom is Bish). Originally founded in 1996, the NECSP was "revitalized" in 2006 (ie somebody started it up again). So, what has Cap'n Mike gleaned from this organization that consists of ten board members, two staffers, one website, and one blog?

" . . . highly consuming and polluting nations like the United States need to look in the mirror and ask themselves what sort of world we are leaving for the next generation."

Yeah, gotta hand it to Cap'n Mike. Pretty inflammatory stuff there from Joe Bish.

I can't help but notice, though, that contra Cap'n Mike, Bish doesn't actually say that the United States is singularly responsible for the woes and ills of the world. He does in fact also point his admonishing finger at highly consuming and polluting nations like the United States, such as, I assume, the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Russia, and such up-and-coming consuming-and-polluting nations as China and India.

And what is Cap'n Mike's verbal riposte to this dirty liberal hippie tree-hugger Bish?

It would be a much better one than the thugs in the United Nations have in mind.

Yeah, run, Joe Bish! Run and hide, you dirty smelly hippie! Cap'n Mike has pwned your sorry ass! Bow down and grovel before the rhetorical might of the mighty Cap'n Mike Caldwell!

Aherm, yes. Anyway, so that's Joe Bish, cultural-soul-destroying America-basher #1. Who's our next contestant, Cap'n Mike?

In October 2006, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 began airing of a terrorist propaganda video obtained, as CNN put it, "through intermediaries from the Islamic Army of Iraq." For the uninitiated, that means "the bad guys."

For the even more uninitiated, the Islamic Army of Iraq is mainly (though not wholly) composed of Sunnis, the Iraqi minority group that Saddam Hussein belonged to. They organized after Saddam's fall for the purpose of fighting the American troops and their allies. For a while, they specialized in kidnapping and killing foreigners. Later on, they divided their time between fighting the Americans and fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In 2005 they participated in the October constitutional referendum. In recent months, they've been unofficially aiding the Americans against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Shia militias.

Now, it may seem that Cap'n Mike is being a little simplistic, or possibly even simple-minded, in referring to this group as "the bad guys" in scare quotes. Some might even accuse Cap'n Mike of relying on childish name-calling in an effort to divert attention from the complex reality on the ground in Iraq, in which yesterday's enemy becomes today's ally.

The tape showed enemy snipers killing American troops. Cooper claimed that this story "is one we believe needs to be told." One wonders how long a news service doing the same thing during World War II would have survived the resultant American outrage.

That's actually a pretty good question, Cap'n Mike. Suppose the German government had released footage in 1944 showing German troops shooting at and killing American troops, and suppose that an American news organization had obtained this footage. Well, they didn't have television back in 1944, so no American news organization could have broadcast it. They could have passed it along to one of the Hollywood movie studios for inclusion in a newsreel, though this kind of dilutes the question, since it would be the studio showing the footage and not a news organization. But suppose it just the same. A 1944 moviegoing audience is sitting in a theater, and a newsreel comes on showing German troops killing American troops. I imagine the people would be angry at the Germans for killing the Americans, but would they be angry at the movie studio or the news organization for showing it? I'm pretty sure that the American people in 1944 had a pretty clear idea of the fact that Americans and Germans were trying to kill each other in combat, and that sometimes the Germans succeeded in killing Americans. There were even, if I'm not mistaken, works of fiction called "movies" that occasionally showed actors playing American soldiers being shot and killed by offscreen German soldiers, so it's not like movie audiences in 1944 had never seen portrayals of American soldiers being shot. Would the audience be angry at the movie studio for showing American soldiers dying in a newsreel? I have to believe they wouldn't.

Of course, this raises the question of why Cap'n Mike thinks TV audiences ought to be outraged by the sight of Iraqi snipers killing American troops. Does Cap'n Mike think that the audiences are unaware that there are Iraqis shooting at Americans? Does he think that this will come as some horrible shock to the American viewing audience? Well, we know that Cap'n Mike and his fellow wingnuts have conniption fits themselves whenever any news organization shows a flag-draped coffin, or lists the names of American soldiers who have been killed in action. From the evidence, it seems that Cap'n Mike himself is indeed unaware that people, even American soldier-type people, are killed in wars. He apparently finds the very idea utterly shocking, and no doubt he believes that the rest of his fellow citizens will feel the same way. Again, though, I have to believe that most of the people in this country are more worldly than Cap'n Mike, and are indeed aware that Americans are occasionally shot and killed in Iraq. They might be angry at the Iraqi snipers for killing American troops, but they won't be angry at CNN for showing them doing it.

Oh, and props to Cap'n Mike for picking Anderson Cooper, someone I've actually heard of, as cultural-soul-destroying America-basher #2. (Fun fact: Anderson Cooper's great-grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, built a Newport mansion called The Breakers.)

A good fisking tends to take up a lot of space, which can lead to some unwieldy blog posts. With that in mind, I'm going to stop here and take up Cap'n Mike's other four America-bashers in a couple of subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

(this post is cross-posted at The Spirit of 75)
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