Monday, January 28, 2008

The News Media’s Fascination With Celebrities

I know that people like to get some “lighter” news alongside the day’s harsher news of war, conflict, murder, the mortgage crisis, the stock market, etc. But sometimes the news media goes way overboard on the coverage of celebrities.

Case in point: the recent death of Heath Ledger. The media covered this ad nauseam, in some cases news stations like Fox and CNN breaking in multiple times for multiple updates. Did we really need a blow by blow of every single tidbit? I don’t think so.

Talk show host Montel Williams finally fought back on the issue. Granted, I am not a fan of Montel Williams but he made some interesting commentary on the Fox News morning show the other day. (The YouTube clip is below.) While I don’t think that people want to constantly hear about people killed in the war – or anywhere else for that matter – Montel does bring home the point that the media seems to sometimes be enamored with people and topics who really are insignificant. The hypocrisy here is that the premise of Montel’s own show seems to be to exploit other people’s problems. Maybe Fox should take note, and maybe Montel should rethink the focus of his own show.

I know that cable news channels, and even morning shows like Today and Good Morning America have a lot of time to fill. I think there is so much happening in this world that there has got to be more interesting topics than a celebrity death, or celebrity custody battles, or celebrity faux pas. I say save that stuff for the entertainment news shows, and internet news and blogs, where people can go out and find information if they want it.

Anyway, here’s the Montel/Fox News clip. If you have a few minutes, take a look at it. It may make you think about what kind of news you want from your news shows.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Oprah’s Obama Endorsement Backlash

On December 9th, I wrote in this blog about the problem with celebrity endorsements, which was prompted by the news of Oprah Winfrey endorsing Barack Obama. Personally, celebrity endorsements are meaningless to me. Just because a person is famous or rich doesn’t mean that they are any more politically savvy than the average person. or knowledgeable about who is the right choice.

Imagine my lack of surprise when I read that The UK Times On Line said that Oprah Winfrey is getting negative feedback from women about her endorsement. It seems that when Oprah endorsed a man, she forgot that her audience is mostly women. Some of those women may take it as a personal affront that while Oprah has made possibly the bulk of her fortune based on shows or products geared to women, that she can’t seem to make the leap to endorsing one for the highest elected office in the U.S.

This is why celebrity endorsements are risky, not just for the person who may blindly follow their lead, but to the celebrity themselves.

For some reason, I think this is going to be a very volatile primary season....

Here’s the article from The Times OnLine, for your reading enjoyment:

AMERICA’S favourite television presenter is paying a painful price for her intervention in the US presidential campaign last month. Oprah Winfrey has been dubbed a “traitor” by some of her female fans for supporting Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

Winfrey’s website,, has been flooded with a barrage of abuse since the queen of daytime chat shows joined Obama on a tour of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in mid-December.

Her intervention was widely credited with broadening Obama’s national appeal - especially among women - and with helping him to an upset victory over Clinton in the first vote of the election year in Iowa.

Yet a backlash by Clinton supporters appears to have prompted a rethink by Winfrey, the African-American media titan who is routinely described as the most influential woman on television.

She did not reappear in the final days before the New Hampshire primary - which Obama lost to Clinton - and has been absent from the most recent campaigning in South Carolina, which votes next weekend.

Obama aides believe that Winfrey will return to the campaign. Her own staff noted last week that in addition to her daily broadcasts on television and satellite radio, she has also been busy negotiating a multi-million-dollar deal with the Discovery cable network to create her own television channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Yet Obama’s rivals suspect that Winfrey has been startled by the virulent reaction to her previous campaign appearance.

It started with a message on her website entitled “Oprah is a traitor” and rapidly expanded to include several discussions that attracted hundreds of comments.

In the original post, a reader called austaz68 said she “cannot believe that women all over this country are not up in arms over Oprah’s backing of Obama. For the first time in history we actually have a shot at putting a woman in the White House and Oprah backs the black MAN. She’s choosing her race over her gender.”

In a subsequent comment, 2nurselady wrote: “I don’t think Oprah is a ‘traitor’, but I do think she may be alienating a lot of her fans.”

Others have accused Winfrey of racism for siding with Obama when such a well qualified woman as Clinton was running.

Winfrey has built her career on empathising with women’s issues and offering a daily diet of redemption and hope. Her show typically focuses on women who have suffered but survived.
So hostile has the response been that some suspect dirty tricks. “All the rude and hateful messages on here can’t be from Oprah fans,” another visitor noted. “Someone’s campaign (wonder who?) is sabotaging the message boards.”

Winfrey received a rapturous reception when she campaigned with Obama last month. Yet several analysts warned that she might adversely affect his chances.

Steve Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California, said: “The moment a star opens their mouth and endorses one candidate, they alienate half their viewership.”

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Superbowl – Do we really need a 6 hour pregame show?

While watching football yesterday, I heard the Fox sportscasters mention that there will be a 6 (yes, six) hour Superbowl pre-game show, on February 3. I thought they were joking, until I researched the information and found it IS true.

Do we need such a lengthy pregame show? After all, the game itself usually runs about 3-1/2 hours. Is it really necessary to talk about it for 6 hours before? From what I understand, as part of the show, Fox is going to feature Idol judge Paula Abdul and debut her “Dance Like There's No Tomorrow” music video. Just exactly what does that have to do with football or the Superbowl? I also heard that host Ryan Seacrest will be hosting a “red carpet” for arriving celebrities. This is the Superbowl, not the Oscars or Emmys! And, it’s definitely not American Idol.

This about this: The ads during the Superbowl seem geared to men. Beer-drinking, pickup truck driving men. There are the ubiquitous beer commercials, pickup truck commercials, men driving regular cars very fast…these commercials were not meant for women. So why on earth would they gear the pre-game with music videos and “red carpet” interviews from American Idol people? It doesn’t sound like anything related to football, or sports in general, or even to the football demographic. It seems to me that the pregame show is more about Fox’s shameless self-promotion, not the Superbowl.

I don’t know about you, but I won’t be wasting my time with the pregame show. I’m sure I can find something better to do.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cloned Beef – Will you Eat It?

Well, it appears that the FDA doesn’t have a beef with cloned beef. They’ve proclaimed it safe, and cleared the way for cloned cows, pigs, and other livestock from reaching US markets. And the FDA is not requiring special labeling to designate that the meat came from a cloned animal. The government has asked animal-cloning companies to continue a voluntary moratorium on sales for a little longer.

Cloning animals has been a contentious point since 1997 when researchers produced the first cloned animal, Dolly, a sheep. There are 500+ cloned animals in the US at this time, and the livestock industry has, for now, followed a voluntary ban. Cloned sheep, however, still remain questionable with the FDA.

There are many grocers who will not sell cloned meat because consumers still find eating it questionable. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, "The FDA has acted recklessly…Just because something was created in a lab doesn't mean we should have to eat it…If we discover a problem with cloned food after it is in our food supply and it's not labeled, the FDA won't be able to recall it like they did Vioxx - the food will already be tainted."

For me, I have some discomfort with cloned meat. Part of it goes back to the “Mad Cow Disease” problems with beef. I know there is a lot more testing that goes on to keep cows out of the food chain that have mad cow. But, I find myself wondering, what other diseases or problems could a cow have that could be carried on, or even magnified, by cloning? What will happen long term to the breed if cloning becomes more and more the norm for reproduction?

There is still a lot that we don’t know about cloning. All we seem to know is that we can make copies of animals and sometimes we can even make those animals glow. (The latter refers to the cats cloned by South Korean researchers that were genetically altered and cloned so they glowed in the dark.)

Until there is several years of proof that there are no ill effects from eating cloned food, or ill effects to the breed being cloned, I won’t be eating cloned food. I think the people of the FDA should eat it for 20 years, and then let us know the results of their own personal study. If they’re healthy and show no ill effects from eating cloned meat, then I may consider it.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Unity '08 - The Obituary

Back on November 17, I wrote in this blog a post titled “Unity ’08 – DOA?” (See link to original,here. )

Well, I think I called that one right.

Last Thursday, I got a letter from Unity ’08 – below – which sounds like its swan song. And when I visited the web site today, the letter is all that was left. I’m so glad I held off and didn’t donate any funds.

It was a valiant attempt on their part to try to create an organization that wanted to put partisan politics aside. Maybe they picked the wrong year in which to do it. With the large number of candidates for both Democratic and Republican parties, there already seems to be a great opportunity for major political shake-up. It’s almost as if Unity ’08 really wasn’t able to differentiate itself in the barrage of promises for change coming from the candidates themselves.

I was drawn to the cause initially by hearing Sam Waterston talk about it. It was probably the wrong reason to give it a look, but it got me there anyway, which is what the group may have intended. More eyeballs to see and ears to hear their message. I think that as more people realized – like me – that Unity ’08 was not a political party but a political action committee, interest waned. And the organization never seemed to congeal its message. Compounding the problem was an FEC ruling that strangled their fundraising ability. It appears that Unity ’08 was a nice in concept, but that it wasn’t clearly thought through, and maybe the right people weren’t leading the charge.

So while I called its death in November, I think it’s time to finish it off with what I think is its "obituary", from the Unity '08 website:

"Dear fellow members of Unity08,
One of our principles at the outset of this audacious project was transparency and openness. Too often in our recent political history, what you see is not what you get.

For this reason, we are writing you today to lay out the current status of Unity08 and possible paths going forward.

First, however, it's important to reflect upon what we - together - have accomplished in shaping the current political discussion and building a sense of what is possible in this crucial election year. Two of our core ideas - the importance of a centrist, bi-partisan approach to the solving of our nation's problems and the possibility of an independent, unity ticket for the presidency have already gone from far-out to mainstream.

Barack Obama, for example, has made the theme of unity and the necessity of bridging the partisan divide an absolutely central theme of his campaign. And just last week, a group of former and present national office holders - independents, Republicans and Democrats - met in Oklahoma for the sole purpose of stating their belief that at the present perilous moment, a unity government is the only hope of solving the nation's mounting problems. When you have agreement among the likes of former RNC chairman Bill Brock and Gary Hart, you're onto something.

And, of course, waiting in the wings should the divide persist, is the potential of a serious non-partisan candidacy in the person of the Mayor of New York (two of our founders Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon have stepped down from the board and may have more to say about their plans in the near future).

Can Unity08 take full credit for these remarkable developments? Of course not, but through this website, your active involvement, innumerable news stories, op-eds, and public appearances by friends like Sam Waterston, we certainly have helped to bring these ideas to the forefront of the current political discussion.

So in a larger sense, we have accomplished a major portion of what we set out to do. But in the specifics and logistics, we have fallen short.

At the current moment, we don't have enough members or enough money to take the next necessary step - achieving ballot access in 50 states - to reach the goal of establishing our on-line convention and nominating a Unity ticket for president and vice president this coming fall.

The past year has taught us that it's tough to rally millions to a process as opposed to a candidate or an issue. In the past, third party movements that have broken through the monopoly of the established parties have always been based on a person (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in the last decade) or a burning issue (slavery in the case of the insurgent Republican party in 1860). Stirring people and moving them to action about a process change - replacing the quirky primary system that tends to drive candidates to the extremes with something more inclusive and sensible - has proven to be a lot harder than we expected.

And the Federal Election Commission hasn't helped. The Commission has taken the position that we are subject to their jurisdiction (even though two United States Supreme Court decisions hold exactly opposite) and, therefore, that we are limited to $5000 contributions from individuals (even though the Democrat and Republican Parties are able to receive $25,000 from individuals). Needless to say, this position by the FEC effectively limited our fundraising potential, especially in the crucial early going when we needed substantial money fast to get on with ballot access and the publicity necessary to build our membership.

We were caught in a peculiar catch-22; we wanted to break the dependence on big money by getting lots of small contributions from millions of members, but needed some up-front big money to help generate the millions of members to make the small contributions. And the FEC (in effect, an arm of the parties) didn't let that happen. We have challenged this ruling in the federal courts, but are still awaiting a decision and time is running out.

And so reluctantly, especially given the volatility of the present situation, we're forced to scale back - not cease - our operations and suspend our ballot access project. Our website will become less interactive (it takes staff to answer hundreds of e-mails a day) and we can't in good faith make the $5 million commitment necessary to make a serious start on ballot access.

But we're not closing our doors. We believe it is important to see our case against the FEC through (both for Unity08 and any similar movement in the future) and be ready to gear up if (when) we win our case and political circumstances warrant later this spring. Unity is in the air right now, and Mayor Bloomberg seems poised to run on his own (and the fact is that two independent candidacies wouldn't work) if the parties leave the sensible center open - but all this could change in a matter of weeks.

We still believe strongly that we have the right idea, but it just might (emphasize might because who knows what can happen in the next month) not be the right time. In the meantime, a sincere, profound thanks for your help, involvement and support so far and please keep pushin' - for the simple but very powerful idea that solutions to our nation's problems are going to take ideas and hard work from all sources, and that a political system whose stock-in-trade is division may well be the biggest problem of all.

Please know that you have already made a difference and are at the forefront of a movement that may yet save the country.

Robert Bingham
Angus King
Peter Ackerman
Zach Clayton
Lindsay Ullman
Board of Directors, Unity08 "


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Friday, January 11, 2008

The REAL ID – Real Smart, or Government Gone to Far?

It was announced today that for Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964, they will have to get more secure driver's licenses in the next six years as part of post-9/11 security rules. Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, says the REAL ID program will be inexpensive and reasonable. Civil liberties officials say this is going too far, and some states believe it will cost them plenty.

The REAL ID Act was designed to make it harder for terrorists, illegal immigrants and con artists to get government-issued identification. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) objects to the REAL ID because it involves sharing of personal data among government agencies. The Department of Homeland Security believes to guarantee the safety of the ID, they have to verify it against secure government data. Others like the ACLU are of the opinion that this can only make the chance of security breaches more likely.

The ACLU has a written objection to the law, claiming the REAL ID is the "first-ever national identity card system," which "would irreparably damage the fabric of American life."

What would this REAL ID mean for you? If you’re born after Dec. 1, 1964, by 2014, you would have to present a REAL ID-compliant driver's license in order to board an airplane or enter a federal building. If you’re over 50, the REAL ID would not be required at that time. The over-50 exemption was put in place to give states more time to get everyone new licenses. This age group is also considered low risk for a person being a terrorist, illegal immigrant, etc. By 2017, even for those over 50, a REAL ID-compliant card will be a requirement to board a plane. Of course, there are a lot of other details involved, but you get the idea.

I have to admit, I am not very bothered by this proposal of a REAL ID. You would think I would be, after just having my credit card compromised, and also after having other personal information potentially compromised during a security breach in the handling of Ohio tax information in 2007. There is a chance that if your REAL ID data gets stolen or somehow forged, that you could be in an indescribable mess trying to recover from it. And sure, I remember watching a lot of old movies as a kid, being scared when people in Europe during WWII were constantly asked to “show me your papers” in order to gain access anywhere.

But I remain very concerned about security in this country. Frankly, I don’t think the REAL ID will deter all terrorists and malcontents, but I believe it can help in at least preventing them easy access. I also think that people are deluding themselves if they think, in this day of GPS, cell phones, Internet cookies and other tracking like credit card transactions, and all similar the tracking like supermarket purchases, that they have any privacy left. They don’t.

One big benefit to the REAL ID is evident in their slogan: “One driver, one license." In the case of the hijacker who flew into the Pentagon, he had four driver's licenses and ID cards from three states. The REAL ID should help plug that hole.

It is critical, however, that the Department of Homeland Security make the REAL ID system hacker proof and tamper proof. Failure to do so would make the card not only worthless, but would compromise the security of the people they are trying to protect. I would like to see more details from the DHS on this matter.

So right now, I haven’t heard anything about the REAL ID that would make me lose any sleep. In fact, I would probably lose more sleep if we allow the current ID system to continue on as is. The REAL ID seems like a real good idea. I’ll keep a real open mind, though, so comments are welcome.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ignore the Pollsters

A disclaimer first: I haven’t decided whom I’m voting for in the upcoming presidential primary, and I am not endorsing anyone at this point in time.

With the recent Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, it became even more evident that voters should do one thing: ignore the pollsters.

Many in the news media had Hillary Clinton painted as a loser in the New Hampshire primary, based on all the polls. And this morning, those same people in the news media seem shocked – SHOCKED! – that Hillary actually pulled out a win. And now they are frantically trying to explain how it happened. Was it Hillary’s emotional comments after the Iowa caucus? Was it Bill Clinton railing about Barack Obama? Was it single women backing Hillary? Was it Barack backlash? Etc.

The answer is that when it all comes down to it, the only “poll” that should be believed is the one where the voters officially cast their ballot. And no matter how many polls are taken, one can't exactly predict what the voter will do when making their final choice.

Along that line, I also urge people to ignore the media when they say that it will all be over with “Super Tuesday”, AKA “Super Duper Tuesday” because so many states are having primaries on February 5, 2008. There will still be a lot of states left to vote after that date, and anything can happen between now and the very last primary. In my opinion, the media is being unfair by discounting the value of every vote.

So I for one am not going to let a pollster, or the media, or the outcome of other primaries decide how I vote in either the primary or the presidential election. I’m not a sheep that blindly follows the opinion of others. This election is the first one in many, many, years where the voters have many candidates to chose from. Because of that, we should all make informed choices.

However you decide to approach your state’s primary this year, make sure that you do one thing: VOTE.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Credit Cards – Can Anyone Make Them Secure?

This past Christmas, I took great pains not to charge anything on a credit card. When I had to buy something off the Internet, I bought a Visa gift card, and used that rather than my own card, for better security. When I do use a credit card, it never leaves my hand, and I am very careful with receipts, even though the receipts don’t show the credit card number.

Despite all my attempts to avoid having someone steal my credit card number, someone actually managed to do it. When my husband opened our recent credit card statement (for the credit card we use strictly for gasoline charges), he found several charges for an Internet dating site. After he looked at me questioningly – as if he really wondered if I was using a dating site! – we realized that somehow, someone from Canada managed to get our card number and use it to charge several transactions.

After calling the credit card company, they indicated I needed to call the company for the dating web site first to report the “dispute”. The dating site had caught and reversed one of the erroneous charges before I even called, but apparently neither the web site nor my credit card company caught the additional charges on there from the same site. One thing I should add – this same credit card company once froze my card because, while pumping gas one day, over two years ago and having problems with the pump, I had to go to another pump to get the gas. It appeared to them that someone had stolen my card then, why didn’t it appear there was theft or fraud involved when someone outside the country used my card repeatedly on an Internet dating site?

The dating site was smart enough to realize after I called that this was a clear case of fraud, and not a simple dispute as the credit card company had implied. So my account was closed so a new card could be issued. The problem now is, until they get me all the paperwork so I can sign it to confirm the fraud, I can’t use their credit card. And seeing that the web site confirmed the fraud, why is the credit card company making ME jump through hoops to get a new card issued? Why wasn’t the credit card company proactively on top of the problem?

It seems that more frequently, people are becoming victims to identity theft and credit card fraud. I find it bothersome that someone hasn’t figured out a foolproof way of making credit cards 100% secure. Photo identification would help, but of course would not work for Internet purchases.

With companies wanting to make it easier for people to part with their money, they are making it easier for others to STEAL it. Frankly, I would trade a little inconvenience when making a credit card purchase if it meant my credit card would be theft proof. Would you? You may not think so…until you find yourself the victim.

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