How Did Torture Become a “Gray Area”?

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

For several hours, I have been puzzling over Ulf Kirchendorfer’s most recent post, “Why Torture Is So American!” Irony and satire are sometimes as difficult to understand and to respond to as they are engaging and provocative.

Ulf’s post is certainly very provocative in highlighting the ways in which “torture” may be said to have deep roots in American culture and the ways in which we have been conditioned to overlook the conditions under which many people live and work, which may be said to be tantamount to extended torture. But I ultimately think that Ulf may be conflating brutality and a lack of empathy with torture, when those are more precisely preconditions for being able to torture without conscience.

During World War II, my father served in the Marines and was in the first landings on Iwo Jima. There were 20,000 Japanese on that island honeycombed with tunnels and…

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Ebola Is Just the New Chandra Levy

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Three weeks ago, Ebola was an all-consuming crisis that obsessed politicians and the media. But now, it’s just an old issue and old news.

People are still dying in droves in substandard medical facilities in West Africa, and nothing much has changed in terms of our efforts to insure that the disease is contained when infected individuals travel into the United States.

But compare the summary of the Sunday political news shows that The Hill provided several weeks ago [], with the summary of the topics covered on this past Sunday.



November 16, 2014


Top GOP senator won’t dismiss talk of shutdown over immigration: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, “we’re having those discussions.”

Lee: US ‘not heading into a government shutdown’: “There are a lot of reasons for that,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said.


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Wishing Doesn’t Make It So

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

After the 2012 presidential election, it became apparent that Mitt Romney was very surprised that he lost the election because his internal polling had indicated that he was not just ahead, but solidly ahead, in most of the key battleground states. Progressives found that disconnection from reality quite amusing and attributed it, in Bill Maher’s phrasing, to Romney’s having been trapped inside the Right-wing bubble, in which the only reality is what the Right wants the reality to be.

Well, in the aftermath of this midterm election, I think that we may need to begin talking about the progressive bubble.

In Ohio’s gubernatorial election—yes, there was a gubernatorial election in Ohio, though it was such a lopsided race that the national media gave it almost no attention whatsoever—Democrat Ed Fitzgerald received just 34% of the vote. I will have more to say about what happened in Ohio in another post…

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October Jobs Report: Under the Sunny Headline, Deep Roots of Discontent

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

The following post was written by Isaiah J. Poole for for the blog of the Campaign for America’s Future [] which has become a driving force behind the New Populist Movement.

The group’s report, Organizing to Take Back America: The New Populist Movement, is available at: Prepared by Riger Hickey, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, the report identifies twelve key principles underlying this new progressive effort to provide an effective grassroots alternative to the Tea Party movement on the Far Right.

Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop…

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Politics Is Both Message and Messaging

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

The most important paragraph in Isaiah Poole’s piece seems to me to be the following: “Here’s where the tragedy of Tuesday’s election results come into sharp relief. Republicans were more successful than Democrats in tapping into voters’ economic anxiety, even with their record of blocking the policy changes needed to address the causes of that anxiety.”

Slate  just ran an article by William Saletan titled “A Victory for the Left.” The article is ironic because it explains how a victory for the Left amounted to a decisive defeat for the Democrats.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

“Republicans won big in the 2014 elections. They captured the Senate and gained seats in the House.

“But they didn’t do it by running to the right. They did it, to a surprising extent, by embracing ideas and standards that came from the left.

“I’m not talking about gay marriage, on which Republicans have…

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Given yesterday’s election results, here are some observations and recommendations that I would like to offer to the leadership of the Democratic party—locally, statewide, and nationally:

1. Deluging registered Democrats with fund-raising appeals is ultimately counterproductive. I am on the lists for five dozen or so Democratic and progressive organizations, and at a certain point, the incessant appeals become not only extremely annoying, but also overwrought, incoherent, and cumulatively discouraging. Ahead of one reporting deadline, I received 68 appeals for donations between 10 p.m. and midnight. Some of the messages proclaimed that we were on the verge of winning decisively while others warned that the apocalypse was upon us.

Someone needs to conceive of another way to raise money in 2016, or soon most Democrats and progressives will unsubscribe to most of the lists.

2. Given that the Democrats did much better at fund-raising than at getting out the vote, there…

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Ebola: A Symptom of Our Morbidly Diseased Media and Politics

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

On October 25, the BBC reported that, according to the World Health Organization’s best estimates, there were over 10,000 Ebola cases in West Africa. At least 4,922 people had died from the disease, with all but 27 of those deaths occurring in three countries: Liberia, with 2,705 deaths; Sierra Leone, with 1,281 deaths; and Guinea, with 926 deaths.

At that point, there had been fewer than ten cases of Ebola in the United States, and just a single death. More significantly, all of the cases in the U.S. had involved health care workers who had volunteered to fight the epidemic in the most affected West African countries or who had cared for one traveler from West Africa who became the only U.S. fatality.

Yet the following headlines appeared in the Far Right media:

“Ben Carson Warns of Ebola Bio-Terror,” Newsmax.

“Ebola Can Be Weaponized,” Newsmax.

“[Michael] Savage: ‘They…

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Political Polarization and Trust in Media Sources

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

The following chart is taken from a new report by the Pew Research Center, measuring public trust, by political ideology, in various media outlets.

Trust in News Sources

The takeaways from this survey are fairly obvious from the chart.

On the whole, UK-based news sources are trusted by a broader range of Americans than U.S. news sources.

Those who identify as consistently liberal, mostly liberal, and mixed in their political views trust a much broader spectrum of news outlets than those who identify as mostly conservative or consistently conservative.

Likewise, with the exception of The Blaze and FOX News, conservative news sources are more distrusted than trusted.

At one end of the spectrum, MSNBC’s The Ed Schultz Show is trusted by as narrow an audience as Al Jazeera, while, at the other end of the spectrum, Rush Limbaugh’s radio broadcast is trusted fewer listeners than even Glenn Beck’s and Sean Hannity’s broadcasts.

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Shamelessness, Not Moxie

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Jon Husted, who has done more than any secretary of state outside of Florida and North Carolina to restrict voting opportunities, is running ads touting his efforts to insure that all military personnel have had the opportunity to vote.

Husted’s efforts to restrict early voting and to disqualify provisional ballots just ahead of the 2012 presidential elections earned him considerable national attention, little of it positive. But, although he is standing for re-election this November, he has approached this election cycle in much the same blatantly partisan manner.

Here are the opening paragraphs of an article published by Plunderbund, a progressive blog, in May 2014:

“On February 25th, 2014 Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted released information about voting hours for the November 2014 election.   Husted said would not be allowing any early in-person voting during the evenings or on the two days before the election, and he would not be allowing…

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The Language and the Marketing of “Intelligence”

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Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

I have recently posted an item on the controversy generated by the Department of Defense’s when it made available to its employees with Appalachian backgrounds a course on how to talk less obviously like hillbillies []. And, even more recently, I have posted an item on the ways in which armed conflicts often involve battles over language and, alternatively,  the ways in which battles over language often suggest what we feel most threatened by [].

Here is another linguistic item related to the Department of Defense, one which relates as well to the series of eighteen posts that I recently finished called “National (In)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels” [; this final post in the series includes links to all of the others].

Perhaps you have at some point considered a career in espionage, or perhaps you have considered writing an espionage novel, or…

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