Cagle.com Premium Cartoon News http://www.cagle.com/author/peter-funt/ Peter Funt, host of Candid Camera, writes a weekly column and speaks regularly to business groups about "The Candid You." For information regarding Peter's appearances, and to see the collections of his DVDs, please visit: www.CandidCamera.com. Sun, 20 Apr 2014 18:20:33 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Doo Dah, Back at You http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/doo-dah-back-at-you/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/doo-dah-back-at-you/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:10:25 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=639952 OCEAN CITY, N.J. — Everyone loves a parade, or so they say, and by Labor Day practically every town and village in America will have one. They could all learn something from the way folks here conduct a mid-April oddity called the Doo Dah Parade.

lgDoo Dah parade basset hounds  2  Doo Dah, Back at You cartoonsThis community, built on a barrier island roughly two hours south of New York and about an hour east of Philadelphia, seems to have little ego. It also has none of the casinos found a few miles up the highway in Atlantic City and, like just one other town in the state, no alcohol.

I mentioned to Mark Soifer, who started the annual parade 29 years ago, that even though this is a tourist town, there don’t seem to be any chain-operated hotels or retail businesses. “We just got a Starbucks,” he said like a man with mixed feelings, “and we do have a McDonald’s.” But that’s about it. Maybe the strict no-booze policy has frightened off most big operators.

What Ocean City does have is a beautiful beachfront that was mercifully spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, and stately middle-class homes with distinctive porches stacked on two or three stories. Plus there is a classic boardwalk with block after block of the best local offerings that moms and pops can provide.

But back to “doo dah.” The term showed up in the 1947 Disney film “Song of the South,” and the track “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the Oscar for Best Song.

Roughly translated nowadays, “doo dah,” borrowed from an annual event in Pasadena, Calif., means a celebration of silliness. Jersey’s version struck me at first as a total turnoff: communal pie throwing, a skills competition among nearly 600 Bassett hounds, and a show by Abbott and Costello impersonators.

It got even stranger as I watched on a sunny Saturday. There was Angel Dromgoole atop a convertible posing as the Queen of England, Peter Sofio in a poorly made Spiderman costume, and J. T. Williams as Santa Claus, wearing a bathing suit.

But the thing is, it was great. There’s a community-wide effort to avoid taking life too seriously. If the town’s Miss Pre-Teen wants to wave from a convertible, why not wave back? And if Linda and Rick Stickney wish to dress as clowns, why not cheer them on?

Shortly before the parade, there was a false alarm at the Port-O-Call Hotel, and several firefighters had to remove their long fake beards to respond. Then they rejoined the others who make up the bagpipe band, playing “Camptown Races” (it has “doo dah” in the lyrics, you know) followed by a rousing but nondescript tune on kazoos.

Ocean City considers itself a “family town,” so when a bill to allow the sale of alcohol showed up on ballots a few years ago it was voted down — again.

In a way this place seems frozen in time, and a pretty good time at that. Personally, I’m not sure about the liquor ban; I tend not to favor morals-based legislation. As for the parade, many small- and medium-sized towns across America know how to enjoy a “good-old-days” approach, and as long as that’s not an excuse to ignore the serious problems of the present, it seems like a fine idea.

The point isn’t so much to dwell in the past, I believe, but rather to supply a down-to-earth foundation for the future. To put it another way, none of us should ever become so jaded that we’re unable to smile when Dara Belford helps guide a bevy of semi-cooperative Bassett hounds down the boardwalk.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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Phone Lost, Friends Found http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/phone-lost-friends-found/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/phone-lost-friends-found/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:05:58 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=639839 LOS ANGELES — If you’re reading this, I’m sorry I didn’t get your name, but I wish to thank you for returning the cellphone I left in your taxi. Moreover, I want to explain how you and several others at LAX provided a refresher course in good nature.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle

This was a few nights ago. The cab ride to the airport included a lengthy chat with my driver about high gas prices and pollution-lowering additives. It shifted to his concern that many nations ignore environmental issues and are poisoning their own people.

Forty-five minutes later I was still thinking about the driver’s spot-on views when I realized I had left my phone on the backseat of his cab. I emailed my wife, Amy, asking her to call my number and ask whomever answers to please send it back. She replied that the driver had my phone and volunteered to drive it 20 miles to LAX.

I don’t know if the waitress who served me that night is reading this, but I want her to know that I appreciate her allowing me to rush out, my meal half-eaten, trusting I’d actually return to pay.

I also don’t know if the United Airlines baggage handler outside Terminal 7 will see this, but I’m glad he kept me company for 25 minutes as we waited for the cab — then used his own phone to call mine. He learned that the taxi driver was about 200 yards away, patiently waiting for me at the wrong door.

I have no way of knowing if the TSA officer who screened me that night will read this, but it was gracious of him to let me pass through his checkpoint, even though the barcode on my boarding pass failed to register. He bent the rules, and probably could have gotten in trouble, but he seemed sympathetic to the fact that a second trip through security for the same flight is enough to stress anyone.

I’ll probably never know if the manager at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant near Gate 70 saw this, but I was grateful when he told me that my plate had been taken back to the kitchen to keep the food warm, and that my Bud was right where I left it over a half-hour earlier.

I guess my 14-hour travel day was taking its toll, because I then managed to drop my boarding pass while walking to Gate 87. I don’t know if the guy who drives a golf cart in the terminal will read this, but it was remarkable that he managed to pick up my pass and catch me before I had a total meltdown.

Finally in the boarding area, a tall man with a Yankee cap carelessly bashed his rolling suitcase into my knee.

As a severe critic of airports, airlines and the whole post-9/11 travel process, I might have jumped all over this guy. I concede to even rehearsing dialogue for such a confrontation: “Don’t you people ever watch where you’re going? Don’t you know these things can be dangerous? Don’t you think you should have checked a bag that large? Are you angling to get a free gate-check? And do you realize I’ve been up since 4 a.m.?”

Before I could say a word, the man apologized so profusely that I just smiled and urged him not to worry.

But let’s be honest: that didn’t make me a hero. It only allowed me to fit in among the nice people whose paths were crossing at LAX that night.

I still have problems with high taxi fares, the TSA, airlines in general, and careless backpack-toting, suitcase-wheeling passengers. But by and large there is an amazing number of nice folks out there, and I hope some of them are able to smile just a bit by reading this.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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Foul Balls http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/foul-balls-2/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/04/foul-balls-2/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 07:10:33 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=639489 Over in the sports section they greet each baseball season with rankings, predictions and detailed summaries of off-season roster moves. Here on the opinion page we usually prefer to wax about emerald green grass, the crack of the bat and the vernal reawakening of our Great American Pastime.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

But this season, words of caution are needed — about technology, marketing and ways in which the baseball experience is changing for the worse.

Short of playing games on Mars, Major League Baseball managed to move Opening Day about as far away as possible, physically and emotionally. The first two games were played a week ago between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in Australia. Due to the time difference, few Americans watched, and since all the other teams were still romping around at spring training, even fewer fans cared.

Baseball’s been doing this for several years, with openers in Mexico and Japan, but the trip to Sydney was the most ill-conceived yet. This global outreach might be good for MLB’s marketing department but it offers no benefit whatsoever to fans here who support the game.

After that contrived opening came a night game March 30, scheduled to please only ESPN. Oddly, it featured the Dodgers, meaning the L.A. team completed three games before most teams had played any. And thanks to TV scheduling, the Yankees and Astros didn’t even take the field until April 1 — the fifth day of the 2014 season.

This year television will also affect the outcome of games, with the introduction of an expanded replay system to review a wide range of umpiring decisions. Some see this as a welcome ingredient — especially after a few egregiously bad calls in recent years.

But be careful what you wish for. Much of baseball’s charm is rooted in the frailties of those who play it; a hitter is considered a superstar even if he fails 65 to 70 percent of the time.

To many lifelong fans, myself among them, umpires are part of this imperfect process. They make the calls, usually with great skill, and occasionally managers kick up a fuss, and fans boo, but we accept it.

Among the oddities in the new system is that managers are allowed only one challenge per game — unless it’s proved correct, in which case they get one more. What sense does that make? As in the NFL, you should either use TV technology to confirm calls or skip it. Letting a bad call stand because a manager has already used his challenge undermines the entire process: it’s bad for the sport.

Baseball probably isn’t quite as popular as pro football nowadays, but we still consider it the nation’s pastime because it mirrors our spirit, our dreams and our values in so many ways. But just as society is becoming seriously divided between haves and have-nots, baseball is heading down a dangerous path, segregating fans according to economic status.

In many baseball stadiums, particularly the newer ones, elite fans buy their way into separate parking, private entrances, exclusive clubs and seating in sections of the park where ordinary fans are not allowed to trespass. The San Francisco Giants are taking it to a gaudy extreme this season with the Gotham Club, an ultra-private compound at AT&T Park that includes billiard tables, a bowling alley and private lounge.

Even without such lavish sanctums, most teams segregate fans more than ever in a misguided attempt to curb rowdy behavior and drunkenness. Teams find it easier to separate fans by class, allowing the riffraff to cause trouble in confined zones. That’s not how baseball should be marketed.

Joe DiMaggio said the thrill of Opening Day for players and fans should feel much like birthday parties do for little kids. The people who run baseball are entitled to maximize profits, but not to spoil this great American party.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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The Plane! The Plane! http://www.cagle.com/2014/03/the-plane-the-plane/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/03/the-plane-the-plane/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 07:10:02 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=639081 The other night I got into bed later than usual and wondered if I had missed the nightly installment of this month’s hottest talk-radio topic: the missing Malaysian plane and wild theories about its fate. Silly me. The talkers were still at full throttle, ranting about, The plane! The plane!

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Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Daytime talk shows on radio and TV tend to dwell on basic stuff when a sensational story like this one comes along. You know, terrorist plots, government conspiracies and even mundane mechanical failures. But late at night and online — where media are pretty much off the wall, even without a provocative story like this one — the missing plane is sparking nonstop discussion about secret landing strips, vast worldwide conspiracies and, of course, UFOs!

This much we know: Whatever became of the 239 souls aboard Flight 370 is tragic, as is the uncertainty about their fate that drags on for families and friends. But while actual details — “news,” if you will — grows scarce, the media stampede on the story isn’t letting up.

After more than a dozen days, the “search area” was described as roughly the size of the continental U.S., perhaps near Australia. That’s like saying a plane was lost over New Jersey and it could be in the Grand Canyon, or maybe at the bottom of Lake Michigan, or in myriad other places in between.

The problem isn’t extensive news coverage, which was welcome at the start. It’s excessive coverage, when there is little or no news to report. CNN has moved into drop-everything-mode, as if covering the Kennedy assassination. That prompted actress Mia Farrow to Tweet: “Has TV ‘news’ gone completely crazy?”

Of course, Farrow is hardly an objective judge of CNN’s product since her son Ronan now hosts a show on MSNBC. Still, her point is well taken. For example, CNN flashed the words “Breaking News” on the screen during marathon coverage nearly two weeks into the story. And what was the big break? That a CNN reporter was inside a flight simulator and would show what a 777 cockpit looks like.

Even Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly believes the missing plane commentary is over the top. “Watching some of this coverage is painful,” said O’Reilly. He concluded, “It’s now corrupting the news business.”

Cable and the Internet have an unquenchable thirst for stories that tweak the public’s imaginations and a keen eye for running stories that could be treated as a BIG DEAL. MSNBC, for instance, has devoted more time to Chris Christie and his New Jersey bridge scandal than any other single story that’s come along this year. In 2013, Fox News Channel ran so hard and fast with the Benghazi matter that viewers might have assumed it was the only thing happening on the planet.

Television has a long and annoying history of overdosing on ratings-building stories. ABC’s “Nightline” actually began in 1979 with the singular purpose of covering the Iran hostage crisis. The thread ran for a remarkable 440 days until the crisis ended, after which time “Nightline” stayed on but was forced to cover other things.

Back then the only meaningful competition for ABC was Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” on NBC. Today there are numerous cable news channels plus hundreds of online news sites, and the battle to grab and hold viewers with a dramatic running story is intense.

As for the public, nothing sells like a vast conspiracy theory, except maybe sex.

To hear late-night radio hosts tell it, the 777 is sitting on a deserted strip somewhere in Somalia, the passengers all held hostage while the plane is refitted with nuclear weapons for a massive attack on Israel. According to others, aliens commandeered the plane and are holding the passengers aboard a UFO.

With everyone shouting theories about, “the plane, the plane,” we should remember where the line was coined. Fantasy Island.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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Pay Attention to This http://www.cagle.com/2014/03/pay-attention-to-this/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/03/pay-attention-to-this/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 07:10:29 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=638748 HENDERSON, Nev. — I happened to be doing a 20-hour road trip in a rented car when Apple announced CarPlay, a system that will soon allow motorists to text, check email and be entertained via their mobile devices, while roaring down the highway.

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Jeff Parker / PoliticalCartoons.com

The same week it was reported that Google has hired lobbyists to fight legislation in several states that would ban drivers from wearing Google Glass while operating a vehicle. Some carmakers will begin syncing with Google Glass next year.

Not surprisingly, Apple and Google, along with several other tech companies with billions at stake, claim that creating hands-free devices for use in cars will combat distracted driving, not contribute to it. No one really knows.

But here’s what we do know: Over 1,000 people are injured every day in the United States as a result of distracted driving, and nine of them die. The Centers for Disease Control, which supplies the data, said all kinds of distractions contribute — even onboard navigation systems.

Seems the more functions we have in an auto the more distracted we are likely to be, and while hands-on is worst, hands-free devices are still problematic. The Lincoln sports model I rented didn’t have GPS or a phone connection, yet the array of center-console push and touch options was overwhelming.

With CarPlay, owners of Apple devices will be able to use voice commands to send and hear text messages, get directions, answer calls and utilize numerous third-party apps. With Google Glass, which will first be interfaced with Hyundai models next year, motorists can access similar data, but it will appear in visual form before their eyes, rather than as audio only. And yes, Google Glass allows wearers to watch videos — even if they’re driving a car.

This has prompted lawmakers in five states to write legislation that bans Google Glass for anyone behind the wheel. Google maintains that the glasses allow motorists to keep their eyes on the road instead of having to divert their attention to the center console.

This strikes me as a massive, high-stakes confrontation between parties each claiming to be working in the public’s best interests. Perhaps hands-free devices are safer than the hands-on kind, but what if they also inspire vastly more people to use them — folks who wouldn’t otherwise be using any device while driving?

It’s somewhat like the e-cigarette debate. Are they good because they make it possible for people to quit smoking? Or are they bad because they allow smokers to continue the habit, and even prompt some others to start?

When it comes to distracted driving, Americans are already hooked more than motorists in Europe. According to the CDC, 69 percent of Americans say they use their phones while driving. In Britain it’s about 21 percent, and in Spain only 15 percent.

Would systems like CarPlay and Google Glass help? Not really, according to Christopher Chabris, a psychology professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Drivers using hands-free devices may trick their brains into thinking they’re paying attention, he told Bloomberg News. It’s actually an “illusion.”

During my drive through Nevada, where 70 mph is no big deal, I did take a hands-free call on my cellphone. Ten minutes and roughly 12 miles later, I finished the call and realized I had no recollection of anything I had seen out the window or done behind the wheel during the conversation.

Was I distracted? I never took my eyes off the road, but clearly I was not paying full attention. Similarly, many of us have used GPS — a great aid in finding our way — while discovering that the more dependent we become on the audio commands, the less in touch we are with the exits, turns, and other elements in our travels. We become less inclined to think and focus on the specifics of the task.

Nothing is going to slow down technological innovations in our cars. The business interests are huge, and the public demand is great. But make no mistake: the way we’re headed, there are dangerous curves ahead.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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2016 Crystal Ball http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/2016-crystal-ball/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/2016-crystal-ball/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:39:25 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=638242 It says here that Jeb Bush has the best shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, while Hillary Clinton might not be the Democrats’ candidate — and if she is, she’s no sure thing.

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Jeff Parker / PoliticalCartoons.com

Picking a president has become a tedious and expensive non-stop exercise. Those of us who dwell on it, especially years before the voting, are probably doing ourselves and the process no service.

Funny thing: a phrase heard frequently on Capitol Hill nowadays is, “We shouldn’t be a nation that picks winners and losers.” Yet that’s what we do. As far as the public is concerned, picking an American president seems at times little different than picking an American Idol.

Barring full-scale war, economic collapse or other catastrophes in the next few years, Americans are likely to look for a candidate in 2016 who seems the most “normal.”

Richard Nixon was outside the norm, and was replaced by the supremely normal Gerald Ford, by process, and Jimmy Carter, by vote. Then we had Ronald Reagan, who was as far removed from DC politics as geography and philosophy would allow, followed by the straight arrow George H. W. Bush. Next came the maverick Bill Clinton, leading us to the plain vanilla terms of George W. Bush, positioned as, “the guy you’d most like to have a beer with.”

Some explain this as a swinging of the pendulum, a course correction. But it’s also a pattern in which daring choices are followed by a collective deep breath.

Electing Barrack Obama was the boldest move American voters have made in decades. Regardless of what you think of his presidency — and I believe history will view it far more favorably than current opinion polls do — America is ready for another time out.

That’s probably the biggest thing Hillary Clinton has going against her. The nation is not likely to elect its first woman president immediately after selecting its first African American president — even if doing so would be a fine idea. Americans also don’t like seemingly preordained candidates and, in the minds of many Democrats, Clinton might just as well skip the election and go straight to taking the oath.

Among Republicans, New Jersey’s Chris Christie is damaged, and probably wasn’t going to score nationally even before his bridge scandal. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker is too extreme, and Kentucky’s Rand Paul too toxic. Florida’s Marco Rubio and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal are not ready for prime time. Texas’ Rick Perry had his chance in 2012 and self-destructed.

They will all be heard from as the campaign takes shape, but none provides the comfort level that GOP voters — except, perhaps, those at the Tea Party fringes — need this time around. Ohio’s John Kasich and Indiana’s Mike Pence are real possibilities. As governors, they’re properly positioned away from the stench in Washington that has left voters holding their noses, but neither has much national recognition.

Enter Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who, according to CNN, has quietly started talking to fundraisers and is taking a “very serious look” at running in 2016.

A third Bush in the White House? Even some center-right Republicans might blanch at that after what, to put it kindly, was the less than glorious presidency of George W.

Then again, Jeb was always a smart administrator and a savvy politician. Although his mother, Barbara Bush, has come out publicly against it, the Florida Bush might be the candidate best suited to repair serious splits in GOP ranks.

Don’t be surprised if, come 2016, the nation decides that a Bush in the hand is worth two in the polls.

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Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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TV’s New Golden Era http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/tvs-new-golden-era/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/tvs-new-golden-era/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 08:05:15 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=637992 The passing of Sid Caesar, a comedic genius if ever such a term could be used without fear of hyperbole, reminds us that television once had what its fans considered a Golden Age.

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David Fitzsommons / Arizona Daily Star

The very name of Caesar’s early-fifties landmark, “Your Show of Shows,” exemplified a time when the medium flourished and entire genres were being invented. More than half a century later, we are witnessing — on 60-inch, wall-mounted screens, no less — television’s second Golden Age.

Not since TV’s first gilded era have there been so many compelling viewing options and breakthrough formats. Delivery systems are expanding and viewing patterns shifting, but at the root of change in the medium is a welcome message: there’s more worthwhile content than ever before.

It’s always best to evaluate TV based on strengths rather than weaknesses. After all, even during the first Golden Age, the FCC chief Newton Minow famously described television as a “vast wasteland.” Today there is an even greater volume of waste across the dial, much of it more toxic than anything Minow had sampled. Yet, the current riches are remarkable.

Sunday night, for example, has become so crowded with compelling shows that viewers are frequently torn between what to watch “live” and what to catch later via DVR. This month, a tribute to the Beatles on CBS, the blockbuster drama “The Walking Dead” on AMC, and the night’s runaway winner, Winter Olympics coverage on NBC, each drew monster ratings. Other Sundays in the year routinely feature such gems as CBS’s shrewd legal drama “The Good Wife,” Showtime’s CIA thriller “Homeland,” HBO’s cutting edge comedy “Girls,” and PBS’s acclaimed period drama “Downton Abbey,” among numerous other quality choices.

During a fallow period several decades back, when viewers had far fewer compelling options, a savvy program executive named Paul Klein authored his Theory of Least Objectionable Programming, or “LOP.” Klein believed that so much TV fare was downright awful that viewers would gravitate to shows that were tolerably banal. Setting the bar low, in non-threatening formats, was key.

That no longer works in a market stuffed with delivery options, where consumers are empowered with the convenience of time-shift viewing. The treats are so tempting that an entirely new programming strategy, aimed at so-called “binge viewers,” has taken hold. A notable example, the political drama “House of Cards,” began its second “season” this month, with the simultaneous release by Netflix of 13 new episodes.

This Golden Age is a perfect storm. Technology has brought big screens, high definition, Internet options — even commercial-skipping DVRs — into the average home, at a time when staying home is a pleasing thought for many Americans. Meanwhile, programmers are reaping the benefits of what has finally become a truly global market.

Whereas U.S. television producers were once almost exclusively program exporters, nowadays the rest of the world tests and then supplies many of our most successful shows. ”Downton Abbey” and “House of Cards” are from Britain; “Homeland” is from Israel, and even ABC’s acclaimed competition series for entrepreneurs, “Shark Tank,” comes from Japan.

Yet, for all these riches, almost every aspect of the television business is in flux if not total turmoil. The announcement that Comcast will spend $45 billion to buy Time Warner Cable is but the latest seismic shift in the video landscape. Comcast is already the nation’s largest provider of home phone service, Internet connections and cable TV. It owns many of the program channels that it distributes. Smaller programmers might reasonably fear the centralization of such power in a single mega supplier.

Even the very definition of “television” is due for revision. Is TV anything we watch on a screen? Is it a 14-minute online installment of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”? Is it a viral YouTube clip of someone’s cat chasing the mailman? Is it cellphone video of the school soccer match? It’s all that and more.

For the moment, viewers are reaping the rewards of television’s new era. As long as programmers continue to believe that the best way to profit in a crowded marketplace is by investing in quality content, the age will retain its luster.

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Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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Looking at the Law http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/looking-at-the-law/ http://www.cagle.com/2014/02/looking-at-the-law/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 08:10:54 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=637674 In one courtroom were poorly prepared attorneys, shackled defendants and assembly-line justice. In another, things were all spit and polish: “yes, sir” and “thank you, ma’am.”

My son Danny and I spent the better part of a recent day observing our legal system from vantage points 3,000 miles apart. My conclusions were encouraging, while his were depressing.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

As part of an assignment for a class at Georgetown University, Danny attended Superior Court for the District of Columbia. As a community volunteer, I watched high school students in California compete in the annual mock trial tournament.

By arguing a fictitious case in a real courtroom before an actual judge, the students learn a lot about the legal system, at least in a sanitized form. Youngsters develop character and poise, regardless of whether they pursue a career in law.

“Students are trained to exaggerate formality and attention to detail in how they speak and present themselves,” Danny recalls about his own mock trial experience. “That seemed far from the minds of attorneys in the D.C. Superior Court, who were often unpolished and appeared to work grudgingly.” Here’s more of Danny’s report:

“After several hours at Superior Court I felt dismay for those who are subjected to the system. Although Judiciary Square is beautiful, everything inside has an air of misery reminiscent of the bureaucratic dreariness found at a Department of Motor Vehicles building. The disproportionately high number of minorities was stark, and in that regard I was pleased that the presiding judge was a middle-aged black woman, sharp and attentive.

“The courtroom atmosphere was unceremonious. Most jarring was seeing defendants forced to wear orange jumpsuits with shackles on their wrists and ankles. The need for restraints was puzzling considering that the defendants had certainly been frisked and were accompanied by an armed bailiff.

“Sitting shackled was an older black man with an unkempt beard. His court-appointed attorney reviewed the man’s mental condition with the judge, including how he was ‘exhibiting odd behavior in the hallway.’ It seemed dehumanizing to discuss this man’s mental health almost as if he were not present.

“Next came a middle-aged woman, also in a jailhouse jumpsuit and shackles, a heroin-addicted single mother of two, who had been arrested for breaking a window. Her attorney explained that she left a rehab program because she had been sexually assaulted at a similar program a year ago, which records confirmed.

“The defendant explained that her boys have been staying with their troubled grandmother while she spent the last 28 days in jail, she has difficulty acquiring the necessary medication, and she was scarred by the sexual assault experience. She was ordered to serve 60 days in jail with credit for time already served.

“You’re an easy target in jail,” the judge warned. “You’re attractive, and unless you put on 100 pounds you’re not going to be safe.” Regardless of the accuracy of that statement, I am not sure if such threats are appropriate from a judge, especially when directed at someone who has already been a victim of sexual violence.

“The next case highlighted the incompetence of some attorneys. At one point the judge rolled her eyes and said, ‘Blah, blah, blah, can we get on to something relevant?’ Later she asked the prosecutor, ‘Are you pretending to not understand what I’m saying, or are you ignoring it?”

By comparison, judges in mock trial go to the other extreme with student attorneys, showering them with praise. Defendants are not forced to wear prison garb or chains. It’s all quite understandable, but is it realistic?

How do students — or any of us for that matter — form impressions of the legal system? Is it via firsthand observations such as those that left Danny so dismayed? Or, is it based upon often-glamorized dramas in movies and on TV?

Perhaps those who care about how our system functions should be required to spend a few hours in a real court. It would help to clarify what lawyers like to call, “the truth of the matter.”

——-

Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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Water Woes Out West http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/water-woes-out-west/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/water-woes-out-west/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 08:05:25 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=636493 PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — “My cat knows how to turn the faucet in the upstairs bathroom and I believe she ran the water for nine hours while I was out.”

I’ve been hearing stuff like that almost every day since renting an office in a building that houses the local water company. Customers line up at the service window and rattle off more excuses than a third grader claiming the dog ate his homework.

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Angel Boligan / Cagle Cartoons

You can’t blame them. Residential water bills here sometimes run as high as $1,000 a month. And it could get worse: 2013 was California’s driest year on record.

Oakland, for example, typically gets about 22 inches of rain per year; in 2013 it got just over three. Santa Cruz, which averages 30 inches, suffered its previous driest year back in 1929 with only 12 inches; in 2013, total rainfall in Santa Cruz was five inches.

As bad as it is for residential users, California’s drought is worse for farmers and ranchers. By next summer, shoppers nationwide are likely to see the impact in higher food prices.

Normally at this time of year cattle and sheep graze in pastures made lush by winter rain. Now, some ranchers are buying expensive hay and alfalfa to keep their animals alive, while others are selling off herds prematurely to cut losses.

In Castroville, known as the artichoke capital of the world, expensive watering is already underway — long before it would normally be required.

Even California’s fishing industry is threatened by drought — which seems like a contradiction in terms. Yet, with reservoirs at historic lows, water might not be released as usual into rivers and streams, damaging salmon eggs and ultimately impacting the large commercial operations.

Drought conditions are reported in neighboring states, too, including Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, as the jet stream that usually brings winter storms to the region is staying far to the north.

The impact is also evident in wildfires such as the one last month just south of here in scenic Big Sur, where dozens of homes were destroyed and nearly 1,000 acres blackened. In the last 12 months Big Sur has received only about 15 percent of normal rainfall.

Southern California has also been dry, with Los Angeles recording less rainfall in 2013 than in any year since 1877, when record keeping began. But unlike areas to the north, L.A.’s water supply seems to be holding up well.

The National Weather Service’s long-range estimate is for drought conditions across California to persist or intensify in the coming months. Gov. Jerry Brown has set up a water emergency task force.

The dry spell has folks here sharpening whatever political axes they like to grind. Some are quick to blame climate change and global warming. Others insist that California has mismanaged its water supplies, hurting farmers — especially those in the San Joaquin Valley, where wildlife conservation efforts have diverted water from farms.

Here in Central California, the political hot potato is a contemplated desalinization plant that has produced gallons of editorial-page ink over the years but not a drop of water.

Following California’s 1976-77 drought, a state report concluded that “water is a limited resource, and water conservation and water recycling are practical and must become a way of life.” Four decades later, that would qualify as a good New Year’s resolution.

But at the water company’s customer service window in my building, many people seem more concerned about cost than conservation. The clerk told me she has seen water bills as high as $7,000 a month for those with huge lawns and swimming pools.

The real long-range forecast across the West is that in years to come, water rather than oil or gas, will likely be the most coveted natural resource.

Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley at cari@cagle.com.

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They Too Will Be Missed http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/they-too-will-be-missed/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/they-too-will-be-missed/#comments Wed, 25 Dec 2013 13:19:03 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=636288 Humanitarian Nelson Mandela. Actor Peter O’Toole. Novelist Tom Clancy. Interviewer David Frost. Actress Julie Harris. Senator Harry Byrd Jr.

They are among the very famous who left us in 2013. But we also owe goodbyes to many others whose passing might have escaped our attention.

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Patrick Chappatte / International New York Times

Sam Barshop had an idea for a mid-priced hotel that would combine the styling of a country inn with the facilities of an urban establishment — the kind that would be emulated by Comfort Inn and Hampton Inn, among others. He built his first hotel in San Antonio in 1968 and now La Quinta Inns number over 700. Barshop was 84.

Harvey Littleton grew up near the glass factory in Corning, N.Y. His dad was director of research there, but Harvey saw glass as an art form. One of the world’s most renowned glass sculptors, his pieces are displayed in museums worldwide. He was 91.

Dr. Janet Rowley was a pioneer in medical research. Her work at the University of Chicago led to targeted drug treatment for leukemia, saving tens of thousands of lives. Rowley succumbed to ovarian cancer at age 88.

In 1956 Richard Heffner created a public-TV series called “Open Mind” and served as its host until his death. As talented a listener as he was an interviewer, Heffner was 88.

When Chicago radio station WLS switched to rock ‘n roll in 1960 it had no use for the numerous farm magazines that arrived each week. Larry Lujack began reading from the journals in what came to be known as hilarious “Animal Stories.” The self-described Superjock was 73.

Author Barbara Park created the irrepressible kindergartner Junie B. Jones, who appeared in 29 books that together sold over 55 million copies. Park was 66.

When Dick Van Dyke found he’d have to dance in “Mary Poppins,” he requested Marc Breaux as choreographer. Breaux created such terrific dance numbers that he was hired for “The Sound of Music” and other memorable films. Breaux was 89.

Don Daily never finished high school, but he taught himself to program computers. In the 1980s he began creating chess software and Komodo was the most successful. When Komodo 6 came out in October Daily told fans he was dying of leukemia. He was 57.

MIT librarian Ann Wolpert helped create one of the earliest open access programs for online learning. Then, in 2009 she developed the Open Access Mandate under which more than 150 universities provide access to research documents. She was 70.

Joseph Gomer was one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the elite squad of black fighter pilots in World War II. Gomer, who flew 68 combat missions, was 93.

In the book about her life she’s known as “The Prison Angel.” Mother Antonia Brenner was an American nun who chose to care for inmates at the notorious maximum-security La Mesa Prison in Mexico. She was 86.

Nowadays she’s well known to viewers of the Showtime hit “Masters of Sex.” Virginia Johnson and her partner William Masters pioneered research into human sexuality. She was 88.

By the time New Yorker Evelyn Kozak died in August she had been declared the oldest Jewish person in history. She was 113.

As a boy, Joseph Unanue’s special skill was bottling olives. The family business became Goya Foods, the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned food purveyor. Unanue, given the Bronze Star for bravery in World War II, was 88.

David Kern graduated from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and years later used that training to invent Orajel, the medication that relieves gum pain. He was 103.

Kenneth Batteile was hairdresser to the stars. He created Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant and hairdos for Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Known professionally as simply Kenneth, he was 86.

Jane Henson met Jim when they were freshmen at the University of Maryland. They became puppeteers and together invented the Muppets. Jane Henson was 78.

His 1982 creation was mocked and dubbed “McPaper.” But Al Neuharth’s USA Today helped redefine print journalism in its transition to the digital age. He was 89.

Eydie Gorme met Steve Lawrence in 1953 on the “Tonight Show” and they married a few years later. They charmed audiences as a sweetheart vocal team, with hits such as “Blame It on the Bossa Nova.” Steve was at her side when she died at 84.

The year ends, but the legacies live on.

——-

Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Do You Hear What I Hear? http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/do-you-hear-what-i-hear/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/do-you-hear-what-i-hear/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 08:17:02 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=635720 LOS ANGELES — It was 73 and sunny, still two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I was stuck in traffic on the 405. Over the car radio a DJ on KOST-FM was extolling the “holiday spirit.” Then he played “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry — a song so old that it doesn’t rouse spirits so much as it conjures ghosts of Christmas past.

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Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Autry, Burl Ives, Karen Carpenter and, of course, Bing Crosby: you don’t hear them much except during the ever-expanding period we like to call The Holiday Season. It begins whenever stations like KOST and merchants like Walmart say it does. But it always features the music of a rather small clutch, most of whose members have long departed.

Why do we cling to stuff like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock”? Some say it’s part of Christmas tradition, which it now certainly is. But I think the bigger reason has to do with wistfulness for a time when things seemed to work better, cost less and spark fewer controversies — while appealing to our more innocent selves.

Holiday songs provide the gift of suspended disbelief.

We read about drones in the driveway, but sing of sleighs on the roof. There’s news about politicians’ illicit affairs, and melodies about mommy kissing Santa Claus. We ignore global warming, yet worry how we’ll cope “if it doesn’t snow on Christmas.”

My own brush with the commercial world of holiday music came nearly three decades ago, just as I was starting on “Candid Camera.” We were shooting a Christmas special for CBS and tried a gag at a restaurant in Connecticut where the strolling violinist knew only one song, “White Christmas,” and played it incessantly.

We got humorous reactions from about a dozen people before someone in our crew asked if we needed permission to use the song. We phoned an office in New York City, where none other than famed composer Irving Berlin, age 100 at the time, considered our request, and then said no.

He explained that he didn’t want to spoil the dignity of the holiday (although I felt his concern was more for the dignity of his song). If he were around today I wonder how Irving Berlin would feel about so many other undignified turns in our media and music.

I enjoy most Christmas songs, even the sappy ones, but I seem to have an annual limit of about 150 hours or four weeks, which ever comes first. So I fear that starting the season too early will leave me unable to sing “ho, ho, the mistletoe” with gusto when it really counts.

On that note, and before you reach your own seasonal limit, try this test of Christmas melody savvy. Here are snippets of lyrics from five well-known holiday songs. Send me the titles. The first 15 correct entrants will receive a copy of my book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” whose title seems appropriate as we ponder what’s ahead in the New Year.

Email your titles to: Peter@CandidCamera.com. Include your full name and address. One entry per family. Correct answers and 15 winners will be posted on December 19, at www.CandidCamera.com.

Here’s the list:

(a) “So jump in bed and cover your head…”

(b) “When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze…”

(c) “We’ll face unafraid the plans that we’ve made…”

(d) “He said let’s run and we’ll have some fun…”

(e) “My dear, we’re still goodbyin’…”

Decision of the elves is final. Fa la-la-la-la, la la la la.

Peter Funt’s book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Through The Looking Glass http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/through-the-looking-glass-2/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/12/through-the-looking-glass-2/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 08:10:07 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=635544 What compromises must we make when it comes to our security on the one hand, and our privacy on the other? Personally, I’m far less concerned about being tracked by the National Security Agency than I am about being monitored by, say, Google.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo Bills

According to the latest headlines, the NSA is gathering cellphone records from around the globe at the rate of 5 billion per day. Each such revelation — many, like this one, coming from disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — drive privacy rights activists crazy. They worry, perhaps rightly, that it represents only the tip of what Big Brother can and will try in the future.

Meanwhile, I turn on my computer and see that something I contemplated buying weeks ago has magically shown up in an ad on the right side of my screen. I go to a website I’ve never visited before and it already knows where I live. I click on Google and see a photo of my house and car, taken without my knowledge.

Before long Amazon will have drones landing in the driveway — oh, wait, they’re already testing that. And Microsoft will invent a bra that sends signals to the wearer’s cellphone about her mood swings. Yes, that, too, is in development.

Acxiom, one of the largest purveyors of personal information about American consumers, is testing a website that provides a peek into the world of Big Data. At www.Aboutthedata.com you can sign up and access the data file about you and your family.

When I visited the site the first jolt came when Acxiom demanded my name, address, birthday and the last four digits of my social security number — just to enter the system.

What I saw next was quite unsettling. Information about my house, my car, my buying habits, and even the sports I enjoy. There were details of how many purchases I made with each of my credit cards, names of all magazines to which I subscribe, and even my political leaning. There were a few errors ¬(the file identified my daughter but not my son) but most of the information was accurate.

Acxiom says the data come from government records, websites, surveys and, most abundantly, from commercial transactions. Whether any of us likes it or not, firms like Acxiom have files on everyone and make money by selling the data to whomever is willing to pay for it.

What sets Acxiom apart in this frightening world of diminished privacy is that its site offers people the chance to update and correct their data in a sort of wiki fashion. There is also an “opt out” offer by which you can remove your information from the company’s system. But don’t be fooled. Wiping your slate at Acxiom doesn’t mean your personal data isn’t still stored in hundreds of other places by companies far less willing to give you a glimpse inside.

My impression of data mining, and I hope I’m not being naive, is that the government isn’t really interested in me. My cell records are among billions of others and are little more than a meaningless blip in a gigantic statistical trove, whose value is in identifying and tracking bad actors from whom I would very much hope to be protected. Besides, if I worried about what the government knows about me, I would have started when I got a drivers license, registered for the draft, and began paying taxes — disclosing more about myself than even my close relatives know.

But Yahoo, Google, Amazon and others in commerce want to focus on how much I owe on my American Express bill. They think knowing my shoe size has value. One wants to photograph my house and another plans to buzz my property with its drones.

Ironically, many large Internet firms — Yahoo and Microsoft being the latest — have recently announced elaborate plans to thwart government data mining of their records. They want to protect consumers, or so they say, from the possibility that Big Brother will grab the data. But isn’t that like asking a team of corporate foxes to guard the digital henhouse?

I fear that if Edward Snowden had worked for Yahoo his leaks would have been even more shocking.

Peter Funt’s latest book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Jimmy Kimmel Trips and Viewers Fall http://www.cagle.com/2013/11/jimmy-kimmel-trips-and-viewers-fall/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/11/jimmy-kimmel-trips-and-viewers-fall/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 08:05:32 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=634441 In the week following Halloween, Jimmy Kimmel’s stunt involving kids and their candy climbed to over 20 million views on YouTube. But public fascination with the gag doesn’t change the fact that it is cruel and sadistic. It underscores the worst elements of mass media and social media, and the incendiary possibilities of combining the two.

article kimmel 0105 Jimmy Kimmel Trips and Viewers Fall cartoonsThe “joke,” as explained to viewers by Mr. Kimmel on Nov. 4, has as its premise: “You know, for kids, Halloween candy is kind of a sacred thing. For a lot of them it’s the first time they ever earn anything.”

The ABC host went on to explain that for the third year in a row he asked viewers to deceive their small children by claiming to have eaten all their candy. Parents were encouraged to record and upload videos of the reactions. “We got an avalanche of great responses,” he noted.

What followed was nearly six minutes of kids screaming, kicking and crying. One boy tells his mom, “I hate you.” A girl fights through tears to point out that she spent two hours collecting the treats. “I’ll get you,” says another girl. Mostly, the video consists of near-frantic screams by kids who appear to be only about four or five years old.

Perhaps you’re among those who find it funny.

Why? Why does the studio audience laugh through the entire piece? Why did so many parents follow Mr. Kimmel’s horrible directive? Why did NBC’s “Today” show run a big chunk of it the next morning while its five hosts hooted? Said Al Roker, laughing heartily, “The good news is, Jimmy is springing for therapy for all those children.”

Maybe our taste in entertainment is changing for the worse, but there’s a lot more going on in this case. The power of authority vested in Jimmy Kimmel by virtue of being a popular network host is enough to make a significant number of young parents suspend their own judgment of right and wrong long enough to try the gag. Many of the clips end with an admission completely lost on toddlers: “Jimmy Kimmel told me to do it.”

To be clear, this type of child abuse — and I believe intentionally provoking a happy child to cry real tears for comedic purposes is just that — is not nearly as bad as the more serious abuse that goes on every day. Yet, those crimes are not inspired by TV, at least not overtly.

If the same stunt had been tried by school teachers, there would have been immediate efforts to have them fired. If a bit with similar intensity were urged on pet owners instead of parents, I submit that the network would have been deluged with protests.

Yet, when it comes to kids, the showbiz paper Variety headlined the story, “Jimmy Kimmel’s Annual Halloween Prank Continues to Slay.” The writer, A.J. Marechal, declared, “What unfolds in each clip is apocalyptic devastation, the kind that can only bring the L-O-Ls for viewers.” LOL? OMG, what are we thinking?

I showed the segment to a business associate, a family member and a successful Hollywood producer. Each indicated initially that the material was amusing; one believed it to be “hilarious.” After discussion, however, all three became convinced that their reactions had been misguided and that they had briefly overlooked the basic cruelty in the stunt, rendering it unfunny.

I don’t credit my powers of persuasion. Rather, I believe the power is with television and social media. Just as we tend to believe that news and commentary is accurate simply because it appears on-screen, so, too, do we initially assume that if ABC-TV, its respected host, and millions of YouTube users believe something is acceptable, then it is.

Mr. Kimmel ended the presentation by saying: “Thanks to all the kids and their terrible parents who pitched in to make that possible.”

No, Jimmy. You’re a great talent and the future king of latenight, but you’ve got this one wrong. The parents aren’t terrible, they’re victims of media seduction. And your biggest mistake wasn’t persuading them try the gag, it was using your enormous power to signal millions of others that it was OK to laugh at the sad results.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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A Game Of And For The Ages http://www.cagle.com/2013/11/a-game-of-and-for-the-ages/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/11/a-game-of-and-for-the-ages/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 14:04:14 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=634178 TEMPE, Ariz. — Roughly 15 million people watched each of the six games between Boston and St. Louis on TV last month, while here in the Phoenix metroplex a concurrent amateur World Series sparked every bit as much passion, maybe even more, among 324 adult baseball teams.

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Dave Granlund / PoliticalCartoons.com

So, is baseball gaining ground, or in a slump?

TV ratings for the Big League Series were up this year, but there remains concern that baseball is losing its place as the Great American Pastime. The NFL has exploded in popularity — not just on Sunday afternoons but on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights as well. A routine Sunday night NFL game now draws more viewers than the World Series.

Fantasy devotees, video game fanatics and sports bar denizens are making football the armchair champ. However, you won’t find thousands of diehards — from 18-year-olds, to guys in their seventies — participating in football the way the teams here play hardball.

The players are as colorful as their team names, such as the Quad City Blasters, the Santa Ynez Sox or the SoCal Fire. They come from all walks of life, with even a few former Major Leaguers among them, united in their love of the game.

This annual event has grown steadily since its launch in 1988, and organizers keep creating new age divisions to accommodate players who have attended for a quarter century and just won’t quit. This year, a special division was launched for players over 75.

Part of the appeal is that all games are played at facilities used by Major League teams during Spring Training. And, of course, the Arizona weather in October is as ideal as in spring.

But there’s a lot more to it, having to do with a unique combination of team competition, individual achievement, fresh air, green grass and, of course, baseball lore. Most of the players here can talk a great game as well as play one. They congregate at Don & Charlie’s in Scottsdale, arguably the nation’s best baseball-themed eatery, and recount how they turned a 6-4-3 double play, or lost a pop-up in the glaring Arizona sun.

As if this weren’t enough to confirm baseball’s magical appeal, there’s also the Arizona Fall League, in which 180 pro players from all 30 Major League teams play during October and November. This is one of baseball’s best, little-known attractions — with tickets costing $7 to see many of MLB’s top prospects at five Phoenix-area stadiums.

Other sports, like golf and tennis, are frequently cited as those that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. But the scene here each fall, when the very youngest pros and thousands of the nation’s best amateurs crowd the fields of dreams, reminds us that baseball is also a game that appeals to all age groups.

Maybe football will take over as America’s most popular sport, at least as far as ticket sales and TV ratings are concerned. But it’s hard to imagine that football will ever match baseball’s participatory passion.

The other night a waitress at Don & Charlie’s was talking about how her husband had been sleepless for weeks, waiting for the amateur World Series to begin. Imagine that. At age 60, her husband, Brian Kingman, was still overcome with anticipation about taking the mound — even after all the years he spent pitching for the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants.

What a great game.

—–

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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A Royal Scam http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/a-royal-scam/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/a-royal-scam/#comments Mon, 28 Oct 2013 05:27:46 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=633892 UPDATE, October 31, 2013: According to Robert Bone, a travel executive based in London who accompanies Roger Bramble on his visits to American schools, “Mr. Bramble has no connection whatsoever with any travel agency.” He adds, “Mr. Bramble receives no financial remuneration for his work in connection with London’s New Year’s Day Parade.” Mr. Bone, however, is the Executive Director of Destination Events, Ltd., the travel firm that both he and Roger Bramble insist all schools use if they wish to participate. To this writer, it’s a distinction without a difference as far as students, teachers and parents are concerned. Mr. Bone also felt compelled to point out that, “Mr. Bramble leads London’s New Year’s Day Parade on horseback each year representing the Lord Lieutenancy and thus representing Her Majesty the Queen.” -Peter Funt

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Music Man showed up here the other day, hoping to separate school kids from their money.

Like the fictional Prof. Harold Hill, whose fast talking convinced residents of River City, Iowa, to invest in a boys’ band, this Music Man raises hopes, makes promises and leaves town with the loot. He’s worked this con across the U.S. for more than a decade.

lord A Royal Scam cartoons

Lord Roger Bramble, the Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London

Each year some 20 schools cough up a total of over $5 million because they mistakenly believe they’ve earned the “honor” to play in London’s New Year’s Day parade. In fact, it’s no more an achievement than, say, getting an encouraging letter from Publisher’s Clearing House.

The charlatan is Roger Bramble, who carries the meaningless title of Deputy Lord Mayor of Westminster, and represents himself to U.S. schools as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth II. He pulls into town bearing trinkets, such as royal cuff links, tells school officials that their band has been “selected” to play in London, and gives them a full year to beg or borrow enough money to pay for it. In the case of Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High the tab is $300,000.

It is stunning that year after year high school music teachers and administrators — along with local media — are taken in by this scam. Bramble and his confederates operate a travel agency. They “select” schools, usually in affluent communities like Scottsdale, without so much as a tryout or audition. They make a grand appearance, often in costume, whipping up interest.

The catch: schools can only attend if they travel to London, at inflated prices, via the organizers’ own agency. It’s no different than if a car dealer “selected” you to buy a new Cadillac and required you to pay more than the sticker price.

There are similar scams preying on students in the U.S., usually involving trips to Washington, D.C., for which students are misled into thinking they have been chosen based on merit. Often the promoters hide behind non-profits with official-sounding names, while funneling the travel money through for-profit agencies.

Impressionable students and even careless educators can be forgiven for falling for these schemes, but the degree to which local media take the bait is shameful. Recently, for example, CBS News in Baltimore gushed that the Dulaney High School band performed so well in 2011 that, “in glorious British fashion, two reps from the London parade showed up (in September) in person to ask the band to come perform in 2014.” Cost: $350,000.

On Oct. 24 The Oklahoman newspaper reported: “It’s not every day that the Queen of England invites your band to play in London on New Year’s Day.” That’s for sure. In fact there is no way that Her Majesty had anything whatsoever to do with the “invitation” to the 200-member Southmoore High band to make the trek to Europe in 2016.

Frequently Bramble conveys the impression to students that not only have they been selected by the queen, but that she’s likely to be there on New Year’s Day to hear them play — which is, as the British say, rubbish.

Here in Scottsdale, the Arizona Republic ran the story about Desert Mountain High on Oct. 26 without qualification. “We’ll start selling chocolate and washing cars,” band director Michelle Irvin told the paper, “and see if we can schedule some performances to pay for this huge expense.” The report dutifully noted that the visitors, “presented gifts to the band and the school, including a plate commemorating the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.”

Fact is, some students do enjoy these overpriced trips, even if there is no particular honor connected with the experience. But collecting money under false pretenses is nothing more than Trouble — with a capital T, and that rhymes with C, and that stands for Con.

Peter Funt’s latest book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Siri Tells All http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/siri-tells-all/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/siri-tells-all/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 14:02:54 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=633325 Susan Bennett, a veteran voice-over artist from Georgia, was recently outed by CNN as the voice of Siri, Apple’s often admired, sometimes hated and frequently mocked digital know-it-all.

Adding to the intrigue, Bennett says she spent over 100 hours back in 2005 recording voice tracks for Apple but didn’t realize until years later that the tech wizards used her words to create the world’s most renowned digital diva.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

Upon learning this, I immediately grabbed my iPad and summoned Siri — in the new and improved iOS 7 incarnation. (Everything herein is transcribed verbatim.)

“How may I assist you?” she asked. “Siri,” I said, “Are you Susan Bennett?”

“I cannot answer that,” she replied, using the tone she is famous for, shrewdly disguising whether the truth of the matter is, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not at liberty to say.”

I persisted. “Siri, are you actually Susan Bennett?”

This time, to my complete surprise, she delivered a page of YouTube links featuring Susan Bennett and a blog by CNN’s Jessica Ravitz explaining how she broke the story. It seems this Pulitzer-worthy piece of investigative reporting began months ago as Ravitz was doing a feature about the airport in Atlanta, where Bennett is also the voice of Delta Airlines. Ravitz blogged:

“For reasons I can’t explain — I was still struggling to understand my first iPhone — I blurted out, ‘Hey, are you Siri?’

“She gasped. And then I gasped.

“‘Oh my God,’ I said. ‘You’re totally Siri, aren’t you?’

“What followed was a short, panicked flurry of non-denials and non-confirmations, and a promise from me that I wouldn’t do or say a thing.”

Apparently Ravitz hadn’t downloaded the Woodward and Bernstein App to calculate what to promise a source.

The secret remained hidden for months, but recently began to leak. Sparing no expense, CNN then hired an “audio forensic expert” to confirm Siri’s identity, thus outing Bennett — and revealing Ravitz as the reporter who first stumbled upon the story.

“Siri,” I inquired, “are you angry at Jessica Ravitz?”

“I can search the Web for Jessica Rabbit,” she replied.

“No, not Rabbit, Ravitz. Are you angry at CNN?”

“I can’t answer that.”

Then she flashed a message on my screen that said I could ask her what time sunrise is in Paris.

“No thanks. Say, do you like Susan Bennett?”

“I’m sorry, Peter, I can’t answer that.”

“But, Siri, I just want to know how you feel about her.”

“This is about you, Peter, not me.”

Clearly Apple has clamped down on Siri’s comments to journalists following CNN’s report.

Taking a wild shot in the dark I asked, “Well, tell me this, is Susan Bennett also the voice of Nancy Pelosi?”

“Let me think about that.”

A few seconds later, Siri delivered a 2011 report from something called the Cyberspace News Service:

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) told a recent gathering of the Women’s Political Committee that the spirit of suffragist Susan B. Anthony…spoke to her at the White House.”

Gasp! “Siri, is Susan Bennett also the voice of spirits in the White House? Siri? Siri?”

There is obviously way, way more to this story than CNN has uncovered.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Rushing Print’s Demise http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/rushing-prints-demise/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/10/rushing-prints-demise/#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 04:59:46 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=633154 The biggest threat to newspapers today might be newspapers themselves — or, to be more precise, the companies that own them.

This week Gannett’s USA Today doubled its cover price from one dollar to two. Can you think of any other struggling business that would raise prices 100 percent?

64082 600 Rushing Prints Demise cartoons

Dave Granlund / PoliticalCartoons.com

The U.S. Postal Service, similarly threatened by digital alternatives to its core business, is proposing to hike the price of a First Class stamp from 46 cents to 49. How many people, even those who eschew email, would continue mailing letters if the price was immediately doubled to 92 cents?

Gannett, along with several other newspaper groups, is effectively throwing in the towel on its printed products. The apparent strategy is to extract as much circulation revenue as possible from a small group of diehard readers, with little regard for the damaging effects to the product itself. Meanwhile, publishers wait and hope for digital advertising revenue to increase beyond current levels.

The gambit is shortsighted and, moreover, a blow to journalism — even for those who don’t read or care much about the affected newspapers.

In most businesses, total revenue can be increased either by selling more units at or below the current price, or fewer units at a higher price. However, the second option works a lot better for, say, thousand-dollar designer shoes than it does for mass media. And the first option generally requires improving the product, which many major newspaper owners seem unwilling to support.

Readers of dailies in California owned by MediaNews have watched the newspapers shrink, like prisoners on a starvation diet. The Oakland Tribune, for example, exists now in name only, while functioning as an edition of the San Jose Mercury News. The Merc-News, meanwhile, is shedding pages like a jet dumping fuel before a crash. The chain’s smaller dailies such as The Monterey County Herald and Santa Cruz Sentinel have seen their presses sold for scrap, with production moved to distant facilities.

In the same Bay Area market, Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle recently cut costs by moving the copy deadline for its first edition to 5 p.m. Papers delivered to many California homes miss everything — news and sports — that occurs the evening before.

Many publishers have concluded, perhaps correctly, that ink-on-paper editions will not survive too far into the future. What is reckless — for papers and their readers — is that management is taking misguided steps to try and speed the process.

When Gannett cut 223 newsroom jobs in late summer, including 29 at its largest regional paper, the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal obtained an internal memo from Gannett’s management. A telling passage addressed the future of print:

“While consumer habits continue to change, the print edition remains a preferred format to many of our readers and an effective advertising vehicle for advertisers. A daily print edition will continue to be produced until a point (at which) there is no longer a significant demand for the product.”

Therein lies the rub. By natural process, demand will ebb gradually as digital alternatives improve and as older readers die off. Artificially, it will be hastened by newsroom layoffs, reduced page counts, earlier production schedules and jarring price hikes.

Some publishers see it differently. Aaron Kushner, the entrepreneur who owns southern California’s Orange County Register, has expanded the reporting staff and launched a sister paper in Long Beach, while holding the cover price at one dollar.

Among the national dailies, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have high cover prices, but they also charge for digital subscriptions and had double-digit circulation increases in the latest reporting period ending March 31. USA Today, on the other hand, does not have a paid digital presence. Its circulation dropped 8 percent in the same period.

Newspapers are businesses, entitled to operate as they see fit. But in the best-case scenario, publishers profit by providing quality journalism. That’s not happening across much of the media landscape. It is disingenuous to cite reduced demand while working aggressively to reduce it.

On the first day of USA Today’s two-dollar price, the boxcar headline was about the federal government but readers may have wondered if it was also about the paper itself. It said: Closing Time?

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Maryland’s Courage http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/marylands-courage/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/marylands-courage/#comments Fri, 27 Sep 2013 07:15:00 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=632886 DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. — There’s a certain type of bravery taking place in the nation’s 19th most populous state, whose border is about two miles from the Washington Navy Yard, scene of a horrifying mass gun attack.

131508 600 Marylands Courage cartoons

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune

A tough new gun law takes effect in Maryland Oct. 1. It’s not lip-service tough. Not politically-measured tough. This law is tough in a way that confirms the bravery of the state legislators who voted for it and Gov. Martin O’Malley who signed it.

The law should be a blueprint for the nation. Here’s what it says:

If you want to buy a handgun, you must be fingerprinted, take a safety test and get a $50 license. Even then, you may only purchase one such gun every 30 days.

If you want to buy an AK-47, AR-15 or any of 45 other semi-automatics and copycats, forget it. You can’t.

You also can’t buy a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds, and you can’t own the type of “cop-killer” bullets that have led to the deaths of at least 35 officers in the last decade.

There’s a lot more: a uniform procedure by which dealers and state police register firearms; a ban on those with criminal records or mental health problems from owning guns and all types of ammunition, and a new requirement for state police to shut down rogue dealers whose guns show up in a disproportionate number of crimes.

It’s tough. You know that because the NRA and a lot of its supporters here hate it.

And you know it has teeth because for the last month or so there’s been a run on handguns and automatic weapons at shops like Realco Guns here in District Heights. Statewide, gun sales in September have been about seven times the levels of a year ago.

That’s an unfortunate byproduct of the new law. Even more unfortunate is that until other states pass similar laws, and until the federal government deals more aggressively with Internet guns sales, Maryland’s efforts will only be partially effective.

“Our tears are not enough,” President Obama declared after 12 people were shot by a gunman at the DC Navy Yard. But the president’s own gun legislation has been blocked in Congress and has no chance in this session.

Also troubling is that firearms manufacturers remain exempted from the type of product-liability laws that govern so many other products. Indeed, since 2005 federal law has moved in the opposite direction by offering specific protection to gun makers in lawsuits and other claims.

Violent crime here in Maryland has already reached an historic low according to state figures. But Gov. O’Malley notes, “Just one life lost to senseless violence is one too many.” He correctly labeled the new law “a common sense approach” to dealing with the nation’s gun nightmare that has extended from Aurora, to Newtown, to the Washington Navy Yard — with many horrifying stops between.

Colorado’s lawmakers have also addressed the gun plague bravely, with new laws that expand the state’s background-check system to include private sales; keep guns out of the hands of criminals; limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, and prohibit domestic abusers from buying or keeping guns.

Which state’s lawmakers will be the next to show enough gumption to implement similar laws?

Here in Maryland, the man behind the counter at Realco Guns was struggling to serve a crowd of customers on a weekday morning, just a few days before the new law was to take effect. “We don’t give out information, we don’t do interviews, and we don’t answer questions,” he said.

Then, taking a quick step back, he added, “Unless you want to buy a gun.”

—–

Peter Funt’s latest book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Hi-Tech Harvest http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/hi-tech-harvest/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/09/hi-tech-harvest/#comments Fri, 13 Sep 2013 07:05:12 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=632406 SALINAS, Calif. — It’s possible that the weapons of choice to combat illegal immigration will turn out to be drones and robots.

We’re not talking about patrolling the borders with Mexico — although, in fact, drones are being tested there. The real breakthrough is in the fields, here in the Salinas Valley and elsewhere across the Salad Bowl of the West, where unmanned drones and robots are being deployed. The mission isn’t to find undocumented farm workers; it’s to replace them.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill

A decade from now the immigration problem that has proved so vexing for lawmakers and pundits will essentially solve itself through technology. Ironically, farmers and scientists aren’t being inspired by political or social considerations; farming is changing out of necessity.

Currently there are as many as 2 million undocumented farmhands picking crops and planting fields in the U.S. But that’s not enough to fill the need, and the pool of workers here illegally is plunging. According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of people leaving Mexico to work in the U.S. has dropped by roughly 65 percent during the last decade.

Big agriculture has sought to counter this by lobbying in Washington for an easier path by which farm workers could gain citizenship. But they’ve also hedged the bet by investing in research that could turn the field jobs over to machines.

A firm in Mountain View, Calif., has developed a Lettuce Bot that thins plants in the field 20 to 40 times faster than a human can do it — and the unit works day and night. Its inventor told the San Francisco Chronicle that the robot can thin a 15-acre field, normally a day’s work for 25 people, in less than two hours.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being tested in labs and fields across California, in anticipation of the 2015 deadline Congress has set for opening the skies to such vehicles for commercial use. But UAVs are already in wide use by farmers in Japan and Australia — for spraying as well as surveillance to determine the spread of weeds and specific needs for water.

A manned spraying craft drops its chemicals from 10 or 15 feet above the ground, while a drone does the same work just inches away from the plants. Drones are also being tested for herding cattle and other livestock.

A San Diego research firm has invented a robot that prunes grapes. It also has a bot with eight arms and a built-in camera system that sweeps through groves picking oranges.

Modern Farmer magazine looked at all this and came up with the headline, “Drone, drone on the range.”

It’s all very exciting and may have the unintended consequence of moderating, if not eliminating, the nation’s sharp divide over handling undocumented immigrants. In truth, farmers here as well as in Arizona and Florida have known for decades that undocumented workers are essential to their business, as well as to our food supply. For the most part, American citizens do not want the jobs.

Until now, there was no way around it. Farmhands arrived from south of the border, ag bosses winked, and Americans dined on fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices.

Technology is going to change that. Politicians may not deserve it, but robots and drones are going to allow them to solve the farming problem without getting their hands dirty.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Al Jazeera America Enters The Mix http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/al-jazeera-america-enters-the-mix/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/al-jazeera-america-enters-the-mix/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 07:05:57 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=631527 The launch of Al Jazeera America is arguably the best thing to happen in electronic journalism since the June evening 33 years ago when Ted Turner flipped a switch to inaugurate the nation’s first all-news television service, CNN.

130496 600 Al Jazeera America Enters The Mix cartoons

Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle

The preceding sentence is hard for some Americans to swallow. After all, the new channel is owned and operated by the leaders of Qatar, the oil-rich Middle Eastern emirate. Al Jazeera’s global feeds, in Arabic and English, have been criticized on occasion for disseminating speeches by leaders of Al Qaeda. Some Americans — among them, hosts at Fox News — are openly critical of giving Al Jazeera a powerful voice on America’s cable and satellite dials.

Here are three reasons why Al Jazeera America is important:

Viewers able and willing to sample it (the service will initially reach roughly 48 million U.S. homes) will get a view of world affairs quite different from what is available on existing American TV. At a time when U.S. news organizations are closing foreign bureaus and cutting back on international coverage, this will be eye-opening and minding-expanding.

Existing cable channels, CNN, Fox and MSNBC, will be forced to step up their games in response. All three, which have lost viewers since the height of their respective popularity, will be studying the new service closely. They should pay particular attention when its executive director, Ehab Al Shihabi, says he plans “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.”

Finally, Al Jazeera America — A-Jam, as it’s already known — will help drive the conversation on international affairs. Its influence, at least at the start, is likely to be greater among editors and producers at competing outlets, and even among Washington politicians, than among the general public.

The American channel is the crowning achievement for Qatar, a place about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, with a total population no larger than that of San Jose, Calif. Its English language feed has long been available to Americans via the Internet, but that is now blocked so as not to compete with the new TV service.

A-Jam has hired as its president Kate O’Brian, an ABC-TV veteran of 30 years. She will be responsible for a staff that initially numbers more than 900, but few of them household names.

When CNN began in 1980 its biggest on-camera star was Bernie Shaw, a veteran reporter previously at CBS. Most of the newsreaders were hired from local stations and a few from broadcast network operations. There were two little-known husband-and-wife anchor teams, Don Farmer and Chris Curle, and Dave Walker and Lois Hart.

Ted Turner, the visionary business tycoon who gambled on all-news TV, wanted the news to be the star. That was convenient, perhaps, since he couldn’t afford the inflated network salaries, but it was also a blessing that set CNN on the right course. Viewers can expect the same from A-Jam.

The point here is not to glorify the people behind Al Jazeera America, especially when their service has barely started. And judgments about the tone and objectivity of A-Jam’s newscasts should be harsh if it ever turns out that content is overtly filtered to please Middle Eastern interests.

But Americans should at least be willing to sample the new channel, and do so with open minds. As a nation, we are more isolated from international news and views than most other democracies.

At launch, Kate O’Brian might well have described her mission as being, “To provide information to people when it wasn’t available before; to offer those who want it a choice.” She could have dedicated the channel to, “the American people, whose thirst for understanding…has made this venture possible.”

She could have said all those things about A-Jam simply by quoting Ted Turner, when he launched CNN.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Chilling News http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/chilling-news/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/chilling-news/#comments Mon, 12 Aug 2013 14:52:21 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=631249 SAN JOSE, Calif. — All I know about climate, some say, is what’s outside my window.

Across much of California this is one of the coolest summers in memory, with temperatures well below normal. Here in San Jose, where the average high in August is 82 degrees, so far this month it’s at 75 — with no warming predicted anytime soon.

132732 600 Chilling News cartoons

Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons

Yet, on a recent day when San Jose’s high was 73 and its low 60, California’s Environmental Protection Agency released an extensive report about climate change and global warming. The news was chilling, regardless of what the thermometer happened to say.

The report confirms that climate change throughout the state is resulting in reduced snowmelt runoff, rising sea levels, increasing wildfires and unnatural migration of animals to higher elevations.

The report paints what its summary calls “a disturbing picture” of how the state is being affected. “It’s long past time for action,” said Gov. Jerry Brown.

California leads the nation in many areas — both in the size of its problems and in efforts to address them — and it has already done more than any other state to limit greenhouse gases and increase the use of renewable energy.

Nationally, progress has been slow. Congress remains entwined financially and emotionally with powerful forces in the oil industry. President Obama has spoken out but come up short, according to many environmentalists.

Polls show most Americans favor a meaningful response to climate change; in California they represent nearly 80 percent of adults. However, there is a lingering fear that some environmental reforms will take away jobs, and the economy remains, understandably, uppermost in most people’s thinking.

But no matter what’s outside the window on any given day, the scientific evidence about climate change is overwhelming. In another study released this month, researchers at Stanford University concluded that from 1980 to 2005 the earth’s temperature rose at a rate 10 times faster than during any period since the birth of mankind.

Meanwhile, researchers led by a group at UC Berkeley published a lengthy study showing that global warming has behavioral as well as environmental consequences. Increased temperatures prompt more violent crime and even wars, according to the data.

The report projects that in the world’s most dangerous regions, such as equatorial Africa, each added degree of average temperature increases the chance of conflict among opposing groups by 11 to 14 percent.

“The world will be a very violent place by mid-century if climate change continues as projected,” researcher Thomas Homer-Dixon told the Associated Press.

Not far from here, in Richmond, Calif., more than 1,000 people demonstrated the other day outside a Chevron refinery. Police made 160 arrests among those protesting practices of the fossil fuel industry. Such demonstrations are growing in frequency and intensity nationwide.

Yet, for many of us it’s still a puzzle. We may read that the water level under San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has risen eight inches since 1855, but is that really the type of news that prompts the average citizen to modify his behavior?

Usually a plea from politicians that we “leave a better future for our children and grandchildren” is met with nods of approval followed by a chorus of yawns. Perhaps California can take the lead in changing that when it comes to the very real problems of climate change.

It won’t be easy. Not when the thermometer outside has readings in the 60s, and the very day in mid-summer that the state issues its findings on global warming,

San Jose’s local paper carries the front-page headline, “Bundle up: Parkas are in order.”

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available through Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Betwixt and Between http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/betwixt-and-between/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/betwixt-and-between/#comments Thu, 08 Aug 2013 13:14:41 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=631141 Ownership changes at The Washington Post and Boston Globe have many people speculating anew about the future of newspapers. But whatever happens to these great publications probably won’t mean much to you, me, or the paper that carries this column.

135692 600 Betwixt and Between cartoons

Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

The Globe and WaPo, both of which I’ve written for in the past, are betwixt and between. They’re not quite as big as The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which have muscled their way into charging high cover prices and erecting successful paywalls, while operating as true national dailies. Yet, they’re not as small as hundreds of local papers across America that face different challenges in coverage and marketing.

All papers, big and small, share the same history: people used to buy more copies than they do now and relied on newspapers for hard news, plus classified ads and other ingredients that were exclusive to print. And most papers, regardless of size, will share a similar future: a digital world in which consumers get content electronically and pay a fair price for quality news coverage.

The problem is the present. What’s the best strategy for the next decade or so? Should newspapers allow the print-to-digital conversion to evolve naturally, or should they take steps in coverage, staffing and pricing to try and speed ahead, perhaps before the marketplace is ready?

For large regional dailies, like the Globe and WaPo, the situation is pressing. Print circulation is dropping fast, and digital formats have not picked up enough of the slack. Yet, the cost of properly covering all of New England, in the case of the Globe, and all of government and the Washington region, in the case of the Post, is enormous.

There are about two dozen U.S. dailies with circulation of 250,000 or higher that fall into this general category, but few have the staffing demands and coverage mandates of the Globe and WaPo. The Denver Post, for example, with circulation over 400,000, covers a wide, yet manageable territory in the Rocky Mountain West. It strives for solid reporting, but its writers and columnists don’t have to compete on the national stage like those in Boston and D.C.

It’s likely that the Globe’s and WaPo’s new owners will continue the evolution that has already begun ¬— closing far-flung bureaus and narrowing the focus. Digital operations are also likely to be improved, especially at the Post, where the website has been painfully slow to develop. Jeffrey Bezos, the founder of Amazon, certainly has the smarts to fix that.

In my view, Bezos and the Globe’s new owner, John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox, should immediately join forces and market their content jointly to all digital subscribers outside 100-mile zones around Washington and Boston. They should reach out to the San Jose Mercury News, which produces nationally significant coverage of Silicon Valley, and perhaps to the Los Angeles Times, for its entertainment industry content. Together, the four papers could offer digital content for a single subscription price that would attract a sizeable national audience without affecting each paper’s ability to operate locally.

And where does that leave thousands of smaller dailies? In pretty good spots, actually, provided they don’t cut back on local coverage and don’t overprice or under-deliver on the print version until the market is ready for digital.

Smaller papers tend to promote their websites more and more, without actually changing them to meet the needs of 24/7 readers. Too many sites still use the printed paper’s production cycle as an online format. In fact, the model shouldn’t be print, it should be all-news radio. Few local papers are staffed to cover, say, a power outage at 3 a.m., but they should be.

The excitement in news depends on action by the very big, like The Times or Journal, and the much smaller, like your hometown daily.

The Globe and WaPo are newsworthy right now because a lot of journalists care about them, as do readers in the Northeast. They don’t matter much in the industry’s larger scheme of things.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Pervs in the Press http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/pervs-in-the-press/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/08/pervs-in-the-press/#comments Fri, 02 Aug 2013 12:32:44 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=630949 The creeps who edit New York’s Daily News and Post are expanding the boundaries of bad journalism, which, considering the source is quite a trick.

That’s regrettable, because the city’s tabloids used to provide fun and relatively harmless reading. More worrisome: as journalism’s bottom feeders go lower the entire news industry sinks, at least a bit, in response.

133654 600 Pervs in the Press cartoons

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star

I used to live in New York and read the News and Post every day, but picking them up recently for the first time in many months, I was stunned by the loose lingo.

The tabloid’s favorite words these days are “perv,” “fiend” and “creep.” On this day, the Post used perv three times, while the News was totally creeped out.

“Evil behind perv’s door,” read one headline. The story began, “A Manhattan creep has been busted…” Another headline: “Woman slips creep’s grasp.” The story: “Police were looking for a creep Monday…”

Right next to the report about these creeps was a story that used “fiend” in the headline, “sicko” in the sub-head, and “monster” in the lead sentence.

OK, New York’s tabloids have long given up any pretense of serious journalism. Also, there’s more to worry about in the newspaper industry these days than what flavor Kool-Aid the News and Post drink to hasten their deaths.

In their heydays, the News and Post were quite different publications, each with historical significance. The Post lays claim to being the nation’s “oldest continuously published paper,” founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801. For roughly 40 years beginning in 1939 it was among the nation’s most profound liberal voices, until it fell into Rupert Murdoch’s clutches in 1976, where it remains today.

The News, founded in 1919 by media baron Joseph Medill Patterson, was known as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” a showcase for the industry’s best photographers and cartoonists. Early in my career I wrote numerous features for the paper’s Sunday magazine. Its content, while not as erudite as its broadsheet competitors, was well crafted and compelling. Since 1993, the News has been owned by the real estate tycoon and media mogul Mort Zuckerman.

Both papers have a colorful histories concerning their front-page “wood” — the oversized headlines, so named because decades ago the largest type fonts were made of wood rather than metal. “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” was a News classic in 1975, when the president refused a financial bailout. “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” from the Post’s front page in 1982, remains its best-known wood.

The headlines are still catchy, but are too often about pervs and sickos. All this bad tabloid behavior is in sharp contrast to what is planned for later this month on the opposite coast, when a new paper called The Long Beach Register is launched in Southern California.

At a time of drastic cutbacks and rampant tabloidization, the efforts by Freedom Communications to produce an in-depth, serious journalistic product to compete with the existing Press-Telegram has captivated the industry. The new paper, to be distributed along with the sister Orange County Register beginning August 19, will have a local staff of 20 reporters and photographers.

Aaron Kushner, the maverick businessman behind the new paper, is conducting what the Columbia Journalism Review labeled, “The most interesting and important experiment in journalism.” What’s his great gamble? Spending money on quality journalism.

So far, Kushner’s high road approach has succeeded in boosting the Register’s circulation and revenue. He has hired 75 journalists, and reportedly plans to add at least 25 more.

Kushner’s efforts are being studied by every editor and publisher in America, many of whom seem ready to throw in the towel when it comes to creating quality print content.

I’d like to think even New York’s sickos are paying attention.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Monitoring Media http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/monitoring-media/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/monitoring-media/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2013 07:05:29 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=630567 This is shaping up as a great season for media-watchers. Viewers still go on vacation, but news and entertainment media are busier this summer than ever before, giving us plenty to slice and dice.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

>>Zimmerman. Since the trial, cable-TV channels, most notably CNN, have done a remarkably effective job of covering and analyzing the controversial verdict and its broader social implications. Anderson Cooper’s interviews with jurors, witnesses and family members have produced some of television’s finest journalism. CNN’s challenge as it struggles to recover from a prolonged ratings slump is how to convert its masterful job of covering big stories to a compelling presentation that will attract viewers during slower news periods.

>>Sharpton. Increased public activism and fund-raising by Rev. Al Sharpton have prompted many to question MSNBC’s decision to retain him in his daily hosting role. I think Sharpton’s program is weak because he lacks skills as a telecaster, but I see nothing wrong with MSNBC giving him the forum. That’s because MSNBC, like Fox News Channel, has long given up the pretence of being an objective news outlet. That’s unfortunate. But if these channels want to have overt political identities, then they might as well hire people like Sharpton and, a click away, Karl Rove on Fox.

>>Rolling Stone. Many things in media change, but Rolling Stone magazine remains remarkably consistent, and its cover photo of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is business as usual for the publication that blends rock culture with significant in-depth reporting. The choice of a cover image, which had already appeared months earlier on page one of The New York Times, was appropriate — something that becomes clear to those who actually take time to read the 11,000-word article.

>>Emmys. After the nominations were announced, headlines focused on the fact that none of the six shows in the drama category was from a commercial broadcast network. This underscores what should be a media axiom: the public will pay for quality content. Newspaper and magazine publishers, still struggling with the issue of “free” versus “paid” formats, should take note by investing more in quality reporting in print and online, and then charging a fair price for it.

>>Nate Silver. The nation’s foremost political prognosticator will leave The New York Times for a post at ESPN and its parent, Disney. Silver shouldn’t be faulted for taking the biggest possible paycheck, but his work at The Times was both sophisticated and insightful. Using his “models” to predict sports events and contests like the Oscars seems to be a squandering of his talents and a sad reflection of the nation’s fascination with mundane polls and surveys.

>>Helen Thomas. The passing of the veteran White House reporter who covered ten presidents during her remarkable career is an occasion to reflect on how a true pioneer paved the way for a generation of female journalists. Along with Barbara Walters, who has announced her retirement from daily television, Thomas was successful because she played against men using men’s rules, and often scooped them at their own game.

>>Sports. Generally excellent coverage of the British Open by ESPN was marred by the ill-advised decision to cut away from actual play for dry interviews with players who had just finished their rounds. While nail-biting play continued, viewers were forced to endure Ian Poulter saying, “I hit some really good shots. It was fun.” Meanwhile, on the baseball diamond, those of us who don’t live in New York and don’t worship the Yankees, are miffed by national coverage as occurred Saturday, when the Fox national game featured the Yankees, followed by ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball with the Yankees, and then Monday’s national ESPN game showcasing the Yankees. Give us a break.

Now, back to you.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available through Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Postcard from Dublin http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/postcard-from-dublin/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/postcard-from-dublin/#comments Wed, 17 Jul 2013 14:57:08 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=630364 DUBLIN, Ireland — On the day we arrived, the tourism board in Kilkenny was holding a training program for workers in the hospitality trade. Among the bits of advice: Never say “no”; always say “no problem.” And this: Look a visitor in the eye, but not for too long, lest he feel intimidated. Try to gradually shift your gaze to the bridge of his nose.

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Hajo de Reijger / Cagle Cartoons

This nation of 4.6 million residents hosts over 6.3 million foreign travelers annually and, to this visitor, the Irish appear to be doing many things right, particularly in Dublin. The people are friendly, even without the benefit of formal training. The streets are clean. Trains and buses run beautifully. The museums, libraries and parks are jewels, and most are free to the public.

Yet, during just one week in Ireland it also seemed as if all the world’s serious problems were on display here.

Ireland’s economy is struggling, and the euro has fallen significantly against the dollar.

A heat wave serious enough to have people talking about global warming rolled across the nation in early July. Our cab driver, who didn’t appear to be a day under 60, said he had never seen, or felt, anything like it. Indeed, Dublin endured some of its warmest temperatures in all recorded history.

Parliament argued furiously over abortion reform. It’s always been illegal in this devoutly Roman Catholic nation, but the new law will at least permit the procedure in circumstances where a woman’s life is at stake. The cabbie seemed to understand, but his faith made him uneasy about the change.

As if lawmakers didn’t have enough on their plates, they also debated new legislation to make cyberbullying a federal crime. And a bill was introduced to lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

The Irish have long had a reputation for heavy drinking, but now Parliament is considering a ban on alcohol ads and sponsorships at sporting events. I learned this while sitting in a pub, drinking a Guinness, and trying to figure out the rules of hurling. Seems you can score three points by hitting the ball into the goal, or one point by hitting it through the goal posts.

Even in this lush land there are concerns about a water shortage, just like back home across much of the West. Residential fees for water were abolished in 1997, but now they are returning, at the rate of about $400 per year for the average household. However, the government says it won’t charge anyone who can’t afford it, and even those who are able to pay will never have their water shut off. Instead, households in arrears will find that the water pressure is sharply reduced.

So, there’s a lot of news here, and it’s pleasing to see Dubliners queuing up to buy newspapers. Numerous dailies remain, among them The Herald, that still publishes both morning and afternoon editions.

Many American food products are sold here, like Rice Krispies and Pepsi. But when it comes to candy bars, it’s a different world. Yorkie is a popular chocolate bar, along with Crunchie, Wispa, Drifter and Ripple. My favorite is named Maltesers Teasers, “Crunchy little malt pieces floating in creamy milk chocolate,” which its manufacturer recently described as “The biggest UK innovation of the decade.”

But you’d have to look hard to find a single candy wrapper on the ground.

I asked a railway worker at the Pearse Street Station how it was that the place remained so clean, even after the busy morning rush. “If I see rubbish on the ground when I walk my dog in the park, I pick it up,” he said. “The Irish have a lot of pride.”

Dublin is a very pleasant place these days because most folks don’t require formal training in hospitality to learn civic pride. It seems to come naturally.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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TV on Trial http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/tv-on-trial/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/tv-on-trial/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 14:01:26 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=630324 George Zimmerman’s trial seemed to raise as many questions as it answered, but one thing was proved convincingly: television in courtrooms can have damaging effects.

The jury had barely been seated when observers wondered why defense attorney Don West opened with a tasteless knock-knock joke. Would he have tried such a ploy if he weren’t playing to a national television audience?

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

Florida was among the first states to permit televised trials, beginning in 1979. Notably, there had been a four-year delay because it proved impossible to get participants in trials to grant permission for the presence of cameras. Only after the state’s Supreme Court removed the need for such waivers did telecasts finally begin.

In its ruling 34 years ago Florida’s high court declared, “We are persuaded that on balance there is more to be gained than lost.” The justices noted that their “prime motivating consideration” was a “commitment to open government.”

However, that finding could also be used to argue against cameras in court. Is it acceptable for anything whatsoever to be “lost” in providing a fair trial? Is “open government,” while undeniably important, really the “prime” factor in the criminal justice process?

Having spent much of my career studying the contrasts in behavior between those who are aware they are on television and those who are not, I am convinced that the presence of cameras is inhibiting. It can also encourage grandstanding, as Johnnie Cochran & Co. demonstrated in O.J. Simpson’s 1995 courtroom debacle.

In the Zimmerman trial, televised testimony by prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel led to a raft of harsh comments about her in social media. Jeantel, who was only 17 at the time of Trayvon Martin’s death, had been reluctant to testify and her media experience is unlikely to inspire witnesses to come forward in the future.

Zimmerman never testified, and as it turned out he didn’t need to. But Robert Shapiro, another cast member from the O.J. trial, told CNN that he would have advised Zimmerman not to take the stand because TV might make him nervous. Imagine that: a man faces decades in prison, and a notable attorney believes his big worry should be television.

Ironically, federal courts, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, have resisted TV coverage, despite the fact that citizens would probably benefit by watching the proceedings. Trials like Zimmerman’s, on the other hand, are of dubious educational value; the real beneficiaries are TV networks.

As Zimmerman’s attorneys wrapped up their case, the nation got a glimpse of the next unwelcome chapter in video justice. The defense played a computer animation video in its closing argument, employing Hollywood technology like that used in the film “Iron Man.” In the video, Martin punches Zimmerman in the face at the start of their confrontation, even though no witness actually saw such a scene.

While Zimmerman’s lawyers argued that digital images are simply modern extensions of in-court diagrams, it’s hard to imagine that after watching the video jurors didn’t begin to feel they had actually witnessed something in real life.

Television’s poor performance at Zimmerman’s trial even turned laughable at one point, when a witness for the prosecution, Prof. Scott Pleasants, testified via webcam. In a moment certain to live on YouTube for eternity, television viewers flooded Pleasants’ computer with random messages, causing such a disruption that Judge Debra Nelson had to cut the feed.

As technology improves and distribution via the Internet and cable-TV expands, there is an assumption that the negative impact of media gradually fades, while its utility expands. In fact, just the opposite seems true. Modern trials now involve not only the pressure of live TV, but also Hollywood style recreations, as well as instant second-guessing across a broad swath of social media.

Tabloid interests are being served, but not necessarily justice.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Fog In The Sunshine State http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/fog-in-the-sunshine-state/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/07/fog-in-the-sunshine-state/#comments Tue, 02 Jul 2013 13:23:36 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=629811 George Zimmerman’s trial is far from over, but for a national audience that hasn’t been so engrossed and emotionally divided about a murder trial since O.J. Simpson’s 1995 courtroom debacle, much is already known.

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Jeff Parker / Florida Today (click to view more cartoons by Parker)

First, we’ll never know for sure what happened the night Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. Without a solid eyewitness, or a victim who lived to tell his side of the story, no amount of testimony about muffled and unidentifiable screams or vague recollections of shadowy figures tussling in the night will be conclusive. In the end, the nation will view this as a racial matter, as it has ever since the shooting in February of 2012, and few will alter their views based upon evidence presented in the Sanford courtroom.

There is little chance Zimmerman will be convicted of second-degree murder, although a manslaughter conviction remains a possibility.

Most glaring in this case is the need for revision of Stand Your Ground laws, like the one in Florida. A jury might conclude that Zimmerman believed he faced “great bodily harm,” but the law should not make it so simple for a person in that position to shoot an unarmed foe. What are jurors to think of someone who disobeys instructions from a police dispatcher and walks into harm’s way, only to find himself in a situation where the law suggests he may shoot to kill?

Also clear after just one week of this exercise is that lawyers, even in high profile cases, are at times stunningly inept. Defense attorney Don West’s attempt at humor in his opening statement to the jury was a gaffe so profound that Zimmerman could probably cite it on appeal if ever convicted.

Then there was the mishandling by both sides of key prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel. Prosecutors erred by not carefully prepping such a young and vulnerable participant, who was only 17 at the time of the shooting. Defense lawyers, on the other hand, were allowed to badger the young woman in ways that seemed to far exceed their rights in cross examination.

Although the defense has yet to put on its case, it has already scored many points simply based on the weak presentation of the prosecution’s witnesses.

As viewers, we are reminded, too, of the serious racial divides in our nation. A neighborhood volunteer finds a black teenager with a hoodie “suspicious,” while the boy looks upon the watchman as a “creepy-ass cracker.”

Also on trial, as it always is in sensational cases, is television. Although I’ve found the coverage riveting and at times even educational, I continue to believe that justice is not served by the glare of TV. The public’s right to know can never be deemed more important than a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and there is little about the intensity of TV that promotes fairness. No witness, no lawyer, no judge, is likely to be unaffected by the pressure of performing on national television.

Perhaps attorney West would have thought differently about his knock-knock joke if he weren’t presenting it for the cameras. He’s certainly aware, for example, that one of the analysts covering the trial is Marcia Clark, the lawyer who parlayed her performance in the O.J. Simpson trial into high paying media jobs.

As we enter summer’s dog days, this long anticipated but relatively minor trial is taking place at a time of overwhelmingly important news — in the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, and around the globe. Yet, we’ll remain fixated on the Florida courtroom, where one man’s fate will be decided, while little is learned, and not much will change.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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A Newsworthy Week http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/a-newsworthy-week/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/a-newsworthy-week/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 07:10:47 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=629680 If you woke up Thursday in San Francisco, you may have seen the boxcar headline “DOUBLE VICTORY” atop the San Francisco Chronicle’s front page, the start of a 12-page report — a print celebration, really — on the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings regarding same-sex marriage.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

But if you happened to be in Alabama, you saw something quite different on page one of The Tuscaloosa News, the somber one-column headline: “Battles ahead on same-sex marriage.”

The stark difference in how newspapers treated the landmark rulings underscores the country’s regional and political divide. It also raises questions about how editors shape the news, at a time when the public’s view of media often seems as fractured as the topics being covered.

Whether a news outlet is headquartered in the progressive epicenter of Northern California or in the deepest corner of the Old South, editors must interpret the news for readers, beginning with the headline and front-page treatment. What is the proper path? Should the coverage be flatly objective, as with the Denver Post’s, “Historic gains in gay rights forged with pair of rulings”?

Or, should the reports reflect the presumed leaning of local readers, such as the Bakersfield Californian’s banner, “A GIANT STEP”? Or, in Kansas, the Wichita Eagle’s, “Rulings on marriage create challenges”?

In Columbia, S.C., The State newspaper decided on the headline, “In S.C., joy, dismay greet rulings on same-sex marriage.” In Oregon, The Statesman Journal cooed, “An enormous victory.”

The Times of Shreveport, La., appeared to stretch facts concerning the marriage rulings to the limit with the page-one headline, “Both sides claim victories.”

Other editors just couldn’t be bothered. The Middletown Press in Connecticut overshadowed the marriage story with news that a local deli would be closing. The small headline on the landmark decision said, “State, country react to DOMA ruling.”

Of course, if you woke up in New York on Thursday you saw that the city’s two hyperbolic tabloids rarely let news judgment interfere with sensationalism. The News and Post both devoted page one to murder charges against the football player Aaron Hernandez. Said the Post, “DEADLY PLAY,” while the News went with, “HIT MAN.”

The stories on gay marriage were just part of a topsy-turvy period in which events pushed emotions to extremes, and set media, both conventional and social, ablaze. As the week began, coverage and opinion was sharply divided on the Supreme Court’s decision to curb key provisions in the Voting Rights Act. Then, environmentalists and their opponents quickly shifted gears to deal with President Obama’s sweeping plans to combat carbon pollution. Some papers, such as the Columbian in Washington State didn’t even mention Obama’s environmental speech on page one, an editorial judgment which, itself, spoke volumes.

By the time the rulings on marriage were handed down, editors and readers were in such a lather that it was hard to maintain focus on equally contentious topics, such as George Zimmerman’s racially charged murder trial in Florida.

What we can gather from this busy week is that mainstream newspapers often allow their political leanings to influence treatment of controversial news. Moreover, papers often seek to reflect the sense of the region they cover, even if it differs from the majority view nationwide.

We are also reminded that although many newspapers have been weakened financially in recent years, when significant events happen, their front pages are still the main source for what The Washington Post long ago labeled, “the first rough draft of history.”

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email cari@cagle.com.

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An E-Z Fix http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/an-e-z-fix/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/an-e-z-fix/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 12:08:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=629399 NEW YORK — My grandfather used to tell a story about a fellow who proposed to end poverty by taking half of the rich folks’ money and giving it to the poor. Asked how this was being received, the man said, “I checked with the poor and they’re willing.”

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

I thought about that as I drove into Manhattan, encountering the highest state gasoline tax in the nation, some of the stiffest highway and bridge tolls anywhere, and previously unheard of fees to park on New York City streets. I haven’t had time to survey the poor, but I assume they’d favor a more equitable system.

The fact that taxes add roughly 35 cents per gallon more in New York state than in neighboring New Jersey, that a round trip across the George Washington Bridge costs $13.00, and that parking on the streets of Manhattan is priced up to $5.00 an hour should remind us not simply that things are expensive these days, but that flat taxes and government fees are, per se, unfair to the less affluent.

As a nation, we support progressive income taxes yet fail to apply the same fairness to a growing list of other taxes and fees. Where I live, in Monterey, Calif., there is now a mandatory 25-cent charge to obtain a paper bag in retail establishments. Such government-imposed fees — in this case for the laudable purpose of protecting the environment — mean little to the wealthy but weigh heavily on the poor.

The drive into Manhattan, if done twice a week for a two-hour visit by someone earning $26,000 a year, would amount to a 10 percent tax relative to his entire income. For someone making $250,000 annually, the same trips result in an effective tax of one-tenth of one percent.

In Virginia, they’ve just opened new express lanes on I-495. But these aren’t typical HOV lanes, where carpooling is the only thing rewarded; these lanes are open to any motorist who wishes to zip along faster by paying a toll. It’s a shameful way to make public highways more accessible to the wealthy.

In Oregon, they’re testing a new toll program using GPS in which motorists pay according to how many miles they drive — about 1.8 cents per mile. This distorted view of “fairness,” just like the notions of a national sales tax or flat income tax favored by conservatives, is regressive.

Not all government fees can be easily converted to a progressive system, but E-ZPass technology used throughout the Northeast might hold the key. Toll rates, and even gas taxes and parking fees, could vary based on the value of the car in which a transponder is installed.

Several states in the E-ZPass system already offer discounts to seniors and owners of low-emission vehicles. Some locales are also experimenting with E-ZPass for use in gas stations and parking lots. Why not base all related taxes on the ability of a motorist to pay?

Charging several dollars per hour to park on a public street may seem like a good way to reduce congestion and increase revenue, and it is — if you’re willing to effectively make such parking available to only those who can afford it. Allowing affluent motorists to avoid traffic delays by paying a fee to use express lanes may strike some as fair, but it discriminates against the poor.

We are increasingly a nation of haves and have-nots, with a shrinking middle class. It’s regrettable that at every turn in the road, so to speak, we impose fees that serve to widen the gap.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Mister, Mister http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/mister-mister/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/mister-mister/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 13:17:50 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=628780 Here’s a little game I invented the other day after phoning the water company to complain about my bill and hearing an overly-chipper woman say, “Hi, Peter. How may I help you?”

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Mike Keefe / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Keefe)

Increasingly I find that strangers who address me by my first name are the very people from whom I’d prefer an ounce of respect in the form of the honorific “Mr.” On the other hand, the folks who graciously call me Mr. Funt are usually the ones to whom I immediately say, “Oh, please, call me Peter.”

I’ll get to the game in a moment but, honestly, how did we manage to become so careless and casual in greeting one another?  I taught a journalism class for high school students last winter and about fell over when two students addressed me repeatedly as Peter.  I wish I’d had the presence of mind to give them the Prof. Kingsfield treatment: “Mister Hart!”  Then again,  ”The Paper Chase” film came out in 1973 and today Kingsfield’s students would probably reply, “Well, Charles…”

I became so annoyed at emails from United Airlines that began, “Hello, Peter,” that I wrote back asking for an explanation.  The reply, presumably automated, began, “Thanks, Peter, we’re looking into your request.”  I heard nothing further.

I imagine athletes and entertainers expect first-name treatment, even in private life.  You wouldn’t call Dave “Mr. Letterman,” or Willie “Mr. Mays,” regardless of whether you were asking for an autograph or fixing their plumbing.  But we who are less secure about our position in life tend to covet a bit of formality with strangers.

When I was editor of the magazine “On Cable” I used to receive mail that began, “Dear On.”

Apparently there’s quite a brew-ha-ha among Starbucks’ customers over whether to give their real first names when ordering a drink. Many turn to Bart Simpson’s playbook and try to come up with rude fake names.  Others, like Yankee star Derek Jeter, just try to remain anonymous.  Jeter orders at Starbucks with the name “Philip.”

Hand in hand, so to speak, with first-name greetings is the increasing eagerness of service personnel to shake hands.  Clerks at Enterprise seem to think a handshake somehow makes renting a poorly cleaned car less galling.  Comcast’s cable techs favor a handshake, which I believe is off-putting even for less germ-phobic customers than myself.

I think the digital age promotes informality.  ”Hi, Peter” turns up in emails all the time, while the postman still brings letters that begin, “Dear Mr. Funt.”  The other day I received (yet another) email from President Obama that began (honestly), “Hey Peter.”  The leader of the free world signed it “Barack.”

So, here’s the game.  Name the five people for whom receiving one of those first-name emails from, say, United Airlines, would be most inappropriate.  President Obama has clearly disqualified himself, and Vice President Biden is a plain old Joe if ever there was one.

Here’s my list:

Hi Jorge (as in Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis), you can check-in online 24-hours prior to departure.

Hi Antonin (Supreme Court Justice Scalia), want more legroom on your upcoming flight?

Hi Warren (82-year-old billionaire Buffett), earn double miles this month.

Hi Christine (Lagarde, the IMF chief), your flight is cancelled due to late arrival of equipment caused by bad weather that is beyond our control.

Hi Ban (Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General), thanks.  We’re looking into your request.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

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What Is A Journalist? http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/what-is-a-journalist/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/what-is-a-journalist/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 07:05:49 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=628617 As amateur news hounds gain power and influence through social media, the definition of “journalist” has ripened for philosophical debate. But now it’s becoming a legal issue — one that could hamper efforts to protect the news profession at the very time federal lawmakers are awakening to the need to do so.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Following disclosure of government scrutiny of the Associated Press in connection with leaks of sensitive material, President Obama urged passage of a new shield law to cover journalists. Versions of the bill were quickly introduced in the House and Senate, each requiring the federal government to convince a judge about the significance of information possessed by journalists before their documents could be seized and their sources exposed.

One of the authors of the Senate measure, Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, said the bill “would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information.”

But Schumer’s colleague Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) raised the question, “What is a journalist today?”

Durbin went on to ask, “Does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who’s tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection?”

The House and Senate bills differ on this key point. The Senate version defines persons to be covered as those whose “primary intent” is to disseminate public news or information. The description is lengthy and so broad that it could very well apply to anyone with access to the Internet or social media — which is to say, everyone.

The House measure, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), is more focused. It defines a journalist as someone gathers and reports news “for financial gain or livelihood.”

Poe’s legislation has broad support. Yet, in the digital age, can a law protecting news flow be so narrowly tailored that it covers only those who earn their living as journalists?

Forty states plus the District of Columbia have some form of shield law, but none exists on the federal level. State protections differ widely, and in many cases utilize antiquated language to describe the function of journalists, by limiting their work to newspapers, magazines and conventional broadcasting. Courts in New Jersey and California, have ruled that bloggers are also entitled to protection under state shield laws.

This goes beyond semantics. One can easily imagine a situation similar, say, to the Boston Marathon bombing, in which classmates of a possible suspect distribute information via the Internet. Should their sources be protected?

Schumer first introduced a version of his shield law in 2009, but it ran into trouble after the online group WikiLeaks began publishing a trove of classified government documents, causing lawmakers to stall on the very question of who deserves protection.

Marshall McLuhan’s prescient discussion of the medium and the message still haunts us. To some, format has little or no relevance in defining journalism; what matters is content. To others, the media must be defined, and as such limited, lest shield laws apply to everyone with a mobile device. To authors of the House bill, journalists are only those who earn a living from their craft, meaning they might be expected to bring a measure of professional responsibility to handling of sensitive material.

I’ve written previously that the term “citizen journalist” is an oxymoron, because journalism is a profession for which training is requisite. However, when it comes to protection under law, I do not believe such rights can be restricted as they are in the House bill. If we are to have a federal shield law, then the Senate measure provides the more reasonable approach, even though its definition of journalism is more sweeping.

To answer Sen. Durbin’s questions: Are all tweeters journalists? No. Are those who seek to distribute information entitled to some level of protection from unreasonable government scrutiny? Yes.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available through Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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BYOB : Bring Your Own Bag http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/byob-bring-your-own-bag/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/byob-bring-your-own-bag/#comments Tue, 28 May 2013 07:24:49 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=628446 MONTEREY, Calif.—They don’t ask, “Paper or plastic?” around here anymore. Single-use plastic bags are banned, and stores offering paper are required to charge the stiff price of 25 cents per bag.

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Osmani Simanca, Brazil (click to view more cartoons by Simanca)

The Monterey law, like many anti-bag ordinances popping up around the nation and the globe, seems to have been authored with good intentions, but where some see overdue environmental awareness, others see government overreach.

California leads the nation in combating bag pollution, with more than 70 local governments having banned single-use plastic bags. This month, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the ordinance in Los Angeles County, which forbids plastic bags and imposes a 10-cent charge for paper bags.

Ironically, the suit challenging LA’s law was brought by an award-winning recycling company, Hilex Poly, which operates one of the world’s largest facilities for turning old plastic bags into new ones. Last year, the firm’s Indiana plant handled over 20 million pounds of used bags, collected from over 30,000 in-store recycling bins.

The U.S. goes through about 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. Because plastics disintegrate very slowly in landfills and in the ocean, they pose a significant environmental threat.

Something must be done—and most municipalities have at least looked at the problem, with many having taken action. But while the problem is clear-cut, solutions are not.

As Hilex Poly has demonstrated, plastic bags can be recycled efficiently. The problem is that both consumers and retailers have been lax. Bags must be kept separate from other recyclables, which is best done by returning used bags to in-store receptacles—and too few shoppers bother with it.

Outright bans on plastic bags appeal to environmentalists, but cause unintended consequences such as compelling consumers to purchase more plastic trash bags for use at home. When a fee for paper bags accompanies the ban, as with the 25-cent charge in Monterey, the consumer is really stuck.

Cloth and reusable plastic bags are impractical for many shoppers and are notoriously unsanitary. Research by the British government indicates that a cotton bag must be used between 131 and 173 times before it dips below the global warming potential of the plastic bags it would replace.

A levelheaded solution was introduced in the House last month by Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), whose legislation would impose a national 5-cent fee on all single-use store bags, paper and plastic. Rather than giving the money to retailers, as many local programs do, Moran’s bill allocates most of it to land and water conservation programs, as well as to reducing the national debt.

While Moran’s bill keeps the fee low, it compels consumers to at least think twice before simply accepting a bag at the checkout counter. Clerks should be trained to ask two things of every customer: “Do you need a bag today?” And, “Will you please bring back used bags for recycling?”

“Our environment is literally choking on plastic bags,” Moran said in an Earth Day message. “The time has come to implement a national program that encourages the use of reusable bags instead of plastic.”

Such thinking will encounter resistance from those who prefer to have states and local governments handle virtually all of society’s problems. But it makes little sense to have a 25-cent charge for a paper bag in one town, and unrestricted distribution of both paper and plastic bags across the street.

It is also impractical and unnecessary to turn back the clock and completely eliminate the convenience and occasional necessity of a plastic bag. As with many good causes, too many of us are recklessly indifferent, while others insist on being blind to practical considerations—as if they had a bag over their head.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Getting it Wrong http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/getting-it-wrong/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/getting-it-wrong/#comments Thu, 16 May 2013 07:10:41 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=628048 Scott Pelley of CBS News raised eyebrows and passions among journalists at a Quinnipiac University luncheon the other day when he said, “Our house is on fire.” He was talking about challenges to the news business from within, as reporters become careless in a rush to be “first”; and, from outside, where social media supply what he labeled “more bad information” than at any time in history.

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Dario Castillejos / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Castillejos)

Pelley is a worthy recipient of the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award that provided the occasion for his remarks. But in assembling the facts he was unfair to his profession, while overlooking the real issues igniting fires that threaten journalism today.

Referring to the Newtown school shooting and Boston Marathon bombing, Pelley said, “We’re getting big stories wrong, over and over again.” Putting social media aside, that’s a gross exaggeration.

Errors are regrettable but nothing new when journalists operate under pressure, nor are they directly linked to social media, which Pelley went on to lambaste. “We were attacked by terrorists,” he said, “and amateur journalists became amateur vigilantes.

Amateur journalists is an oxymoron. Those gossiping via Twitter and Facebook are not journalists. If news professionals were to put stock in such chatter without verification they would be wrong, but there is little evidence of that really happening. The wild frontier of social media shouldn’t be conflated with the established world of journalism.

Pelley’s other main point was that journalists place too much importance on being first with a story, rather than having the patience to make certain it’s right. That, too, is valid — but getting a scoop has driven journalists since the profession began. And, to some extent, it actually does matter. Viewers changing channels during high-drama events do get a sense of which network is ahead on a story and which is lagging behind, which is why ABC benefited greatly by fast reporting from its Boston affiliate during the days following the bombing.

Coverage of the 1963 Kennedy assassination, and particularly Walter Cronkite’s reporting on CBS, is often cited as the gold standard for handling breaking news in the pre-Internet era. Cronkite’s work, brilliant as it was, along with that of affiliate KRLD, contained many errors in the early going, among them: that a suspect was under arrest, when in fact none was; that a secret service agent was killed; that a witness saw a “colored man” fire the shots.

In his memoir year’s later, Cronkite boasted, “We beat NBC onto the air by almost a minute.”

Here are three areas I wish Scott Pelley had touched upon. First, the biggest threats to established media are cutbacks. As I write this, new layoffs are reported at two New York papers, and NBC has canceled the news magazine “Rock Center.” Accurate reporting requires layers of editors and fact-checkers, and it’s those layers that are going up in flames.

Second, media shouldn’t really be judged on emergencies that captivate the nation’s attention as much as they should on digging up the truth about topics like government and the economy, to name just two. Does anyone fear the impact of Twitter and Facebook in these areas? Need we worry about journalists trying to be “first” with this type of news?

Finally, conventional news outlets are being influenced too much by creeping tabloidism and, in the case of electronic media, by an overdose of politically-weighted opining. These matters are governed largely by the business office, by the people also responsible for sweeping cutbacks.

In the digital age there undoubtedly is more bad information than ever before. That’s not the fault of the choir Scott Pelley was addressing at a luncheon of journalists. Their house, as he referred to it, isn’t on fire, but it is being fired upon.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

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Keep Those Catalogs Comin’ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/keep-those-catalogs-comin/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/keep-those-catalogs-comin/#comments Tue, 14 May 2013 07:10:00 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=627956 What America needs is a good Productivity Boosting Nap Pod, a device that looks like a dentist chair with a roof. As luck would have it, this 310-pound unit, that “provides optimal ergonomics for napping,” is available from Hammacher Schlemmer for $16,000. Dagwood Bumstead take note.

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Paul Zanetti / Australia (click to view more cartoons by Zanetti)

I don’t recall buying anything from the 165-year-old New York store in over two decades, yet its richly entertaining catalogs have followed me across the country and continue to arrive regularly in my mailbox. Recently, I was intrigued by the Dog Gazebo — a cage for conveniently confining your pooch, while doubling as a moderately attractive garden structure. It gives dogs “a 360-degree view of their surroundings,” and is priced at just $299.95.

Does anyone actually buy this stuff? Even if you’re in the market for a canine gazebo, would you buy it from a catalog? And, would your decision be influenced by the marketing ploy that sets the price five cents under 300 bucks?

Here’s a bargain: for just $89.95 you can get a fake golf club that dispenses drinks through a hidden spout and “won’t draw a second look from even the most astute course officials.” Or, how about The iPad Commode Caddy, a combination toilet paper and iPad stand for $99.95, “ideal for browsing one’s digital reading materials while indisposed.”

I suppose it’s possible that many people are attracted to the catalog for its descriptions more so than the products themselves. Remember in “Seinfeld,” when Elaine allowed Eddie Sherman to write for the J. Peterman catalog? His best effort: “It’s a hot night. Your mind races. You think about your knife: the only friend who hasn’t betrayed you, the only friend who won’t be dead by sunup. Sleep tight mates, in your quilted chambray night shirts.”

Hammacher Schlemmer doesn’t carry that exact night shirt, but it does offer a Genuine Irish Flannel Grandfather Shirt, “an homage to a hardworking ancestral Irish agrarian spirit,” that “enables freedom of movement while lounging, sleeping, or traveling.”

If you still have vinyl records in your attic, they’re certain to sound best when played on The World’s Only Counterbalanced Turntable, weighing 90 pounds and priced at $28,000. Note, you must provide your own tone arm. A less costly audio alternative is The Mobile Blastmaster, a boom box-type device mounted on what appears to be a kids’ wagon that is good on any terrain, as well as on ice and snow — and goes for just $4,000.

For $499.95 you can obtain a Jeweler’s Gold Authenticator, which avoids the need for “messy gels, staining chemicals, or dangerous acids,” that most of us use to test our gold.

This is cool. Remember the 1988 movie “Big,” in which Tom Hanks is granted his wish to grow bigger by an arcade machine known as Zoltar? Hammacher Schlemmer sells it! It’s $9,000 and comes with “23 different printed fortunes.” You’ll be pleased to know, “The manufacturer has confirmed that this item meets U.S. Federal toy safety standards for lead.” There is no guarantee, however, that Zoltar will grant your wish to have sex with Elizabeth Perkins.

Just in time for Father’s Day, you can order a Killer Whale Submarine. Dad will be able to hydroplane at up to 50 mph above the water or cruise below the surface at 25 mph, while strapped into this sub disguised as an orca whale. Best of all, “An LCD displays live video from the dorsal fin’s built-in camera.”

The sub costs $100,000 and includes free Personalized Service from a Product Specialist.

As I see it, anyone who suggests that American ingenuity is flagging, or that consumers don’t know good deals when they see them or, for that matter, that the Postal Service no longer provides a valuable service, obviously hasn’t perused the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. It continues to offer fond memories of the way we never really were.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

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Wide Options, Narrow Interests http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/wide-options-narrow-interests/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/wide-options-narrow-interests/#comments Wed, 08 May 2013 14:21:02 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=627763 I’ve never heard a hotel guest argue that he should pay less if he declines to swim in the pool. And I’ve yet to encounter a coffee drinker who believes a latte would be cheaper if shops quit providing wi-fi to customers who don’t use it.

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Angel Boligan / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Boligan)

Yet, when it comes to cable TV—and, for that matter, most modern electronic media—many people insist they’re being charged unfairly for content they don’t want. In most cases they’re misinterpreting the pricing. Moreover, they’re being shortsighted in evaluating their media options.

This is not a defense of cable-TV rates per se, which are rising rapidly and are often obfuscated by cable companies. But price aside, the cornucopia of channels remains a great benefit of cable and satellite TV.

It’s been roughly three decades since penetration reached 30 percent of U.S. homes, making it a viable advertising medium. Along with improved satellite transmission, this triggered the explosive development of specialized channels such as ESPN, MTV and CNN, eventually leading to more than a hundred others.

Right from the start it was clear that the best way to organize so many channels was in tiers, with package pricing. True, more viewers cared about major outlets, like USA Network, than lesser-known channels of the era, such as MSN (Modern Satellite Network). Cable operators paid fees to carry the popular channels, while usually getting the smaller ones for free.

A lot has changed over the years, but the formula remains pretty much the same. Today, for example, cable operators pay to carry CNN, and they get its sister channel, HLN, as part of the deal—which is essentially how it’s marketed to the public. A subscriber who feels cheated because he never watches HLN is as mistaken as someone who believes he should pay less for a newspaper because he never reads the comics.

Increasingly we hear about consumers like Vikas Bajaj, who wrote in the New York Times that he’s thinking of “cutting the cord” with cable. He mentioned a few shows he’ll miss, such as the AMC drama “Mad Men,” which he now plans to purchase for $22.95 per 12-episode season from iTunes. To my thinking, that’s a bad deal. My local cable company charges $34.95 a month for AMC, plus 59 other channels.

But there’s a bigger societal issue here. Part of the benefit—indeed, the pleasure—of flipping channels, surfing the Web or turning pages of a newspaper, is that it helps expose us to more than what we already know we’re interested in. For instance, I had never watched a show on Oprah Winfrey’s channel, OWN, until recently when I happened to see Ms. Winfrey doing a fascinating tribute to her close friend Roger Ebert, the film critic who had just died.

So, I’d ask Mr. Bajaj, how did you come to realize you enjoyed “Mad Men” until you had a chance to watch it? How will you know when the next series with similar appeal comes along if your cord is cut?

The great irony of the digital age is that the wider our options, the more narrow our focus.

I’ve got no particular fondness for the cable-TV industry, so I don’t care if the day comes when it is vanquished by superior Internet- or satellite-delivered technology. But I continue to covet my access to a wide variety of entertainment and information options, despite knowing I may never get to sample it all. That’s not a bad deal; it’s the essence of what our digital experience should be about.

When specialized cable channels emerged three decades ago, the industry labeled the new process “narrowcasting.” No one ever imagined that this horizon-expanding opportunity would someday lead viewers to become so narrow-minded.

—–

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Rambunctious Raccoons http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/rambunctious-raccoons/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/05/rambunctious-raccoons/#comments Wed, 01 May 2013 07:15:55 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=627458 Our backyard is filled with the pleasing sounds of spring created by birds, frogs, crickets and teens down the street testing their new cars. But lately there are also the haunting sounds of raccoons laughing at me.

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Larry Wright / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Wright)

When we moved in 18 years ago, I wondered why neighbors were so protective of their trash that they secured garbage cans with bungee cords and even padlocks.

Word apparently spread through the raccoon community that my trashcans were left unlocked at the curb. After dark the biggest raccoons would push the cans over, the juniors would pull off the lids, and the little ones would gobble my wife’s leftovers, while resolutely scattering everything else across the road.

Eventually, I drilled holes in the cans and installed industrial strength locks, leaving us mercifully raccoon-free until a few months ago when I discovered that our lawn had been attacked. If you haven’t seen what a team of raccoons can do to a lawn, imagine a bunch of huge sardine cans, each about three feet long, with the lids peeled back. Or, a dozen bald heads, each about three feet wide, with toupees pulled off and tossed to the side. Or, some gigantic prehistoric golfer making three-foot long divots.

These images haunted me at night, and confronted me in the morning. Eventually I had to hire a lawn guy.

“You’ve got raccoons,” he announced, with the same smugness I recall my dentist using when he told me I had impacted wisdom teeth. He sold me high-priced replacement sod without mentioning that new turf doesn’t discourage raccoons, it actually attracts them.

This led me to the hardware store, where Ernie explained my options. You can shoot ‘em (out of the question); poison ‘em (equally unacceptable), or trap ‘em.

The trap I bought is rather plush—in fact I once sat next to a woman on a four-hour plane ride who had her cat in a far less comfortable looking container. The trick, of course, is to persuade a raccoon to go inside. “They’ll eat anything,” Ernie assured me. Anything, it turns out, except garbage. I baited my trap with the very same type of garbage that raccoons had knocked over trashcans to get, and they wouldn’t touch it. So I began experimenting with raccoon cuisine, resulting in a tempting assortment of peanut butter sandwiches and honey-covered apples. A nightly refrain in our kitchen was, “Don’t touch that! It’s for the raccoons.”

One morning I discovered we had one chubby raccoon in our trap. Seems that once the sun comes up, and after digesting several peanut butter sandwiches, raccoons are fairly subdued. I drove this guy, in his comfy airline-quality carrier, to a wooded area about three miles away.

The next night I caught his friend. Then his friend’s friend. And this continued until a total of five raccoons of various sizes had been relocated.

For the next few weeks my lawn flourished, and the divots healed. Then, at about 3 a.m. one morning, our dog Dottie bounded off the bed and began barking furiously. The lights on the deck revealed three raccoons, leaning against a wooden chair, grinning.

Now I’m back to making peanut butter sandwiches and carpooling raccoons across town. I’m sleep-deprived, worrying about craters in the lawn.

Recently, while releasing my catch, a guy drove up and asked what I was doing. I explained that I lived a few miles away and was trying to move this critter to a safe area.

“We have raccoon problems of our own,” he said. “I wish you wouldn’t bring yours here.” He said he knew of a perfect spot—a place where he’s been releasing his raccoons for several months.

As he spoke, it became clear that the area he was describing was about a block-and-a-half from my house.

During all this, the raccoon I had released a few minutes earlier was clinging to the side of a nearby pine tree. I’m absolutely certain he was laughing.

Peter Funt’s new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Boots in Boston http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/boots-in-boston/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/boots-in-boston/#comments Tue, 23 Apr 2013 07:10:54 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=627152 Riveted to our screens, we learned last week of the enormous value of social media and surveillance video when tragedy strikes. But — and this second point is as significant as the first — we were also reminded of the importance of established, well-funded, conventional media, without which the big picture would have had gaping holes.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch (click to view more cartoons by Beeler)

What the Boston Marathon story confirmed was that new media and old serve us best when they complement each other.

Modern digital technology was certainly on full display. From the stunningly clear images of the bombing suspects that authorities were able to extract from commercial surveillance and personal devices, to the Google views from street and satellite that depicted the boat in the driveway where the ordeal ended, viewers had to marvel. Aided by millions worldwide using Twitter and other social media, information was widely circulated, helping authorities and informing the public.

For five straight days, however, it was what is often derisively called “mainstream media” that kept us best informed, as viewership of the major broadcast TV networks and national cable news channels soared. This conventional reporting would have been weaker without input from social media; yet, without mainstream media, meaningful coverage would have been impossible.

A great deal of what circulated on “feeds” via social media was simply a summary of events being reported by conventional media. When a well-known journalist tweeted at the height of the drama, “Best coverage on ABC,” he was underscoring the importance of network reporting.

Networks, in turn, were aided by local affiliates in the Boston and Providence markets, as well as by regional cable outlets such as New England Cable News. Such coverage is expensive, and it’s the “mass” part of mass media that pays the bill. Without a huge audience and resulting revenue, the process would collapse.

This television superstructure, recently threatened by development of digital services that bypass broadcast and cable delivery, is essential for news. As conventional distribution becomes outdated for entertainment programming, our information flow is increasingly at risk.

The same is true of major metro newspapers, which, despite cutbacks, are still able to summon vast resources — including boots on the ground, as we enjoy saying nowadays — to cover a complex breaking story. The most detailed reporting came from legacy newspapers: The Boston Globe and New York Times.

Those who argue that this structure can be replaced by bloggers, aggregators and millions of device-equipped citizen journalists are seriously mistaken.

Equally important is the editing and checking process. While a few electronic journalists, notably CNN’s John King, and established print outlets including The New York Post, made serious mistakes in the rush to indentify the bombing suspects, the worst such errors were those hatched by social media. Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube, went so far as to post a link to someone whom social media had concluded was a bombing suspect, but who was not.

Mistakes happen during high-pressure coverage. Some blame this on the 24/7 nature of modern media but it’s really not a new phenomenon in news, nor is it a valid excuse. What matters is that news organizations have the necessary layers of editorial and other staff to check facts and put information in proper context. Again, it’s often a matter of money.

In enthusing over the triumph of personal and social media in Boston, there is temptation to argue that this might supplant conventional news coverage.

Police proved that the combination of mainstream methodology and new technology yielded the best possible outcome. So, too, was it demonstrated that the public remains best served by reporters with boots on the ground, even when supplemented by new cameras in the sky.

Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published in May 2013.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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The Will to Win http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/the-will-to-win/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/the-will-to-win/#comments Mon, 22 Apr 2013 07:15:58 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=627115 A Boston firefighter, one of many who rushed in to aid bomb victims last Monday, told a TV interviewer, “We will win. I promise you, we will win.”

As a first responder, he’s a genuine hero. But his prediction, while understandable, is vague and even misguided. We are increasingly a nation focused on winning at a time when the world around us doesn’t often allow it.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

Perhaps by the time you read this, authorities will have pieced together enough information to explain the actions of the brothers from the Russian republic of Chechnya who were apparently behind the Marathon horror. But how will this help us win anything?

Maybe the Boston bombers were deranged like the Newtown killer Adam Lanza, except armed with bombs instead of guns. Maybe the culprits were similar to Timothy McVeigh, the Army vet who bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. McVeigh’s “politics” were essentially domestic; he resented police power and what he perceived as intrusion on Second Amendment rights.

In the post-9/11 world we look with suspicion at those around us and worry about the next act of violence. As proud Americans, our instinct is to “win.” Give us a foe, we plead, and we will surely prevail.

But we don’t always have specific enemies; we have “terrorists.” Anyone who sets off bombs in public, or shoots up a school room, is a terrorist. But since 9/11 the term has properly been reserved for organized international enemies. Any use of the word triggers a specific and profound string of emotions and sets off political rhetoric around the world.

Events immediately following the Marathon underscore how confused we are, and how our desire to win is clouded by the vagaries of our times. President Obama, in his initial statement to the nation, wisely declined to use the term “terrorism.” Yet, within hours the White House was compelled, in part by media and political pressure, to apply the label. Later, at the memorial in Boston, the term was never uttered.

As it happened, the Boston bombing was followed by a strange case in which letters were sent to several lawmakers, including President Obama, containing a chemical that may have been the poison ricin. Rudy Giuliani, the New York mayor at the time of 9/11, was one of several who quickly stated publicly that the letters and the Boston bombing were most certainly linked. Even as Giuliani, on Fox News, spewed his theory of widespread terrorism, authorities were confirming they had a suspect, a long-time writer of hate mail to elected officials.

And when reporters, including CNN’s John King, rushed on the air at mid-week with an erroneous story that a “dark skinned” suspect had been picked up in the Boston case, it seemed to confirm for many that, indeed, we were attacked again by Middle Eastern jihadists.

By the time a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas Wednesday night, the nation’s electronic media were heard to state repeatedly, “We don’t know if this is connected in any way to the Boston bombing.”

These are the understandable signs of a stressed nation that has yet to fully recover from 9/11. We wait for the next incident to ignite both our fears and our desire to win.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick selected the right words Thursday when he said the bombing left him “shocked, confused and angry.” As a nation, we are all those things.

Time will, to some degree, remove the shock. Investigators are likely to produce details that will address much confusion. But what about our anger?

Whether the enemy is a foreign force or domestic malcontents, we must address our own anger. We can’t give in to our fears, nor can we be too quick to label them out of convenience.

That’s the only way to win.

Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published in May 2013.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Steal This Video http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/steal-this-video/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/04/steal-this-video/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 07:05:22 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=626812 Back in 1971 when the hippie revolution’s Pied Piper, Abbie Hoffman, authored “Steal This Book” he got the very outrage he sought. Thirty publishing houses rejected it and, when the book finally came out, more than a dozen newspapers refused to print ads to promote it.

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Angel Boligan / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Angel Boligan)

According to Hoffman’s inverted reasoning, it was immoral “to not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire.” His manual included advice on stealing many things–including movies.

Ah, the times and the media are a changin’. But what about the morals?

The title of a column this month in The New York Times Sunday business section read: “No TV? No Subscription? No Problem.” It wasn’t merely a summary of widespread theft that plagues the entertainment industry in the digital age–a topic covered in many places, including in The Times–it was a pro-stealing treatise by a Times staffer, Jenna Wortham, that Abbie Hoffman probably couldn’t have articulated better himself.

Wortham began by recounting how she and her friends planned to watch the season premiere of HBO’s hit drama “Game of Thrones.” Only one member of the group would use a valid subscription; the others would each rely on what Wortham described as “a crafty workaround.” In her case, that meant stealing the program by using the password of “a guy in New Jersey that I had once met in a Mexican restaurant.”

Reporter Wortham even wrote that she “hesitated” before seeking a comment from HBO, fearing that it might prompt “a crackdown” and “I’d become the most-hated person on the Internet.”

With 30 million paying subscribers, HBO isn’t exactly hurting. In fact, Wortham’s “research” led her to conclude that HBO and other video providers “seemed to have little to no interest in curbing our sharing behavior–in part because they can’t.”

That last bit of phrasing packs quite a wallop. It’s beyond Hoffmanesque to describe the theft of proprietary material as “sharing.” It’s also conveniently misleading to conclude that the entertainment industry is indifferent to being robbed simply because, for the time being at least, there isn’t a practical way to stop it.

Content owners in all media, from music to newspapers, have struggled to overcome the perception that the Internet, and everything that flows through it, is inherently “free.” Of course it’s not–and the two media cited have paid dearly for allowing such a faulty premise to take hold for more than a decade, before finally taking steps to correct it.

At least Abbie Hoffman focused on a political objective. He wasn’t concerned with getting something for free as much as he was with changing the balance of power in society. And Hoffman’s title was ironic since over a quarter of a million people willingly paid for his book, making it a best seller.

HBO, in particular, has frustrated some consumers by declining to offer its mobile app, known as HBO Go, as a standalone product. The only way to get the app is to be a paying subscriber to the regular cable or satellite service. That business decision angers some viewers who feel it is not in the spirit of the digital age.

Wortham believes many media companies fail “to grasp the future of television as a shared social experience online.” The buzzwords “shared” and “social experience” seem to overlook the needs of businesses to function as profit-making enterprises, protected from those who would steal their products.

And finally, Wortham has the juice to complain that when she tried to log on illegally to HBO Go, “the site was buckling under the load of many others who, just like me, were tuning in at 10 p.m.”

Modern media, especially those with shallower pockets than HBO, have the unenviable task of marketing their content while also convincing potential customers that stealing it is uncool.

“We all mellow with age,” Abbie Hoffman told me, 13 years after writing his unlikely best seller. For him, thievery was a means to an end, not part of a shared social experience.

Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published next month.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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April Fools http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/april-fools/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/april-fools/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 07:10:26 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=626073 The calendar says Monday is April first, but lately it seems that foolishness occurs year-round.

As one who devoted much of his life to the family business of pranking people, I’m often asked if folks are more difficult to trick today than six decades ago when my dad, Allen Funt, invented “Candid Camera.” After all, we’re now so dialed in and media savvy, certainly we’re less susceptible to jokes—practical or otherwise.

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Daryl Cagle / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Fact is, people are more easily tricked than ever.

Multi-tasking has a lot to do with it; hardly any moments remain when we focus our complete attention on just one thing. We’re easily distracted, and any magician will tell you that distraction is the key to fooling people. Also, technology has made such incredible leaps that almost anything seems possible, and thus believable.

But the perfect storm for chicanery is in media. Ease of access via the Internet, coupled with speedy distribution that leaves fact-checkers in the dust, is creating a robust market for fake news—if you like that sort of thing. How difficult can it be to fool Americans at a time when an alarming percentage of them tell pollsters they use Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” as a primary source for news?

Among the latest gems: a report that Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel winner in economics, had filed for bankruptcy. The item was written by a satirical website called The Daily Currant and then transmitted as real news by the financial blog Prudent Investor via Boston.com (owned by The Times) and picked up by the conservative site Breitbart.com.

The Currant struck a few weeks earlier with a bogus story that Sarah Palin was joining the Middle Eastern news service Al Jazeera. The Washington Post’s Suzi Parker reported it as fact, prompting Palin to tweet, “Hey @washingtonpost, I’m having coffee with Elvis this week.”

This might be fun, except for what it says about our politics and our news. We increasingly rely on the Internet to reinforce our beliefs, so we naturally grab at things that appear to do that. We’re so enamored of click-and-share gossip that we pass things along without much question. Even the largest media outlets seem eager to link to the juiciest items that are “trending.”

Media were so hungry for tidbits about Pope Francis that not one but several phony Twitter accounts were cited at various times as being the new pope’s true messages, until the Vatican cleared things up.

The public may be as gullible as ever, but it’s also media professionals who are falling for the phony news stories. That’s nothing new—it’s just that hoaxsters now have better tools.

Back in the early 80s I wrote an annual April Fools column in which I sought to fool media with fake news about media. One year, shortly after singer Michael Jackson accidentally burned some of his hair during a pyrotechnic stunt, I wrote that Paramount was making a movie about it called “Tingle,” and that MTV had paid millions for the video, while USA Network was preparing a “Tingle” workout show and Parker Bros. was selling a “Tingle” board game. I even said Allstate was handling fire insurance for the entire “Tingle” enterprise.

Richard Hack, a writer for the trade publication Hollywood Reporter, went on national TV to break the “news.” To his discredit, he didn’t even name his source for the story, claiming the reporting to be his own.

I finally gave up writing April Fools columns after concluding that media types were so easily gulled it just wasn’t fun to mess with them.

Now websites like The Daily Currant and The Onion do this sort of thing as a business. The public is occasionally tricked, but it’s media that increasingly play the fools.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published in May.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker reachable at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published in May.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Juvenile Injustice http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/juvenile-injustice/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/juvenile-injustice/#comments Thu, 21 Mar 2013 07:08:54 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=625813 Many of the nation’s prosecutors and judges continue to put kids on trial as adults. This, despite declining crime rates among juveniles and growing scientific evidence about the inappropriateness of taking young offenders out of the court system designed specifically to protect them.

9605 600 Juvenile Injustice cartoons

Mike Keefe / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Keefe)

One such high-profile case ended this week with the sentencing of Thomas Lane, now 18, for cafeteria murders of three students at Chardon High School in Ohio last year. Lane’s trial was moved from juvenile to adult court, where Judge David Fuhry gave him three consecutive life sentences without any chance of parole.

In Maryland last month, 15-year-old Robert Gladden was convicted of firing a shotgun in the cafeteria at Perry Hall High School and wounding one of his classmates. Tried as an adult, Gladden was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Gladden’s attorney attempted to have the case moved to juvenile court—due to an odd twist in Maryland’s law whereby youngsters charged with violent crimes must convince a judge they should not to be held to adult standards—but the defense never had a chance. Although Gladden’s and Lane’s crimes were committed months before the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., each was sentenced after the Sandy Hook rampage and its resulting torrent of emotion and media attention.

The more publicity a youth case receives, the more eager prosecutors seem to be to try it in adult court. Washington, DC: five kids await trial as adults in the murder of an 18-year-old in the subway. Raleigh, N.C.: four boys, all age 15, charged as adults in the death of a homeless man. San Jose, Calif.: four teens to be tried as adults in a beating death at a basketball court. The list is long and troubling.

The issue isn’t whether violent children should be coddled, nor is it about releasing dangerous individuals, regardless of age, back into society. The fact is we wisely have different judicial standards for children—and those standards should be maintained in all cases, regardless of the severity of a crime or the media attention it receives.

In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down several decisions that begin to address this, at least at the most extreme levels. In 2005 it barred states from executing anyone for a crime committed as a minor. In 2010 it ruled that no juvenile may be sentenced to life without parole for any crime other than murder. And in 2012 it ruled that children may not be given life sentences unless a judge reviews the specifics of the case and the child’s situation.

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the majority opinion, “among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” She added, “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him—and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

In the 2010 opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said there are “fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.” Indeed, significant research indicates that human psychosocial development doesn’t fully mature until at least age 22.

The facts are these: roughly 200,000 kids are tried as adults in the U.S. each year. There are currently an estimated 2,000 people serving life sentences, without the chance for parole, for crimes committed before they were 18. The U.S. has the most such prisoners of any developed nation.

While it would be reasonable to incarcerate a convicted juvenile until age 21 and then review carefully his psychological status before considering the ultimate sentence, to prosecute a child and throw away the key is barbaric.

Thomas Lane, the Ohio shooter sentenced this week, is not likely to receive sympathy from many Americans—particularly those who have seen the online video of his grotesque courtroom behavior. But justice is supposed to be blind to such things.

We either acknowledge that children must be treated differently or we don’t.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker reachable at www.CandidCamera.com. His new book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” will be published in May.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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Home Free http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/home-free/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/03/home-free/#comments Wed, 06 Mar 2013 08:20:37 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=625101 As one who frequently works from home, I believe Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has seriously erred in removing that option for her staff. I’ve kept a diary of my productivity, and I’m forwarding this rundown of a typical day to Ms. Mayer, urging her to reconsider.

color fathers day c web Home Free cartoons

Dave Granlund / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Granlund)

5:45 a.m. — Our dog Dorothy, who also works at home, insists we begin our day. I feed and walk her. Make coffee.

6:15 — Retrieve the six daily newspapers from our driveway and place them on a pile in the kitchen that at times reaches three feet.

7:00 — Monitor the “Today” show, flipping to “CBS This Morning” during commercials. As I’ve explained to my wife Amy numerous times, amateurs “watch” TV; media professionals “monitor” content.

7:10 — Begin the tedious process of deleting emails that arrived overnight. These include various insurance offers, at least seven different summaries from Politico, plus dozens of other alerts and blogs I have signed up for over the years and can’t seem to stop.

7:30 — Wake Amy and warn that I’ve got a busy day and can’t be interrupted.

7:45 — Eat breakfast while using my iPad to check replays of what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert offered the night before.

8:30 — Compose detailed emails to friends on the East Coast about pressing matters of the day, such as the NCAA basketball rankings, media layoffs, weather patterns across the West and various other things over which I have no control and won’t likely recall at this time tomorrow.

9:10 — Send out links to the best Stewart and Colbert bits.

9:30 — Phone my mother to assure her that I’m fine, but too busy to talk.

9:32 — Create lists of things I must do today, plus ideas for columns.

10:05 — Check refrigerator for morning snack. Shower, shave, get dressed.

11:19 — Drop everything. MSNBC has Breaking News about a private jet with eight people aboard that is approaching St. Louis with landing gear trouble.

11:37 — After 18 minutes of uninterrupted coverage, MSNBC’s Tamron Hall says the plane has landed safely. An “aviation expert” named Jim tells her it was a “non-story.”

11:38 — Check mailbox. Place bills on a pile in the kitchen that currently reaches five inches in height.

11:55 — Check six Internet sites. Break for lunch.

1:35 — Running behind because I apparently dozed off after lunch.

2:00 — Text son Danny with news that Xavier Nady had two hits in Royals’ spring training game. Text daughter Stephanie that her law school tuition payment was delayed because I couldn’t remember newest password for online bank account.

2:15 — Begin writing column about how modern camera shots on TV news and talk programs make viewers dizzy because the camera keeps swinging in, out and around, sometimes making a full 360-degree turn. Seems like a solid start, but I’m stumped on what to do for the next 450 words.

2:45 — Email fellow writers for thoughts about how to finish column.

2:50 — Take afternoon break for jog at local high school track.

3:20 — Check refrigerator.

3:30 — Step out to fill car with gas, and pick up Blistex at pharmacy.

3:50 — Remove Blistex from to-do list and shift other items to tomorrow’s list.

4:00 — Monitor “Hardball,” followed by “Seinfeld” reruns.

5:01 — Email editor that column about TV camera shots is “coming along well.”

5:05 — Knock off for the day. However, thanks to the flexibility of working at home, I’ll be able to remain on duty until bedtime.

—–

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

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Seeing is Deceiving http://www.cagle.com/2013/02/seeing-is-deceiving/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/02/seeing-is-deceiving/#comments Tue, 05 Feb 2013 14:39:45 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=623776 President Obama has a long history as a smoker, yet he’s spoken aggressively against the habit on numerous occasions. Presumably, the White House would never seek to appease the powerful tobacco lobby by releasing a photo of the president sneaking a smoke during a break at Camp David.

obama skeet Seeing is Deceiving cartoonsDiehard smokers would correctly label the gesture a blatant PR ploy. And millions in the campaign to combat smoking would be mortified at the sight of the world’s most powerful man sending the wrong message.

So, you know where we’re headed. Last week the White House released a photo that the New York Post described with the headline, “Skeet for Brains.” The paper’s caption: “Bam panders to gun lovers with idiotic pic.”

The photo was taken at Camp David last August on the president’s 51st birthday. The White House press office dredged it up in a misguided attempt to prove the president was being truthful when he claimed to regularly engage in skeet shooting at his Maryland retreat.

Adding insult to bad judgment, Obama advisor David Plouffe tweeted, “Attn Skeet Birthers. Make Our Day — Let the Photoshop conspiracies begin.”

And, indeed, they did. Skeet skeptics claimed the president’s gun wasn’t pointed correctly, that his glasses looked wrong, and that the puffs of smoke in the photo were unrealistic. Who cares?

In the unlikely event the photo is fake, it’s an unforgivable deception. Assuming it’s accurate, the White House has made a grievous miscalculation in its campaign to educate the nation about gun violence and to begin the arduous work of reshaping views about the Second Amendment.

Despite the horror of Newtown and the moving appearance by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords on Capitol Hill, the president’s effort to pass meaningful gun legislation faces long odds.

At the recent senate hearing, one member after another — from the chairman, Patrick Leahy, to the ranking member, Chuck Grassley — felt compelled to assert that they are gun owners. One imagines that if they had their own skeet-shooting photos handy, they would have distributed them to the media.

Whether or not they shoot clay pigeons should have no bearing on the debate, nor should it matter if their kids happen to watch violent video games, or if armed guards protect the president’s children when they go to school.

The problem in releasing the Camp David photo is that the NRA and its members understandably find it disingenuous. To many parents in Newtown and across the nation, it is undoubtedly offensive.

President Obama has taken a bold, long overdue stand against the nation’s epidemic gun violence. Considering the stranglehold that the NRA has on Congress, Mr. Obama has little choice but to carry the campaign to the public, which is what brought him to a police facility in Minneapolis Monday.

“We don’t have to agree on everything,” he said, “to agree that it’s time to do something.”

He made a plea for universal background checks. He urged passage of a bill that would stop the sale of guns by so-called “straw men” — those who buy guns legally and then sell them to criminals. He called for a ban on military-style weapons and large ammunition clips. He suggested that schools provide more help for youngsters with mental illness.

And that’s the important picture: the president speaking passionately about the pressing need to curb gun violence.

Mr. Obama might enjoy blasting away at clay pigeons, but by releasing the Camp David photo, aides were shooting their boss in the foot.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker reachable at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Hearings Miss the Target http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/hearings-miss-the-target/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/hearings-miss-the-target/#comments Thu, 31 Jan 2013 08:15:03 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=623567 For many Americans, not just those who live in Newtown or Aurora or Tucson, this was the big moment. Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee would address the burning issue of gun violence in America.

126030 600 Hearings Miss the Target cartoons

Bill Day / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Day)

What they got at Wednesday’s high-profile hearing was a well-articulated exchange, but make no mistake: little will change. Participants at the gun session were firing blanks.

Who could fail to be moved by Gabby Giffords’ passionate plea to Congress to take action? “We are not here as victims,” added her husband David Kelly, “we are here as Americans.” It wasn’t enough.

America’s gun lobby is so powerful that even a hearing on curbing gun violence contained barely a word about actually removing firearms from the public’s hands.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a noted Senate liberal, was compelled in his opening statement to explain that he owns guns. The ranking member, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, went out of his way to assure gun owners that their rights will not be restricted. Not a chance. The hearing was like watching a circular firing squad.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a noted gun opponent, tip-toed through the event, limiting his focus to background checks rather than actual gun restrictions.

Gayle Trotter, a women’s rights advocate, testified that the AR-15 assault weapon is the ideal gun for a mother to use when defending her home and children against violent intruders. Imagine that! Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he owns an AR-15 and insisted that in some cases the weapon “makes perfect sense.”

As a result of such thinking, this nation will not soon solve — nor meaningfully address — its rampant gun problem.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, got NRA chief Wayne LaPierre to concede that one reason he favors gun ownership is for citizens to protect themselves from their own government. James Johnson, the police chief in Baltimore County, said LaPierre’s view was “creepy.” But it’s part of a spreading view among misguided Americans that government, not guns, is what places them at risk. That’s how deep the division goes.

While it’s perfectly reasonable to seek ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota expressed legitimate concern that proposed legislation might result in “stigmatizing” the mentally ill. Even his GOP colleague, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, noted that the rights of the mentally ill must be protected.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, perhaps the Senate’s staunchest believer in actual anti-gun legislation, was forced to concede, “This is such a difficult debate because people on both sides have such fixed positions.”

Indeed. And nothing — not Newtown and not seeing former Congresswoman Giffords’ struggle just to utter a sentence as a result of her gun-induced wounds — will change that. Half the nation believes that the solution to gun violence is limiting guns; the other half believes the answer is to rush out and buy more guns.

Congress hasn’t been particularly successful lately in accomplishing things, but it remains skilled at holding hearings that give the superficial impression that change is at hand. When it comes to guns, the nation is at a standoff, and will remain there for some time.

Wayne LaPierre, of all people, said he has testified on Capitol Hill numerous times and “nothing changes.” He neglected to point out that he and the NRA are largely responsible for keeping it that way.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker reachable at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Striking a Presidential Pose http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/striking-a-presidential-pose/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/striking-a-presidential-pose/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 08:30:09 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=623147 Smile, you’re the most powerful person on earth.

Only 43 men have posed for an official presidential portrait or photo. What ran through their minds? I must have a stern expression to convey authority? If I smile do I risk appearing smug? I don’t want folks to see my crooked teeth?

obama portrait Striking a Presidential Pose cartoonsIn his just-released second-term photo, President Obama flashes a wide smile. There hasn’t been anything like it since 1977 when Jimmy Carter established a record for the toothiest presidential grin.

Looking at the gallery of White House images, we see that no president, not one, dared to crack even a slight smile until Gerald Ford revealed a few front teeth in his 1974 photo. It looked more like a smirk than a smile, and considering how Ford’s presidency came about, maybe it was. Regardless, it established a trend in which all presidents smiled for the camera — until 2009.

Barack Obama, despite his mighty incisors, broke the chain of smiles in his first term photo, choosing to go with a rather somber expression. Then, for his second term: Pow! The president is smiling broadly.

Although vice presidential smiles don’t count for much, the Obama-Biden pairing has more dental sparkle than any administration in history. Of course, President Obama seems to flash his ultra-engaging smile at just the right moments, while Mr. Biden sometimes seems unable to rein his in, as was proved in last fall’s vice presidential debate.

Like most things presidential, the question of how a Commander-in-Chief should look in his official portrait began with George Washington. It’s often said that Washington had false teeth made of wood, making smiling difficult. That’s only half true; he did have false teeth, but they were made of ivory and other expensive materials. Yet he did find smiling problematic because, according to numerous historians, his false teeth were spring-loaded, and he feared that if he cracked a smile his mouth might fly open.

You’ll never see a picture of John Adams smiling, because he lost all his teeth and refused to wear false ones. Abe Lincoln was also beset by dental woes, having had his jaw broken as a dentist pulled one of his teeth. Jimmy Carter’s mother, Lillian, once told a reporter that her son had “perfect teeth.” She added that he was, occasionally, “overzealous about flossing.”

In modern times, presidents pose for an official White House photo while in office, and then after leaving office authorize an official oil painting, for which they have an opportunity to reconsider their pose and facial expression. Jimmy Carter’s portrait shows none of the teeth that flash in his official photo. Richard Nixon seems a bit more cheerful in his portrait than he ever did in office. George W. Bush is smiling in both images, but in his portrait removes his jacket, making him the only U.S. president whose official portrait shows him in shirtsleeves.

Barack Obama is the first president to have his official photo taken with a digital camera. According to experts it shows some evidence of being Photoshopped to improve the lighting.

As Mr. Obama begins his second term, he seems to have planted clues in his two official photos to keep historians guessing. Was his somber expression in 2009 an indication of uncertainty in the job? Did he feel overwhelmed by the weight of history as he became the first black president?

Why the big smile in 2013? Is the president still giddy over his surprisingly wide re-election margin? Is he sending a message to opponents in Congress that, like the banks, he’s now too big to fail?

And four years hence, which way will the Obama oil painting go: serious expression, or 1,000-watt smile?

It’s too bad the administration didn’t follow up on the suggestion to mint one of those trillion-dollar coins and put Mr. Obama’s picture on it. Would he frown at the size of the national debt? Or, with great confidence, would he smile all the way to the bank?

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©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

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Fussing Over Distaff Staff http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/fussing-over-distaff-staff/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/fussing-over-distaff-staff/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 08:15:28 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=622806 Washington’s latest kerfuffle, at a time when political kerfuffling is epidemic, concerns the number of women in President Obama’s inner circle. Some say there are too few.

125486 600 Fussing Over Distaff Staff cartoons

Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

A clutch of pundits and editorial writers fears that the latest selections — Chuck Hagel, John Kerry and Jack Lew — reflect a male bias in the Obama Administration. “President Obama ran promoting women’s issues,” notes Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, and so she now asks, “How about promoting some women?”

The criticism is not only baseless in terms of the president’s record; it suggests a ridiculous quid pro quo, as if women cast votes in exchange for political appointments. Women supported the president for myriad social and economic reasons, as reflected in polls, but nowhere in the data is there evidence that female voters were motivated by hopes of gaining more spots in the Cabinet.

Only Bill Clinton placed as many women in Cabinet-level positions as President Obama has, nine, and in Clinton’s case the mark was set during his second term. In the nation’s history, only 43 women have held such posts, and Obama appointed 21 percent of them during his first term.

But as compelling as the numbers are, this isn’t about numbers, nor should it be. At the very time that President Clinton was appointing a record number of women to high-level posts, he, too, was criticized. Clinton’s reply was short and direct: “I don’t believe in quotas.”

Clinton might have added, parenthetically, “…in the nation’s highest and most vital positions.” There is a good case to be made for affirmative-action style hiring in the lower ranks. Only by placing women and minorities in these positions will there ever be enough qualified candidates for the bigger jobs. That’s why, within the entire Obama Administration, the male-female split is about 50-50.

But when it comes to top Cabinet positions and the Supreme Court — where Obama’s two appointments were women — there is no acceptable standard except finding the best person for the job.

Hillary Clinton is vacating one of the most powerful posts in government, Secretary of State, and Obama’s first choice to replace her was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice became tangled, unfairly, in the Benghazi affair and Obama shifted to Sen. John Kerry. But other than Rice, few critics have suggested the names of any appropriately qualified women for State — or for that matter, Defense or Treasury.

Kerry and Hagel, both Vietnam vets with Senate experience, are superbly suited for State and Defense. Lew, who has headed the Office of Management and Budget, is on the shortest of lists of Americans qualified to be Treasury Secretary. It is a list that, at the moment, simply has no women.

The New York Times fueled the diversity controversy by running a White House photo on its front page, showing Obama in an Oval Office meeting attended by 10 males and a lone female, key adviser Valerie Jarrett, who was largely hidden from view. But hours later the White House released a photo of another meeting in which most of the staffers were women.

So the focus shifts to what critics like to call “optics.” It doesn’t look good, they argue, to see a photo of the president surrounded by white males; it sends a bad message.

But facts carry more weight than optics. “The person who probably had the most influence on my foreign policy was a woman,” the president reminded reporters, in summing up his first term. “The people who were in charge of moving forward my most important domestic initiative, health care, were women. The person in charge of our Homeland Security was a woman. My two appointments to the Supreme Court were women. And 50 percent of my White House staff were women.”

Women have equal opportunity in the Obama Administration. It’s counterproductive to fuss over optics.

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©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

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Viewing or Gorging? http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/viewing-or-gorging/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/viewing-or-gorging/#comments Wed, 09 Jan 2013 08:10:56 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=622419 I spent the holidays OD’ing on the TV series “Homeland.” This meant viewing all 24 episodes in a three-day period, watching several a second time, digging up print reviews and features I had ignored over the past two years — plus a few more obsessive gambits, such as searching for the Israeli series on which the Showtime hit is based.

homeland Viewing or Gorging? cartoonsThis type of famine or feast approach to media is not new for me, but it’s probably not what the producers have in mind. I do find that more and more people are either fully into things these days, or completely out of them. We have so many entertainment options, yet few of us enjoy sampling; we latch on to something we like at the media buffet and then gorge.

At least “Homeland” references now make sense, most notably the “Saturday Night Live” sketch I went back and watched online. Turns out Bill Hader’s “Saul” and Anne Hathaway’s “Carrie” were among the funniest send-ups SNL has ever done.

What’s that? You’ve never watched “Homeland”? The way I figure it that places you among roughly 300 million Americans.

“Homeland” is a thriller about the CIA’s post-9/11 efforts to wipe out Al Qaeda, featuring almost as many plot twists as, well, the real CIA. It’s one of television’s biggest hits, but unlike, say, “American Idol,” which has been sampled at one time or another by virtually everyone who owns a TV, “Homeland” has been seen by a tiny fraction of the U.S. audience.

Roughly 2 million people watched the second season’s finale a few weeks ago. By comparison, over 30 million tuned in the Cowboys-Redskins game on NBC two weeks later. Still, when it comes to the zeitgeist, “Homeland” is right up there with the NFL.

President Obama told People Magazine that “Homeland” is one of his favorite shows, and the Clintons are also said to be big fans. Last March, the program’s male lead, Damian Lewis, was invited to the White House for a chat with Mr. Obama about where the plot might lead.

I missed the “Homeland” debut in 2011, and found myself trapped. I was afraid to join the series in mid-story, so I managed to avoid it altogether. But this Christmas I received the first season on DVD, and my son Danny and I — who together once watched all 154 episodes of NBC’s “The West Wing,” three times from start to finish, after the series was no longer on the air — polished off the first 12 “Homeland” shows in less than 48 hours.

Locating the second season was tougher. I pre-ordered the DVDs on Amazon.com and then realized I had no idea when they’d be released. I signed up for a one-month trial of Netflix, only to find out it doesn’t offer “Homeland.” Fortunately, there’s an app called Showtime Anytime, which I downloaded to my iPad, and then rushed to the Apple store for a cable that would let me watch iPad video on a full-size TV.

Ah, but it seems Showtime won’t allow that. While the show played perfectly on the iPad, a printed notice on the TV screen said I was out of luck. Still, we watched episodes 13 through 24 on the small device in a day-and-a-half.

That done, I began Googling the Israeli series, “Hatufim,” (Abductees) and learned that it exists on DVD with English subtitles — but to watch it I’d have to buy a machine that accommodates the TV format called PAL, used widely outside the U.S. Instead, I spent $24.99 on Amazon, plus rush shipping, for a movie called “Homeland,” which I discovered has absolutely nothing to do with the TV series. It’s about an Israeli soldier named Kobi who comes to New York, where he meets Leila, and…oh, who cares. I guess I was thrown by reading that the film had won an award, which I later discovered was bestowed by the Delray Beach Film Festival.

Anyway, I rushed into the New Year fully prepped to discuss “Homeland,” only to find that those who have seen it are already talked-out, and the other 300 million couldn’t care less. It seems the buzz has shifted. I hear that two seasons of “Downton Abbey” are available on DVD.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Protecting School Kids http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/protecting-school-kids/ http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/protecting-school-kids/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 13:09:36 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=622166 Jonathan Hornik, the Democratic Mayor of Marlboro Township in New Jersey, is a pragmatist. He favors a ban on the sale of assault weapons. He also wants laws to prohibit ordinary citizens from possessing high-capacity magazines. He’s eagerly anticipating recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden’s task force for additional ways to curb the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

But realizing that these essential steps will take time, Hornik is taking immediate action to protect the 8,000 children in his community by stationing a uniformed police officer in each school until further notice.

The gun issue is one of the most divisive in America. The mere mention of new gun laws incites harsh commentary on both sides, and on Capitol Hill the topic is more radioactive than taxes, the deficit or even war.

However, the issue of school safety goes beyond guns. When it comes to kids, what matters is protecting them while their elders struggle to find better societal solutions for maintaining their safety.

Following the Newtown tragedy, the notion of placing cops in schools was immediately politicized because it was among things advocated by the NRA’s arch leader, Wayne LaPierre. Anything the NRA suggests is immediately challenged by gun opponents — much as any proposal to limit gun ownership is contested by Second Amendment fundamentalists. LaPierre is a lousy spokesman, even for his own cause, and his choice of words — “good guys with guns” — only serves to confuse matters when it comes to stationing police at schools.

Officials like Mayor Hornik are not proposing arming civilians, as the notorious sheriff Joe Arpaio seeks to do in Arizona. They’re talking about stationing uniformed town police officers at schools, just as they are sent to patrol ballparks, malls, airports, etc. Hornik’s rationale is spot on when he says that the cops “will give our students comfort, our town and community comfort, and will have anybody think twice about coming into Marlboro schools.”

Yet those who disagree with this simple logic deliberately distort the issue in their choice of words. For instance, they persist in using the term “armed guards,” even though town police would never be referred to that way in routine performance of their duties. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says having a cop on duty would make schools “armed camps.” How ridiculous. More than 20 percent of the nation’s public schools already have a city or town cop present, and the facilities are no more armed camps than Yankee Stadium is when New York cops patrol during games.

Some say uniformed police would send the wrong message to kids. Why? Youngsters should be taught that cops are their friends — people they must rush to if they ever encounter trouble in public.

Opponents make much of the fact that in 1999 a deputy stationed at Columbine High in Colorado failed to thwart gunmen who killed 12 students. But no form of police protection is perfect. Gunmen got to John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, but that’s certainly no reason to stop providing protection for presidents.

It is often mentioned that hiring cops is expensive, especially for small communities. That’s a matter of local priorities, although I would advocate a federal program to assist municipalities in paying for officers in schools.

“My first choice would be to never have a gun in our schools,” explains Mayor Hornik, “but while the President and the NRA and the Congress debate policy and law, the fact is there are guns out there. How many times do we have to see these kinds of mass shootings before we decide to protect our kids?”

Hornik’s position is not a concession to the NRA, nor should it detract from the critical issue of gun control.

If a public building were to be used to store several hundred gold bars, stationing a cop at the door wouldn’t spark so much as a syllable of debate. Why do we think less of a school containing several hundred precious children?

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2013 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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2013 Precap http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/2013-precap/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/2013-precap/#comments Thu, 27 Dec 2012 17:46:15 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=621873 Should auld acquaintance be forgot? How ’bout the presidential campaign, the 112th Congress and Newsweek magazine? Journalists usually favor year-end recaps of news but as a public service I’m going to focus instead on the glorious months ahead, in this handy precap of 2013:

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Larry Wright / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Wright)

JAN. 1: At a New Year’s breakfast with Congressional leaders, President Obama outlines goals for his second term: creating jobs, reducing the deficit and ending war. House Speaker John Boehner tells reporters, “It sounds like the president is still campaigning.”

JAN. 31: Congressional Republicans introduce legislation to make Jackie Robinson’s birthday a federal holiday.

FEB. 3: Super Bowl XLVII is held in New Orleans and immediately establishes an NFL record for a Roman numeral that fewest fans are able to decipher.

FEB. 8: Hurricane Baby Girl threatens the Florida coast. Meteorologists explain that due to climate change, storms are arriving too prematurely to have proper names.

FEB. 15: Political guru Dick Morris tells Fox News that his analysis of the presidential election is “virtually complete,” and shows that low turnout among Mitt Romney’s family members hurt him in swing states.

MAR. 1: In an effort to help Canada cope with the theft from its maple syrup stockpile, Mexico offers a donation of 6 million pounds from its national guacamole reserves.

MAR. 19: Chris Christie makes a surprise appearance at the annual Cow Bell Concert in Sioux City, Iowa, declaring, “We must put politics aside.” Christie also denies a TMZ report that his fleece jackets contain wool from Chinese yaks.

APR. 4: On the heels of her break up with Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez announces she is engaged to Ryan Reynolds, freshly divorced from Blake Lively.

APR. 11: Making good on his election night pledge to work with Mitt Romney, President Obama names Romney U.S. ambassador to the Cayman Islands.

MAY 5: Congressional Republicans introduce legislation to make Cinco de Mayo an official U.S. holiday.

MAY 18: HBO begins production on its adaptation of the book “All In.” The film stars Kristen Wiig as Paula Broadwell, Ben Affleck as Gen. David Petraeous, Lindsay Lohan as Jill Kelley, and Jim Carrey as the Internet Guy.

JUNE 4: Eager buyers line up at 4 a.m. to purchase the new iPad Maxi. The device measures 2.5 x 4.8 ft., and has fold-down wheels for easy transport.

JULY 9: The Postal Service issues a $15 billion stamp. According to a USPS release, “Projections show that if we sell just one of these stamps per year, we’re home free.”

JULY 20: The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that Bill and Hillary Clinton have signed a four-year lease on a farmhouse with pool and tennis court. Mrs. Clinton is quoted as saying, “Iowa is a delightful place to kick back and enjoy retirement.”

AUG. 1: Noting that the month is sorely lacking in federal holidays, Congressional Republicans propose making the second Monday in August National LGBT Recognition Day.

AUG. 15: Christian Louboutin for Target launches a super-sale, with shoe bargains starting at $650.

SEPT. 10: Continuing its precipitous decline, NBC’s “Today” show is surpassed in morning ratings by PBS’s “Dinosaur Train.”

SEPT. 14: Congressional Republicans vote to establish federal funding for Univision.

OCT. 8: Data from the College Board show a record number of students have applied for the Semester Abroad Program in Gangnam, South Korea.

Oct. 14: Walmart “honors” Thanksgiving Day in Canada by opening U.S. stores at midnight and keeping them open until Nov. 29.

NOV. 2: Dick Morris concedes that his prediction of total runs scored in the World Series was off by 23. Morris tells the N.Y. Post, “I had no idea there were so many Latino players.”

NOV. 28: The nation celebrates Thanksgiving unusually late in the month, causing the National Retailers Association to propose that Christmas be delayed by one week.

DEC. 3: Americans line up for the first Plumbing Repair Tuesday, with great “Drain-Buster Deals.”

DEC. 4: Americans flock to Win-it-Back Wednesday, featuring a 25 percent bonus at the nation’s casinos for those tapped out after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Plumbing Repair Tuesday.

DEC. 31: At a New Year’s Eve tea with Republican leaders, President Obama toasts “good health and prosperity in 2014.” John Boehner says he is willing to poll his members, but can’t, “in good conscience,” make any promises.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Hair Today http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/hair-today-2/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/hair-today-2/#comments Wed, 26 Dec 2012 08:05:00 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=621839 Sure, Paul McCartney can still sing at age 70, but have you taken a good look at his hair? During the concert to benefit victims of Sandy, and a few nights later on “Saturday Night Live,” McCartney’s locks were positively mesmerizing.

Madison Square Garden’s gentle breezes made Sir Paul look like he and his hair were at a photo shoot for “Vogue.” As a BBF (balding Beatles fan), I was torn between adoration and raging jealousy.

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Petar Pismestrovic / Austria (click to view more cartoons by Pismestrovic)

Most of us who attended the 1965 Shea Stadium concert are now gray and lucky to have any hair at all. Paul’s mop, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have changed a bit.

And what about Mick Jagger? He bounded across the stage with his shoulder length hair looking thick and lustrous (a terrific hair word, but only for those who have plenty of it). Of course, Jagger’s just 69.

I’ve seen famous folks with bad hairpieces, obvious dye jobs, and telltale transplants. But if Paul and Mick have had work done, it’s mighty hard to tell. This is where the jealousy comes in. Many of us would take a second mortgage on our homes if we thought there was a foolproof way to add back realistic-looking hair.

As soon as the concert ended I Googled. Sure enough, the ever-vigilant British tabloids had more versions of the story than Alan Brady had toupees on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.”

A headline last year in the Daily Mail asked, “Had a little Help! Sir Paul?” The report said McCartney had been “sporting a much thicker hairdo of late, reminiscent of his luscious lock worn while in The Beatles.” A spokesman for Paul told the paper that speculation about hair weaves was “total rubbish” (a fine British term for things that are false or, on the other hand, might be true).

The Daily Mirror dug deep into the follicles of British scalp trends under the headline, “The bald truth behind celebrity hair transplants.” Seems quite a few Brits invest in dramatic and expensive hair jobs. But the Mirror had no dirt on the state of McCartney’s or Jagger’s heads.

There was, however, a detailed analysis of Jagger’s health habits in the Daily Mail, disclosing that Sir Mick is particularly fond of La Prairie’s caviar skin cream from Switzerland, and the miraculous Creme de la Mer, which sells for $1,900 per pot (a proper British term for a 16.5-ounce jar).

Jagger’s regime is also said to involve “lashings of hair dye” by an in-home technician, the result of Mick’s “having exhaustively researched hair colouring and its application.”

Well, now we’re getting somewhere. At least there’s evidence — if that’s what you call the work of a British tabloid — that Jagger’s getting some help up top. Both he and Paul seem to have auburn highlights that really must come from a bottle or pot.

Paul’s voice is thinning with age, while his hair remains frozen in time. Wouldn’t it be nice if science could flip that around?

By the end of the Sandy concert I decided I was more of a Billy Joel fan than I had realized. Joel, a mere 63, has gained a few pounds and lost most of his hair — and what remains on his dome is appropriately gray. He also refrains from bouncing around the stage (leaving us to wonder if he even can). He’s a real New Yorker, a survivor in the manner of Billy Crystal and Matt Lauer, who also make do with pretty much whatever hair they have at the moment.

Oh, who am I kidding? These three guys probably look at Paul and double over in envy. (I’m sure they’d prefer to comb over in envy, if they had enough hair to do it.)

——

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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Language Resolutions http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/language-resolutions/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/language-resolutions/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2012 08:10:37 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=621500 Here’s hoping there’s no new black in 2013. Gray worked as the new black for a while. And, sure, November’s big Latino vote meant brown was the new black, but, really, making anything else the new black in the New Year would be, you know, so 2012.

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Arcadio Esquivel / PoliticalCartoons.com

I’m wishin’ that in ’13 broadcasters will stop droppin’ their g’s. Linda Cohn of ESPN, I’m talkin’ to you! No more goin’ to the hoop and scorin’.

Politicians should resolve to never again say, “The American people want…” Are they claiming that every single American contacted them personally with a detailed explanation of his vote? Really? (And, Seth Meyers of SNL, thanks, but we’re done with really.)

MSNBC folks, it’s OK for the president, but the rest of us should quit sayin’ “folks.” More pressing: stop adding “sort of” to each sentence. That affect is spreading among progressives — especially on your show, Melissa Harris-Perry! — sort of every 30 seconds.

Mr. Blitzer, you and the others at CNN have to stop crying wolf — or, as you refer to it, “Breaking News!”

Now, Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel, you’ve fallen into a habit of starting sentences with “Now…” Check the tape.

Bob Shieffer of CBS, let me ask you this question. Why do you begin questions on “Face the Nation” by saying, “Let me ask you this question”?

Radio traffic reporters: Why the right-hand lane and the left-hand lane? There’s no “hand” involved. Also, ask your perky colleague who does the weather to stop saying, “There’s rain for your Thursday, but it should dry out on your Friday.” Saying “your” doesn’t make weather more personal.

Attention hosts on QVC and HSN, we get it: you have your own way of saying just about everything. But must you always refer to prices as “price points”? Why is a color a “coloration” and fabric a “fabrication”? Also, is it really necessary to hype sales by warning, “When they’re gone they’re gone”?

In the real fashion world, phrases change as fast as styles, so in ’13 terms like manthropology and Gangnam style will be, you know, so Kelvin.

Diane Sawyer of ABC, nice try, but “As we come on the air tonight” just isn’t up there with “And that’s the way it is.”

TV reporters, as you write your makeshift scripts in the New Year, please refrain from using the term makeshift.

Jon Stewart, your “Daily Show” is the funniest thing on TV. Time to drop the faux bleeps and the overworked f-bombs.

Basketball announcers, how did “score” become “score the basketball”? Baseball announcers, why is it that all of a sudden every pitcher is concerned about “arm slot”? Football announcers, just because Jon Gruden says “down and distance” when he means just one or the other, don’t rush to copy him, and just because Chris Berman favors “come on, man” doesn’t mean you have to obsess over it.

Ambassador Susan Rice: Sorry, but you now own the term “talking points.” Throw the phrase off the linguistic cliff.

Right after Election Day we began cleansing words like Romnesia, Obamalarky, and Romney Hood from the lexicon. However, Mister President, in your second term please gin up a new expression to replace “gin up.”

Some annoying catch phrases take years to trickle down. So, at the end of the day in 2012, only guests on Sunday talk shows are left saying “at the end of the day.” They should throw the phrase under the bus. Or, kick that can down the road.

Bottom line (although we’re probably finished calling it that): say what’s on your mind in 2013, but please, don’t tell us there’s no there there.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and may be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com (800) 696-7561.

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False Alarms http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/false-alarms/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/false-alarms/#comments Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:19:31 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=621214 When tragic deaths occur under intense media scrutiny, there is often a reflexive grasp at greater meaning. But our pent-up desire to address serious, overarching problems, sometimes leads to a flood of misdirected emotion and protest.

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Bill Day / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Day)

Two recent incidents underscore the problem. The first involved the Kansas City football player Jovan Belcher, who shot and killed his girlfriend before taking his own life. The second concerned Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who committed suicide just days after she was victimized by a prank in which radio D.J.’s pretended to be Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles in a call to a London hospital where Saldanha worked.

Belcher’s murder-suicide led to outcry for tighter gun controls; Saldanha’s death prompted rage over vicious pranking by radio and TV programs. Both issues are serious — the former far more than the latter — and in need of attention. However, these particular stories are false examples of true problems, and attempts to make them into something they are not only distracts from the larger issues.

The Kansas City incident prompted immediate discussion about guns and how they should be controlled, as almost always happens in high-profile cases where a firearm is involved. This time, the debate grew fierce after NBC’s Bob Costas delivered a commentary during a national football telecast in which he condemned the “gun culture” in America. He quoted at length from a commentary by Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, including the assertion that, “If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and (girlfriend) Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

Costas has a point about the gun culture, especially among NFL players. But he and Whitlock are off base in maintaining that the two deaths would not necessarily have occurred if Belcher didn’t own a gun. The following day, Costas called for better screening of gun buyers, and limitations on sale of automatic weapons — both entirely reasonable — but, again, not relevant in this case. Belcher used a handgun, and no amount of background checking would have stopped him from buying it.

300 250 house ad False Alarms cartoonsThe unintended consequence of gun commentaries by Costas and others was that they actually provided ammunition, if you will, for the gun lobby. By seeming to challenge the Second Amendment, although he never mentioned it, Costas made it easy for gun advocates to, if you will again, fire back.

The nurse’s death in London prompted an even greater storm of protest, aimed at two radio hosts in Australia who conducted the telephone prank. Their action was described in Tweets and blogs in vile terms along with demands that they be fired. “There’s blood on your hands,” declared one anonymous Tweet that ABC News decided was worth repeating worldwide.

Telephone pranks, whether by middle-level radio D.J.’s or giggle-happy teens, are passé. The radio station in Sydney where the gag originated even took the prudent step of reviewing the audio file with attorneys before it was broadcast.

What distraught observers of this sad event should really be focused on are the truly vulgar, sometimes dangerous, pranks conducted around the world and transmitted virally on YouTube. A recent clip from Brazil, for example, in which passengers in an elevator are scared out of their wits by the appearance of a ghostly figure who enters through a secret passage, is the type of irresponsible “gag” that is truly deserving of public outcry.

But to use the London tragedy as the basis for protesting media pranks is to miss the point and deflects attention from the real problem of shock-video.

In his NBC commentary, Bob Costas actually had it right when he said we seem to need tragedies to gain perspective. He might have added that we must also keep tragedies in perspective, and not misappropriate them for the convenience of trying to make unrelated arguments.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Biased About Bias http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/biased-about-bias/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/12/biased-about-bias/#comments Thu, 06 Dec 2012 17:58:20 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=620925 Mainstream media, or “lame stream” as Sarah Palin prefers it, came under increased attack during the presidential campaign, mostly among conservatives who railed against a perceived liberal tilt.

“It goes without saying that there is definitely media bias,” said Paul Ryan on the stump, claiming that most people in media “want a left-of-center president.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly surmised that liberal bias in media gave President Obama a 3 or 4 percentage point boost, enough to have determined the outcome.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

But what are today’s mainstream media? The most popular news channel is Fox News; the most powerful radio talk hosts are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and among the Internet’s loudest information voices is The Drudge Report — all severely conservative. In terms of audience and influence, these outlets are about as mainstream as it gets.

Newspapers are certainly in the mainstream, but they’ve always been divided politically, starting with two of the nation’s biggest dailies, the conservative Wall Street Journal and the liberal New York Times. In the recent election, the nation’s 100 largest papers split almost evenly in endorsements for Obama and Romney. Romney even won more swing state newspaper endorsements, 24 to 15, according to analysis by the Poynter organization.

It seems reasonable to assume that any paper that endorsed Romney was not likely to be simultaneously biased in favor of Obama. Yet, that is what some conservatives seem to be suggesting.

Then there are legacy broadcast networks — specifically the news departments of CBS, NBC and ABC, and their principal TV news anchors. Diane Sawyer of ABC once worked for Richard Nixon; neither Brian Williams of NBC nor Scott Pelley of CBS has ever dabbled in government or politics. In my view, having worked for two of these companies, network news personnel actually bend over backwards — at times too far — trying to avoid even a hint of bias. And having written for the nation’s three largest papers, I conclude that most bias is confined to the opinion pages, where it belongs.

However, the media landscape is changing in ways that do, indeed, involve bias. It’s the overt posturing of Fox News Channel on the right, MSNBC on the left, and dozens of opinion-based Internet sites serving both sides. What these outlets share is an obsessive desire to protest each other’s slanted reporting.

Republicans tend to distrust media more than Democrats. According to Pew polling, Republican respondents gave only two news sources high credibility ratings: Fox News, and local TV news. Democrats gave high marks to a much longer list of broadcasters and newspapers.

Conservatives also tend to complain about a different sort of alleged bias: the failure of large media outlets to fully investigate and expose malfeasance by elected officials, specifically Democrats. Pundits on the right believe, for instance, that media should have acted more aggressively to root out details of the Obama administration’s handling of the embassy attack in Benghazi.

The fact is media don’t do as much digging as they should. But the primary cause is cost-cutting that has led to closed bureaus, shrunken reporting staffs and reduced budgets for investigative units. This is a serious problem, affecting all consumers of news, but it’s not a matter of journalistic bias.

When it comes to actual bias, there’s significantly more of it in new media than in legacy media. Meanwhile, the mainstream is gradually becoming a collection of smaller streams — the most influential of which are divided politically, and even lean toward the conservative side. It’s ironic that protesting by conservatives over media bias is growing in direct proportion to the emerging power of those on the right to shape media content.

Bias is inherent in all media to some degree. But in this day and age, to say it exists on one side more than the other is the most biased view of all.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Lindsey Stoned and Pilloried http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/lindsey-stoned-and-pilloried/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/lindsey-stoned-and-pilloried/#comments Tue, 27 Nov 2012 15:19:59 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=620433 During a trip to Washington, D.C., last month, Lindsey Stone posed for a snapshot while making crude gestures. She posted it on Facebook, and soon her life turned upside down.

The incident — and to even call it that is part of the story — serves to underscore the power of social media. Moreover, it exposes the extent to which mainstream media have become obsessed with whatever is echoing online.

lindsey stone censored Lindsey Stoned and Pilloried cartoons

Lindsey Stone was fired from her job after posting this photo on her Facebook Page. (click for uncensored version)

Stone, 30, and a co-worker visited Arlington National Cemetery, where they noticed a small sign near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier advising “Silence and Respect.” As Stone had done earlier on the trip when she posed with a cigarette in front of a No Smoking sign, she mocked the cemetery advisory by opening her mouth as if yelling and raised her middle finger to convey disrespect. The behavior was juvenile, and posting the photo on Facebook was offensive, but what happened next was unexpected.

Protests about the snapshot erupted online, followed by a Facebook page devoted to getting Stone fired from her job at an assisted living facility in Massachusetts. Her employer responded by suspending Stone and her friend without pay. The Internet went into overdrive. Finally, WRC-TV in Washington reported the story, after which NBC’s “Today” show devoted an entire segment to vilifying the two women.

Immediately following the network report the “Fire Lindsey Stone” site tripled its “likes.” Hours later, Stone’s boss made her dismissal permanent, despite her apology about the photo.

Stone wrote on Facebook that she “meant no disrespect to people that serve or have served our country,” explaining that she was “challenging authority in general.”

Perhaps she’s naive as well as impudent. But even in an era marked by intemperate social and political debate, the content on the “Fire Lindsey Stone” website is chilling. In addition to calling the woman every vile name possible, posters had published her phone number and address, along with those of her employer.

300 250 house ad Lindsey Stoned and Pilloried cartoonsNBC’s decision to run the story, especially the way it did, is even more troubling — the media equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire. “It’s sad,” “it’s horrible,” “what’s happening to this world?” said the three anonymous people “Today” chose to broadcast. They weren’t talking about the Internet or media; they were referring to Stone’s offending photo. There was also the VFW member “Today” found in Hyannis, Mass., offering the comment, “Pretty disrespectful and stupid.”

NBC’s Natalie Morales concluded her report by predicting, “I think she’s not going to be having a job after this.” Is Morales siding with the Facebook mob that believes Stone deserved to be fired? The four “Today” hosts discussing the story seemed only to be concerned with the photo, not the violation of the woman’s right to free speech, or the slander being heaped upon her online.

“Today” and its network counterparts report daily on what’s “trending” in social media. Cable channels, too, are quick to run photos from Twitter — such as those during Hurricane Sandy — without checking their authenticity. These channels also run Tweets and Internet postings at the bottom of the screen, without knowledge of who the sender might be.

The result of all this is that mainstream media are gradually becoming tools of social media.

Lindsey Stone shouldn’t have lost her job. Nor should she be subjected to the barrage of hate that has erupted over her warped idea of what’s funny, and her misguided decision to post a photo of it online.

For their part, “Today” and other mass media must reassess the difference between shedding light and lighting a fire.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Poll Withdrawal http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/poll-withdrawal/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/poll-withdrawal/#comments Wed, 21 Nov 2012 16:06:24 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=620218 Ninety-one percent of Americans are suffering in the post-election period without a daily polling fix, according to projections based upon my computer analysis of a nonexistent Gallup poll.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more cartoons by Fitzsimmons)

Other key findings in the average of all polls not conducted: 92 percent of college-educated adults hate polls, but spent an average of 43 minutes per day during the presidential campaign reading poll results and sharing them via social networks. The figure is almost two points higher among unemployed, gay, female Latinos in swing states.

Roughly two-thirds of all Americans say they no longer rely on individual polls, preferring instead the analysis by aggregators like Nate Silver of The New York Times and Dick Morris of the planet Zebulan. Of that group, half say they don’t read the aggregators work directly, but rely on aggregated summaries of the aggregators’ findings on websites such as The Huffington Post, or LiberalsareScum.com.

In a yet-to-be posted blog, Mr. Silver projects that if the 2016 election were held today, polling companies would lose 98 percent of total revenue that they expect to collect from news organizations and political parties during the next four years.

How desperate are we for polling data? In an actual poll taken just before the election — and I apologize for mixing fact with fiction, although it seems routine among many pollsters — the Des Moines Register asked Iowans, “Why do you go to Dunkin’ Donuts?” A solid 22 percent said they go for the doughnuts, but a staggering 45 percent said they don’t go to Dunkin’ Donuts at all.

My analysis of this data reveals an unmistakable shift in America — from that of a predominantly white, middle class population, to a nation of stat-starved poll lovers.

Immediately following the election, pollsters scurried to fill the polling void by conducting surveys on the most obscure questions. Gallup issued this actual news release: “Americans spend less time doing what they do best on Sundays compared with other days of the week — averaging 6.7 hours compared to 7 hours on most days.” In a startling revelation, Gallup’s crack analysts determined that “Americans use their strengths the most on Thursdays.”

Full disclosures: Gallup says the margin of error in its poll of the days on which Americans “do best” is 1.2 percent, although no one seems to know what that means. Also, Nate Silver found that Gallup’s projections in the recent election were the worst among two-dozen polling organizations he evaluated.

In another actual piece of landmark pulse taking, Bill O’Reilly polled his viewers on Fox News Channel on the question of whether his program had been “fair” in covering the election. A stunning 80 percent of O’Reilly’s own audience said the coverage was, indeed, fair. The remaining 20 percent should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking that O’Reilly’s program contains some sort of political bias.

My own poll, conducted by e-mail between Nov. 6 and 8 among 14 self-described independents, with a sampling error of plus or minus 14, shows that 91 percent of Americans are suffering during their withdrawal from political polls, while another 91 percent say they couldn’t care less that polling has subsided following the election.

Asked to explain this apparent contradiction, Dick Morris would undoubtedly say, “We experts refer to this as being ‘six of one and half a dozen of another.’ It’s why Americans don’t care if polls are right are wrong — they just love getting the data. Trust me.”

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Americans Deserve Answers http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/americans-deserve-answers/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/americans-deserve-answers/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 13:14:59 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=619945 For some reason — be it post-election syndrome, pre-holiday jitters, or maybe climate change — the nation has been hit by a tsunami of Pressing Questions. Among them:

Q: What is the fiscal cliff?

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

A: The actual cliff is about 45 miles north of Phoenix, Ariz. It got its name during the 2008 campaign when Sen. John McCain held a photo-op at the site, threatening to throw one Democrat off the cliff each day until there was a satisfactory resolution of the fiscal crisis.

Q: What is the fiscal crisis?

A: In human terms, it’s when someone doesn’t have enough money in his checking account to pay his Visa bill. In political terms, it’s when one party doesn’t have enough votes in Congress to pay its debt to wealthy supporters.

Q: What, exactly, did the American people say on Nov. 6?

A: That depends on whom you ask. According to House Speaker John Boehner, the American people said they want Republicans to block all efforts to raise taxes on the rich. On the other hand, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the American people said Democrats should block all efforts by Republicans to block all efforts by Democrats to have the rich pay more.

Q: Isn’t that pretty much where we were on Nov. 5?

A: Yes.

Q: Who is Paula Broadwell?

A: Ms. Broadwell is the well-known author of “All In,” detailing the life of Gen. David Petraeus, as well as the forthcoming book “Stars, Stripes and Shagging Forever.”

Q: Who is Jill Kelley?

A: Ms. Kelley is a Florida socialite best known for setting the Guinness World Record for most e-mailing in a 24-hour period. She is also described in classified military documents as the chief architect of plans to establish a permanent residual force of Americans at the Playboy Club in Kabul.

Q: Then, who is Susan Rice?

A: Ambassador Rice is the nation’s U.N. representative, and also the Guinness Record holder for most talk show appearances in a single day. She is widely assumed to be the frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, but is said by sources to oppose State’s strict pants-suit policy.

Q: How did Latinos manage to play such a pivotal role in the election?

A: Primarily by having the savvy to organize a huge absentee vote among those who had self-deported.

Q: Why were Republican pollsters so far off in predicting the results?

A: Noted GOP gurus Karl Rove and Dick Morris relied on math textbooks discarded by the No Child Left Behind program during the Bush Administration.

Q: When will presidential candidates emerge for 2016?

A: That depends on their time zone. For example, Hillary Clinton was in Washington on Nov. 7, so she emerged at 12:15 a.m. Eastern Time. However, because Mike Huckabee was in Arkansas he was able to emerge at 11:18 Central Time, giving him almost a full hour jump on Mrs. Clinton, which could prove to be significant as the campaign unfolds.

Q: I’m still confused about the fiscal cliff.

A: You’re not alone. Many people now believe that the fiscal cliff is an invention of Fox News to destroy any chance Democrats had to savor their victory on Election Day. However, Fox News claims that Democrats are exaggerating the fiscal cliff’s danger to divert attention from more pressing matters, such as: what did President Obama know about Susan Rice, Gen. Petraeus, Ms. Broadwell, Gen. Allen, Ms. Kelley, Hurricane Sandy, and Jennifer Anniston’s wedding plans — and when did he know it?

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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It’s You http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/its-you/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/its-you/#comments Fri, 09 Nov 2012 13:50:34 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=619612 Conservatives can be forgiven for seeking to rationalize Mitt Romney’s loss — “media were against him,” “the primaries dragged on too long,” “Paul Ryan was a poor choice,” “Seamus ate his master’s homework,” whatever. But progressives should bite their tongues.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Late on election night Chris Matthews of MSNBC blurted out that he was “glad we had that storm last week,” implying that Hurricane Sandy was partly responsible for Pres. Obama’s win. He apologized profusely the next day. Meanwhile, his network and its competitors are spending much of their post-election time focusing on the science of campaigning, as if Tuesday’s vote occurred in some exotic computer lab.

Liberal pundits are gushing over the “Chicago team” that crunched numbers, targeted voters in the right places, and engineered a carefully calculated win. On Fox, Bill O’Reilly stated flatly that if Obama’s guru David Axelrod had been running Romney’s campaign, the Republican would have won.

Both sides make the election sound like a game in which the American people are chess pieces — mostly pawns.

The science of campaigning is growing exponentially, there’s no doubt about that. Howard Dean is often cited as the first major candidate to harness the Internet for his 2004 presidential bid, building what came to be known as a Netroots campaign and using the Internet to spread messages, raise money, and track voters. Obama’s 2008 campaign took it further and, for the 2012 race — with more time, money and tools — the president’s staff ran the most sophisticated campaign in history.

Of course, it was also the most expensive, with over $2 billion spent by the two parties and their backers. In Iowa, for example, it’s estimated that the final price of each Electoral vote was $12.3 million.

But money couldn’t buy this election any more than computer science was able to engineer it. Karl Rove’s super PAC spent over $100 million on television ads, and came away with what the Sunlight Foundation computes was about a 1 percent return on investment.

Despite the spending and demographic targeting, this election may have been one of the most democratic ever. It was, from the start, about issues. It was about the clear philosophical differences regarding how government should work, and a majority of voters indicated they share the president’s views.

But even in conceding that much, some conservatives point out how this philosophy divides demographically, and all of a sudden we’re back on the chessboard. The suggestion is that demographic groups — blacks, Latinos, young women — who voted heavily for the president, simply weren’t “targeted” properly. That if they had somehow gotten the message, things would have turned out differently.

They got the message. And no amount of advertising, spinning or even intimidating could change it.

There’s an even more sinister angle at work here, grabbing space on conservative blogs and being whispered about on cable-TV. It seems to hint that the coalition of minorities that backed Obama is somehow less American, less deserving of an equal say. “The moochers re-elected Obama,” is how one blogger put it.

Rush Limbaugh, bombastic mouthpiece for the far right, acknowledged the situation. “If we’re not getting the female vote,” he asked his radio listeners, “do we become pro-choice? Do we start passing out birth control pills? Is that what we have to do?”

The best thing that can be said about Limbaugh and his followers is that they are not willing to compromise their beliefs. Voters recognized that in rejecting not only the top of the GOP ticket but also many extremists down below.

Thus, with due respect to Karl Rove’s checkbook and David Axelrod’s computer, it seems Americans can be manipulated only so far. If the puppeteers on either side hope that voters will pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, they overlook the fact that the real force behind the voting booth curtain is you.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561 

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Our Status is Quo http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/our-status-is-quo/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/our-status-is-quo/#comments Thu, 08 Nov 2012 08:20:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=619535 Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were more gracious and eloquent after the election than during the long campaign. They each sent the right signals Tuesday night, but will anything change?

The real news of the ’12 election is that the nation is more sharply divided than ever.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

“At a time like this,” Romney told his Boston audience, “we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing.” He said things in America are at a “critical point,” and he appealed to citizens as well as politicians to “rise to the occasion.”

For once, it didn’t sound like political-speak. It was the conclusion of a man who loves his country and had just lost an election despite winning the male vote, the white vote, the married vote, and the vote of people over age 45.

In Chicago, President Obama told an enthusiastic crowd, “What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.” Obama won a remarkable 93 percent of the black vote, plus over 70 percent of the Hispanic and Asian vote. He won among females, unmarried people, and those earning less than $50,000 a year.

In truth, Obama and Romney were each victorious — among the distinctly different segments of our population for which each party’s platform was designed. Voters, for the most part, were over-informed. Rich folks knew that Obama wanted to raise their taxes; poor people knew that Romney hoped to cut their government assistance. And so forth and so on, through a long and contentious list of issues from reproductive rights, to gay rights; from energy to environment.

Perhaps the clearest sign of how sharply divided the nation is on economic and social issues is that war — usually a flashpoint in presidential elections, especially when we’re in the middle of one — seemed to matter very little. Indeed, the candidates were hard pressed in their final debate on foreign affairs to find points on which they disagreed.

“The recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock,” the president said, “or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.”

Hours later there was a slight hint at progress, as House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans are now willing to “accept new revenue” as a means to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine who is stepping down, cautions, “Our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets.” Alas, Snowe believes things won’t change in the foreseeable future.

The nation entered the 2012 election with only a handful of “battleground” states not clearly defined as red or blue. Based on Tuesday’s results there will be even fewer such battlegrounds in the years ahead.

The encouraging news for Democrats is that the population continues to expand in their direction. The frustration for Republicans is that no amount of campaign spending or sophisticated marketing will change people’s minds about certain core beliefs. Thus, the GOP can’t broaden its base without fundamentally altering some of its positions.

When all was said and done, the nation decided to pretty much leave things exactly where they’ve been.

To borrow an old cliche from the legal profession, President Obama seems to have won the equivalent of a pie-eating contest, in which the prize is more pie.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561 

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Man for the Moment http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/man-for-the-moment/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/11/man-for-the-moment/#comments Sun, 04 Nov 2012 15:31:26 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=619168 Most of us have known for months how we will mark our ballots Tuesday, making the painfully long and obscenely expensive presidential campaign little more than a test of our patience. I’m voting for Barack Obama.

But if you’re a voter who struggled and waited until now to make up your mind, here’s what you learned in just the final days of the 2012 campaign.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

You learned that the nation added 171,000 jobs last month, many of them in areas such as construction that are significant to overall improvement in the economy. It’s the 25th straight month of job gains under President Obama, and a sure sign that recovery is slowly but steadily underway.

You were reminded that when a disaster like Hurricane Sandy strikes, millions of Americans depend on a swift response from the federal government. In a debate over a year ago — yes, the campaign has dragged on that long — Mitt Romney said that FEMA’s disaster relief responsibilities should be turned over to the states and, “even better,” the private sector. It didn’t seem too important when Romney said it in 2011, but it became profound when Sandy hit. In the last week you saw again that candidate Romney is willing to change positions to fit the moment, now saying “FEMA plays a key role.”

You heard New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg declare that he is voting for President Obama — an endorsement that the Romney campaign had hoped to secure. Bloomberg said Sandy was the tipping point for him, because elected officials must acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change. But he also cited women’s rights and same-sex marriage rights as keys to his vote for Obama.

You saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch Romney supporter, praise the president for his efforts during the storm. Moreover, Christie and Obama provided a clear example of how elected officials can dismiss partisan politics when conditions demand that they find ways to work together.

You listened as one of the nation’s most respected Republicans, Gen. Colin Powell, carefully outlined why he is voting for President Obama. Powell said he has seen “the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars.” He added, “I think the actions he’s taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very solid. And so I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.”

Significantly, Powell said he still considers himself a Republican, but believes that moderate Republicans are becoming a “dying breed, I’m sorry to say.”

If you live in Ohio, perhaps the hottest of the battleground states where Tuesday’s election will be decided, two key editorials caught your attention. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: “Ohio in particular has benefited from (Obama’s) bold decision to revive the domestic auto industry. Because of his determination to fulfill a decades-old dream of Democrats, 30 million more Americans will soon have health insurance.”

And you read in the Akron Beacon Journal: “What is telling about a presidency is its tilt, its direction, spirit and priorities. Thus, to those who argue the president lacks a plan for a second term: Look at the foundation that has been set. He has used the levers of government to bolster the economy, investing in education, innovation and health care, understanding the essential role of the public sector in competitiveness.”

By next Wednesday it’s likely that some pundits and politicians will begin talking about candidates for 2016, and the 24/7 process of picking a president will start all over again. But if you spend only a week or so every four years studying the matter, the last few days provided all you need to make a responsible decision.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561 

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Political Reality TV http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/political-reality-tv/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/political-reality-tv/#comments Fri, 19 Oct 2012 11:48:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=617885 Tuesday’s “town hall” debate roused the passion of both Democrats and Republicans, because it combined two entertainment forms that most Americans understand and enjoy far more than politics: sports and reality TV.

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Jeff Parker / Florida Today (click to view more cartoons by Parker)

The N.Y. Post headline, “Mitt, Bam go blow to blow,” was indistinguishable from how the tabloid would cover a boxing match. On Fox News Channel, the conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer said it was enjoyable because the candidates looked like gladiators in a ring, swinging away at each other. In The Washington Post, liberal columnist Eugene Robinson said Obama “punched hard.”

And those “real people” asking the questions? They were chosen, choreographed and rehearsed with the same degree of faux reality that you get on a show like “Survivor.”

The pool of 82 citizens selected by the Gallup Organization was not really typical of anything other than what organizers believed would make the best television show. These weren’t average folks, after all, they were self-defined “undecideds,” who actually comprise a tiny percentage of voters. Eleven of them made it on air, having been hand picked by the moderator, Candy Crowley, in a delicate balancing act of male and female, young and old — with care taken to include one African American and one Latino.

Crowley, by the way, did an excellent job. But those asking the questions were merely theatrical props. Not only were they coached by Crowley before the event, their microphones were cut immediately after they asked their questions, to guarantee they could neither comment further nor attempt to follow up.

The thing about today’s reality TV is that the stakes are too high to let it be completely real. Stage-crafted the way it was Tuesday, it was great television, and over 65 million people tuned in. Viewers have repeatedly said in surveys that they favor the town hall format, even though most journalists have criticized it over the years.

This time around, even news people softened a bit and praised the show. But what were they really praising? The realness? Or the fact that Crowley and the Commission on Presidential Debates did all they could to suck most of the reality out of it?

With tens of thousands of questions submitted online, and more than a hundred turned in by the folks on stage, Crowley was able to guide the event exactly as she felt was journalistically appropriate and could plug in pretty much any question she wanted. There weren’t going to be slips like in 2004 when the first question of the night, unfiltered, challenged Sen. John Kerry to explain why he seemed “wishy-washy.” Reality works best on television when it’s not too real.

Sticking with sports jargon, many are calling Monday night’s final debate a “tie-breaker.” Romney won round one, Obama won round two, and in Boca Raton, Fla., they’ll compete for the title.

Monday’s finale will focus on foreign affairs, with CBS veteran Bob Schieffer, 75, as moderator. How will Schieffer play it? Will he be like the slick-fielding Crowley? Will he use an aggressive game plan like eager rookie Martha Raddatz employed in the vice presidential debate? Or, will Schieffer play it safe the way Jim Lehrer did in round one — making Lehrer seem more like a replacement ref?

And what about those town hall questioners? Will any of them write a book or turn up on “Today” or “Good Morning, America”?

The only thing certain in American sports, reality TV and politics is that the losers often insist that the game was rigged.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561 

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Rocky Mountain Low http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/rocky-mountain-low/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/rocky-mountain-low/#comments Thu, 04 Oct 2012 12:55:45 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=616835 Talk about broken election promises.  Four years ago, after moderating his 11th debate, Jim Lehrer, the highly respected PBS veteran, said he would retire.  Wednesday night in Denver he broke that promise, and the result was one of the most poorly moderated presidential debates in U.S. history.

Lehrer, 78, said he decided to take the helm once more after the Commission on Presidential Debates accepted a format he lobbied for: a format with few formal questions, in which the candidates challenge each other.  It doesn’t work.  The candidates don’t care to do it, and the moderator didn’t help.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch (click to view more cartoons by Beeler)

Making matters worse, neither candidate spoke directly to camera.  The audience at the University of Denver may have enjoyed it, but for tens of millions watching on TV, it was awkward and unsettling.  Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney addressed most of their comments to the moderator rather than the home audience, meaning they were often looking off to the side.  Only in his closing remarks did Romney wisely speak directly to viewers at home.

Lehrer supported the idea of cutting the number of questions from nine to six.  Even at that, he was so unable to control the process that there was barely time for the final question.

Worse, Lehrer chose a style of questioning that is both unfair and usually a roadblock for the candidates.  “What are the major differences between the two of you on jobs?” was his first question of the night.  Almost all of the questions that followed asked about the “differences” – on education, on social security, etc.  Candidates should never be asked to define their opponent’s positions, only their own.  It’s up to the moderator to identify the differences, and Lehrer was unable or unwilling to do it.

“Do you have a question for President Obama?” Lehrer asked Romney early on.  It was exactly what Lehrer asked John McCain in ’08.  McCain said, “No.”  Romney didn’t even bother with that; he simply delivered several minutes of talking points.

Lehrer said on a recent PBS broadcast that he favors a free-wheeling format in which the candidates question each other.  They don’t like that, which is why, for example, Romney was never asked about his “47 percent” remark in which he said people who don’t pay federal income tax consider themselves victims, and Obama was never asked about his remark that if he didn’t turn the economy around he’d be a one term president.

The event was such bad television that many Americans, including the prized “undecided voters,” probably gave up and changed the channel.  For those who stuck with it, Romney was the apparent winner – but more on style points than hard facts, most of which were never challenged by the president or the moderator.

The co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., told me two weeks ago that his group relied on Lehrer and Bob Schiefffer, 75, as moderators because they were impartial journalists who could be counted upon to interrupt when necessary and make the candidates stick to the facts.  The CPD will now have to rethink the process of selecting moderators.

As to the content, much was written before the debate that Romney practiced far more than the president.  It showed, particularly in the closing arguments, as Romney painted a clear picture of how his administration would differ from Obama’s, while the president seemed to be winging it.  That ad-lib style hurt Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention and it hurt Obama in Denver.

Thanks to the hype, many Americans probably tuned in expecting a raft of “zingers” from Mitt Romney.  There were few if any.  Voters might have hoped to see the candidates go after each other.  They really didn’t.  Pundits prepared long lists of possible questions.  None was asked.

There are still two more presidential debates, one on foreign affairs, the other using the so-called “town hall” format in which the questions come from undecided voters, selected by the Gallup Organization.  Frank Fahrenkopf told me, “The public loves town halls, but the media hates them.”

After watching Jim Lehrer in Denver, even media know-it-alls might find themselves looking forward to giving the public a shot.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Formats Muddy Debates http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/new-formats-muddy-debates/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/new-formats-muddy-debates/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2012 14:13:28 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=616493 Substance is the goal in presidential debates, but form sometimes gets in the way. This year, major format changes make the success of the debates as hard to predict as the election itself.

Beginning with the Oct. 3 debate on domestic issues, viewers will find something old — PBS veteran Jim Lehrer, 78, moderating his 12th such event since 1988; plus, something new — a format that Lehrer helped design, resembling a television talk program. The Commission on Presidential Debates believes that the interview-like approach, which will also be used when foreign affairs are discussed Oct. 22 — along with a revised “town hall” approach Oct. 16 — will provide increased insight into the candidates and their positions. That seems, at best, debatable.

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Dave Granlund / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Granlund)

Back in 2008, Mr. Lehrer said the Obama-McCain debate would be his last. But just like politicians who are reluctant to abandon pet projects, he agreed to return this year to pursue his dream of an event in which the candidates ask each other questions and wrangle, like guests on Sunday TV talk shows. When the approach was introduced in a limited way four years ago, both candidates were reluctant to engage. Frustrated, Mr. Lehrer announced, “I’m just determined to get you to talk to each other. At least, I’m going to try.”

This year, he helped persuade the Commission to reduce the number of questions from nine to six, allowing for 15 minutes of discussion on each. The Commission prefers a stage set-up in which the candidates and moderator are seated at a table, talk show style, but as happened in 2008, a last minute request from the Obama campaign may again result in one debate at traditional podiums.

CBS’s Bob Schieffer, 75, is also returning. In ’08, he got off to a strained start with the discussion format when he asked Sen. McCain, “Would you like to ask (Sen. Obama) a question?” McCain said, “No,” and went on to deliver one of his talking points.

So, with much riding on this year’s debates, are the new formats really the best way to go? Are there no qualified moderators other than the two who keep postponing retirement to serve? And isn’t the so-called town hall approach inherently weak because it relinquishes the questioning to undecided voters who may be least qualified for the task?

Most of the CPD’s decisions are rooted in voter research conducted 20 years ago, when it was determined that the public prefers a single moderator and more room for follow-up. Voters also like the town hall approach, which was first tried in 1992 and gradually modified in hopes of avoiding occurrences like in 2004 when the first question of the night from an undecided voter, directed to Sen. John Kerry, was: why do my friends think you’re “wishy-washy?”

Founded in 1987 after the League of Women Voters gave up trying to get the major parties to agree on debate details, the CPD must now deal with shifts in journalism and social media. In selecting the two main moderators, it appears the commission sought television vets who were least likely to care about modern, interpretive journalism — effectively eliminating anyone employed by Fox News Channel or MSNBC, as well as anyone working in print or online.

I asked the commission’s co-chair, Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., a former head of the Republican National Committee, about criteria used to select moderators. “With the new format, we really need two pros,” he said. “We need people with great experience in politics but who don’t have an ego problem and feel they have to make points for themselves.”

Mr. Fahrenkopf said his group “looked hard to find an Hispanic,” without success, and was surprised that there “were not a lot of (qualified) women.” Candy Crowley of CNN was picked to moderate the town hall event.

The town hall approach may appeal to voters conceptually, but placing responsibility in the hands of those who have so far failed to make up their minds is a bit like asking struggling students to write the class curriculum. This year the commission is taking an even riskier approach by cutting the number of question-asking undecideds, picked by the Gallup Organization, to just 20 people, who will sit in what Mr. Fahrenkopf describes as “easy chairs.”

As to the discussion format in the two main debates, he says “podiums feel like walls; the tenor changes when people sit at tables.”  Others might argue that while tables work on Sunday TV, such a set-up is not necessarily what Presidential debates are about.  Late Thursday, the Obama campaign successfully lobbied for podiums in the first debate.

Just before the telecast of the first Obama-McCain debate in ’08, Jim Lehrer told those in the hall, “I’m going to take a deep breath and hold it for 90 minutes.”

This year, until the new formats are proved worthy, the best advice for any voter expecting an epiphany might be, don’t hold your breath.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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App Seeks Your Vote http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/app-seeks-your-vote/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/app-seeks-your-vote/#comments Sat, 15 Sep 2012 14:45:11 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=614421 Eyeing the billion-dollar political market, Apple today unveiled its Campaign Speech app for iPhones. As reporters watched and listened, the app was programmed with the following menu options: Candidate — middle-aged, male, Republican; Office — U.S. Congress; Venue — Ohio; Veracity Level — low. Here is a transcript of the app’s remarks:

Hello, Toledo! Thank you! It’s…it’s great to be back in the state that my mom’s uncle once proudly called home!

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Osama Hajjaj / Jordan (click to view more iPhone 5 cartoons)

I share your concerns, and that’s why I have a 12-point plan.

We need good, decent jobs for good, decent Americans — the hard-working good, decent folks who seek their small slice of the American Dream. It’s the dream my grandfather had when he arrived at Ellis Island, with only the clothes on his back and the passion in his heart.

My grandpa had big hands. He was a produce unpacker: a guy who opened heavy boxes of produce at the grocery store, tossed the rotten pieces on the damp, sticky floor, and carried the boxes to aisles where skilled union workers arranged the fruit and vegetables in tall, artful displays. Grandpa hated unions. He also hated produce and developed rashes on both hands, but you know what? He never once whined about not having health insurance.

He didn’t give up. He didn’t give up because he had a dream that someday his grandson would stand before you with a dream for a brighter America.

My dad ran off when I was just 3. I won’t apologize for him, and I won’t ever apologize for the United States of America!

Mom and I lived with a small troupe of circus performers in a musty trailer. I did my schoolwork at a table fashioned from an old wagon wheel. You could see right through the spokes to the floor of the trailer. And you could see right through holes in the floor to the muddy ground below…and right through a hole in the ground to an area where elephant droppings collected.

Friends, my story is part of the rich history we all share as Americans. It’s what makes us exceptional.

God gave us our exceptionalism, and politicians can’t take it away. But the media…those who’d like to do your thinking for you…they’ll never tell you that.

When I was 24, mom won $3.6 million in the lottery. She was a winner! And America doesn’t need a government that picks winners and losers.

We gave mom’s money to a firm that manages investments for circus employees, and a few weeks later they made me an executive vice president. I learned about business in the real world.

As mom always said, “If you have no particular skill or education, you can still live lavishly in America by controlling other people’s money.”

My fellow Americans, mom never had a safety net. Others, like those who performed on the high wire did, of course, but my mom…toiling in the circus costume shop, where she made bootstraps for the performers who wore boots…she never had a net.

Has America lost her way? Manufacturing jobs are going to China, and good, decent circus positions are being grabbed by immigrants, who may very well be here illegally. I have a plan to change that.

My opponent believes we can tax our way to a better tomorrow…and spend our way to a better day-after tomorrow…and then, the next day, raise taxes and, two days later, spend even more. My plan will put us back on track!

In the words of Ronald Reagan as he quoted Abraham Lincoln many years ago, “The shining light of America’s great promise burns brightest for those who shine brightly from within.”

The time is now! This is our moment! Dare to dream, and never fail to dream a dare!

God bless you! God bless the United States of America! God bless you all! And God bless my lovely wife, Siri.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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We’re In This Together http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/were-in-this-together/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/were-in-this-together/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 15:22:07 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=614087 The Democrats’ convention in Charlotte tackled two key questions for undecided voters. Are we better off than we were four years ago? What can we expect in President Obama’s second term?

Central to both questions is the word “we.”

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Bob Englehart / Hartford Courant (click to view more cartoons by Englehart)

While individuals who have lost jobs or suffered serious personal setbacks are certainly worse off, a reasonable assessment of a president’s record must be based on how we, as a nation, are doing collectively. This is more than semantics; it’s at the heart of what separates today’s Republicans and Democrats.

Mitt Romney favors a “you” approach in which government and its annoying safety net move out of your way. Barack Obama believes in what Bill Clinton referred to Wednesday night as a “we’re-all-in-this-together society.”

So, as a nation, are we better off? Absolutely. On virtually every metric — from jobs to national security; from health to education — things have improved in President Obama’s first term.

Where are we headed? “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” the president explained on Thursday. But the benchmarks are clear: a steady, if sometimes slow, economic recovery; a measured departure from Afghanistan; a gradual phasing-in of the new healthcare policies; reasonable treatment of 11 million undocumented immigrants; continued careful corrections to the education system, and, yes, higher taxes for [ital] all [end ital] Americans on anything they earn above $250,000 a year, no matter who they are.

It takes us, the president stated correctly, to “a better place.”

Even more important, perhaps, is what a second term for President Obama will not allow: risky changes to Medicare; more tax breaks for the super rich; scaling back of reasonable regulations to protect our air and water; new and regressive restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and warmongering in the world’s hot spots.

In Tuesday night’s closing benediction, heard by few outside the hall, Jenna Lee Nardella of Nashville prayed that America could “knit as one country, even as we wrestle over the complexity of how we ought to live and govern.”

Two nights later, Mr. Obama turned to a single word that summed it up: “citizenship.”

Citizenship, he said, is “at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

We’ve had two weeks of over-produced and over-analyzed conventions, designed primarily to woo so-called “undecideds,” who seem intent on evaluating shades of personality differences between two men. These voters struggle mightily to make up their minds, failing to consider that it’s not really about the candidates; it’s about the profoundly different directions in which they would lead the nation.

That’s why Mr. Obama put a new spin on the word “you.” It wasn’t the “you” who cares little for his neighbor and deludes himself into thinking that in these complex times no one needs the services and protections provided by government. It wasn’t the “you” who are asked repeatedly by the president’s critics if they are better off than they were four years ago.

You, the nation, said the president, are the change. You, the people, are the hope.

Over the next two months, others will continue to mock “hope and change.” Americans should take that personally, because it is “we” who are being mocked.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Tampa Tidings http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/tampa-tidings/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/09/tampa-tidings/#comments Sun, 02 Sep 2012 14:48:38 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=613701 The Republican convention raised two key questions for swing voters. Does form trump substance? Is fiction more compelling than fact?

Compressed into three nights, the GOP event was the most carefully staged and artfully executed political gathering in U.S. history. Every touch — from the dynamic lighting that made each speaker look younger and healthier, to the emergence of future conservative stars like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to the glorious singing of BeBe Winans — made for compelling viewing. Free of distractions, such as arguing over nominees or writing a platform, the event was a brilliant execution of the type of marathon marketing presentation that political conventions have become.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Cole)

It’s too bad that more viewers didn’t choose to watch on C-SPAN, where the coverage was uninterrupted and unfiltered. The over-spun and commercial-laden versions on Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN were insufferable.

Seen in its nearly 18-hour entirety, the convention used engaging themes — “We built it,” “We can change it” and “We believe in America” — to anchor each evening. Most of the speakers stayed on point, citing apparent failures of the Obama Administration, reminiscing about the bootstrap-tugging days in their past, and seeking above all to paint a fuller picture of Mitt Romney’s life-long dedication to faith, family and business.

There was plenty of sizzle and very little steak. That’s neither surprising nor unacceptable in light of what conventions have become. But the event was also a test of just how far political operatives can go in the era of modern communications when it comes to falsifying facts and distorting arguments.

For example, both Romney and running mate Paul Ryan were determined to push the notion that the Obama Administration siphoned $716 billion from Medicare to “pay for” Obamacare. That’s seriously misleading; moreover, it fails to mention that it is almost identical to the approach advocated by Ryan himself.

Then, too, Ryan blasted the president for failing to adopt the economic recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission without mentioning that Ryan was a member of the panel, and voted against its findings.

Romney maintained that he had rooted for Obama to succeed in his first term. Yet he never disavowed the strategy by his colleagues, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to do whatever they could from day one to thwart the president’s efforts. Ryan zinged Obama for a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, without so much as acknowledging the role Republican brinksmanship played during the lengthy debt-ceiling debate. And so it went.

But as theater, the GOP convention was a boffo hit. That’s why it was particularly disappointing that the event’s renowned showbiz representative, Clint Eastwood, struck such a sour note. Clint and his family are acquaintances of mine, and I have deep respect for much of what he has achieved in films, business, and his many charitable endeavors.

Clint and I differ in our political views, but so what? He’s entitled to his opinion and he could have been a commanding presence at the GOP convention. Instead, he tried a risky adlib gimmick of “interviewing” an empty chair and the result was uneven, unsettling and, at one point, unacceptably crude.

Overall, however, the Romney campaign is certain to get a boost from this well staged event. Democrats will face a stiff challenge in mounting an equally entertaining convention in Charlotte.

But if the Obama forces skip the Roman columns, resist the temptation to rely heavily on their own roster of Hollywood heavyweights, and remain fair with the facts, they have a solid opportunity to gain the upper hand. While most Americans enjoy a good show, they also know that the urgency of the moment requires more than smoke and mirrors — or, for that matter, empty promises and an empty chair.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

Copyright 2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Decisions, Decisions http://www.cagle.com/2012/08/decisions-decisions-3/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/08/decisions-decisions-3/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2012 07:15:45 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=613397 Our guest today is John J. Smith of Carson City, Nevada, who is certified by the Gallup Organization as an “undecided voter.”

Q: Mr. Smith, what does the “J” stand for?

A: Joan. My parents weren’t sure if they wanted a boy or girl.

Q: Even after you were born?

A: To this day, actually.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

Q: OK. It’s said that you and the other undecideds will ultimately select the next president. What are you doing to prepare?

A: I try to avoid mainstream media because it’s all biased, and I don’t pay attention to the know-it-alls on social networks. I read People magazine each week, and I’m a frequent caller to talk radio programs.

Q: So, what have you learned about Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney?

A: I think they’re both decent, sincere, family men.

Q: What about the important issues on which the candidates disagree?

A: That’s the problem. I don’t feel either man has explained what he’d do if elected. I’m waiting to hear their plans.

Q: Really? They’ve both outlined their plans in speeches and on their websites; there’s very little mystery.

A: They both talk about more jobs, fair taxes, strong defense. It all sounds the same to me.

Q: What about their qualifications?

A: One has a business background, the other has governing experience. It’s a toss-up.

Q: What about 2008? Did you prefer Obama or McCain?

A: I felt they were both decent, sincere, family men. However, neither ever said much about his plans.

Q: So, who did you vote for?

A: Oh, I didn’t vote. That would have jeopardized my status as an undecided voter. Listen, I’ve appeared twice with Frank Luntz on Fox News Channel, and he’s meticulous about being sure that his panel of undecideds doesn’t know anything about the race.

Q: Then what do you hope to achieve this year?

A: My goal is to make it to the Town Hall Debate on Oct. 16, when CNN’s Candy Crowley will take questions from undecided voters selected by Gallup. For us, that’s the World Series and Super Bowl wrapped in one.

Q: Any idea what you might ask?

A: I’m kind of, what’s the word…

Q: Undecided?

A: Right. I know it’s important to pick a president you’d like to have a beer with, so I suppose I could ask if they prefer light beer or regular; draft or bottled; imported or domestic — you know, personal stuff.

Q: I believe Mr. Romney’s religion doesn’t allow him to drink.

A: Geez, how are voters supposed make up their minds?

Q: Will you be voting this year?

A: That’s a tough one, because both candidates are decent and sincere, but I don’t want the Gallup people to think I’ve waffled about being undecided.

Q: And your prediction?

A: If I’m lucky I’ll get my picture taken with Candy Crowley.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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BUSTS at the Ball Park http://www.cagle.com/2012/07/busts-at-the-ball-park/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/07/busts-at-the-ball-park/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2012 13:22:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=610974 Baseball has a stat for everything: WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), LIPS (late inning pressure situations), ERA and IRA (earned runs allowed and inherited runs allowed), plus dozens more. But as my math teacher was fond of saying, “Garbage in means garbage out.”

Baseball’s nagging problem is BUSTS (bad umpiring and scoring tarnishes stats).

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Randy Bish / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (click to view more cartoons by Bish)

Players and fans alike are losing patience with inconsistencies among Major League umpires and official scorers. What good is a pitcher’s K/BB (strikeout-to-walk ratio) if umps can’t agree on the strike zone? How important is a fielder’s FPCT (fielding percentage) if scorers differ widely in determining what is a hit and what is an error?

The biggest beef with umps is that the strike zone, although clearly defined in the rules, is called differently by almost every official. It’s so bad that Mike Krukow, the former pitcher and veteran color commentator in San Francisco, begins each telecast by explaining the whims of that day’s home plate ump. Analyzing umpire Alan Porter, for example, Mr. Krukow said: “He can have a weird zone, it’s a little inconsistent.” In the same telecast, he added, “On getaway day, umpires are more likely to call a strike on a checked swing.”

Many fans, myself included, appreciate the human element in baseball – even among umpires – and oppose suggestions that fancy electronic tools and more instant replays should be added to the game. But there is no reason why Major League Baseball can’t insist upon a standard interpretation of the strike zone. If an ump blows a call, so be it, but no ump should be allowed to invent his own rules. Chipper Jones, the Braves superstar, raised eyebrows last season when he candidly labeled umpiring “substandard.”

Official scoring is even worse – so much so that MLB is finally moving to deal with the gross inconstancies. Joe Torre, former Yankee and Dodger manager and now an MLB executive, has taken on the chore of reviewing controversial scoring decisions and, on occasion, ordering that an error be changed to a hit or vice versa.

Following a recent Yankees-A’s game, Mr. Torre decided the scorer was wrong to charge Oakland’s Coco Crisp with an error on an outfield fly. The decision had a domino effect in the record books, with changes to the stats of the fielder, hitter and pitcher.

In most cases, scoring seems to protect fielders while boosting offensive stats. Too windy? Hit. Bad bounce? Hit. Ball falls while two fielders stare at each other? Hit. Sun in fielder’s eyes (even if he had sunglasses resting on his hat but declined to wear them)? Hit.

During the All-Star game, outfielder Bryce Harper stood with a confused expression as Mike Napoli’s routine fly dropped to the ground. Ruling: a hit. Come on.

How about the routine grounder that is bobbled by a fielder and results in a single out when a double play was possible? It’s not an error because, as the infamous scoring axiom has it, “you can’t assume a double play.” Why the heck not?

The trend to favor fielders is unmistakable. The 11 highest fielding percentages of all time have come in the last 11 seasons, and overall errors are down by about 25 percent since 1970.

Scorers will sometimes check with a player after the game to get his opinion about a ruling. Sounds charitable, but that’s not how officiating is supposed to work.

MLB insists its goal is to remove as much subjectivity as possible from both scoring and umpiring. But Mr. Torre shouldn’t have to be changing scoring decisions after watching replays on his office TV, and players shouldn’t require a pregame tutorial on how the home plate umpire will interpret balls and strikes.

As the season heats up, most of us watching from the bleachers or the couch are rooting for fewer ifs, ands…and BUSTS.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

Copyright 2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Nothing to Crow About http://www.cagle.com/2012/06/nothing-to-crow-about/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/06/nothing-to-crow-about/#comments Thu, 14 Jun 2012 07:23:41 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=609625 Two crows were in the road. The older bird was dead; the younger, we’ll call him Frankie, was standing guard and wouldn’t budge.

I moved the dead bird off the pavement hoping the little guy would follow. But Frankie, about three or four weeks old and unable to fly, held his ground. So I took him home, and soon found myself rethinking my view about charities – specifically those dedicated to helping animals rather than humans.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Bagley)

Here’s the backstory: A few months ago I wrote a column in USA Today about people who donate to good causes – the school volleyball team, the animal shelter, etc. – while so many Americans are hungry. We give roughly $300 billion to charities each year, but only 10 percent goes directly to social and human services.

I wasn’t criticizing the well-intentioned efforts of any particular charity, but suggested that donors should apply a triage system at this time of profound human need.

I put Frankie in a large box, and Googled “caring for young crows and ravens.”

Seems these birds make good pets, provided they are introduced to people before being “imprinted” in the wild. I also learned that they’re quite messy, often moody, and will eat just about anything. One site said for youngsters you must “place a glob of food on your finger and push it down the crow’s throat.” I wish I had video of my failed attempts at doing this for Frankie.

My wife Amy suggested I phone the ASPCA, sending me into immediate panic. What if someone there had read my column and labeled me a non-believer? What if Frankie wound up being euthanized in a dingy back room, where I envisioned all the “lesser” critters went eventually?

Jessica, in the Wildlife Department, was surprisingly sympathetic. She said one of her colleagues was only a few miles from my house and could be over in a few minutes. She’d come to me? In a few minutes? Good luck getting such service from a plumber.

Jen arrived in a very official-looking truck and put on surgical gloves. She gave Frankie a thorough exam and pronounced him fit, but too underfed to be returned to the wild.

So Jen took Frankie to the ASPCA, where he’ll be eating a mixture of cat food and raw vegetables. When stronger, he’ll be brought back to the woods near my house.

I was feeling embarrassed about my earlier column, and mumbled something to Jen about sending a donation, which she politely said wasn’t necessary.

In the column I asked, “If you encountered a starving child holding a starving puppy, would your first step be to offer food to the dog? Obviously not.” I still agree with that – as would Jen and Jessica, I imagine.

But maybe it’s not so simple. All living things deserve our sympathetic attention, especially those who, by chance, are placed in our paths.

Years ago I was driving up Madison Avenue in New York when a scrawny kitten ran under my car. I stopped and got out, blocking the busy intersection at rush hour. The crowd quickly divided into two camps: those who yelled, “Get moving!” and those who screamed, “It’s right under your car!”

That cat – named Dasher because during the hourlong drive that followed managed to crawl behind the dashboard, requiring the services of an auto mechanic to free him – racked up $1,300 in vet bills. A ridiculous expenditure, I suppose. But that’s something else about “lesser” creatures in our lives: once you reach out to them, their problems become yours.

The ASPCA, founded in 1866, operates under the belief that “animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans.” While I wait for Jen and Frankie to return, I’m sending a modest donation.

The columnist in me wants to say I was forced to eat crow, but the creature-lover in me would rather not.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

Copyright 2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Tuned Out http://www.cagle.com/2012/06/tuned-out/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/06/tuned-out/#comments Wed, 06 Jun 2012 07:20:09 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=609183 WASHINGTON — I decided to spend some time in the visitors’ galleries on Capitol Hill, to see firsthand what gridlock looks like.

On the Senate floor, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was delivering a passionate speech about interest rates on student loans. “I just pray and beg my colleagues,” he said, “please pass this. Keep student loan rates manageable.”

When he finished the chamber fell silent. Why? Because none of Brown’s colleagues was present. He was addressing 99 empty chairs.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

Sparse attendance in Congress is an historical fact, but this scene was depressing nonetheless. The situation has gradually worsened as television and the Internet make it easier for members to stay in touch without actually setting foot in the chambers.

On the House side, Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was engaged in his favorite pursuit: slashing. “We’re eliminating government slush funds to stop bailouts,” he said of the GOP plan, “we’re controlling runaway, unchecked spending.”

It was hard to tell if the few dozen House members in attendance were listening to Ryan because most were busy with their own favorite pursuits: tapping away on iPads and smartphones.

One of the first things Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, did after becoming Speaker was revise House policy to permit mobile devices on the floor. The new rule allows electronics unless their use “impairs decorum,” but policymakers stopped short of adding a requirement for House members to actually pay attention.

The day I was there a glitch in the system blocked Apple products — iPhones and iPads — connected to the official House network from receiving emails. This caused quite a fuss, with the newspaper Roll Call quoting a Democratic spokesman as saying, “Members of Congress have become more and more reliant on mobile technology for floor proceedings.”

Is that a good thing? Congress has an approval rating of about 10 percent, so you’d think avoiding distractions and showing up more often would be good first steps in improving public perception if not the actual legislative box score.

But the public doesn’t get a clear picture of this on television. C-SPAN, the non-profit cable service providing coverage from the Hill, uses video feeds supplied by House and Senate TV departments — and they avoid showing vast expanses of empty seats or members distracted by handheld gadgets.

House rules require head-on coverage of members at the podium and forbid reaction shots in the chamber. As a result, according to C-SPAN’s chief Brian Lamb, the public gets “a less-than-complete view.” In a letter to Speaker Boehner, Lamb called for a better “journalistic product” by allowing additional robotic cameras that would be controlled by C-SPAN’s staff. Boehner, like Democrat Nancy Pelosi before him, said no.

One exception comes during the annual State of the Union speech, when television networks are allowed to determine the coverage. That yielded an infamous screenshot a few years back of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., fiddling with his Blackberry during the president’s speech. Cantor said he was taking notes.

I came away from my visit feeling like I had just been in a college lecture hall where the twin plagues are poor attendance by some, and relentless use of mobile devices by others.

I contacted a C-SPAN executive for an update on efforts to improve coverage, and was told that the service has recently added High Definition. So? “If you look closely,” the gentleman said, “you can see which members are using cell phones.”

As more voters get HD, approval ratings for Congress might disappear entirely.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Low Content Denominator http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/low-content-denominator/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/low-content-denominator/#comments Mon, 28 May 2012 12:30:44 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=608754 Recent Time and Newsweek covers constitute last gasps in the dying newsweekly business. Of greater concern, however, is that while these magazines are already in media’s rearview mirror, their turn toward tabloid-style sensationalism reflects what is happening all along the information highway.

You saw or heard about the covers that caused the fuss: Time with a 26-year-old mother breast feeding her unusually mature 3-year-old son; Newsweek with a rainbow halo over Barack Obama’s head and the line, “America’s first gay president.” Selling magazines and tabloid newspapers with shock and schlock isn’t new, but the fact that the techniques have gone viral — to use new media’s favorite term — is troubling.

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Daryl Cagle / msnbc.com (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

One day’s front-page headlines on AOL: “Grandma Goes to Walmart, Vanishes” and “I Ate to Scare Classmates Away.” That same day CNN.com’s top items were flesh-eating bugs and “Horse bolts into ocean, swims 2 miles.” On the conservative Drudge Report: “Rocks Found at Beach Ignite in Woman’s Pocket.”

This is now the standard stuff of top Internet sites as well as cable-TV, broadcast TV morning shows and, of course, local TV newscasts. Even many of the most reputable news organizations, such as the Los Angeles Times, play it straight on their printed front pages but turn frisky on the Web. The flesh-eating bugs and burning rocks — plus several celebrity items — were front-page news on the Times’ site.

One major reason for this condition involves the difference between serving a stable, subscription-based audience versus non-paid, transient customers. News organizations that charge for content, especially via ongoing subscriptions, face less pressure to woo readers with the most eye-opening developments of the moment. Free media, and publications largely reliant on single-copy sales, are in a constant struggle for attention.

Time and Newsweek are goosing up covers in a desperate effort to stimulate newsstand sales and media buzz. The most popular Websites, almost all offering content for free, play the grabber game minute-to-minute, knowing that readers are just a click away from disappearing. As long as the “free model” persists in new media, the trend toward sensationalism will continue.

Another factor is the 24/7 pace of modern communication. “Breaking News” is the mantra of cable coverage — even if much of it is hardly newsworthy and is barely breaking. A truck in flames on a Midwest Interstate might qualify as breaking news on national cable — especially if there’s video — but would never appear in a summary of the day’s most important developments.

Then, too, there is the popularity of “reality” and celebrity-driven programming across the TV spectrum. These shows came along at just the right time to synergize with other media. Contestants perform at night and show up the next morning on competing networks to talk about it. Not since Charles Van Doren captivated the nation on the NBC quiz program “Twenty One” has media paid so much attention to TV-created competition — and it should be remembered that Van Doren’s appeal was his intellect and not, to cite a current NBC show, how much weight he could lose from one week to the next. The fact that “Twenty One” was rigged only made for better tabloid headlines.

Finally, and sadly, increased competition among media often brings out the worst in news judgment. Consumers are blessed to have so many digital options from which to choose, and cursed that so many of them vie for attention by seeking the lowest content denominator.

While industry observers tend to view the market as divided between “paid” and “free,” the distinction is also increasingly between “serious” and “superficial.” There are notable exceptions, but that’s the trend.

Much of what we get as news these days isn’t worth the pixels it’s displayed with.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561. 

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Undecided? About What? http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/undecided-about-what/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/undecided-about-what/#comments Fri, 25 May 2012 14:18:31 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=608697 Presidential campaigns have become obscenely expensive, last far too long, and seem to bring out the worst in cable-TV hosts. But the real shame is that the next president will be chosen by relatively few citizens who are arguably the least informed.

Pundits and pollsters call them “independents,” “undecideds,” or “swing voters.” To the rest of us they are, to put it gently, seriously naive.

The vast majority of Americans know very well whom they’re voting for in November. They don’t need $2 billion worth of campaign ads to decide, because they’re aware that when it comes to the presidency we’re electing a political philosophy, not a person.

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Daryl Cagle / msnbc.com (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

In primaries it’s fine to focus on shades of policy differences and even minutia like whether jeans trump sweater vests. But that’s over.

If you’re still unsure how you feel about health care, taxes and the debt — to name just three of myriad issues on which the two parties differ sharply — then nothing in a stump speech is going to help. Undecideds are the Justice Anthony Kennedys of presidential politics, and like him they seem to revel in their role.

Ask members of the GOP base why they vote as they do and you hear things like, “smaller government and lower taxes; people need to fend for themselves.” Ask Democrats and it’s, “compassionate government and fair taxes; we must help those who cannot help themselves.” Ask an undecided, as the networks manage to do almost every evening, and it’s, “I need to know more about where the candidates stand; I’m not hearing any details, what are their plans?”

Really? Both parties have outlined their plans in such voluminous detail that few people are able to wade through it. In fact, as members of both bases know, it’s not that the positions are mysterious, it’s that they’re so painfully clear.

Take gay marriage: Obama’s for it; Romney’s opposed. The issue may rouse passion but it’s insignificant when it comes to picking a president. Yet, Mr. Obama’s recent disclosure about his position produced headlines like this one in the San Francisco Chronicle: “President gives voters reason to choose sides.”

No! It doesn’t give any knowledgeable voter a reason to choose sides. The marriage thing is, and will continue to be, handled by the states. The president’s views are symbolically important, but anyone whose vote would swing on gay rights is bastardizing the electoral process — at least under our current system.

Undecideds represent somewhere between 6 and 8 percent of the total electorate; however, they can only affect the results in fewer than a dozen “battleground” states. So, when you boil it down, there are about 3 million voters in the U.S. who actually pick the president. The campaigns will combine to spend about $650 on each of these votes by people who should know better.

According to the Gallup organization’s records from 2008, most undecideds dawdled until deep into September. Then, as summarized by Susan Page of USA Today, “By Election Day, the number of uncommitted voters nearly disappeared.”

Nearly disappeared? Does that mean some undecideds will still be on the fence come Nov. 6? What will finally sway them? Michelle Obama’s outfit when she casts her vote that morning?

If Newt Gingrich is sticking to his assertion that Mitt Romney is a liar, yet now supports him, that should provide a clue that this is about party not personality.

One of the nation’s most articulate liberals, former Sen. Bill Bradley, when asked on CBS what would help swing voters make up their minds, said: “How people feel about the two candidates once they get to know them better.”

Please. Barack Obama has been in office for three years; Mitt Romney has been running for president for much of his adult life. Getting to know them better — and paying less attention to critical policy differences — won’t help anything.

Unless the day comes when we have more than two viable parties, or if Republicans and Democrats decide to stop treating governing as an all-or-nothing proposition, then we’re stuck with red or blue. The purple people are driving the rest of us crazy.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561. 

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Hillary Speculation Won’t Die http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/hillary-speculation-wont-die/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/05/hillary-speculation-wont-die/#comments Thu, 17 May 2012 12:24:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=608250 If Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be “Veep,” then why not Hillary Clinton?

The notion has been kicked around in the media for more than a year, and pooh-poohed by both the secretary of state herself and the Obama campaign, but as the 2012 race heats up the possibility of an Obama-Clinton ticket is likely to be given renewed consideration.

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R.J. Matson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch (click to view more cartoons by Matson)

Mrs. Clinton looks refreshed these days, with a new hairstyle and bounce in her step – so perhaps she’s studying the polls that show the president in a neck-and-neck race with Mitt Romney. She’s also aware of her standing as the most admired woman in America. According to Gallup, no other woman has been so named for as many years (16), and her approval rating of 66 percent makes her among the nation’s most popular politicians.

For the record, Clinton has said she intends to leave government after this year. She has also stated repeatedly that she has no further plans to seek elective office, telling CNN, “I think Joe Biden, who’s a dear friend of ours, has served our country and served the president very well. And so I’m out of politics, but I’m very supportive of the team that we have in the White House going forward.”

Spoken like a good soldier. But doth she protest too much?

The last wave of Obama-Clinton speculation came in January, spurred by Bill Keller’s column in The New York Times arguing that placing Sec. Clinton on the ticket “does more to guarantee Obama’s re-election than anything else the Democrats can do.” That was back when the GOP field was crowded with pretenders, and Romney seemed incapable of sounding presidential.

It was also before Biden ruffled feathers by upstaging the boss on the matter of gay marriage.

The Obama campaign has a tough row to hoe and all that really matters is which running mate offers the best chance for victory, Biden or Clinton? Other considerations – dropping Biden would look panicky; the Clintons don’t really like Obama, etc. – are irrelevant.

An online poll by U.S. News and World Report shows respondents favoring Clinton over Biden by about 4 to 1.

Replacing Biden, who has served the administration well, would have to be carefully choreographed. But six previous presidents replaced their running mates while seeking a second term, the last being Gerald Ford in 1976 when he dumped Nelson Rockefeller in favor of Bob Dole.

Although Biden’s name is on the ticket, a recent day’s home page of the Obama campaign’s Website showed dozens of photos and stories, but not a word about Joe Biden. If President Obama asked Biden to step aside and asked Clinton to step in – each for the good of the nation and the party – would either say no? Not likely.

The reason Obama-Clinton has not percolated beyond the punditry stage is that it didn’t seem necessary. The Republicans were in disarray and the anyone-but-Romney bandwagon appeared to be rolling. Amazing how quickly things change. Romney looks stronger, and if he makes an aggressive choice for vice president, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then the importance of the second slot will grow dramatically.

In 2008 hope, change and electing the nation’s first black president were magic. In 2012, the prospect of a female vice president might rekindle Democrats’ excitement.

It’s a long shot. But if we’ve learned anything about politics in recent years, it’s that life is often much stranger than HBO.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

Copyright 2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Funny Money http://www.cagle.com/2012/04/funny-money/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/04/funny-money/#comments Thu, 26 Apr 2012 13:13:58 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=607151 For most Americans, a penny at the gas pump has vivid significance but billions of dollars create a meaningless blur. Increasingly, we are unable to fathom the really big numbers in our modern world, a condition known as innumeracy.

In a recent 24-hour period, Facebook paid $1 billion for the photo-sharing service Instagram — a firm with 12 employees that most people had never heard of, and that a week earlier was valued at $500,000; Microsoft gave AOL more than $1 billion for some patents, and Sony said its annual loss was $6.4 billion.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

Do these numbers mean anything anymore?

Not long ago people used the term “billion” so infrequently that, for clarity, they spelled the first letter: “That’s billion, with a B.” Today, according to Forbes, there are 1,226 billionaires.

Congress spends billions here, billions there and, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen famously concluded, “pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

During the height of Mega Millions fever, NBC News asked ticket buyers what they’d do with $650 million if they won. One woman said, with apparent sincerity, that she would purchase a lifetime supply of Oreo cookies.

That’s classic innumeracy. If the woman lives 60 more years, and is willing to eat 150 Oreos every week, her tab would be roughly $70,000. It’s a lot of money, but as a percentage of $650 million it’s so small — about one-hundredth of one percent — that, for all intents and purposes she could have her Oreos and $650 million.

Try getting a grip numbers like these: Google’s revenue is $20 billion a year! Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants makes $3,000 per pitch! The U.S. government spends $1.5 million per minute!

Big numbers, right? Well, the real figures are actually double: Google is taking in $40 billion; Cain earns $6,000 every time he throws the ball, and the government’s outflow is $3 million per minute. So what?

The mathematician and scholar Douglas Hofstadter coined the term innumeracy some 30 years ago, back when the National Debt was under $2 trillion. It’s currently $15.6 trillion, but the numbers are so large that a 680% increase has basically no meaning for average Americans, except that we know it’s a lot of money.

According to one estimate, just counting to a trillion takes over 190,000 years. If we paid off the debt at the rate of a dollar per second, we would get the job done in roughly half a million years — without interest.

Many of our elected leaders seem to suffer from what might be called poli-innumeracy — the inability to control the numbers that control us. That’s how we get bridges to nowhere and the military’s infamous thousand-dollar toilet seats.

It’s only a matter of time before U.S. politicians start talking about a sextillion of this (21 zeros) or a vigintillion of that (63 zeros).

Travelers used to find it amusing to deal with foreign currencies that required, say, 10,000 whatevers for a cup of coffee. I remember visiting Brazil in the ’80s when taxi drivers needed a daily printout to determine how many thousand Cruzeiros to collect per mile.

These were “new” Cruzeiros which differed from the “old” Cruzeiros in that the Brazilian government chopped off a few zeros so that one of the new was worth 1,000 of the old. A few years later they did it again, declaring that 1,000 new Cruzeiros would be worth one Cruzado. Soon they had to drop away three more zeros and Brazilians were given the “new” Cruzados. In 1990, these Cruzados Novos were retired, and the Cruzeiros were back; in 1993, the Cruzeiros lost another three zeros and were turned into “real” Cruzeiros. The numbers ceased to have meaning, although the value of the service or product remained clear.

What divides Americans nowadays is not just that a few people have a lot of money while many have much less, it’s that some people understand the really big numbers — or so we assume — but most of us do not. Yet, as our innumeracy worsens, we don’t trust bureaucrats who claim to understand huge sums if at the same time they appear clueless about the price of an Oreo.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Trayvon Martin Case Goes Beyond Race http://www.cagle.com/2012/04/trayvon-martin-case-goes-beyond-race/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/04/trayvon-martin-case-goes-beyond-race/#comments Mon, 16 Apr 2012 07:20:14 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=604872 We’ve all taken a crack at deciphering the Trayvon Martin case, so ponder this: George Zimmerman probably isn’t a racist and, if that’s true, then Zimmerman runs a greater risk of being convicted in Martin’s death.

That such a theory is viable underscores the complexity of the case — thanks, in part, to Florida’s ill-conceived Stand Your Ground law. Justifiable homicides in Florida have nearly tripled since the law was enacted in 2005.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by Rick McKee)

According to the Associated Press, both the law’s original legislative sponsor and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed it into law, have said the measure was not intended to apply in cases such as the Martin shooting.

Yet, Zimmerman plans to ask a judge to grant him immunity from prosecution — now, and forever — based on his assertion that he felt threatened by Martin, who was unarmed on the night of the confrontation.

What role, if any, did race play? Martin was black; Zimmerman is half white and half Hispanic. Much of the outcry following the Feb. 26 shooting suggested that Zimmerman was racially motivated, as were local police in Sanford, who quickly accepted Zimmerman’s version of what happened and set him free.

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, seems to believe that race played a part in Zimmerman’s action. Her outline of charges states that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, “profiled” Martin that night.

But here’s where things become painfully complex. If Zimmerman and his lawyer can convince a judge that Zimmerman has an unusual fear of black people then, as repugnant as that might be, his stand-your-ground defense is strengthened. The law in Florida requires only that a person have actual fear, not necessarily unbiased fear.

The facts, however, suggest that Zimmerman is not a racist. He was a mentor to two black teenagers. In numerous calls to police in his neighborhood watch role, including the one on Feb. 26, he did not mention the race of those he believed to be suspicious until specifically asked for the information.

Zimmerman’s “bias” was more likely against criminals in general, like those who plagued his neighborhood. “We must send a message that we will not tolerate this in our community,” he wrote after a series of break-ins. His mindset probably led him to “profile” the hooded, six-foot stranger as a troublemaker, and his classic take-the-law-in-your-own hands approach prompted him to follow Martin even after a 911 operator told him to remain in his vehicle.

Although Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has allowed many violent individuals to avoid trials, it is not likely to help in Zimmerman’s defense. He’s not a racist; he’s a vigilante. He wanted to be a cop, but couldn’t make it. He carried a gun on his watch, despite instructions never to do so. He disobeyed orders to stay in his car. He followed Martin, and killed him.

Although Trayvon Martin was black, race is probably being misapplied in this case. In Sanford, where the police chief is black, the grievous error was giving Zimmerman, a friend of the department, benefit of doubt without an investigation.

It would be too easy to dismiss this as simply a hate crime and a case of bigotry by police. It’s more than that.

Laws like Stand Your Ground are making it increasingly difficult for police and the justice system to operate. Such statutes empower vigilantes.

Gun laws, like those in Florida that allowed George Zimmerman to legally carry a pistol, despite a history of violent behavior, are dangerously out of control.

Real justice in the Trayvon Martin will inspire change in laws like these that pose serious threats, no matter what the race, or bias, of anyone involved.

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Voice Lessons http://www.cagle.com/2012/03/voice-lessons/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/03/voice-lessons/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 12:30:18 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=603498 Back in the eighties our family had a Chrysler station wagon with limited vocabulary and laughably stilted pronunciation. We’d jump in and the car would declare in a halting voice, “A door is a jar.” That made us laugh, and it prompted my sister to quip, “I always thought a door was a toaster.”

Dad’s car was easy to live with because it didn’t have a human name, and it never talked back.

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Nate Beeler / Washington Examiner (click to view more cartoons by Beeler)

Now, many of my friends can’t go more than a few miles without checking with Siri, the fawning female who resides in iPhones. Even if you don’t own the device you’ve undoubtedly seen TV commercials in which Siri flirts with a young musician and coos, “I will call you Rock Star.”

These voices have been creeping up on us for some time. I used to look forward to hearing the “You’ve got mail” guy at AOL – who peaked around the time he starred in a movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks – but lately he seems out of touch.

Several companies now use the phone voice I first heard at United Airlines: the guy who cheerfully repeats the same questions over and over, apparently hoping you’ll hang up in frustration before reaching an actual person, probably in the Philippines. You feel like you’ve won some sort of contest when he finally says, “OK. I’ll get an agent for ya!”

What strikes me as a cruel twist is that the presumably live offshore operators seem to be trained to speak English just like robots.

I’m fascinated by the sheer endurance of the airport woman who spends the day repeating eight gloomy words: “The moving sidewalk is coming to an end.”

I feel kind of sorry for my old answering machine who’s so senile it takes her forever just to spit out, “End…of…messages.”

I was surprised recently to discover that my Mac computer can read whatever is on my screen in 100 different voices, each of which Apple has thoughtfully given a human name. The default guy is Alex, but right now I’m listening to Serena – who I imagine is 5-foot-10 with long dark hair – reading this column with her sultry British accent.

The first machine to really give me the heebie-jeebies was Watson, the I.B.M. smarty-pants who beat people named Brad and Ken on Jeopardy last year. Watson sat there smugly, using his ultra-speedy buzzer capability and lightening recall to win more than three times his nearest human competitor.

What’s next? Melvin, the talking toothbrush (“Don’t forget to scrub your tongue”). Hank, the grouchy lawnmower (“Gotta do something about those gophers”). Sally, the nagging refrigerator (“Save some of that blueberry pie for tomorrow, Tubby”).

A company called Zazu is now marketing a mobile alarm clock that wakes you with a female voice delivering not only the time but also news and weather – even details of what your friends are saying on social networks. The Zazu lady also reads a commercial, something I suspect was a human’s bright idea.

Audi vehicles now come with a “multimedia interface” on the dashboard that fields spoken questions from drivers. Audi says it is now working on a system that recognizes and adapts to the motorist’s state of mind to determine if the driver is stressed by a traffic situation.

Personally, I’m stressed when a gadget talks to me, no matter how bad the traffic happens to be. I continue to believe that machines should be seen but not heard.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561. 

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Free Agent Fans http://www.cagle.com/2012/03/free-agent-fans/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/03/free-agent-fans/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 15:45:59 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=601254 TEMPE, Ariz. — Under the brilliant desert sun that helps make spring training baseball a time of awakening for players and fans, the game’s best hitter is blasting away in the batting cage. He looks as sharp as ever, so why should I care that Albert Pujols’ red jersey now says Angels rather than Cardinals?

I’m finished being a sucker. Like many liberated fans, I no longer care about teams as much as individual players.

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Larry Wright / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Wright)

This is part of a gradual, but unmistakable shift that began decades ago when free agency set players loose and sports franchises started moving from one city to another. Until recently, however, fans were stuck with the local team and its roster.

Now, if you’re a Pujols fan in St. Louis, where he hit 445 homers and batted .328 over the last 11 years, you can root for him just as easily with his L.A. team. You can see every game he plays on satellite TV or computer and read details of his performance on Internet blogs. You can still have him on your fantasy baseball team. And you can frequent his website, like him on Facebook, or follow his tweets.

Many fans are still inclined to think of the local team as being “us,” in a civic-minded sort of way, overlooking the fact that pro athletes and their employers are in the entertainment business. Nothing wrong with that. But the notion that fans should slavishly root for a particular team no matter who it hires or where it opts to play is passe.

The best recent example involves Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old Harvard grad who leaped from obscurity to become the NBA’s hottest player. Like many fans, I immediately started watching his games on satellite, and the fact that Lin happens to play for the New York Knicks is irrelevant; if Lin ever leaves the Knicks, I’m going with him.

By placing most games on satellite and computer, teams have encouraged fans to find freedom. And media support it with highlights that increasingly emphasize individual achievements — from “Web Gems” to the “Dunks of the Day.”

It’s quite different, of course, at the amateur level, where Little League and scholastic sports appropriately inspire community allegiance, while teaching kids about teamwork and loyalty. With pro sports, however, there are few teams I’d care to root for any more than I root for, say, FedEx or Starbucks — to name businesses I admire but whose logos I’d never wear on a shirt or hat unless they paid me to do it.

To be sure, some sports franchises are more worthy of respect than others. The Green Bay Packers, for example, are owned by roughly 112,000 of their fans. The Angels and their owner Arte Moreno, who lured Pujols, operate possibly the most fan-friendly organization in pro sports. But generally, there is no real fun in rooting for corporations unless you’re a shareholder.

Sports have always provided the great American metaphors, so you have to wonder if our attitude toward athletes reflects a wider societal trend. After all, manufacturers, just like sports franchises, don’t give a hoot about leaving town if they can find a better deal. We hire a million or so soldiers to handle our wars, and then fail to cheer them on like we once did. Our politicians behave increasingly like free agent athletes, looking out for themselves and seeking the biggest endorsement deals when they retire.

Fortunately, sports offers simpler choices. I still root for one team over another during specific games, and I continue to give an extra measure of emotional support to the teams from the region where I live. But that’s it. I refuse to be part of, say, the Red Sox Nation as if it deserved the same allegiance as an actual country, and if the score disappoints me, I won’t bleed Dodger Blue.

Here at spring training I’m rooting for a dozen players on a half-dozen different teams. I find that free agency works as well in the stands as it does on the field.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Running on Empty http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/running-on-empty/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/running-on-empty/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2012 08:44:28 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=600030 With his poll numbers rising and the opposition flailing, little could cause President Obama’s reelection bandwagon to run out of gas. Except, perhaps, gas.

When gas hit $4 a gallon last April, the president acknowledged the political impact by noting, “My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people.” An analysis at the time by Real Clear Politics showed that gas prices affect a president’s standing even more than the unemployment rate. Now, unemployment is down, but gas prices are up: about 18 cents in the last two weeks.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more Rising Gas Prices cartoons)

Voters don’t need the Bureau of Labor Statistics to tell them what they’re paying at the pump. And they don’t need an economist to explain that fuel prices affect virtually all consumer goods and services — from food to the family vacation.

For politicians, few issues translate so smoothly into campaign rhetoric and tie-in so well to other issues. Republicans already are linking pain at the pump to the Obama administration’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada, and its backing of Solyndra, the failed solar energy company.

Rick Santorum recently blasted what he called a “radical agenda” by Democrats to deny Americans “affordable energy.” Newt Gingrich launched a petition drive on his Website demanding a return to $2.50 a gallon gas. All four Republican candidates advocate expanded offshore drilling and an immediate permit for the Keystone project.

In 2008, the price of gas was such a potent concern that candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton proposed a federal “gas tax holiday.” Republicans chanted “drill baby, drill!”

In 2012 it’s a perfect storm. Fears over Iran’s nuclear program and a possible attack by Israel are driving up world oil prices. Meanwhile, several refineries in the U.S. have recently closed down. And while Americans drive more in summer, the pollution-controlling formulations for summertime gasoline are more expensive than those used in winter.

Last summer, the Obama administration took the fairly rare step of releasing 30 million barrels from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat rising prices and address the Middle East oil disruptions, which at the time were linked to strife in Libya. It was a limited and somewhat symbolic gesture, and not without political risk. A similar gambit this summer would surely provide fodder for the GOP nominee.

Unlike employment, which was in free fall when the president took office, gasoline prices were actually at rock bottom: under $1.90 a gallon. Ironically, the drop was caused primarily by lower demand due to the financial crisis. As things improved, oil prices rebounded. Yet, if the stump standard, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” is applied to gas prices, few voters will answer in the affirmative.

According to the latest Pew survey, the president’s approval rating among independent voters has rebounded to 45 percent, after dipping to 37 percent just last month. This underscores the fact that the campaign remains as volatile as the economy.

Gasoline prices could be a meaningful election metric. Under $3.75 a gallon on Labor Day and President Obama’s chances look solid. Over $4.00 and the president may be in trouble.

A chicken in every pot won’t cut it unless there’s gas in every tank.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Sweet Nuthin’s http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/sweet-nuthins/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/sweet-nuthins/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2012 12:49:19 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=599972 They say if you work in a candy store you’re likely to gorge on sweets for a while and then get sick of the stuff. Perhaps something similar will happen to consumers of news and information who, in the relatively new age of digital consumption, are filling up on fluff.

For most media, it’s a time of tabloidism.

The other day, NBC’s “Today” program began it’s 7:30 a.m. half-hour with a lengthy report about the so-called “Honeymoon Murder Mystery” trial, involving a man who allegedly drowned his bride in 2003. Next came a feature from London about how Kate Middleton celebrated Valentine’s Day. Then, a discussion of Whitney Houston’s drug addiction, followed by an in-studio appearance of Malachy, the Pekingese who won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club.

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Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen (click to view more cartoons by Cam)

ABC’s “Good Morning America” also focused on the honeymoon trial and Whitney Houston, while CBS’s new “This Morning,” promoted as a more serious alternative, began the half hour with a report on basketball phenom Jeremy Lin, followed by details of a murder trial concerning the death of a Virginia college student.

Network morning shows have long favored the softer side of the news, but tabloid topics are getting increased space these days, mirroring what’s happening across the Internet and on cable-TV. The same day’s Huffington Post featured on its front page: “Sore Muscle Remedies that Really Work,” and “Lawrence O’Donnell Calls Out Ann Coulter.” Over on the Drudge Report, page one included: “Electronic cigarette blows up in man’s face,” Knife-wielding woman attacks boyfriend over Valentine’s gift snub,” and “Cops: Man killed in dog poop dispute.”

The confounding part of this is that we’re in the midst of an information explosion – a virtual supermarket of news options – and Americans are stuffing themselves with sweets. Part of the explanation is that consumers have so many choices just a click away that programmers don’t dare bore them with seriosity. The scene at the checkout aisle, where tabloids scream for attention, is now spread across the media landscape.

Even major newspapers that still take a serious approach to news coverage in print, increasingly succumb to sensationalism on their websites. A popular tool in the nation’s newsrooms is an electronic tote board that provides minute-to-minute details of what’s hot online. Low click counts send editors scurrying for stories or photos that will grab readers’ attention.

With few exceptions, major media give consumers what they want. It’s a lucky publication or broadcast that is able to find an audience that actually wants meaningful news and information. Look what happened to the cable channel Bravo, launched in 1980 as a premium outlet for fine film, drama and other performing arts. Today, the channel is almost entirely devoted to reality shows about real housewives, top chefs and other frivolous fare.

More “real” than any of Bravo’s sappy shows is the fact that the programming represents what a vast audience now wants. What’s changed? Some would say that a stressed population gravitates to escapist material.

But it’s also our modern information systems that inspire low octane content. For example, there’s a bigger audience for video than for words, which is why local TV news has long favored helicopter shots of car chases and fires. So, as news organizations build websites they tend to overdose on video clips, no matter how sugary, like those on TMZ and YouTube.

Instant communication thrives on “breaking news,” so video of a vacant runway in New Jersey where “the plane carrying Whitney Houston’s body is expected shortly,” passes for news on cable TV because it’s happening now, not because it’s important.

Most media, from print to radio and TV, were originally launched with meaningful approaches to information and entertainment and then, as audiences grew and competition increased, drifted more toward tabloidism. The Internet is experiencing this, at the accelerated pace that marks the digital world.

Our older British cousins have long had a passion for gossipy news. If we worry about following their path socially and economically, we might as well add tabloid tendencies to the list.

I’d like to blame the media for this, but they only provide the candy. It’s we who have the sweet teeth.

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Syndicated columnist Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Slip Slidin’ Away http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/slip-slidin-away/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/slip-slidin-away/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2012 14:56:39 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=599524 Was it a flub or fib? A slip or a flip-flop? Maybe a gaffe?

Voters judging the presidential candidates must dig through a growing list of imprecise utterances these days to determine whether the remarks should be taken seriously. Even the smallest quips make it to the Internet and cable-TV, and many need deciphering.

Flub — a mistake, almost always innocent in nature. When Mitt Romney said, “I’ve been married to the same woman for 25 — excuse me, I’ll get in trouble — for 42 years,” it was a flub. If Anne Romney doesn’t hold it against him, voters aren’t likely to either.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Cole)

Gaffe — similar to a flub, but usually worse. In Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born, Michele Bachmann said, “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.” But the John Wayne from Waterloo was John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer; the actor was born in Winterset, Iowa. This gaffe may have signaled Iowans that Bachmann’s roots were shallower than she claimed.

Freeze — a mental shutdown, a “brain freeze.” Few campaigns have featured a more dramatic example than Rick Perry’s painful attempt during a nationally televised debate to name the third of three federal agencies he’d close if elected. A few days later he poked fun at himself in a campaign ad, and then declared, “If you want a slick debater, I’m not your guy.” However, it wasn’t the degree of slickness that troubled voters about Perry; the freeze helped solidify the notion that he was underprepared and ill equipped for the presidency.

Slip — an unplanned utterance, a “slip of the tongue.” If it’s benign it’s a flub, but if it inadvertently provides insight it’s a true slip. Romney’s spontaneous offer to bet Perry $10,000 (about what he said in his book regarding healthcare) was a slip because Romney could have made his point by saying, “I’ll bet you 10 bucks.” By placing the ante at 10 grand he heightened concern about whether such a wealthy politician can relate to ordinary citizens.

Fib — a premeditated statement that is false, similar to a lie, but crafted to qualify as truth on technical grounds. Newt Gingrich has been challenged repeatedly about the work he did for Freddie Mac that paid him roughly $1.6 million. Gingrich insists it wasn’t “lobbying,” according to the strict legal definition of the term. But it’s a fib in the opinion of many on Capitol Hill who know Gingrich exerted his influence, no matter what you call it.

Dodge — avoiding a question by giving an unrelated answer. In a CNN debate, Ron Paul was asked if Gingrich and Romney should “return” money they made from Freddie Mac (one for services, the other as a shareholder). Paul said: “That subject really doesn’t interest me a whole lot. The question is, what are we going to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It should have been auctioned off right after the crash came.” Moderator Wolf Blitzer never demanded an answer, allowing the dodge to succeed.

Flip-flop — Changing one’s position, usually in a way that signals political calculation rather than a true change of heart. Romney is branded as a flip-flopper for revising his positions on abortion, healthcare, guns and immigration, among others. But all the candidates have flipped and flopped at times. Gingrich, for example, was an outspoken advocate of the so-called individual mandate for health insurance — and now says he’s vehemently against it, presumably because that’s what his voter base demands.

Misstatement — if it’s corrected immediately it’s likely to be a slip, but if it’s corrected later it’s a misstatement. Romney said repeatedly that he would end “Obamacare” by executive order on his first day in office. After numerous challenges he finally conceded that only Congress could repeal the law. Did he misspeak, or was he misinformed?

The worst political snafus come about when a candidate slips, dodges and then claims to have misspoken — all on the same issue. Romney told CNN that he was not concerned about the “very poor” because they have an ample safety net. Asked to clarify, he repeated the slip, making it a gaffe. A few hours later he tried a dodge by saying his remarks had been “taken out of context.” The next day he claimed that he “misspoke.”

In the current campaign, the war of words is producing many casualties.

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Syndicated columnist Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Obama Does What? http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/obama-does-what/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/obama-does-what/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2012 08:20:13 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=599195 We know President Obama did something Friday related to rules covering contraception and health insurance for employees of religious organizations. But how do you characterize his action in a short headline? What’s the appropriate verb to follow “Obama…”?

Saturday’s front pages went in many, telling, directions. The Boston Globe and Seattle Times were among those who said, “Obama bends.” But the Wall Street Journal and the Providence Journal declared, “Obama retreats.”

Which was it, a bend or a retreat?

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Daryl Cagle / msnbc.com (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Several major papers, led by the New York Times and Miami Herald, took the most cautious approach by saying, “Obama adjusts.” A similarly neutral choice was “shifts,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and the San Jose Mercury News.

Perhaps the most benign selection, serving to cleanse the story of all meaning, came on page one of the Los Angeles Times, “Obama reacts.”

Other verbs of note: Sacramento Bee, “gives ground”; San Diego Union-Tribune, “revises”; Cleveland Plain Dealer, “eases”; Tampa Bay Times, “yields”; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “finds compromise”; the Akron Beacon Journal, “reverses”; the Financial Times, “modifies.”

The Chicago Sun-Times and the Cincinnati Enquirer staked out much more aggressive positions with the words, “backed down.”

Rarely does a newspaper headline present such a challenge to editors, some of whom were clearly driven by objectivity, while others allowed their editorial stance to affect the front-page treatment. It underscores how divided the nation is on an issue that seems, to many on both sides, to be rather clear cut.

As for the New York Post and the New York Daily News, you’d never know from their front pages what Obama did Friday. Both papers put contraception aside, apparently, for full-page celebrations of Beyonce’s baby.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Surely They Jest http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/surely-they-jest/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/02/surely-they-jest/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2012 08:10:58 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=598943 “You can’t make this stuff up,” Johnny Carson used to say when truth trumped fiction in one of his monologues. The line is perfect for the current GOP presidential campaign, where the candidates’ seemingly serious pronouncements leave joke writers with little to add.

The last time national politics provided such comedic lowlights was in 2008, when Tina Fey did her first Sarah Palin send-up on Saturday Night Live with a script that was remarkably close to Palin’s actual remarks, including, “I can see Russia from my house.” Who could make that up?

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

Here’s a Top Ten list of what’s strange but true in the campaign so far:

#10 — Newt Gingrich’s proposal to have school kids work as janitors, starting at age 9. He would fire the “unionized janitors” and replace them with low-paid students, working under a “master” janitor. It’s hard to imagine a plan that sweepingly offends more people — educators, students, parents and janitors, to name a few.

#9 — Rick Santorum’s assertion that states should have the right to ban contraception, despite the 1965 Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Is Santorum aware that the overwhelming majority of Americans uses contraceptives, and few would be willing to move to another state to preserve that right?

#8 — Mitt Romney’s declaration that he’s not focusing on helping the “very poor.” At least he was being honest. If one of the wealthiest men ever to seek the presidency can’t get votes from poor people, it’s probably a waste of time to help them.

#7 — Ron Paul’s suggestion that the federal tax rate — for everyone — should be “zero.” That’s the type of nonsense that really fires up Paul’s determined followers, and it would probably make him a viable candidate if such fantasies were even remotely feasible.

#6 — Paul also advocates abolishing the minimum wage, claiming that such regulations make it more difficult for poor people to get jobs. If nothing else, Paul’s plan would make it easier for kids to earn a dollar an hour as janitors in a Gingrich administration.

#5 — Santorum’s vow to cut federal food stamp programs because people are too fat. He said this exact mouthful: “If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?”

#4 — Gingrich’s pledge not to debate President Obama if a professional “reporter” is allowed to be the moderator. He probably believes this fits with his bashing of all “elite media,” but no reporters? Such nonsense doesn’t even play well on Fox News.

#3 — Romney’s plan to address the immigration problem by having 12 million or more undocumented people “self-deport” back where they came from. You have to believe Romney wonders how that ever popped out of his mouth — and now he’s stuck defending it at every campaign stop.

#2 — Gingrich’s promise to build a colony on the moon by the end of his second term. Gingrich has fantasized for several decades about lunar development; he once authored a blueprint for making the moon the 51st state. That’s got to make voters in Puerto Rico feel good, not to mention the earth’s unemployed, hungry, and homeless. And what are budget-slashing, deficit-reducing conservatives to make of a multi-billion dollar moon mission?

#1 — Romney statement he “misspoke” about poor people. Actually, he said what he believed, and repeated it at least three times before claiming it was a slip of the tongue.

As we said, you just can’t make this stuff up.

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Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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GOP Faces the Odds http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/gop-faces-the-odds/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/gop-faces-the-odds/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 08:20:42 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=598343 It’s a two-man race now, Newt Gingrich vs. Mitt Romney. Here’s the betting line on key categories that seem to matter most in debates and on the stump.

In the category of Falsely Characterizing Obama, Romney uses “European Socialist,” which is powerful and connects well with xenophobic voters. Gingrich relies on “Saul Alinsky Radical.” Alinsky, the Chicago populist who died in 1972, was best known for fighting on behalf of the poor and middle class — so drumming away at this obscure reference isn’t helping Gingrich. Edge: Romney.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

In the What’s My Fake Line? category, most registered Republicans are counting on the fact that anything beats “community organizer.” So, Gingrich calls himself an “historian,” while Romney professes to be a “businessman.” Neither candidate cares for “politician,” although that’s what they’ve each been for most of their adult lives. Edge: Romney.

In the all-important Wives category, Gingrich’s total of three is hard to top. Romney has only been married once, although his great grandfather did flee to Mexico with at least five wives to escape U.S. monogamy laws. Edge: Gingrich.

When it comes to Exaggerated Job Creation Claims, Gingrich boasts that he helped create an astounding 27 million jobs during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. The math and politics are fuzzy, but who wouldn’t vote for 27 million new jobs? Romney can only claim 120,000 jobs — most coming at places like Staples and Sports Authority long after his tenure. Unfortunately for Gingrich, GOP voters believe that government can’t create jobs, thus negating his 27 million. Edge: Romney.

Gingrich easily wins the Who I Want You to Think of When You Think of Me competition. Gingrich deftly cites Ronald Reagan in his answers to all questions. Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to relate to anyone in his past — although he does, oddly, have a large photo of his father, George, on his campaign bus. He also used to mention his Irish Setter Seamus, until word got out that he once strapped Seamus to the roof of the family car for a 12-hour drive to Canada. Edge: Gingrich.

Fawning Over Hispanics is an important category in Florida, and Gingrich has hired former advisors to Sen. Marco Rubio along with several other local Hispanic leaders. But Romney trumps that by having his son Craig narrate campaign ads in Spanish. Edge: Romney.

There’s keen competition in the category of Personal Attacks, even though both men claim they’d rather not stoop to such things. Romney calls Gingrich a “failed leader”; Gingrich says Romney is “timid” and “confused”; Romney labels Gingrich “highly erratic”; Gingrich says Romney is full of “pious baloney.” Edge: even.

In the Wackiest Idea category, Gingrich appeared to have it wrapped up when he declared that students should be hired as school janitors. Then, in a stunning move, Romney bested him by announcing that he favors “self deportation” of illegal immigrants. Edge: Romney.

In the Whose Tax Returns are More Damning category, Gingrich has a lot of splainin’ to do about the $1.6 million he was paid by Freddie Mac to teach history. But Romney’s return not only revealed bank accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, it put the lie to a fundamental GOP claim. If low tax rates for the wealthy — Romney paid about 15% — are supposed to spur job creation, then how many jobs did Romney create with over $40 million that he earned the last two years? None. Edge: Romney.

It’s a tight one. The best Romney and Gingrich backers can hope for is that it never comes down to the category all pageant hopefuls dread most: Congeniality.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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At The End of Our Rope? http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/at-the-end-of-our-rope/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/at-the-end-of-our-rope/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2012 08:20:34 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=595849 A few hours with the TV and radio the other night — one lowlight being a commercial for a holster guaranteed to prevent getting “pinched” by your concealed gun — underscored what a troubled and divided nation we have become.

Fox News Channel carried the latest debate among GOP presidential candidates, during which Mitt Romney pledged never to support any laws whatsoever that limit gun sales in any way. Moving on to foreign policy, Romney said of our enemies, “We go anywhere and kill them.” Period.

In an incoherent rant, Rick Perry said Turkey should be kicked out of NATO, adding that its respected prime minister, Recep Erdognan, might be an Islamic terrorist.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more by Fitzsimmons)

Newt Gingrich doubled down on his earlier piece of oddball thinking that 13-year-olds should work as janitors in schools. He added that as many as 30 such teen employees could be hired for the cost of a single professional janitor in New York City.

For a moment, Rick Santorum seemed like a flaming liberal when he said that felons, even those who had committed violent crimes, should be given the right to vote after they “have paid their debt to society.” Mitt Romney jumped in to make clear that he would never support such a thing.

Ron Paul, lovable gent that he is at these affairs, said the proper income tax rate for Americans is “zero.”

After two hours of this, plus an hour with Sean Hannity in the Spin Room — where the remarks were even more likely to cause dizziness — I turned on the radio. The host was Alex Jones, whose syndicated talk program is heard on over 60 stations, with commentary that Rolling Stone magazine said makes Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck “sound like tea-sipping NPR hosts on Zoloft.”

On this night Jones and his guest were discussing which countries would be the best places to flee to if politics and social programs made living in the U.S. intolerable. After detailed analysis of everything from tax rates to the behavior of dictators, they concluded that Canada and Australia were the best bets.

But the most disturbing element of Jones’s program turned out to be the commercials. During a single break, there were four 30-second spots, each thoroughly frightening.

The first was for food rations — the type you could store in your basement and survive on in the event of, well, just about any bad thing that would send you down to the basement for months at a time.

The next commercial was for a type of pill that combats the effects of nuclear fallout. An announcer cited the accident at a nuclear plant in Japan as good reason for Americans to buy one hundred of these pills but indicated they were also handy should we be thrust into, well, just about any sort of nuclear nightmare.

Then there was the ad for the holster — the one that made carrying a concealed gun more comfortable without any nasty pinching — since, well, we’ll all apparently be needing such weapons pretty soon.

Finally, there was a most unusual ad for rope. The announcer sang the praises of 500 feet of very strong rope, without actually indicating what you might use it for.

I told a conservative friend about the strange rope commercial. He said flatly, “If people become angry enough, there’s no telling what’s next, even lynchings.”

Go figure. I thought the ad meant: If watching the five current GOP candidates becomes intolerable, and if fleeing to Australia doesn’t seem viable, you might find 500 feet of rope handy to, well, hang yourself.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.candidcamera.com.

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Porcini Parade http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/porcini-parade/ http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/porcini-parade/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2012 22:08:51 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=595143 PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Across the street are three young men carrying cloth sacks, walking slowly through the woods in hunched-over style — a posture known in south Florida as the Sanibel Stoop, because Sanibel Island’s gorgeous shells lure many beachcombers. But here in Central California the bounty is a tasty brown mushroom, so you might say this is the Porcini Parade.

A dozen or more foragers trekked by this morning, remarkable when you consider that here in the Del Monte Forest I wouldn’t expect to see that many passersby in a month. Usually, cars are only parked on the sides of these roads during major golf tournaments, but since mushroom fever struck in November they’re wedged under trees and leaning into ditches, as their owners poke for porcinis.

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Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen (click to view more cartoons by Cardow)

Perhaps it was the early fall rain and favorable temperatures that moved Mother Nature to make this the best porcini season in anyone’s memory. Maybe it was the sour economy that inspired so many folks to pay the fee to enter this renowned tourist venue, and then skip the scenic drive in favor of searching for pudgy mushrooms that retail for as much as $10 apiece.

An acquaintance for whom an hour of searching in past years sometimes led to a phone call with the news, “I found one!” reports she now has 186 porcinis in her freezer.

Two young men parked near my house last week and boasted they had a thousand dollars worth of orders from restaurants in San Francisco. Indeed, the back of their car was crammed with perfect Boletus edulis specimens, some with caps as wide as Frisbees.

Encouraged by my wife, who is a great cook but not a nature-lover, I took up the hunt. I managed to make every possible mistake — from using a plastic bag (it makes the porcinis “sweat”), to washing off the dirt rather than using a dry brush (they suck up the water and rot). I got poison oak on my face, cut my left hand in two places, and twisted an ankle tripping over a downed tree. Yet, it was exhilarating.

After a few weeks in the forest our dinner conversation began to sound like the scene from “Forrest Gump” in which Bubba obsesses about uses for shrimp. “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it…” But regardless of your culinary creativity, there are only so many ways to cook porcinis.

So I placed an ad on Craig’s List offering “Grade AA” porcinis for $12 a pound. Soon I got a call from a woman who fit the necessary profile: she loves mushrooms but had been out of town since the harvest began, and wasn’t aware that this year porcinis are probably growing in her driveway. She paid me $20 for six smallish specimens.

Next I went to the fanciest restaurant in town, where the chef estimated I was the 25th porcini seller to come by. Nevertheless, he paid me $50 for a seven-pound bag.

The moral of this story — not the morel, because that’s an entirely different type of mushroom — probably has something to do with weather, economy, nature, human nature and capitalism. However, I can’t quite figure out which.

I recall my mother reminding me on dozens of occasions that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” She never talked about the times when it pokes out from under pine needles.

Anyway, mushroom season is ending. The woods look like a battlefield, with rutted earth and scattered carcasses of mushrooms that were ripped from the ground and then found to be either spoiled or the wrong variety. Foragers are hanging up their Boletus brushes, wondering if this bounty will occur again next fall.

Diehard scavengers will now turn from nature’s exquisite plan to duffers’ errant shots. The woods here provide hiding places for thousands of misplayed golf balls, some worth a buck or two at local golf shops. They can be found by anyone caring to do the Titleist Trot.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Campaigns Are An Open Book http://www.cagle.com/2011/12/campaigns-are-an-open-book/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/12/campaigns-are-an-open-book/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2011 08:18:40 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=593521 It’s becoming difficult to tell if modern presidential candidates are writing books to help their campaigns, or campaigning to sell their books.

Most politicians, going back several decades, have made writing a book part of their election game plan. But what’s happening in this political season — a season filled with all sorts of unusual twists — is that candidates are designing campaign appearances to sell books, and skirting federal election law to keep the profits.

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John Darkow / Columbia Daily Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Darkow)

Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain before his campaign crashed, have taken book promotion to new heights. Gingrich regularly conducts book signings at campaign stops, where customers paying $25 might reasonably assume they are aiding the Gingrich election fund, while in fact the money is going straight to Newt and Callista Gingrich’s private company.

Mrs. Gingrich sells her children’s book at her husband’s campaign stops, and the Gingrich for President website enables visitors to purchase the full catalog of earlier Gingrich titles.

Bachmann’s recent campaign tour through South Carolina revolved around appearances at bookstores and, according to The Wall Street Journal, the trip was paid for by her publisher. Is she staying in the race despite shrinking poll numbers to sell more books?

Candidates are prohibited by law from profiting personally from campaign activities. But the Federal Election Commission was deadlocked this year in deciding whether candidates could host campaign events in places where publishers had paid them to travel. That opened the door to the current book-selling juggernaut.

John McCain and Barack Obama each had books out during the 2008 campaign, but neither hawked them at campaign appearances. Gingrich and Bachmann, on the other hand, routinely hold campaign events in bookstores.

While Cain was in the race, his campaign aides expressed frustration that travel plans were geared to book promotion rather than wooing votes in key states.

Even a wannabe like Donald Trump, who can’t seem to decide if he wants to run for president or just threaten to do so, has just published a book outlining his plans to rescue the nation.

Of the current candidates, only Mitt Romney has disclosed how much has been earned from book deals. Romney reportedly received more than $100,000 in royalties, and gave it to charity. Gingrich, Bachmann and the others won’t say.

Beyond money, writing a book — usually with help from a scholarly collaborator — provides a handy crutch in debates and on the stump. “It’s all in my book,” is the go-to answer when the questions get tough.

Sometimes, however, a book causes candidates to eat their words. Rick Perry’s case was a classic, when he talked about his highly controversial book on the “Today” show just a few months before announcing his candidacy.

“If there is a better signal of my plan for the future of not running for the presidency of the United States, it’s this book,” Perry said in November 2010. “Anyone running for the presidency is not going to take on these issues with the power that I do.”

Sometimes selling books is more difficult than attracting votes. According to The Journal, Bachmann’s publisher encouraged a bookstore in Iowa to buy 400 copies of the candidate’s book. The store opted for 200, and wound up selling 11.

The campaign that hasn’t even reached the voting stage continues to find new ways to make the political process into a media sideshow. There’s nothing wrong with authoring a book, but it’s discomfiting to watch the degree to which the current candidates are marketing their wares.

Ron Paul, who has written several books, has one on the market perfectly geared to the season. Not the campaign season, the holiday season. It’s the new edition of the “Ron Paul Family Cookbook.”

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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How To Fix The Debates http://www.cagle.com/2011/12/how-to-fix-the-debates/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/12/how-to-fix-the-debates/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2011 02:13:08 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=593050 Installments of the GOP presidential debates are coming faster than episodes of “The Real Housewives,” and millions of Americans continue to tune in. However, the latest debate on CNN lost about 2 million viewers from CBS’s broadcast 10 days earlier, and 2 million from CNN’s debate the previous month.

So, producers keep looking for ways to boost ratings, while concerned voters keep hoping for an approach that provides more insight into the candidates and their views. The objectives need not be mutually exclusive.

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Joe Heller / Green Bay Press-Gazette (click to view more cartoons by Heller)

First, a few simple fixes. Stop pandering to social media devotees and toss out all references to Facebook, Twitter and the like. Viewers have plenty of time and digital space after each debate to post reactions and assess performances.

Also, do away with questions from the audience — both in the hall and submitted via YouTube. These heavily prescreened submissions add nothing and interrupt the logical flow that ought be developed among moderators and candidates.

Skip the sappy intros. In Tampa CNN introduced the players by nickname — “Michele Bachmann, The Firebrand,” “Rick Perry, The Newcomer,” “Rick Santorum, The Fighter.” For its Las Vegas debate, CNN had each candidate parade down a long ramp as if they were vying for the title of Miss America.

Stop wasting time. CNN’s John King established a low in New Hampshire, asking Santorum: “Leno or Conan?” And Bachmann: “Elvis or Johnny Cash?”

Avoid gotcha questions. John Harwood of CNBC scraped bottom when he asked Mitt Romney if, “as a CEO” he would “fire Herman Cain (for sexual harassment).”

Don’t limit answers to 30 seconds for questions that would, at minimum, require at least several minutes to address.

After this massive cleanup comes the more difficult task of improving content.

Allow the candidates to query each other. Give each participant an opportunity to pose questions to all opponents, and then rebut the answers.

Provide on-site fact checking. Rather than waiting hours for misstatements to be identified on the air and online, have a group of journalists ready to point out clear inaccuracies during the debate, and give candidates an opportunity to respond.

Take a cue from the old quiz show “Twenty-One” and have participants wear headphones during some question periods so they can’t hear their opponents’ answers. Alternatively, bring one candidate on stage at a time for intense questioning, while the others are sequestered.

Try a few debates without an audience. Recent debates have been marred by unsavory outbursts from audience members, and unlike in recent years moderators have made little effort to quiet them. While it is commonly thought that audience energy boosts the performances on stage, there might actually be greater drama and intensity if the candidates had to respond only to the cameras. Notably, the gripping debate that began the modern tradition, Kennedy v. Nixon, was conducted in a television studio with no audience.

With the audience removed, place the podiums in a circle so candidates must look one and other in the eyes.

Show video clips. Use the technique popularized by NBC’s “Meet the Press” and confront candidates with actual footage of statements they have made previously.

Trim the field. After the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 it would be wise to have fewer participants, based upon results in Iowa and national polls.

Finally, don’t over do it. There have been 11 GOP debates since May, and at least two more are scheduled before actual voting begins. Holding too many debates — especially more than one in a given week — does nothing but squelch audience interest while compelling candidates to dwell more than ever on safe, memorized talking points.

Television producers reflexively use techniques that sometimes work in attracting a mass audience. But when it comes to the presidency, discerning viewers would probably vote for quality information over ratings-driven TV.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. 

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Four I’ll Miss http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/four-ill-miss/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/four-ill-miss/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 01:55:22 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=592820 Four top notch news guys died this fall. Their individual styles of journalism could not have been more different, and yet they were alike in their dedication to keeping audiences informed and entertained.

They touched us all, but for me each had a special connection.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

Tom Wicker was more than a great reporter, he was a progressive thinker who dared tread close to the line that separates impartial journalism from outright activism — at a time when it was far less common than it is today. During his three-decade career at The New York Times that ended in 1991, he was a powerful voice in civil rights and anti-war movements, speaking from a perch that gave him clout with presidents as well as millions of Americans.

In 1971, after writing about unacceptable prison conditions nationwide, Wicker found himself part of the story at Attica prison in upstate New York. He agreed to join a negotiating team during an uprising by inmates, and wound up watching in horror as 29 prisoners and 10 hostages died in an assault by state troopers and guards.

Wicker wrote “A Time to Die” about his experience, and many believe it was the best of his 20 books. Ten years later it was made into a movie by ABC. The Times assigned me to interview Wicker and the filmmakers to find out why the movie was relatively soft while the book was so hard-hitting.

Wicker explained that, in print, “I was able to (present) a number of things involving the problems of criminal justice in America, racism and violence in America.” Film, he told me, “doesn’t work very well that way.” Tom Wicker was a print guy all right, at a time when that was the most important thing a journalist could be.

Andy Rooney not only entertained us, he made us think — not about big, complicated matters but about little things that knit to form our lives. “Curmudgeon” was a word several writers used to describe him. Having been his neighbor in Connecticut I can confirm that he was as grouchy at the hardware store as he was on “60 Minutes.”

What intrigued me most about Rooney was his ability to notice things in life that many of us tend to overlook, and his relentless pursuit of society’s peccadilloes. Andy Rooney was the type of journalist who had the canny ability to make us think while also making us smile.

Hal Bruno was not a household name, but as chief of political coverage for ABC News, where I worked for five years, he helped develop the type of analysis and numbers-crunching that we now take for granted.

He moderated several notable debates, including the vice presidential confrontation between Al Gore and Dan Quayle. Unlike today’s televised debates in which moderators increasingly seek to egg on candidates with gotcha questions, Hal Bruno was a master of the low-key, studious approach aimed at eliciting great answers rather than just good TV.

Bil Keane’s work appeared in the comic section, but it managed to trigger our emotions as much as anything on the front page. “The Family Circus,” a simple panel with parents and kids who haven’t aged a bit since its debut in 1959, remains a staple in over 1,500 newspapers.

It’s schmaltzy yet real, as when little Jeffy asks his mother, “Can I wear my short-sleeve pants?” Or when Billy exclaims, “Mom’s cooking my favorite dinner. It’s called leftovers.”

I never met Bil Keane, but often felt he was part of my family. In the sixties he drew a comic panel called “Channel Chuckles,” for which his favorite subject seemed to be my father’s program, “Candid Camera.” As always, the humor was pointed, yet kind. Bil Keane’s real-life son, Jeff, has been helping with “Family Circus” for some time, so the institution will continue — a passing of the media torch with which I’m familiar.

Taken together, the work of these four men provides a good picture of what great journalism can be, regardless of the form it takes or the era in which it is practiced.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Crazy Lazy Politics http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/crazy-lazy-politics/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/crazy-lazy-politics/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2011 22:17:16 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=592000 First, President Obama accused Americans of being “soft.” Then, he said we’re “lazy.” How dare he!

If you’re a undisciplined campaigner who’s willing to take unrelated quotes out of context and combine them in one thoroughly bastardized attack, you come up with: President Obama thinks we’re all soft and lazy!

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Mike Keefe / Denver Post (click to view more cartoons by Keefe)

On the GOP campaign circuit, “lazy” and “soft” have quickly become the go-to words for 2012.

It’s the latest example of how unprincipled political behavior in an age of instant communications is wrecking government as well as the process of electing people to run it.

Here’s exactly what President Obama said in Honolulu the other day during a conference on international business:

“I think it’s important to remember that The United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity — our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted, well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”

It’s a statement with which no reasonable person, Democrat or Republican, would disagree.

Yet, within hours Rick Perry issued a TV commercial in which he rants, “Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy?” Then, smirking to camera, Perry adds: “That’s pathetic.”

Mitt Romney was also quick to distort, telling a campaign audience, “Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America.”

Several other GOP hopefuls, including Heather Wilson of New Mexico and George Allen of Virginia, are already using the “lazy” line in their Senate campaigns.

Allen wrote on Facebook: “President Obama said that Americans have been ‘lazy’ over the last couple decades. Mr. President, it is not the quality of the American people that is holding back our economic growth — it’s Washington and its failed policies.”

Actually, the president’s pronouncement is as spot-on as the statement he made earlier when he observed that Americans had gotten “a little soft.” Speaking to an audience in San Francisco he noted, “we have lost our ambition, our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.”

He was chiding Republicans in Congress for continually blocking the most basic measures that would create jobs and fix infrastructure.

The president returned to the theme in a TV interview in Florida. Speaking specifically about the younger generation he said:

“The way I think about it is, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track.”

The president added that he wouldn’t trade the position of the U.S. with any country on earth, since “we still have the best universities, the best scientists, and best workers in the world; we still have the most dynamic economic system in the world. So we just need to bring all those things together.”

It takes quite a bit of partisan gymnastics to turn these honest observations into charges that Mr. Obama thinks we’re all soft and lazy. Yet, that’s what the president’s rivals are attempting.

In truth, some of us are soft and lazy, and a few are also desperate.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Chatter Box http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/chatter-box/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/chatter-box/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 20:55:59 +0000 Peter Funt http://www.cagle.com/?p=591894 Talk is cheap, and that’s one explanation for why a new type of innocuous, chatty, talk programming is spreading quickly on mainstream television.

The more significant reason, however, is that the format is an extension of what is happening in new digital media — a process that could be called thought dependence, or chatter box syndrome.

The model for this type of program is “The View,” ABC’s coffee klatch gathering of celebrity women, led by Barbara Walters, which has been around since 1997. Although successful, and replicated in other countries, “The View” did not spawn many U.S. imitators until recently. Then, with almost the viral speed known to the Internet, the format popped up on dozens of broadcast and cable outlets.

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Rob Tornoe / PoliticalCartoons.com (click to view more cartoons by Tornoe)

CBS has an almost identical program called “The Talk.” Fox News Channel recently launched “The Five” and “Red Eye.” Just about every network, from ESPN to Bravo, has introduced shows devoted to lowbrow chitchat.

Existing programs have also implemented the format, including Sean Hannity’s “The Great American Panel” on Fox News, and “The Professionals” on NBC’s “Today” show.

Talk programming is nothing new on TV — in fact, it’s been a staple since the earliest days. What’s different is that the newer chat shows don’t often bother with guests or “experts”; rather, they rely on a permanent roster of B-list panelists, whom viewers get to know much as they do the casts of “Jersey Shore” or the “Real Housewives.”

It wasn’t long ago that most “talking heads” were anathema to television programmers, except in the wee hours and on Sunday mornings. So what changed?

For one thing, there’s the Fluff Factor. During these stressful economic and social times, many viewers are worn out by serious problems for which there seem to be no solutions. They use social media to dwell on smaller issues — and they enjoy watching groups of their TV “friends” chatting about the same innocuous things.

Julie Chen, host of “The Talk,” calls her program “a support group for women out there” — what one critic quickly termed, “virtual girlfriends for people who don’t have real ones.” Or, perhaps, folks whose friends are only on Facebook.

The tabloid topics that provide fodder for chat TV are the ones showcased minute-to-minute on the home pages of Yahoo and AOL as well as on TMZ, Twitter and Google. It’s the “hot topic” of the moment — be it the Michael Jackson verdict, Kim Kardashian’s wedding fiasco, the Penn State scandal, and so forth.

Even when the chatterazzi turn to meaningful areas like politics, they tend to overdose on the more sensational issues such as Herman Cain’s sexual harassment charges or Rick Perry’s “brain freeze.” And like the Internet, TV kibitzing rarely shapes opinions; it only tends to reinforce views through verbal mastication.

CBS has just announced the hiring of veteran talkers Charlie Rose and Gayle King, who will preside over a chat-based format as part of a total overhaul of “The Early Show.” While Rose will attempt a serious news-based approach in the first hour, the second hour with King will be patterned after “The View” and “The Talk.”

That such slender formats can gain popularity on TV underscores the basic loneliness in the digital age, along with the growing preference for softer, less threatening themes.

The trend in talk TV, where harshness is yielding to sappiness — as with Fox’s replacement of the bombastic Glenn Beck with “The Five” — is mirrored by “reality” programming, where innocuous song and dance competitions now attract more viewers than insect-eating contests.

The sad thing about chat TV, with its virtual friends from Hollywood’s and Washington’s B lists, is that it’s no more “real” than reality TV. As entertainment, it’s harmless; as a forum for public opinion, it’s rather frightening.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Dancing With The GOP http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/dancing-with-the-gop/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/dancing-with-the-gop/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 20:31:43 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=591521 If you’ve been sending money to Herman Cain to prop up his troubled campaign, please send some to Rick Perry so he stays in the race. Consider it a favor to all of us who are hopelessly hooked on “Dancing with the Real Candidates of the GOP,” otherwise known as the 2012 Republican presidential debates.

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Nate Beeler / Washington Examiner (More cartoons about Perry's brain freeze)

No network programmer could have invented a TV series with such pop.

There have already been 10 (!) of these nationally televised spectacles — entertainment gifts that just keep on giving. No wonder Republicans tell pollsters they like Herman Cain: they don’t want him voted off the show. Viewers want Cain and Bachmann and the others to hang in there, just as they kept voting for Nancy Grace on “Dancing with the Stars” even though she’s as awkward on the dance floor as Rick Perry is at the podium.

And there are at least 13 (!) more installments of this great show scheduled, with the next one this Saturday night (!) so we can get to know these people like the real housewives of Beverly Hills.

Don’t you just plotz when Newt Gingrich tells the moderators how stupid they are? In the latest episode, on CNBC, Gingrich told Maria Bartiromo, “I love humor disguised as a question.” Way back in Episode 3, Gingrich scolded Chris Wallace of Fox for asking “gotcha questions” that are “Mickey Mouse.”

The GOP should get a toy duck like on Groucho Marx’s old show that drops down whenever someone says the secret word. Will Bachmann say “Obamacare” before Cain manages to say “9-9-9″? Will Perry use the term “wrecking ball” before Gingrich mentions Ronald Reagan?

Just watching them is captivating. Ron Paul’s suit jacket always looks like it’s still got the hanger sticking out the back. Michelle Bachmann runs off stage during commercials to fix her makeup. Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum now get stuck at the far ends and keep making faces because they’re so rarely asked to speak.

Rick Perry has become the show’s Jethro Clampett. He said in the CNBC debate that he’d eliminate three federal agencies, and then could only name two. Ron Paul tried to help him; the moderator offered more time, but Perry just laughed awkwardly and said, “Oops.” OK, fine, Perry can’t dance, but he’s great for the show!

Herman Cain, never at a loss for words, wowed the audience in the CNBC debate by referring to House Democratic Leader Pelosi as “Princess Nancy.” This, from a guy who’s been accused by at least four women of sexual harassment.

What I love about the GOP gang is that no matter what the question, they know a good answer is: “I will never apologize for the United States of America!” That line is always followed by wild applause.

Speaking of applause, where in Hollywood do they find the audiences for these debates? They boo gay soldiers and cheers executions — just like on Jerry Springer’s program. On CNBC they even booed Bartiromo when she dared ask Cain about the harassment thing. After that, co-moderator John Harwood got even louder boos by asking Romney if, as a CEO, he’d fire Herman Cain — a foolish question that Romney wisely ducked.

My favorite debate so far was the one in Las Vegas when CNN’s Anderson Cooper had each performer walk down a long ramp at the Sands Hotel as if they were contestants in the Miss America pageant. Cooper even told the audience to stand for the national anthem by “Tony award-winner Anthony Crivello, starring as the Phantom in ‘Phantom Las Vegas,’ the Las Vegas spectacular!”

Naturally, after each of these shows there’s the post-debate coverage in which all the candidates get to hug their spouses — except Cain, whose wife never attends — and then repeat everything they said a few minutes earlier. They should really get Andy Cohen to host these segments the way he does on Bravo with the real housewives, but Cohen’s gay so the Republican audience would likely drown him out with boos.

If Gallup happens to phone your house, insist that you’re voting for all eight candidates. If Nielsen calls, say you watch every debate with several dozen friends between the ages of 18 and 49, with high disposable incomes.

Keep supporting this great series, and never apologize for America!

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Trap and Release http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/trap-and-release/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/11/trap-and-release/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2011 23:40:59 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=590800 PHOENIX – When uninvited raccoons damage the lawn behind my house, I trap them, drive about five miles, and release them into the forest. Recently a guy saw me and asked that I stop. “We have our own raccoon problems,” he explained, adding that he also traps the critters. “So where do you take them?” I asked. He described a spot that turned out to be the woods behind my house.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

Rather than solve the raccoon problem, my neighbors and I have been shuttling raccoons – possibly the very same raccoons – back and forth across town lines.

This came to mind during my trip here. What do you think Arizona officials are doing with many of the illegal immigrants they’re rounding up these days? They’re busing them to California. And what do you suppose California is doing with some of its illegals? That’s right. California is busing them to Arizona.

Through “lateral repatriations,” as the interstate busing system is called, Arizona now ships about 50,000 people a year to California and Texas for deportation. The thinking – as with the raccoons in my yard – is that by taking the pesky critters to unfamiliar territory before releasing them, they’re less likely to find their way back.

This is just one wrinkle in the immigration story that continues to grow, following last year’s passage of Arizona’s controversial immigration law known as SB 1070. Opposition to the measure has already cost the state roughly $250 million in lost convention business. Gov. Jan Brewer, the bill’s champion, estimates Arizona spends $1.6 billion annually to combat undocumented immigrants.

Brewer, who is now on the talk circuit plugging her book about the issue, says Arizona is the “gateway” for illegal immigration. She says the U.S. has tightened the borders in California and Texas, leaving her state vulnerable.

But beyond selling books, there’s little about the muddled immigration situation that makes anyone happy. Arizona business groups, fearing more boycotts, mounted a successful campaign last spring to defeat several bills in the state legislature that were even tougher than SB 1070. The large Latino population, which voted heavily for President Obama in 2008, is reportedly frustrated, as the number of deportations nationally has climbed to the highest level in over 50 years.

Over $3.5 million has been raised privately to defend SB 1070; however, according to reporting by the Cronkite News Service, 90 percent of the money has come from outside Arizona. People here are fed up with the matter.

Republican presidential candidates don’t know what to do with the issue. Herman Cain suggested an electrified fence, and then said he was joking. Rick Perry said those opposing in-state tuition for children of immigrants were heartless, then apologized for the remark. Ron Paul said he’s against border fences because they’ll be used “to keep us in.”

The head of Homeland Security and former Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano, inspected the border last week – on horseback. How’s that for a photo-op? “Nothing beats coming out and seeing for yourself and…getting on a horse and getting out and seeing some of the terrain,” she told the Arizona Republic.

Napolitano praised the lateral repatriation scheme. But critics say moving immigrants hundreds of miles away before releasing them puts them in danger and, in some cases, separates families. Homeland Security is investigating the charges.

Meanwhile, sitting on the “Today” show’s sofa in New York, Gov. Brewer stressed that no one is stopped in Arizona unless authorities have “reasonable suspicion” that they’re illegal. However, when I visited the border separating Arizona from California the other day, Border Patrol agents were stopping all cars [ital] leaving [end ital] Arizona. Those who appeared suspicious were asked if they are U.S. citizens, as agents with dogs examined their cars.

The immigration issue has grown into a virtually unsolvable problem. Arizona and neighboring states need a guest worker program, a reasonable path to citizenship for those without documentation plus a compassionate program for their children.

Much of what’s happening here, such as transporting undocumented immigrants hundreds of miles away in the hope that they’ll find it harder to return, may make a good photo-op and provide material for a book, but it really underscores the desperation of everyone involved. I imagine my raccoons would agree.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561

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Cain’s Half-Baked Candidacy http://www.cagle.com/2011/10/cains-half-baked-candidacy/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/10/cains-half-baked-candidacy/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2011 01:01:12 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=589218 Barack Obama has a permanent place in history as the man who proved Americans would elect, and likely re-elect, a black president. Whatever else historians conclude about Obama, the racial breakthrough is certain to grow in significance over time.

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more Herman Cain cartoons)

Herman Cain’s legacy, although lesser, will also be noteworthy because he has morphed into the nation’s first truly post-racial presidential candidate. Despite his meteoric rise in the polls, Republican voters will ultimately reject Cain without any nagging concerns that they are doing so because he’s black.

Obama proved he is smart enough, compassionate enough and – despite the destructive partisanship of the moment – politically savvy enough to lead the nation, regardless of his race. Cain, on the other hand, is so unqualified and so lacking in the expertise needed to lead the nation, that he can be easily dismissed without any hint of racial bias.

Herman Cain has no chance whatsoever of being the Republican nominee for president. His surprising poll numbers reflect the deep division within the party. By telling pollsters they favor Cain, few voters mean they want him as president – they mean they’re unhappy with a remarkably lackluster field.

In the early stages, every presidential campaign has its share of pretenders. Some, like Donald Trump, flirt with running to exercise their egos. Others, like Michelle Bachmann, are angling for face-time in the national spotlight and, perhaps, a shot at the vice presidency. In Cain’s case, the pizza executive launched his campaign to promote his book. He had no serious political organization, and his schedule was tailored more to selling books than winning primaries.

Numerous factors disqualify Cain from serious consideration as a presidential candidate, but there’s little need to look beyond his centerpiece tax plan known as 9-9-9. Cain would replace the current system with a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax. There would be few exceptions in any of the three categories – although Cain’s handlers are already adding them, such as an exception for selling “used” things, including houses.

As widely noted on both sides of the aisle, Cain’s oversimplified plan would wreck the already troubled economy. It would, incredibly, serve to further reduce the tax obligations of the wealthy, while dramatically increasing the burden on the poor and middle class.

Cain’s tax plan, like his entire candidacy, is only relevant to the extent that it underscores the nation’s problems. The current tax system is unjust and sorely in need of simplification. Beyond that, however, the nation will never adopt a 9-9-9 formula, nor will it have a President Cain.

Even most conservatives will reject Cain after fully digesting the fact that he opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, plans to privatize Social Security, and has said that Muslims would have to take a loyalty oath to serve in his administration.

Referring to his unexpected jump in the polls, Cain wondered, “Will I be the flavor of the week?” Then, answering with a quip that sounded as half-baked as his campaign, he said: “No, because Haagen-Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time.” (The company has discontinued the flavor, saying it failed to meet expectations.)

In an interview with CNN, Cain said black voters have been “brainwashed” into voting for liberals and are not “open minded” when it comes to considering a conservative point of view. The remark is calculatingly designed to attract white support.

Cain is merely a token of the frustration Republican voters feel with the state of the nation and the state of their party.

If nothing else, it’s a sign of progress that Herman Cain can be referred to as a “token” without even a hint of racism.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Save Our Books! http://www.cagle.com/2011/10/save-our-books/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/10/save-our-books/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2011 15:04:57 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=588416 DENVER — A protest by students at the University of Denver is eye-opening because of how it is being conducted, what it has so far achieved and, most of all, what it concerns.

Students here are demanding more books.

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Kap / Cagle Cartoons (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

Activism at DU has a rich history, including the anti-war protest in 1970 known as Woodstock West, and the earlier Coffee Break Riot of 1965. In the ’65 incident, passion was roused after the administration ended the morning coffee break, a 50-minute period during which no classes were conducted. Students blocked traffic, lit fires and battled with police, but failed to win back their caffeine privileges. It was an era when everything was a Big Deal, and the mood on many campuses was volatile.

Returning to my alma mater last week, I was fascinated by the latest protest. It seems DU’s campus library was badly in need of repairs and modernization. When plans for a $32-million renovation were announced, they revealed that most of the books, about 800,000 volumes, would disappear. These books would be stored at an off-campus location, and be accessible via special order only.

DU, like many universities, was seeking to adapt to changing needs and conditions. The new facility would house more computers, a million e-books and other digital resources. Space that had been used to shelve books would be used for new study areas — reflecting another trend on campuses in which students seek to escape the hubbub of dormitories and increasingly prefer the gentle buzz of a busy, but orderly study environment. Rather than just calling it a “library,” DU refers to its new structure as an “academic commons.”

To the administration’s surprise, students immediately challenged the plan and, relying upon mainly the tools of social networking, launched a protest. Their leader, Brandon Reich-Sweet, said the plan “jeopardized the academic vitality of this institution.” More fundamentally, he asked: “What is a library?”

It was here in Denver two years ago that Suzanne Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University, told a gathering of educators, “The library, as a place, is dead. Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.”

DU students clearly disagree. “What surprised us about the protest,” I learned from Ann McCall, the dean of Arts & Humanities, “is that it wasn’t the older graduate students who were most concerned, it was the younger students, the freshman and sophomores. They wanted more books in the library.”

Following a series of Save the Library demonstrations last spring, one student wrote about it in the campus newspaper, The Clarion, under the headline, “Has DU forgotten about books?” “There is something about being surrounded by books,” said Kathy Owens. “Friends, adventures and information at the tip of your fingers, far more tangible than an article a few clicks away on your computer.”

This was refreshing stuff to hear from a college student, especially for those of us who are still in shock over the equivalent changes in our off-campus world where Borders Books along with hundreds of smaller independent book retailers have disappeared and left us with primarily electronic and online alternatives. And it’s not as if the students are out of step with digital changes. Last week’s Clarion carried an opinion column criticizing professors who ban laptops in class.

Reich-Sweet, the student activist, noted that losing the library books was “just a small symbol of a broader cultural trend. The scribbles and sounds we interpret as ‘library’ would have begun to lose all meaning.”

At last report, DU’s administration has yielded, at least part way, and will return an additional 300,000 books to the spiffy new library shelves.

As an observer, it’s hard to decide what means more: the restoration of books to the very place they belong? Or the fact that students took such an honorable approach, using the tech tools of a modern age, to protect and preserve the past?

It’s quite a victory. And Denver alums who recall the protests of the mid-sixties will be pleased to know that when the new library opens in December 2012, it will not only have books — it will also serve coffee.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Nader Just Won’t Learn http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/nader-just-wont-learn/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/nader-just-wont-learn/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 13:56:20 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=588013 Despite nagging evidence to the contrary, Ralph Nader is basically a smart guy. Certainly he’s aware of the damage he wrought in 2000 by taking enough votes from Al Gore to hand the presidency to George W. Bush. So, you would assume he would never again gamble with the nation’s highest office.

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Mike Keefe / Denver Post (click to view more cartoons by Keefe)

But Nader is back, telling anyone with a microphone that he’d like a clutch of Democrats, perhaps a half-dozen, to challenge President Obama for the 2012 nomination. Nader doesn’t plan to run himself; in fact, he claims he doesn’t want any of his Trojan candidates to actually win the nomination. All he wants is a good brawl in the form of pre-convention debates.

As evidenced each of Nader’s three failed campaigns for the presidency, there are elements in his progressive agenda that would benefit the country. His frustration over President Obama’s inability to push back against the Republican-controlled Congress is shared by many Democrats who helped elect Obama in 2008.

“I just want all these liberal, progressive agendas to be robustly debated,” explained Nader. “Otherwise, there will be a de facto blackout of their discussion” during next year’s campaign.

Strategically, Nader has much in common with Michele Bachmann. As the darling of the Tea Party, she is ostensibly running for president while beating the drum for the group’s ultra-right brand of conservatism. For the party seeking to regain the White House that makes some sense — as long as GOP activists rally around the eventual candidate.

But among Democrats, an exercise like Nader envisions would be a circus, and a destructive one at that. The goal, after all, is retaining the White House while hoping that Republicans lose at least some of their muscle in the House. It serves no purpose to confront the president with a progressive agenda — much of which he personally subscribes to — that has no chance of succeeding on Capitol Hill.

The only certain result of such a process is that Republicans would have an arsenal of new video clips to use against Obama in the 2012 campaign.

As Nader’s own foolhardy efforts in the past have proved, there is no room for third-party candidates in the modern presidential system. They can’t be elected; they only siphon votes from their own side and push undecided voters in the wrong direction.

Compounding Nader’s mischief is the fact that he is joined by the noted Princeton professor Cornell West, an influential voice among African Americans, who has called the president, “a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Vermont’s crusading socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, also favors a challenge to Obama, as does the Ohio maverick, Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Despair among progressives is understandable, but what’s the alternative? President Rick Perry?

What this flap reminds us is that it’s one thing to articulate policy in the abstract, and quite another thing to make it work in the real world of partisan politics — especially the form that has overrun Washington like an out-of-control virus.

That’s not to say progressives should become mute and stop articulating the grander visions. But it should not be done as a direct challenge to the party’s leader, who is also its certain nominee.

Recent polls show that 40 percent of voters identify themselves as “moderate.” President Obama needs to woo them, whether progressives like it or not. Republicans, meanwhile, will be hurt by the deepening fissure within their ranks, and the last thing Democrats need is to replicate that condition.

If Ralph Nader is as smart as he thinks he is, he’ll start campaigning for Obama and retreat from a plan that represents the nadir of foolishness.

—–

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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All The World’s a Stage http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/all-the-worlds-a-stage/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/all-the-worlds-a-stage/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 06:30:18 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=572570 With modern media, know this: you can run off at the mouth, but you can’t hide.

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Bill Day / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Day)

It’s surprising how many media-savvy folks fail to grasp that. Some politicians still think they can say things in the hinterlands and not have the remarks rebound on the Internet. Some pundits believe they can let loose in relatively small corners of the blogosphere, or on local radio stations, and not be taken to task as they would in larger national forums.

Those who misjudge the viral nature of today’s communications do so at their own peril.

A recent victim was Paul Krugman, the noted columnist who writes for the New York Times and someone whose work I often admire. Mr. Krugman had some provocative thoughts about 9/11, most notably that our memories have been “irrevocably poisoned,” and the anniversary is “an occasion for shame.”

Rather than publish these views in the newspaper, Mr. Krugman chose to write them only in his blog, deep within the Times’ website. Perhaps he took comfort in believing that the volatile assertions would reach fewer people. Moreover, he probably assumed the remarks would be seen only by regular readers of his “The Conscience of a Liberal” blog, who might be more accepting of his views than those in a larger, general audience.

Mr. Krugman not only sought safety in the blogosphere’s back room, he also tried to stifle debate by stating that he would not post any feedback, for what he called “obvious reasons.”

Naturally, it took only hours to blow up. Conservatives raged on the Internet and on cable-TV; Donald Rumsfeld even huffed that he was canceling his subscription to The Times (odd, since the item never appeared in the paper).

By the next day, Mr. Krugman was compelled to clarify his position with a second posting in which he softened his stance somewhat. Still, his head must have been exploding. Like so many who underestimate the potency of today’s media, he was no doubt surprised that his quiet little blog had created so much noise.

Professionals who should know better — both liberals and conservatives — often use less restraint on smaller stages. Lately Glenn Beck’s declarations are even more outrageous than they were on cable-TV, now that his outlet is a small Webcast. Sean Hannity, whose barbs are plenty sharp on the Fox News Channel, is even more vicious on his daily radio program.

Politicians who go on local radio back home tend to adopt a “just between us” approach. Over the summer, for example, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) was interviewed on radio in Denver and likened President Barack Obama to a “tar baby.” When it went viral, Lamborn apologized.

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign, President Obama advised: “this isn’t like running for governor or running for Senate or running for Congress, you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say.”

Perry has had more than his share of small-forum remarks that don’t play well on the national stage. Among his worst was the 2005 insult to a local TV reporter in Houston following a testy interview: “Adios, mofo.” In flunking Media 101, Perry later said he didn’t realize the tape was still rolling.

Perry’s book, “Fed Up!” is chock full of cracks and quips that are not only difficult to explain to a national electorate, but also reflect a misunderstanding of media. While the audience for most books, even best sellers, is relatively small, nothing on the printed page is safe from national scrutiny. Following publication Perry acknowledged as much, saying the book provided “the best concrete evidence that I’m really not running for president.”

New media create an unusual dichotomy: communication that is more personal and intimate, yet is preserved forever and potentially glimpsed by anyone.

Those in the public eye should commit to memory a media version of Miranda Rights: Everything you say can and will come back to haunt you.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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No-Pledge Pledge http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/no-pledge-pledge/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/no-pledge-pledge/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2011 13:57:51 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=570572 Even if Jon Huntsman’s presidential ambitions are quashed by the Perry-Romney juggernaut, politicians in both parties would be wise to consider something Huntsman said during a recent GOP debate:

“I’d love to get everybody to sign a pledge to take no pledges.”

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Milt Priggee / Cagle Cartoons (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

Indeed, no matter how certain a politician may be about taxes, wars, health care and the myriad problems that confront us, it serves no useful purpose to be painted into a corner by making a “pledge.” Said Huntsman: “I have a pledge to my wife, and I pledge allegiance to my country, but beyond that, no pledges.”

Michele Bachmann, for instance, quickly found herself cornered by a pledge she made last month in South Carolina that as president she’d guarantee that gasoline prices drop to $2 per gallon. As her challengers noted, factors affecting gas prices are too numerous for any such pledge to be taken seriously.

Just a few weeks ago, Rick Perry signed a pledge against gay marriage. In adding his name to the document authored by the National Organization for Marriage, Perry backtracked on his earlier pledge that he would leave the definition of marriage up to the states.

Ronald Reagan, the oft-sighted model of conservative governing, raised taxes 11 times during his presidency because it was the right thing for the nation.

Yet, all the contenders, except Huntsman, have signed Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge – the emphatic document, that bears the signatures of 270 Republicans in Congress, rigidly opposing tax hikes regardless of nature or need.

Huntsman’s refusal to pledge makes good sense. “I think it diminishes the political discussion,” he explains. “I think it jeopardizes your ability to lead once you get there.”

The tax pledge led to a ludicrous exchange during last month’s debate in Iowa in which Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty squabbled over a sliver of Minnesota tax history back in 2005, when he was governor and she was in the legislature. The measure in question had nothing to do with income taxes; it involved raising the tax on cigarettes. Yet there was Pawlenty, six years later, insisting that the cigarette hike was actually a “fee” rather than a “tax,” which he nevertheless “regretted.”

Democrats have their own pledges, such as the Social Security Protectors Pledge, which compels signatories to “oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age.” Most House Democrats have signed.

It’s one thing to take an unequivocal position on certain moral questions like the death penalty, but to apply the same absolutism to ever-changing economic and political issues is simply an abnegation of duty. One assumes that the public wants leaders who can think for themselves and, when necessary, actually modify their positions.

The late Tim Russert of NBC News was fond of asking candidates for high office to take pledges on all sorts of issues. In September 2007, Russert asked Barack Obama if he would “pledge” to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of his first term. The question, in its absoluteness, was unreasonable, and Obama wouldn’t bite.

After offering that same pledge to other Democrats on stage, Russert asked Hillary Clinton: “Would you pledge to the American people that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb while you are president?” She, too, declined to be bound by such a pledge — especially one that would forever be preserved on videotape in NBC’s archives. Russert was a fine journalist, but his obsession with “pledges” marred his interviews.

Now, pledges have become more than devices employed by TV hosts — they are increasingly the currency of political positioning. That’s unfortunate, because at a time when Republicans and Democrats seem unable to agree on anything, pledges only make the situation more hopeless.

Taking a pledge is the political equivalent of holding one’s breath and turning blue — or, as the case may be, red.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Executions Are Nothing To Cheer About http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/executions-are-nothing-to-cheer-about/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/executions-are-nothing-to-cheer-about/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 15:41:17 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=490732 The numbers are similar; which deserves the applause?

234: The number of executions in Texas since Rick Perry has been governor.

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Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

271: The number of convictions reversed, including many capital cases, by DNA evidence since the creation of the Innocence Project.

It was Perry’s record that received loud, seemingly spontaneous, and chilling applause during the Sept. 7 debate among Republicans. Meanwhile, the work of the non-profit Innocence Project goes on quietly nationwide and in Texas, where its efforts have been met with government resistance.

In the debate, NBC’s Brian Williams said to Perry: “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…” The audience at the Ronald Reagan library and museum interrupted with wild applause. Williams continued: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

“No sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all,” replied Perry, who went on to talk about Texas justice in an oversimplified way that failed to address the question’s underlying truth: that innocent people have been jailed and executed in Texas and that Perry’s administration is taking steps to make such horrors even more likely in the future.

Williams followed up: “What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?”

Perry threw red meat to the crowd when he answered: “I think Americans understand justice.”

During Perry’s time in office, five death row inmates in his state have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

One person who wasn’t so fortunate, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed under Perry’s watch, even as new evidence suggested he was innocent. Perry intervened to halt the exculpatory forensic process in the Willingham case, replacing three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. He refused to grant a stay of execution.

Barry Scheck, the noted attorney who heads the Innocence Project, is now fighting to have the Willingham investigation continue, for the benefit of others who might be falsely convicted. Scheck wrote in the Houston Chronicle that Texas officials “are protecting themselves and shielding Gov. Rick Perry from potential criticism and political backlash stemming from the fact that a man was allowed to be executed even though his conviction was based on flawed and outdated science.”

The former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has now told CNN that Perry and other Texas officials worked to “squash” the Willingham investigation.

Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, more than one third of all executions in the U.S. have taken place in Texas. That’s nothing to cheer about.

There are many reasons to oppose capital punishment. In my view, it is morally wrong and inappropriate regardless of other debatable considerations such as deterrence of crime, and monetary cost to society.

But even among those who support the death penalty — including Rick Perry and the audience at the debate — the possibility of wrongfully executing someone, as well as undermining the process by which such miscarriages could be avoided, should be viewed as nothing less than the horror that it is.

When the audience burst out with applause, Perry could have said, “Hold on. We’re all entitled to our views, and as governor I do what I believe is best for my state. But it’s wrong to cheer over anyone’s death, under any circumstances.”

Instead Perry smirked. And the audience cheered. And the nation was left to wonder whether this was simply another display of shamelessly extreme politics, or whether it reflects a deeper, more troubling divide in our society.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Tarnished State http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/tarnished-state/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/09/tarnished-state/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2011 22:05:12 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=490257 SAN FRANCISCO — Here in California, rocks are not falling from the sky.

So much for the good news. In most other respects, the Golden State is a tarnished mess.

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Daryl Cagle / msnbc.com (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

Does California’s plight sound familiar? A first-term Democratic chief executive struggles with problems left by his Republican predecessor, but is thwarted by a legislature that can’t agree on anything. The big concerns are jobs, the deficit and immigration.

If California is a predictor for the nation, things may be worse than we thought.

There are more unemployed people here than in any other state, by more than double. Texas ranks second, with roughly a million jobless, while California’s total is 2.2 million. To put that in perspective, there are more unemployed people here than make up the entire population of the neighboring state of New Mexico.

California’s bright spots are high-tech and alternative energy. That’s why President Obama visited last year to announce federal loan guarantees for Solyndra, a Silicon Valley pioneer in solar power. On Aug. 31, Solyndra fired all of its 1,100 employees and folded after squandering $527 million in taxpayer money.

The primary explanation for Solyndra’s devastating collapse, analysts say, is that China is now beating the US in solar technology. We’re not talking about making plastic toys, cheap jeans or other products that China excels in manufacturing for pennies. These are solar panels, keys to our future, and we’re getting sunburned by the Chinese.

At the start of summer, Gov. Jerry Brown finally pushed through a budget that attempted to deal with the state’s $9 billion deficit. Now, less than two months later, there’s a revenue shortfall of over $500 million per month — which will soon mean even more cuts to essential services.

California’s public universities and community colleges have eliminated classes and raised fees after losing $1.3 billion in state funding, and now additional cuts are looming. In the midst of this, the University of California recently handed out $140 million in “merit raises” to faculty, some of whom already earn $200,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the typical worker in California has fallen to the lowest point in 10 years.

There are an estimated two million undocumented immigrants holding jobs here. That’s a burden as well as a political hot potato, but the fact is California’s agriculture industry, the nation’s largest, couldn’t function without these laborers. It’s estimated that 80 percent of field workers are here illegally.

California doesn’t need bigger fences, it needs a common sense solution to remove the stigma and legal dangers facing both workers and employers who currently function only by pretending that the system is less flawed than it really is.

As Gov. Brown said of his state, “We have the inventors, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and a vast array of physical, intellectual and political assets.”

In advance of the unveiling of President Obama’s jobs plan for the nation, Brown issued his state plan calling for tax incentives for in-state hiring, and tax penalties for companies that sell goods here but don’t employ Californians. The “revenue-neutral” program would provide $1 billion in relief to California businesses. It’s a good start, if Republicans in Sacramento will get behind it.

For many of the fortunate, this is still Disneyland. But for most Californians, like most Americans, it’s going to take more than dreams to make economic recovery come true.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Hair Raising http://www.cagle.com/2011/08/hair-raising/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/08/hair-raising/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2011 19:37:05 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=489147 If you happened to see a column I wrote in The Wall Street Journal Aug. 22, you might have been mildly amused by my treatise: the winner in presidential elections is often the guy with the best haircut.

However, if you saw me doing this same hair piece on the Fox News Channel, you probably figured I was some kind of crazed political scientist.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune (click to view our Cartoon Blog)

Then again, if your source was MSNBC or the blogosphere, I’m afraid you must have taken me to be a right-wing loon who seriously believes the road to the presidency has something to do with hair follicles.

In media these days, the filter through which we evaluate news and information — especially on cable-TV and the Internet — is so clouded by bias that the content is becoming dangerously devalued.

The Journal column was a political parody, nothing more. The “trend,” I opined, began when John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by a hair; Nixon with a receding hairline and JFK with fabulous locks. Over the years, there was Jimmy Carter’s dynamic ‘do followed by Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood-perfect haircut and today, yada yada, we’ve got a pair of Republicans, Perry and Romney, with some of the hottest hair ever.

Fox News, which like the Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., asked if I’d talk about the column on the morning program “Fox & Friends.” I’ve been on that show before when I had something to plug, and it was harmless enough.

In fact, while I personally disagree with the political views of Fox News and most of its hosts, they seem perfectly capable of doing satire. All the morning shows — from “Fox & Friends” to “Today” — are eclectic mixes of hard news and fluff.

As I was introduced, host Juliet Huddy told viewers, “I swear to you, this is a scientific study.” I immediately said, “Juliet, this couldn’t be any less scientific.”

For the next three minutes I rattled off quips about “health care versus hair care,” and how Republicans might have done better in ’08 with Romney’s full head of hair rather than John McCain’s graying wisps.

A few hours later, the blog Media-ite blared, “Fox & Friends: Candidates With The Best Hair Always Win Presidential Elections.” In a particularly strange summary, the reporter said I was being “lighthearted” but also “seemed to be (speaking) seriously.”

This hot news was picked up by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, who alerted viewers to the fact that, “This morning ‘Fox & Friends’ actually spent three minutes on a segment that suggested the candidate with the best hair always wins the White House.”

Meanwhile, The Atlantic magazine’s website selected the Journal column as one of the day’s five best. Go figure.

Why have Fox News and MSNBC — owned by two of the world’s largest news organizations — allowed themselves to become so obsessed with what the other is saying, particularly whenever it seems to confirm political prejudices? How can viewers of either outlet take seriously the ranting about the other?

And which is a greater waste of time: a three-minute satire about hair? Or criticism about doing such a satire?

The behavior of much modern media is a sad reflection of the new politics that is wrecking our country. Everything is either black or white, left or right, and absolute. There’s no room for compromise, and no tolerance for anything beyond the borders rigid ideology.

I have no idea if the candidate with the best haircut will win. I do know that if media lose perspective — along with a sense of humor — we’ll all get clipped.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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Political Enemies Within http://www.cagle.com/2011/08/political-enemies-within/ http://www.cagle.com/2011/08/political-enemies-within/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2011 17:04:38 +0000 Peter Funt http://blog.cagle.com/?p=487744 The axiom in recent presidential elections is that the left and right stay put, while the middle shifts just enough to determine the winner. When the middle moved to the right we got Bush; when it slid left we got Obama.

What makes the 2012 campaign so intriguing – and frightening – is that it may be determined by two other elements: the far right and the far left.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune (click to view more Rick Perry cartoons)

The role of extremists – arch conservatives and progressives – is nothing new. They’ve always sought to move the needle in their direction and then, when push came to voting, rallied around the candidate of their party. If they didn’t it was ruinous, as in 2000 when Ralph Nader mounted a third-party challenge from the left, causing the defeat of Democrat Al Gore.

So in 2012, which extreme group will rally and which will revolt?

The conservative right, increasingly bound to absolute positions and refusal to compromise, may be gaining enough strength to derail the Republican Party’s chances in ’12. Two of its front-runners, Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, are pitching a brand of extremism that works in primaries but has far less chance of success in a general election.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board worries that Bachmann seems “less principled than opportunistic” and Perry has too much “muscular religiosity” among other negatives. It dismisses Mitt Romney as simply “weak,” and wishes that “someone still off the field will step in and run.” That someone would presumably be less beholden to the extreme right, perhaps New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is said to be reconsidering entering the race.

Meanwhile, although President Obama has nothing to fear in the nominating process, he is being pecked by progressives. Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, the Senate’s most liberal member, said recently it would be a “good idea” if Obama faced primary challenges. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin called upon progressives to be more outspoken in criticizing the president.

Some liberal talkshow hosts and opinion writers are even less restrained in showing anger, claiming that Obama hasn’t done enough to retain the support of those who worked so diligently on his ’08 campaign. Compared to the far right, however, which has virtually captured the policy-making wing of the Republican party, the far left is fragmented and has limited influence.

The true objective in presidential politics is to elect a party rather than a person. Idealists on both edges wish that were not the case. They hate giving ground to candidates and causes that don’t fully measure up to their vision.

What should worry Republicans is that its extreme right has been emboldened by no-holds-barred, no-chance-of-compromise positions. Tim Pawlenty, once thought to be a serious GOP contender, said as he abruptly dropped out, “I brought a rational, established, credible strong record of results, but the audience was looking for something different.”

Pawlenty is conveniently ignoring his underwhelming performances in two debates, but his assessment of those currently crafting the Republican message is spot on.

What should worry Democrats is that the far left has been discouraged, if not paralyzed, by Obama’s failures – despite the fact that most were caused by Republican obstructionism. A half-hearted campaign effort by disillusioned liberals could be enough to tip the election the wrong way.

Progressives wish for a president who would speak more forcefully on controversial issues without worrying so much about appeasing the other party. Conservatives wish for a president who could be unyielding on issues that have stirred so much anger within their ranks.

As 2012 draws near, both extreme factions should be careful what they wish for.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.

©2011 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.

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