I would like to put out a big thank you and God bless to the national rebuilding organization and Kent Corp. They took my deck and put a cover over it so that my elderly mom could enjoy fresh air. They also fixed a sink faucet. These people deserve a big thank you for what they do. They are amazing, kind, caring and friendly and only want to see a smile on someone elses face. Please, Muscatine, volunteer with them to help your community.
"Obama is a Muslim," it said. "That is a FACT."
As best I can recall — my computer ate the email — that was how the key line went in a reader missive that had me doing a double take last week. It was not the outlandish assertion that struck me but, rather, the emphatic claim of its veracity. We're talking Shift-Lock and all-caps so there would be no mistaking: "Obama is a Muslim. That is a FACT."
Actually, it is not a fact, but let that slide. We're not here to renew the tired debate over Barack Obama's religion. No, we're only here to lament that so many of us seem to know "facts" that aren't and that one party — guess which — has cynically nurtured, used and manipulated this ignorance for political gain.
Consider a recent trio of studies testing the effectiveness of fact-checking journalism. They were conducted for the nonpartisan American Press Institute, and their findings actually offer good news for those of us who fret over the deterioration of critical thinking and the resultant incoherence of political debate.
Researchers found, for instance that, although still relatively rare, fact-checking journalism has been growing fast and saw a 300 percent rise between 2008 and 2012. Also: Most Americans (better than 8 in 10) have a favorable view of political fact-checking. Best of all, exposure to fact-checking tends to increase respondent's knowledge, according to the research.
But like stinkweed in a bouquet of roses, the studies also produced one jarringly discordant finding: Republicans are significantly less likely to view fact-checkers favorably. Among those with lower levels of political knowledge, the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is fairly small — 29 percent of Republicans have a favorable view, versus 36 percent of Democrats. Surprisingly, among those with higher levels of knowledge, the gap is vast: 34 percent of Republicans against 59 percent of Democrats.
The traditional rejoinder of the GOP faithful whenever you bring up such disparities in perception is that they mistrust "mainstream media" because it is biased against them. Putting aside the dubious validity of the claim, it's irrelevant here. Fact-checking journalism is nonpartisan. One would be hard-pressed, for example, to paint PolitiFact as a shill for the donkey party given that it regularly dings Democrats and gave President Obama ("If you like your health plan, you can keep it") its uncoveted Lie Of the Year award for 2013.
That being the case, one can't help but be disheartened by this gap. What's not to like about journalism that sorts truth from falsehood? What's partisan about fact?
Nothing — you'd think. Except that, for Republicans something obviously is.
Perhaps we ought not be surprised given the pattern of party politics in recent years. On topics as varied as climate change, health care, terrorism and the president's birthplace, GOP leaders and media figures have obfuscated and prevaricated with masterly panache, sowing confusion in the midst of absolute clarity, pretending controversy where there is none and finding, always, a ready audience of the fearful and easily gulled.
As political strategy, it has been undeniably effective, mobilizing voters and energizing campaigns. As a vehicle for leadership and change, it has been something else altogether. When you throw away a regard for fact, you throw away the ability to have effective discourse. Which is why American political debates tend to be high in volume and low in content. And why consensus becomes impossible.
The API statistics documenting the lack of GOP enthusiasm for fact-checkers, ought to tell you something. Who could have a problem with a fact-checker? He or she is your best friend if what you're saying is true.
You would only feel differently if what you're saying is not.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, readers may email him at email@example.com.
Hillary Rodham Clinton will not be the next president of the United States. She won't even be the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nominee. Risky as it is to place one's bets 18 months ahead of an election, I'm confident in those two predictions.
Well, the scandals, real and imagined, that have dogged her and her husband's heels at every turn since the 1992 election cycle — from Whitewater to Vince Foster's death to "bimbo eruptions" — don't help. Her handling of them helps even less, and the fuse is burning down on a big one: A forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer on the Clinton family foundation's finances.
The charity is hard at work right now, massaging its old tax returns to correct "errors in reporting donations from foreign governments." Good luck "correcting" what looks a lot like a straightforward $2.3 million bribe from Russia (with love) to then Secretary of State Clinton for approval of a sensitive uranium deal.
But it's not financial hijinks, tall tales about Bosnian sniper fire, shrugging deflections of responsibility for American deaths in Benghazi, or even her Nixonian, and undeniably criminal, actions in controlling, concealing and destroying official emails as Secretary of State that sound the death knell for her presidential aspirations.
The real problem is that nobody seems to be able to think of any good reason why she should be elected president. Even among those Americans who are okay with politicians running their lives, there's no great stampede on to let THIS politician run their lives. Maybe that's because she so clearly relishes the idea.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is famous for being famous. "Power behind the throne" talk aside, she married a future president, rode his coattails to a safe Democrat US Senate seat in which she served without distinction (other than voting for the USA PATRIOT ACT and the invasion of Iraq, neither of which are exactly high points on a presidential resume these days), lost her "inevitable" 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to a freshman US Senator virtually unknown four years before, and kept the needle on her tenure as Secretary of State floating between lackluster and embarrassing.
America has a bad case of Hillary fatigue. And where her presidential ambitions are concerned, the affliction is terminal.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the alternatives, Democrat and Republican alike, aren't any better. Even the most allegedly "libertarian" of the pack, US Senator Rand Paul, seems a lot more interested in power than in freedom.
If we all write in "None of the Above" a year from this coming November, will the politicians leave us alone for four years? Of course they won't. But we can daydream, can't we?
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).
One of the funniest conversations I've heard took place among a small group of Arkansas women who'd done their best to clue the newlywed Hillary Rodham in on a basic fact of Southern life she'd been reluctant to accept in the 1970s: cute counts. It's not necessary to be a beauty queen, but a woman who doesn't look as attractive as she can is often suspected of being too "authentic" for her own good.
The lady lumberjack look then fashionable on Ivy League campuses confused Arkansas voters, as did Hillary's decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. (As the husband of a Southern girl often patronized to her face in a New England college town back then, I can testify that cultural incomprehension can run both ways. But that's another topic.)
The point is that Hillary Rodham Clinton listened. As she later explained, she hadn't really understood how strongly people in Arkansas felt about the name thing. So she took the name "Clinton" to stop sending a message she'd never intended. About the same time, it became fairly obvious that she'd started taking clothing, makeup and hairstyling tips from women friends, and quit looking like an outsider, too.
So does that make her more or less "authentic" by current journalistic standards? Does it make her a big faker, the "manipulative, clawing robot" of a Maureen Dowd column? Or a relatively normal human being adjusting to the expectations of the people around her?
Not long afterward, Hillary also started doing something very much like what she's recently been doing in Iowa and New Hampshire: holding small-scale town meetings with local school boards, parents and teachers in support of the then-newly re-elected Governor Bill Clinton's Arkansas education reforms.
Clinton's 1983 education package — its slogan was "No More Excuses" — brought math, science and arts classes to many rural school districts for the first time. It raised teacher salaries and increased taxes to fund them. Over time, it's helped close the historic gap between the state's country and city schools.
And before the campaign was over, Arkansas's first lady was on a first-name basis with thousands of, yes, "everyday people" in all 75 Arkansas counties. She came, she saw, she talked, and she listened. As a secondary matter, Hillary's image problems among Arkansan voters faded away.
How it works is pretty simple: You accept Arkansas, Arkansas accepts you. I'm pretty sure this is broadly true of Iowa and New Hampshire voters, too. So is there an element of calculation in Hillary's latest listening tour? Sure there is.
Is it merely cheap political theater?
Look, she's a professional politician running for president. Of course her campaign events are stage-managed. How could they not be? Just as she ran for the U.S. Senate from New York back in 1999, a state where she'd never actually lived.
Although New Yorkers tend to be more flattered than offended when famous carpetbaggers descend upon them, she held small forums all across the state — impressing most observers with her industriousness and knowledge of local issues. "America's mayor" Rudy Giuliani backed out of the race.
She's a very smart cookie, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And she always does her homework. No, she's not a mesmerizing speaker like Bill, and not the most outwardly charismatic politician in the race (whoever that may be). GOP focus groups say her biggest weakness is their perception of her "entitlement" and seeming remoteness from ordinary people's lives.
So off she goes on another listening tour. "A sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van," Dowd sneers. However, contrary to reporters who marvel at Hillary's "willingness to put on the hair shirt of humility to regain power," she actually appears to enjoy the fool things.
Partly, it's a woman thing. See, Hillary and my wife worked together back when the governor's wife served on the board of Arkansas Children's Hospital. Diane always mentioned two things: how hard she worked on children's health issues, and how she never pulled rank.
But what really endeared her to my wife was Hillary's empathy during a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, Diane was under terrible emotional strain. Hillary never failed to show concern. Was the new treatment helping? Had we thought about seeking another opinion? She acted like a friend when my wife needed all the friends she could get.
And no, there was nothing in it for her. I wasn't a political journalist then. It wasn't about me. It was about two mothers.
In an article unfortunately headlined "Manufacturing Authenticity," Slate's John Dickerson gets it right. For all her privilege and celebrity, Hillary "has something going for her that other politicians do not when it comes to these kinds of events ... she has thought about family issues her entire life."
Dickerson marveled that in Iowa, "Clinton actually appeared to be listening."
And that could turn out to be her secret weapon.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President." You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.