Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fiorina jumps out to 5 point lead in CBS 5 poll of California voters

And, because it is California, there is a hippy lettuce legalization proposition on the ballot, polling favorably. Shocker.

California Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina has increased her lead over Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer to five percentage points according to a new CBS 5 KPIX-TV poll released Thursday, which also shows gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman in a dead heat..

..Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California and allow it to be regulated and taxed, continues to be supported by voters according to the poll. Results show Prop. 19 passing 50 to 40 percent, unchanged from the CBS 5 poll conducted a month ago.


Now, you may think there is some sort of causal connection here, one way or the other, (hippy lettuce ingestion causing a change in voting pattern, or despairing hippies loading up on the weed as they consider the prospect of Fiorina's inevitable victory) but you would be incorrect in that line of speculation. No. The explanation is very simple.

As I have patiently pointed out time and time again, Fiorina is on the road to victory over Madame..er..Senator.. Boxer because she has had Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame doing her campaign spots:

A book review of sorts: Sherman’s Other War

Every summer we vacation in Michigan and Dallas, our two home towns. When we go to Dallas I make it a point to visit the local Half Price Books locations, a great chain of used book stores. I generally have particular books in mind when I make these treks. This year was no different. I was looking for Sherman at War a collection of around 30 letters from General Sherman to his father-in-law Thomas Ewing. It was printed in 1992 by Morningside Press. The letters were discovered by Joseph H. Ewing, descendant of Thomas, in the family house attic. They were the basis of a fascinating 1987 American Heritage piece I referenced HERE. The article fascinates because it resonates so strongly today. It raises questions revolving around the conflict between first amendment rights, freedom of the press and national security during times of war.

This has been an ongoing issue during our two most recent wars, in connection not only with military operations, but with intelligence operations, and efforts at cutting funding to the enemy. It has also been brought to prominence, with a new twist by virtue of the acts of an entity that is not a traditional press outlet, nor manned by traditional journalists, but an international and loosely organized network of largely unscrupulous hackers, who encourage anonymous treason by malcontents within the U.S. military, which organization is considerably less circumspect in publishing submissions by said malcontents; I of course am referring to Wikileaks and its publicity hungry hood ornament, the detestable Julian Assange. But, rather than hurl further invectives toward that individual, I’ll stick to my subject, the book... Must focus...

The book of letters is hard to find, and just the sort of thing I thought I might be able to find at HPB in Dallas. But alas, it was not to be. Now, I usually have a back-up when I rabbit hunt with a particular book in mind, some book that covers the same subject. My backup was “Sherman’s Other War” by John Marszalek, updated edition 1999, original printing 1981, Kent State U. Press. I did find that book for a cool seven bucks. Yes! I finished reading it recently, so a rough and ready review:

The book is a very easy read, and is devoted to a description of Sherman’s contentious relations with Civil War era press. The basic thesis seems to be that Sherman’s animus toward the press was primarily motivated by personal vendetta, as opposed to ethical principle. What is more, Marszalek thinks the primary lesson to be learned by telling the story is the danger that exists in giving or allowing powerful men and women leeway to control press, even in times of emergency. He claims that Sherman thought the first amendment simply didn’t apply in emergency. He warns of a tendency toward suppression as being the primary danger vis-à-vis the press in times of war. In short, he sees the object lesson here as almost exclusively lying on the side of the military or government. These are the men and institutions that need to reflect and find take-aways and lessons learned when they consider the case of Sherman and the Civil War press.

Yet, in making that case, Marszalek also paints a portrait of the man and indeed the situation that is considerably more complex and belies not only the simplified portraiture of his concluding summation, but the one-sided lessons on offer in that summation. There are lessons that need to be taken away by press. I’ll touch on these points briefly. Overall, though, I would recommend the book, even though it works at cross purposes to its own thesis. The factual information, though inaccurate at points, is largely spot on, and paints a good and engaging picture of the complex relationship between Sherman, his superiors, peers, the press, the aims of the war, and the aims of the press.

Sherman’s motivations in lambasting the press:

I think it’s simply false that Sherman’s attitude toward the press can be attributed primarily to personal animus. I say this granting that he had good reason for personal animus. He was branded insane more than once by various papers. What is more, there was plenty of animus in the press, aimed toward Sherman. Because he was largely effective in controlling the outflow of information, they resented this. He had the temerity to court-martial one Thomas Knox, who ignored a general order that forbade press from accompanying Sherman’s army during the Chickasaw bayou expedition. The end result after some appeals to Lincoln and Grant was that Mr. Knox was removed from Sherman’s army. He even admitted to Sherman that he and others in the press had a vendetta against the General, and felt they had to attack him, and fabricate charges, because they perceived him as attacking them. So, they were quite willing to make things up in pursuit of that goal. Now, given all this, I do not doubt that Sherman had some personal animus toward the press. It was deserved. Where I disagree with Marszalek, however, is in his judgment that this personal animus was Sherman’s primary motivator behind efforts to control press.

Aside from all this, Sherman had a gift for seeing the long-term repercussions of dissolution of the Union. He predicted the long and bloody course of the war, and warned his Southern friends against secession because it would bring them ultimate defeat. Not only that, but his letters and his memoirs make it very clear that Sherman had a deep and abiding love of the Union, and of the U.S. Constitutional order. He was also very troubled by what he perceived as less than serious preparation on the part of the North, in the early stages of the war. He feared that the lack of seriousness could lead either to a prolonged conflict, or to possible defeat. This deeply troubled a man who genuinely loved his country, and the Union. His attitude is very similar to Lincoln’s. There was no ground for compromise on the Union. It must be preserved, and to that end, slavery must not be allowed to continue. (This is not to say Sherman did not harbor rather typical racist views of the day. He most certainly did.) This love of the United States was no shallow thing, but animated Sherman. It was instilled in him by his step-father, and reinforced at West Point and during his days of service. John Sherman, his brother, was a prominent Senator. They reinforced each other in this devotion. Most famously, his devotion to the Union was evinced in his painful decision to leave the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy (now LSU), of which he was superintendent from 1859 to 1861. He left making the above mentioned predictions as to the course of the war. What is more, after the war, he, like Lincoln believed in generous terms so as to ease the reintegration of the southern states into the Union. This animated his surrender negotiations with Joseph E. Johnston. The feelings were mutual. Johnston was to be pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral years later. All in all, for Sherman, Union was his primary concern. This is obvious if one reads his copious literary output. I believe this corpus bears out the proposition that this concern, more than personal animus, fed disdain for the press. He saw the press as endangering the prospects of success in preserving the Union. Add to this his belief that careless dissemination of information cost his men’s lives, and one can see his primary motivation was not personal.

He genuinely believed, and had good reason, that too much information flowing to Confederate forces would not only lengthen the war, and increase the casualties, but could have perhaps led to failure of Union forces. One has only to recall how close run a thing the election of 1864 was, and how real and strong the sentiment was to call a halt to the war, and allow slavery to continue, even allow the Confederacy to exist. Such a “two state solution” was a real possibility, and it deeply troubled the general.

Additionally, Sherman believed that the press as the primary source of information during wartime, could greatly affect the course of war, due to affect on morale of citizen and soldier. He was right to note that the press self consciously undertook to manipulate public opinion as to the efficacy of the administration and the generals. Then, as today, the press was divided. Some papers were pro-Lincoln, others supported his political rivals. Some papers were Democrat, others Republican. Their editorial views were part and parcel of their ‘hard’ news. Sherman’s was not a naïve view of the press. He knew it could dictate the course of the war. Pursuant to this fear, he tightly controlled press in Memphis while he was in effect the military governor there. He also protested stories he considered inaccurate throughout the war, and allowed very few journalists to accompany his famous march.
In fact, his life experiences had given him good reason to believe that press accounts of events are often inaccurate, and when written by journalists that are concerned to maintain employment, and published by editors that are concerned to keep a leg up on competition, and who also have editorial/political axes to grind, can often devolve into speculation colored by these interests. This can have serious repercussions on the communities served by the papers. His experiences as a banker in California were but one example. News stories caused a run on the banks, and ended up making the situation considerably worse than it needed to be. What was worse, he was interviewed, but not quoted, nor cited in stories concerning the banks. Panic was the result.

Also, Sherman was very much aware of something that has not changed all that much to this day, the proclivities of politicians, military men and others to make use of the press as weapons in their conflicts with others, and as a cudgel for their ambitions. All of this Sherman became acutely aware of in his variegated career previous to the war. So, yes, he was suspicious o f the press, did not like them, and had a personal animus, but he was also acutely aware of the power of the press, and its relative immunity from negative consequences of carelessness. Seeing that, coupled with his deep devotion to the Union, he acted as he did.

This, it seems to me is a more accurate picture of the true motivations of the man during the years 1861 to 1865, vis the press. I would like to wrap up by reiterating that all of this does ring true, and that Sherman very largely ‘got it right’ about the dangers introduced by the cavalier press of the day. Therein lies a lesson for the press today. The war-time take-aways and lessons to be gleaned from this episode do not merely lie on the side of the government and the military, for, despite protestations to the contrary, they are not the only powerful parties involved in wartime operations. The press is powerful, especially in the United States, governed as it is by a constitution that enshrines freedom of the press in the first amendment. It too must make efforts to wield its power responsibly. Yes, we need its watchdog function, but it must be careful not to fall into the trap of rationalizing its own animus, its bad choices and occasional fabrications via the easy defense of burnishing and exhibiting its watchdog badge.

And then again, their is the internet neuveau-press, and the unprincipled Wikileaks demanding that the Pentagon help them scrub their document dump...shudder...

Where have you gone General Sherman?..You'd know what to do.