As Critical Thinkers, We Must Seek Out Information From Many Sources

Here are a few of the things I’m following right now:

  1. AZ Immigration Bill

  1. Rise of Radicalism

  1. U.S. Economy


More Collaboration is Necessary

Jenna Bush Hager interviewed former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative University on April 18 in a piece that aired on the Today show April 19.  A Bush interviewing a Clinton isn’t as odd as it sounds.  The two have much more in common than they have differences. 

Hager is a teacher and a Today show contributor. Both share not only the unique experience of living in the White House, an interest in politics, but also a commitment to education.  Hager began her interview by thanking Clinton for engaging in the “rarity” of “a Bush interviewing a Clinton.” Clinton responded jokingly, “I was thinking, you know, if your family fed in questions I’d be cooked.”

“No, no. They love you,” said Hager. “In fact, they joke that you’re my grandfather’s stepson … because he talks about you more than he talks about anyone else in the family.”

Clinton said Barbara Bush often refers to him as the “black sheep” in the Bush family.

President Barrack Obama appointed former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to head up fundraising efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake.  This bi-partisan approach is so powerful because there are some things that are human issues and politics play no role. 

Critical thinkers must ask, what more could be accomplished if there were more collaborative efforts like these?

Are Negative Campaigns a Fixture of American Politics?

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin sent out a press release April 14, 2010 attacking Sean Duffy for being a white supremacist and used racial overtones to do it. Is this an indication that Rep. David Obey (D-WI) realizes he finally faces a serious challenger in the 40 years he’s been in office? Are party officials getting desperate to smear Duffy?

The press release states, “Duffy was scheduled to appear at a Wausau Tea Party event Thursday alongside white supremacist  Alabama militia Col. John Eidsmoe (Eidsmoe since canceled).”  It continues, “But even before not answering questions about the Tea Party scandal, Duffy was not answering questions about his unexplained role at a Wisconsin Dells resort where he reportedly fled the scene after his wife got into a shoving match with GOP rival Dan Mielke. Shortly thereafter, his campaign manager either quit or was fired.” 

Perhaps the worst of the short press release comes at the end from Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate where he is quoted, “For someone who has spent the better part of his adulthood trying to prance around on television, Sean Duffy has been pretty scarce when it comes time to come clean about just who is funding his campaign and just what orders his Tea Party masters have given him,” Tate said. “Maybe he’s trying for a gig on “Dancing With the Stars,” where he can pretend he knows how to rumba instead of pretending to be a timber worker.” 

Duffy for Congress campaign manager, Matt Seaholm fired back with a press release.  It states, “In response to the baseless claims of racism thrown at Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy, Duffy for Congress campaign manager, Matt Seaholm, said the Democrat Party of Wisconsin (DPW) owes the Republican congressional candidate and his family an apology. Today, the DPW and its Chairman Mike Tate accused Duffy, who is married to Rachel Campos-Duffy, a Mexican-American, of being a white supremacist.”

Seaholm said, “Sean Duffy is proudly married to a Mexican-American and together they have six wonderful children.   The DPW crossed the line by blatantly playing the race card and insulting the Latino community.  The Democrats owe the Duffy family an apology and Mr. Tate should resign immediately.”

What then about DPW’s claims of Duffy’s association with Eidsmore.  Duffy’s press release says, “Sean believes the views of John Eidsmoe are abhorrent.  Sean is not scheduled to speak at a Wausau Tea Party event and he had no more knowledge of the speakers than Mr. Tate did.”

Seaholm further addresses the allegations that Dufffy is racist by saying, “But today the DPW continued to play the disgusting race card with thinly veiled insults using Latin terms to smear the Duffys such as ‘majordomo’ and suggesting the 4-time elected prosecutor pretends to ‘rumba’.” 

The Duffy campaign believes that DPW used that language intentionally in an attempt to attack Rachel Campos-Duffy’s ethnicity.  Seaholm says, “It’s no mistake the DPW is using these Latino terms to smear Sean and his spouse’s Latino heritage.  Dave Obey should publicly call on the Democrat Party of Wisconsin to retract their accusations.  What the DPW is doing is truly disgusting and shameful.”

Why all the negativity?  University of Wisconsin Madison political scientist Kenneth Goldstein wrote a book about it—Campaign Advertising and American Democracy.  In the book, he argues that negative campaigns contribute to a health democracy because they succeed in engaging voters.  Goldstein says that much of the criticism regarding negative advertising is rooted in the incorrect assumption that Americans are easily manipulated. 

It may be hard to believe, but studies show negative ads help win political campaigns. Refraining from negativity speaks volumes about character, however. Will voters respond? Are negative ads a fixture of political campaigns? These are just a few of the questions critical thinkers must ask.

Interview with Mark Povinelli

I interviewed Mark Povenelli on Critical Thinking in the Real World Wednesday, April 14 from 1 to 2 pm CT.  To listen to our interview, please access the podcast or visit iTunes.

Mark Povinelli has appeared in over 30 film/TV shows, and 25 professional theater productions. Mark toured the world as Torvald Helmer in the OBIE award winning production of Mabou Mines’ DollHouse. Other theater credits include the premiere of Belle Epoque at Lincoln Center as the lead role of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Mark also has worked regionally at the Shakepseare Theater, Children’s Theater Company, Radio City Music Hall, Oklahoma Lyric Theater, Will Geer Theatricum and UCLA Live. Mark’s camera credits include guest starring roles on Cold Case, ‘Til Death, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Pushing Daisies, Charmed, Frasier, Dharma & Greg, and The Parkers. He will also be seen in the upcoming HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, produced by Martin Scorcese. Film credits include Epic Movie, Polar Express, Van Helsing, and Beer For My Horses.  Mark is currently filming the title role in The Liliput, a true story about a Polish little person who survived the Holocaust by hiding in trash cans.

Mark’s short stature adds to the richness of his acting experience. While he prefers to be known simply by his name, the term little person is acceptable and he is a member of Little People of America.  You can learn more about the organization at

 Here’s a link to his information on

Who is to Blame for the Coal Mine Disaster in West Virginia and How Can Such Tragedies be Prevented?

On April 5, 25 coal miners died in an explosion at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Branch South Mine in West Virginia.  This was the deadliest mining disaster the U.S. has experienced in 25 years. 

Coal mining is an extremely dangerous profession.  It always has been.  Removing coal from the ground is extremely difficult. But this disaster causes critical thinkers to ask, why does it have to be so dangerous?

One of the biggest dangers in mines is methane. This colorless, odorless gas is so flammable that it can explode with even the spark generated from a static charge a person might get walking across a carpet during the winter.  For this reason, miners are required to carry extra canister s of oxygen while they are underground.  All mine explosions are preventable, said Kevin Stricklin who is an administrator for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Authorities will fully investigate what went wrong at the mine, but this particular mine has a history of safety violations.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations over the past five years.  Massey Energy reportedly contested 422 of those violations, but paid $742,830 in fines.

The Associated Press reported that just last year “federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment.”

CNN interviewed Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) who said that the mine appears to be a “bad apple, there’s no question about it, because of the history of violations, including as late as March 30 of this year.”

There is now little hope that the four missing West Virginia coal miners will be rescued.  Rescuers first made it into the mine again early in morning on April 9.  But when they got within 1,000 feet of the second refuge chamber, it was poisoned with smoke.  Rescuers extinguished the fire and returned to the chamber and have not recovered any miners. 

While some continue to hold out hope that there will be survivors, the community is mourning the loss of seven men whose bodies have been recovered as their funerals are held. 

Why did this tragedy occur and how can disaster like these be prevented?

An April 9 article on The Huffington Post titled, Obama Administration Missed Chance to Get Tougher  On Unsafe Mines, attempts to assign some blame on a lack of government regulations.  It says, “Long before the explosion that killed at least 25 miners inside Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine on Monday, Obama administration mine safety officials were aware of a major loophole that allowed companies like Massey to avoid stricter enforcement despite alarming safety records.”

We must not forget the severity of this recent tragedy and honor its victims by tirelessly working to makes the mines safer for those that work there.

UPDATE: April 10, 2010 The bodies of the missing miners have been found.  According to CNN, West Virginian Gov. Joe Manchin said, “We did not receive the miracle we prayed for.”  He made that sad statement “after notifying grieving family members that officials found the bodies of four miners who had been missing after a coal mine explosion.”

Tiger Woods and his Sponsors Should Focus on Golf

Tiger Woods is back on the golf course. His return to golf started well when he scored a birdie on the third hole of The Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia on Thursday, April 8, 2010. But Nike is airing an ad that takes the focus off his golf skills. 

The new Nike TV commercial is a failure.  The black and white commercial has a voiceover with his late-father’s voice admonishing Tiger and features a pensive Tiger Woods wearing a Nike hat and vest.  He looks guilty.  The voice of Earl Woods says, “Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive; to promote discussion.  I want to find out what your thinking was.  I want to find out what your feelings are and did you learn anything.” 

Why would Tiger Woods approve this?  Why would Nike think this would rebuild his credibility and Nike’s as well?  The commercial is certainly is getting a lot of media exposure, however.  Perhaps that was Nike’s goal. 

Nike did stick with him while most sponsors dropped him.  Woods lost some $50 million in our endorsements deals as the scandal of his infidelities has unfolded since November. 

Public figures enjoy tremendous fortune and have high visibility.   It’s in their best interest to safeguard their favorable status with the American public.  Then they are rewarded with celebrity endorsements from companies eager to form a partnership with them.  When that happens, companies hope consumers will associate the goodwill they feel for the celebrity with their product.   

If a celebrity wants the endorsement contracts, he or she must meet expectations.  That means celebrities must not only excel in their professions, but behave without reproach in their private lives as well because everyone is watching and millions of dollars are at stake. 

While Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer of this century, he’s lost many of his fans in light of the scandal. He should have stopped at one sincere public apology and then continued about what he does best—play golf.  That is all he should be speaking about.  In a press conference on Monday, Woods said, “That first tee, I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t looked forward to that tee shot in a long time, not like this. It feels fun again. You know, that’s something that’s been missing.” Statements like those are what will help to rebuild his image.  Focus on what you do well, not on what you’ve done wrong.

Nike’s newest commercial doesn’t help create the comeback story Americans love.  Critical thinkers should ask, why does Nike continue to use Tiger Woods?

Is Obama’s Plan to Remove Certain Words from National Security Document an Example of Political Correctness Gone Too Far?

The April 7, 2010 Associated Press (AP) headline, “Obama Bans Islam, Jihad From National Security Strategy Document” causes critical thinkers to ask many questions.  Firstly, is this an example of political correctness gone too far? 

According to the AP article, “President Barack Obama’s advisers will remove religious terms such as ‘Islamic extremism’ from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.”

Words matter. We change the way we speak to indicate a change in the way we think. It works the other way too. Words influence our views. It comes down to a difference between denotation and connotation. A word’s dictionary definition is its denotation. The feeling or image a word evokes is its connotation. The spirit behind political correctness is an admirable one because of this.

But the era of political correctness has held us back in some ways because it seems to justify an absence of critical thought. Americans are at war, but is it the War on Terror as President George W. Bush called it? President Obama refuses to call it that.

The events of recent months prove we are still very much threatened.  Our enemy seems to be hard to define, however. Just consider the attack at Fort Hood as well as those arrested in Denver, Detroit, New York and Pakistan in connection with potential threats to American’s safety this winter. There are threats, but who or what is the enemy? These threats come from extremists who have declared jihad against the United States. Why is it politically incorrect to call them Islamic extremists? What unifies these terrorists if not their religious fanaticism? Can you be tolerant of religious differences while still distinguishing when one group hides behind a religion to push forward a criminal agenda?

Or is the argument one against profiling?  Americans aren’t condemning an entire faith or race.  We must embrace Muslim nations while still being mindful of those extremists intent on attacking our nation.  Most believe racial profiling is wrong in that it is discriminatory.  This can be true as profiling has often been a tool misused by law enforcement. Shouldn’t we concentrate on how to use the law enforcement tool properly and effectively?

Obama wants to distinguish his National Security Strategy from Bush and Obama’s administration seems to find fault with the word terrorist.  In some ways this makes sense since one country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter.  The phrasing frames the reaction. We cheer the freedom fighter and attack the terrorist. Therefore, I can understand why anyone involved in a cause would like to have freedom in the title. But Americans are left wondering what to call our enemies. 

The Bush Doctrine stated, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”  Is this no longer true? 

Will this debate over language be so distracting that it will cause us to be more vulnerable to our enemies?

Please cheeck out The Americano website for more. 

Are negative ads a fixture of political campaigns?

Join us on Wednesday, March 24 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm CT on Critical Thinking in the Real World at as we discuss negative campaign advertisements.  Studies show negative ads help win political campaigns. Reframing from negativity speaks volumes about character, however. Will voters respond? Are negative ads a fixture of political campaigns? 

Call in and share your thoughts at 877-864-4869 or post a comment here.

A Call for Critical Thought, Not Violence

Argument is an intellectual exchange of ideas.  It doesn’t mean coming to blows and it’s a shame today’s political climate has resulted in violent threats.   If you are passionate about health care reform or any political issue, write letters, make phone calls, conduct research and then vote. Don’t make threats, insult or act violently.

The recent passage of health care reform has caused many to resort to violence.  Both the Republicans and Democrats are receiving threats. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said someone fired a shot at a building that broke a window at his campaign office.  “Security threats against Members of Congress is not a partisan issue and they should never be treated that way.”

A March 25 Washington Post article states that there were, “at least 10 House Democrats reporting death threats or incidents of harassment or vandalism at their district offices over the past week.”

Many trace these threats to an Alabama blogger who tried to insight violence on March 19.  He posted on his website Sipsey Street Irregulars “So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows.  Break them NOW.”  The Washington Post reported, “These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation — he calls it “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act” — to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.” Vanderboegh refuses to apologize because he really believes that throwing bricks is an effective way to get a message across. 

The FBI and Capitol Police are aggressively investigating the threats that have come in the form of hate-filled voice mail messages and emails, broken windows and even shots fired.  Hazmat crews in New York City responded to the Queens office of Rep. Weiner (D-NY) on March 25 when an envelope arrived containing a suspicious white powder as well as a threatening letter. 

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called the incidents unacceptable.  In Fox News Channel interview, he said, “I know many Americans are angry over this health-care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening, but, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let’s do it the right way.”

No one who makes threats, hurls racial slurs or resorts to name calling is a critical thinker.