The Barbwire Molly Ivins Memorial Columniator Hall of Flames as of 8-3-2017
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Ned Day
Hank Greenspun
Guy Richardson
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Travus T. Hipp
Jake Highton


Guest Writings by Prof. Jake Highton

Requiescat in pace

University of Nevada Journalism Prof. Emeritus and longtime Sparks Tribune columnist Jake Highton passed away of a heart attack on 7 Aug. 2017. More information as it develops. May the great teacher rest in peace from work well done and a life well-lived.

Quick Jake Index


2006 Jake Highton columns

John Paul I —Imitation of Christ

Pope John Paul II fell far short of greatness

Anti-labor media frame story to consumer

Michael Moore's documentary unmasks Bush

John Paul I — Christlike Prince of the Church
From the 4-21-2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
Reproduced by permission
Copyright © 2005 Jake Highton

Pope John Paul I served only 33 days on St. Peter’s throne, too short a time to make his mark. But has the church ever had a more Christlike pope?

"In God’s Name" by David Yallop, superb British investigative reporter, shows John Paul as a saintly figure. But Yallop’s main point is told in the subtitle: "An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I."

Albino Luciani, born in 1912, was ordained a priest in 1935 and a bishop in 1958. He became archbishop of Venice in 1969, a cardinal in 1973 and pope in 1978. He served from Aug. 26 until Sept. 28 when he died under mysterious circumstances.

Poisoned, Yallop argues. Why? For the enemies he made. One, he was inquiring into the shady finances of the Vatican Bank. Two, the reactionary Curia feared he would institute sweeping reforms.

Whether or not you believe the murder theory—and Yallop makes a persuasive case—the facts are compelling. The pope’s health had been excellent. Cause of death: unknown. Time of death: unknown. No autopsy. No death certificate. Body hastily embalmed. Destruction of much evidence. Vatican smear campaign, lies, disinformation and coverup.

Vaticanologists have long pointed out the enormous power of the Curia, the cunning and conniving cabal that runs worldwide Catholicism. It is archconservative to the core, a bastion against any pope trying to modernize the church.

Poisoning is not unprecedented in papal history. That ignominious history includes simony, indulgences, nepotism, illegitimate children, mistresses, usurpers and inordinate wealth. (See "The Bad Popes" by E.R. Chamberlin, 1969.)

The most notorious popes were the Borgias. Their motto could have been: power, greed and lust. One of them, Pope Alexander VI, had seven illegitimate children and many mistresses. He bought the papacy in 1492, prompting the satiric jibe: "Alexander sells the keys, the altar, Christ himself. He has a right to—for he bought them."

Twenty-five years later, Martin Luther, a great muckraker 400 years before the term was coined, railed against indulgences. This practice of buying your way into heaven was characterized by a popular jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings / The soul from out of the fire springs."

The good popes? Leo XIII, enlightened and humane, issued the encyclical "Rerum Novarum" in 1891. It was a savage indictment of capitalism.

He wrote: "It is shameful and inhuman to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy"… "The oppressed workers (should) be liberated from the savagery of greedy men"…"Neither justice nor humanity can countenance the exaction of so much work that the spirit is dulled…and…the body sinks crushed from exhaustion."

Another good pope: John XXIII. Warm, loving, hearty, outgoing, overflowing with love for humanity. Above all: Vatican II.

Still another: John Paul I. Arriving in Venice as archbishop, he canceled the ritual pomp and ceremony, the procession of gondolas and parades. In a speech, he noted that the archdiocese contained industrial areas, "the other Venice" not visited by swarms of tourists. The day after he arrived he declined invitations to celebratory cocktail parties. Instead, he visited the local seminary, a women’s prison and a men’s jail.

It was customary for the patriarch to have a private gondola. He declined, taking the public water bus. He often rode his bicycle to the mainland to the tut-tutting of "proper" people. Once Luciani was visiting a sick priest who was also ailing financially. He emptied his wallet on the priest’s bed.

Another time when an unemployed school teacher could not afford a rent increase, Luciani wrote him a check. His office was often filled with former prisoners, alcoholics, poor people and prostitutes.

In the Vatican, he insisted on being a pope for the poor. He was the first pope to drop the royal we. He eliminated the elaborate papal coronation, opting for a simpler ceremony. He urged a Third World pope at a time when most observers felt the papacy belonged to Italians.
He strolled the Vatican grounds to the chagrin of Vatican officials. Violating custom, he chatted with gardeners and Swiss Guardsmen and asked them not to kneel as he approached.

He had a mind of his own, riling the Curia. He approved of test tube babies. He planned to reverse the birth control ban. He accepted divorce. He abhorred the materialism of the church. Such progressive thinking horrified the status quo Vatican.

Was Luciani the reincarnation of Christ?

That may sound sacrilegious but I think so.

Jake Highton is a longtime journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Reno. He is the author of "Nevada Newspaper Days —A History of Journalism in the Silver State." (Heritage West Books, 1990)

John Paul II fell far short of greatness
From the 4-14-2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
Reproduced by permission
Copyright © 2005 Jake Highton

Pope John Paul II was a celebrity who evangelized in 130 countries. But he was not a great pope let alone being the greatest man of our time. He was a medieval pope serving in modern times.

More plays on morality

The Sport of Ethics — Looking in the wrong moral playbook

Bad character references

Shoes of the Fisherman

Selling God


The Finger of God

A future fatal fable

Bishop Marcinkus lives above the law in comfortable Sun City, AZ, retirement

The Founding Fathers and God

He stubbornly opposed needed reforms, refusing to yield to the demands of modernity. He subverted the modernizing vision of Vatican II with its aggiornamento, the need to let fresh air into a tradition-chained church.

John Paul was an archconservativise on sexual matters. He opposed abortion. He opposed the use of contraceptives even in poor Third World countries where population control is essential. He opposed premarital sex, which is like Canute commanding the waves to stand still. He opposed divorce, a totally unrealistic position when half of marriages end in divorce.

The late pope was retrograde on so much else. He opposed a married clergy even though other religions allow it. This unnatural sexual repression often led to priestly sexual abuse of parishoners.

He was adamantly opposed to women priests despite the freefall in priestly ranks. Women were second-class Catholics. However, he did venerate excessively one woman: the Virgin Mary.

John Paul’s way was hardly the way to fill the ever-emptying pews with more than gray heads.

Catholics worldwide ignored his strictures on sexual matters. Nine of 10 American Catholics use contraceptives. Italy, a strongly Catholic country, has the lowest birth rate in Europe. Most American Catholics ignored John Paul on divorce, remarriage, sex outside marriage and homosexuality. Has any other religious leader ever been so far behind his flock?

John Paul’s bogus views about the sanctity of life led him to oppose stem cell research and euthanasis. He was antigay, denying gays the human dignity he kept preaching about. As Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic and gay Catholic, noted poignantly: "Gay people are the last of the untouchables. We can exist in the church only by silence, by bearing false witness to who we are."

The pope was wrong about atheists, declaring them incompatible with full humanity. Atheists are more Christian than most so-called Christians. Example: born-again President Bush.

John Paul forced Rep. John Drinan of Massachusetts, Society of Jesus, from Congress where he was an adornment in the 1970s. The pope’s problem: he was too liberal, constantly voted for pro-choice legislation.

But some things the pope was right about: opposition to the pre-emptive, unilateral war in Iraq. He rightly called it an unjust war. He rightly denounced U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib. And he rightly condemned the death penalty.

But John Paul was autocratic, intolerant of dissent. He cracked down on Catholic theologians who strayed from orthodoxy, using Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Grand Inquisitor to guard against "heresy."

A Catholic theologican at Harvard Divinity School complained that it was a sad commentary on the church to deny intellectual freedom. Swiss cardinal Hans Küng, a fierce critic of John Paul, said the church "has completely lost the credibility it once enjoyed under the papacy of John XXIII and in the wake of Vatican II."

Or, as Bill Keller put it in an essay in the New York Times: John Paul "has trained bishops to believe that the path of advancement is obsequious obedience to himself." Author Thomas Cahill lamented that John Paul filled the ranks of the episcopate with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents.

The pope was the ultimate ultramontanist, believing in absolute papal authority over national or diocesan views. He was a master of the grand gesture and rhetoric without deeds and action. Yes, he sympathized with AIDS sufferers in Africa. But then he refused to sanction the use of condoms that would have greatly curtailed the pandemic. He called the use of condoms genocide, an evil condemning users to hell.

John Paul opposed liberation theology in Latin America, a movement that sought to bring Christ to Christianity. It demanded social justice in lands once ruled by a retrograde troika: the military, the wealthy landowners and the Catholic Church itself.

Pundits grossly exaggerated his role in ending communism in Europe. It hardly took courage to attack dictatorial communism. Even the Left could not stomach Stalinism with its mass murders, gulags, thought police and gagged press.

We now hear calls for sainthood for John Paul just as we heard cries for apotheosis for another retrograde world figure: Ronald Reagan.

Death is no excuse for ignoring history and beautifying dismal facts. The Catholic Church has never been too particular about whom it makes saints. But it can hardly canonize a theological Neanderthal, a papal disaster.

Quick Jake Index

John Paul I —Imitation of Christ

Pope John Paul II fell far short of greatness

Anti-labor media frame story to consumer

Michael Moore's documentary unmasks Bush


Antilabor media ‘frame’ stories to consumer
From the 8-5-2004 Daily Sparks Tribune
Reproduced by permission
Copyright © 2004 Jake Highton

Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media by Christopher Martin (Cornell University Press, 202 pp., 2004.)

This is the kind of book not usually reviewed by the New York Times. Too critical of the media. If it is reviewed, book editors assign a reviewer who will trash it. Meanwhile, the Times Sunday book section reviews about 10 insignificant novels each week.

Martin’s indictment: "The major news media are commerical, corporate media and they generally frame stories in ways that favor corporate interests." Framing is presenting a consumer-based view of labor-management conflict.

Strike stories stress the inconvenience and annoyance of customers. Issues of the workers? Swept aside. Low pay? Ignored. Working conditions? Not important. Long hours? Overlooked. Safety issues? Forget it.

What we usually see and read about are the "sorely beset" consumers. And. subtly, the unions are to blame. The struggles of working people and their issues are discounted. Four decades ago every major newspaper had a labor reporter. Today labor reporters are nearly extinct.

The San Francisco Chronicle, one of America’s better newspapers, has an environmental writer, a medical writer, a religion writer and science writer. It has no labor writer despite the fact that the Bay Area teems with labor issues.

Yet every major newspaper has a multi-page business section. Business is news, labor is not. The broad range of labor issues and conflicts usually go unreported.

Martin, a media professor at Northern Iowa, writes: "The news media cover strikes, lockouts, shutdowns and protests largely based on the relevance of the conflict to the interests of the consumer.

"With such framing, the news media’s stories have continually undercut a legitimate social institution—labor unions—that might serve as a useful remedy to millions of U.S. workers who want independent representation in their workplace for collective bargaining and dispute resolution."

Newspaper chains like Gannett keep out unions in order to swell its obscene bottom line. (That bottom line is abetted by monopoly. Monopoly enables Gannett’s Reno Gazette-Journal to charge 50 cents a copy while the Chronicle, a 10 times better newspaper, charges just 25 cents.)

Martin asks why class-based debate is missing from the public forum of mainstream national news. The answer is provided by philosopher Thomas McCarthy: "the press and broadcast media serve less as organs of public information and debate than as technologies for managing consenus and promoting consumer culture."

The Germans work about 500 hours a year less than Americans do. The French have mandated a 35-hour week. But U.S. workers put in more hours annually than the workers of any other advanced economy.

Congress has been anti-union for half a century. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed sitdowns, slowdowns, wildcat strikes and secondary strikes. It allowed states to ban union shops and pass so-called right-to-work laws where workers are not required to join a union. The Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 further limited secondary strikes and picketing.

Loopholes in federal law make union busting à la Wal-Mart prevalent. An NLRB study found one-third of companies illegally firing union supporters in certification elections. (The terrible McCarthy Era drove communists from unions, thereby costing labor much of the social progressivism that communists fostered.)

Reporter self-censorship is widespread. A 2000 study revealed that 35 percent of journalists keep damaging business stories out of newspapers. While ads enable newspapers to be sold cheaply, they exact a terrible price in this so-called democracy.

Former Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham has been lionized but broke a press operators union in 1975 and conducted a union-busting campaign. Reagan has been canonized but smashed the air controller union. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press colluded in union-busting.

"The procapitalist function of the mass media" involves anti-union sentiment because it hurts profit margins, Martin writes. Labor, naturally, is a "special interest" but business is not. Living wage demands are met with hostility. Outrageous CEO pay and benefits and exorbitant corporate earnings? Seldom mentioned by the media.

As media critic Robert McChesney points out: "Coverage of the working class and labor issues may well be the weakest and most appalling aspect of the U.S. news media. It puts the lie to the notion that the United States enjoys an objective press that is politically neutral."

Martin sums up: "Consumer-oriented ends justify antilabor means." Capitalism and its markets triumph over legitimate needs of working people.

Documentary unmasks Bush

From the 7-1-2004 Daily Sparks Tribune
Reproduced by permission
Copyright © 2004 Jake Highton

The experience will be nothing short of a mind-bomb.
—William R. Pitt, columnist for Truthout on Web

If you see the Michael Moore movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," it will be impossible to vote for President Bush in November. If you don’t see it, you should. It is devastating and compelling.

Yet the violently anti-Bush filmic essay and polemic is shown with humor. It elicits laughter, sadness, tears—and utter disbelief. And it is all too true. It shows what Bush is: unintelligent and inarticulate, yes, but above all despicable.

The movie justly earned the top prize at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year.

From the early footage on we look aghast as Bush is unmasked. He continues to read "My Pet Goat" to Florida school kids even after learning that the first tower has been hit on 9/11. After an aide interrupts to tells him the second tower has been hit, Bush sits for seven minutes with an inane look on his face.

Mick LaSalle, demanding film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes: "In the 90-year history of the American feature film, there has never been a popular election-year documentary like this one…The somber tone notwithstanding, this film is on fire…the mood it casts lasts for days."

The film uses effectively the montage technique of the great Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. Montage is what the late film critic Pauline Kael in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" described as "psychological stimulation by means of rhythmic editing."

Eisenstein used montage in his l925 film, "Potemkin," to support communism. Moore uses it to plead for the ouster of Bush.

We see an Iraqi woman crying out in anguish because American bombing has destroyed her house. "Where are you Allah?" she asks. (Edward R. Murrow, with American soldiers seeing the horrors of the Nazi death camps, asked a similar question: "Where was God?")

Bush lectures us about terrorism then, smiling, turns to the golf course and says: "Now watch this drive." U.S. soldiers fight and die in Iraq. That scene is juxtaposed with commentary on pay cuts for the military. The pay of a GI is docked five days because he died before the month was out. Bush’s redaction of his pitiful Texas air guard record — the chickenhawk avoided Vietnam — is juxtaposed with the unedited record.

We see U.S. soldiers who suffered amputations and Iraqis being abused juxtaposed with imbecilic comments by the rebarbative Bush henchmen: Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. More jarring juxtaposition: scenes of horror, tragedy, grimness and sadness are followed by the wooden comments of Bush.

The Moore documentary begins with scenes of how His Fraudulency stole the election from Al Gore. It concludes with the truth: Bush is an unbelievably bad president.

The movie shows how Bush constantly speaks of terrorism concerns, manipulating alert levels to frighten Americans into supporting an unnecessary war and to go along with his retrograde domestic policies. It shows members of Congress, who authorized the war and eagerly support the war, recoil at the thought that their sons and daughters might serve in Iraq. It shows a mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq reading his heartbreaking last letter.

Moreover, Moore savages the media in America as a cheerleader for Bush and his war rather than playing its essential adversarial role. As Web columnist Pitt has observed: "Journalist after journalist is shown rhapsodizing about Bush, his administration and the war. Each and every one of them breathlessly reported what we now know to be bald-faced lies: that Iraq had WMDs, that Iraq was a threat, that we had to invade…It was a slideshow of the nonsense Americans have been spoon-fed for far too long.

"With a single stroke, Moore has undone three years of poor, slanted, biased, factually bereft, compromised television journalism."

Moore, a burly, unshaven guy wearing his ever-present baseball cap, has become America’s most potent documentarian. His voiceover is calm and subdued, his commentary riveting.

Roger Ebert, national film critic, rightly says Moore is "one of the most valuable figures on the political landscape…The outrage and incredulity in his film are exhilarating responses to Bush’s determined repetition of the same stubborn sound bites."

Bush is revealed as totally unworthy of being president. If he should lose Nov. 2, "a consummation devoutly to be wished," Moore’s film could be a factor.

Jake Highton is a longtime journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Reno. He is the author of "Nevada Newspaper Days —A History of Journalism in the Silver State." (Heritage West Books, 1990)


More Guest Columns
Travus T. Hipp
Orland T. Outland

People vs. Corporate Con Job

The Orwell Diversion by Alex Carey

Review of Alex Carey's "Taking the Risk out of Democracy:
Propaganda in the US and Australia"

ORDER "Taking the Risk Out of Democracy"
Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty
By Alex Carey
Edited by Andrew Lohrey
Foreword by Noam Chomsky
University of Illinois Press

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Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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