A propos of nothing, here’s a piece I did for The Harvard Crimson in 1986 while I was teaching there:
Several years ago scores of passengers came down with severe diarrhea after eating a meal aboard a Japan Air Lines jet. It turned out that a food handler at a stopover in Alaska had caused the outbreak by coming to work, in violation of airline rules, with an infected cut on his thumb.
Just one of those things, and, fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. Until a few days later, when the Japanese executive in charge of JAL’s food service department apologized to everyone concerned by committing suicide.
Americans react differently to these matters. After the leaky booster rocket made by his company caused Challenger to explode, the chairman of Morton Thiokol was asked if he should have resigned. His name is Charles S. Locke. Here is what Mr. Locke said: “You explain to me why I should.”
We don’t go in much for kid stuff like personal responsibility or honor, here in the Land of the Setting Sun.
And so I was mildly surprised a few weeks ago to read that Bernard Kalb, a former newsman, had resigned as State Department spokesman on what sounded a good deal like a point of honor. It was like seeing a cow eat a chocolate bar: no physical reason why the thing can’t be done, but you don’t run across it every day.
What you run across most days is what issued immediately from President Ronald Reagan, a former actor and labor union leader, Secretary of State George Shultz, a former economics professor and businessman, and National Security Advisor John Poindexter, an admiral. All three appeared to endorse lying so enthusiastically that you came away with the idea that it was not only the salvation of the Republic, but could probably cure hives as well.
This is of course the general view of the matter in all governments, and in all other bureaucracies, too. Kalb’s action makes him stand out from the crowd like Boy George at a sheriffs’ convention.
No such thing has happened since 1983, actually, when Les Janka quit the White House press office over the lies his superiors were telling about the conquest of Grenada. Before that we have to go back to 1974, when White House Press Secretary Jerald F. terHorst quit after President Ford pardoned Nixon.
Both men, like Kalb, came from news backgrounds. Could it be that former newsmen are marginally more, well, honorable than the rabble of lawyers, lobbyists, military men, bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians who hold most of the high appointive jobs in any administration? The notion seems so preposterous that I advance it without much confidence…
How could honor survive very long in anyone who has worked on newspapers? Most papers, after all, are timid, wretched things that can reliably be counted on for the truth only in such small matters as baseball scores, stock market quotations and yesterday’s weather. And their publishers, by and large, have the same regard for the truth that a cocker spaniel has for a fireplug.
But publishers do have a high regard for money. My brother, a publisher himself, remembers a meeting of the clan at which Kay Graham of the Washington Post received a standing ovation. Afterwards he turned to the publisher beside him and remarked on this spontaneous tribute to the woman whose paper was just then breaking the Watergate story.
“Watergate, hell,” his neighbor said. “It’s because she broke the pressmen’s union.”
And it is a true fact (as opposed to the government kind) that most newspaper publishers would rather give away free ads than pay their employees a living wage. Decent salaries would violate the most sacred tenet of journalism, which is to net 20 percent on gross.
But union-busting is seldom necessary to hold down wages in the city room. All a publisher has to do is encourage the poor saps in the belief that they are working for something far more precious than money: The Truth.
Somehow this works. Newsmen who are so cynical about everyone else’s profession can be wonderfully naïve about their own. They need to believe that there is such a thing as truth, and that they are the boys who search it out, and that, once printed, it can set men free.
Even newsmen turned spokesmen tend to hold onto these reassuring beliefs, as they might to an old teddy bear. It is this reluctance to put aside childish things that causes the poor fellows now and then to walk the plank instead of lying like a good boy.
Why should I say it when Glenn Greenwald already has:
A Washington Post article about the incident actually equated the two figures, beginning with the headline: “Jorge Ramos is a conflict junkie, just like his latest target: Donald Trump…” That Ramos was acting more as an “activist” than a “journalist” was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.
Here we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.
Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.
From News: the Politics of Illusion, by W. Lance Bennett:
More important, a hard look at information quality shows that far from “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” the mass media play a major political role by not taking sides at all. In theory it seems fair for the media to be neutral. In practice, however, journalistic neutrality means that groups with the loudest, best financed and most rehearsed voices get their messages across more effectively and more often. The result of journalism’s unwillingness to develop a voice for democracy is that the news has become virtually a direct pipeline for propaganda from powerful organizations to the people. In practice then, medial neutrality must be a great comfort to the already comfortable and an additional affliction to the already afflicted.
One of the dangers of growing old is that your networks tend to be created less through happenstance and more through past contact. As a result it’s easy to find oneself continually in a state of loss. Though minor in a larger context, a significant loss to me happened last Thursday, June 18, with the death of Phil Austin of the seminal comedy group Firesign Theatre, whose name the New York Times is unable to spell correctly even a single time throughout a rather extensive article on Austin and the group. I suppose consistently spelling it the same wrong way at least proves the text was copy-edited, but apparently no one even noticed that the group’s website to which the Times article links spells it “Theatre”, not “Theater”, in the very URL they used in the link. This is neither an infrequent nor an obscure spelling, and the Times shows a certain disrespect for Mr. Austin by printing his obituary but misspelling the name of his most familiar accomplishment. So thanks, Times, for some classy coverage.
Firesign Theatre was not readily described. Their comedy was very social and media-savvy in the environment of the late 60s and early 70s, yet in the midst of the war on Vietnam and the Nixon presidency the Theatre skits were not overtly political. They loved to skewer the ridiculous aspects of life wherever they found them. Check out the pitch from Ralph Spoilsport at Ralph Spoilsport Motors (Austin is in the lower middle in the picture):
These four guys from Berkeley (all as it happened astrologically fire signs) in the midst of political and social turmoil imagined both the current world and possible future ones from what was then a radical point of view, one in which the government and the powerful could not be trusted in the manner to which Americans had been accustomed during World War II and its aftermath. Without mentioning Nixon or the war the Theatre could explicitly and occasionally viciously eviscerate the viewpoints and behavioral tendencies of the supporters of both, and this at a time when everyone was forced to side one way or the other; no one was neutral about the American presence in Vietnam. Yet the name of that country never came up in their work as far as I know, though I admit to not being familiar with all of their work from the most recent few years.
Still, somehow they told us truths that helped guide us through murky and dangerous times. How can you be in two places at once, they quite legitimately wondered, when you’re not anywhere at all? Physicists are still working on that one. Everything you know is wrong! Quite right, and it’s proven every day. We’re all bozos on this bus? Look at the results.
This is why it took me a while to warm up to Monty Python, whose comedy at the time avoided any social commentary whatsoever and focused entirely on individuals and their silly situations and actions. Hilarious, certainly, but not as deep, I thought; but that idea too evolved, as Python developed over the years.
Anyway, Regnad Kcin, also known as Nick Danger when the name is read from the front of the door rather than behind, was a noir-style detective in LA whose antics Theatre fans lapped up. Austin voiced Nick, so I’ll sign this off with that signature performance. But seriously, check out the Youtube videos for the group, they remain pretty damn funny.
RIP, Phil, you gave us a lot of laughs and insight to boot. You were the real deal.
…what actually happened in Ukraine, as opposed to what the lamestream media has been obediently feeding us. This from James Howard Kunstler:
Ukraine became a failed state due to a coup d’état engineered by Barack Obama’s state department. US policy wonks did not like the prospect of Ukraine joining Russia’s regional trade group called the Eurasian Customs Union instead of tilting toward NATO and the European Union. So, we paid for and enabled a coalition of crypto-fascists to rout the duly elected president. One of the first acts of the US-backed new regime was to declare punishment of Russian language speakers, and so the predominately Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine revolted. Russia reacted to all this instability by seizing the Crimean peninsula, which had been part of Russia proper both before and through the Soviet chapter of history. The Crimea contained Russia’s only warm water seaports and naval bases. What morons in the US government ever thought Russia would surrender those assets to a newly-failed neighbor state?
Was Vladimir Putin acting irresponsibly in this case? The opposite would be a much more logical conclusion. And what interest does the United States have in Ukraine? Surely no more than Russia would have in Texas. And when else in the entire history of the USA all the way back to George Washington did any government official declare Ukraine to be America’s business? Answer: Never. Reason: we have no legitimate interests in that corner of the world. So why in the early 21st century are we making this such a sore spot in our foreign relations? Because our waning influence in the world, in turn a product of our foolish inattention to our own economic problems and failing polity at home, is driving America batshit crazy.
None of what follows is news in the sense that it has never been reported before. It is news in the sense that most Americans, due to a combination of incompetence, laziness and spinelessness on the part of our media, are completely unaware of it. Proof of this is the almost universal outrage over Putin’s actions (reactions, more accurately) in the Crimean crisis. Pay special attention to what George Kennan said below. As usual, he was right. And to what Clinton did. As usual, he was wrong.
From the campaign trail on Oct. 22, 1996, two weeks before he defeated Bob Dole for a second term as president, Bill Clinton used NATO enlargement to advertise his assertiveness in foreign policy and America’s status as the “world’s indispensable nation.” Clinton bragged about proposing NATO enlargement at his first NATO summit in 1994, saying it “should enlarge steadily, deliberately, openly.” He never explained why.
President Clinton, thus, reneged on the pledges made by Baker to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. Clinton lamely called upon Russia to view NATO’s enlargement as an arrangement that will “advance the security of everyone.”
Clinton’s tough-guy-ism toward Russia was, in part, a response to even more aggressive NATO plans from Clinton’s Republican opponent Bob Dole, who had been calling for incorporating Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as full members of NATO and had accused Clinton of “dragging his feet” on this. Clinton was not about to be out-toughed.
Those three countries joined NATO in 1999, starting a trend. By April 2009, nine more countries became members, bringing the post-Cold War additions to 12 – equal to the number of the original 12 NATO states.
Clinton made what quintessential Russian specialist Ambassador George Kennan called a “fateful error.” Writing in the New York Times on Feb. 5, 1997, Kennan asserted: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”
“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
I came across this yesterday in a posting about something called First Look Media, with which I should probably be familiar but am not. The writer is a former employee:
Employees were initially told that we were free to spend whatever we needed for our reporting and the company simply asked that we spend its money responsibly, as we would if it were our own. But soon new orders came down from management that made it difficult to pay for a source’s drinks — and to report, at least in Washington, it is pretty much required that you be able to take sources out for drinks to have discreet, relaxed conversations. Over time, management began closely scrutinizing expense reports. Some of us became so frustrated, and intimidated, that we decided to simply stop expensing some legitimate reporting costs because it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to get reimbursed.More than a half century ago (can it have been that long?) I was a reporter in Washington myself. I don’t remember ever taking sources out for drinks to have discreet, relaxed conversation. I was an editor for a while as well, and to the best of my recollection none of my reporters ever put in for such “legitimate reporting costs.” I think I would have remembered, too. Who can forget a good laugh?
Eventually I turned into a source myself, as a speechwriter for President Carter and later the head of public affairs for the Federal Aviation Administration. I had plenty of relaxed conversations with reporters, all right, many of which turned out to be less discreet than they should have been. (For example it might have been wiser not to tell the New York Daily News guy that writing humor for Carter was like giving tap dance lessons to FDR.) And none of those reporters ever even offered to pay for my drinks, damn it.
My point is not that we had standards back then, by God, not like these kids today. The ethical level of journalism now is probably no worse than it was; for all I know it’s better. I’m just curious. Any reporters out there? Is it routine to buy drinks for your sources these days? Can you expense them?
From Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Guy, a good point:
The real shame is that even though members of the non-“fake” news media respected Stewart, and spoke reverentially about his influence on their understanding of their own business, no one in the legitimate press followed him up Bullshit Mountain to pursue Fox News as a story. Do you understand what I mean by that? Fox isn’t just a news organization with a somewhat different take on current events — it’s an Orwellian propaganda ministry for a large, white nation-within-a-nation that votes in every election and therefore decides the political course of the larger America no matter how much of a lock Democrats seem to have on the presidency.
What Fox has done to America is the great untold news story of our generation. Jon Stewart got that, and mainstream media figures admired him, but the mainstream press never followed up on his stories. The MSM figured he had it covered (or, more likely, figured that he never had to worry about suddenly needing a job in an industry where only Murdoch seemed to be expanding).
The only major takeout on Fox News that I recall was a New Yorker profile way back in 2003. Its focus was on Roger Ailes, the former GOP hitman who still runs the network. But not only is Fox an even more newsworthy target today, it’s also an easy one. By now there must be hundreds of disaffected employees and ex-employees wandering around and willing to talk. They wouldn’t even have to be disaffected, actually: no greater blabbermouth exists than a newsman (or in this case a television “news”man). I’d do the job myself, only I’m on social security now so I don’t have to get my hands dirty anymore.
Peter Friedrich sends this email: Interesting article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today. “America, You Got it Worse — a situation report in 45 paragraphs.” Sounds as sad to me as it sounds true.
Which sent me on my first visit to Google Translate, where I found these paragraphs among the 45. Sounds to me as if Peter is right.
7 . In contrast to France, which, if it really came in the past in a dead end, has an immediate given several times a new constitution, is in the excessively tradition-conscious — and verfassungshistorisierenden — United States unthinkable such modernization of the political structures.
8. This means that virtually no chance to introduce a parliamentary democracy. Despite all the difficulties, it provides a “dictatorship period” during which an elected party (or coalition) can enforce that for which they fought in the campaign. The American-style presidential considered inappropriate for the age of globalization, since no one, particularly apparent in spite of positive political decision-making power has. America is in danger of turning into a huge Belgium.
11. The occupation with which the Supreme Court consistently anti-modern as a legal Tea Party, can operate based on three sources: first, the choice of (predominantly conservative for the foreseeable future) constitutional judges for life; secondly, the possibility of free-floating creation of law, in the context of a casuistic oriented legal thought; and thirdly, ideally things that did not exist at that time so as facts to declare on the ideological default, to orient on the spirit of the founding fathers and unconstitutional.
12. In general, the judiciary is primarily due to the holes ever expanding comprehensive selection of judges, including the principle of public campaign financing by industry interests, if not undermined in their democratic legitimacy…
20. Even if one thinks the phenomenon Silicon Valley would really be repeatable: Were the basic conditions of the then IT revolution really comparable to the conditions of the environmental and energy revolution of tomorrow? At that time it was enough to come forward with new ideas. The financing of Internet startups is known to be relatively cheap (“Seven people in a garage”...).
21. In the environmental revolution, however, the amortization of projects over much longer investment periods is required. Is American politics at all today in a position to stake periods of thirty years reliable? In Congress, the renewed tax rebates for research and development spending by companies at best in two-year periods? And what help because investors who want to take along everything and risk-free quickly and with a high “return”, but when possible?
25. This is all the more so as the same policy interests — is downright noisy — because of private campaign financing. A Kremlin strategist once said that Putin’s United Russia is modeled after the American party system. He leaned in trust to his American interlocutors over and whispered promising: “We both know that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin, right?”
26. The American media are more dependent on advertising revenue than elsewhere, both in terms of what newspapers as well as what television. A simple test question: Which industries were on average for most advertising revenue of the media? Automobile manufacturers, construction, financial services and pharmaceutical manufacturers. And which industries collapsed a few years ago? Cars, construction and banks, while the pharmaceutical companies (including other health care providers) so far managed to prevent a cost-saving reform.
27. Because the American media for material self-preservation interests do not bite, they contribute almost nothing to the timely combat efficiency and apparent lack of modernization. Hindsight is of course closely involved with it, to make an equally intense and stylistically brilliant analysis, to reap in the hope that after it’s too late at least a Pulitzer Prize for groundbreaking reporting. Overall social responsibility is different.
37. Can a modern industrial and service economy ever get back on their feet, when used as “bureaucrats” describes government officials and members of the public service exception (the favorite formula of Republicans)? Not that there were no irregularities in the management, but they are no worse than in Europe. What it says on the inner peacefulness of a society, when the entire public service is described in the same hatred perspective, as for the term “communist” was the case at the time of the Soviet Union?
44. Will the United States until then modern, though the country, not only in the births “majority minority”, but if minorities make up the majority of the electorate? If women in politics and in professional life more dominant? A wise observer of American politics, said the day of the confirmation of George W. Bush’s election by the Supreme Court, that a decade ago, now begin the last great gasp of “white Anglo-Saxon man.” There are many indications that she was right.
From The Economist:
The official autopsy report, obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, indicates that Brown was shot at close range, which seems to support Mr Wilson’s assertion that Brown reached for his gun. It also seems to back up his testimony that Brown first ran from the vehicle, defying the officer’s command to stop, and then turned around and charged him. Brown’s blood was found on the gun, on Mr Wilson’s uniform as well as inside the car, which also supports Mr Wilson’s claim that the confrontation took place at short range and that he was acting in self-defense. Half a dozen witnesses also provided testimony supporting Mr Wilson’s view of the events.
Once again, great attention is paid here to any evidence that a shot was fired in the car, as if this supported the policeman’s story that Brown was reaching for his gun. The unspoken assumption is that Brown wanted that gun in order to shoot the cop. How likely is that?
A jaywalker runs from a cop seated in a patrol car, door closed and window open. The suspect stops, turns, and “charges the vehicle,” presumably having been struck in mid flight by the thought that it ought to be easy to haul a cop out through a car window and teach him a good lesson by beating him to a bloody pulp in front of dozens of witnesses. However the victim’s gun turns out to be in his hand instead of out of reach on his right hip.
Why was Wilson’s gun out? Why not? Wouldn’t any officer slap leather if a jaywalker with a big mouth ran away from a patrol car? Case after case after case, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, has demonstrated that running away from a cop calls for immediate application of the death penalty.
Brown seems to have forgotten this. What an idiot.
Does improbability creep into this version here and there? Then let’s try another one.
Brown runs. Wilson shouts at him to stop. Brown stops and returns. Arriving at the vehicle he sees the gun in Wilson’s hand. Brown, being a black man, makes the reasonable assumption that Wilson, being a white cop, is about to shoot him. In self defense, he goes for the gun and is shot in the hand.
That so many media accounts treat the presence of powder residue and blood inside the car as an indication Brown was trying to shoot the cop is astonishing. Well, no, I guess it isn’t.
Back in the late 1950s I worked for a long-dead tabloid called The Washington Daily News. It struggled as the smallest of the three papers in town and was being kept alive, I suspect, mainly to give the Scripps-Howard chain a right-wing voice in the capital. Its editor was John O’Rourke, a remote figure who appeared irregularly in the city room. As far as I can remember, I had never met him.
Until the paper published the first of a three-part series I had written on the crooked practices of local car dealers. Shortly after the paper hit the streets, O’Rourke showed up trailed by four other suits and disappeared into his office. A few minutes later the city editor hollered that Mr. O’Rourke wanted to see me in his office right away. “Tough luck,” the reporter at the desk next to me said. “You’ve just written the world’s first one-part three-part series.” We both knew that auto ads were a major part of the paper’s puny revenue stream.
The four suits in the editor’s office turned out to be the paper’s business manager, its advertising director, and two representatives from the auto dealers. Plainly I was toast.
“Can you back up everything in your pieces?” O’Rourke said without a word of preamble as I stood there.
“Yes, I can.”
“That’s all, then. Go on back to work.”
And so I did. That was the sum total of my first and only meeting with Mr. O’Rourke. The series ran in its entirety.
I mention this because:
Time Inc. has fallen on hard times. Would you believe that this once-proud magazine publishing empire is now explicitly rating its editorial employees based on how friendly their writing is to advertisers?
Last year — in the opposite of a vote of confidence — Time Warner announced that it would spin off Time Inc. into its own company, an act of jettisoning print publications once and for all. Earlier this year, the company laid off 500 employees (and more layoffs are coming soon). And, most dramatically of all, Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp now requires his magazine’s editors to report to the business side of the company, a move that signals the full-scale dismantling of the traditional wall between the advertising and editorial sides of the company’s magazines.
Even with all of that, though, it is still possible to imagine that Time Inc.’s 90+ publications, which include some of the most storied magazines in American history, would continue to adhere to the normal ethical rules of journalism out of simple pride. Not so!
Here you see an internal Time Inc. spreadsheet that was used to rank and evaluate “writer-editors” at SI.com. (Time Inc. provided this document to the Newspaper Guild, which represents some of their employees, and the union provided it to us.) The evaluations were done as part of the process of deciding who would be laid off. Most interesting is this ranking criteria: “Produces content that [is] beneficial to advertiser relationship.” These editorial employees were all ranked in this way, with their scores ranging from 2 to 10.
Professor Fouad Ajami died Sunday, at age 68. I thought his obituary in the New York Times, like many of their obits, was deeply interesting. I saw Ajami frequently on television, as an expert commentator, on CNN mostly. He was definitely suave, and I thought persuasive in his analyses, at least on their surface. For me, he did bring a certain credibility: he was an Arab, born and raised in the Levant until he was 18, when his family came to the U.S.
I always had reservations about his analyses, however, as he had become an American college professor rooted in this country, and, worse, a denizen of the ideological think-tank subculture. In other words, for decades he was no longer a day-to-day or more or less continuous presence in his area of expertise — the Middle East, its Arab nations and peoples.
As the obituary makes clear, he was a member of that amazing, only-in-America group, our public commentators who are almost always wrong about the really important things, but who seem never to go away quietly in disgrace (in Olde England, one admiral who failed at war was hanged for it):
● Dick Cheney: “In a speech in 2002 ... Cheney invoked Mr. Ajami as predicting that Iraqis would greet liberation by the American military with joy.” At the time, this astute “expert” assessor of the contemporary Iraqi public temperament was safely ensconsed in his scholar’s office at Johns Hopkins, a short drive from the White House;
● The Condoleezza, who “summoned him to the White House” when she was (ugh!) national security advisor fresh from ... a sunny California campus half the globe away from Iraq;
● The hapless Paul Wolfowitz, whom Ajami advised when Wolfie was deputy secretary of defense under the unbalanced Princeton grad and wrestling cheat Donald Rumsfeld. At least Rummie served in the military;
● And Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (another scholar who moonlighted as an Important Expert Advisor for the powerful). Lewis, who “urged the United States to invade Iraq,” advised President George W. Bush himself — going right to the tippy top, as it were. From the obit, I learned the degree to which Ajami was in that cohort with Professor Lewis. (William Kristol wasn’t mentioned in the obit as one of the always-wrong, as should have been his due. I’m sure Willy published lots of praise about Ajami in his magazine)…
(By the way, let us nevermore hear how elitist liberal universities like Princeton turn out, exclusively, legions of brainwashed liberals and other leftist and perverted crazies who poison and undermine our republic. Think Lewis and Rumsfeld. Ajami, too, taught at Princeton. And we must add to my little counter-argument U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as well.)
Professor Ajami bought into the Gilded Age legacy of Democracy, Always and Forever. He “despaired of autocratic Arab governments finding their own way to democracy,” with the implication that others — oh, who, I wonder, could those others be? — would lead them to it, like horses to water. He told his audience “of how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried [and failed] to renew their homelands’ culture through the forces of modernism and secularism.” (We can pass over, for now, the perception that there may be a homeland on the other side of the Atlantic that needs its culture renewed through the forces of modernism and secularism.)
That catalog of wet-dream stuff for other nations has long been the price of entry to the circle of the powerful and the righteous, the ones who, as the obit said, “believed that the United States must confront what he [Ajami] called a ‘culture of terrorism’ after the 2001 terrorist attacks…” Not before? How come the revelation came so late to this seemingly so knowledgeable scholar of the region and its cultures?
Prof. Ajami also “strove to put Arab history into a larger perspective,” often referring to “Muslim rage over losing power to the West in 1683, when a Turkish siege of Vienna failed.” (In 1683? The Times offers us that lunatic howler with a straight face.) “He said this memory had led to Arab self-pity and self-delusion, as they blamed the rest of the world for their troubles.”
You have to be pretty far removed from the reality on the ground anywhere (and from common sense) to come up with imaginings like this. I suppose the Muslim Middle East is 99% full of just plain people. Folks who have families, children, jobs, little joys and too often sorrows. They want education for their children, things like that, and maybe not so much finally to get revenge for 1683 in Austria by destroying two buildings far away from Austria, in New York City.
I’ve never been in the Arab Levant, but I doubt the respectable folks there, busy with living their lives as best they can, sit around the kitchen table and lament the failure of the Ottomans (who were themselves culturally centered in Asia Minor, I believe, not in Iraq or the Arabian peninsula) to overrrun Vienna. What a crock of shit — yet Professor Ajami shrewdly got the power players to buy it and butter his bread.
Well, that’s the message they wanted to hear, to be sure. I’ll bet the local people in the Middle East complained and still complain endlessly about stuff, real stuff, not just Ajami’s imaginary nonsense ... but I’ll also bet it hasn’t typically included anger at being humiliated by the cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire, a k a “the West.”
The Times obituary failed to observe that Prof. Ajami is only one in a large coterie of men (mostly) who determinedly urge “us” into this or that war or other military escapade, but who have never troubled themselves to put on the uniform of military or naval service and risk standing in harm’s way. Yes, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that includes you, not just the “Dick” and Wolfie and Feith and many of the rest of the gang so eager to keep Dover Air Force Base busy.
I now count myself an early adherent to the life school of Ron Kaplan, chief executive of Trex, a manufacturer of outdoor decks. In today’s New York Times, he was asked, “How do you know which people to make your allies?” He replied, “By watching and listening. When people speak, you measure the variance between what they tell you is going to happen and what actually happens. The smaller the variance, the greater the credibility…”
This may at first strike you as a fancy restatement of the obvious, as it did me. But then I thought of the many pundits whose oracular certainties appear and reappear without end — yet are almost invariable proven wrong as to Mr. Kaplan’s “what actually happens.” I thought of Exhibit One, William Kristol, on the Iraq invasion and on the Affordable Care Act, to name two of many topics. I thought of the Times’s columnist Thomas Friedman on pretty much everything. I thought of the pompous talking-head David Gergen, and of the bloodthirsty military strategists John McCain and Lindsay Graham. Wrong, wrong, wrong time and again — but their confident predictions and prescriptions nevertheless continue to pop up time and again as VSPs (very serious pronouncements).
The Kaplan Principle seems therefore not to be obvious at all … and in any case its application is underutilized. Vastly. I have come to realize, as well, that under another banner the principle has been around for a while. In Western New York, where I grew up, we just disregarded someone who was wrong most of the time as being full of shit.
Can’t say I’ve searched the entire narrow span of the MSM, but this is the first major mention I’ve come across of the remote possibility that the United States might in some minuscule fashion if you viewed the matter from just the right angle hold some microscopic measure of responsibility under certain circumstances perhaps not totally unimaginable for the present mess in Crimea. From the New York Times, and good for them:
…Safeguarding this maritime muscle may well have been one reason President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent armed forces to seize Crimea. But is it possible that the Sevastopol base is just the most concrete manifestation of Russia’s deep interests in Ukraine that the United States and its NATO allies either ignored or forgot as they tried to bind it more tightly with the West?
For years, Mr. Putin has complained about the West moving unilaterally to reorder the Continental balance of power — promoting Western capitalism and democracy — with little indication anyone was heeding his concerns. Its courting of Ukraine, apparently, was a step too far, prompting Mr. Putin to risk sanctions and the worst conflict since the Cold War to make clear that Washington and its friends do not call all of the shots anymore…
Read the rest and then forward it to the idiot McCain and Graham, care of any of the Sunday talk shows.
The current alleged crisis over the “scandal” of Benghazi is obviously totally political, devoid of merit, of both good sense and facts.
The real facts, from a top CIA source, are: circa 2011, our guys got wind of the fact that an al Qaeda-linked cell was forming in Benghazi, Libya. So we put three agents in the U.S. consulate to use paid informers to identify the cell’s members and their “house” address — which they did — and to track back to their origins and network connections.
The problem with using paid informers, of course, is that intelligence can flow both ways. So the Benghazi cell learned about the presence of our guys, too. Then, in September 2012, taking advantage of the smokescreen of Libyan civil unrest (the so-called Arab Spring uprising), when the host country security services were fully occupied with the rioting going on in the streets, the cell members attacked our consulate preemptively, with rockets and other weapons. The limited U.S. security personnel at the compound were not in a position to prevent the attack. These are the facts. What followed is history, exaggerated by useless commentary.
Susan Rice knew nothing of all of this, of course, so she was given a text prepared for the State Department by the CIA, who quite rightly did not want to call attention to the cell connection — because they were still tracking down the source network. So the text was intentionally vague, and Rice read it, as she should. That’s it. There was and is no “crisis” and no “scandal.”
It was — and still is — totally counterproductive for would-be Congressional “patriots,” Fox News, and other irresponsible critics to harp on Benghazi, because it draws attention to methods of counterintelligence operations for tracking terrorist networks that are still in use. Note also: some of these critics are among those who would deny funding to better protect our embassies and consulates around the world.
Whatever we may think about the CIA, the fact is that they are out there risking their lives to anticipate, assess, and counter real acts of terrorism — by lawful means, we hope. The last thing we need is for self-styled “super patriots,” in trying to damage Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to weaken the security of America in the process.
Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and Dick Cheney — draft dodgers and combat avoiders all — are hardly the ones to listen to for advice on military matters. But we should expect something a little better of John McCain, who has shown an occasional ability actually to think about certain issues. If he bothered to think about Benghazi, he would realize how counterproductive and damaging his harping on this particular issue really is to America’s security interests.
From the New York Times:
Mr. Sherman said in the source notes that he interviewed 614 people who knew or worked with Mr. Ailes for the book, which took more than three years to report and write. More than 100 pages are devoted to source notes and bibliography.
Former employees cited in the book talked of Mr. Ailes’s volatile temper and domineering behavior. In one anecdote, a television producer, Randi Harrison, told Mr. Sherman that while negotiating her salary with Mr. Ailes at NBC in the 1980s, he offered her an additional $100 each week “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want.”
A Fox News spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday: “These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.”
Why bother? Would you hymen-check a whorehouse?
The excerpt below is from Charles Pierce’s double evisceration of the utterly unspeakable Elliott Abrams and the painfully pathetic David Gregory. Read it all here. Please.
The last time a president was as “bold” as Gregory wants this one to be, he lied us into a war that continues to wreak ruin to this day. Elliott Abrams was working for him at the time. The time before that, peasants got slaughtered and American nuns got raped and murdered, and archbishops got ventilated on the altar, and Elliott Abrams, to whom the Dancin’ Master directed his volley of bad history, cheered all of this on, lied about it as part of his official duties, and continues to believe that to have been the height of patriotism and public service. Ghosts of the dead should howl him awake every night. He should be spat upon by the surviving families of the dead every day on his way to teach his history class. History itself should vomit him out of its mouth. Journalism should revolt at the very sight of him. He should be whatever is one rung below a pariah. Instead, he gets a guest shot to tell the nation he has spent his career misleading into armed conflicts in which he never would have picked up a weapon or stood a post that its foreign policy is not blood-soaked enough for his taste. It was a living parable of the uselessness of dead memory.
Ethan Couch again, the spoiled 16-year-old killer of four given a walk by a kindly Texas judge. Yesterday I made a quick search of the initial coverage to find out who was responsible for spoiling this pathetic little rich kid. The only information I could find was that his parents were divorced. No names given. No occupations, no bio at all on this “wealthy family.” A psychologist testified that the parents were disasters, but again the news accounts left them nameless. The pickup Ethan was driving was owned by his father’s company, the watchdogs of the press reported, but apparently they were unable to dig out its name. To find it, I had to go to the Cleburne (Texas) Times-Review, in a December 3 story about the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against Cleburne Metal Works, owned by one Fred Couch. Plenty of interviews with the parents of the killed; none with the killer’s parents. No mention of unsuccessful attempts made. No word as to whether they were even present in court. Nobody seems to have staked out the Couch mansion, or mansions. No photos of the parents who apparently infected their brat with affluenza at birth, and followed up regular maintenance doses for 16 years.
Judge Jean Boyd, it seems, isn’t the only one passing out free rides.
…if only Charles Pierce hadn’t gotten there first:
You work for the bilge pump of wingnut propaganda. The “professional thing” for you to do is to slink off and do five years penance reading the hog reports on a 300-watt station in west Texas before you’re allowed in respectable company again. The “professional thing” for journalists with any pride to do is to spit at the mention of your network’s name and to hang bells around the neck of you and all your colleagues so that we know when you’re coming and can clear the room. You’re lucky you have Jay Carney. Put me in that job and you’re doing your stand-ups from a chicken wagon halfway down the mall. Put me in that job and your picture is in every guard shack.
Your organization is a running sore on the profession. It’s what happens when a craft fails to keep its septic system up to date. You do not deserve the respect given to a schizophrenic in Lafayette Park who screams about the aliens from Zontar and the Rockefellers. I know people who staple their screeds to lamp posts in Central Square who are far more worthy of professional courtesy than you are. You work for a Chronic Ward of grifters, unemployables, and whatever else sticks to the bottom of journalism’s shoes on a hot summer’s day.
Here’s an excerpt by Andrew J. Bacevich from one of the most devastating and satisfying smackdowns I’ve ever read. The victim, left dead and bleeding from multiple wounds, is David Brooks of The New York Times.
On April 28, 2003, beating President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech by three days, Brooks declared that “the war in Iraq is over.” The political and cultural implications of victory promised to be profound. A collaboration between policy makers in Washington and troops on the battlefield had removed any last doubts as to American global dominion. Brooks sang the praises of “a ruling establishment that can conduct wars with incredible competence and skill.” The United States, he enthused, was an “incredibly effective colossus that can drop bombs onto pinpoints, [and] destroy enemies that aren’t even aware they are under attack…”
Implicitly acknowledging the distance separating young Americans who chose to serve in uniform from the young Americans choosing otherwise, Brooks made clear which group deserved his admiration. “Can anybody think of another time in history when a comparable group of young people was asked to be at once so brave, fierce and relentless, while also being so sympathetic, creative and forbearing?” Brooks couldn’t, so he bestowed on the troops the secular equivalent of collective canonization. “They are John Wayne,” he rhapsodized, “but also Jane Addams.” Soldiers were paragons of virtue, their courage and altruism standing in stark contrast to the shallow, self-absorbed liberal culture that Brooks despised. “If anybody is wondering: Where are the young idealists? Where are the people willing to devote themselves to causes larger than themselves? They are in uniform in Iraq.” The gap between the military and society, in other words, was a good thing. It provided America with a great war-winning army and Americans with desperately needed exemplars of virtue.
Soon after Brooks published this paean to the American soldier, word of depraved and despicable acts at Abu Ghraib prison began to surface. Apparently, John Wayne and Jane Addams did not exhaust the range of possible role models to whom at least some American soldiers looked for inspiration.
Sad to say, it appears the British press is nearly as bereft of soul and testicles as the corporate-owned American media. You might recall that The Guardian’s reporting on GCHQ, the NSA of the UK, was bombshell stuff showing that pretty much every communication passing through the UK was being intercepted and saved for 30 days. That meant a good deal of European traffic as well, since the critical cables generally run through UK territory. This implied that GCHQ, which bragged that it faced looser legal strictures than the NSA, was scooping up a huge portion of all the communications between the US and Europe. That triggered outrage across Europe as Germans, for example, realized that the US was spying on them in ways their own government was legally prevented from doing.
This enormous story was not reported by the vast majority of the British press. The Guardian broke it, and only one other paper even mentioned it. Back in June I included a quote from a Guardian writer about the situation that’s worth reposting. Why, asks Roy Greenslade, is nearly the entire British press completely silent about a story that leads in practically every major paper around the world?
Is it a collective belief among a largely right-of-centre press that The Guardian is beyond the pale? This view emerged in a Daily Mail piece by Stephen Glover in which he spoke of the paper being so “driven by its own obsessions” as to “carelessly reveal the important secrets of the British government.”
The Mail holds aloft the banner of press freedom when citing the public’s right to know about Hugh Grant’s private life, but it appears to find it unacceptable for a paper to inform the people that their privacy has been compromised by their own government.
I don’t have time to spend looking through the rest of the British press, but I’m guessing they eventually got around to oblique mention of the issues. But again today the same thing has happened.
No doubt you’ve read about Glenn Greenwald’s partner being detained Sunday at London’s Heathrow airport for nine hours without being charged and without access to a lawyer. All his electronic equipment was confiscated, including anything such as a game console that could conceivably store data. This is legal, amazingly enough, because the British enacted a Lookout for the Terrorists! law that allows them to do it. I think the name was actually slightly different from that, but whatever.
And again, nearly the entire British press ignores the story.
This was a remarkable oversight by newspapers that have made so much of journalistic freedom throughout the Leveson saga. Is it not a story when a journalist’s partner is arrested? Or is this yet more evidence of an anti-Guardian agenda?
It reminds me that in June I wrote a blogpost headlined “Edward Snowden spoke, so why did the British press turn a deaf ear?”
Edward Snowden is an heroic whistleblower. The journalist who wrote his story, Glenn Greenwald, was responsible for breaking one of the world’s greatest exclusives.
Should we journalists, as a community, not be rallying to their cause rather than looking the other way?
Who knew Putin had a sense of humor? A mean one, but undeniably funny. Especially the no-alcohol touch:
It seemed that a stream of reports from unnamed Russian officials, disseminated over Russian news agencies, had been an exuberant deception, throwing up a cloud of dust while Mr. Snowden quietly evaded the United States government. At nightfall, it was impossible to say with certainty where Mr. Snowden was.
By contrast, everyone knew where half of the Moscow press corps was: halfway to Havana, on one of the few regular Russian flights that does not serve alcohol. It was the kind of plan that the F.S.B., and the K.G.B. before it, would describe as a “special operation.” And somewhere in Moscow, it was clear, someone was laughing.
“When the president is a former spy, from time to time in this country they organize spy games, the Spy Olympic Games, and they have fun,” the novelist Victor Erofeyev said on Monday evening. “We are people from outside, who don’t understand how fun it is to put all the journalists on a plane and send them to Havana. They are having the greatest dinner tonight.”
Too many wonderful perspectives on the NSA Prism story to comment on all of them, but some few require mention or at least quoting.
It’s fascinating to me that the British press is apparently ignoring Snowden’s revelations about Prism spying on attendees at the recent G20 meeting in the UK. Every major news outlet around the world talks about it except the primary organs of the British press. What’s up with that?
Is it a collective belief among a largely right-of-centre press that The Guardian is beyond the pale? This view emerged in a Daily Mail piece by Stephen Glover in which he spoke of the paper being so “driven by its own obsessions” as to “carelessly reveal the important secrets of the British government.”
The Mail holds aloft the banner of press freedom when citing the public’s right to know about Hugh Grant’s private life, but it appears to find it unacceptable for a paper to inform the people that their privacy has been compromised by their own government.
Damn, I’m with you on that! I wish we had a newspaper like The Guardian in the US, but I suppose that would be next to impossible here.
Then there’s this summary of the reality of cooperation between tech companies and the NSA which speaks for itself.
Christopher Soghoian, a senior policy analyst studying technological surveillance at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the relationship between the tech giants and the NSA has a fundamental — and ironic — flaw that guarantees the Prism scandal is unlikely to be the last time tensions surface between the two.
The US spying apparatus and Silicon Valley’s top tech firms are basically in the same business, collecting information on people, he said. “It’s a weird symbiotic relationship. It’s not that Facebook and Google are trying to build a surveillance system but they effectively have,” he said. “If they wanted to, Google and Facebook could use technology to tackle the issue, anonymizing and deleting their customers’ information. But that information is how they make their money, so that is never going to happen.”
My first-line news site used to be iGoogle because it brought together most of the major sources such as BBC, the Guardian, WaPo, NYT, and so on on the same page with weather and whatever other widgets you chose to add. It was a simple and useful interface that I expect was based on Google Reader, which is why they’re both disappearing at the end of October.
Long story short, I’ve switched to NewsBlur. With NewsBlur I can view headlines from any news source with an RSS feed, which means nearly everybody; we have one near the top of the page in the right-hand column, “Syndicate this site (RSS/XML)”. They’re easy to set up — RSS means Rich Site Summary but it’s often called Really Simple Syndication — so every major news source has some sort of feed, and many have specialized feeds for particular types of news.
The result of aggregating these various feeds is a presentation something like the following. Click on the image for a full-size view of it.
In addition to aggregating the wheat and not having to sort through the chaff, you can train NewsBlur to bring the types of stories that interest you by giving thumbs up or down to each story based on its title and tags.
This ability is limited by the news source’s tagging; some sources provide multiple tags, some provide few or none. You can also choose phrases in the title you want or don’t want. So it’s not everything one might want in the area of trainability, but those limitations seem to be in the content provided rather than the aggregating software. The stories you’ve flagged as uninteresting are still available, but by default you only get what you want or at least haven’t said you don’t want.
All in all, NewsBlur is a nice tool for seeing lots of headlines quickly. What I’ve found is that I hardly ever visit the actual websites of my major news sources like the Guardian because everything comes in through NewsBlur and the site itself is all duplicates. That’s not true for Talking Points Memo, almost alone among the sources I aggregate.
Watching MSNBC last night it struck me again how ignorant politicians and pundits are about bureaucracies. The subject this time was the IRS vs. the Tea Party, but it could have been Benghazi or most of the other “scandals” that flame up and burn out on our TV screens.
Few talking heads or politicians have served much time in large bureaucracies. I have, starting at the absolute bottom as a private in the U.S. Army. The experience taught me how to look on military officers, which is generally down. Obama and Clinton would have profited greatly from a similar immersion in reality, as would most of our soldier-sniffing and cop-loving patriots. Bringing back the draft would put a stop to a lot of this idiot babble about the greatest fighting men in the history of the known universe and all universes henceforth to be discovered.
All right, back to the point.
Next I became a sort of sub-boss in a much smaller bureaucracy — assistant city editor of the Washington Post. Then I was deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency’s two-man outpost in Casablanca. From Morocco I went to Laos as press attaché for the secret war (go figure). My next job was near the very top of the largest bureaucracy of them all, the federal government. From the White House I went to the Federal Aviation Administration as chief of public affairs. My only promotion in any of these bureaucracies, I’m proud to say, was the automatic one from private to private first class. My ambition seems to have been low to none, but then ambition is well known to be blind. Thus there was nothing wrong with my eyes (speaking metaphorically. In fact, my eyes suck.)
And so I am massively unastonished to learn that the top leadership of the IRS was unable to impose its will on a bunch of GS-11s in the Cincinnati office. I once spent a great deal of time and the taxpayers’ money on developing and implementing a program to modernize graphics throughout the FAA. Thirty-five years later, the Depression-era logo I thought we had killed off still shows up regularly on the evening news. The new, improved model seems to have survived only at the Department of Transportation.
…Raise your hands. Don’t be ashamed. Now go here. Read the column that then to your wondering eyes should appear. Finished? Okay, now click on “Generate a New Column” at the bottom of the page. Rinse and repeat.
Had enough? Okay, finish up by going here.
…from hard-bitten political pundit Dana Perino of Fock Snooze:
When I got a call to volunteer on the campaign in early 2000, I had to turn it down due to a new job and a new life we were trying to start in San Diego. When I hung up the phone, I cried, “Now I’ll never get to work for George Bush…
He used to catch my eye during policy meetings and tip me a wink with a little smile as we had noticed when Vice President Cheney had been “resting his eyes.” Then we’d share a laugh realizing once again that it was clear the VP had heard every word.
In the late 1950s I worked for the Washington Daily News, a long defunct afternoon tabloid. Of the three Washington papers, it was the most widely read among the African-American community which then as now was the majority group in the city. This didn’t stop us from identifying black suspects in police stories as “colored,” until one day a delegation of civil rights leaders protested to the publisher, John O’Rourke. So he split the baby in half, and from then on we tagged Caucasians by race, too: “Police charged John Doe, 53, white, of the 1200 block of DeKalb St. NW, with murder in the deadly assault.”
Which is beside my main point, but I just thought I’d throw it in. My main point involves advertising. One day I was down in the composing room, watching them put together an advertising supplement. I asked an ad salesman why all the clothing models were white when so many of our readers weren’t.
“White sells black,” he explained in simple words, as to a child. “Black don’t sell white.”
Nowadays this sort of racism is dead on Madison Avenue, except when it isn’t. Clinical death will occur only when the middle-aged black man in the Cialis ad heads off to the beach for a little bathtub action with his blonde sweetie.
Terrorism is a crime against the mind. What happened in Boston, horrific as it is, is theater to make you scared. That’s the point. The message of terrorist attacks is you’re not safe, and the government can’t protect you — that the existing power structure can’t protect you.
I tell people if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. By definition, news is something that almost never happens. The brain fools you into thinking the news is what’s important. Our brains overreact to this stuff. Terrorism just pegs the fear button.
Why does every interviewee in the whole wide world of television preface every answer to every vapid question with, “That’s a great question”? Instead of, for instance, “That’s a dumbass question. Better give it another shot.” Or “Have you actually read the book/speech/report/transcript/newspaper coverage/anything?”
Is this what it seems to be? Is the Senate really more responsive to the will of the people (read “more afraid”) than President Obama is? Or is it just that the president doesn’t have to run for office anymore? Here’s Dean Baker, on AlterNet:
Both the New York Times and Washington Post decided to ignore the Senate's passage by voice vote of the Sanders Amendment. This was an amendment to the budget put forward by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that puts the Senate on record as opposing the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)…
With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chained CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.
Now and then life gives you a big, sweet, juicy red apple instead of a lemon. For instance, I just came across this from Wonkette:
James O’Keefe — the blonde bombshell who set the conservative world of hidden-camera YouTube movies ablaze — has just agreed to a $100,000 settlement to calm down the unjustly fired (and weirdly litigious about it) ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera. According to a copy of the deal, obtained late last night by your wonkettes and viewable after the jump, O’Keefe has also agreed to ink an 11-word non-apology apology, that sources close to reality are calling “insincere” and “suuuuuuuch bullshit.”
According to the final 5-page agreement, signed by O’Keefe and his legal counsel Mike Madigan this past Tuesday, the boy detective now publicly “regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family.” O’Keefe and his counsel have also consented to fork over the $100,000 within 30 business days of the settlement agreement’s being signed…
This is from the settlement: “O’Keefe states that at the time of the publication of the video of Juan Carlos Vera he was unaware of Vera’s claim to have notified a police officer of the incident. O’Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family.”
O’Keefe, that is, tried to trap Vera into taking part in a plan to smuggle underage girls into the United States from Mexico. When this didn’t work, he doctored tapes of the encounter so as to falsely implicate Vera and sent them to the media. Back in the real world though, Vera had actually called the cops.
It is to the eternal shame of the MSM that O’Keefe was able to play them into destroying ACORN. Any reporter dumb enough to fall for a nasty little shit like O’Keefe is in the wrong business. Or maybe not, now that I think about it.
To get a fuller picture of just how nasty and how shitty O’Keefe is, see this from The Phoenix. And reflect on how even more nasty and shitty his grownup employers must be.
The two main newspapers in the Soviet Union were Pravda and Izvestia. Pravda means truth, and Izvestia means news. This led to a clever play on words: There is no truth in news, and there is no news in truth. I was assured by several Russians that nobody ever believed Soviet propaganda. They knew they were being lied to about everything. My response was always the same, “I’m not so sure that’s always the case in America.”
But then we have better propaganda. It doesn’t hammer you with turgid dogma. It smuggles its biases in more subtly so that the average reader might not notice. For example, if you’re commuting to work on the subway and just glance through the New York Times, you might not catch on that entire articles about US foreign policy are often based exclusively on official government sources: Pentagon sources say; State Department sources say; According to White House officials … They also quote smart sounding people from smart sounding think tanks that no one outside of the Beltway ever heard of, but who probably play golf with your representative every week. They use bland and even-handed language, which everyone knows is how serious and objective people talk.
It works like magic, particularly with regard to foreign affairs. Your average American, even your relatively well-informed one, rarely develops any genuine understanding of the world. Instead, they come away with hazy and simplistic impressions, and these more or less correspond with official US attitudes. Old Europe is socialistic and effeminate; entitlements are bankrupting them. Scrappy little Israel is always right, the medieval Arabs are always wrong, and they treat women badly; they need us to lead them to democracy. There is nothing from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego but one big coke-ridden Mexico. The Russians are still closet commies. Cutting the defense budget will weaken America. Sooner or later, we have to bomb Iran. Invading Iraq was a well-intentioned mistake, but the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. Then it’s off to the voting both to fulfill your civic duty.
This kind of comic book thinking is most obvious when we appraise foreign leaders, who fall into three categories: good, bad, and French. David Cameron, being the British Prime Minister, is good. So was Tony Blair. Hell, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill were practically American. (Winston Churchill’s mother actually was). Mahmoud can’t-ever-get-his-last-name-right in Iran, is bad. He wants to wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu is kind of an asshole, but a good asshole. He’s a tough patriot who is willing to call it like it is and make tough decisions, you know, like Harry Truman was. Castro is Satan, and so too was his protégé, Hugo Chávez, who we’re told is now burning in hell (which is where bad guys who nationalize their oil fields always go). Any foreign leader who takes an independent line but isn’t obviously a baddie is French. The UN Secretary General usually falls into this category.
This is precisely the level of sophistication that your average American brings to the table when contemplating war and peace, and it’s not an accident. We are only allowed two possible responses to any international crisis: cower under our beds or go marching boldly off to war. In order to ensure these reactions, the world has to be drawn in stark black and white terms. The fact that this kind of thinking has always been a part of our national character just helps matters along.
This process has been on full display since Hugo Chávez died. The Acceptable Opinion Machine has gone into overdrive to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. America come away with the Right Impression. The cruder right-wing outlets, preaching to the choir, as it were, tell you outright that Chávez was the devil, worse than Stalin even, and he’s burning in hell. But that’s a given. More insidious is the bias in the mainstream press. I found this gem today: “Despite oil donations, offers of Katrina aid, Chávez never caught on as savior of poor in US.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez offered to send thousands of soldiers, firefighters and volunteers to help with the cleanup. He also pledged $1 million in aid plus fuel to help rebuild hard-hit cities like New Orleans.
The offer, swiftly rejected, was part of a larger pattern: Chávez’s repeated attempts to provide humanitarian relief to low-income and distressed U.S. families. Despite those efforts, he was never able to foster his image as a savior of the American poor like he did in Venezuela. More often, he was accused of orchestrating politically motivated ploys that in the end helped relatively few Americans.
It’s possible that Chávez never caught on as a savior of the US poor because his offers were “swiftly rejected.” Who swiftly rejected them, and why? No answer. Instead, we’re left with the impression that, you know, we Americans just don’t go for that commie stuff.
And who accused him of “orchestrating politically motivated ploys”? And why should it matter? The victims of Katrina wouldn’t have cared why Chávez was helping them, they would have just been happy that he was doing it (this is precisely why the aid offers were “swiftly rejected,” of course.) The Marshall Plan was a politically motivated ploy designed to undermine the appeal of communism in war-torn western Europe. Does that make it a bad thing? Motivations don’t really matter; actions do. But that introduces gray into our black and white worldview, so it has to be left out.
A think tanker then puts it all into perspective for us:
“Many people questioned his motivation,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank. “Was this a true humanitarian gesture or was it an opportunity to stick it in the eye of the United States? I think many people in the U.S. thought it was the latter.”
Many people might be curious about what the hell the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank is. I’m not exactly sure, but if you go to their web site you’ll read that they are a group of opinion leaders who, surprise surprise, favor open markets. How original. So many opinion leaders, so few opinions. If you click the link that says “COA Corporate Members,” you’ll see a sparkling cavalcade of well-meaning individuals whose motivations are always pure: AIG, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, etc. The list goes on. I wonder, is this a group of selfless opinion leaders who want to help Latin America, or just a front group for corporations who want to stick it in the rear of the Venezuelan people? Many of us think it is the latter. It would have been helpful if our intrepid reporters mentioned this not insignificant detail, but they clearly had bigger fish to fry:
While much of Chávez’s socialist vision would have been in line with that of many American liberals, he never gained widespread admiration in the U.S.
Hollywood actor Sean Penn and director Oliver Stone praised him, but they were the exception, and many were hesitant to embrace a leader with military roots who shut down media outlets and abolished term limits
Everybody knows liberals don’t mind leaders with military roots who shut down media outlets, especially Hollywood elites like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone. Apparently, conservatives have always abhorred military dictatorships in Latin America. Let me remind you that this is not World Net Daily or Fox News. It’s from the Associated Press.
That’s how propaganda is done. The ground is being prepared to bring democracy, USA Inc. style, to Venezuela. One bright shiny morning, free market principles will be restored, and the peasants, liberated from the tyranny of free healthcare and education, can get right with God again.
…His wonders to perform. It turns out that television, far from making us dumber, is in reality culling the morons. It’s actually the anti-boob tube, applying the best eugenic principles to the whole human race. From MedPage Today:
Men who watched TV for 20 or more hours a week had a 44% lower sperm concentration compared with men who did not watch TV. In a multivariable analysis, sperm concentration tended to be inversely associated with time spent watching TV, and a trend toward lower sperm count emerged from the data.
From Chuck Lorre:
We have once again arrived at a moment in history where the truth can be defined as “that which you can make other people believe.” The methodology for creating that belief is repetition. Say something enough times and it becomes, for millions of people, the truth. I am endowed like a stallion. This is why control of the media equals control of the populace. I am endowed like a stallion. And also why a state run television news channel is so very dangerous. I am endowed like a stallion. Now there are those who would argue this has already happened and that a certain cable news channel is actually a covert extension of our government. I am endowed like a stallion. The fact that the channel is run by a high-ranking party official, an anchor person from the channel became a White House spokesman, and another top-ranking party official became an on-air news commentator is often used to make this argument. I am endowed like a stallion. Of course, this fact would be entirely inconsequential if the oft-repeated falsehoods they attempt to imbed into the Zeitgeist were simply amusing, or at worst, inane. I am endowed like a stallion. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. I am endowed like a stallion. The heavy repetition of lies and smears for political gain are by no means inconsequential. I am endowed like a stallion. Which is why each and every one of us must use whatever resources we have at our disposal to disseminate the actual truth. I am endowed like a pony.
Frank Rich argues that media clamor about the fiscal cliff is as nonsensical as the Y2K panic. And as usual, it’s hard to argue with Frank Rich.
The breathless and phony countdown to the fiscal cliff — What if they can’t agree? What if we fall off? Can America possibly survive? — is media hype, a desperate effort to drum up a drama to keep viewers and readers tuned in now that the election is over. It’s a Road Runner cartoon, Beltway-edition. And it’s going to end with a whimper like the similarly apocalyptic, now long-forgotten Y2K scare of the turn of the millennium.
Everyone knows the Republicans are going to fold — the Republicans know they are going to fold — and the only question to be resolved is when and on what terms. They have zero leverage. It’s not only that they lost the election; they continue to decline in national polls, with the latest Pew survey showing that 53 percent of Americans will blame the GOP (and only 27 percent will blame President Obama) if there’s no deal by January.
The party has no national leader still standing except John Boehner, who can’t even command the loyalty of his own caucus in the House. Let’s hope that Obama, who is showing the admirable take-no-prisoners toughness he lacked last time around, continues on his current firm path once the Republicans start to buckle. There is a lot more at stake in the negotiations beyond the upper-echelon tax rates that the GOP will soon have to retreat on.
This story itself is interesting. But what I found even more interesting was the following exchange in the comments section between the columnist and an outraged patriot. Almost never do we see, even in the far left media, even a hint that The American Fighting Man is anything less than the brave, sacred and shamefully under-appreciated guardian of all that is good and holy in this the most wondrous nation ever to adorn Planet Earth.
Frank Zedar says:
Pierre — How edgy! How super cool! How über rebellious! It is your right to trash the freedoms that grant you the right to trash the freedoms… I’m OK with it… and I spent 20 years defending your right to be so hip!
Pierre Tristam says:
Frank, as is often the case, I don’t know what you’re inventing your points out of — in this case this notion that I’m trashing anything in this piece, other than my own profession’s innumerable dimwits.
In case you missed it, I find the original pledge quite graceful. Looking past your patronizing hip movements, I’m not sure how you’ve spent the last 20 years defending my rights any more ably than every teacher I know, or bus driver, or brick mason, or EMTs and firefighters, or (for all the dimwits) most of my colleagues have, or every single mother has, or even the occasional advisory council member manages to do: we’re all doing a job that more or less contributes to the safeguard of what we hope to be about.
You don’t have to don a military uniform and lose wars to protect anything. And of course you don’t have to die on a battlefield to do so… But if you’re somehow doing that tiresome thing of perhaps equating military service with defending “my” or anyone’s freedoms, particularly in the last 20 years (make that every year since Korea, actually), when our beautifully bloated military has done little more than serve as one of the many instruments of our diminishing freedoms and fast-approaching irrelevance… we may have a different argument on our hands, which, true to form given the absence of any military victory of note since 1945 (Grenada doesn’t count and Gulf War I was only the set-up of its disastrous sequel, unless you count protecting Saudi Arabia’s tyranny and Kuwait’s playboy sheikhdom as victories for freedom), neither stars nor stripes can win. Even those made in China.
How often do I agree wholeheartedly with Fox News. Not often, but not never:
Another myth central to Obama’s campaign is that Mitt Romney wants to go back to the “policies that got us into trouble in the first place.”
What are those injurious Republican policies?
Presumably the president refers to the deregulation of financial institutions that liberals blame for the recession. But, it was Bill Clinton who repealed Glass-Steagall. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley bill, which undid that long-standing law, passed the Senate 90-8, with Vice President Biden among the many Democrats supporting the measure. By contrast, George Bush was a regulation nut. It was during his administration that the country adopted the oppressive Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.
The Sage of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution makes it possible for you to watch Honey Boo Boo instead of Rachel Maddow between now and the election:
While others may have math, I have THE math, in the form of my own statistical model. It has been carefully calibrated over the years to the point that after the fact, it has accurately predicted the outcome of every presidential race dating back to Grover Cleveland. In the interest of transparency, I’m about to let you in on the secret details of how it works:
In my model, as in most such models, we start with the basics: The number of women to whom the GOP candidate’s grandfather was married at any one time, which in this case would be (4). You multiply that by the number of extramarital affairs conducted over a lifetime by the spouse of the current secretary of state (237). (CAUTION: This number could shift at any moment.)
You then add the number of emails sent in the past four years depicting the Democratic nominee with a bone through his nose, which would be 457,283. You divide that by the total number of beers and cigarettes tried by the GOP nominee in his lifetime (2), divided again by the total number of beers and cigarettes consumed by the Democrat (58,399).
You multiply that by the square root of the number of hair follicles transplanted into the Democratic VP (√6,798=83.53) divided by the best marathon time fraudulently claimed by the Republican VP nominee (2.55).
Subtract the percentage of Americans gratuitously insulted by the GOP nominee (47), add the number of times in a best-two-out-of-three match that the First Lady would beat you arm-wrestling (3), and then also add the number of dog-lover votes — in units of tens of thousands — lost by the Republican for transporting an aptly named Irish setter (Seamus) on the station-wagon roof (236.5).
Finally, you add the number of percentage points that all polls but Rasmussen are skewed in favor of Democrats (10). Voila!
You now have the mortal-lock number of electoral college votes that the Democratic nominee will win in any given year.
Whenever I was asked during the Iraq war, “How will you know when we’ve won?” I gave the same answer: When Salman Rushdie can give a lecture in Baghdad; when there is real freedom of speech in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.
Wow, talk about your amazing coincidences! Everybody would pester me too with that exact same question during the Iraq war, and I’d always give them that exact same answer! Then I’d make sort of a tent with my hands and look really wise.
It’s that time of month again: Frank Rich’s column in New York Magazine.
I had tuned in as part of a thought experiment then entering its final lap: an attempt to put myself in the Republican brain by spending a solid week listening to, watching, reading, surfing, and otherwise gorging on conservative media. As would also be true of an overdose of liberal media, it was lulling me into a stupor, and I was desperate for a jolt. Glenn Beck provided exactly that, in the form of comedy, and to my astonishment, I found myself laughing out loud — with him, not at him…
Fifty years ago today, and I was there. Well, partly, anyway. I was a reporter for the Washington Post, assigned to cover George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party for the day. The Nazi contingent had been allocated a spot way down by the Washington Monument, discreetly remote.
I got there at dawn. Already busses were rolling in, carrying mostly blacks from all over the country. They were singing together, happy and excited. America’s ancient cancer seemed for that moment to be in remission. It seemed at last possible to hope. Tears came to my eyes, the only time I ever cried as a reporter.
Rockwell and fifteen or twenty of his silly Nazi wannabes finally arrived, to become a tiny white tumor in this huge, healthy and mostly black organism. They were dressed in khakis with swastika armbands, black neckties and black belts. In the place of jackboots they wore street shoes or black sneakers.
The crowd surrounding the make-believe Sturmbannführers seemed more curious than hostile. The March on Washington was intended to be a demonstration of nonviolence, after all.
The day was turning out to be hot and long, though. When at last the proceedings began, tiny unrecognizable figures far off at the other end of the Reflecting Pool seemed to be saying or singing things that were hard to make out over the loudspeakers.
The temper of the crowd around the Nazis began to change. Nothing overt yet, but a mutter here and there, a gesture or two. The Nazis began to take council with each other and with their leader. Master race or not, Rockwell’s troopers found themselves in the heart of darkness — a tiny handful against a quarter of a million marchers.
And so they headed out, to rouse the rabble another day. The crowd made way for them, and the ragged little column walked, not marched, toward their headquarters across the Potomac in Arlington. I went along for a while, in case anything happened. But nothing did. Halfway across Memorial Bridge I turned back and headed for the office to write my story.
Mahalia Jackson and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Marian Anderson hadn’t even come on yet. And of course I missed Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well. I missed practically the whole thing. All I had was the memory of those busses arriving from all over the country at first light, and the people getting off laughing and singing in the still-cool dawn, full of impossible hope. That wasn’t the kind of thing you could put in the paper, though.
The metropolitan editor called me over after I turned in my story and read a line back to me: ‘Memorial Bridge rang to the shuffle of the storm troopers’ sneakers as they headed for home.’
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked. “Sneakers can’t ring.”
My guess is that this story will receive press play ranging from perfunctory to nonexistent.
Haifa, Israel (CNN) —Nine years after an American activist was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer, an Israeli civil court ruled Tuesday that Rachel Corrie’s death was an accident.
Corrie, 23, was killed in 2003 while trying to block the bulldozer from razing Palestinian homes.
Her parents filed suit against Israel’s Ministry of Defense in a quest for accountability and sought just $1 in damages. But Judge Oded Gershon ruled Tuesday that the family has no right to damages, backing an earlier Israeli investigation that cleared any soldier of wrongdoing.
Here’s a little thought game for you. Imagine the coverage if the soldier driving the lead tank below had just kept going.
Way to go, New York Times. We never thought you had it in you:
Helen Gurley Brown, who as the author of “Sex and the Single Girl” shocked early-1960s America with the news that unmarried women not only had sex but thoroughly enjoyed it — and who as the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine spent the next three decades telling those women precisely how to enjoy it even more — died on Monday in Manhattan.
She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.
Paul Krugman, at it again:
…Perhaps in a better world we could count on the news media to sort through the conflicting claims. In this world, however, most voters get their news from short snippets on TV, which almost never contain substantive policy analysis. The print media do offer analysis pieces — but these pieces, out of a desire to seem “balanced,” all too often simply repeat the he-said-she-said of political speeches.I wish I could say that things were a whole lot better back in the golden age of newspapering. But they weren’t. At least in my day — the 50s and early 60s — they were worse. Then as now, newspapers and television stations were, by definition, owned by millionaires. Apart from a few financially anemic partisan magazines like The Nation and The Progressive and privately financed hobbies like The National Review the print press was even more wedded than today to false equivalency masquerading as fairness. News on radio and TV was pathetic. Anyone who thinks the American media plumbed historic depths in helping to lie us into Iraq is too young to remember how enthusiastically they helped Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson lie us into Vietnam.
Trust me: you will see very few news analyses saying that Mr. Romney proposes huge tax cuts for the rich, with no plausible offset other than big benefit cuts for everyone else — even though this is the simple truth. Instead, you will see pieces reporting that “Democrats say” that this is what Mr. Romney proposes, matched with dueling quotes from Republican sources…
It may well be that we are, right now, in the true golden age of news. Enjoy it before the government steps in to control the spigot, as it is already starting to do. For now, though, every man, woman and child, from Ayn Rand Looney Tunes to Nobel Prize winners, can afford his or her own electronic printing press.
From the New York Times story today on JPMorgan’s recent gambling losses, now at $5,800,000,000 and headed south:
…Ina R. Drew, the senior executive who resigned as head of the chief investment office shortly after the trading losses, volunteered to give back her pay. The giveback is a precipitous fall for Ms. Drew, once one of Mr. Dimon’s most trusted executives. Ms. Drew earned roughly $14 million last year, making her the bank’s fourth-highest-paid officer. Ms. Drew declined to comment…
I may have bitched about this before, but here goes again. Republican word-twister Frank Luntz doesn’t even need to bother twisting the word “earn” into a new frame. Standard media usage has already done the job for him, as we see in the paragraph above. Historically, “earn” carried a favorable connotation: study hard and you earned a Phi Beta Kappa key; honest dealing earned you a good reputation; you earned your salary by working hard at some productive task.
By and large the word was used to describe a particular type of exchange — one party providing something desirable and useful to a second party and receiving a reward for it in rough proportion to the service provided. A win-win transaction.
We would not say that your uncle Charlie earned a hundred bucks at the poker table last week, or that a lottery winner earned a million dollars, or that Bernie Madoff earned a billion, or that Mitt Romney earned a fortune from his father’s will.
In what sense, then, did Ms. Drew “earn” $14,000,000 last year?
It isn’t that the English language lacks words to describe what Ms. Drew and Mr. Dimon do for their money. Here is a short list:
Get hold of, grab, get, receive, snatch, take, grasp, amass, obtain, seize, get your hands on, divert, embezzle, skim, swindle, mulct, extract, acquire, gain, procure, score, secure, misappropriate, siphon, loot.
Take your pick, but give “earn” a rest.
Here are the first two paragraphs of a blockbusting disclosure in The Daily Caller of ethical behavior carried out behind a veil of transparency by a member of the Harvard elite:
The Harvard researcher behind a recent study correlating 2008 election results with racially charged Google searches neglected to disclose ties to a former senior member of the Obama administration, The Daily Caller has learned.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economics Ph.D. candidate, lists on his C.V. — publicly available through his website — that he was the research assistant of Peter Orzsag at the Brookings Institution from August 2005 to August 2006. Set to graduate in 2013, Stephens-Davidowitz entered the Ph.D. program at Harvard in 2007.
Even Reuters, which I usually think of as a less ideologically oriented source, is talking about conservative parties much more than leftist parties with many more votes. Pointing out that North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is Germany’s most populous state with more people than the Netherlands and a larger economy than Turkey, the article talks about today’s elections there which turned a fragile minority government into a solid majority for the major parties opposing Merkel, the Social Democrats and the Greens.
While she remains popular at home because of the strength of the economy and her steady handling of the euro zone debt crisis, the sheer scale of the defeat in NRW leaves her vulnerable at a time when a backlash against her insistence on fiscal discipline is building across Europe.
According to first projections, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 38.9 percent of the vote and will have enough to form a stable majority with the Greens.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) saw their support plunge to just 26.3 percent, down from nearly 35 percent in 2010, and the worst result in the state since World War Two.
“This is not a good evening for Merkel,” said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University. “The SPD is strengthened by this election, which will stir things up in Berlin.”
This leaves me wondering how the Greens did, since they’ll be the junior partner in the NRW government. I know how the top two parties did, how about the third?
The Free Democrats (FDP), a pro-business party that rules in coalition with Merkel’s conservatives at the federal level, scored 8.3 percent to make it back into the state assembly.
The party ended a string of humiliating regional performances in a state vote in Schleswig-Holstein last week and it hailed the NRW result as proof of a renaissance after a slide in national polls over the past three years.
The upstart Pirates, a party that campaigns for internet freedom and shot onto the national stage last year, continued a strong run at regional level, making it into the fourth straight state parliament with 7.8 percent of the vote.
The Greens scored 11.8 percent. ($1 = 0.7726 euros)
And here the article ends. I don’t know why a dollar-to-euro conversion factor is included, particularly given the volatility of that market arising from political events such as the one being reported in this article.
It strikes me as a bit odd to leave the Greens for last, saying nothing about the party that came in third when you talk about those that finished fourth and fifth. What about a basic description similar to those the other two parties received? Each was accorded a very brief mention of their central concern and a comparison of the current election result with the previous one. That would have been fine, but if it was there it seems to have been replaced by a editor with the value of a dollar in euros. Was that a coded signal to a spy, or European HTML coders flaunting the continued dominance of their currency over ours despite their admitted political problems? Or just plain ineptitude?
Spending the last two years in clinical psych grad school has solidified my impression that every action is indicative of something. Doubtless, mistakes are often caused by tiredness or inattention; but those particular mistakes are made as opposed to others that could have been made and were not, or were initially committed and later caught and rectified. Such differences speak to the psychologist of individual or idiographic tendencies arising from mostly unconscious factors that can only be known, as Carl Jung said, by implication.
That approach tells me to watch for bias in reports from Traditional Media outlets that is often unconscious. In this case, for example, who doesn’t know what the Greens are for? And why do I need to know what they got last time? I know they’re in the government; isn’t that enough? Yes, it might be, except that you told me this data about the other parties that finished lower.
I don’t think this is just a complaint about the lack of parallelism in language. Attitudes come through in subtle ways in the particular language we choose, and here’s an example.
At last night’s debate — which I made a point of not watching — we had this exchange, when John King asked each candidate what was the top misconception about them, and Romney responded with the usual blather:
KING: Is there a misconception about you? The question is the misconception.
ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want.
KING: Fair enough.
Far be it from me to tell John King how to do his job. But I humbly suggest a better response might be along these lines:
“Governor Romney, has it occurred to you that while I’m employed as a journalist, I am also a citizen and a taxpayer? Has it occurred to you that the reason we are here is that you are asking me as a citizen to vote for you, and as a taxpayer to cover your salary and benefits for four to eight years? Do you understand that one of the fundamental principles of this republic is that the president is answerable to the citizens — like me, for instance? Is it your contention that you are not in fact answerable to citizens — or only answerable to those with whom you happen to agree?”
I’m not holding my breath for that kind to follow-up to any exchange with a Republican...
Here’s James Howard Kunstler with a close textual analysis of yesterday’s Superbowl half-time weirdness. He segues from the apocalypse into Madonna, but for that you’ll have to go here.
The Superbowl pageant is a window into the condition of American manhood, and the view is pretty pathetic. It’s a picture of men who feel so weak, insecure, and fearful that they have to compensate with fantasies of limitless destructive power. Ads for several new movies and (I think) video games followed the Silverado apocalypse romp. There were unifying themes throughout. All depicted the problems of life as 1) coming from outside our own society (or world); 2) in the form of aliens who wield mystifying technological destructive power; and 3) leaving a few human remnants on a smoldering landscape after a cosmic showdown.
These onslaughts from elsewhere in the universe always end with superior American guile and the latest technology defeating the purblind invaders. The aliens are vanquished by Apple computers, Air Force stunt pilots, and a little extra help from God Almighty, who is surely on our side. From these realms of engineered grandiosity, we slip in and out of the grinding ground game in Lucas Oil stadium in Indianapolis, another pseudo-military operation loaded with acronyms and jargon intended to confer an illusion of control and competence.
The reality out there in “flyover” land is an audience of diabetic fat men in clownish loungewear slouched on sofas in foreclosed houses enjoying stupendous portions of cheesy and lard-laden foodstuffs between cigarettes and beers. They have a lot to worry about and they have no idea how they might overcome their financial, familial, and medical problems. The real onslaughts besetting the nation in realms such as banking fraud, money in politics, peak oil, climate uncertainty, and economic contraction are at once too complex for the diabetic fat men to comprehend, and grossly misreported in the public arena, where Cable TV and newspapers work the levers of propaganda for one client or another…
Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and a history professor at Barnard College, writing in RD Magazine:
When I lived in Iowa in the 1970s, my father was pastor of one of the largest evangelical congregations in the state. Although he remained a Republican to his death, my father was resolutely apolitical in the pulpit.
Things began to change for Iowa evangelicals — and for politically conservative evangelicals elsewhere — in the late 1970s. Iowa, in fact, was the proving ground for abortion as a political issue. Until 1978, evangelicals in Iowa (as elsewhere) were overwhelmingly indifferent to abortion, even after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973; they considered it a Catholic issue.
The Iowa race for United States Senate in 1978 pitted Dick Clark, the incumbent Democratic senator, against a Republican challenger, Roger Jepsen. All of the polling and the pundits considered it an easy win for Clark. In the final weekend of the campaign, however, pro-lifers (predominantly Catholic) leafleted church parking lots all over the state. Two days later, in an election with a very low turnout, Jepsen narrowly defeated Clark, thereby persuading Paul Weyrich and other architects of the religious right that abortion would work for them as a political issue.
Politically conservative evangelicals in Iowa began to mobilize. Ronald Reagan carried Iowa in 1980 over Jimmy Carter, the incumbent, evangelical Democrat. In 1988 I returned to Iowa for the precinct caucuses to write about evangelicals negotiating the vagaries of political life. Many were self-identified “housewives” who were “lobbying from the kitchen table.”
The religious right in Iowa never looked back. Concerned Women for America, Beverly LaHaye’s organization, became a political force. Rush Limbaugh and other fixtures of the downstream media became staples on WHO, Iowa’s Clear Channel radio station. The radio station KWKY, located — literally — in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, became a beacon of evangelical political rhetoric, most of it leaning toward the hard right. Gannett’s purchase of the Des Moines Register in 1985 diminished the newspaper’s independent voice.
Woody Allen once said his idea of hell was being locked forever in a room with an insurance salesman. That would be hellish, to be sure, but not as bad as being trapped in “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer.
If you can’t imagine what that would be like, tune into Wolf on CNN some afternoon and get ready for the Big Sleep. Before you can adjust the sound level, you will be unconscious, hypnotized by Wolf’s narcotic monotone and lost in a stupor that for some could prove fatal. Wolf is bad, very bad, but not as bad as what follows him on the Cute News Network. Wolf will make you sleepy; the others will make you sick.
OutFront with Erin Burnett, for instance. Now here’s a show that is the opposite of soporific; it is in fact — perky. Perky news. Perk, perk, perky news.
Burnett is an articulate young woman of obvious intelligence. But those are not the reasons she’s been chosen to anchor the show. She’s been chosen because she’s perky, and she’s young, and she sounds like so many other thirtysomething women. She talks very fast from somewhere in the back of her throat; she runs words together, and then runs sentences and paragraphs together. If you listen to Burnett from an adjacent room it sounds like a broadcast from a duck pond.
But, if you can stand the quacking, you might glean enough information to make you want to read a serious account of the same stories, if you can find one.
Or, you can stick your fingers in your ears and wait an hour to hear the very same stories on “Anderson Cooper 360”. Anderson’s the guy in the black tee shirt, you know, the one with prematurely gray hair you’ve seen on billboards looking resolute as he plunges through jungles and treks across Saharan wastes chasing the news. What a guy! The message on the billboards, spoken and unspoken, is that Anderson will go anywhere, risk any danger, bear any burden, to get the story for TV news viewers smart enough — hip enough — to watch CNN.
Anderson likes to say he’s keepin’ ’em honest, which is his no-nonsense way of saying nobody is pulling the wool over the super-bright, cute-as-a-button gang at the Cute News Network. A lot of people think Anderson is adorable and it doesn’t much matter what he’s saying as long as he keeps on wearing those black tee shirts. Whatever. The point is, if you like your news lighter than air, you are not going to improve on Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper. So cute!
But just to round out the picture, let’s not forget that Cute News Network doesn’t have a corner on cute news. There is cuteness to be found elsewhere on the cable channels — over at MSNBC, for instance, where Rachel Maddow spins a unique brand of irony and sarcasm that is irresistibly witty and charming, and nauseating. Like the News Kids over at CNN, Rachel is one of the leading lights of the new generation of TV news broadcasters who are unmistakably accomplished, smart as whips. And cute as buttons.
Keith Olbermann apparently failed the cuteness test at MSNBC and was cast into the darkness. Apparently, Olbermann thought ranting would trump cuteness, which shows how out of touch even a well-established TV news personality can be.
Olbermann resurfaced at Current TV, Al Gore’s entry into the cable news sweepstakes, with more tiresome rants against people and things he doesn’t like. What Olbermann never understood was that even when we didn’t like the same things he didn’t like, that didn’t mean we wanted to hear him rant and rave about them. Now there are rumors that he is in trouble with his new bosses. Sooner or later Olbermann wears thin.
He should stop obsessing about Fox News and pay more attention to the lighter-than-air gang over at CNN. Olbermann mistakes news for serious business. That’s all wrong, Keith; news is fun.
I belong to an online forum called Vietnam Old Hacks, made up of correspondents and other observers of our murderous Southeast Asian follies. Lately there has been a discussion of whether a forum member should have flat-out called Henry Kissinger a war criminal.
We Americans learn nothing, absolutely nothing, ever, from our stupidities of even the very recent past. And our Vietnam idiocy, given the shortness of our national memory, now seems even more remote and irrelevant than Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Still, what’s an Old Hack to do? He’s got to try. So here’s Andrew Pearson, who was a television cameraman, correspondent and producer in Vietnam back in the day:
In 1970, Telford Taylor’s book was published: Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy. The subtitle: Is the US guilty of war crimes in Vietnam? He was America’s chief counsel for the prosecution at the Nazi war-crimes trials at Nuremberg in 1946. When I saw the cover of the book some forty years ago, I wasn’t ready to absorb the argument though by then I had witnessed in South Vietnam what various Geneva Conventions would say were crimes of war.
On page 206, Taylor writes, “... when the nature, scale and effect of intervention changed so drastically in 1965, it is more than “puzzling” (as the Senate Refugee Subcommittee put it) that virtually no one in high authority had the capacity and inclination to perceive and articulate the inevitable consequences. How could it ever have been thought that air strikes, free-fire zones and a mass uprooting and removal of the rural population were the way to win ‘the allegiance of the South Vietnamese’? By what mad cerebrations could a ratio of 28 to 1 between our investments in bombing, and in relief for those we had wounded and made homeless, have even been contemplated, let alone adopted as the operational pattern? One may well echo the acrid French epigram, and say that all this ‘is worse than a crime, it is a blunder’— the most costly and tragic national blunder in American history.... Somehow we failed ourselves to learn the lessons we undertook to teach at Nuremberg, and that failure is today’s American tragedy.”
Forty years after having read Taylor’s book, I really don’t mind at all when those of us call the old “leaders” war criminals. It’s apt. Reagan tried to get everybody to get over it with his invocation that it was a “noble cause.” Not even a blunder. Where does responsibility lie? Do we excuse our decision makers because, looking back, they didn’t know anything about the history of the place — didn’t think they needed to know anything about it. But the trouble with wars is that a lot of people can’t “get over it” for a variety of reasons. The older they get the closer the old memories cling. Truth seems to mature with age and language becomes more blunt.
The following is Joseph Galloway’s reply to the Vietnam Old Hacks post (above) by Andrew Pearson:
Telford Taylor was right. You are right in your explanation of why we, in a profession that once prided itself as keepers of the truth, who were witnesses, cannot simply leave hard and harsh judgments to the historians long after we are dead. Why we hold the truth closer and more dear and speak more harshly as we grow old.
Vietnam and the pardoning of Richard Nixon and a national willingness to just slide by the truth and not hold up the war criminals to public scrutiny and justice set our feet on a path that led us straight into the fucking mess we find ourselves in as a nation right now. It led us straight into Bush Junior’s administration and two unnecessary wars — one only now ending after over eight years duration, 5,000 dead American men and women, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, three million Iraqis turned into refugees inside and outside their homeland; the other expected to drag on till 2014 and sputter to as uncertain a conclusion as the one in Iraq.
The Bush policymakers governed on fear and drove the public into acceptance of a foul and stinking trade-off — our freedoms in exchange for security against the evil arrayed against us. It drove us into acceptance of a loss of Constitutional guarantees underpinning the rights that made us unique among nations. From there it becomes easy to gain acceptance of the use of methods of interrogation, torture really, that heretofore were not only unthinkable but were, in fact, illegal under both our own laws and the international conventions that govern conduct in war that we signed and pledged to uphold.
Bush hired lawyers who opined that “The law is what we say it is, what YOU Mr. President says it is.” There are now bills working their way through our Congress that authorize the arrest and detention of Americans on American soil without any due process whatsoever, and their detention shall be by our military and totally outside the purview of the criminal justice system. We have chosen to combat an evil by embracing some of the very methods and crimes that we have used to define them as evil. We have chosen to trade precious freedom for security — and in the end we shall have neither freedom nor security.
When that odious administration staggered to an end and the people elected a man President who vowed he would change things in Washington, make things right, restore that which had been tarnished and blackened, he did none of those things. Rather than investigate and hold up to the light those who had stolen for the executive powers never granted under the Constitution, rather than restore the rights and guarantees of a people born free, rather than fix what had been broken, that man announced in his first weeks in office that he would do none of that; that his choice was “to look forward, not back.”
He would continue to prosecute the wars begun by his predecessors for years more. He would trample on the principle of equality under the law. He would neither investigate nor prosecute his predecessor and his co-conspirators, thus ensuring that now we would have two standards of justice: one for ordinary citizens and another, without punishment, for the power-brokers and the power-wielders. And nothing changed.
Nor will it anywhere short of an uprising by the people demanding restoration of their rights to equal justice, to privacy and security in their homes and in their communications, and the restoration of a balanced system of government based on three equal seats of power: executive, legislative and judicial. So yes we speak out, exercising a now-shaky right to free speech, and, yes, at times we use harsh words because the country and government we see today is NOT the government and country we grew up in and learned about in the schoolbooks.
I am still shocked that on this forum for those who were witnesses and tellers of the truth, of all places, some would suggest that we let all this slide, sweep the war criminals and their crimes against other peoples and our own under the rug for some yet-unborn academic historians to paw through and judge a century or two down the road.
This went into effect Monday. I’ve waited a while to see whether the MSM would jump on the good news with its customary enthusiasm. Oddly, no.
On Friday, the federal government launched an element of the Affordable Care Act that is likely to have far-reaching consequences on the cost of health care in the United States in the form of new regulatory controls on how private health insurance companies spend the money they collect in premiums. Rick Ungar, a left-leaning specialist on health care policy who writes for the corporatist site, Forbes.com, explains:
That would be the provision of the law, called the medical loss ratio, that requires health insurance companies to spend 80 percent of the consumers’ premium dollars they collect — 85 percent for large group insurers — on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Failure on the part of insurers to meet this requirement will result in the insurers having to send their customers a rebate check representing the amount in which they underspend on actual medical care.
This is the true ‘bomb’ contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we’ve seen in quite some time. Indeed, it is this aspect of the law that represents the true ‘death panel’ found in Obamacare — but not one that is going to lead to the death of American consumers. Rather, the medical loss ratio will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry.
My nephew Jason sends this along. So watch it or die.
I’m seeing some tut-tutting around the blogosphere over this:
To our knowledge, Jay-Z has not been to Occupy Wall Street, or any other Occupies across the world. Yet he was recently seen wearing a t-shirt that read “Occupy All Streets,” with the W in “Wall” crossed off and the S added. His clothing company, Rocawear, is about to start selling said shirts. None of the profits, thus far, are scheduled to go back to Occupy Wall Street.
It seems to me we’re missing out on a teachable moment here.
Here’s the thing. You pay Jay-Z for a t-shirt, and whaddya get? You get a t-shirt. You’re supposed to get a t-shirt, ’cause you paid for it. That’s what we used to call “business.”
Compare and contrast with the way our Wall Street friends operate. You pay for a house and wind up with nothing. You pay for retirement and wind up with nothing. You pay for an investment and wind up with nothing. That’s what we used to call “fraud.”
But now it’s what we call “business.”
I suppose it says something about the woeful state of this country that mere hucksterism and crass exploitation seem more straightforward and honest than the institutions that currently control our national policies.
Here’s Anwar al-Awlaki on page 1 of Saturday’s New York Times:
…the American-born cleric whose fiery sermons made him a larger-than-life figure in the shadowy world of jihad…
…the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula…
…taken “the lead role in planning and directing the efforts to murder innocent Americans…”
…inspired militants around the world and helped plan a number of terrorist plots, including the December 2009 attempt to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit…
…Internet lectures and sermons inspired would-be militants and led to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada.
And here he is, tucked away on page 14 of Sunday’s New York Times where only news nerds go:
“…A dime-a-dozen cleric…”
“…I don’t think your average Middle Easterner knows who Anwar al-Awlaki is…”
“…It seems totally irrelevant to how Arabs view the world right now. They don’t care about Awlaki…”
…In a region transfixed by the drama of its revolts, Mr. Awlaki’s voice has had almost no resonance…
“…It seems totally irrelevant to how Arabs view the world right now. They don’t care about Awlaki…”
“…When the Obama administration and the U.S. media started focusing on him, that is when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula pushed him to the fore. They were taking advantage of the free publicity, if you will. And any stature he has now in the Arab world is because of that…”
“…The U.S. focus on Awlaki was a function of his language abilities and their understanding of his role as a recruiter and propagandist. If recent events can be said to further marginalize violent rejectionists such as Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, then there is very little room for a virtual unknown such as Awlaki to command any serious attention…”
…he is not unique in his role as the American voice of Al Qaeda recruiting. United States counterterrorism officials say there are as many as 100 English-language sites offering militant Islamic views.
From New York magazine:
The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” finally opened Wednesday at 45–51 Park Place. Last year, Park51, as the mosque–community center two iconic blocks from the WTC is called, was the flashpoint of the most heated New York City public debate in decades, prompting raucous community-board meetings, much incendiary rhetoric about the supposed Islamization of America, and, eventually, the uncommon sight of Mayor Bloomberg crying on television while defending New York as an unending beacon of tolerance where “no neighborhood is off-limits to God’s love and mercy.”From Kevin Drum, in Mother Jones:
On Wednesday night, however, aside from the cop car that sits outside the building 24/7 and a number of burly, black-clad bouncers, Park51’s recent history was little in evidence…
No one I talked to wanted to discuss the outrageous events of the past year. In fact, neither Pamela Geller or Robert Spencer — the firebrand bloggers who concocted the bulk of the anti-mosque talking points — even mentioned the Park51 opening on their sites. Then again, they may still by lying low in the wake of the disclosure that their views were widely quoted in the papers of Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik.
The mosque was introduced to the public in December 2009, Pamela Geller shrieked about it, and no one cared. In May 2010 the project was approved, Pamela Geller shrieked about it, and no one cared. A week later, a New York Post columnist wrote a piece called “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero,” Pamela Geller continued shrieking about it, and —
And suddenly Rupert Murdoch’s other New York-based news operation took notice. After all, there was an election coming in November, and what better way to rally the troops? It was just one more log for Fox to toss onto its Bonfire of Xenophobia last summer..
Tim Dickinson disassembles Roger Ailes in The Guardian, from which this excerpt comes. Dickinson writes that Nixon was married twice instead of once and that Ailes lives in New Jersey instead of Putnam County, New York. But no one’s perfect, and the rest of the piece looks pretty solid to me. Scary stuff.
Ailes knows exactly who is watching Fox News each day, and he is adept at playing to their darkest fears in the age of Obama. The network’s viewers are old, with a median age of 65. Ads cater to the immobile, the infirm and the incontinent, with appeals to join class action hip-replacement lawsuits, commercials for products such as Colon Flow and testimonials for the services of Liberator Medical (“Liberator gave me back the freedom I haven’t had since I started using catheters”). The audience is also almost exclusively white — only 1.38% of viewers are African-American. “Roger understands audiences,” says Rollins, the former Reagan consultant. “He knew how to target, which is what Fox News is all about.” The typical viewer of Sean Hannity’s show, to take the most stark example, is a pro-business (86%), Christian conservative (78%), Tea Party-backer (75%) with no college degree (66%), who is over 50 (65%), supports the NRA (73%), doesn’t back gay rights (78%) and thinks government “does too much” (84%)…
In fact, a study by the University of Maryland revealed that ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimisation.
“What Nixon did — and what Ailes does today in the age of Obama — is unravel and rewire one of the most powerful of human emotions: shame,” says Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. “He takes the shame of people who feel that they are being looked down on, and he mobilises it for political purposes. Roger Ailes is a direct link between the Nixonian politics of resentment and Sarah Palin’s politics of resentment. He’s the golden thread.”
CARMAGEDDON!!!! — the near-apocalpytic closure of a stretch of freeway in Los Angeles — has come and gone. I survived, although I did have to eat several of my own toes in order to do so.
There was indeed a ridiculous amount of breathless local coverage of Carmageddon throughout the weekend — it was more burdensome than the actual closure. (I will say in LA’s defense that this was a total shutdown of a ten-mile stretch of one of the busiest freeways in the world. In a number of cities and towns in this great land of ours, ten miles of freeway would be pretty much the whole town.) Now come the inevitable recriminations about the hype and hysteria that attended the run-up to the non-event, such as this one from Russ Baker.
There is, however, a rather gratifying lesson to be learned from this complete absence of disaster. In fact, it’s so gratifying that no one will ever speak of it.
Government (boo!!! hiss!!!) went out of its way to inform the citizenry what it was doing, and made the citizens participants in solving the problem. Government did what the citizens could not do for themselves - i.e. the work of improving the freeway — and gave the citizens the means to deal with the larger problem — i.e. not causing traffic jams — as they saw fit. Whereupon everyone seems to have made any number of personal decisions with the common good in mind.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little grandiose. Maybe they didn’t have the common good in mind — maybe they just didn’t want to be stuck in traffic. So, Galt-like, they selfishly stayed off the freeways altogether. Even if you put that spin on it, you’re still left with individuals acting in concert with an awareness of a larger community.
And they did this in Los Angeles!
That’s kind of how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? That’s not apocalyptic, but I’d call that a pretty big deal.
Of course, the last thing we want people to realize in this country is that we’re all in this together, and that sometimes we can solve our problems simply by keeping that in mind. So we’ll make fun of Los Angeles for a few more days, and then move on to round-the-clock coverage of the next missing white girl...
[Ed. note: for details on the Streaker of 405, please apply here.]
Here’s Maureen Dowd, joining the vast crowd of middle-aged scribblers and babblers who have been calling Osama bin Laden an old man.
On the one hand, Osama seems risible, an old man with a clicker trapped in a dorm room.
Osama was 53 when he died, and if that’s old, what’s Dowd herself ? Fifty-nine, that’s what, and do I go around calling her old? Not until she’s at least on Medicare.
“Burying the lede” is what reporters call the rookie mistake of hiding the most interesting element of a story way down where nobody can see it. It’s also possible to do this with a headline so transcendentally dull that the reader skips the story entirely. A headline such as:
Which buries the following gem:
MOSCOW — The radical art collective Voina has won a contemporary art award sponsored by Russia’s Ministry of Culture and the National Center for Contemporary Art for a project that consisted of a 210-foot penis painted on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg…
The turmoil in Tunisia (and now, more critically, in Egypt) will prove to be a world-changing event in ways that cannot now be foreseen. One day the uprisings will be understood to have been even more significant than even Bush’s and Obama’s idiot adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Bush was drinking his way through Yale I was a United States Information Agency officer serving in Casablanca. The conditions that have now led to the upheavals in so much of the Arab world were already apparent. It was common to meet men in their thirties who had never held a job.
And when the three-year-old daughter of our office janitor was horribly burned in an accident, he was refused entry to her hospital room because he had no money to bribe the doorman. Multiply these indignities by the billions throughout the Arab world over the next half century or so, and the present riots become understandable.
Al Jazeera, so vilified by the Bush/Cheney administration, has been throughout a more valuable source of news about the Moslem world than our own news organizations. This remains the case. To follow what is actually happening as our geopolitical world shifts, watch Al Jazeera’s live stream in English.
Way back when, I wrote the following:
Lest we forget, American tanks blocked off access to Firdos Square on that triumphant day [April 9, 2003]. Inside were many American soldiers and civilians and a small group of Iraqis, most of them members of Chalabi’s private, U.S.-funded militia. The statue was toppled by an American cable pulled by an American tank retrieval vehicle operated by American soldiers. The American flag which briefly ornamented Saddam’s head was put there by an American soldier. It was an American officer who realized just in time that the stars and stripes were somewhat off-message, and ordered them removed. Somehow or other, an Iraqi flag happened to be on hand…
As an old flack myself, I had recognized a photo-op even as I watched this one over and over on the day it debuted. But I didn’t know the half of it. For the rest of the story, as the unlamented Paul Harvey used to say, read the fascinating full account by Peter Maas in Pro Publica from which this excerpt comes:
Very few Iraqis were there. If you were at the square, or if you watch the footage, you can see, on the rare occasions long shots were used, that the square was mostly empty. You can also see, from photographs as well as video, that much of the crowd was made up of journalists and marines. Because of the lo-fi quality of the video and the shifting composition of the crowd, it’s hard to give a precise number, but perhaps a quarter to a half consisted of journalists or marines.
The crowd’s size — journalists, marines, and Iraqis — does not seem to have exceeded several hundred at its largest, and was much smaller for most of the two hours. The Iraqis who were photogenically enthusiastic — sledgehammering the statue, jumping on it after the toppling — were just an excitable subset of all Iraqis there.
“I saw a lot of people watching with their arms crossed, not at all celebrating,” Collier noted. Closeups filled the screen with the frenzied core of the small crowd and created an illusion of wall-to-wall enthusiasm throughout Baghdad. It was an illusion that reflected only the media’s yearning for exciting visuals…
Great catch by Robert Stein at Connecting.the.Dots:
As Glenn Beck’s Dr. Frankenstein, Karl Rove’s rehabilitator and Sarah Palin’s sugar daddy, Murdoch has defined media deviancy down to the point where it matches the now rock-bottom ethical standards of politics.
One gauge of his dual motivation is reflected in the antics of the Journal, which Murdoch has put behind a pay wall online, but which in recent weeks has made freely available to all its most virulent attacks on Obama.
In today’s edition alone, one columnist calls Barack Obama “kind of a jerk,” another parses his “disastrous fall” and still another explains why “Connecticut voters want a smackdown of the president’s policies.”
But if would-be readers are interested in a critique of Stephen Hawking’s views on God or what Congress should do about IPOs to help the American economy on “the road to recovery,” they will have to pay Murdoch for the privilege.
It’s not censorship when you do it to yourself, people. It’s editorial judgment.
He whose name ought not to be spoken wants to burn Korans in a southern state on the anniversary of 9/11. He exists as news because various television, internet, radio and newspaper editors and writers decided that he was news. And so he became news.
Another editorial judgment, this one based not on the law of the journalistic herd but on that of common sense, would turn this fool back into nonnews, and restore him to his proper invisibility as pastor of a church with a congregation of fifty. Maybe fifty. Has anybody actually counted, or did you all take his word for it? Because he exaggerates, you know. For instance, he calls himself a Christian.
Yesterday the world changed and a new epoch was ushered in with Wikileak’s release of the Afghan War Diary, 2004 – 2010. In case you’ve been vacationing off-planet, Afghan War Diary is a compilation of “raw data” derived from 90,000 leaked ground reports from the war in Afghanistan (approximately 15,000 have been held back for possible redaction before their release). The importance of this event is certainly not that the data uncovers shocking new revelations about how abysmally the war in Afghanistan has been conducted — an epic fail of such proportions is hard to cover up completely no matter how obedient the national media are. The true awesomeness of this development is that, in one brilliant and well-coordinated play, the rules of the game have been changed — forever after — and, not only has the playing field been leveled, it’s been moved out of town — no more home-field advantage.
Part of the genius of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange’s release was his gambit to assure that mainstream media would not obstruct or trivialize the importance of the leak — by giving them the scoop. Wikileaks provided the roughly 91,000 reports dated from January 2004 to December 2009 to three media outlets, The New York Times, the Guardian of London and Der Spiegel of Germany, under agreement to publish their individual coverage simultaneously on Sunday…
The “home team” however seems to be determined to ignore the change in game plan, at least for now. Despite a “heads up” from their loyal friends at The New York Times, the administration’s official flat-footed response was noticeably confused, and confusing. In my opinion, no one did a better job of parsing the White House’ official response than Jay Rosen; here are his reactions posted on NYU’s Pressthink blog:
The initial response from the White House was extremely unimpressive:
This leak will harm national security. (As if those words still had some kind of magical power, after all the abuse they have been party to.)
There’s nothing new here. (Then how could the release harm national security?)
Wikileaks is irresponsible; they didn’t even try to contact us! (Hold on: you’re hunting the guy down and you’re outraged that he didn’t contact you?)
Wikileaks is against the war in Afghanistan; they’re not an objective news source. (So does that mean the documents they published are fake?)
“The period of time covered in these documents… is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.” (Okay, so now we too know the basis for the President’s decision: and that’s a bad thing?)
A great follow-up (that we’ll never see) from the White House would be a comprehensive analysis of how the “revolutionary Obama” strategy addresses shortcomings in the “lackluster Bush” strategy. For example, to the best of my knowledge, American taxpayers are still underwriting billions of dollars to continue the Sisyphean task of training an Afghan National Police Force.
As Tom Engelhardt put it, recently:
The Pentagon . . . hasn’t hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to “train” and “mentor” the Afghan military and police – and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again.
Engelhardt then follows up with the questions that lay bare the Coalition’s utter fecklessness in this endeavor:
“And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven’t had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven’t had years of advice from the best U.S. and NATO advisers that money can buy; they haven’t had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting. They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt. They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up-to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified U.S. military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters, and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.”
“Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the U.S. has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions.”
And if you think the Afghan Police Academy idea is stupid and wasteful, just go read Tom’s entire article describing the US plan to resurrect the Afghan Air Force (as soon as they can learn English) and procure some reconditioned Russian ‘coptors that the Afghans took a shine to in the last war. The timeline for that project? US Air Force personnel: guestimate 2016 – 2018 depending on how well the Afghans take to English, “the official language of the cockpit.” There are 450 US Air Force personnel tasked with this project @ $1 million/year/flight instructor plus, of course, pay and bennies for the Afghan recruits, and let’s not forget procurement and maintenance of the fleet of Russian helicopters — you do the math . . . .
What has changed, recently, was that the new Afghan “police academy” graduates will eventually be dealing with a possible “conflict of interest” with the freshly minted localized militias (that nobody wants to call militias) that Gen. Petraeus is so proud of successfully lobbying for.
Evidently, Catch-22 is alive and well in today’s army . . .
* * *
The Pentagon, for its part, has harrumphed out a hasty announcement that it is launching a “robust probe” of the Wikileaks matter (to differentiate, I suppose, from the “rather lame probes” that it launches in the event of collateral damage leaks). That development is curious in the face of their much ballyhooed apprehension, months ago, of Bradley Manning, an Army information analyst stationed in Iraq (not Afghanistan), charged with leaking classified information to Wikileaks. The Pentagon is acting suspiciously in this, perhaps they know that there are many leaks in their midst, or, maybe they just already know it’s not Manning but it’s good to have a guy in custody.
And the State Department, on the basis of leaked reports that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is aiding and abetting the Taliban insurgents, is threatening to take back the $7 billion aid package that it proudly bestowed on Pakistan a few weeks ago, if the ISI doesn’t cut it out. Of course none of this is “news” and Hillary Clinton knew it when she delivered this money bomb on her latest trip. Ah well, it’s taxpayers’ money, there’s more where that came from . . .
* * *
The real importance of this event is so hard to grasp and appreciate fully that it’s going to take some time to digest. If you look hard enough, though, a number of people have noticed and are scratching the surface in credible ways.
The following are excerpts from the first impressions of respected sources on media and the new news ecosystem; taken together, I believe that their comments comprise a cogent analysis of the unprecedented actions taken by Julian Assange and the possible impact that those actions might have on the future of information distribution, transparency and governmental accountability.
From Jay Rosen of NYU’s PressThink blog:
If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, ‘They didn’t even contact us!
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.
And I can’t resist including a reader’s comment on Rosen’s article, because it says so much:
we enter an era now where we begin to be conscious of “collective consciousness” and its role as “prime mover” of the “world” and its events …”
analysis of the various parts and components proceeds only fitfully, because we do not yet have a language of whole …
the problem? adjusting to a pre-existing global reality larger than the individual thinking mind can grasp …
consciousness itself, however, has no problem with any of this … it is our limited self-concept that does …
solution? easy. identify with the whole…
inescapable and unavoidable, by the way … not if, but when
Posted by: gregorylent at July 26, 2010 2:56 AM | Permalink
From Alexis Madrigal, senior editor and lead technology writer for TheAtlantic.com:
The rogue, rather mysterious website provided the raw data; the newspapers provided the context, corroboration, analysis, and distribution. ‘Wikileaks was not involved in the news organizations’ research, reporting, analysis and writing,’ Times editors said in an online note. ‘The Times spent about a month mining the data for disclosures and patterns, verifying and cross-checking with other information sources, and preparing the articles that are published today.
The New York Times’ David Carr may have nailed the issue when he tweeted that it was the “asymmetries” that Wikileaks introduces into the equation that have the government spooked. An administration official told Politico, ‘[I]t’s worth noting that Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan.’ But the truth is that we don’t really know what Wikileaks is, or what the organization’s ethics are, or why they’ve become such a stunningly good conduit of classified information.
In the new asymmetrical journalism, it’s not clear who is on what side or what the rules of engagement actually are. But the reason Wikileaks may have just changed the media is that we found out that it doesn’t really matter. Their data is good, and that’s what counts.
Whatever else is true, WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world. Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret. But that’s what our National Security State does reflexively: it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing. WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall, enabling modest glimpses into what The Washington Post spent last week describing as Top Secret America. The war on WikiLeaks — which was already in full swing, including, strangely, from some who claim a commitment to transparency — will only intensify now. Anyone who believes that the Government abuses its secrecy powers in order to keep the citizenry in the dark and manipulate public opinion — and who, at this point, doesn’t believe that? – should be squarely on the side of the greater transparency which Wikileaks and its sources, sometimes single-handedly, are providing.
And finally, for those who claim this is “old news” and “no big deal,” ponder this from Politico:
Whether WikiLeaks uncovered anything new isn’t actually important — it’s on the front page of every newspaper in the country; the media is now focused on Afghanistan, and that makes it a big deal,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on India and Pakistan.
The public is now more skeptical about the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan than they were last week, and that makes it real, said Markey, who was a South Asia analyst during the Bush administration.
From Theda Skocpol, a tiny bubble of sense in the vast wave of media bullshit:
Let’s have an analysis of what it would take, over months and years, to create government agencies — FDIC, MMS, etc. — capable of actually holding powerful corporations to account in an effective partnership…
In the oil spill case, the evil was done years ago during the unholy Republican-oil industry alliance, and during years of deliberate efforts to gut the morale, expertise, and will to act of regulatory agencies. Let’s face it, why would the best people even want to go into government regulatory work, when all you get is months of delay in congressional confirmations and a constant round of pushes and pulls and public humiliation? We have the federal agencies we seem to want: ineffective ones.
To rebuild, will take at least the following: strong public leadership in agencies as well as the White House; an agency with appointees quickly confirmed by Congress and left in place for years with the right to recruit and back up devoted experts and regulators sharing a strong purpose to serve the public; and oversight but never micro-lobbying by Congress. Congress people willing to tell powerful corporations to lay off, instead of pressing agencies for exceptions to rules on their behalf.
The Obama administration is trying to rebuild and use a federal government that has been ransacked and humiliated and weakened over decades of deliberate mismanagement by private-interest-oriented Republicans and “new” Democrats. It is an uphill battle, and it does not help that the media and commentators are not even helping the public understand the real issues. More anger from President Obama is totally beside the point here.
As for this spill, it will not end for months. There is nothing any government on earth can do when a private corporate giant was allowed to drill beyond the technological means to correct a major disaster — and then that disaster occurs.
The White House should definitely not take direct responsibility for fixing the pipes. It should focus on holding BP accountable and on coordinating the compensation, mitigation, and repairs needed. It should, as Obama is doing, find out what went wrong and demand changes for the future.
Back in the early days of our Southeast Asian War Games a Washington Post and Times-Herald editor sent me to the District Building to cover what he figured had to be a mob scene at the marriage license bureau. After all, the White House had just announced that married men would become eligible for the draft in just a few days’ time. I reported back that there was no mob and consequently no news. “There you go,” the editor said. “There’s your story.”
When I bitched about this nonsense to an older reporter he said, “Don’t sweat it, kid. We call that a ‘no-snow story.’ Some idiot on the desk looks out the window and sees it isn’t snowing when it said in his own paper it would. To an idiot it’s news when the world fails to cooperate with him.”
I have been sensitive to no-snow stories ever since, and once you start looking, they’re everywhere. Thus I sympathize with a certain Jonathan Strong who writes for Tucker Carlson’s new conservative website, The Daily Caller. Poor Strong did the best he could with what he had.
The idiots topped his story with this headline, which is almost totally divorced from the perfect blizzard of no-snow that follows it:
…or so says former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Myself, I would never impute ulterior motives to the fat freak.
When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.
If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office — Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished.
For the cause they purport to represent, however, the “Waterloo” threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own.
From the Washington Independent:
Kathy Ropte — like Jackson, a member of the Harris County, Ga. Tea Party, had started to move beyond lobbying. As cameras snapped away, she stood in front of the Cannon Building and announced the termination, “to take effect in November,” of pro-health care reform members. One activist chided her for the display, which included a massive sign reading “Waterboard Congress.” Jackson didn’t care. She was in the fight, whether or not health care reform passed.
“One day I turned off American Idol,” Ropte told TWI, “and I turned on Fox News. Before this year I’d never voted in my life.”
You’d expect this sort of thing from the Rude Pundit or the Huffington Post. But the Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson’s new cybersheet?
Sarah Palin took a leave of absence from her Russia-watching post in Alaska to become a Fox News contributor. Who could have seen that coming? She represents diversity on Fox as that network’s only non-blonde correspondent…
Sarah Palin does have charisma and a certain following. A woman resembling her once walked into a Florida breakfast place and nearly caused a riot. Folks soon realized she was not the former Alaska governor when she started reading a newspaper.
Would the president’s health care bill fare better if it wasn’t longer than War and Peace and nowhere near as interesting? If it was cut to, say, ten pages, even Republicans would be able to digest it and it might now be the law of the land.
Might we take Rachel Maddow more seriously if she didn’t wear sneakers on her news show? And wouldn’t her news show benefit from more news and less cuteness? On a recent evening Maddow interviewed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate New Yorker who was named to succeed Hillary Clinton when Clinton became capo di tutti cappi di tutti diplomati. When the camera drew back for a long shot of the two women sitting at facing desks we could see that Rachel was ready for some post-punditry hoops. She was wearing what appeared to be Converse high-tops, black with white rubber trimming. Gillibrand, who has shed a few pounds since joining the August Body, is certainly the best-looking Senator and probably one of the smartest. She was soft-spoken, businesslike, not wearing sneakers, and was not in the least bit cute.
Would Chris Matthews find more viewers if he didn’t constantly interrupt his guests by answering his own questions and spraying saliva all over the place?
During the president’s state of the union address, Justice Alito, who was sitting directly in front of the president a couple of rows back, kept shaking his head from side to side in apparent disapproval of what he was hearing. Shouldn’t our Supreme Court Justices, even those who are runaway ideologues and hypocrites, at least try to maintain some measure of political neutrality?
To be sure, that’s an old-fashioned notion and not one that will find favor with the likes of Alito, or with the oddly creepy Chief Justice, with the sneering Scalia, or Clarence the Clown. These gifted legal theorists have now declared that corporations are the same as people and therefore have the right to spend as much money as they want to elect their favorite candidates. Thus forty or fifty years-worth of laws limiting the pernicious influence of powerful corporate interests on democratic elections was wiped away. And those laws prominently included the McCain-Feingold Act, co-sponsored by the recent Republican candidate for the presidency. Nobody is safe from this court.
What is the O’Reilly factor? Maybe if we could figure out what it is, we could eliminate it. (Ed. note: It is suavity.) Without his factor, might O’Reilly go away, too? Of course, if O’Reilly miraculously disappeared, then Keith Olbermann would have nothing to talk about on his news show and maybe he would also go away. As a recovering MSNBC addict, I can say that might not be all bad. Even if you like Olbermann, you can see that he’s almost as far out of control as Rachel Maddow.
But if Olbermann is out of control, what can we say about Rush Limbaugh? It’s hard to understand the attraction of a man of such spectacular repulsiveness. He’s fat, loud, ugly, mean as a rabid coyote, utterly cynical, totally irresponsible, dope-addled, and breathtakingly dishonest. He spews hate and broadcasts lies, and, despite these traits, or because of them, lots of people think he’s great. A great mystery. But then, lots of people thought Hitler was a fun guy.
A final few tidbits for thought. Why does anyone care what Arianna Huffington thinks? She used to be a loud-mouthed conservative and now she’s a loud-mouthed liberal. Huh?
Who is Glenn Beck and why do we keep hearing about him? There seems to be nothing about him that isn’t reprehensible. Nobody likes him, including his mother. Everything he says is a lie. He lacks charm, wit and intelligence. So why the hell do we keep hearing about him? Let’s put him out with the trash, with Sam Alito’s manners and O’Reilly’s factor.
…is Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is “about to become News Corp’s fourth largest shareholder” according to DC Bureau. (h/t to Reconstitution 2.0). With the addition of a Wahhabi point of view, Fox News becomes at last truly fair and balanced. Don’t touch that dial.
Did you hear the one about the government inquiry into the Briton who was taken to Guantánamo Bay and tortured by Americans with British complicity?
Not unless you were reading carefully. The Post had an article only somewhat slanted toward the US position. If you searched for it on the world news page. The Times had a brief but reasonable summary of the blockbuster evidence coming out. In a blog.
The Guardian led with five stories centered on the news that British complicity in torture has been proven to the satisfaction of a group of the highest jurists in the UK.
Critical evidence came in the form of a decision by an American court that Binyam Mohammed had indeed been tortured while in American custody. There was also testimony showing that British knowledge of Mohammed’s plight was extensive, and that British agents also questioned him during this period.
A fair amount of the outrage is related to actions approaching governmental and possibly judicial misconduct at the end of the trial, what one Guardian article described as “How 400 years of legal history were cast aside in the Binyam Mohamed case: Legal principle established in 1637 banned secret talks between lawyers and courts. It was broken by the government”.
US news outlets don’t talk about the British inquiries into the lies leading up to the war, or the torture everyone knows Americans engaged in. Everyone else in the world knows about it. What sort of country intentionally misinforms its citizens?
This one’s aimed a bit more at the filmster than the football fan, but anyone who appreciates irony and cinematographic style will enjoy the idea of the Super Bowl from the viewpoints of the likes of Tarantino, Lynch, and Herzog. Short and hilarious, whether or not you like football.
…and left i on the news explains the difference:
Today, a man with a “cache” of weapons is all over the national news. His cache consisted primarily of two rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Aside from the RPG, no doubt a “cache” which is exceeded in size by hundreds of thousands, if not indeed millions or even tens of millions, of Americans. Oh, but he had one more thing in his “cache” which most of them don’t, which is why he’s in the national news — “a Middle Eastern red and white colored traditional headdress.”
Let’s remind ourselves of other caches of weapons that were not newsworthy, caches which received no national attention whatsoever. Just last November, a man was caught with 35 pipe bombs, an assortment of firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition; outside of a brief AP article, his case went totally unmentioned by the national press. He was a right-winger.
But he doesn’t even begin to compare to two other cases. Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat were caught with dozens of machine guns, rifles, C-4 explosive, dynamite, detonators, a grenade launcher and ammunition, and did spend a year in prison. In the New York Times they warranted two one-paragraph stories, one the day they were convicted, the other the day they were released from prison.
And even surpassing Alvarez and Mitat was Robert Ferro, a man whose name did not once make the national or even regional media; only the local paper has covered his case. Why is that so astonishing? Because Ferro had a cache consisting of 1,600 firearms, including 35 machine guns, 130 silencers and two short-barreled rifles, along with a hand grenade, military rocket-launcher tube, and grenade parts, not to mention 89,000 rounds of ammunition, the largest private cache of weapons ever seized in the United States!
Alvarez, Mitat, and Ferro all had one thing in common besides for having their caches of weapons ignored by the media. All three were anti-Cuban terrorists, planning to use their weapons against citizens of Cuba. You know, “acceptable” terrorism.
A normal NFL game takes three hours of television time. On average, the ball is in play for less than eleven minutes, with about 50% more than that devoted to replays. About an hour is commercials.
As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps. In the four broadcasts The Journal studied, injured players got six more seconds of camera time than celebrating players. While the network announcers showed up on screen for just 30 seconds, shots of the head coaches and referees took up about 7% of the average show.
If you think the networks are a little too fond of cheerleaders, you may be mistaken: In these broadcasts, only two networks showed cheerleaders at all. And when they did, they were only on camera for an average of three seconds. “We make it a point to get Dallas cheerleaders on, but otherwise, it’s not really important,” says Fred Gaudelli, NBC’s Sunday Night Football producer. “If we’re doing the Jets, I couldn’t care less.”
For instance, read this:
Some editors at The Dallas Morning News have started reporting directly to executives outside the newsroom who oversee advertising sales, under a restructuring that overturns longstanding traditions in American newspapers aimed at shielding news judgments from business concerns.
A memo sent to employees on Wednesday explains the creation of new positions with the title of general manager, each responsible for ad sales in particular parts of the paper. “In the sports and entertainment segments, the senior news editors will report directly to the G.M. while retaining a strong reporting relationship to the editor and managing editor,” the memo said.
In an interview, Bob Mong, the editor of The Morning News, stressed that no other parts of the paper would report to people outside the newsroom, though advertising managers had been assigned to work with several other areas, like health, education, travel and real estate. Asked if there were plans to apply the structure in sports and entertainment to other parts of the paper, he said, “not at this time.”
And now read this:
Back in the early 1960s I covered the District Building (Washington’s City Hall) for the old Washington Daily News, a conservative paper in the Scripps Howard chain. City licensing officials, I learned one day, were investigating complaints of false advertising and fraud against the city’s new car dealers.
After finding that the allegations were true, I handed in a three-part series. Among my examples were fraudulent ads from the Daily News itself, new car dealers being among the largest sources of advertising revenue for all metropolitan papers.
But the city desk let the story stand. The morning the first installment appeared, so did the paper’s editor-in-chief John O’Rourke — followed by two angry-looking strangers. It was rare to see him before lunch. In two years at the paper, I had never actually met the man.
Minutes after O’Rourke had disappeared into his office, his secretary called to summon me. On my way in, I passed by the desk of a veteran reporter. “Good luck, kid,” he said. “You’ve just written a one-part three-part series.”
Inside O’Rourke’s office were the managing editor, the two strangers, and, even more ominously, the business manager. “Can you back up everything you’ve got. young fellow?” O’Rourke asked. I said yes. “Good,” O’Rourke said. “Now beat it.”
The series ran as written.
The snippets below are from a survey of the Right of the Right, carried out by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Not much you didn’t know, perhaps, but the words are often interesting even if the tune is familiar.
Most fascinating to me was the way the respondents talked about President Obama himself. They thought he was a socialist, Manchurian candidate control freak, sure. But it kept peeping through that they couldn’t help respecting and admiring the guy — maybe even liking him. Most peculiar, Obama…
For the complete text, download file.
The conservative Republican base represents almost one in five voters in the electorate, and nearly two out of every three self-identified Republicans…
Asked about the issues of greatest importance to them in choosing a candidate for Congress, health care ranked sixth among the Republicans, below issues such as tax cuts, immigration, and a candidate’s personal values and faith; but for the independents, health care was number one…
—I think it is another media attack on people who have views other than their own… It almost makes you think they are trying to create some kind of a divide… Tearing us up. Fabrication to prove the point that they want to prove that may or may not be truth. It is relative to their need to get a headline and they are stupid if they think we’re not seeing this stuff. They’re stupid if they think we’re so stupid.
—There’s a school of thought that if you overload the system with programs and bailouts and all that, that it will create an opportunity, some people believe it started in the 60’s with welfare and Medicare and Medicaid; if you load the system down enough till it totally collapses it, I mean, I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theory, but it opens the door for this whole new way of governing. I’m not saying he’s a sleeper or anything like that, but it is something to think about…
—I think [Glenn Beck’s] brilliant. No one goes after him because he does his homework. He checks, double checks, triple checks and he says he refuses to put it on the air unless it’s been checked a hundred different times. So when you can’t get at him, you start calling him names and start digging into his past.
Here’s a happy ending for you:
Don’t remember Andrea Mackris? That means you haven’t clicked recently on our blogroll link to “Bill O’Reilly’s Pathetic Sex Life.” For a Cliff Notes version, here’s an excerpt from The Smoking Gun’s anniversary hommage to the popular perv.
But we’d wager that the volcanic O’Reilly, 60, is still incensed about writing that hefty check. For her part, Mackris, 38, has stayed mum, presumably pursuant to some kind of confidentiality agreement. She has relocated from Manhattan to Missouri, where she was recently named to St. Louis Magazine’s best dressed list.
From Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen:
On today’s episode of CNN’s “State of the Union,” viewers can tune in to find yet another Sunday interview with last year’s unsuccessful presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). For those keeping score, this will be McCain’s 14th Sunday morning appearance since President Obama’s inauguration in January. That’s 38 Sundays, for an average of a McCain appearance every 2.7 weeks.
Oldtimers will recall with what boring regularity Walter Mondale was invited onto the talk shows in 1985, Michael Dukakis in 1993, Al Gore in 2001, and John Kerry in 2005.
The European Union’s finding that Georgia started last year’s mini-war with Russia comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how to read American newspapers.
As in Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin hoax and and both the Bushes’ pre-launch marketing of their Iraq wars, the truth was hidden in plain sight from the start. All you had to do was read the stories all the way to the end. No genius was required; just a healthy skepticism.
The excerpt below is from a McClatchy Newspapers piece by Dennis Jett. He’s a retired career diplomat who has served as ambassador to Mozambique and Peru.
Instead of adding weak and unprepared partners, NATO might want to devote its energies to working out an understanding with Russia about the fact that it does not pose a threat. Especially when those countries are its neighbors. That is of course unless we would have no objection to Mexico joining a revitalized Warsaw Pact.
The EU report observed that the United States, Ukraine and Israel supplied extensive economic and military aid to Georgia allowing it to double its military in just a few years. That kind of assistance and the political signals from Washington during the last administration no doubt emboldened Saakashvili. NATO and Palin and McCain might also want to think through the implications of giving political and military support to a country that is not ready to use either responsibly.
Eisenhower did not take the country to war in 1956 over Hungary and Johnson did not start one in 1968 over Czechoslovakia. With our armed forces stretched beyond the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, a war at this time over Georgia is not possible even if a president were foolish enough to lead us into one…
This from the Rude Pundit, who gets it just right:
Let’s push this further. What if CNN or MSNBC interviewed 9/11 truthers on a daily basis during the Bush administration? Even if the hosts scoffed at them, what if, on a semi-regular basis, someone who thought 9/11 was an inside job or that Flight 93 was shot down was allowed to comment on issues related to that day and allowed to say that the Bush administration destroyed the Twin Towers to bring down the nation in order to maintain power? You know what would have happened? Shit would have burned. Conservatives would have exploded with rage, Democratic politicians would have had to condemn the people who said it, and the news networks that gave the truthers time and investigated what they said would have faced boycotts and threats.
Which all leads to what we deal with today: why the fuck are we even hearing about things like whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States? It’s not a real story. Why the fuck are there serious discussions on the news networks over whether or not the Obama administration’s ultimate plan is to turn America into some kind of socialist dystopia? Or about whether or not Obama is like Hitler (a report that CNN actually did)? Or whether Obama wants to set up “death panels” to kill old people? Why are guests allowed on who believe these things? It ain’t censorship to not give a platform to maniacs…
A friend of mine was in Kampala, Uganda last month and I asked him to bring me back a week’s worth of Red Pepper, my favorite newspaper in the world.
The paper is not to be confused with the U.K.’s Red Pepper, a self-described “magazine of political rebellion and dissent” influenced by “socialism, feminism and environmental politics.” While that Red Pepper boasts this week an interview with Pauline Kimani, “one of Kenya’s few openly lesbian women,” the Kampala one in 2006 announced a campaign in its pages “to rid our motherland of the deadly vice (lesbianism),” with pictures of hot chicks making out. This earned Red Pepper the consternation of Human Rights Watch, among others.
Three years ago I visited Kampala but spent the whole time sick with malaria, lying on my big fluffy bed in a Lake Victoria resort convalescing with Red Pepper, which started as a weekly but then, due to high demand, became a daily.
Everywhere you go in the city, people are reading it. A quarter to a third of the rag is basically porn, with advice columns on how to have sex with a fat woman, or to lengthen the “twin towers” (ubiquitous Uganda slang for vaginal lips, and apparently longer is better) and the most offensively sexualized descriptions of women — even teenage girls, who, featured in the paper for being part of a school musical group or some other chaste accomplishment, are described as “waterlogged” or “causing boxers to bulge.”
The rest comprises stories on car theft rings, lynchings of goat thieves, and what I imagine to be quite credible reports of graft, political corruption, shifting military alliances. Red Pepper does the best investigative journalism in Uganda, while the regular Kampala paper publishes feel-good pap about potholes getting filled. Pepper takes none of its news, save for foreign sports, from wire services, probably because reporters come cheap in Kampala, and you could hire about 30 for the price of a Reuters account.
This paper, unlike its first-world counterparts, seems to grow every year — the copies I just received were a good bit thicker than before. Pepper has added two special sections, including, “Virgins,” a weekly survey of hot chicks, and tons more sports.
It has outlived a number of its competitors, such as Black Mamba, an almost-identical tabloid. Pepper’s newest competitor, The Onion, steals its name and even its masthead design from the American humor magazine. It spares the easily bored all the political intrigue and focuses exclusively on twin towers, corpses, and the like. Pepper will outlive it, because The Onion is too coarse and tacky even for Kampala.
It used to be that alerts flashed when you visited the Red Pepper website, warning of all kinds of potential disasters to your computer, but this is no longer the case. If you do go, a brief glossary:
There are no good roads and power is only on half the time, but that’s freedom. The teabaggers fear the re-emergence of the Soviet Union, or so they say, while failing to realize that the logical extension of their demands is, in fact, Uganda.
At least this scenario produces cheap health care. My entire course of malaria treatment in Kampala — testing, doctor consultation, medicine, follow-up, more medicine — cost me $15, without insurance. I just walked in off the trash-strewn, pothole filled, burning street.
(Ed. note: Below the fold, unsuitable for office viewing, is a sample from The Onion. I know you won’t want to see it.)
I have been rereading one of the most instructive government-insider books of our time: Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: a Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
For me its overarching lesson is that even when we remember history, we can’t avoid repeating it. We are governed by the hard-wiring in the human brain that led us to be wrong the first time. How else explain that our leaders have felt it necessary to lie us knowingly into the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — and that we have let them do it?
I’ll be running excerpts these next few weeks, and at the end will try to tie it all together. In today’s installment, it is the summer of 1964 and Ellsberg has just been named special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton, a former Harvard law professor:
Once at lunch a State Department official who obviously didn’t know John very well told me that my boss was the most straightforward man in Washington. I told that to John after lunch and assured him, “I defended your reputation. I told him you were the most devious man in town.” John smiled warmly and said, “Thank you.”
I often watched McNaughton with reporters, because he called me into his office whenever he had to give an interview. This was a way of covering himself — it may even have been a requirement in the department — so he could have a witness confirm that he was not the source of any classified or sensitive information in the ensuing story. I watched and marveled. John was great at this.
As he got into areas where he had to be especially untruthful or elusive, his Pekin, Illinois, accent got broader till he sounded like someone discussing corn at a country fair or standing at the rail of a river boat. You looked for hayseed in his cuffs. He simply didn’t mind looking and sounding like a hick in the interests of dissimulation. My future boss in Vietnam, Edward Lansdale, had the same willingness to appear simpleminded when he wanted to be opaque, as he did with most outsiders. In both cases it was very effective.
Reporters would tell me how “open” my boss was, compared with others they ran into, this after I had listened to an hour of whoppers. It became clear to me that journalists had no idea, no clue, even the best of them, just how often and how egregiously they were lied to…
One morning just before eight o’clock John came back from McNamara’s office minutes after he’d gotten a call and dashed out. He said to me, ‘‘A Blue Springs drone has gone down in China. Bob is seeing the press at eight-thirty. We have ten minutes to write six alternative lies for him.” It was the only time I remember the actual word “lies” being used…
Blue Springs was the code name for an espionage program of reconnaissance photographic flights by unmanned drone planes. John threw me a yellow pad, and I pulled up a chair to the opposite side of his desk. We sat across from each other and wrote as fast as we could for ten minutes. There was no time to exchange thoughts, to avoid overlap.
The first ones were obvious, probably the same for each of us. If the Chinese had already announced the incident, one, we had no idea whose plane it was; it wasn’t one of ours. Two, it was a Chinese Nationalist plane. I asked as we scribbled, “Does it have U.S. markings on it?”
“Who knows?” John didn’t look up.
Three, it was an experimental drone, off course. Four, it was taking weather readings when it went off course. I remembered that one from Gary Powers’s U-2, which went down in Russia in 1960. That cover story hadn’t worked so well because the Soviets had captured the pilot live and Khrushchev hadn’t told us at first.
This didn’t have any pilot, but what if the Chinese could display U.S. cameras? I had to think harder for the next couple of stories. McNaughton looked at the clock, ten minutes, grabbed my pad and started to run out, looking down at my six entries. As he was leaving the outer office, I called after him, “Why doesn’t [McNamara] just say ‘No comment’?”
John said over his shoulder, “Bob won’t say ‘No comment’ to the press.” A few minutes later he was back and waved me down to his desk again. He tore off the pages we’d written on and pushed one of the pads back to me. He said, “Bob liked these. He wants four more. We have five minutes.”
We wrote fast again. I had thought of another one while he was away, but the rest took more imagination than before. I can’t remember them. As he tore off the new pages after exactly five minutes, I said, “Look, really, I think he ought to give serious consideration to ‘No comment’ on this one.” I’d been thinking about it while John was out of the office. “The Chinese probably have enough wreckage that they can prove any of these stories are lies. The reporters understand about intelligence gathering, and they’re sick of being lied to. I think they’d rather be told we won’t talk about it.”
In his hurry John listened intently, as always, and he nodded. “I don’t think he’ll do it, but I’ll tell him what you said.” He was gone. It was eight twenty-five.
A little after nine o’clock John came back from the press conference. I asked him how it had gone. He said, “I was amazed. Somebody brought up the Chinese report, and he actually used your line. He said, ‘I have no comment on that,’ and took the next question. I never thought he would.”
“How’d it go over?”
“They actually seemed to like it! They didn’t press him at all.” A few minutes later one of the regular Pentagon reporters dropped into our outer office after leaving McNamara’s conference room. I was standing there, and he said to me, “Listen, tell your boss that that ‘No comment’ in there was very refreshing. I didn’t think McNamara had it in him.”
Actually, what had made that line usable, as I had suspected, was that it pointed toward an area of covert intelligence collection whose secrecy our own reporters would almost surely respect without trying to penetrate further. That wasn’t generally true. You couldn’t say “no comment” when you needed to discourage follow-up questions, which was most of the time. Then there was no substitute for what the uninitiated would call a lie. In those days it almost always worked.
Even within the executive branch, self-discipline in sharing information — lack of a “need to tell” — and a capability for dissimulation in the interests of discretion were fundamental requirements for a great many jobs. There was an abundance of people who, like John and me, could and did meet those requirements adequately. The result was an apparatus of secrecy, built on effective procedures, practices, and career incentives, that permitted the president to arrive at and execute a secret foreign policy, to a degree that went far beyond what even relatively informed outsiders, including journalists and members of Congress, could imagine.
It is a commonplace that “you can’t keep secrets in Washington” or “in a democracy,” that “no matter how sensitive the secret, you’re likely to read it the next day in the New York Times.” These truisms are flatly false. They are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well.
Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn’t in a fully totalitarian society. Bureaucratic rivalries, especially over budget shares, lead to leaks. Moreover, to a certain extent the ability to keep a secret for a given amount of time diminishes with the number of people who know it. As secret keepers like to say, “Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public. This is true even when the information withheld is well known to an enemy and when it is clearly essential to the functioning of the congressional war power and to any democratic control of foreign policy. The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.
American, French journos lowball teabaggers by a factor of a hundred; only Brit scribes nail it:
WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of protesters fed up with government spending marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, showing their disdain for the president’s health care plan with slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” and “I’m not your ATM.”
The line of protesters clogged several blocks near the Capitol, according to the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Ten of thousands of protestors from across the United States descended on the nation’s capital Saturday, decrying President Barack Obama, “big government” and big spending.
Up to two million people marched to the U.S. Capitol today, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” as they protested the president’s health care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending.
The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the Washington Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
George F. Will, the elite conservative commentator, will call in his next column for U.S. ground troops to leave Afghanistan, according to publishing sources.
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters,” Will writes in the column, scheduled for publication later this week.
One wonder why this sage policy guidance never occurred to the tweety-bird of the right while George W. Bush was wandering around Afghanistan’s plains for all those years.
Alas, a lack, one supposes, of balls. One didn’t want to lose one’s access to the very best soirées, did one? But now that the albatross is around the other guy’s neck, Will’s equation has changed.
Pulling out of Afghanistan begins to look like a win-win proposition for the Party of No. It would give the chickenhawk patriots of the GOP a chance to holler surrender monkey at Obama in 2012 — an act akin to handing Jascha Heifetz a Stradivarius.
And not pulling out would be even more certain to defeat Obama’s reelection bid, since he would be hip-deep in his very own Big Muddy by 2012. And Mitt Romney could win just as Eisenhower did against Stevenson, on a promise to get us out of Afghanistan.
Whether Romney actually kept his word once in office would depend on whether he’d rather be remembered as Eisenhower or Nixon.
My old paper the Washington Post, which has never been truly liberal, is now becoming indistinguishable from the Moonie rag, the Washington Times. Here, from what is presented as a news story rather than an editorial, is its take on former president Bill Clinton’s mission of mercy to North Korea. Rush Limbaugh couldn’t have said it better:
Former president Bill Clinton's central role in the return of two journalists detained by North Korea has once again cast a spotlight on his vast web of financial and political contacts, a network that troubled senators who weighed whether to confirm his wife as secretary of state.
In the case of the detainees, Clinton tapped wealthy business people to execute a mission that, without a special federal waiver for the aircraft to travel to North Korea, would have been illegal. A few weeks ago, one of his business contacts had the ear of Hillary Rodham Clinton in her role as secretary of state, an uncomfortable reminder of the former president's far-flung interests and associates…
First they cut down the forests in Canada and make a terrible mess on the denuded land. Animals flee, streams turn warm and can’t support fish.
Then they truck the trees to the paper mill where they are turned into newsprint. In the process the air is badly polluted, and so are the rivers into which the waste from the process is dumped.
Then tons of paper rolls are trucked out to newspapers around the country daily.
Then the newspapers are printed and delivered to the readers. When they finish reading them the readers discard the papers, and the taxpayers pay to have them collected and taken to landfills. There is some recycling now, but the newspaper companies never took it upon themselves to collect their used product.
From start to finish making newsprint and distributing newspapers cause major pollution and degradation of the environment.
Wait a minute. Don’t newspapers run editorial after editorial bemoaning the pollution that other manufacturers cause?
We followers of Dan Froomkin’s wonderful blog at the Washington Post are teetering between depression and rebellion at the news that he’s been dumped. (Our esteemed founder has already weighed in, and Glenn Greenwald talks about it here.)
The Post, like any other major media company, will try to sell the dumping of any relatively clear analysis, claiming that such is inherently socialist and Americans don’t wanna hear it (in other words, to paraphrase Colbert, reality has a well-known socialist bias). They’ll say, I’m betting, that it was a business decision, not an editorial one.
But that’s obviously false. Froomkin seems to have been the most linked-to author on the paper’s website, and as the news migrates from paper to the web, you’d think you might want to keep writers who generate lots of links and thus traffic.
Perhaps that’s only true if the writer in question favors torture. Froomkin recently had a dust-up with one of the Post’s in-house neocons, Charles Krauthammer, over this issue. Krauthammer is one of many Republicans these days who are comparing themselves to oppressed folks around the globe, to the point that he says critics of Obama on Fox News are “a lot like [Hugo Chavez’] Caracas where all the media, except one, are state run.”
Yeah, here in America we have freedom of the press, and the newspapers all parrot the same line, which is part of why they’re dying. They used to offer a variety of views, reporting from different angles and with different agendas, but no longer. What we’ve lost is huge. What we’re left with is a privately owned media monopoly that is collectively the best propaganda machine in history, which is at the service of a small and shrinking set of mega-corporations that are trying to control the world, water, air, soil, seeds, the genome, everything.
The Mighty Wurlitzer remains powerful, but alternative voices are starting to be heard more clearly, in large part due to the internet’s democratizing influence. My guess is that Froomkin was originally brought on board as a sort of loss leader to bring in readers from the blogs; but he’s got a bit of a voice now and he’s using it to contradict the Fred Hiatt pro-war pro-torture lines. And that will not be tolerated.
Personally I’ve taken the Post off my browser’s speed dial, and complained to the ombudsman. I’m sure they don’t care what I think; henceforth I return the compliment.
Bad news from Steve Benen at Political Animal:
Update: I've spoken to Dan [Froomkin], who confirmed that he is, in fact, leaving the Post.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” Dan said. “I was told that it had been determined that my White House Watch blog wasn’t “working” anymore. Personally, I thought it was still working very well, and based on reader feedback, a lot of readers thought so, too... I also thought White House Watch was a great fit with The Washington Post brand, and what its readers reasonably expect from the Post online.
“As I’ve written elsewhere, I think that the future success of our business depends on journalists enthusiastically pursuing accountability and calling it like they see it. That’s what I tried to do every day. Now I guess I’ll have to try to do it someplace else.”
Indeed, far-right complaints notwithstanding, Froomkin has spent months scrutinizing the Obama White House, cutting the Democratic president no slack at all. Just over the past couple of days, Froomkin offered critical takes on the president’s proposed regulations of the financial industry, follow-through on gay rights, and foot-dragging on Bush-era torture revelations.
Froomkin was one of the media’s most important critics of the Bush White House, and conservative bashing notwithstanding, was poised to be just as valuable holding the Obama White House accountable for its decisions.
When I worked at the Washington Post myself, in the pre-Watergate days, it was considered a liberal paper. But it wasn’t. It merely, as Karl Marx once said of John Stuart Mill, drew its eminence from the general flatness of the terrain. The only truly liberal dailies I can remember from that period were the Madison Capital Times in Wisconsin, the York Gazette in Pennsylvania, and the New York Post. (Yes, you heard right.) The Washington Post owed its liberal reputation almost solely to its anti-McCarthy cartoonist, Herblock.
And then came Watergate.
Any paper willing to stand up to Nixon and take him down had to be liberal, Q.E.D. Right? Actually wrong. Ben Bradlee hated Nixon because Bradlee was in Kennedy’s inner circle. And Nixon was a parvenu, a sweaty striver. Left vs. right had little to do with it.
It would have taken a close observer to discern an ideological difference between Kennedy and Nixon. On questions of race, war and peace, and economic policy, both were slightly right of center in what had become, after World War II, a very frightened, aggressive, and conservative nation. On the most important issue of the day, the Post supported the Vietnam war so slavishly that President Johnson named its editorial page editor, J. Russell Wiggins, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
(Wiggins offers further proof of my theory that you can never trust a man who parts his name to one side; I knew I was in trouble when I arrived at our embassy in Laos at the height of the war to discover that the ambassador and my new boss was a gun-toting, draft-dodging old Yalie who called himself G. McMurtrie Godley III. You can’t make this shit up.)
But back to the Washington Post.
There were and are many fine reporters at the paper, and they have done immensely valuable work over the years. But though the leash was sometimes a long one, it was always present. Since Eugene Meyer bought the paper at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, that leash has always been held by conservative publishers from his family.
The surprise isn’t that Froomkin has been fired, but that he lasted as long as he did. And the beauty of the internet is that he will be able — if he so desires — to keep the audience the Post enabled him to assemble.
I hope he so desires.
Here’s Rush Limbaugh again, still scribbling away on the walls of America’s toilets:
They don’t like Gitmo, we have to shut it down. They don’t like what we’ve done, fine, Obama will run around and apologize. I’m telling you, folks, it is not the United States of America that serves as Barack Obama’s role model. It’s other socialist nations that have failed and the concept of socialism that is his role model. I’ll tell you what, stupid little community organizer, organize this.
My nephew Will Doolittle’s latest, in the Glens Falls Post-Star:
You’ve got to be sick to spend all day watching television.
But I was sick for two days this week, with flu-like symptoms, and, supported by the pandemic of swine flu paranoia, I broke with my own precedent and stayed home, quarantined to the couch.
The first day, I watched TV for four hours or so, interspersing other things, like lunch. The second day, I watched for a minimum of seven hours.
If you flick channels as I do, refusing to endure commercials, you get to watch, in a full day, at least a few minutes of a large number of shows. Here is a sampling of what I saw this week: the 1959 film “Anatomy of a Murder,” with James Stewart and George C. Scott wielding evocative voices in a courtroom battle; the 1968 movie “Coogan’s Bluff,” with Clint Eastwood as a taciturn western lawman in New York; an “All in the Family” episode, with Archie talking about the heated toilet seat he wants to invent; the 1999 film “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” the final word in beauty pageant black comedy; an episode of “Las Vegas,” where the bad guy is a plumber who kidnaps James Caan and wants to make money by importing Korean bidets with heated seats; and “Wife Swap.”
I’m still swimming for the surface after this immersion in TV’s broadcast bog. And I’m struggling to make sense of the questions suggested by TV culture, like “Why are we fascinated by heated toilet seats?”
But, in the end, neither the dreck, like “Las Vegas,” nor the gems, like “Wife Swap,” linger in the mind.
It’s the experience that takes over, the pure passivity — sitting still, gazing at the flickering images. I might as well have been the child in the beginning of the movie “Terminator,” watching a fire burn in the shell of an old TV set.
What I was watching was secondary to the warm blur of images, whether they showed Jimmy Stewart or James Caan, Kirsten Dunst tap-dancing or Caan choking the bitter plumber with a metal cane.
Watching television requires little energy of any kind — mental, physical or emotional. You can lie on the couch, thinking about your career and eating an apple while a woman on screen is getting beaten to death with a tire iron.
After several hours, the TV induces a headache and a physical heaviness, as if, like Roald Dahl’s Mike Teavee, you are being drawn into the set. It takes an effort to break away. But it’s worth it, like a return to health.
Here’s Walter Pincus on that point, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review. My own answer would be assisted suicide. Walter has a higher opinion of us than I do. I think we’re too torpid and too empty-headed to care about what really matters. For evidence, I give you the 2004 Presidential election and rest my case.
…While most corporate owners were seeking increased earnings, higher stock prices, and bigger salaries, editors and reporters focused more on winning prizes or making television appearances.
Some long-term reporting projects have been undertaken, and multiple-part series published, simply because they might win prizes. Over the past ten years, The Washington Post has won 19 Pulitzer Prizes. But over that same period, we lost more than 120,000 readers. Why?
My answer, unpopular among my colleagues, is that while many of these longer efforts were worthwhile, they took up space and resources that could have been used to give readers a wider selection of stories about what was going on, and that may have directly affected their lives. Readers have limited time to spend on newspapers. The number has been 25 minutes, on average, for more than 30 years. In short, we have left behind our readers in our chase after glory.
Editors have paid more attention to what gains them prestige among their journalistic peers than on subjects more related to the everyday lives of readers. For example, education affects everyone, yet I cannot name an outstanding American journalist on this subject. Food is an important subject, yet regular newspaper coverage of agriculture and the products we eat is almost nonexistent unless cases of food poisoning turn up. Did journalists adequately warn of the dangers of subprime mortgages? I don’t think so…
Theoretically the New York Times’ new conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, is supposed to run Tuesdays, starting today. He doesn’t appear on today’s website, though. But if you search for his name, his debut column shows up — datelined yesterday. It didn’t run in yesterday’s print edition, however, nor does it appear in the Opinion section of yesterday’s web site.
So who the hell knows what’s going on? Anyway, here’s the link to that damned, elusive columnist. And below is a sample. The improvement over his predecessor, the hapless and clueless William Kristol, is already striking.
At the very least, a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism’s present political predicament. In the wake of two straight drubbings at the polls, much of the American right has comforted itself with the idea that conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs. And John McCain’s defeat has been taken as the vindication of this premise…
As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively. And when he went down to a landslide loss, the conservative movement might — might! — have been jolted into the kind of rethinking that’s necessary if it hopes to regain power.
I worked all my life as a reporter and an owner of newspapers, and a publisher of papers owned by others. David Simon (see the second post down) is correct in all respects. The owners called newspapers “franchises,” which should give you the idea.
Here’s a story: I was at a publishers’ convention when Katherine Graham entered the room to speak. I was standing beside the Knight brothers, of the old Knight Newspapers chain. They were very short and stood on their chairs to see her.
Hundreds of publishers rose cheering as Mrs.Graham went by. I heard one Knight brother say to the other, “They’re clapping because of Watergate aren’t they ?” The other answered, “Are you kidding? They’re clapping because she broke the pressmen’s union.”
I’ve heard publishers brag that they got a 40 percent profit from a few of their newspapers. Their newspapers were just horrid. The owners would talk a lot about “clean markets” meaning that the paper was a monopoly without unions. I could go on and on.
The point that I’ve been making for years is that the owners starved their papers big time. And when a strong competitor came along, they were so flustered, they decided the best defense was to give what was left of their product away.
Perhaps the newspaper, as we’ve known it, would have died anyway because of the web. But the owners’ overweening greed made the industry an easy mark. Even before the web, newspapers were going down hill fast, losing readership.
One newspaper circulation manager told me a few years ago that his department had to re-sell 25 percent of their circulation each year just to stay even. Now that same paper has a market penetration of only 35 percent of the households in its area.
Yet even today, as the papers cut and cut, the owners continue to demand 20 percent margins. They are eating themselves alive, screwing their readers, their advertisers, and their employees.
They have no answers. For instance, the chief executive of Lee Newspapers for the past decade decided to bury that otherwise strong company under a mountain of debt to buy the Pulitzer newspapers. Then it was trading at $36 a share; now it is 36 cents a share. She’s still the president, drawing a salary of millions.
The stories are endless.
But no longer is A. J. Liebling’s insightful remark —“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” — true. Now local news websites are popping up, at a startup cost which is 4.5 percent of the capital needed to start a daily.
A thousand young voices will rise up to challenge the remaining dailies and the newspaper business will soon become what it was when the founders wrote the Constitution: lots of “papers” in each town and city.
From a Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, the man who created The Wire:
DAVID SIMON: Yes, we were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn’t in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Inernet because I took the third buyout from the Baltimore Sun. I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time— those buyouts happened when the Baltimore Sun was earning 37 percent profits.
You know, we now know this because it’s in bankruptcy and the books are open. 37 percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product— that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.
I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It— it’s even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That— it’s analogous up to a point, except it’s not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it’s great for commentary and froth doesn’t do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can’t sustain that. The economic model can’t sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn’t— they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how do—
BILL MOYERS: The publishers. The owners.
DAVID SIMON: Yes, how do you give it away for free? You know, but for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had—they had actually marginalized themselves.
…along comes Jeff Stein at CQ Politics:
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington…In this sorry story of corruption and carreerism and high crimes, the most shameful player of all is The New York Times. We don’t expect much of Bush appointees and multimillionaire Blue Dog Democrats like Harman, after all. But like beaten curs that crawl back toward their masters, tails wagging, we still hope for the best from America’s best newspaper. Can there be any doubt that breaking the wiretap story on the eve of the 2004 election would have delivered us from evil for four more years?
And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.
Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House…
Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.
For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), John Batchelor is a conservative radio host whose show is heard in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other markets. The sample below comes from an extended and astonishing rant he published today in The Daily Beast. If you could use a true Holy Shit moment, and who couldn’t, go read it all.
…What about the Republican Party right now? Isn’t it on radio and TV claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility and American power? Bypassing the stupidity of these claims, I am on radio, on what is called right-wing radio, and it is easy for me to see that my loudest colleagues, who compulsively repeat the cant of Conservatism for Dummies, are not sincere students of the Republican Party but rather barkers, hookers, establishmentarian jesters, cultists, and, in the worst instance, just thatch-headed whiners.
Fox News is a parade of wet-eared Republican office holders, yet there is usually just one each allowed of the categories the Democrats own in multitudes: a Jewish-American, an Asian-American, an African-American, a Hispanic-American.
Then there is the beauty pageant of fast-talking, rude Fox blondes — if they are not all the same woman in mood swings — who stridently mock the Democrats, yet have almost nothing to say about the Republicans, as if the party was a disappointing ex or mother’s latest beau.
The party’s death 76 years ago was never more obvious than over the last six months of the financial crisis. The Democrats sensibly blamed the feckless, bootless Bush administration for the collapse of the markets. Tongue-tied Bush and dyspeptic Cheney defended themselves with grunts and sarcasm before they surrendered to Congress by sending out the plutocrat Hank Paulson with a plan called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).
A breathing Republican Party would have brought out the flintlocks, boarded the windows, and settled down for a defense of the republic. Instead, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate rushed to grab the pork bribery and vote with the Democrats. John Boehner, Roy Blunt, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Judd Gregg distinguished themselves as dhimmis and were later rewarded by the victorious Democrats by being granted parakeet cages for offices in the new Congress.
The House Republicans now boast that they voted a goose egg against the stimulus package, but this was just the twitching of the corpse. The truth about the House Republicans — cowards, sycophants, and snobs just like 1930s lot — is illustrated by the fact that 85 of them voted for the ludicrous AIG bonus-confiscation bill written on the back of a parking ticket.
The Republican Party’s death doesn’t really threaten anyone, and I puzzle why Democrats and independents who vote Democratic spend words and worry debating the look of the corpse. We few Republicans with long memories wander around the cemetery admiring the tombstones and enjoying the rain.
I can hear you doubting that this could truly be the end. The final stage of grief is acceptance.
My old paper the Washington Post, since fully evolved into Fox lite, today ran this wonderfully wacky paragraph about the election of leftist populist Mauricio Funes as President of El Salvador:
If Mr. Funes as well as the election’s losers now respect the rule of law, the result could be the consolidation of the political system the United States was aiming for when it intervened in El Salvador’s civil war during the 1980s. At the time, the goal of a successful Salvadoran democracy was dismissed as a mission impossible, just as some now say democracy is unattainable in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the right-wing ARENA party, whose leaders were linked to death squads in the 1980s, proved during the last few years that it could embrace democratic practices. Its presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, acknowledged his defeat on election night.
For those very few of you who don’t follow the news from Central America that closely, I provide this link to BoRev, who does. His Onion-worthy headline: Reagan's Dream of A Leftist El Salvador Finally Realized. The post also has great art work, which I would steal if I knew how to do it.
William McGurn has been variously employed as a writer for the Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch and George W. Bush, entitling him to the soft bigotry of low expectations. In today’s WSJ, he manages to clear the bar:
By choosing Fort Bragg for her first official trip outside the capital last Thursday, Michelle Obama signaled that she will use her position as First Lady to promote one of America’s most deserving causes: our military families. Plainly the families loved it. Just look at the smiles on those children as she read them “The Cat in the Hat.”
So it was just a little disconcerting the next morning to hear the First Lady explain how she came to this issue during last year’s campaign. “I think I was like most Americans,” she told ABC News. “Pretty oblivious to the life of military families. Sort of taking it for granted.”
Perhaps Mrs. Obama did take these families for granted. Surely, however, it’s extraordinary to suggest that “most Americans” did the same.
The game here is to whelp a meme that attacks the enemy’s strong point, as the McCain campaign did when it tried to turn candidate Obama’s crowd appeal into a thing odious to all Americans: celebrity.
Look at McGurn’s last paragraph above to see how the trick is done. Mrs. Obama had said that she was “oblivious to the life of military families.” And that most Americans were too.
This is true beyond argument. William McGurn is also oblivious to that life, and so am I. Perhaps less oblivious than McGurn, since I once comprised half of a military family. But that was long ago, and now I, too, am oblivious. So are Rupert Murdoch and George W. Bush and most of the members of the latter’s administration and for that matter most of America. Nixon had that very outcome foremost in his mind when he ended the draft in 1973.
Now look at what McGurn has done with Mrs. Obama’s unexceptionable words. The First Lady is no longer taking the “life of military families” for granted; all of a sudden she is taking the families themselves for granted.
“It,” as you and I and McGurn know perfectly well, is a singular pronoun referring back in this case to “life.” Big difference, but McGurn knows his readers won’t notice. So he segues into the “extraordinary” news that Michelle Antoinette has the colossal nerve to think that real Americans are as ungrateful for the sacrifices of America’s military families as she is herself — her with her fancy Chicago designer dresses and her big arms and her disgusting “popularity.”
It will be interesting to see if this swill makes it into the media mainstream. Don’t be surprised if it does. Remember how a draft-dodging dry drunk turned Kerry from a war hero into a cowardly malingerer with insufficiently large pieces of shrapnel in his body?
And remember back in 2000 how the same smear machine used the same truth-twisting methods as McGurn’s to turn a future Nobelist into a pathetic pathological liar? If your memory is hazy, take a look at this careful dissection of Washington’s media manipulation by Robert Parry.
These sleazy techniques worked to get George W. Bush into the White House and they are already being used to drive Barack Obama out of it.
Republicans are trying to draw Democrats into a screaming match because they know they’re better at it. They are the masters of shrill — masters of stoking ignorance and rousing rabble.Or Bob Herbert:
Democrats, on the other hand, should know better, especially No Drama Obama. He comes across as much more competent when he appears unflappable. That’s part of what inspires so much confidence in him, and confidence is all people had to go on with the stimulus bill.
It was good to see the president, ordinarily so cool, so accommodating, exhibiting some real fire the other night. It seems to have done some good.
Opposite Land, from the New York Times:
Most Senate Republicans remained opposed to the measure, criticizing it as a case study in excessive spending that would do little to lift the economy. Some conservatives indicated Friday night that they would push for time to study the new legislation before any final vote.
“We want to stimulate the economy, not mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren by the kind of fiscally profligate spending embodied in this legislation,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona, the defeated Republican presidential nominee, who has emerged as a chief opponent of the proposal.
Real World, from Media Matters:
Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains: “Spending that is not stimulus is like cash that is not money. Spending is stimulus, spending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple. ... Any reporter who does not understand this fact has no business reporting on the economy.”
Unfortunately, many of the reporters who have shaped the stimulus debate don’t seem to understand that.
ABC’s Charles Gibson portrayed spending and stimulus as opposing concepts in a question to President Obama: “And as you know, there’s a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn’t stimulate. A lot of people have said it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus…”
If there’s one fact that should be made clear in every news report about the stimulus package working its way through Congress, it is this: Government spending is stimulative.
That’s a basic principle of economics, and understanding it is essential to assessing any stimulus package. So it should be an underlying premise of the media’s coverage of the stimulus debate. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Indeed, reporters routinely suggest that spending is not stimulative.
Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains: “Spending that is not stimulus is like cash that is not money. Spending is stimulus, spending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple... Any reporter who does not understand this fact has no business reporting on the economy.”
Unfortunately, many of the reporters who have shaped the stimulus debate don’t seem to understand that.
ABC’s Charles Gibson portrayed spending and stimulus as opposing concepts in a question to President Obama: “And as you know, there’s a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn’t stimulate. A lot of people have said it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus.”
That formulation — “it’s a spending bill and not a stimulus” — is complete nonsense; it’s like saying, “This is a hot fudge sundae, not a dessert.” But nonsensical as it is, it has also been quite common in recent news reports.
There’s another problem with Gibson’s formulation, though — in describing the stimulus as a “spending bill,” he ignores the fact that the bill contains tax cuts, too. Lots and lots of tax cuts. And those tax cuts, by the way, provide less stimulus than government spending on things like food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. It probably goes without saying that Gibson didn’t ask if the bill would be more effective if the tax cuts were replaced by additional spending.
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, among others, has repeatedly suggested “welfare” provisions in the bill wouldn’t stimulate the economy. This is the exact opposite of true; those provisions are among the most stimulative things the government can possibly do. There are some fairly obvious reasons why that is true, beginning with the fact that if you give a poor person $100 in food stamps, you can be pretty sure they’re going to spend all $100 of it; but if you give a rich person $100 in tax cuts, they probably won’t spend much of it at all.
But we needn’t rely on logic and common sense to know that welfare spending is stimulative; economists study these things. One such economist is Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com, who served as an adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign. Zandi has produced a handy chart showing how much a variety of spending increases and tax cuts would stimulate the economy. According to Zandi, a dollar spent on increasing unemployment benefits yields $1.64 in increased gross domestic product, and a dollar spent on food stamps yields $1.73 in GDP.
As for tax cuts, Zandi says the most effective form is a payroll tax holiday. A one dollar reduction in federal revenues as a result of such a tax holiday would produce a $1.29 increase in GDP — far less than the benefit realized from extending unemployment benefits, increasing food stamps, providing general aid to state governments, or spending on infrastructure.
Yet if you turn on MSNBC any given morning, you’re likely to find Mika Brzezinski saying something like, “I want to look at the plan and how much of it is sort of welfare programs and how much are things that we know, either from history or because economic experts somehow know this, actually stimulates the economy.” Or like this: “Does this plan add up to the definition of stimulus? I don’t think it does. And I don’t question the value of food stamps and helping low-income people pay for college. It just shouldn’t be in this bill.” Or this: “If you’re gonna have welfare programs in this bill, call them welfare programs and pass them, but don’t call them facets of the bill meant to stimulate the economy. I do feel like there’s some old politics at play here.”
There’s old politics at play, all right — the old politics of demonizing “welfare spending” without any regard for the simple truth that such spending not only helps those Americans who are struggling the most feed their families, it also does more to stimulate the economy than anything else you can think of.
What you probably won’t see is Mika Brzezinski or Charles Gibson or any other TV reporter suggesting that the tax cuts in the bill are not stimulative and should be stripped — even though they are less effective as stimulus than unemployment benefits and food stamps.
At this point, it becomes impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: Television anchors like Charles Gibson are not going to qualify for food stamps anytime soon. But they would certainly benefit greatly from some tax cut provisions that wouldn’t do nearly as much to stimulate the economy.
(This is not the first time Gibson has shown himself to be badly out of touch on basic economic issues. During a Democratic presidential primary debate, Gibson challenged the candidates on their support for repealing President Bush’s tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year by saying that a family in which both parents are schoolteachers would be hit by the repeal. Gibson’s cluelessness was so apparent, the audience actually burst out laughing at him.)
So far, the news media’s coverage of the stimulus debate has consisted largely of repeating false Republican spin and pontificating about which side has been making their arguments more successfully (all the while ignoring the media’s own role in aiding the GOP.)
The bright side is that if reporters care about informing the public, it’s pretty easy to do — they just have to start basing their reports on the true premise that government spending is effective stimulus, rather than on the false premise that it isn’t. Everything else flows easily from there; for example, asking Republicans why they want to lard up the bill with less-stimulative tax cuts rather than unemployment benefits.
(Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.)
John Miller sends along the 60 Minutes piece, below, on the illegal land grabs by Israeli settlers that imperil a two-state solution in Israel. Any of you who missed this report on Sunday (as I did) won’t want to compound your error.
It’s almost inconceivable that a major network would have broadcast a show this even-handed a year ago. Totally inconceivable before that, as anyone who remembers the lock-step pro-Israel coverage of the 2000 Intifada will appreciate.
Faint tremors are being heard in the MSM on the Israel question, then — hints perhaps of a slow tectonic shift just starting. I don’t understand why this should be.
It’s true that the President has shown signs of not necessarily believing that Israel’s interests are indistinguishable from ours: the early calls to Arab leaders, the rapid appointment of George Mitchell, the interview with Al Jazeera, the language of his inaugural speech.
But the noticeable (if partial) shift in the media toward seeing the Arab side of the question began with Israel’s invasion of Gaza, when George W. Bush was still president and there was no compelling reason to think that Obama’s Middle-Eastern policy would be much different.
So I’m mystified. If you’re not, let’s hear it.
I extend condolences, admittedly less than completely heartfelt, to our less than esteemed fellow citizen William Kristol, who was dumped by the New York Times recently and published his last column today.
Kristol was informed of the move sometime around January 13, when he was invited to a dinner with Barack Obama that included other conservative columnists and took place at George Will’s house. “It must have been a bittersweet moment,” said the Times insider. Indeed, Kristol crowed about the Obama dinner: he and his comrades had gotten lamb chops in elegant surroundings, while a group of ostensibly liberal writers who met with Obama the following morning got coffee in Styrofoam cups. Except, as it turns out, that was a typical Kristol miscue — according to columnist Andrew Sullivan, who was present, the morning gathering hadn’t been served as much as a glass of water.
So, the Times is getting with the times, swaying with the political winds? As if. Moving away from that idiotic neo-con garbage? Not a bit of it.
The source makes clear that the decision not to renew Kristol’s contract is not related to his neoconservative ideology — Kristol’s proximity to key Washington players ranging from Bush and Cheney to John McCain (whom he supported in 2000) was considered a distinct plus. His leading advocacy of the Iraq War also added to his appeal. Kristol was viewed as a mover and shaker whose ideas had ready impact on the political firmament in Washington.
The problems that emerged were more fundamental. Kristol’s writing wasn’t compelling or even very careful. He either lacked a talent for solid opinion journalism or wasn’t putting his heart into it. A give-away came in the form of four corrections the newspaper was forced to run over factual mistakes in the columns, creating an impression that they were rushed out without due diligence or attention to factual claims. A senior writer at Time magazine recounted to me a similar experience with Kristol following his stint in 2006-07. “His conservative ideas were cutting edge and influential,” I was told. “But his sloppy writing and failure to fact check what he wrote made us queasy.”
If I were let go for sloppy writing and bad fact-checking by an organization that chose to settle with rather than fire Judy Miller, it would likely quiet me somewhat. But I’m willing to bet that Kristol crows about it, and probably even sees at a least a temporary uptick in requests for speeches. His part of the political plane has grown accustomed, perhaps even addicted, to feeling persecuted. Makes sense; when you’re always wrong, you’re gonna get a lot of grief if any sensible sorts are around.
But the most telling point to my mind is that the senior writer from Time failed to connect incorrect facts and sloppy use thereof with the end product, namely the “cutting edge” conservative ideas. Could there be a relationship? Nah.
…the conservative commentator, who edits the Weekly Standard and appears on Fox News, won’t lack for media exposure. He will write a monthly column and occasional pieces for The Washington Post, as he did before joining the Times.
Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt called Kristol “very smart and very plugged in,” saying Kristol would be an influential voice in the coming debate over redefining the Republican Party. “It seems to me there were a lot of Times readers who felt the Times shouldn’t hire someone who supported the Iraq war,” said Hiatt, adding that he wants “a diverse range of opinions” on his page.
I started to rephrase as “a diverse range of pro war-machine opinions”, but I suppose that would be redundant for Mr. Hiatt.
When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.
Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything — just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts — along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene
114,00011,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.
Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.
It’s Hunter’s America. Damn, it’s Hugo’s Amerika. People, in a few cases intelligent people, actually take Tom Friedman seriously, as if he were something other than a corporate shill aimed at the slowest common denominator.
I laid out my napkin and drew a graph showing how there seemed to be a rough correlation between the price of oil, between 1975 and 2005, and the pace of freedom in oil-producing states during those same years.
Friedman then draws his napkin-graph, and much to the pundit’s surprise, it turns out that there is almost an exact correlation between high oil prices and “unfreedom”! The graph contains two lines, one showing a rising and then descending slope of “freedom,” and one showing a descending and then rising course of oil prices.
Friedman plots exactly four points on the graph over the course of those 30 years. In 1989, as oil prices are falling, Friedman writes, “Berlin Wall Torn Down.” In 1993, again as oil prices are low, he writes, “Nigeria Privatizes First Oil Field.” 1997, oil prices still low, “Iran Calls for Dialogue of Civilizations.” Then, finally, 2005, a year of high oil prices: “Iran calls for Israel’s destruction.” … I looked at this and thought: “Gosh, what a neat trick!” Then I sat down and drew up my own graph, called SIZE OF VALERIE BERTINELLI’S ASS, 1985-2008, vs. HAPPINESS. It turns out that there is an almost exact correlation! Note the four points on the graph:
1990: Release of Miller’s Crossing
2001: Ate bad tuna fish sandwich at Times Square Blimpie; felt sick
2008: Barack Obama elected
That was so much fun, I drew another one! This one is called AMERICAN PORK BELLY PRICES vs. WHAT MIDGETS THINK ABOUT AUSTRALIA 1972-2002.
He goes on like this for a couple of enjoyable paragraphs:
Obviously this sounds like a flippant analysis, but that’s more or less exactly what Friedman is up to here. If you’re going to draw a line that measures the level of “freedom” across the entire world and on that line plot just four randomly-selected points in time over the course of 30 years — and one of your top four “freedom points” in a 30-year period of human history is the privatization of a Nigerian oil field — well, what the fuck? What can’t you argue, if that’s how you’re going to make your point? He could have graphed a line in the opposite direction by replacing Berlin with Tienanmen Square, substituting Iraqi elections for Iran’s call for Israel’s destruction (incidentally, when in the last half-century or so have Islamic extremists not called for Israel’s destruction?), junking Iran’s 1997 call for dialogue for the U.S. sanctions against Iran in ’95, and so on. It’s crazy, a game of Scrabble where the words don’t have to connect on the board, or a mathematician coming up with the equation A B -3X = Swedish girls like chocolate.
And maybe they do, for all I know. I wish I knew…
I’ve been meaning to post something about the deeply insightful article by Paul Kennedy, the historian best known for his wonderful book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In it, he describes the arcs of Great Power countries from 1500 to 1980, and tries to look ahead, always a tricky adventure for a historian.
He compares the Great Powers at the close of the twentieth century and predicts the decline of the Soviet Union (the book was originally published on the cusp of the Soviet collapse, the suddenness of which Kennedy did not predict), the rise of China and Japan, the struggles and potential for the EEC, and the relative decline of the United States. He highlights the precedence of the “four modernizations” in Deng Xiaoping’s plans for China — agriculture, industry, science and military — deemphasizing military while the United States and the Soviet Union are emphasizing it. He predicts that continued deficit spending, especially on military build-up, will be the single most important reason for decline of any Great Power.
So you can see why the comments on his article at the Journal might be skeptical.
If the above is even half-true, the conclusions are not pleasant: that the economic and political travails of the next several years will badly crimp many of the visions offered in Mr. Obama’s election campaign; that this nation will have to swallow, domestically, some very hard choices; and that we should not expect, even despite a surge in international goodwill towards America, any increase in our relative capacity to act abroad decisively or in any sustained way. A rather wonderful, charismatic and highly intelligent person will occupy the White House, but, alas, in the toughest circumstances the U.S. has faced since 1933 or 1945.
Shoulda never said that last bit. Now all his years at Yale, and the truth of what he says, will fail to permeate the titanium skulls of the nitwits who comment at WSJ.
You can’t make this stuff up, so I won’t. (Spacing, punctuation, et cetera, copied and pasted.)
The excuses for Mr Obama are already being made, in great detail, variety, abundance, and from every journal and forum. We on the right are aware that Mr Obama comes to work with :
the dog ate my homework/
the train got stuck on a piece of bubble gum/
my mother’s car broke down and all I got was this lousy t-shirt/
and oh yeah, President bush destroyed our country, so give me eight or twelve more years.
President Bush of course corrupted these two cabinet nominees, Treasury and the other guy whom we have already forgotten, now being considered the benchmark for Obama’s clean vetting machine. Thing is, these men knew their circumstances, how did they manage to not tell, maybe they were from the Clinton Don’t Ask/ Don’t Tell.
So the declinists are soon in power, advocating decline, while the American exceptionalists are no longer in power, so we shall see how power can be frittered away, by the most inexperienced executive in history.
Though among the worst written of the first couple of comments, this is by no means out of the wacko-mainstream that constitutes the Journal’s commenters. It’s a fun ride if you can hack it.
I can’t prove it, but my impression is that the MSM coverage of the most recent slaughter in Gaza has become unaccustomedly two-sided. Here’s one example out of many.
Why this deviance into balanced coverage I cannot say. Perhaps there is a feeling that the new administration may edge slightly away from our blind obedience to Likud, freeing the MSM to do the same. (I have to admit, though, that evidence of any such policy shift is so far very scanty.)
For redder meat and stronger wine we still have to go to the blogosphere, where Jeff Huber cuts loose on at-Largely. An excerpt:
…Dick Cheney says Israel didn’t seek “U.S. approval” to begin the ground attack into Gaza. Heh. They didn’t seek “U.S. approval” before they attacked Lebanon, either. They sought Dick Cheney’s approval, and he gave it to them. Dick Cheney isn’t the “U.S.” He’s just the vice president, and the president of the Senate. He’s not in the military chain of command at all, and according to him he doesn’t even work in the executive branch of government.
No word yet on whether Israel got Dick’s permission to use cluster munitions on the sand colored people, this time or last time. Israel’s Haaretz says the Israeli Defense Force is aiming the cluster ammunition at “open areas.” I have trouble imagining Hamas placing suitable cluster bomb targets in the open. You might shell an open area to set off mines that could be buried there, but if you use cluster bombs to do that you’ll create another minefield on top of the one you’re trying to clear.
Cluster bombs are made for killing people. Maybe the IDF is shelling open areas with cluster bombs as a humanitarian gesture, something to remind the Palestinians to stay in the closed areas where it’s safer, but I doubt it. Journalist Jamal Dajani of Link TV, posting from the Israel-Gaza border, judges Israel’s self described “surgical strikes” to be “as surgical as shooting chickens in a coop with a shot gun.”
Mr. Bush blames the Gaza debacle on Hamas, saying it has “once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization” with attacks on Israel. Bush didn’t mention that Israel broke the ceasefire in November when it sent ground troops into Gaza. Cheney probably didn’t let anybody tell Bush that part.
Maybe it’s a moot issue; Israel has had Gaza under a blockade since January 2008, six months before the ceasefire went into effect. Since a blockade is an act of war imposed by armed force, one has to marvel at how even the most adroit Rovewellian can say with a straight face that a ceasefire exists within a blockade…
(Paul Duffy joins Bad Attitudes with the following description of his introduction to the New York Times. He went on to various editing jobs over the next five years before telling Abe Rosenthal he could take this job and shove it. Since then he has been a freelance writer.)
It was a heady time.
Kennedy was president — Camelot, Jackie, ask not, all that. I was fresh out of the army; and now I was going to work on the foreign desk of The New York Times. I was in my early twenties and there was no doubt I was about to make a mark on big-time journalism. I was deeply impressed with my own possibilities.
This sense of a golden future lasted until I reported for my first day of work. By the time I found the foreign desk in the vastness of the news room I was already late. It was 8:32 a.m. By 8:35 I was beginning to consider a career change.
I was replacing a young man named Al, who was doing the unthinkable: he was leaving the Times. But before he left, Al was going to break me in. Two minutes into his job description, I understood why Al was leaving.
My job was to make sense of all the foreign news copy that came into The New York Times from all sources, and to arrange it so that it made sense to others. First, Al explained cheerfully, I was to gather all the foreign copy that had accumulated in the wire room overnight and sort it by story or subject, then sort it by news service, then collate each service’s story, assemble all copy according to a preferred order, put the copy for each story into a separate folder, and write a summary of all the stories for the foreign editor before he came in at ten o’clock. In those days, any story worth the name would be covered by the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Canadian Press, and, of course, the Times itself, whose correspondents, then as now, found virtue in long-windedness.
The amount of paper entailed in this process is difficult to calculate and painful to describe. After I had collected the overnight accumulation of perhaps 300 pages and dumped it in the large wire mesh basket on my desk, this lode was periodically refreshed by copy boys pushing wheeled supermarket baskets overflowing with paper, most of it at that early hour earmarked for the foreign desk.
More than any other skill, the job demanded manual dexterity. I was issued a rubber thumb to enhance any natural abilities in this line. In the weeks — months — to come, I did develop considerable paper sorting/folding/clipping skills, but no matter how hard I worked or skillful I became, I was never able to empty the basket. Never.
At ten o’clock sharp a man with the face of a Basset hound appeared. He wore a dark, double-breasted, pinstripe suit of a distinctly British cut and smelled of expensive after shave. When he sat in the foreign editor’s chair, I concluded that he must be the foreign editor. He was.
He was also Emanuel R. Friedman — Manny to his intimates, of which I was, in a way, now one, in that Manny’s chair and mine were only inches apart, back to back. Although he never uttered a word to me other than “Copy,” I came to feel that we were as one in a noble enterprise. Our destinies were linked.
“Copy,” the one word Mr. Friedman did utter, he uttered every day at exactly 10:30, after he had looked over the morning paper and digested my desperate, typo-ridden news summary. “Copy” meant that he wanted my story folders.
These I had arranged in a strange looking rack that sat astride the back of my overflowing desk and contained many slots in which I had jammed the swelling files on Kwame Nkrumah, the Kurdish rebels, and the latest government crisis in Chad. Manny was keenly interested in these topics. More interested, perhaps, than any other person in the world including his many correspondents. As the day wore on he fired off increasingly testy messages to these headstrong adventurers, demanding the very latest on the makeup of the new Sudanese cabinet or an analysis of the reasons behind the fall of the yen.
But I knew nothing of these arcane matters until much later. Just then I was drowning in a rising flood of paper, my rubber thumb flailing in midair, and I judged, correctly, from the widening smirk on the departing Al’s face that the worst was yet to come.
Sometime toward noon I was told to move myself and my rubber thumb across the room to the foreign copy desk. This was a crescent-shaped affair perhaps 20 feet long at which copy editors attempted to make readable, and write cogent headlines for, the foreign news report. There were six or so of these intelligent drones laboring ceaselessly under the despotic direction of Jack B., copy desk fuehrer and certifiable manic depressive, obsessive compulsive, anal retentive, and raving lunatic.
I sat at one end of the crescent next to a large wire basket that had been bolted down against the inevitable deluge of paper. Behind me sat Frank B. (no relation to Jack B.) and next to him Nat G., the night foreign editor. Wedged into the midst of this ménage was another clerk.
All the foreign copy — New York Times, A.P., U.P.I, Reuters, Canadian Press — came to me via copy boys pushing rolling supermarket baskets, always full, from the wire room. I separated it all by subject and story, collated each report by wire service, and assembled several duplicate copies of the Times stories for fun. From me each sheaf of carefully, if frantically, arranged paper went in a half circle to Frank B., Nat G., the other clerk, then to Jack B., who would scream something unintelligible and fling the paper package at a cringing copy editor.
If I had got up and walked out the door — a course I seriously considered every single day for the six months I held this wretched job — I believed the foreign desk of The New York Times would grind to a halt and would not be able to sort itself out for months. I still believe this. But of course I didn’t walk out the door, not then anyway.
Instead, I flailed with my rubber thumb at the rapidly mounting pile of paper, trying desperately to reduce its size before the next dumpster-load reached me. No one had introduced me to any one of the many people who now inhabited the immediate region of the foreign desk. And none of them had showed the slightest interest in me except as a paper processor. In this capacity I was found wanting.
The first to identify one of my many disqualifications for the job was Frank B. He brought it to my attention that I was attaching paper clips incorrectly. Frank B. demanded that paper clips be affixed with the small loop showing. If you look at a paper clip you will see that it is nothing more than a wire bent into two loops, the smaller inside the larger. Frank B. hated to see a paper clip large loop up even more than he hated the way I sometimes put the A.P. copy under the U.P.I. when everyone knows it belongs the other way around.
When Frank B. saw a sheaf of copy with the paper clip large loop up, he would toss it back on my desk and have me turn the clip over so that it would be correctly attached, small loop up. I made this mistake more than I like to admit, even all these years later. Shame dies hard.
Once he got his paper clip where he wanted it, Frank B. would write tiny notes on a small square of pink paper and then slide the square under the paper clip, small loop up of course. He would then pass the annotated copy to Nat G., who would remove the pink square and throw it on the floor. Sometimes Nat G. would scribble something on the copy before he gave it to the other clerk. It was that clerk’s job to enter the story on a list before handing it on to Jack B. occupying the center, or slot, of the copy desk. Once he got his hands on it, Jack B. invariably began to shout and turn red before he in turn assigned the story to an editor.
That’s how it went, day after day, month after month. Did I mention that around 3 p.m. at the height of the foreign news frenzy, I would be sent up to the cafeteria to get everyone coffee, donuts, sandwiches?
This interruption cost me just enough time to make it a certainty that I could never, never, never catch up, and that Frank B. would never be satisfied, that Nat B. would never stop throwing things on the floor, and that Jack B. would continue apoplectic until the first edition was printed and he was back on his train to Scarsdale.
Former general and former drug czar and present Pentagon propagandist Barry McCaffrey, you’ll recall, was the subject of a recent evisceration by the New York Times.
If you don’t recall, follow the links in the Columbia Journalism Review article by Charles Kaiser from which the excerpt below comes.
It turns out that McCaffrey is the living embodiment of all the worst aspects of entrenched Washington corruption — a man who shares with scores of other retired officers a huge financial interest in having America conduct its wars for as long as possible.
House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank recently announced that he wants to cut the Pentagon’s budget by twenty-five percent — or approximately $150 billion a year. Sadly, because of the entrenched position of McCaffrey and hundreds of others like him, there is almost no chance at all that president-elect Obama will do anything to curb the military-industrial threat about which President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us in his farewell address forty-eight years ago. With the willing complicity of NBC News, that threat just keeps on getting stronger and stronger, every year.
But the Times’s recent evisceration of the sleazy war flack wasn’t total. To it must be added Sy Hersh’s account of how McCaffrey’s role in Bush War I, the Gulf War, was not that of a conquering hero but rather a bloodthirsty, glory-seeking butcher who needlessly massacred hundreds if not thousands of fleeing and helpless Iraqi troops — during a ceasefire.
Tellingly, the only time Studs failed was when I suggested he try a book on power. The people he approached were such accomplished liars that none of them would even admit that they held power. It was the one project we had to give up.
From an interesting piece by television writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez on how popular culture paves the way for political change — and helped to make Obama’s victory possible:
If you want to know the truth of a time, I say, look to its popular culture ‚ to its novels and movies. If you want to know the myths of a time, look to its “objective news…”
Warren Strobel continues to set a high standard for his colleagues. You’ll probably remember that he and Jonathan Landay, then of Knight-Ridder and now at McClatchy, reported the truth about the war before it started. They used the old worn-out method of reporting, asking questions of people who might know, rather than the modern streamlined method of copying down the words of the White House press secretary. Worked!
So it’s probably not surprising that Strobel thinks the truth is important.
Striking a theme that has been present in many of her recent speeches, and perhaps providing a hint of her future activities, Rice said education is an important national security issue:
If I am concerned about one core issue for America, we’ll get through the many challenges and difficulties that we have, but the state of education in this country is a challenge that we better meet, and we’d better meet it soon.
It would be mean, very mean, of us to suggest that a proper accounting of history, even recent history, is a critical ingredient of a good education.
Let’s take a stroll down history lane with Irving Kristol’s little boy Billy, okay?
In other words, this was a good Democratic year, but it is still a center-right country. Conservatives and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback — unless the skills of the new president turn what was primarily an anti-Bush vote into the basis for a new liberal governing era.
Those were my thoughts when, a few minutes into his victory speech, just after midnight, Obama told his daughters, “And you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the new White House.”
Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we’ve all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn’t until now been a particularly empathetic one. Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents — Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) — flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.
And let’s not forget the great political realignments sparked by George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier Barney, Clinton’s Chocolate Lab, Buddy; Poppy Bush’s Springer Spaniel, Millie; Amy Carter’s Grits; Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever, Liberty; Nixon’s Irish Setter, King Timahoe; Johnson’s Beagle and Little Beagle; Caroline Kennedy’s Welsh terrier, Charlie; Eisenhower’s Weimaraner, Heidi; Truman’s Irish Setter, Mike; and Hoover’s police dog, King Tut.
And, most notably of all, Coolidge’s Terrier Peter Pan, Airedale Paul Pry, white collie Rob Roy, Shetland sheepdog Calamity Jane, his two Chows, Tiny Tim and Blackberry, the brown collie Ruby Rough, the bulldog Boston Beans, King Kole, a police dog, Bessie, a yellow collie, and the family bird dog, Palo Alto.
This menagerie led directly to the political realignment, tectonic in its scope, which occurred when Hoover succeeded Coolidge. The latter, historians agree, was the only president Vermont has ever produced. He was known as “Silent Cal.” Cal (along with Calif) was then a common abbreviation for California, but in this case it was short for the president’s given name, which was “Calvin.”
No other president has borne the name Calvin, although there have been five Jameses, four Williams, four Johns, three Georges, and one Ulysses. The significance of this is unclear.
From The Guardian:
Yes, U2’s Bono is the latest columnist to be hired by New York’s esteemed newspaper. Editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal announced the decision at Columbia’s School of Journalism this week, saying that the former Nobel Peace Prize nominee will pen between six and 10 articles over the course of 2009…
Though rockers and pop stars are welcome, another group faces an uphill battle on to the New York Times’ editorial page — conservatives. “[US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice is a particularly bad op-ed writer,” Rosenthal said. However, the problem doesn’t end there. “The problem with conservative columnists,” Rosenthal said, “is that many of them lie in print.”
COURIC: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada. [...]
COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our — our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia —
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We — we do — it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.
Bet you’ve been wondering why Sarah Palin has been ducking the press. No, of course you haven’t. And you were right, because take a look. The potential president was just permitted to hold the world’s shortest Q & A with her traveling press corps — her first.
Jesus, this so embarrassing:
CNN: On the topic of never letting this happen again, do you agree with the way the Bush administration has handled the war on terrorism, is there anything you would do differently?
A: I agree with the Bush administration that we take the fight to them. We never again let them come onto our soil and try to destroy not only our democracy, but communities like the community of New York. Never again. So yes, I do agree with taking the fight to the terrorists and stopping them over there.
POLITICO: Do you think our presence in Iraq and Afghan and our continued presence there is inflaming islamic extremists?
A: I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security of our nation, again, because the mission is to take the fight over there. Do not let them come over here and attempt again what they accomplished here, and that was some destruction. Terrible destruction on that day. But since September 11, Americans uniting and rebuilding and committing to never letting that happen again.
Pat Buchanan had to be cut off in mid-rave about how wonderful Obama’s speech was??? (h/t TWN)
It is a little ironic.
The attack dogs will eagerly embrace formerly hated targets. All last week Republicans lauded the achievements and brilliance of Hillary Clinton, seeking to exploit divisions in the Democratic Party. It has rounded up former Clinton supporters who now back McCain and paraded them like captured prisoners of war. “[McCain] really does admire and respect her and honours the campaign that she ran,” said Carly Fiorina, a top McCain adviser. Those are astonishing words from a senior figure in a party which spent two decades demonising Clinton as a left-wing uber-feminist. But that is the key to the success of the Republican attack machine: the past does not exist. What matters is what works now. Democrats know more of the same is coming. “This is going to be the most vicious campaign we have ever faced,” said Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s former campaign chairman.
There is an industry devoted to publishing anti-Obama screeds. The most popular has been The Obama Nation, by conservative polemicist Jerome Corsi. The book paints a radical picture of Obama as having a secret Islamic past — but critics say the book can be proven to be wrong. Corsi has also called for Obama to take a drugs test and warned that he might create a “department of hate crimes” if elected. The Obama Nation has been a bestseller, relentlessly promoted by sympathetic media figures such as Fox News’s conservative host Sean Hannity. On his show, Hannity allowed Corsi to claim Obama wanted to allow women to have “abortions” even after their child was born. Instead of refuting the ridiculous claim, Hannity merely expressed shock. The incident forced a liberal media watchdog to issue an analysis showing Obama had never actually supported the murder of newborn children.
A Smirking Chimp commenter by the handle of genboomxer hits us where it hurts.
There is a hypocritical duality in our American culture. We want a saint for president; we want someone with confidence and experience. We want the “Daddy” ideal. On the other hand we want someone who’s not afraid to play dirty to give us what we want. We are the children who idolize “Daddy” as long as we don’t know he’s cheating.
Politically we are one of the most immature countries. We run our domestic and foreign policies like an amoral adolescent with a car, a shotgun and a case of beer on a Saturday night who goes on a rampage, who then shows up for church on Sunday to repent our sins to show everyone that deep-down we’re really good.
A more concise statement of the American character is hard to find. When we’re disappointed in our leadership we blame it on them, as if we had no part in making it happen.
So I guess you wouldn’t be surprised to find the same person pointing to an old Bill Moyers show called “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis”. It’s just as true now, and just as relevant, as when it was made. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Moyers remains unsurpassed. You kinda get the feeling he’s still trying to make up for the whole LBJ thing, though it’s hard to imagine that he had the power to fix it. Probably LBJ was just smart enough to make him the front man, because Moyers is so clearly a moral person in the best sense of the term.
Seymour Hersh says:
There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.
And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of — that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.
So I can understand the argument for not writing something that was rejected — uh maybe. My attitude always towards editors is they’re mice training to be rats.
From a New York Times story on Bush’s manipulation of images showing that his war, well, kills people.
Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners’ rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.
Leonard Pitts Jr. captures the essence of the hysteria over the New Yorker cover.
Unless you’ve been in a cave for the last week, you’ve heard about and probably seen the cartoon showing Barack and Michelle bumping fists in the Oval Office, he in Muslim garb, she in Angela Davis, while a portrait of Osama watches an American flag burn in the fireplace. To me, even a straight description is humorous, and the cartoon is hilarious; but many Obama supporters apparently find it offensive.
Or perhaps it’s the long article about him in the same issue they’re worried about. But if they were offended by the cover, they probably wouldn’t read the article.
Which, to me, is part of the point of the cover.
To be effective, satire needs a situation it can inflate into ridiculousness. But the hysteria surrounding Obama has nowhere to go; it is already ridiculous. In just the last few days, we’ve had Jesse Jackson threatening to castrate him and John McLaughlin calling him an “Oreo.”
Add to that the whispers about Obama’s supposed Muslim heritage (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the “terrorist” implications of bumping fists, and Michelle Obama’s purported use of the term “whitey” (a word no black person has uttered since The Jeffersons went off the air in 1985), and it’s clear that “ridiculous” has become our default status. What once were punchlines now are headlines.
So, as absurd, as over the top, as utterly outlandish as the New Yorker image strikes the more sophisticated among us, there is a large fringe out there for whom it will represent nothing more or less than the sum of their fears.
Most of the arguments people made against the cover in the various comment sections I perused were strikingly weak. Anger certainly tends to cloud logic; as Bertrand Russell said,
The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction.
One person applied the theory of democracy to that of humor, proclaiming that it’s only satire if “at least” a majority thinks it is. (I’m not sure what’s more than a majority in this case. Since by definition at least the artist and the editor consider it satire, there’s no possibility of unanimity. But that’s how the argument was worded, so I reproduce it in case others grasp what I missed.) Another person argued that the November vote is a life-and-death matter, and the need to elect Obama, who presumably represents life, precludes Barack-mocking in the interim.
Speaking of which, Andy Borowitz has written a fake Obama statement of sympathy with those who struggle to make jokes about him. The statement includes five officially sanctioned Obama jokes.
Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, “You know, we don’t get many kangaroos here.” Barack Obama replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised. That’s why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
This kind of thing is why Colbert has to push it so far, play such an over-the-top character, to satirize the current state of our various media. As Pitts says, “These days, there’s nothing more ridiculous than the truth.”
I meant to put this up a couple of weeks ago but hey, what’s the rush? If you haven’t read it yet, it’s still news to you.
The link takes you to McClatchy Newspapers’ magnificent week-long series on the open running sore that Bush has created at Guantanamo Bay.
A lot of criticism from both sides of the blogosphere is directed at the press, much of it deserved. When newspapers are bad, they are indeed horrid. But when they are good they are very, good.
I have worked for five of them, from a California weekly to the Washington Post and I’m no more sentimental about the business than my brother Bill is. Which is not sentimental at all, as you may know from his occasional posts on the subject.
But still, but still…
You can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em. Someday somebody somewhere may come up with an internet business model that makes it possible for two reporters to spend eight months in 11 countries interviewing scores of Bush’s victims (a shocking percentage of them plainly innocent), their lawyers, their jailers, their neighbors, and their families. For now, though, the MSM is all we’ve got.
The McLatchy team will win Pulitzers for this job of reporting, if there is a God in heaven. Which there probably isn’t, or creatures like Bush and Cheney wouldn’t be allowed to run loose all over the planet.
Sadly, the “worst of the worst” are not at Guantanamo Bay.
Just as long as we know where everyone stands.
[Top Clinton campaign strategist] Mr. [Howard] Wolfson’s decision to join Fox represents a general feeling among Clinton partisans that the network treated her more fairly than did other networks it viewed as overly friendly to Mr. Obama.
The night Mrs. Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary, several months after Mrs. Clinton joined other Democrats in opting out of a debate that Fox News was to sponsor, her campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe declared live on Fox, “Fair and Balanced Fox!” (The network was first to declare her the victor that night.) Last month the network signed Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to Bill Clinton and a vocal support[er] of Mrs. Clinton, as a contributor.
They’re there, presumably, to balance Karl Rove and Bill O’Reilly.
Take me now, Lord.
As if to emphasize Bill’s take on the fate of newspapers, Leonard Downie has just announced he’s moving on from his editor’s desk at the Washington Post.
The Times article talks about Downie’s unassuming leadership and the 27 Pulitzers the paper’s garnered during his tenure, six of those in the most recent competition. But, as the Times says,
Mr. Downie oversaw a period of expansion — especially in The Post’s local and suburban news coverage — followed by one of contraction. In recent years, he has presided over cutbacks reducing the news staff by more than one-quarter, to about 700 people, including significant reductions in its overseas staff. Last month, more than 100 newsroom employees accepted a buyout offer, including some well-known reporters.
Like all major newspapers, The Post is struggling with declining circulation and ad revenue, even as it draws record numbers of readers online. The Post’s weekday circulation, which was over 800,000 early in this decade, averaged 673,000 in the six months ended March 31, the seventh-highest in the country. It has more than nine million Internet readers each month, according to Nielsen online, behind The New York Times and USA Today. Like the rest of the industry, it has found it hard to turn its digital audience into significant revenue.
The loss of the medium of newspapers is a sad thing for a couple of reasons. The most poignant is that we’ll probably never see them again; there’ll be paper distributions, but anything above small-town backwater newspapers will grow increasingly harder to find, if only because of the resources needed to transmit information through ink on paper.
But part of that poignancy is the fear of losing the sense of community. In the town of 30,000 I grew up in, there was one paper and everyone read it; if you wrote a letter to the editor, your neighbors would comment on it unprompted. As we move to the internet, the community becomes more abstract. At the same time, it increases geometrically in size because it overcomes the need for nearness in physical space.
Some of that feeling of community might survive the transition to bits.
I believe print newspapers will be drawn back into the past. In the short term print newspapers will cut editions down to one or two a week with tons of calendars, obits, chicken dinners, school news, etc. Then all “regular” news will be online.
Papers will be printed at central plants. and staffs in non-edit and ad departments will virtually disappear, as will big plants. The web, TV and radio will deliver most news, and perhaps the diminshed publications, like some TV news now, will become shamelessly attached to causes, political parties or philosophies. In other words, print will return to what it was in pre-civil war times.
In the immediate future, there will be cuts in publication days, combinations, bankruptcies, etc. I believe “newspapers” as we know them will become obsolete.
At first I thought there would be a slow decline. Now the figures show there will be a collapse. The dam is cracking wide open now. Latest figures show 10 to 20 percent ad losses this year compared to the same figures last year for metros.
Compound those figures for the past three years and try to come to a different conclusion. The flood will begin to sweep most metro print away in the next few years and smaller papers in the next five.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Not Alex. It’s the antiMcCain, antiwar ad from MoveOn.org which is being called tasteless by the conservative punditry. Being called tasteless by it/them is of course like being called ugly by a frog.
Personally I thought the ad was (1) tasteful, (2) fair, (3) well-produced, and (4) effective. What’s more, (1) the baby was cute, and (2) I fell in love with the young mother.
So, as Thomas L. Friedman might say, and did, Suck on this, okay?
Ya gotta hand it to the AP, an organization obviously led by brains and class.
Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.
Note that they didn’t harrass the appropriately monickered Matt Drudge, but a left-wing Retort to him. I’ve just visited it for the first time, and you can see why AP is upset: some of the entries are at least seven words long, and apparently taken from the actual headline of the article linked to.
Of course it’s clear, even to the brains at AP, that they don’t have a reasonable legal case. They’re not being harmed economically by 79-word quotations and links to the original (a basic test under the fair-use doctrine), and they admit they’d probably lose in court if they went there.
Having received a certain amount of pushback, AP backed off for a regrouping. According to Jim Kennedy, VP and strategy director, “We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this”.
My suggestion: if they’re honest about not casting a pall, they might cease producing garbage like today’s “Blame for Spears’ pap hit-run on the other foot”. I’m not holding my breath.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advice to the visiting new mayor of London, Boris Johnson:
“You don’t have to match your answers to [reporters’] questions. If you don’t give the right answers to their questions, they asked the wrong questions.”
In 1884 at the age of 28 Frank Harris was hired to run the Evening News, a London daily that was losing £40,000 a year.
As the paper was sold principally on the streets, Harris went to a 12-year-old newsboy for advice on what the public was buying. The boy showed him a competing paper’s lurid “bill” — the list of the day’s stories that newsboys displayed on their corners:
“I took the boy critic and a friend of his into my office and with the paper before us sat down to get out a new and sensational bill. Then I sent for the chief sub-editor, Abbott, and showed him the difference. To my amazement he defended his quiet bill. “It’s a Conservative paper,” he said, “and doesn’t shout at you.”That was then. This is now:
“The boy critic giggled. “You come out to sell paipers,” he cried, “and you’ll soon hev’ to shout!”
The end of it was that I gave the boy ten shillings and five to his friend and made them promise to come to me each week with the bills, good and bad. Those kids taught me what the London hapenny public wanted and I went home laughing at my own high-brow notions.
The ordinary English public did not want thoughts but sensations. I had begun to edit the paper with the best in me at 28; I went back in my life, and when I edited it as a boy of 14 I began to succeed. My obsessions then were kissing and fighting: when I got one or other or both of these interests into every column, the circulation of the paper increased steadily.
The resignation of [managing editor] Marcus W. Brauchli from The Wall Street Journal was less shocking, if only because Mr. Brauchli was appointed by the previous owners of the paper. Since he bought Dow Jones in December for $5.2 billion, Mr. Murdoch has moved swiftly to remake the stately paper, calling for shorter articles and more coverage of politics, culture and even sports — and fewer business articles on the front page.
“Plus ça change,” as the fella said, “plus c’est la même Scheiss."
Buck’s Social Security posting, below, sent me back in the archives first to April of 2003 and from there to a post from the gray, menacing dawn of the Bush misadministration. The latter was titled, Contrary to Published Reports, Social Security is Okay. For whatever historical interest it might have, here goes:
On Monday, March 19 of the year 2001, high officials of the Bush administration made it clear that the Social Security crisis was over.
In fact, as they announced at a press conference, Social Security was in better shape than ever before in its history. And it would be on solid ground until at least 2038, when the first of the baby boomers will be 92. Medicare was in good shape, too: its main trust fund wasn’t expected to run dry until 2029.
The news would have been a huge relief to the tens of millions of Americans who believe that little or no money will be left by the time they reach retirement age. But the information never got to those worried millions, or to anyone else except a few thousand news junkies and policy wonks. Television seems to have ignored the story completely. The major papers ran it, but in such a way that for most readers it remained hidden, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight—
The Boston Globe gave it 658 words; the Chicago Tribune thought it was worth 488. The Washington Post ran it on page 5, the Los Angeles Times on page 9. The New York Times also printed it inside, under the gripping headline: “Trustees Extend Solvency Estimates for 2 Benefits.” The lead sentence in the Wall Street Journal was, “Medicare and Social Security, the big entitlement programs for elderly Americans, are still going broke, though more slowly.”
But here are some other possible leads — bearing an equivalent or greater relation to reality—that might have introduced the neglected little story:
“The public relations campaign to scare Americans into turning Social Security over to Wall Street yesterday had a dangerous and perhaps fatal collision with reality.”
Or, “The Bush administration today scrambled to discredit a report from its own officials that undermined the president’s campaign promise to ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare. Far from needing reform, etc.”
Or, “Even after loading the dice by using what many economists consider to be overly pessimistic growth projections, the Bush Administration was nonetheless forced to conclude yesterday that both Medicare and Social Security would remain solid at least until the youngest baby boomer reaches retirement age.”
Or, “Record budget surpluses — the major justification for President Bush’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut — would disappear if economic predictions used by three of his top cabinet officers are accurate. So would any immediate threat to the stability of Social Security and Medicare.”
All these leads are supported by facts contained in the various stories. And all qualify as news under the dog-bites-man rule: a widespread assumption about the world turns out not to be true after all.
All of the stories were caused by a report from the secretaries of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, joined by two outside experts. This report and the press conference called to announce it involved federal programs that touch the lives of virtually every American. Widely perceived as on the brink of bankruptcy, Social Security and Medicare prove to be in better shape than ever before — and by a considerable margin, too.
Then why did editors and reporters conclude that the report on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds deserved no better than what amounted to a collective yawn?
Might it have been because the stories were based on the fuzziest of numbers? Although the government may be obliged to pretend it can see decades into the fiscal future, does it follow that responsible journalists are obliged to take the pretense seriously? Of course not.
It would be unkind to dwell on past instances when the press regurgitated equally fuzzy figures with childlike trust, so let’s do it. For more than ten years, the press has been squawking like Chicken-Licken that the sky was about to fall on the whole baby boomer generation. Eventally “more people believed in UFOs than think they will ever receive Social Security.”
The widely-reported quote is from Peter G. Peterson, a former Secretary of Commerce under Richard Nixon and a leader for nearly 30 years in the campaign to destroy public confidence in Social Security. Mr. Peterson’s aim in raising his false alarm was to destroy Social Security. To do this, he proposed to gamble with the fund by diverting billions of dollars away from it and into the stock market. The suckers might win or might lose; the brokers, who would take the house cut off the top, could only win.
So successful had Peterson’s doomsaying been that it still lurks unexamined in the heads of journalists as well as most other economic illiterates. So editors and reporters were reading to believe the latest spin on the old story
After all, that spin was coming from the very people issuing the report. Most of them were members of the Bush cabinet, and it was in their interest to attack the very report they were obliged by law to issue. Like Peterson, Bush wanted Social Security to look broke so he could fix it—by putting billions of dollars from it into the stock market.
One trouble with this plan was that at the moment the thing that appeared to be the most badly broken was the stock market itself. Privatization of Social Security was starting to look about as smart as turning your life savings over to the purser on the Titanic.
Another drawback was that the president, in a striking display of cognitive dissonance, was telling us that the good times were over so we had better cut taxes. The logic was that this would allow us to pay down a little of our credit card debt, while at the same time getting rid of that pesky budget surplus that was looming over the economy. Or something.
At the same time Bush, by arguing for a tax cut spread over ten years, was implicitly predicting that the economy would remain strong enough so that lower taxes would still produce enough revenue to provide needed government services. In other words we could both have our cake and eat it, under the theory that had earlier produced President Reagan’s monumental deficits.
Anyway, Mr. Bush’s cabinet officers were in an uncomfortable position. They really thought — every true conservatives does, in the deep, secret bottom of his soul — that Social Security and Medicare were crackbrained communist schemes that should be terminated at once, and with extreme prejudice. But in a nation of fools, many of them unfortunately voters, wisdom cannot be said aloud. The rabble must be scared into doing what is best for it.
For one thing, the reports in question are an annual affair. The number of years till the projected insolvency of both funds went up last year, too, and had been going up since 1997. This year’s increase, consequently, sounded like old stuff.
In the third place, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “when the programs finally reach their insolvency dates the government likely would have to slash benefits — a 30% cut in Social Security alone, according to the report — increase taxes, or both, officials said.” In 37 years, everybody better watchout. Officials say.
And the Journal says, “Many economists believe the programs represent a burden on all Americans that in the long run is untenable.” Many editors probably believe that, too. Certainly most publishers do.
From this point of view, then, the responsible course is to downplay a story which offers only false and temporary hope. The sad but unavoidable truth is that our reckless generosity toward the old, the helpless and the sick will lead, if unchecked, only to ruin. That this hasn’t happened in the 66 years of Social Security’s existence is a miracle that, in the conservative worldview, cannot possibly continue.
The excerpt below is by Joe Bageant, the bard of Winchester, Virginia, and the author of Deer Hunting with Jesus. His fuse has been lit by the media tizzy over Barack Obama’s mostly accurate look at white working-class resentment. Read the whole essay here. (The photo below is not of Joe, but of the younger and more photogenic Larry the Cable Guy.)
In any case, Obama has proven you cannot even use the innocuous word bitterness in conjunction with the national lie of white American culture. In the officially sanctioned media lexicon, Blacks can be angry, disillusioned and even bitter enough to burn down Watts. But the white race, being blessed by a Christian god and divine providence, never harbor bitterness in their hearts. The reason the word bitterness has caused such horror is because what is really going on out there is the sprouting seeds of class animosity. And no candidate or pontificating media mugwump dares touch that one because they are in the class that benefits from our classist society.
Dr. Hibbert: Now, a little death anxiety is normal. You can expect to go through five stages. The first is denial.
Homer: No way! Because I’m not dying! [hugs Marge]
Dr. Hibbert: The second is anger.
Homer: Why you little! [steps towards Dr. H]
Dr. Hibbert: After that comes fear.
Homer: What’s after fear? What’s after fear? [cringes]
Dr. Hibbert: Bargaining.
Homer: Doc, you gotta get me out of this! I’ll make it worth your while!
Dr. Hibbert: Finally, acceptance.
Homer: Well, we all gotta go sometime.
Dr. Hibbert: Mr. Simpson, your progress astounds me.
Frank Rich has been to see the latest Errol Morris film, “Standard Operating Procedure”. In fact he was part of a “goodly chunk of New York’s media and cultural establishment” at a Museum of Modern Art screening.
One thing that struck him was the contrast between the opulent setting and the subject of the film: torture committed with official complicity at the White House level. Do we really care about that, still? It all seems so 2005…
Rich thinks that George Voinovich, Senator from Ohio, points to the central issue.
“The truth of the matter,” Mr. Voinovich said, is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”
This is how the war planners wanted it, of course. No new taxes, no draft, no photos of coffins, no inconveniences that might compel voters to ask tough questions. This strategy would have worked if the war had been the promised cakewalk. But now it has backfired. A home front that has not been asked to invest directly in a war, that has subcontracted it to a relatively small group of volunteers, can hardly be expected to feel it has a stake in the outcome five stalemated years on.
The original stakes (saving the world from mushroom clouds and an alleged ally of Osama bin Laden) evaporated so far back they seem to belong to another war entirely. What are the stakes we are asked to believe in now? In the largely unwatched House hearings on Wednesday, Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, tried to get at this by asking what some 4,000 “sons and daughters” of America had died for.
General Petraeus replied in terms of national interest, apparently without irony. This is certainly not in Iraq’s national interest. It’s in our national interest, if you’re the sort who thinks that what’s good for ExxonMobile is good for the country. Personally, I’m not so sure. Prices at a gas station in Belmont I pass once a week have been ten cents higher each Friday; this week premium was $4.15, regular $3.95.
Which, I’m sorry to admit, hits most of us harder than the collective guilt of having allowed our officials to order our interrogators to torture people in the obviously ridiculous hope that some useful information could be gathered. And then done nothing about it when we caught them.
Or is it really that Americans feel justified in torturing people? Because after all we’re good. Thus, by definition, whatever we do had to be done. It’s not our fault torture was called for. It’s not our fault Iraq appears to be on the brink of chaos, just because we helped Saddam take over, then armed him, and finally attacked him as one in our string of endless enemies. It’s not our fault Iran hates us, just because we overthrew a duly elected government and substituted a repressive and brutal regime, which they finally managed to throw out. What, after all, should have been our preferred method? It’s not like we were going to leave them and their oil in peace; it’s not like we were going to consider their interests in any serious way whatsoever. What tools remain other than brutal repression?
This war has lasted so long that Americans, even the bad apples of Abu Ghraib interviewed by Mr. Morris, have had the time to pass through all five of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief over its implosion. Though dead-enders like Mr. McCain may have only gone from denial to anger to bargaining, most others have moved on to depression and acceptance. Unable to even look at the fiasco anymore, the nation is now just waiting for someone to administer the last rites.
The sad thing about the attacks on Senator Obama for things said by his wife and by his pastor is that attention was paid to them by anyone except Jon Stewart. It was as if the Senator were being pilloried for consorting with persons who claimed that grass is green and — the horror, the horror! — that water runs downhill.
Reverend Wright and Michelle Obama may, for all I know, harbor private beliefs as evil as those which lurk in the minds of Richard Cheney, Osama bin Laden or, back in the day, Vlad the Impaler.
If so, however, the fact has not been reported. What has been reported proves only that both the Obama pastor and the Obama wife are guilty of truth-telling in the first degree. For example, anyone who believes that American foreign policy bore no causal relation to the 9/11 attacks is simply a fool.
And as to Michelle Obama’s deplorably recent feelings of pride in her country, I will refer you, as Judy in Canada has referred me, to this efficient evisceration of the whole issue by Rick Salutin of The Globe and Mail. I’ll add only this from Edmund Burke: ‘For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
The problem of patriotism really comes down to one question: Are patriots permitted to be critical of their nation, or must they be proud and unquestioning at all times? Once that’s answered, the puzzles dissolve.
Take Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, who said: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback..” That’s Position 1. Candidate John McCain’s wife, Cindy, took Position 2: “I have and always will be proud of my country.”
It’s odd that no reporters put Cindy McCain on the spot, named dubious things the U.S. has done, like its genocidal assault on aboriginals, and asked: Are you proud of that? Michelle Obama is the one they keep saying has dug her and her husband a big anti-American hole, one she still hasn’t got past.
But under Position 1 — criticism allowed — her words imply she is a true patriot, and one with a generous spirit. She didn’t wait for solutions to what presumably blocked her pride in the past: like failure to deal with the ongoing problems of race in the U.S. She was ready to be proud on the fairly flimsy basis of reactions to her husband’s campaign. She’s not just a patriot, she’s an optimistic one.
Under Position 1, the patriot test is: Does she continue to want to be proud of her nation, while demanding it live up to standards. By that test, she is a patriot with no hole to climb out of, and so probably is her pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has taken a lot more stick than she has.
What did he say that anyone could object to on patriotic grounds — that the chickens are coming home to roost in events like 9/11? That’s just foreign policy analysis, stated metaphorically. You can disagree, but it isn’t unpatriotic. Or: “The government ... wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no, God damn America ... for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.” That is utterly in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
According to the Hebrew prophets, God consigned his beloved chosen people to exile for allowing social injustice, allying with evil nations — i.e., shabby foreign policy — and religious infidelity. (The black church in the U.S. has always had a preferential option for the Old Testament parts of the Bible.)
Another way to put Position 1 is: You cannot say, Blessed is the nation, unless you can also say, Cursed is the nation — they go together under love of nation. As political philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote: “There can be no patriotism without permanent opposition and criticism.”
She said that in 1963, under fire from other Jews for her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She was a lifelong Zionist but critical of the direction Zionism had taken. In fact, Jews often split into the two positions over loyalty to Israel. It’s odd how that, too, has now been woven into U.S. politics. Candidates for president are required to show unquestioning allegiance to Israel as much, or more, as to the U.S. The same is becoming true in Canada.
Of course, we also have unique Canadian versions of unthinking patriotism. When the “loyal” opposition criticized the handover of detainees by our forces in Afghanistan despite possible torture, Stephen Harper and his instruments replied: Why do they criticize what our troops do? Why do they care more about the Taliban than our brave Canadian soldiers? Got that — it’s unpatriotic to ask if our country did anything to be ashamed of?
Hannah Arendt also wrote about Judah Magnes, a Zionist pioneer and founder of the Hebrew University. “Being a Jew and a Zionist, he was simply ashamed of what Jews and Zionists were doing.” The sense of shame is what can save the honour of the group and the nation. It is what Position 1 patriots provide. If there are no patriots capable of shame for what is done in the nation’s name, so there is only praise and pride everywhere, then patriotism easily slides into stupidity and worse.
BBC moved this story at 10:22 p.m. (EST) Thursday, and the 11 o’clock news only carried a sentence or two on it. But it will be all over the news by Friday morning, barring massive media misconduct. Which of course we can’t bar at all.
The US Department of State has fired two contractors and disciplined a third for accessing the passport file of presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
A spokesman for the department, Sean McCormack, said the cases were likely caused by “imprudent curiosity.” But he said it was not clear what the employees may have seen or what they were looking for.
A spokesman for Mr Obama suggested that the government could be using private information for “political purposes.”
The BBC’s North America editor, Justin Webb, says it is an extraordinary lapse in security which allowed temporary state department employees access to personal information on a man who is guarded by the secret service day and night .
The state department tracks those who access its passport database. Breaches occurred on three separate dates — 9 January, 21 February and 14 March.
“We believe this was out of imprudent curiosity, so we are taking steps to reassure ourselves that that is, in fact, the case,” Mr McCormack said…
What follows is my transcription of New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman explaining his flat world on The Charlie Rose Show. I don’t think I’ve heard this much concentrated stupidity since listening to Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley III at country team meetings in wartime Laos.
The transcription below contains the money shot, as they call it in the frankly pornographic rather than the political side of show biz. But if you have time to watch the whole interview you’ll see that Friedman’s performance was well-rehearsed and at least partially memorized. Thus the last three appalling paragraphs were not misspoken, but intentional.
Particularly unattractive, like Bush’s fake Texas accent, are Friedman’s tone-deaf attempts to sound like an ex-Marine Corps pogue tough-talking at the Legion Hall late at night. (Suck on this, Friedman, okay?)
And what we learned on 9/11, in a gut way, was that [the terrorist] bubble was a fundamental threat to our open society because there is no wall high enough, no INS agent smart enough, no metal detector efficient enough, to protect an open society from people motivated by that bubble and what we needed to do was to go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over here basically and take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble.
And there was only one way to do it because part of that bubble said, “We’ve got you. This bubble is actually going to level the balance of power between we and you because we don’t care about it. We’re ready to sacrifice and all you care about is your stock options and your Hummers.”
And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? You think this bubble fantasy, we’re just going to let it grow? Well, suck on this, okay?”
That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia; it was part of the bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Baghdad because we could.
Noam Chomsky often talks about the importance of setting the limits on acceptable arguments, on what can be discussed in public. In many ways Chomsky parallels Machiavelli: he understands the rules of the game more consciously than his contemporaries, and is reviled for stating obvious facts about social attitudes that no one wants to hear. Presumably being consistently right is some compensation.
The liberalization of the nomination process has left the upper echelons of both parties less able to determine directly who wins. However, they have indirect power. They can influence which candidates are seen by the voters to be credible candidates. Through their dialogue with one another as well as their direct communications to the public, they help establish voter expectations, and therefore the range of viable alternatives voters perceive. The more they talk up a candidate’s viability, the more viable he becomes. The less they talk it up, the less viable he becomes. This is the power to set the agenda.
This perfect Chomskian statement came from — you guessed it! — the Wall Street Journal.
As usual, read Bill Greider in The Nation. Immediately. Brief taste below. Full meal here.
Bill Gross, the insightful managing director of PIMCO, the major bond-investment house, has called for virtually doubling the federal deficit in order pump hundreds of billions into new economic activity. When bond holders are more alarmed about the economy than political leaders, you know something is backwards in American politics.
Edwards, alas, probably restrained the size of his stimulus package to convince the media gatekeepers he is not wacko and thus win some coverage for his forward thinking. No such luck. Edwards has his own shortcomings, but he has been victimized by the shallow political culture that empties meaning from presidential campaigns. The press early on consigned him to the “populist” stereotype and largely ignored the serious content of his agenda.
This is the curse that leads to enervating, brain-dead presidential cycles. Substance bores political reporters. Most of them do not understand economics or even know much about how government actually works. Given their ignorance, they prefer to play the role of theater critics and imagine that readers are desperate to hear their highly subjective and utterly unreliable reviews of the sideshow.
It’s possible, perhaps even usual, to be a good writer and a poor thinker. Never having read anything by Bill Kristol, I assumed that literary talent must explain why the New York Times was giving him the most desirable platform in American journalism.
Then his first column came out. Here’s how it began:
Thank you, Senator Obama. You’ve defeated Senator Clinton in Iowa. It looks as if you’re about to beat her in New Hampshire. There will be no Clinton Restoration. A nation turns its grateful eyes to you.
But gratitude for sparing us a third Clinton term only goes so far. Who, inquiring minds want to know, is going to spare us a first Obama term? After all, for all his ability and charm, Barack Obama is still a liberal Democrat. Some of us would much prefer a non-liberal and non-Democratic administration. We don’t want to increase the scope of the nanny state, we don’t want to undo the good done by the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and we really don’t want to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq.
I won’t waste time on precisely why this is such an awful piece of writing; for that, go here. And I can’t tell you why the Times hired him, except that their stated reason — to give right-left balance to the editorial page — cannot possibly be the real one. A couple of hours poking around the right-wing blogosphere would turn up any number of conservatives who think and write far better than Kristol. And they’d come a lot cheaper.
I suspect Kristol got where he is the same way George W. Bush did: family connections. Kristol’s father is the unspeakable neocon elder Irving Kristol, who was a longtime friend of the unspeakable former editor of the New York Times, the late Abe Rosenthal, whose son, Andrew Rosenthal, became editorial page editor of the Times a year ago.
I have friends, too, and one of them has a friend at the Times, and that friend told my friend who just emailed me “the delicious inside detail that (a) the editors told him, ‘Look, Bill, you actually have to write these by yourself,’ and (b) the copy editors decided to let him… speak in his own voice!”
(Incidentally, since I’ll bet you didn’t know, either — nep•o•tism: mid 17th cent.: from French népotisme, from Italian nepotismo, from nipote “nephew” (with reference to privileges bestowed on the “nephews” of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons).)
Okay, I realize everyone’s trying to get the story posted immediately. Perhaps these three (consecutive) paragraphs slipped out, and the WSJ will edit them later.
Today former President Bill Clinton critiqued Mr. Obama’s record while stumping for his wife throughout the state, calling Mr. Obama’s candidacy “the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen.”
Yo! Is the Big Dog taking out his latent frustrations with his wife on the campaign trail?
In the end, it was Mr. Obama’s lack of experience that made many voters opt for the more seasoned Mrs. Clinton. “I like him and I think he’ll be ready in eight years,” said Allison Mundry, a 49-year-old real estate agent in Salem. But for now, she says “We have to vote for someone who can get the Republicans out of office.”
Okay, you’re voting for the candidate who polls the worst of the top three Democrats against the Republicans because we gotta get rid of those damned Republicans? Well, I can pretty near guarantee you they’ll absent themselves from any discussion of a Clinton. They always have.
The Illinois Senator will go on to South Carolina where half of all registered Democrats are African-American and could choose Mr. Obama, the first serious candidate to have a chance at the White House.
“The first serious candidate”? They can’t even bring themselves to say it openly.
I’ve long advocated throwing out our television, but Mrs. Batard says C-Span and Keith Olbermann are too important to let go of. I can agree with the C-Span part, but I’ve yet to hear Keith Olbermann cover any economic issues. But wait! This might change my mind, at least for one night sometime, someday.
At long last, Howard Zinn’s influential 1980 book “A People's History of the United States” is being turned into a TV miniseries called “The People Speak,” and it’ll be shot here in Boston next month. The series will star several Hollywood heavies, including Matt Damon, Marisa Tomei , Viggo Mortensen , Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, and David Strathairn, as well as actresses Kerry Washington and Q‘Orianka Kilcher, and singer Allison Moorer.
From what I’ve read, no network has signed on yet, so we might have to wait another hundred years. But I’m still wondering what Zinn thinks of all those multimillionaires being involved in the project. I think a very good argument could be made that the blogs have made an important contribution to our democracy and rather than use Hollywood actors, regular folks should be the real stars of the show. But at least leave that television in the closet for now. The trash collectors are busy this time of the year anyway.
Like other establishment media outlets, however, USA Today seems to have difficulty providing a level playing field to a candidate who consistently attacks corporate interests — otherwise known as the media’s owners and sponsors. An exercise in post-debate “fact-checking” by USA Today (12/14/07), for instance, took issue with this statement by Edwards: “One of the reasons that we’ve lost jobs, we’re having trouble creating jobs…is because corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government.”
The paper’s “reality,” as written by David Jackson and Fredreka Schouten, was this: “Edwards is wrong about job creation. There were 94,000 new jobs created in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since August 2003, 8.35 million jobs have been created.”
Actually, as FAIR points out, the widely repeated rule of thumb is that the economy must create about 150,000 jobs a month merely to keep up with population growth; 94,000 doesn’t even meet the basic minimum, let alone improve the situation. Are the reporters at USA Today prevented from doing basic research by an outdated computer system? Or are the facts that put things in perspective consistently elided from the final edited version, and therefore eventually just not worth including even if you know them?
Way back when (in April, actually) I posted this:
Bush’s Iraq “war,” in the sense that most of us understand the word, ended in a few weeks. Our “enemy” didn’t fight, it is true, but our victory was beyond question.
The next step in many wars — as in this one — is an occupation. Virtually all of our casualties in Iraq have thus been the result not of a war, but of an occupation. Our enemies are not soldiers fighting on behalf of a state, but what we called, in Hitler’s Europe, maquisards or resistance fighters or guerrillas or partisans.
Failure to call the occupation of Iraq by its proper name has been a powerful part of why Bush has been able to continue occupying that unhappy nation. If we can be deceived into believing that it is still a “war,” then we can be made to feel that pulling out would somehow “lose” it.
But occupations are not lost. They are simply ended, and by the victor at a time and place of his choice. It is beyond me why the Democrats do not grasp this simple point, and hammer on it every day. Reframe, idiots. Read Lakoff.
When Bush sets out to leave our public schools behind, he calls it Leaving No Child Behind. When the Democrats want to leave Bush’s Folly behind, they call it H.R. 1234 or some damned thing and stand by like fearful little children when Daddy Bush and Uncle McConnell call it defunding the troops.
How about the Stand Up Iraq Act? The Full Freedom Act? The Iraq Independence Act? The Democracy Restoration Act? The Iraq Sovereignty Act? The Iraq Liberation Bill? Iraq Stands Tall? Setting Iraq Free? The Iraq Self-defense Act? The One Last Chance Act?
But first of all the Democratic leadership, and I use the term loosely, must stop calling an occupation a war. For more on this, see the interview with Thom Hartmann from which the following comes:
If Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi were to stand up and say, “OK, everybody, we’re all going to use the same language. From now on, we’re all going to refer to what’s going on in Iraq as an occupation. We’re never going to use the word ‘war’ again.” It would be the smartest thing they could do, and probably 70 percent of their party would call a press conference and trash them for trying to put words in their mouths…
I actually wrote an op-ed about war and occupation a couple years ago, suggesting this, and for a brief period, for two or three months afterward, one of the liberal think tanks came up with the same idea and suggested this. Between the two of us out there beating that drum, there were a number of Democrats in the media who I noticed started to use the word “occupation” instead of the word “war.”
But the media was so in love with the word “war” because war is a powerful thing. It’s legalized mass murder. It is the most horrific thing that as a society we can sanction. So, the media just kept referring to it as a war no matter what …
Ultimately, the Democrats gave up and went back to using the word “war.” In fact, many of them found that using the word “war” over the short term was useful because it scares people. I think it’s bad policy and bad politics. But some Democrats are Republican lite, and some Democrats are worried about survival, and some Democrats are not thinking about this all that deeply.
…as we see here:
Within weeks, teams of executives and managers from the two companies were meeting to compare advertising strategies, look for joint ventures and to debate the future of The Wall Street Journal’s paid online subscription system, which Mr. Murdoch dislikes.
Terrific piece at The Smirking Chimp by Ernest Partridge dissecting and discarding the excuses of those — you know who you are — who joined in Bush’s rush to war out of cowardice or good old American bloodlust.
Hey, did you hear the big news? Iraq doesn’t want Bush and Cheney to go to war with Iran! No matter what our two boss warhogs keep saying, the prime minister of Iraq claims that Iran isn’t helping the insurgents kill American troops after all. Know what? Iran is actually helping the Iraqi government keep weapons away from the terrorists! Says who? The American military, that’s who!
What do you mean you didn’t know that? It’s been all over the news ever since the New York Times broke the story yesterday on page 20. Where have you been hiding yourself?
BAGHDAD, Nov. 17 — The Iraqi government on Saturday credited Iran with helping to rein in Shiite militias and stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq, helping to improve the security situation noticeably …
Speaking about Iran, he said that that government had helped to persuade the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to ask his Mahdi militia to halt attacks. Mr. Sadr ordered his militia to stop using weapons in early September, and officials say that the militia’s relative restraint has helped improve stability. They say it also seems to have helped decrease the frequency of attacks with explosively formed penetrators, a powerful type of bomb that can pierce heavy armor.
Mr. Dabbagh’s comments echoed those of the American military here, who in recent days have gone out of their way to publicly acknowledge Iran’s role in helping to slow the flow of weapons into the country ….
Mr. Dabbagh said that the turning point came when Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki visited Iran in August and met with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Shiite shrine city of Mashad. Mr. Maliki told the Iranian leader that “Iran had to choose whether to support the government or any other party, and Iraq will decide according to which they choose,” Mr. Dabbagh said. The Iranians promised to help and have done so, he said.
Newspaper owners have always blamed their troubles on competitors: radio, TV, shoppers, and now the internet. However the problem is not with others, but with publishers who for decades have been bleeding their papers to achieve obscene profit margins. Their method has been to replace whole departments with computerized machines, to bust unions, and then to pay rock-bottom wages.
My stepfather, Ralph Ingersoll, ran a chain of small and mid-sized dailies. My first job out of college was as a reporter for the Boston Globe; my next was at the Newark Evening News, a far superior newspaper, where I was a reporter and education writer.
Then I bought a small daily in Saranac Lake, New York, and a weekly in Lake Placid with money borrowed from my wife’s family and the papers’ owners. After 10 years I sold both papers to a large chain of small newspapers for which I worked 13 years before retiring.
I am close to many chain owners, having attended countless publishers conventions, and having been a guest in their homes where they talked freely — especially, of course, in my late stepfather’s three homes in Connecticut, New York City, and St. Maarten. Here’s what I learned—
It’s fair to say that all chains expect their papers (barring metros) to earn at least 20 percent of gross before taxes. A chain owner once told me with a gleeful smile that one of his papers returned 40 percent of gross. (For a little perspective here, the average for American corporations is seven percent.)
At daily newspapers everything is subordinated to maintaining those bloated margins, which can only achieved by delivering the smallest possible quantity and quality of news. As a consequence the products are mostly atrocious, written by raw reporters earning as little as $300 a week to start. Even today new staffers get 23 to 25 cents mileage allowance to drive cars they must own to get the reporting job in the first place.
I can tell you unequivocally that greed drives most chain newspaper corporate decisions. I’ve seen mom and pop dailies go from 10 percent to 30 percent profit in a year after being acquired by one of the chains that own most daily newspapers today. And even now, in their alleged distress, most chains keep 20 percent or more before taxes.
The fact is that if owners had settled for 10 percent net on gross after cold type and computers came in 30 years ago, that extra money could have insured a quality of product that would have made them strong in the face of challenges from TV and the net.
Now most papers are tight, offering poor and scant local coverage, very little national or international coverage, and pablum opinion pages to please the business community. It is no wonder subscribers have been fleeing since long before the web was a potent competitor. Yet still the publishers bleat about losing readers and advertising, especially classified, to the Internet.
I, for one, do not feel sorry in the least. I read all of my papers now on line and free. Just wait until my 14-year-old son (who loves the news) and his peers reach their 20s. They will get all their news from TV and the web.
These kids are used to the web and know how to find far, far better coverage, opinion or anything else than most newspapers offer even on their own web sites. The local newspapers have not found a way to replace their lost income with advertising on their web sites, or lost circulation income as readers flee to the web — many to the newspapers’ own free web sites.
The publishers have made this bed for themselves. Sure there are other factors, but the biggest is the overweening greed of the owners themselves.
Do you remember the almost total failure last month of our media to tell us what Osama bin Laden actually said in his most recent video? All we needed to know, apparently, was what we said about what he was supposed to have said.
Thank God, as usual, for the internet. FMArouet has actually read the transcript and written about it on Daily Kos with calm, intelligent objectivity. That sort of approach to our present struggle, although the author writes in English, is so unusual as almost to give the impression of being in a foreign language.
Below are just a few paragraphs from a much longer piece. I urge you to read it all.
One could reasonably argue that cheap oil (i.e., No. 5 above) is important to the U.S. economy. However, if we accept the increasingly convincing data supporting the concept of Peak Oil, the prospect of ensuring cheap oil supplies for very much longer seems to be beyond reach. The sooner we accommodate ourselves to this emerging reality of oil scarcity, the better.
So why not reframe the whole debate with an obvious question: is the current U.S. policy of interventionism to secure access to cheap oil (by invading countries to secure drilling rights for ExxonMobil, Chevron, British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch Shell) really less costly — in terms of treasure and of blood — than to refrain from military intervention (except as a very last resort to ensure freedom of transit) and to let the petroleum exporting countries and the petroleum importers arrive at mutually agreed prices for crude?
And could we take a portion of the literally trillions of dollars devoted to seizing and occupying countries possessing oilfields, natural gas deposits, and pipeline rights-of-way and instead invest it in more efficient petroleum technologies (encouraging a hybrid in every driveway) and better yet, in alternative and renewable sources of energy?
The U.S. would still need a robust Navy to discourage potential threats to vital shipping lanes and to prevent piracy (No. 2 above). Hence a naval (and likely air) presence in the Middle East would continue to serve U.S. interests. But are imperial police actions, air-launched devastations, and festering occupations really solving any of our problems?
The U.S. really is not very good at conducting such occupations successfully when faced with stiff indigenous opposition, as we have found out in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and in a rapidly deteriorating Afghanistan. The U.S. position in Iraq is deteriorating as well, with any conceivable satisfactory resolution no nearer now than in 2003 — no matter how creatively Gen. David Petraeus, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, and Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner have sought to cook and obfuscate the numbers since the “surge” began…
I never thought this day would come, but here I am defending Bill O’Reilly. Go here. Listen to the whole segment about restaurants in Harlem and so forth. What do you think? I think the son of a bitch is getting a bum rap.
I thought I’d see what everybody’s talking about, so I just signed up for free weekly columns by She Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken. Blogosphere regulations permit me to identify Her only as a middle-aged lawyer built like a stack of coat hangers whose college roommate later became a surgeon who—
— makes $380 for an emergency appendectomy, or one-ten-thousandth of what John Edwards made suing doctors like her.
By remarkable coincidence, a young architect I know also had an emergency appendectomy in our small local hospital several years ago. More remarkably than that his surgeon, too, was a woman. And even more remarkably — you’re not going to believe this — her bill was for $11,000, or twenty-eight and ninety-four-hundredths more than $380.
There’s a lot of buzz about the editorial in the New York Times today calling for what loyal Bushies would term precipitate withdrawal.
Indeed, there are some striking statements from this organ of pre-war lies.
At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.
While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs — after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.
The editorial lists some of the harms the US has suffered as a result of what it calls “this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war”, and accuses the President and Vice President of using demagoguery and fear as weapons against American public opinion. It ends with a call to action.
This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.
Executive summary: we thought it would be a cakewalk securing Iraq’s oil, but it wasn’t. So our advice is to cut bait; just don’t let it hurt Israel.
But the Times is ready to give up on the occupation, not the oil.
The bottom line: the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat.
This seems to me patently silly, totally PR, and the colors aren’t even particularly happenin’.
How can one tell whether a given number of ground troops and a fleet of bombers, fighters, and support craft constitute a force whose size is sufficient for effective raiding but not for large-scale combat? Is there a UN agency that does such surveys, or is it an NGO? Sounds like rhetorical cover is being sought.
Plus, there’s an argument to be made that the force we now have in Iraq is not a large-scale combat force; we didn’t expect to see large-scale combat except for a brief period during the invasion. If that argument held up, the Times would presumably be happy simply to remove US troops to bases in Kuwait and the budding Kurdistan. Bringing them home, and getting the hell out of Iraq, does not seem to be the primary goal.
Most importantly, why does our military need to “stage … raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq” if we’re no longer bogged down there militarily? Are we claiming that we have vital interests in Iraq?
Which is really the point. Whether true believer (Bush, Wolfowitz) or shameless profiteer (Cheney, Perle) or lying propagandist (most of the MSM, including the Times), it’s clear that for establishment types in the US, the war in Iraq is subtitled “Oil! And Israel”. The question is not whether the interests are vital, but how best to secure them.
To me, on the other hand, it seems that there are two points to securing the oil in Iraq. One is imperial: to have, as Chomsky says, our hand on the spigot that dispenses an ever more precious resource. The other is corporate: the profits being made in the oil business are nothing short of criminal, and should be treated as such.
We could use the billions we’d collect in fines to fund research into alternative energy and transportation.
Our relationship with Israel has a strong imperial tint as well; as Kissinger said, Israel is our lieutenant in the Middle East. And, given our actions in that area over the past few decades, damn near our only friend. Sure, our military might reinforces some monarchies that wouldn’t last a year without our support; but that’s a different sort of friendship.
Clearly we need a new plan for our forces in Iraq. But we can only make an intelligent one if we state our premises and assumptions. The problem is that my premises and those of the New York Times editorial board don’t match.
Seems to me there are three kinds of problems in Iraq.
The last two overlap, of course, but it doesn’t matter, because we can’t solve either of them. All we’ve tried to do is buy the Iraqi government some time to get its act together and begin running the country.
Problem is, we know this isn’t going to happen. The Iraqi government did not win an election like those we (used to?) have in the US. Let’s not forget that candidates were often afraid to place their names on the ballot lest they be abducted, tortured, and killed. Campaigning was so dangerous that there was little of it, leaving people to vote for parties rather than individuals or clear positions on issues. As a result, the final tallies closely followed confessional lines.
Not to mention that the Saddam years provided a suboptimal training ground for up-and-coming Iraqi leaders.
In any case the Iraqi government has little real power to wield. It doesn’t control, in the classic sense, any territory at all in its own country. The US has the Green Zone, but even that receives mortar fire (which I don’t think is supposed to happen in an area you control).
The government cannot dispense those oil billions we were told to expect because of sabotage, part of the resistance to the occupation as well as the Sunni-Shia conflict.
It can’t even provide water and electricity — we’ve made sure of that by bombing the crap out of the infrastructure. And by creating a situation that killed or displaced many of the professionals needed to start anew.
Thus it seems that Cheney has succeeded in his plan: the establishment believes that to leave now would be to abandon our friends and give up on all that oil.
In the end, don’t you admire a man who persists in his plan in the teeth of resistance?
“He takes a range of medications that he and his doctors decline to detail. The extent of his atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, which, if it extends beyond the heart to the brain, can cause hard-to-recognize changes in cognition) is unknown. Bypass surgery itself has long been associated with subtle changes in neurological function.
”At age 65, Cheney is easily 30 or more pounds overweight, seems to have slacked off on what was once a more rigorous diet, and appears to suffer from recurrent bouts of gout. At a roundtable lunch with reporters a couple of years ago, two who were present say, he cut his buffalo steak in bite-size pieces the moment it arrived, then proceeded to salt each side of each piece.“
If four heart attacks (that we know of) aren’t gonna teach him to avoid salt, it’s unlikely that he’s capable of learning anything.
Is it Cheney’s hope to tie us down in Iraq for many years to come, giving no-bid contracts to Halliburton, consuming lives in a perpetual war, and allowing enterprising young men to have other priorities than serving in it?
News reports have for some time shown the Iraqi resistance growing in size and in public acceptance. It’s increasingly clear that the US presence is aggravating the resistance problem to the point that it’s dominating the stage.
Without the US military, Iraq may well descend into a nightmare of bloodshed. Power struggles often go that way, especially among populations whose previous regimes have left them ill-prepared for self-government. But we can’t stop that.
Some of those who supported the war are now cloaking their imperial aims in humanitarian rhetoric. Others use similar rhetoric to cloak their interest in what they think is best for Israel.
We won’t make effective plans until we state our goals honestly. And we can’t do that because we don’t agree on whether the US should be an empire with a lieutenant in the Middle East.
For many years, probably because of Watergate and the anti-McCarthy cartoons of Herblock, the Washington Post has been considered a liberal paper by those who don’t read it.
But even when I worked there, back when the world was young, its editorial page was for the most part reliably Tory. The editor of it was J. Russell Wiggins, whose shilling for the Vietnam War was rewarded by LBJ with an ambassadorship to the United Nations. Later, when the editorial page started to look a little pink to the union-busting publisher, Kay Graham, she turned it over to her conservative pal, Meg Greenfield.
These days the page is run by Fred Hiatt, about whom I know nothing. But by his works, presumably, ye shall know him. Here’s a prediction from one of his editorials that has held up particularly well since its publication in January of 2006:
Humility is called for when predicting how a Supreme Court nominee will vote on key issues, or even what those issues will be, given how people and issues evolve. But it’s fair to guess that Judge Alito will favor a judiciary that exercises restraint and does not substitute its judgment for that of the political branches in areas of their competence. That’s not all bad. The Supreme Court sports a great range of ideological diversity but less disagreement about the scope of proper judicial power. The institutional self-discipline and modesty that both Judge Alito and Chief Justice Roberts profess could do the court good if taken seriously and applied apolitically.
In line with my usual policy of giving credit where credit is at long last due, I congratulate the New York Times on its recent tacit admission (see previous posting) that decades, being plural by their nature, are properly rendered in text as “1960s and 1970s” rather than as “1960’s and 1970’s.”
The Times’s previous insistence on apostrophes incorrectly denoted possession. Thus the apostrophe would only be correct if one were to write something like “the 1960s’ most representative spokesman was Paul McCartney.” Purists of the most ethereal sort, such as myself, would even insist on writing “the 1960s’s,” which rhymes with “six teases.”
“The 1960s’s” is hard to say, true enough, but no harder than what the tinker said when the countess wondered how he intended to mend her pots:
“Are you copperbottoming ’em, my man?”
“No’m, I’m aluminiuming ‘em, mum,”
Getting back on track here, I await with baited breath for the Times to discover that one does not reign in one’s impulses any more than one reigns in a horse. But I am not so optimistic as to expect its editors ever to be disabused of the notion that children are not bussed to school any more than are they are bused by their loving mothers as they leave for it.
In a properly ordered world, the little tykes receive busses before boarding buses.
Here’s Alan Bisbort, correctly noting at The Smirking Chimp that:
…there are those who are considered more civil, thoughtful members of the Beltway Punditry Class, like Thomas Friedman, David Broder, Juan Williams, George Will and any of the interchangeable parts on the PBS NewsHour.
For the past three years or so, these pundits have insisted that the “nation is divided” and “the nation is torn.” But that’s a false narrative, on its face …
The truth is that never, in my lifetime, has the nation been less divided. Nearly eight of every ten Americans are against Bush and his war. That’s a landslide of consensus. The dangerous extremists are the ones in power.
“Divided” would be 50 percent for something and 50 percent against something. Bush’s approval rating is 28 percent and Cheney’s approval rating is, as Sen. Harry Reid recently said, nine percent. We Americans are pretty much on the same sheet of music here. We all agree that these two criminals — and the party that enabled them — comprise one of the worst blights in our nation’s history.
This story, on page A14 of today’s New York Times, is far and away the biggest one in the paper. Wait and see.
As a long-time critic of the New York Times, I have to say my first impression of their new public editor is positive.
Clark Hoyt, the third PE after Daniel Okrent and Byron Calame, was Knight-Ridder’s Washington editor from 1999; when McClatchy bought K-R last year, he became a consultant.
In the prelude to the Iraq war and the early days of the war, Knight-Ridder stood apart from most of the mainstream news media in raising doubts at times about the Bush administration’s claims, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said that record contributed to his selection of Mr. Hoyt.
“There was a lot of work Knight-Ridder did that was prescient, that wasn’t easy to do,” Mr. Keller said. “It’s always hard to go against conventional wisdom. I think it probably brings him a measure of credibility that helps in getting started on a job like that — that he’s been associated with a brave and aggressive reporting exercise like that.”
Mr. Hoyt said that in 2002 and 2003 he had fielded a great deal of criticism “from angry readers who believed that we weren’t being patriotic, from government officials who said that what we were doing was wrong.”
So maybe the Times is finally starting to get a conscience. Or maybe they just realize how bad their public image is right now. And despite the Pulitzer I have to say I still believe Eagleton was a decent guy who would have made a good VP. But running against a feral Nixon is a dangerous job.
Times are tough out there in the land of newspapers, but the Wall Street Journal has a plan! No need to write the bullshit! Just let the readers smell it. And you thought those scratch and sniff cards were a thing of the past, eh? Gotcha!
Atrios says: “....maybe people are tired of reading right wing horseshit”. I would add that there’s a lot of elephant shit out there too. We on the blogs haven’t quite figured out how to do the smell thing yet, but we can direct you to an earful.
It’s hard to imagine that when the late James Brown soul-shouted, “Somebody open a window, it’s gettin' funky in here,” the phrase would ever apply to Wall Street.
But then came the news that The Wall Street Journal is planning to adorn its hallowed pages with Rub ‘n’ Sniff ads.
Such shenanigans might be expected from the tabloids, home to all things wack. But the stoic Wall Street Journal? Why, one can almost see the loosening of ties — which, just in case, also make handy nooses.
The idea behind this daisy-fresh experiment is to draw readers and advertisers back to the newspaper industry, which has seen better times, given the lengthening shadow of the Internet.
So perhaps the first smell that this scheme of schemes is emitting is the musty scent of flop-sweat desperation, masked as ingenuity. An article on the Advertising Age Web site is accompanied by a photo of a wad of greenbacks with the caption, “Ahh...that new money smell.” Bullish optimism at play.
The plan wouldn't have been feasible until recently, because the traditional scratch ‘n’ sniff olfactory experience was far too expensive for use in newspapers. But a company called Scentisphere (how Jetsons - and ridiculously close to Futurama’s “Smell-o-scope”) developed a much cheaper way to apply scent to ads and dubbed it Rub ‘n’ Sniff.
Here’s another encouraging trend that might in some sense be related to the anti-conservatism thing I was just talking about.
Although the Talking Heads were pretty popular, they were also serious enough to have their concert movie Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Manchurian Candidate). They had enough of a cult following that bands were named after songs of theirs.
The most famous example is probably Radiohead, who were apparently asked by their recording company to rename themselves. The original name was On a Friday, because that’s when they could practice; but you can see how that name might be suboptimal from the promotion standpoint. (“When are they playing?” “Saturday.”) Inspired by the song of that name in David Byrne’s movie True Stories (John Goodman, Swoozie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Pops Staples), they chose their current name. I recently watched the movie again after many years, and it’s just as weird as it was originallly. Not very much like any other movie I’ve ever seen. (Plus, I got my copy on eBay for $6.58 delivered. Yahoo! Or should I say, Google!)
David Byrne is certainly one of the weirder characters around. If you’ve seen either of the movies, you’ll know what I mean when I say I’d love to be in the courtroom if the RIAA tries to sue him.
He said he buys most of his music online via eMusic, or obtains it illegally, due to the file constraints on files sold on iTunes. Byrne predicated that once DRM is removed, iTunes will no longer “have a monopoly,” and labels will be better prepared to deal with Web sales.
In his presentation at South by Southwest he predicted that around 2012 downloads will pass CDs as a method of distribution, at which point manufacturing and distribution costs will approach zero. You’d think that would be a win for musicians.
…Byrne seemed to imply that labels are not changing as rapidly as they need to be. He pointed to the royalties artists receive on each CD sale, and put the number at about $1.60. He said the royalty rate is essentially the same with an iTunes sale.
“There’s no manufacturing or distribution costs,” Byrne said, “but somehow the artist ended up with the exact same amount.”
In the end, the RIAA is an association of lying, cheating bastards. They don’t do squat, and they take most of the profits. The only functions they ever performed were marketing, what Byrne says is the only thing they have left, and controlling the recording equipment and studios, which used to be massively expensive. But if you’re gonna distribute MP3s freely over the net, you can set up a fine studio in your garage for a couple thousand. Then tear it down and put it away when you’re done. The workers own the means of production.
Hopefully more and more people are realizing what scum the record companies are. I’m all for paying the artists, who actually do something. I naturally include in that category everyone who works to produce the music: producers, engineers, programmers, everyone who does something to help create the product. I think most people would pay for music even if they didn’t have to, and be happy doing it, if they thought most of the money was going to these folks. The recording companies in general deserve nothing. (I’m willing to allow some exceptions to that general pontification.)
If you know anyone who is unconvinced about this, I highly recommend a summary of the best arguments I know on this topic. Tasha Costa, writing in the Nevada Appeal, starts with a winner of a story.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert in the area of parenting. I can’t even really claim to know anything about children. But I do know what I’d do if I opened my mail and found out that the Recording Industry Association of America was suing me over my stepdaughter’s downloaded music collection. I’d freak out (as would Mr. Tasha). Luckily for music lovers — and parents — everywhere, Debbie Foster, an Oklahoma mother, didn’t freak out, and she didn’t back down.
On Feb. 6, 2007, a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma ruled that Foster, who was sued for the alleged illegal downloading of her daughter Amanda, was entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees. This was after the RIAA battled her for a year and a half and then backed out of the suit. Incidentally, the RIAA is appealing the decision and generally acting like a spoiled child who got caught beating up kids for their lunch money.
Confronted with an almost comically villianous target, Tasha hits back at the bully.
…according to the MIT campus newspaper “The Tech,” the RIAA has suggested to students that they ought to drop out of college to be able to afford RIAA settlements. They’ve also sued people who don’t own and never have owned a computer.
And now we reach the crux of the matter. Those companies are part of a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business. They argue that people downloading music takes money away from the artists, but in reality, it takes money away from them, if anyone.
I don’t like people that hide behind lies. If the RIAA is going to do this, and they will continue to, I only have one request: Be honest with us. If you want more money, come out and say it. Don’t act like you’re protecting the artists. If you really were, would a huge group of them have formed a coalition (that would be the Recording Artists Coalition) aimed specifically at bringing change to the recording industry’s structure?
And did we tell you the name of the game, boys? We call it ridin’ the gravy train.
Keeping Bush’s poll numbers at the high twenty range is unquestionably the result of the efforts of that most illustrious of faux news sources, Rupert Murdoch’s preeminent ideological cable “news” channel, FOX News. Fox leads the market in propagandizing to those who are too senile to know better, those in the leftward most half of the IQ bell curve, and those persons susceptible to the “True Believer” syndrome. Except for the growing market for some of Rupert’s more legitimate news outlets, as some of my friends on the left coast who are True Believers in the genius of Bart Simpson have assured me exists, I assumed Rupert had just about reached market saturation.
Look out! In 2005, Murdoch purchased My Space, a web networking site, which is a favorite among the young, but also features such notable southern geniuses as Jasper Johns, another Simpson News Channel fan. Yesterday, Murdoch’s people announced that MySpace will promote its own news network, which will apparently get quite involved in the upcoming American Presidential race.
My thoughts? I think that Censorspace is on to something. The War on Propaganda is in its infancy.
Yesterday I blogged Paul Krugman’s reference to a study showing an astonishing level of partisan profiling in the investigation and prosecution of office-holders and candidates by those U.S. Attorneys who weren’t purged in Bush’s recent bloodbath.
The anti-Democrat bias seemed so overwhelming that I expected the MSM to be all over the story once Krugman had pointed the way. Good luck on that. No mention at all on last night’s network news. A Google News search this morning produced only four hits, three of which were citations of Krugman’s column and the fourth a February 14 column from the Philadelphia Inquirer dismissive of the study.
Very curious, or maybe not. Anyway, here’s a link to the study.
Go read this whole story and…
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.…ask yourself, What were they thinking? What in the name of God could the Times have been thinking?
The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.
Does the byline Michael R. Gordon sound familiar? It should. It appeared right along with Judith Miller’s on one of the most discredited stories in American journalism — the famous piece of drivel about dreaded aluminum tubes poised to create that dreaded mushroom cloud right over Main Street U.S.A. (See this from the Bad Attitudes archives.)
Does the technique sound familiar? That procession of unnamed Bush administration sources from undisclosed locations beating the drums for war? That almost total lack of opposing voices, and those buried near the end?
Is there the slightest reason to think that the very same crowd of Bush and his warhogs who lied us into Iraq are so prostrate with grief over heir former falsehoods that they may now be counted on to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Iran?
Can pigs be taught to whistle? Cows to jump over the moon? Editors of the New York Times to detect the subtle difference between bullshit and chocolate chiffon cake?
The answer, sadly, appears to be no.
Many decades ago when Ted Turner announced he was starting a round-the-clock TV news operation. I dismissed the notion. Fast forward to the present—
Now Ted Turner says: “All you got to do is pick up the business section of any newspaper, and they’re reporting on it right now. I mean, I really hate to see it. I like newspapers. But you know, I’m 67 years old. When I die, the newspapers are going to die with me, unfortunately, for the most part.
“I mean, the information is available on the Internet hours sooner than your newspaper, and you don’t have to pay for it. I mean, it’s — you know, and if the newspapers don’t give their information in the Internet, they’ll die even faster.
“So it’s just — it is just an inefficient way to get information to somebody. They have to print it, hours later deliver it, by hand or by truck. When you can send the same information electronically, and people can get it instantaneously, it’s over for newspapers, unfortunately. I mean, I hate to see that happen.”
Turner’s prediction is not at all silly. I know many would-be journalists who are turning away from newspapers. Others have been either laid off or fear the ax. They are preparing to change careers in mid-stream. Meanwhile publishers are squeezing harder than ever for obscene profits, further discouraging their employees. Sounds like a death rattle. I began as a reporter at 15 and stopped at 67 years of age. Almost always it was enormous fun.
So it is sad.
So far 23 votes have been cast. Eight voters think Gravity’s Rainbow sucked; six don’t read fiction; four said “Thomas who?”? The remaining five claimed Powell’s had already mailed their copy.
Now, assuming that Powell’s was meant metaphorically, so that the choice in our poll would be legitimate even if the actual shipper were Amazon, which is what I meant, I think that’s a reasonable sample. Forty-three percent couldn’t care less; nearly thiry-five percent felt sufficiently unrewarded by Gravity’s Rainbow that 1,095 pages of Against the Day looks like a lot to swallow.
I can testify to the heft. Mine arrived in the mail this morning. I look forward to starting it this weekend — it’s too heavy to carry on BART.
In the end, nearly twenty-two percent claimed to have ordered first editions. Most authors would be pretty happy with that figure.
I expect everyone who’s interested has already found the following, and perhaps better (if so, email the editor and we’ll post the results):
Then there’s the Guardian review by a lifelong Pynchon fan forced to review a book he had not been allowed to read.
When rumours began to circulate concerning an impending novel from the reclusive American author Thomas Pynchon, I was sceptical. There had been rumours before: they are part and parcel of the parallel universe encountered in Pynchon’s work. But then a news release appeared, apparently written by Pynchon himself. The book would be around 1,000 pages long, appear towards the end of the year, and be called Against the Day. This was a cause for despair. It meant that once more I would begin to inhabit the shadowy, conspiracy-driven theatre of the absurd that seems to be Pynchon’s imagination. It’s a place that constrains and hypnotises the general reader, and exerts an even greater pull on the true fan. My wife and children would lose sight of me for as long as it took to read the book, and afterwards I would be shell-shocked, wide-eyed, and seeing everywhere around me the signs of another world, similar to the one I seem to inhabit, but darker, odder, and altogether funnier.
The press release itself is vintage Pynchon. Set in the first two decades of the 20th century, the author says of the book: “With a worldwide disaster looming … it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.” He goes on to admit that “the author is up to his usual business … it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two”, and ends with “let the reader beware. Good luck.”
It will be a challenging book — Pynchon’s novels are nothing if not challenging — and I’ll be first in the queue to buy it, because (in an all-too-Pynchonesque twist) the joint UK and US embargo on reviewing the book meant I was not able to read it prior to commencing this appreciation. Nevertheless, let us begin.
In case the mythical swing voter still exists in the matter of Thomas Pynchon as, in Colbertian terms, a great novelist, or the greatest novelist… If you’re interested in reading Pynchon for the first time, I was glad to see Ian Rankin agree in the Guardian with my view that a fine place to start is Vineland. It’s weird enough to be Pynchon (some purists complained about the conventionality of Mason and Dixon) but the story line is a lot more straightforward than Gravity’s Rainbow.
Many people who have read GR have only succeeded after failing one or more times. I made through the first eighty pages on the third try. At that point it was like I’d survived the crawl through many yards of tight caves at Lascaux to arrive in the hall with the paintings we still admire. The first eighty pages take place during the Blitz in London; those were pretty dark days. Most of the rest of the book takes place in Europe after the war is over; it’s a magical place without laws, where anything can happen. A perfect setting for a master. Much more of a dance of the imagination, and a lot less dark than the beginning.
To all those who haven’t read Pynchon and decide to try him out, I suggest starting with Vineland. It’s magical realism, it’s not supposed to be strictly believable. But it is hilarious, and understandable at a deep spiritual level. To me, at least.
But seriously, is this going to be a media-blogosphere event, or would explosion be more a appropriate term? I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that this novel will be devoured by blogizens en masse, and deconstructed and investigated and acted out and ridiculed and probably loved. Can he do no wrong? Of course he can do wrong. But I bet he doesn’t. My bet’s in the mail.
Think there will be more bandwith available on the internet when the first copies arrive, in the next couple of days? Or will that be balanced out by all the fact-checking, and the gee-golly emails and blog posts? This could get outta hand.
It would be appropriate. This is going to be several million connected people reading a novel simultaneously and leaping onto the net to discuss and argue about it. Hope the servers are ready for the load.
It’s too bad, in a way, that American television cables are already crammed so full of fantastic programming. It might be interesting to get a different perspective. If that’s not illegal.
Al-Jazeera English will launch at midday and will be accessible in the UK to anyone with a satellite dish and via its broadband internet site. Yesterday it was revealed that the US cable network Comcast had pulled out of talks to carry the channel, citing lack of capacity.
It hopes to offer a new, Middle Eastern perspective on world events as an alternative to CNN and BBC World. But it will not be available in America via either EchoStar, Comcast or Rupert Murdoch’s DirecTV at launch, although US viewers will be able to tune in via the GlobeCast satellite.
We’ll miss the first installment of Sir David Frost’s new show in which he’ll interview Tony Blair. No, seriously, this is an Al Jazeera program scheduled for Friday. And yes, David Frost works for Al Jazeera. He claims to have satisfied himself, “with Whitehall and Washington”, that the channel is not connected with Al Qaeda, and that Qatar, whose emir funds Al Jazeera, is on excellent terms with Britain and the US.
The new TV channel is launching simultaneously in high definition worldwide. Except, of course, in the Land of the Free.
Horrible news for America from the Times. First, the silver lining in a black cloud: Yes, it will be great to have Gail Collins back as a columnist, unplugged and unmodulated, next summer. She'll continue to do a great service for the country as an op-ed writer, just as she did before.
But the real public service she performed for the nation – and it will prove to have been an historically important one – was behind the scenes, as the editorial page editor, in transplanting a spine into the most important editorial operation in the nation starting five years ago, during an era when media spine was in particularly short supply. Her stepping away from that post is a disaster.
In addition to a general tone of editorial good judgment and willingness to take on the powerful that was unprecedented for the Times, more particularly, Collins brought Krugman on board, and protected him. (I initially was irritated when David Brooks started writing for the Times, until I realized this was a shrewd way of protecting Krugman's job from the constant, vicious attacks the ruling party levels at him: bring on a conservative to insulate the Times from cries of partisanship, but pick the goofiest and least effective and serious conservative possible.)
Without Collins looking out for him, Krugman's days are certainly numbered, just as were Russell Baker's. A Times columnist simply can't be that right about the direction of the country for that long without needing to be pushed out. Our only hope is that Krugman can last through the 2008 election cycle. Given the gravitational pull Krugman has created around himself at the Times, it may take that long to bring him down.
I’m guessing that there isn’t too much overlap between Fox News viewers and Bad Attitudes readers, so most of you probably missed Bill Clinton’s smack-down of Chris Wallace yesterday. Here’s your chance to read it. Or you could watch it by clicking on the graphic below, except that Fox pulled its video from YouTube earlier tonight. But Crooks and Liars has saved it from the dustbin of history, as Lucy’s comment (below) just informed us. So now you can both read and watch the Big Dog he beats on Wallace worse than you’d beat another man’s mule.
An important fact is being lost in the current debate over the future of newspapers. Some 40 years ago when computers began replacing the expensive composing rooms at newspapers, their profit margins have risen from five to 20 percent of gross. So 20 percent became the baseline and the minimum expectation of owners.
By contrast the average among companies in the United States is seven percent. Greedy people on Wall Street and private owners recognized their papers as cash cows. Meanwhile readers slipped away and replacements headed for the tube.
Many papers have churn rates of up to 20 percent. That means they lose 20 percent of their readers each year and must get new ones to fill the hole. They are running just to stay even, but still chain operators want their 20 percent.
So instead of using part of their margins to save their businesses they blame their competitors and anyone else handy. The next time you hear about newspapers having trouble remember it is not TV, the internet, or radio: the fault is in the mirror.
I know. I owned one newspaper and ran others. Others know too. Here’s what Hollywood billionaire David Geffen thinks: ”Geffen has said he would buy the Los Angeles Times with his own money and would be happy with a five percent return on investment, far below the 20 percent return the Los Angeles Times earns for the Tribune Company now.”
The Peking Duck reprints Thomas Frank’s column in the New York Times. Apparently Frank is subbing for MoDo through August. He’s on the money, as usual.
‘President Bush operates in Washington like the head of a small occupying army of insurgents,’ the pundit Fred Barnes writes in his recent book, ‘Rebel-in-Chief.’ ‘He’s an alien in the realm of the governing class, given a green card by voters.’
Let’s see: These insurgents today control all three branches of government; they are underwritten by the biggest of businesses; they are backed by a robust social movement with chapters across the radio dial. The insurgency spreads before its talented young recruits all the appurtenances of power — a view from the upper stories of the Heritage Foundation, a few years at a conquered government agency where expertise is not an issue, then a quick transition to K Street, to a chateau in Rehoboth and a suite at the Ritz. For the truly rebellious, princely tribute waits to be extracted from a long queue of defense contractors, sweatshop owners and Indian casinos eager to remain in the good graces of the party of values.
What a splendid little enterprise American conservatism has turned out to be.
Update to last post:
This is quite a competition between AP and AFP. Now AFP is reporting 51 killed and 22 of them children. Their source is Salam Daher, the Lebanese civil defense chief in the region. So those numbers will be at least the final numbers and probably not over-stated.
AFP has further added this little zinger:
At least 51 people were killed, many of them children, when Israeli war planes blitzed a village in south Lebanon, an attack which Israel has rejected responsibility for.. [emphasis mine]
Could someone explain to me how Israeli war planes “blitzed a village” and Israel can “reject responsibility”?
Update: Now Israel is accepting responsibility for the attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today said that the village of Qana, where Israeli airstrikes killed at least 50 people today — including scores of children — was used as a Hezbollah base for launching hundreds of rockets at Israel.
“From the village and its surroundings, hundreds of Katyusha (rockets) have been fired at Israel, toward Kiryat Shemona and Afula,” Olmert said during Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting, according to a participant in the meeting.
”The army did not get an order to strike at Lebanese civilians. In Kfar Qana, hundreds of Katyushas are hidden.”
This is, as they say, developing.
20 Taliban killed in southern Afghanistan(read more)
Israeli Airstrikes Kill 20, Destroy Homes(read more)
What we have here are two problematic, though obviously very serious, headlines and stories.
The first identifies 20 Taliban. I presume the second isn’t talking about goats, but it doesn’t say.
The first story is from the usually reliable AFP (Agence France-Presse). However, this time they phone it in. The story doesn’t mention civilian casualties, which I assume there were. Why not? Well it could be because they’re feeding you info given them by “the US military”. Ya wouldn’t expect “the US military” to call attention to civilian deaths, would ya? Just asking.
The second story is from the sometimes reliable AP (Associated Press). They relied on “Lebanese officials” for their information, but don’t identify who was killed, Hizballa or civilians. I’m guessing civilians from the story. I would expect “Lebanese officials” to want to tell the world it was civilians and maybe they did identify the dead as such. If that’s the case, the AP blew it by not giving that info to the reader.
In both stories, there is a glaring lack of journalism. These press agencies hire, usually, much better writers than I. But writing gooder than me isn’t all they’re hired to do. They should have dug deeper and told the reader how many civilians were killed, how many women, how many children and elderly as well as how many terrorists. The sports reporters give more complete info in their stories.
The reader needs the whole picture to know what is happening.
Update: As I was writing this post, AP re-posted their story. The headline now reads — Israeli Airstrikes Kill 40 in Lebanon Town — and they say at least 10 children and elderly were killed. They also quote Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV station which says 21 children were killed. However, that TV channel has an obvious bias, so one can figure somewhere between 10 and 21 children were killed. The new post still gives no number of Hizballa killed.
My initial take on both stories was they were attempting to trump the competition by being out first with the story. That’s a laudible ambition, but not at the sake of completeness.
Recent headlines that make you go duh!
Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at UC Boulder, had an interesting piece at Common Dreams the other day.
His sister can see Lebanon from her back yard, so he has a particular interest in rockets fired into northern Israel. But, he says, the real threat to his sister and her neighbors doesn’t come from Lebanon. “The real threat comes from the Israelis themselves — and the rest of the world — forgetting how and why this war started.”
Israel has in the past been ready to ransom kidnapped soldiers by returning some of the captives it holds, so he doesn’t think it started over that provocation. For an explanation that makes sense, he quotes columns and letters in Ha’aretz.
For the Israeli government, another Ha’aretz columnist wrote, “it is best that the Palestinians remain extremists because then no one will ask the government of Israel to negotiate with them. How do we ensure that the Palestinians remain radical? We simply strike at them, over and over.” So Israel responded to the Palestinian offer of negotiated peace with an allout assault on Gaza. That’s how and why it all began.
Of course it’s not news that Ha’aretz has rational columnists. What’s more encouraging, and in a way more discouraging too, is that regular citizens have equally rational views. It’s encouraging because it shows once again that Israelis are not bloodthirsty thieves. It’s discouraging because it shows that rational views among Israelis don’t seem to affect their government, a situation familiar to Americans. Chernus quotes from some letters by these rational citizens to Ha’aretz.
“The Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. … One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force. The IDF absorbed two painful blows, which were particularly humiliating, and in their wake went into a war that is all about restoring its lost dignity.”
“While we’re in no hurry to get to the negotiating table, we’re eager to get to the battlefield and the killing without delay, without taking any time to think. That deepens suspicions that we need a war every few years, with terrifying repetition, even if afterward we end up back in exactly the same position.”
Why need a war every few years? Turn for a moment from Ha’aretz, often called the Hebrew equivalent of the New York Times, to the real New York Times, where Israeli novelist Etgar Keret pulled back the curtain. Among Israeli Jews, Keret wrote, after the attack on Lebanon began, “there was a small gleam in almost everyone’s eyes, a kind of unconscious breath of relief. … We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada when there was no black or white, only gray … Once again, we’re a small country surrounded by enemies, fighting for our lives, not a strong, occupying country forced to fight daily against a civilian population. So is it any wonder that we’re all secretly just a tiny bit relieved?”
“Israel has no option in the long run other than withdrawing from the territories and from the occupation. … Israel’s interest is for the Palestinians to live a life of plenty and well-being.” But if this Israeli government “sinks into the destructive, meaningless routines that characterized its predecessors, the rest of the decade will turn into a disaster zone.”
If only we in the US had a press willing to take on the real issues, like Israel does! But even a free press doesn’t affect a warmongering government, there or here. As Chernus says:
The best writers in Ha’aretz know that some day Israel must give up its bullying, and that means giving up its illusions: the fiction that Israel is an innocent victim, merely responding to unprovoked aggression, and the vain hope that brutal force can restore an insecure bully’s wounded pride. As long as that lethal brew of illusion dominates Israel’s public mind and mood, Israeli bombs will keep on killing in Lebanon and Gaza, and the victims will fight back, endangering Israeli lives too.
As usual, Robert Parry plants a telling blow on the head of the nail.
In this article, he strings together some well-known events and considers emerging patterns. In particular, he notes the change in attitude in senior Bush administration officials such as Cheney and Rice toward the New York Times.
Back in 2002, while trying to drum up support for the war, their minions planted disinfo with Judy Miller, and they quoted the Times stories to corroborate their lies. They were happy in those halcyon days to work with the compliant Times; it was the Post they didn’t appreciate, with folks like Pincus and Priest, and Knight-Ridder, boasting Strobel and Landay among others.
However, following the humiliating discovery in 2003–2004 of how the nation’s “newspaper of record” had been deceived about Iraq’s WMD, Times news editors began to resist the administration’s propaganda themes and even rebuff some White House demands for silence on terrorism-related stories.
Though the Times held onto the warrantless-wiretapping story through the election, it did finally run the story, provoking the predictable wrath from the Cheney wing and the typical childishly simplistic retorts by Bush.
More recently, of course, the Times broke the story of the government’s access to SWIFT data. By now everyone knows that SWIFT is not in any way secret, and that even a moderately competent bad guy trying to move money would be aware of its existence and its goals, which is all that the various newspapers revealed (the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal published similar stories soon after their New York rival, and the Post tagged along presently).
Of course the reaction from Roveland was quick and loud. Anyone who’s read Thomas Frank, or followed the thread of Republican strategy documents that are occasionally leaked, will recognize the code words leaping from the mouth of Rep. Peter King, R-NY, who told Fox News that the Times has an “arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda”. (As opposed, I guess, to his own arrogant, elitist, murdering right-wing agenda.) He called for the newspaper to be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, which if I’m not mistaken is the law many folks expected Fitzgerald to use in the Plame case.
Then there’s the fact of White House attacks being limited to one newspaper when three or four might have been roped in. And the suggestions of the more rabid supporters that the Times had committed treason.
Kinda looks like the Times is being Joe-Wilson’d.
I recommend the article. I’ve been partial to Parry since he was instrumental in breaking the Iran-Contra story. His reward for that invaluable contribution was to become persona non grata in the news business. (If you don’t think the Carter-Reagan campaign included a lot of subterfuge, much illegality, and some actions that bordered on the treasonous, perhaps you haven’t read enough of his reports on the topic.)
Not surprisingly, the administration’s assault on the New York Times drew hearty cheers from the conservative punditry but — somewhat surprisingly — the attacks elicited little comment or objection from the liberal blogosphere. That’s probably because many Bush critics blame the Times and other leading newspapers for their long failure to stand up to the White House.
But the larger significance of the Times bashing is that it marks the opening of a decisive phase in the Bush administration’s long campaign to lock in a revised version of the American constitutional system, in effect putting Bush’s national security judgments beyond question and outside any meaningful oversight.
The Republicans are now looking toward November with increasing hope that the elections will consolidate GOP control of Congress and thus put Bush in position to stack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing jurists before the end of his second term. The court would then almost certainly endorse Bush’s claims to broad authoritarian powers.
Once again I’m reading that Senator Clinton is the 2008 favorite of feminists and liberals.
I consider myself a feminist: I’ve been around long enough to have been rejected for a promotion to underwriting analyst because it was “a man’s job,” and I still embarrass anyone who in my presence refers to a female adult as a girl.
I consider myself a liberal: When I hear the positions of those labeled moderate Democrats, they sound like Republicans to me.
So why am I not on the Hillary bandwagon?
(That link is going to ask you what year you were born, etc.)
In fact, is there a Hillary bandwagon outside the insiders?
Don’t take me wrong; I’m not anti-Hillary. Should she be the Democratic candidate, I’d no doubt vote for her as I voted for John Kerry, unenthusiastically, because the Republicans are incapable of nominating anyone I’d support. But I’ve seen her as too cautious ever since she was presented with Ferdinand, in the form of the nation’s obvious need for single-payer universal health insurance, and refused to take the bull by the horns. She could have rung the cowbell to get everyone’s attention and led us toward preservation of U.S. jobs, financial stability for the country and the people, and better health for all, but what she gave us was a complicated triangulation that tried to offend no one, appealed to no one, and regardless, was attacked as if she was presenting something radically un-American, like HMOs.
Since she first ran for the Senate, she seems to have been shifting right, and she’s reached the point of sponsoring a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, which to me is the epitome of pandering pointlessness.
The Democrats I know in the real world are mostly to the right of me, as I measure politics. Of Democrats I know or read online, some are to my left, I think, more are to my right, and some it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. A lot are beating the drums for the new Al Gore, a lot are pushing some Warner guy from Virginia who wasn’t married to Elizabeth Taylor, and most of them are like me, not enthused about anybody in particular and keeping their options open. But nobody I know is encouraging me to support Senator Clinton.
Yet everybody who gets paid to talk politics, write politics, or poll politics tells me she’s going to be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president.
So what’s going on? Anybody want to let me in on the secret?
Another lesson in why a skilled reader of newspapers always checks the end of the story first. The lead on this New York Times story was:
Richard Stengel, a long-time writer and editor at Time magazine and the former head of its Web site, was named its managing editor yesterday, the 16th person to hold the job in the magazine’s 83-year history.
Unless you happened to go to high school with Richard Stengel or give birth to him, you’re probably starting to yawn already. But hang in there to the end and you’ll learn:
Donald Barlett and James Steele, two investigative reporters who have chronicled the vicissitudes of the American economy for Time magazine since 1997, have lost their jobs in a budget squeeze.
The reporting duo, who together won two Pulitzer Prizes and two national magazine awards, were on the payroll of Time Inc. Their jobs were among about 650 that the company has eliminated in the last six months.
John Huey, editor in chief of Time Inc., said that as he cut corporate costs, he sought unsuccessfully to place the two men on the payroll of a company magazine.
“They’re very good but very expensive, and I couldn’t get anyone to take them on their budget,” Mr. Huey said.
That’s amazing. You’d think Bride to Be, to name just one of the company’s magazines, would have jumped at the chance to add the nation’s best investigative reporting team to its payroll. Or maybe Land Rover World or Bird Keeper or Essence or Entertainment Weekly or Rugby World or Popular Science or Field & Stream, or — wait a minute, sure! How about: Money?
Julian Borger uses a quote from Seymour Hersh, “I feel like I did in the Vietnam days — I hate to pay taxes just so they can go and bomb more people”, as the title for his profile:
This week’s extraordinary report alleging that George Bush had not only made up his mind to topple the Iranian government, but was also toying with the idea of doing it with a tactical nuclear weapon, was a telling example of his influence. If any other journalist had produced the story, it would almost certainly have been laughed off. Because Hersh wrote it, it was front-page news around the world, notwithstanding Mr Bush’s insistence it was all “wild speculation”. The White House stopped short of denying the story, saying only that the Pentagon was conducting “normal military contingency planning”.
The problem for the president is that the man known in Washington as Sy has become an institution with more credibility than the administrations that come and go in this fickle city.
Of course Hersh has long been primus inter pares. From My Lai to Abu Ghraib, he’s a trustable source. Not right one hundred percent of the time, but as reliable as reporters can be, it seems to me.
One thing Hersh is quoted as saying did surprise me: “They’d be crazy to wiretap me,” because his informants would learn of the tap and alert him. That does not strike me as overwhelmingly convincing.
The theory has been advanced at The Poor Man Institute that Hersh could have been played on this issue. If the question switches from attacking Iran to using nukes on it, the basic idea gains some public acceptance. It’s possible the pro-war contingent planted appropriate leads; it’s very much their style.
This theory is not crazy; but one would have to expect that Hersh has considered the question. And the publicity that has accompanied his article has made the issue of attacking Iran impossible for the media to avoid. Discussion of the possibilities should be done very publicly, and this story has started people talking. Plus, his contention that high-level military people are prepared to resign if the nuclear option is not taken off the table validates my current world-view: the military is not the problem.
Fans of Jay McInerney have enjoyed stories about young writers working as factcheckers at The New Yorker.
Before his stories are published, his sources are called by New Yorker factcheckers to verify every detail. “I can’t deal with people who can’t talk to the factcheckers,” he said. “My people will explain to the factcheckers things they think I already know or understand, so they explain things much better, and come out with details I hadn’t even thought of.”
Finally, Hersh sets out on late-night drives, dropping drafts of his stories through the letterboxes of his sources to give them a chance to confirm he has interpreted their information correctly and that he is not going to publish anything that will put the US at risk.
I humbly offer a peek at the reality of daily newspaper publishing in the United States based on personal experience as a publisher as well as conversations with newspaper owners. The time is right because of the brouhaha over the business problems of large daily newspapers and the very real pressures on publicly-traded newspaper companies to keep up obscene profit margins.
Profit margins of US publicly traded companies over the last 25 years averaged 8.3 percent. That means they keep 8.3 percent of the gross income after all expenses. Daily newspapers routinely make 20 to 25 percent, and many make 30 percent and more. The more profitable ones are in so-called “clean” markets without significant print competition and unions. These newspapers tend to be somewhat isolated geographically. Most newspapers that earn below that are considered troubled. (Big city newspapers seldom are able to earn such percentages.)
Most US daily newspaper owners are used to making more than twice as much profit as the average US company. This has been the rule ever since the elimination of composing rooms by computers and automatic offset, high speed typesetting machines. What labor was left the publishers shoved into the editorial department without extra copy desk staffing …
Publishers who fail to meet the high margins are dismissed. I’ve never heard of a publisher being dismissed for putting out a lousy product. OK, that’s the situation today. So what is the result ? Given the opportunity to significantly improve their editorial product with more and better reporters and editors, daily newspaper publishers chose to take the money to enrich themselves, and their shareholders or use it to buy more newspapers.
This practice, however, is never cited as a cause of the decline in readership. Why ? Because publishers, who routinely describe their newspapers as “franchises,” do no not want the general public to know they have been reaping obscene profits out of their papers for decades while grossly underpaying all employees. Even their on-site publishers are paid far less than the industry average for managing same-size operations.
Owners in general are no different than any other greedy capitalist even though they wrap themselves in the First Amendment and speak of the papers as providing a public service. One egregious example: decades ago daily newspaper publishers fought tooth and nail to keep their child carriers out of Worker’s Comp insurance, despite the fact that the children have the most dangerous job at newspapers — seven times more dangerous than the next most dangerous, pressmen, according to Worker’s Comp risk assessments. Remember pressure from publishers allows kids to carry newspapers at a younger age than they can legally perform other work.
Newspapers get enormous breaks on mail fees, with the difference picked up by you and me. The results of the sky-high margins are plain to see: almost all newspapers fail to provide decent local coverage, and the page counts are so squeezed that national and international coverage is minimal. Instead the papers go crazy adding glitz while dumbing down what’s left of the content. See Gannett newspapers (and cry).
Now, faced with real, aggressive competition (using the written word), in the Internet, the publishers worried their honey pot might dry up and they are blaming their problems on everyone but themselves. Finally the new media competition is forcing tight-fisted publishers to spring for defensive measures, but my guess is that they will bring too little imagination to the battle.
Some thoughts on The New Yorker provoked by Joyful’s “Before I Had a Dishwasher”.
Now that, thank God, we’re in the post-Tina-Brown era, my opinion is that the world’s best magazine has regained its luster, in most ways.
True, David Remnick, the new editorial honcho, supported the war before it started. The New Yorker community of writers included several liberal hawks like George Packer. Pretty much all of them converted to anti-war as events unfolded, in most cases fairly early in the process. And Remnick, who realized very early that he’d been tricked, dealt with the situation with what seemed to me good grace: namely, he said nothing until things were pretty clear, and then bitched, but not too much. I can’t imagine fooling myself into believing in an aggressive American war, so I don’t know how he got there. But I respect people who agree they made a mistake and are trying to learn from it. Damn, if it wasn’t for that, and our willingness to sacrifice our lives for the next generation, there wouldn’t be much progress.
And true, also, that Pauline Kael is irreplaceable. I don’t expect to learn as much from all the other movie critics I read for the rest of my life put together as I did from her. But Anthony Lane writes the most enjoyable reviews I’ve ever read; I read everything he writes, even if I have no interest in the movie. Even Mel Gibson movies. And for someone like me, who sees maybe three or four films a year, it’s important to be able to tell from a David Denby review what the best movie of 2005 was gonna be; and he was right. (I admit I momentarily questioned mysef on this point when the Academy unexpectedly agreed with me this year; but, as they say, even a stopped watch is right twice a day.)
But overall, that thang that TNY had, which Joy describes so well, is back. You could read it while traveling or washing dishes, then sitting for fifteen or twenty minutes afterward; and in an hour you’ve learned a enough about a difficult topic to realize that the our so-called leaders, to use Robert Zimmerman’s trademarked phrase, dunno what they’re talking about. It is possible for a good writer with a huge amount of information to convey a faithful overview of a subject to an intelligent audience in a surprisingly small package. Witness Elizabeth Kolbert’s series on environmental issues over the past year.
It seems to me that the liberal-hawk New Yorker folks… well, might as well say it: have issues. They certainly seem to be out of step with most of their readers. But an intelligent community understands that reasonable people can disagree. The once pro-war folks soon saw that things were not likely to lead in positive directions. I think of George Packer, for example, who wrote movingly of the impact on an Iowa family of the loss of their son in Iraq (among other topics) in The Assassins’ Gate. He spent a lot of time, some of it harrowing, in Iraq. His sensitive and detailed reporting on the effects of the war on normal Iraqis, by a writer who supported the war and feels some responsibility for it, surpasses everything else I’ve read so far on the subject.
By my half-attentive recollection, Remnick’s byline didn’t appear at all in the magazine for a few months as the Iraq adventure was turning sour. Then he wrote some non-political pieces. Finally he, like several other principled liberal hawks, accepted the facts and regretted the incompetence. I don’t know if he actually still believes the war was okay in theory, but was simply bungled, or worse. I don’t think Packer has changed his mind about the theory of the war, but he certainly deplores what has actually happened.
And then, of course, there are the cartoons.
But I digress. Suffice it to say, I think The New Yorker is (pretty much) back. We’re not talking the golden years of William Shawn’s editorship, at least not yet, but at least they’ve recovered from Tina.
Now, for those of you who see no anti-liberal/Democratic bias in ABC’s The Note, see this:
Democratic Party major fundraiser Alan Patricoff’s para-stirring introduction of [Bill Clinton] included the applause-generating line “he’s still our president,” which required no explanation or qualification for the assembled Blue group.
Now, for those of you who see no liberal/Democratic bias in the media: imagine Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States in 2008, and in 2009 at a massive Houston fundraiser for a GOP candidate, the Republican equivalent of Patricoff introduces George W. Bush and says about him “he’s still our president.” What kind of press coverage do you think that that would get?
The answer, of course, is “Zero coverage, except by fringe media outlets blinded by partisan hate.”
(Note: the no-link is on purpose.)
Curiouser and curiouser. Howell Raines, who lost his job as editor of the New York Times in the Jayson Blair scandal, actually tells the truth in today’s Guardian:
We are now enduring the third generation of Bushes who have taken the playbook of the “ruthless” Kennedys and amplified it into a consistent code of amorality. In their campaigns, the Kennedys used money, image-manipulation, old-boy networks and, when necessary, personal attacks on worthy adversaries such as Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey. But there was also a solid foundation of knowledge and purpose undergirding John Kennedy’s sophisticated internationalism, his Medicare initiative, his late-blooming devotion to racial justice, and Robert Kennedy’s opposition to corporate and union gangsterism. Like Truman, Roosevelt and even Lincoln, two generations of Kennedys believed that a certain amount of political chicanery was tolerable in the service of altruism.
Behind George W, there are four generations of Bushes and Walkers devoted first to using political networks to pile up and protect personal fortunes and, latterly, to using absolutely any means to gain office, not because they want to do good, but because they are what passes in America for hereditary aristocrats. In sum, Bush stands at the apex of a pyramid of privilege whose history and social significance, given his animosity towards scholarly thought, he almost certainly does not understand.
Starting with Senator Prescott Bush’s alliance with Eisenhower and continuing through the dogged loyalty of his son, George HW Bush, to two more gifted politicians, Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the family has developed a prime rule of advancement. In a campaign, any accommodation, no matter how unprincipled, any attack on an opponent, no matter how false, was to be embraced if it worked.
I don’t normally watch zombie movies. I think the real world has enough real horrors to last a lifetime, and I don’t generally find it fun to imagine what fictional horrors would contribute.
I guess this is connected to the reasons I stopped reading science fiction a couple of decades ago, and only recently started reading it again, when I came across Neal Stephenson and Iain Banks. (Yes, I know, Iain M. Banks when it’s science fiction, Iain Banks when it’s not.) Namely, the world is so complex, so difficult, so heavy, that it’s enough for me to try to deal with the world as it is. History is more astonishing than fiction.
But these days people are occasionally using science fiction to talk about the real world, as opposed to escaping from it. You can see why this is dangerous: if we all started thinking about reality, telling the truth about what we see, and discussing what’s really wrong and what to do about it, “the planet might become more compassionate, and something like heaven might dawn”, as Bill Hicks said.
And a similar statement can be made with respect to zombie movies. No kidding. I saw one over the holiday. Perfect timing, right after Thanksgiving dinner; but this one has no eating of brains or feasting on human flesh. Worse: it’s about politics.
I should probably say to the movie lovers out there that I’m not one. I often go six months without seeing a movie. I used to watch more movies back in the days when story was critical; but these days all you need is one star (two if there’s a love story) and some computer graphics. A story would either offend someone or leave someone behind, so you avoid putting one in if you can.
The thing about “Homecoming”, a zombie movie that will be on Showtime this week (even, apparently, for those of us who don’t pay for Showtime; it’s that time of year), is that whether you don’t care about anything but story, or you go to zombie movies for the grotesque, you’ll be happy. There really isn’t much gore, but there’s lots of the grotesque: the iconic zombie walk, the universally crappy skin, etc., is everywhere in evidence. Dismemberment played for comic effect is not missing.
But what makes this movie spectacular, in my view, is the story. If you’ve been following politics in the US for the last few years, and I assume if you’re reading this you have, you’ll recognize a lot of famous phrases, on the order of “fair game” and “bring ‘em on”. It has a hilariously vicious caricature of Ann Coulter; and Robert Picardo, the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, plays a Karl Rove-style manipulator. The zombies are soldiers who were killed in an unnamed Mideast war, and are pissed off about it. They’re not coming back to eat people; they want to participate in the process.
It’s tightly argued, funny, angry, filled with amusing and telling detail (check the t-shirt logos and the names on the tombstones), political, and in the end moving. As one review put it, “every scene has a revelation or line of dialogue that adds new dimension to either the story or the satire”. If you count the laughter, it brought three kinds of tears to my eyes.
Perhaps the Times has actually decided to attempt to recoup some of its lost credibility: it has parted ways with Miss Run Amok.
“I don’t see any way she could have returned to the paper because she had violated the code of professional journalism in so many ways that I didn’t see the staff able to accept her again,” said Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor. “I don’t think her peers understood why she went to prison in the first place and why she left when she left.”
Not to mention why she lied about the aluminum tubes and the WMD. Or perhaps they figured they knew why she lied. Who am I to say?
I’d love to know what the severance package included, beyond the obvious:
Under the agreement, Ms. Miller retired from the newspaper, and The Times printed a letter she wrote to the editor explaining her position. Ms. Miller originally demanded that she be able to write an essay for the paper’s Op-Ed page challenging criticisms made of her by some on the staff. The Times refused that demand — Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page, said, “We don’t use the Op-Ed page for back and forth between one part of the paper and another” — but agreed to publish her letter.
Kenneth A. Richieri, The Times lawyer who negotiated the severance agreement for the paper, said one thing was clear to both sides from the start of those talks. “What made the deal possible was that shared understanding that she couldn’t continue to report on national security matters for The New York Times,” he said. “She’d become so much a part of the story.”
Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the paper, said it had been made clear to Ms. Miller that she would not be able to continue as a reporter of any kind, not just one covering national security.
Everyone in Left Blogostan has known that Billmon’s the man for so long that it’s rarely mentioned any more. Whiskey Bar is one of ten blogs whose RSS feeds I subscribe to (not counting the three I write for ;-), so I generally know within five minutes that he’s put up a new post. He sends the entire post with the feed, so I rarely even visit his site; but, as with Simbaud, I read everything he writes.
On Friday he posted something that seems important to repeat. In a discussion of John Dean’s take on the Fitzgerald investigation entitled “Will the Grinch Steal Fitzmas?”, he makes a contrarian case for the prosecution of administration leakers. Many journalists, from the scummy to the not-so, worry in print about the possibility of leakers being prosecuted:
The prospect of espionage charges, of course, is giving the lapdog pundits a bad case of the fantods. On what will they subsist if their official sources are too frightened to pass out a steady diet of classified doggy treats — premasticated for easy digestion?
It’s interesting to note that the real journalists, those who deal in real secrets, like Sy Hersh, aren’t in the crying poodle chorus. Sy’s sources already know that the long hand of official retribution could come down on them at any time. But now the official sources who hand feed kennel-bred columnists over martinis at Jack Abramoff’s restaurant are feeling the same chill breeze. Is it any wonder their pets are yapping about First Amendment rights?
To me, Billmon has hit the highlights. If Sy Hersh were complaining, I’d be in the chorus. After all, who’s the most important journalist in the world right now? But Jim Hoagland? Richard Cohen? Judy Miller? Give me a break.
If Fitzgerald reaffirms the post-Watergate principle that Big Brother can go to jail, it will do more to advance the cause of civil liberties than a baker’s dozen of Washington pseudo-journalists. On the other hand, if he backs down now, it’s easy to imagine future administrations finding other official secrets to use against their critics, all in the name of national security.
As a chess teacher in elementary schools, I spend a lot of time each week repeating my three rules for the opening (open two doors, bring out your knights and bishops, castle). I’ve actually reached the point, God help me, of making the kids recite the three rules with me, because fifteen minutes after the fourth time we’ve gone over them, I walk around to look at their games and they’re not following the rules they just recited.
Adults have many more concerns and distractions than second-graders. Mikhail Tal, the one-time World Champion, claims to have watched the television programs of instruction for beginners long after becoming Champion, on the theory that you can never go over the basics too often.
On that basis I allow myself to post the following description of Big Media. I hope you’ll either forgive me the repetition and examine my presentation for flaws, or ignore it altogether and go onto the next post. But who knows, some detail might be new to you. Stranger things have happened.
My inspiration is Buck’s powerful lament:
…most of the [MSM] coverage appears to be so hopelessly biased that I really do question whether the government, powerful corporate interests and media are so completely synchronized, intertwined, and in such perfect harmony with each other that we are nothing more than a fascist state…
I don’t question that. After all, let’s refresh our memories as to the definition of a fascist state:
“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini.
In light of which, consider this diagram (warning: Flash animation) from The Nation, which claims to be more or less accurate as of January, 2002. It links to an article by Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University and director of the Project on Media Ownership, and depicts
Here’s another chart, this one from MediaChannel.org, which appears to be of similar vintage, concentrating on the big six.
Naturally some important events have taken place since then, more important than AOL Time Warner dropping the “AOL”. The consolidation continues apace.
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called “alarmist” for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote “in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media” — controlling almost all of America’s newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world’s largest media corporation.
In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.
Perhaps, as Lewis Lapham suggests (not, I believe, completely seriously), we should simply acquiesce and try to “make America the best damned fascist state the world has ever seen”; still, I think we can do better. But if we are to regain our democratic heritage, we must attack the control of media by corporations, who have no soul, are legally eternal, and only interact with human communities to exploit them.
Posted by Chuck Dupree at 04:54 AM
It turns out that sports journalists covering golf tournaments feel a deep moral obligation to turn in players they see cheating, even when the cheating is infinitesimal and unintentional and the golfer is a 16-year old girl. Sports journalists don’t write milquetoast stories giving both sides of a story; they go straight to law enforcement and see that things get set right. Why don’t political journalists who witness serious wrongdoing, as opposed to minor and purely technical golf violations, feel and do the same? Robert Novak and Judith Miller being Exhibit A, but the entire American MSM being Exhibit B, on stories of clear political cheating and law-breaking ranging from Bush v. Gore to the administration’s lies to get us into the war, and from the administration’s lies pertaining to global warming to the Texas congressional redistricting crimes.
I spent most of this Sunday trying to digest the various stories and speculations about Judith Miller, the Times, and the White House Iraq Group. Then I spent some time writing a rather pedestrian version of the inimitable Simbaud’s “Cover Your Assets”, which I will now spare you. Read his; it’s much spicier.
I think I have one interesting tidbit, coupled with a few of my own speculations, to add.
On the issue of a Times reporter having a security clearance: Bill Lynch, a retired CBS News correspondent who calls himself “a former White House and national security correspondent [who has] had plenty of access to classified information”, says:
This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists and the New York Times (if it knew) should never have allowed her to become so compromised. It is all the more puzzling that a reporter who as a matter of principle would sacrifice 85 days of her freedom to protect a source would so willingly agree to be officially muzzled and thereby deny potentially valuable information to the readers whose right to be informed she claims to value so highly.
I find this bit from Judy’s article particularly interesting:
Mr. Fitzgerald asked me if I knew whether I was cleared to discuss classified information at the time of my meetings with Mr. Libby. I said I did not know.
Uh-huh, right. And if I did know, I would not be inclined to discuss it. This all tends to support Simbaud’s conclusions.
The always interesting and thoughtful emptywheel has weighed in on the matter as well. I was happy to see her speculate
…that 1) either Judy is lying when she says Fitzgerald has told her she’s only a witness in this case, 2) Fitz just set her up, she’s made a plea bargain and the “witness” comment is her cover, or 3) Fitz just handed her some more rope to hang herself in the press…
because I was wondering whether I was crazy to be thinking along these lines. I can’t see how she could avoid prosecution if she really testified as she claims she did. Her article is full of obvious lies, as just about everyone is pointing out.
Here’s what appears to me to be the most likely explanation for the facts I’ve managed to grasp: Saint Judy was an active, if perhaps unofficial, participant in the White House Iraq Group as it prepared, and in some cases forged, the basic story that was marketed to the American public about the upcoming war.
All the evidence of which I’m aware points to the war having been decided on before the election. Whether BushCo intentionally ignored the August 6 PDB (“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US”), hoping for an excuse to start the war, or was simply criminally negligent in not acting on it, is unclear, but not critical. Certainly 9/11 provided cover for the pre-fab pre-emption.
As information from Joseph Wilson in the US and David Kelly in the UK began to come out, it started to look like the WHIG lies were unraveling. This put the WHIG into Rove’s well-established slime-and-defend posture, which had always worked in situations where the opposition was a politician and the audience a group of voters, whose impressions could be formed by false advertising. But Wilson and Kelly were experts in their respective fields, in possession of important facts, and disinformation would not confuse them. (This, of course, leads one to speculate about the true cause of Kelly’s death, as does the email exchange with Judy on the day of his supposed suicide.) In addition, the Rovians are not used to fighting someone like Wilson, who has the courage of his convictions as well as a certain flair for PR.
This scenario fits with what we know about Saint Judy’s interaction with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, which was assigned to examine potential Iraqi weapons sites after Bush declared the war formally over, but switched jobs in mid-stream:
More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi’s headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law, these sources say.
Since interrogating Iraqis was not the mission of the unit, these officials said, it became a “Judith Miller team,” in the words of one officer close to the situation.
“This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence,” said one military officer who, like several others interviewed, declined to be named because he is not an authorized spokesman. But, the officer said of Miller, “this woman came in with a plan. She was leading them… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.”
Said a senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, of which MET Alpha is a part: “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” …
Several military officers say Miller led MET Alpha members to Chalabi’s compound in a former sporting club, where they wound up taking custody of Sultan, who was on the Pentagon’s “deck of cards” of the 55 most wanted Iraqis. The April trip to Chalabi’s headquarters took place “at Judy’s direction,” one officer said.
Chalabi said in a brief interview that he had not arranged the handoff with Miller in advance and that her presence that day was “a total coincidence… She happened to be there.”
It’s interesting to note that the Washington Post article from which that quote and the next are taken was published on June 25, 2003, two days after Saint Judy’s first conversation with Scooter Libby about Wilson.
“We think she did really good work there,” [Times Assistant Managing Editor Andrew] Rosenthal said. “We think she broke some important stories.”
Miller declined to be interviewed for this article, saying it was unfair of The Washington Post to have published an internal e-mail of hers last month. She said only that “my past and future articles speak for themselves.”
Indeed they do. Volumes.
If you’ve been anywhere else today, you know about the buzz over Saint Judy’s lack of an honest summing up. For example:
Ms. Miller said she was proud of her journalism career, including her work on Al Qaeda, biological warfare and Islamic militancy. But she acknowledged serious flaws in her articles on Iraqi weapons.
“W.M.D. — I got it totally wrong,” she said. “The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them — we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
And if you believe this… She didn’t get it wrong. She intentionally lied as part of a Cheney- and Libby-hatched plan to plant false information that would convince Americans to sacrifice their children for Halliburton. She knew what she was doing at the time. She knew she was lying. She wanted the war.
You’ve also no doubt encountered the relatively honorable attempt by Times reporters Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak, and Clifford J. Levy to explain what really happened from the newsroom’s point of view.
What the article makes clear is that there was a great deal of discomfort among Saint Judy’s so-called colleagues. They felt the sting of public criticism over what can only be called the paper’s dishonest coverage of the Administration’s lies leading up to the war. She lied; their reputations suffered.
“I told her there was unease, discomfort, unhappiness over some of the coverage,” said Roger Cohen, who was the foreign editor at the time. “There was concern that she’d been convinced in an unwarranted way, a way that was not holding up, of the possible existence of W.M.D.”
Although criticism of Ms. Miller’s Iraq coverage mounted, Mr. Keller waited until May 26, 2004, to publish an editors’ note that criticized some of the paper’s coverage of the run-up to the war.
The note said the paper’s articles on unconventional weapons were credulous. It did not name any reporters and said the failures were institutional. Five of the six articles called into question were written or co-written by Ms. Miller.
As usual on this topic, Jay Rosen has some excellent observations, as does The Next Hurrah, this time in the person of Kagro X. ReddHedd at firedoglake also has some fascinating insights. Where’s emptywheel? On vacation, apparently…
As Traitorgate continues to play out it looks increasingly likely that the era of the New York Times as Paper of Record is drawing to a close.
Media critic and New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen is already calling the Washington Post “our great national newspaper now”.
It certainly appears that Saint Judy is taking the organization down with her. If she were sticking to her supposed First Amendment guns, she wouldn’t have emerged from her final tour before the Fitzgerald grand jury in silence. She was crowing when she got out of jail; now mum’s the word. While the Times prepares its Judy-culpa, the saint herself will be in California. Sunday will presumably tell the tale.
A “big media player” recently asserted to Arianna Huffington, referring to the publisher of the Times: “Mark my words, this will end with Sulzberger’s resignation.” Sulzberger, who goes by the Bush-worthy nickname Pinch, was strongly supporting Judy until she located her notes about June meetings with Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby. (Where do they get these nicknames?)
Perhaps the unquestioning support for the war that seems to have been the editorial position of the Times will come home to roost; at least, we can hope. Meanwhile, we still get articles titled “Baghdad Quiet as Vote Begins on Constitution”. You have to reach the fourth paragraph to learn that the quiet is “possibly due to an explosion and perhaps an insurgent act of sabotage.”
The level of ignorance in the no-mind MSM of the Supreme Court and how it functions is appalling. Here is the ever-egregious The Note:
“Former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully offers a somewhat strange defense of Harriet Miers on the New York Times op-ed page citing her attention to detail and sweetness as incredibly important attributes for the Supreme Court.”
“Somewhat strange?” WTF? I don’t know if Harriet Miers really is detail-oriented or a sweet lady. But I do know that if she is, both of those attributes will tend to make her a more powerful justice.
Remember, these are lifetime appointments, and the drip-drip effect of both being nice and being good with details becomes enormous as season after season rolls by. It was well-known that William J. Brennan’s relentless friendliness, gentleness, and courtesy made him one of the most effective justices in recent memory because it enabled him over the course of many years to bring together, and hold together, the votes of seemingly disparate justices, and that, on the flip side, Antonin Scalia’s ill-temper, impatience, and acidity have marginalized him and alienated his colleagues, no doubt costing him many votes and much power over the years. As to the detail orientation, Thurgood Marshall’s inattention to detail made him a far less effective and historically important justice, while by the same token, it is David Souter’s penchant for sweating the details, including doing most of his own drafting, that has allowed him to craft an admirably consistent, and therefore, in the long run, influential, body of jurisprudence.
Of all this, The Note is apparently ignorant. It may be as a result of this kind of ignorance about how the court works and what makes an effective justice that the entire Harriet Miers debate is so upside-down and through the looking-glass: she is attacked as unqualified by the know-nothings, whereas in truth in the résumé sense, she is the most qualified nominee in years. In the same cracked-mirror, up-is-down way, in terms of her politics and religion, and personal devotion to Bush and big business – the very things that the right wing should be celebrating and that the Democrats could and should legitimately oppose Miers on – she is attacked by the right, while Democrats give her nothing but a silent thumbs-up. Now that, my friends, is truly somewhat strange.
“There is one point where I would grant that gender may be a factor in the Miers coverage … since it’s hard to imagine a man building his life around a male boss.” Hunh?
As always, the only pertinent question with Howie Kurtz is whether his moronism is due to genes, the environment, or some combination.
This is a truly weird and sad little story of our time. I knew this poor fellow slightly in the late 1980’s when he worked at The New Republic and was still known as “Rich Blow.”
Rich went on, as I recall, to the now-defunct magazine Regardie’s, and then on to work for JFK Jr. at George. After John-John spiralled in, Rich wrote a high-profile tell-all that some said violated the spirit of a confidentiality agreement that the Bonnie Prince made his George staffers sign.
That’s when things got interesting, because after getting singed by the spotlight, Rich tried to reinvent himself by changing his name to “Richard Bradley.” Maybe he was embarassed by having his name associated with what some perceived as his betrayal and tasteless sell-out of a noble boy king (though maybe not, since as of last week, Rich is still dining out on his brush with greatness); maybe he was just getting back at his dad and mom for picking an embarassing name for him; or, maybe he just decided that 40 years were enough of putting up with people snickering about the fact that if his nickname were Dick instead of Rich, he’d be “Dick Blow.”
(Don’t ask me why Rich didn’t just stop using his first name; presumably, he had a perfectly good middle name he could have started using, and even though Pope Jerome of Bad Attitudes has a strange hang-up about people who “part their names on the left,” i.e., who go by their middle names, I bet that Richard Blow would have been entitled to a papal indulgence.)
Now comes news that Rich has his knickers in a twist because the kids who run a blog (one that is irrelevant and won’t be linked here because it is behind one of the highest pay barriers in Blogistan) like to identify him not just by his new name, but also as “ex-Dick Blow” and the like. Rich desperately pleads with them that “no one ever called me ‘Dick,’ at least not to my face.” Which, I can say because I was there, is true in its entirety. The lesson here, I suppose, is that if you change your name because some people used to call you “Dick Blow” behind your back, don’t be surprised if they stop calling you “Dick Blow” behind your back. And just plain start calling you, “Dick Blow.”
Abandon hope, all you who reside here.
When President Bush told his staff last week to carpool or take the bus, because conservation could help alleviate the pain of hurricane-caused oil shortages, some cynics wondered: Would the country accept the challenge?
Interestingly, the article starts with a reminder of a fairly recent time when Americans conserved, when “Energy use declined as the American public proudly drove smaller cars, turned down thermostats and embraced recycling. Donations to conservation groups soared.”
But this would never work now. Fortunately, there’s a solution, and it comes to us courtesy of the same folks who sold us the problem:
…President Jimmy Carter’s calls for conservation in the late 70’s, which often included a cardigan, are exactly what today’s marketing experts say should be avoided in rallying another generation to the cause. Mr. Carter’s approach was eventually seen as a righteous denial of fun that furthered the “malaise” of the era. This time around, marketers emphasize, conservation needs to become more like a trendy line of sneakers: entertaining, affordable and connected to a wide array of actions.
Something, in other words, that marketers know how to sell, something that seems useless but fashionable. Don’t make it seem like we need to do this: “The worst thing you can do is take an open person and say they’re not part of this community if they don’t do this one act.”
Right, we’re running out of oil, and we’re destroying the environment, but you don’t have to participate in the solution, we’ll still love you. That’s always worked before.
What we need, the experts agree, is a little self-deprecating humor. Mark Katz, a former Clinton speechwriter, suggests a bumper sticker for SUVs reading “My third car is a Prius”. You can see how that would help.
Sharon Lee, “a founder of Look-Look Inc., a market research firm in Los Angeles that focuses on youth culture”, offers some more concrete suggestions:
The oilman in Texas may not want to give up his S.U.V., so perhaps he could earn free baseball tickets by composting instead. For the urban hipster who already drives a hybrid vehicle, there could be a Web site with advice on how to lead a project attaching solar panels to office buildings.
All it takes to please a decadent hipster is a web site. And since composting helps the environment about as much as driving an SUV to work destroys it, we break even, and everyone’s happy. Sports for Middle America, consumer electronics for the coasts. (Note that in both cases the advertisers have a product to sell.)
Another advertiser reminds us that “Nothing will be cool if you take yourself too seriously.” So, no statements about the world ending. Forget the shrinking polar icecaps. Ignore the thawing permafrost. We’re selling sneakers here. Don’t introduce a new product in August, either. Fortunately it’s October.
Perhaps the best suggestion comes from Bill Hillsman, who’s created ad campaigns for Minnesota politicians like Jesse Ventura and Paul Wellstone.
He said the only way to sex up something as unsexy as conservation is to connect it with sex.
“The reality is that for the baby boom generation, there were ulterior motives to being interested in the environment,” he said. “If pretty girls were at conservation rallies, that’s where the guys and everyone would be.”
This one gets all three groups: the girls, the guys, and everyone. Or perhaps “everyone” is a euphemism for girls who aren’t so pretty.
Is the Times really this out of it, or are they just trying to distract us from Judy, the symbol of their intimate involvement with the root of the problem? The US government is willing to kill a hundred thousand foreigners and a couple of thousand Americans to pump up the revenues of oil-related enterprises and control the strategic reserves. The example is set at the top, and the lesson the public gets is that there’s nothing more important than using oil and having fun. Screw the future.
I’m reminded of the trenchant analysis by Thomas Frank in One Market Under God. He describes the conscious selling of the “youth culture” as a marketing ploy, the goal being to make everyone approach advertising and products (which together comprise life in these United States) as a child. No memory, no tools to analyze the content or the meaning of the slogans. As Homer Simpson says, “Everything looks bad if you remember it.” So just forget about the fact that marketers convinced you that you needed an SUV to prove your manhood, which is bankrupting you and destroying the world you live in, and buy their new product. Says Maynard James Keenan:
All you read and
Wear or see and
Hear on tv
Is a product
Begging for your
So…shut up and
Posted by Chuck Dupree at 12:20 AM