PBS GOES ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Posted January 24, 2008 on 8:06 pm | In the category 2008, Election 2008, Politics, Press | by Jeff

It is easy to despair over Fox News and less easy but still readily possible to despair over CBS, NBC and ABC news. But there has always been this sense that PBS would raise the bar – would be serious and discuss real issues. Sorry – that is no longer the case. Witness the Lehrer Report.

Tonight Judy Woodruff covered – for an endless and painful twenty minutes – the South Carolina Democratic primary. Having sat through that – whatever it was – I can say with some authority that issues in the South Carolina Democratic primary do not exist. I would have thought that there were issues around Iraq, the economy, education, and health care, but no. The issues are first of all, are more people going out to hear Bill Clinton prostitute himself in support of loyal wife and next-in-line in the dynasty, or going to Southern Baptist churches to sing and clap for the candidates.

And how does the Lehrer Report analyze this primary? Why the cheapest and safest way possible – the tried and true man/woman in the street approach. “Why, Ahh believe that Bill Clinton is the first black president” or “Obama will bring us all together”. Good lord – what is this all about? Why would any sane person contribute to PBS to give us this mindless puff (as compared to the good work of Bill Moyers)? Woodruff interviewed what seemed like a thousand citizens of S. Carolina, almost none of them interested in discussing a serious issue. And we end up with a kind of horse race with Woodruff as the track tout babbling about something neither she nor we know anything more about tonight then we did before PBS went into boredom mode.

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IRAQ: THE MYTH OF THE SURGE

Posted January 24, 2008 on 6:00 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

‘Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it’s gonna happen?” Mrs. Bush declared. ”It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” – Barbara Bush, commenting to Dianne Sawyer in March 2003

Conservatives, neo-cons, and ordinary journalists have recently flocked to flack the success of the “Surge” in Iraq.  Columnists like the NY Times’ new neo-con voice of balance, William Kristol and the Boston Globe’s neo-con voice, Jeff Jacoby, are among those declaring the U.S. winners in Iraq in a print replay of Bush’s  2003 “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier speech. And recently more serious analysts who applaud the surge and ignore history have joined their voices.

The success of the surge is a 4th quarter field goal in a game being lost by 30 points. Makes you feel good to get on the scoreboard, gives the kicker a moment of pride and the cheerleaders a chance to strut their stuff. But the game is lost and most of the crowd has left the stadium.

The war began in 2003 on a lie –no weapons of mass destruction – certainly no nuclear threat. When no WMD were found, the rationale shifted to “spreading democracy” in the region. When it became apparent that that was bogus it shifted to going after Al Quada whose existence in Iraq was a direct result of the U.S. invasion.

The Times’ Kristol views the war as virtually won, writing in the Times that. “…Because the U.S. sent more troops instead of withdrawing — because, in other words, President Bush won his battles in 2007 with the Democratic Congress — we have been able to turn around the situation in Iraq…”. Jacoby writes in the Globe ”THE NEWS from Iraq has been so encouraging in recent months that last week even the mainstream media finally sat up and took notice…” And in fact, the “mainstream media” (whatever the hell that is) in general views the surge as proof that the war is being won.

Well, hold on there. Looking at costs and benefits– something the administration and the press are loathe to do – reminds us of the long term and continuing damage done to legitimate and serious national interests. The sole benefit to the Iraq fiasco might be the removal of Saddam Hussein from the scene. While this is a potential benefit to the Iraqi people as a whole it is not clear that it benefits the United States other than the psyches of our President, his Vice President and the neo-con chicken hawks.

Saddam’s secular Iraq was not available to Al Quada and served as a buffer to Iran. Al Quada now operates in Iraq, Iran is joining forces with the Iraqi government and a once-secular country is taking on the face of a fundamentalist Islamic country. This is not good news for the U.S. It is simply not easy – if even possible – to find a single major benefit from the adventure.

Costs are a different story:

•    4000 (and growing) American lives;

•    Somewhere between 150,000 and 600,000 Iraqi lives (this latter figure is tough to pin down but assuming the lowest number – the equivalent toll in the U.S. would be 2 and quarter million civilians dead!);

•    An estimated 30,000 seriously wounded Americans (not including those troops coming home with serious mental injuries);

•    Hundreds of thousands of wounded Iraqis;

•    2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries;

•    2 million additional refugees within Iraq;

•    The likelihood of a Civil War if and when American troops leave;

•    The sullying of America’s reputation throughout the world;

•    Iran’s increased influence in the region;

•    Over $2 trillion of U.S. taxpayers’ money spent and committed without increasing taxes to pay for it – leading to an economy in which the dollar is in the toilet, oil is approaching $100/barrel, the U.S. deficit is out of control and the U.S. economy is heading towards a recession (for a discussion of the economic effect of the war see this article from the Milken Institute Review);

•    An over-extended U.S. military with seriously reduced recruitment standards;

•    National embarrassment and shame.

The surge has succeeded in reducing current casualties to a point that apparently is acceptable to the American people and much of the press. Commentators like Kristol and Jacoby do serious damage to their country’s national interests when they promote the continuation of such a disaster.  We deserve better.

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Martin Norén goes to Disneyland

Posted January 18, 2008 on 5:19 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Some time last August, Martin Norén left his house in Lund, southern Sweden, and got on Iceland Air flight 689 from Copenhagen to Orlando, Florida, where he was scheduled to take part in a conference for computer technicians. He missed this conference as he was ordered to stay in his seat as the other passengers disembarked upon landing in Florida. Mr. Norén, a thin quiet man with no particular political affiliations, had never been in any world hot spots nor had anything at all to do with areas of particular concern to the US border authorities, and therefore had no idea why he was asked to stay seated as the others left for their destinations. His Swedish passport and all travel documents were in order, but he alone was soon escorted from the plane and deposited into the hands of six armed guards who escorted him to an interrogation room.

There all of his documents were taken from him along with his belt and watch. He was bombarded for four hours with questions about his knowledge of Arabic (none), his affiliations with Al-Qaida (none), his religious beliefs (none), his reasons for his hatred of the US (none), and his reasons for wanting to go to Afghanistan (none). His repeated answer was that he was simply a computer technician from Lund and had no idea what they were asking about. Despite his complete inability to answer any of their questions, since none applied to him, he was then escorted to the Seminole State Prison in handcuffs and put into a filthy, cold cell. After six hours he was taken back to the plane and returned to Sweden.

Upon his return to Sweden he laid charges against unknown criminals and the Swedish police were able to trace his misadventures to a FBI website in which citizens are asked to denounce people they suspect to be Al Qaida terrorists or at least sympathizers. Mr. Norén’s father-in-law does not like him and therefore typed in Norén’s name on the website and the rest is history. So that’s how easy it is, as Mr. Norén put it, to think you are on your way to Disneyland and to end up in handcuffs in a cold dirty cell.

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Campaign ‘08” Iowa and Schadenfreude

Posted January 3, 2008 on 6:51 pm | In the category Election 2008, Press | by Jeff

Well, tonight is the night the press has told us that we have been waiting for after many months of political polls, prognostications by the media Big Heads, and TV ads bouncing between stupid and nasty and humorous and stupid. Take your pick from Mitt Romney’s simple-minded gutter politics on pardons and immigration or Mike Huckabee’s ignorant babblings about his own personal Jesus Christ who apparently sends his message to all of Iowa’s evangelicals. One of these guys has to come in second, which provides a measure of Schadenfreude that can only be maintained if the winner then takes gas in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side we can choose from the so-called “experience” of a former first lady who tells us that she actually met Benazir Bhutto, an African American of some charm who claims to give us “hope” and a lawyer who made huge amounts of money suing corporations who has morphed into the enemy of all special interests. Again, the polls shift and the prognosticators prognosticate. But the press has delivered damned little serious discussion of the real issues and all candidates get away with simple messages, shifting views to satisfy newly discovered constituencies, and mind-bending banalities, many of which are simply not true and some of which are bizarre beyond belief – unless you are an evangelical, literal interpreter of the Bible.

The entire Iowa Caucus process is corrupt and ultimately meaningless. The candidates buy votes in one way or another – they give snow shovels away, they pay for babysitters, they give away meals and transportation – all so that some miniscule percentage of Iowa voters will manage to support someone or other and allow someone or other to go into New Hampshire with the title of “Winner” of a ridiculous process. The press handles all of this in typical fashion – they interview men and women in the street, many of whom cannot seem to make up their mind about anything until the last bell. It seems they have no real connection to a set of political ideals. But there they are on the Lehrer Report babbling about nothing of substance as Judy Woodruff beams in support.

Then there are the questions of why candidates like Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, etc. never quite make it into the Iowa polls. And therein is the real scandal. The press anointed the front-runners months ago – largely based on how much money a candidate could raise. It was certainly never based on a review of policy, real experience, judgment and honesty. “Follow the money” is the message and the press has done an enormous disservice to the country with its lemming-like parade over the cliff of celebrity worship (Obama, Clinton, Giuliani) and money worship (Clinton, Romney, Obama).

The Lehrer Report just completed its pre-caucus coverage with comments from a group of academics and two journalist-political operatives (Mark Shields and David Brooks) and it is clear that PBS has gone the route of the rest of the media. It is the Banality Turnpike and it leads to the lemming’s cliff. Nine months to go and then we can consider whether the first thing is to kill all the lawyers or to kill all the journalists. Tough call.

Iowa and Iowans deserve better than this farce – so does America. There has to be a better way to choose leaders – else we end up with another G.W. Bush.

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