IOWA:: ETHANOL, JESUS AND THE PRESS

Posted February 1, 2016 on 7:49 pm | In the category Election, PBS NEWSHOUR, Politics, Press | by Jeff

Today is the official start of the long slog toward the election of a new leader of the Free World in – of all places, Iowa. Now I like corn as much as the next guy, and while I know it is absurd to be forcing ethanol into our gas tanks II am finding it difficult to get too worked up about a political process that rewards candidates’ ability to drive elderly Evangelicals to precinct meetings where they can discuss the second coming of the Lord with fellow believers. One measure of the relevance of the process is to look back 8 years when the Iowa Republicans put forth the Reverend Huckabee, following that four years later by putting forth Rick Santorum, a guy who lost his last election by 16 percentage points – perhaps a modern record.

Americans do many things well but running a national election in an intellectually stimulating and cost effective manner is not one of them. Thanks to the Supreme Court we now have campaigns awash in money – frequently from billionaires and huge corporations with very personal axes to grind. This year is no different except for Bernie sanders who seems to be scraping by on some $20Million raised from some 3 million individuals. And of course He! Trump is for now mostly spending only his own money, but being a billionaire makes that seem a bit unsightly.

With some ten months remaining in the process it is amusing, in a cynical kind of way to watch the press exude excitement over a primary process in Iowa that is rarely definitive and based largely on how many people each candidate can get rides to 1681 distinct locations in the state. Typically Republican turnout has run around 20% of registered voters; Democrats have had a slightly larger turnout. Soon the focus will turn from Iowa to New Hampshire where the process will be a more traditional primary election. Tonight the national media will be flooding us with results from a state that represents very little of the country’s diversity. diversity. Indeed tonight Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour gave us several minutes of political analysis from Evangelical Ministers who all seem to agree that Jesus should be picking the winners. I leave it to others to determine whether the tax-supported Public Broadcasting System should be going out of its way to seek religious analysis of political events. But for me, Judy Woodruff is, in this instance,  a disgrace to journalism who might seemingly consider a life in a convent. It is simply irresponsible to provide a national audience to a bunch of religious charlatans and present them as serious political analysts. It is about the  level we can expect from Woodruff who, on a good day, can find her way to ask the same question in three ways in the hope she gets – finally – the answer she wants.

Soon we will be on to New Hampshire. Fewer cows and Evangelicals, and not much of a corn field. But the horse race is on, the touts will be crying their picks and then we can sit back and wait nine months for the real thing. Too long, too tedious, too absurd.

And I resisted till now the reminder that the Junior Senator from Iowa made her bones by telling Iowa’s voters that she had an excellent record in the castration of hogs. I kid you not. Why didn’t Woodruff interview her?

3 Comments

Words Fail: The Republicans Try to Debate

Posted November 4, 2015 on 11:24 pm | In the category Politics, Press, Republican Party | by Jeff

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser(s). Socrates

There has been much mindless toing and froing among the literati and iliterati about the GOP debate that was interrupted – some say ruined – by actual questions directed at the participants. Some say the questions were “snarky”; others that they were – “gotcha” questions (a la Sarah Palin). Then there were some who said they did not really matter since none of the candidates answered any of the questions asked, choosing instead to launch unarmed missiles at the questioners. This has led to an opportunity for the mainstream media to cut off its collective balls and run. which to a large extent they have done.

GOP candidates want to be treated with a respect they have not earned but might actually earn if they found the courage to answer directly and honestly questions. And if they are offended by the questions to answer them anyway. Anyone who watched the Benghazi hearings saw a lesson in intelligence and intellectual courage and patience in the face of some of the stupidest questions anyone could come up with. Seems like Ms. Clinton provided a lesson in grace under pressure while the Republican candidates have provided a lesson in cowardice in the face of facts.

So given that the Republican candidates could stop being whining crybabies and put on their big boy (or girl) pants and answer some semi-tough questions, what about the press? Do your job: report on them, call them out, do not let them get away with their fatuous BS, and defend whatever integrity you have retained. Let Faux News carry their debates and then simply report on them – honestly and toughly.

No Comments

The Press, Facts and Reality

Posted September 24, 2015 on 11:01 am | In the category Election, Politics, Press, Republican Party, Uncategorized | by Jeff

In about 13 months the U.S. will have elected a new president. That is a long time away, but already it is not going well, with a Republican field of fact-resistant candidates and a Democrat field led by a candidate with a couple of self inflicted wounds. There is no useful purpose running through a list of candidates that until recently included a governor under indictment, another governor  looking at possible indictment,  a third who dropped out after his poll numbers disappeared, a couple of religious hustlers – one protestant, one catholic –  a woman campaigning on a record of running a major U.S.company into the ground, a Southern governor who has destroyed his state’s education and health programs to kiss down to the GOP base, a former Lehman Bros. operative running on – yes! – economic expertise, a brain surgeon with zero political experience, and a narcissistic TV loudmouth.

Some initially saw the GOP race as an entertainment but with all candidates given a degree of credibility strange things can happen. And the press tends to provide that credibility to practically any candidate, regardless of their tenuous grasp of reality.

It is easy to criticize the press. While no one is innocent, culpability does vary from source to source. It is silly to complain about Fox News – serious news is not what they do. They are a propaganda machine and they feed the beast and are good at it. MSNBC serves a similar function for the left, with the important exception that people like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes (an actual journalist) maintain an attachment to facts and reality.

But what about the “serious” “objective” press, like the Washington Post, the NY Times and subscriber supported PBS Newshour? Would a serious press treat Trump seriously? Well, as it turns out – yes. His poll numbers are up therefore he gets an if not free, at least reduced fare, ride. Is there any reason to report that when Trump says we need to remove 11 million people from the U.S. he is suggesting an impossibility? Is there any reason when reporting that Carly Fiorina wants to defund Planned Parenthood because she claims to have viewed a video of alive babies being slaughtered by PP  not to mention that no such video exists? Are climate change deniers entitled to a free ride away from scientific fact? Candidates’ statements typically are reported without filters of facts partly because it contributes to the narrative of political campaigns as horseraces and allows journalists to produce words without doing the real work of journalism.

Monday is “politics night” on the PBS Newshour and last Monday their panel discussed the current GOP race and with a wink wink here, and a wink wink there, they disposed of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s removal from the race without discussing his real policy and personal deficiencies, which are considerable. It was the horserace – he could not raise enough money they said – well, there might be a reason for that and maybe that could be discussed. Stories like Walker’s claim that he is saving Wisconsin’s education system by cutting the state’s premier University’s budget and spending the money instead on a basketball arena, and Carly Fiorina’s manufactured story on Planned Parenthood are reported without comment. Overall too many journalists seem to believe that they are not to call a lie a lie when the liar is an”important” politician. And in the name of “balance” they seem too often to be able to find someone able to make up facts to denigrate Planned Parenthood or deny climate change.

PBS Newshour does a fine job when they bring in real expert analysts but they have a tendency to head toward the on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that face offs, sometimes providing opposing party politicians air time to exhibit what is frequently an appalling lack of substance, apparently aimed at pleasing their bases. Newspapers are improving their approach to analysis by opening opportunities for experts to write focussed oped pieces that frequently serve as correctives to developing myths. We would all  benefit from more of this and less timid acceptance of all that comes out of a politician’s mouth.

2 Comments

Drums Along the Potomac

Posted March 31, 2015 on 1:34 pm | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“The Armed Forces Are the Instrument of Foreign Policy, Not Its Master”,   Hans Morgenthau

Some see war as a failure of diplomacy; others see it as a substitute. Twelve years after the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq those who prefer war to diplomacy are back and priming the pump for what could be the next exercise in American folly in the Middle East. This time it is Iran that looms as the target.

President Obama has chosen diplomacy joined with sanctions to reduce Iran’s likelihood of attaining a nuclear capability. And while success in this effort is by no means guaranteed, neither is the likely success of a military intervention despite claims by some that we should cease our diplomatic efforts and move apace to war.

In recent weeks our two major newspapers -the Washington Post and the New York Times– have published clear calls to bomb Iran on its op ed pages. In the once great Washington Post Joshua Muravchik, a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Politics, argued that “war [[against Iran] is probably our best option” and was explicitly critical of any diplomatic efforts. This is a reprise of his November, 2006 op ed in the L.A. Times which opens with: “We must bomb Iran” and predicts Iran’s creating conflicts all over the world, including Southeast Asia. He then urged then President Bush to attack at once, despite the “unpopularity” of his Iraq war.

Similarly, last week in the New York Times, John Bolton, analyst at he American Enterprise Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, provided an op ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. This is consistent with Bolton’s predilection to send other people’s sons and daughters to fight unnecessary wars in places like Iraq, and to view diplomacy as a sign of weakness.

Add to this mix the views of politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and what seems to be the entire Republican membership of the House of Representatives and we have the seeds of an effort to move the country toward acceptance of yet another irrational attempt to change that part of the world in which we have been notoriously ineffective-even destructive-in the past. It is all too reminiscent of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which has provided much of the impetus for an energized battle between Shia and Sunni forces throughout the Middle east.

The press was instrumental in building support for the invasion of Iraq and that alone should be enough to warn us of the danger of accepting press reports and untested analyses without careful vetting. The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies participated in driving the argument to invade Iraq adds to the need to be careful whom we trust. The quality of the press is of fundamental importance and unfortunately there are reasons to be skeptical.

2 Comments

Vladimir Putin: Leadership Redefined

Posted December 26, 2014 on 11:34 pm | In the category Obama, Politics, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“We don’t need tough guys. We need wise guys. We’ve tried tough guys, and it always ends in tears. Tough guys you know right away because they’re never scared of a fight. Wise guys you only know in retrospect, when you remember that they quietly walked away from the fight that now has the tough guy in a hospital.” Adam Gopnik, The NewYorker Magazine

As 2014 winds down we find the two Putins – the Russian Vladimir and Turkish President -Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – struggling to maintain their images of power, strength and competence. I’ll save Erdogan for a later posting, but for the Russian Putin the struggle has become increasingly difficult. This is in spite of the admiration expressed by the likes of America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, former Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence Mike Rogers and Fox News TV evangelist, Mike Huckabee. In fact,reviewing the past year or two, commentators from both respected and semi-respected media outlets have nourished the fantasies of the right wing by questioning Obama’s manhood while praising Putin’s bare chested virility. This has included analysts from beltway think tanks, the editorial board of the once great Washington Post and, of some note, the NYTimes’ columnist Maureen Dowd, who has consistently whined that Obama is not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie character. Honoring Putin’s heroic posturing following his takeover of the Crimea, Rogers said that “Putin played chess” while Obama played marbles; Giuliani commented that Putin defined “leadership” while poor Obama spent too much time “thinking”. As for erstwhile presidential candidate and Fox News analyst, Mike Huckabee, he said “I know the only time that Vladimir Putin shivers is when he takes his shirt off in a cold Russian winter”, as opposed to poor old thoughtful Obama. Other notable comments on Putin’s manly leadership included these from some of America’s finest blowhards:

  1. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll, including mine,” noted war lover Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
  2. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” Former Alaska Gov. and heartbeat away from the presidency VP candidate, Sarah Palin said. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
  3. “This is Putin running rings about us. There’s no question what’s going on here, is Vladimir Putin is reassembling the Soviet Union,” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
  4. “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement,” Fox’s (noted psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer said. “What he’s saying is, we’re not really going to do anything.”
  5. “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” wrote the once great Washington Post’s editorial board.
  6. “President Obama’s attempt to seek peace through apologetic diplomacy while defunding and dismantling our military has failed. Today, our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us,” Senator and noted climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.
  7. “The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) “If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”

So here we are some months after Obama did not get involved in a war in Ukraine and Putin is watching helplessly as the Russian economy goes in the toilet, and realizes belatedly that Obama’s sanctions combined with the drop in oil prices has pushed Russia into a catastrophic recession. He is forcing Russian companies to sell dollars in a hopeless attempt to strengthen the Russian ruble and the Central bank has increased its interest rate to 16% ensuring a disastrous 2015 for Russia’s economy. Perhaps Putin is now asking himself how he will pay the high costs of maintaining the Crimea as a vital part of his new Russian empire. American commentators seem puzzled by the success of Obama’s foreign policy moves that have placed a premium on avoiding direct American military involvement, invoking diplomacy over confrontation and waging economic war via sanctions over sending Americans to defend other countries’ interests. While many in American politics and the press have conveniently forgotten the lessons of America’s disastrous 2003 Iraq invasion, almost automatically seeking ways for American military might to be utilized, Obama has continued to resist the temptation to send American troops into foreign battles that do not threaten our vital national interests.

1 Comment

THE 2014 REPUBLICAN “SUCCESS”

Posted November 9, 2014 on 12:05 pm | In the category Economy, Election, Obama, Politics, Press, Supreme Court, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

The Republican “long game” of demonizing the President which began immediately after Barak Obama was elected president in 2008 has finally crossed the finish line. Vowing to do anything to destroy Obama’s presidency, the Republicans and their Tea Party sub-contractor began the process of character assassination that culminated in this week’s midterm elections. The strategy put the political future of the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner ahead of the needs of the country and therefore out of necessity had to ignore anything positive that might attach itself to the Obama presidency.

It is not surprising that much of the press largely played along with the story line, broadcasting Boehner and McConnell’s daily banalities after having given credibility to political hacks like Michelle Bachman, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum and pizza maker Herman Cain in 2012.

But hapless Democratic candidates were complicit in their own downfall by running away from Obama and simply ignoring anything positive in his record.

When Obama’s presidency began the United States was a living horror show, largely produced by Republicans. The country had wasted up to $3 trillion on a war fought over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist; it had allowed investment banks to run wild while bringing the American economy to its knees; the American stock market lost 54% of its value in the 2007-08 crash; unemployment soared to over 10% and thousands of homeowners lost their homes through foreclosure – or by simply walking away from suddenly wildly overvalued property. President George Bush’s last budget – for FY 2009 had a deficit of $1,412 billion. After six years of the Obama presidency the annual budget deficit ($483 Bn) is less than a third of Bush’s last deficit, unemployment is at a rate less than half of the 2009 rate, the stock market is at record highs, the housing market has largely recovered, housing foreclosures are at historic lows and the American economy has recovered better than any other Western country’s.

So why have the Democrats suffered such a huge loss?

MONEY: When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that their money is a form of free speech an already lopsided election funding process became a game of craps played with loaded dice. It has become almost impossible to gauge the amount of money spent on elections but one estimate is that some $4B was spent on the 2014 midterms. Anyone trapped in front of a TV in October must have believed that they were faced with voting for either a swine or a hog.

SUPREME COURT: the U.S. Supreme Court has managed to play a powerful (and perhaps inappropriate) role in politics with its Citizens-United decision opening up funding of election campaigns to corporations and unions, and has decided that protection of voting rights is no longer needed despite the efforts of Republicans to make voting more difficult by requiring photo IDs at the polls despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud in the past.

THE PRESS: The American mainstream press has always been susceptible to the temptations of closeness to power, giving us what amounts to a courtier press. The Sunday talk shows wheel out the same tired lineup week after week: John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Peggy Noonan, Reince Priebus, etc. and they become insider clubs with little difference between the reporters and the politicians. Print journalists have become an endangered species and cable news stations are uniformly tedious – even stupid – , pumping up non stories like the so-called ebola threat and refusing to do the hard work of journalism.

DEMOCRATS’ INEPTITUDE: The Democrats seem to have drunk the Republicans kool aid. They ran away from Obama’s (and their own) accomplishments, refused to defend the Affordable Care Act, never developed a positive message, ignored the positive economic record of Obama’s administration, and did not force the Republicans to defend economic policies that have favored the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. They allowed the Republicans to determine and control the narrative and refused to risk losing on Democratic party principles. Turns out they could hardly have done worse and could at least have looked at themselves in the mirror the day after the election had they stood strongly for something positive.

OBAMA’S PASSIVITY AND ADMINISTRATIVE INCOMPETENCE: The President’s noted rational approach to governing could only work if it was supported by energy or, better yet, passion – for what he is trying to accomplish. His inability- perhaps unwillingness – to sell the Affordable Care Act to his clients (all of us) is an example of a failure of politics. The ACA has been vilified by the Republicans largely by their lying about it. Death panels, free abortions, increased deficits, etc. ad nauseum. The administration never fought back effectively and in fact, by losing control over the development of the ACA website, created a nightmare for themselves – to say nothing of the people who tried to sign up for health insurance. The apparent unwillingness to play the hard politics that end up being a necessary part of the job contributed to giving the Republicans control of the narrative for the election.

VOTERS’ GENERALiZABLE ANGER: Americans are understandably pissed off. They saw their lives seriously disrupted by the recession of 2008-9, then saw bankers bailed out with taxpayers’ money, bank executives raking in record multimillion dollar rewards for incompetence while they were losing their jobs and homes. The rich do indeed get richer and the poor do indeed suck wind. So they looked around and – helped enormously by Republican money and ads demonizing Obama – decided to blame the President. Is that stupid? well yeah. Is it unexpected? well no. The hard work of figuring out what actually happened in the absence of a strong and honest press turns out to be beyond the capabilities of the American people. Or at least – so it seems.

So we come to the future and as our friend Leonard Cohen says, “I have seen the future brother: and it is murder”. And so it will be: possibly death to health care for all, more insane U.S.wars in places with little or no relation to our national interest; greater wealth to the oligarchs; less for the poor; no hope for immigrants; and a fundamental national commitment to all that works agains the interests of the vast majority of the American people. It is our democracy. Love it. Embrace it. Or work to change it.

3 Comments

AMERICA’S GREAT EBOLA SCARE

Posted October 22, 2014 on 11:32 am | In the category Ebola, Election, Healthcare, Politics, Press | by Jeff

Arriving in Boston from Tanzania last Friday I was welcomed into a country caught in deep fright over a disease that had killed just one person in America – a visitor from Liberia who went to the emergency room of a Dallas hospital when he developed ebola symptoms. For whatever reason, the hospital staff misdiagnosed him, sent him home and a few days later he was back with a full blown case of a disease that killed him. It is apparent that an earlier correct diagnosis would have increased his chances, but of course, mistakes do happen.

We had spent nearly three weeks in Africa and ebola had come up in conversation exactly once. People understood that Tanzania, located in East Africa, was some 4-5000 miles from the epicenter of the ebola outbreak and also understood that it was almost impossible to become infected without coming into contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids. So Tanzanians were informed, behaving responsibly and showed no sign of panic. So just why is America in a frenzy over a disease that has been successfully treated in several American hospitals, has to date killed one person in the country and which has led medical authorities to take very aggressive quarantine steps for any person (or dog) that came into even casual contact with the patient or with the two hospital staff who unwittingly became infected while treating him.

I suppose there are many possible causes of the panic, but three factors seem especially relevant. First is basic ignorance and an unwillingness to learn about the disease by simply reading responsible press reports or listening to the many medical experts who have addressed the issue on radio and tv. Second is the predictably poor performance of much of the press in reporting on the disease, all too frequently emphasizing the dramatic nature of the many deaths in West African countries that have extremely poor medical systems. A third reason – and the one that is almost scandalous in its self-serving irresponsibility – is the use of the issue in the political campaigns for next month’s midterm elections.

Republicans and America’s courtier press have managed to blame President Obama for everything from the civil war in Syria to the failed democracy in Libya, to the corruption in Ukraine, to the failed democracy in Egypt, ad infinitum. Too much of the press carries these rants with a straight face and enough of the people buy it to give it legs. So, we now have Americans hiding under their beds to escape a disease that is largely restricted to the African continent while our Republican leaders (sic) blame Obama for not stopping a disease that basically does not exist in America. Meanwhile a teacher in Maine is put on leave because he flew on a plane that previously had carried a woman that once upon a time had come into contact with the Liberian patient. Three Oklahoma students returned from a trip to Ethiopia, where there are no reported cases of ebola, and have been refused entry into school. Syracuse University barred a Washington Post reporter from a conference because he had done some reporting from Liberia; he had been cleared of any signs of ebola. A Mississippi school had been closed because its principle had been to Zambia, an African country thousands of miles from the West Africa ebola outbreak. A Southwest Airlines flight captain in Orlando called in authorities to remove a person from the plane because he had been in West Africa in late August (the incubation rate is 21 days and he proved to be healthy).

Last night Massachusetts has-been Scott Brown, who has moved to New Hampshire to run against Senator Jeanne Shaheen, joined a Republican national chorus and devoted a large part of a debate appearance to criticizing President Obama (and by implication Senator Shaheen) for not closing our borders to anyone coming from West Africa. The fact that that is a policy that no responsible health professional supports and that it is functionally not possible to accomplish did not deter Brown from trying to scare the bejesus out of the good folk in New Hampshire. Let’s hope the “live free or die” New Hampsherites come out from under their beds and send Brown home to Massachusetts.

2 Comments

Ukraine: Bad Policy OR The Absence of Policy?

Posted September 5, 2014 on 5:03 pm | In the category Europe, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy;
it is an alibi for the absence of one.
Henry Kissinger

The Ukraine crisis has raised significant – some would say unnecessary – risks of international turmoil that could become much worse if not brought under control by the main participants, esp. Russia and Ukraine. Yet, it seems clear that a significant portion of the American foreign policy community and the American press has been unable or unwilling to discuss or even consider alternatives to what has become the de facto official narrative. Official in the sense of presenting a one-sided, American/European view of a situation that is a lot more complicated and that has roots in Western policies aggressively aimed at attacking Russia’s national interest under the guise of our never-ending and almost always futile attempt to install Western democracies in countries not ready for it. e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.

But most troubling is the almost total lack of debate minus the demonizing of the debaters. Without defending Putin’s actions in Ukraine there are, nonetheless, geopolitical realities that should not be ignored while blindly following simplistic thinking of the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham in calling for military action in some form (i.e. giving lots of weapons to the Ukrainian military) as the only answer to what is a complex political and diplomatic problem.

The behavior of the American press is reminiscent of its cheerleading for the Vietnam War with unquestioning acceptance of the government narrative of the dominoes theory. The press’s support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was similarly supported without substantive debate in the press, although there were a small number of politicians willing to voice their doubts. But the alternative narratives for the Ukraine are mostly being ignored or even ridiculed.

For example, two notable commentaries by respected foreign policy thinkers provide a very different narrative of how we arrived at the Ukraine crisis and both authors have been largely ignored. John Mearsheimer, a highly regarded University of Chicago political scientist published his views of “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, reiterating points he made in an earlier piece in Foreign Policy and again in the NY Times. Princeton and New York University Russian Studies Professor Stephen Cohen presented his views in a Conference in Washington but had published extensively on the crisis in The Nation Magazine. While writing in very different journals they come to similar conclusions: that the West failed to consider the importance of an unaligned Ukraine to Russia’s security and national interest; that the West continues to treat Russia as a “defeated” former enemy; that the West – specifically the EU – blundered when they offered Ukraine an economic agreement that would begin the movement of Ukraine into the Western sphere; then supporting the revolt that toppled the elected government of Ukraine. The West eagerly accepted the bonafides of the “revolution” and by picking sides in a battle of primary political importance to Russia contributed to the crisis. Consider the U.S.’s Monroe Doctrine and what the U.S. would likely do if a rival power decided to foment revolution in Mexico. Then ask whether the U.S. and European leaders bothered to put themselves in Putin’s shoes when they decided to foment revolution in Ukraine.

As for Cohen and Mearsheimer, rather than producing a transparent, robust debate, they have been vilified as Putin’s puppets, etc. by much of what passes for an informed press. But almost no one has seriously debated them on the merits of their arguments or – more significantly – on the facts of the case. And more importantly, there is no evidence of such a serious debate behind the scenes. Most commentators have taken the facts as presented by the U.S. and Ukraine governments and have been happy to demonize Putin. As for the political players, senators from both parties have bought the line with the Republicans criticizing Obama for the lack of “action” whatever that might be, when the real issue is his over reaching in the region that contributed to a major, dangerous crisis.

Finally, lest we forget, a significant portion of the Ukraine population does not support the movement to the West and in fact yesterday the NY Times reported that hundreds of thousands of citizens of eastern Ukraine are fleeing into Russia for refuge from the Ukraine army which, according to Human Rights Watch, has matched the rebels in killing thousands of civilians. Most of those “refugees” are now planning to remain in Russia. And are there Russian troops fighting with the rebels? Maybe so, or even probably so, but that does not give us the moral edge. After all, we have had our instances of sending troops – secret in many cases – into almost every Central American country in the past when our leaders had determined it to be in our national interest. much like Mr. Putin in the Ukraine. With a Ukraine cease fire tentatively agreed to by Russia and Ukraine this morning, the West (i.e. NATO) has announced its planned “Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe”. We shall see how Mr. Putin responds.

2 Comments

Race, Obama and the Deferred Dream

Posted September 1, 2014 on 10:52 am | In the category Obama, Politics, Press, Racism, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
                                                     W.B. Yeats

Reading comments of readers of daily newspapers and reading or hearing the ongoing barrage of criticism and blame laid on the President by his political foes has led many who should know better to believe that President Obama is a human disaster, laying waste to the America we learned about in grade school. Listening to Obama’s supporters could lead us to the conclusion that he is too good to be true and that his political enemies are ignorant louts. Both sides can claim some evidence to support their views, but to get sucked into the mire of so-called analysis by our press pundits is to get lost in a maze of untruths, half-truths, facts, non-facts, beltway bullshit and sheer hate speech.

This is not to conclude that Obama has been a knight in shining armor; clearly he has not. But let’s review some of what he and we have had to put up with for six years:

* the idiotic nonsense of his country of birth with calls for his birth certificate continuing still some five years after it was produced;
* the absurd claims that he was a secret Muslim intent on bringing us sharia law;
* the public insults hurled at his wife for promoting healthy eating;
* criticism linking him to every failed democracy in the world, with John McCain leading a bitter vendetta against the man who defeated him in 2008;
* and, of course, the subtle and not so subtle, racist comments directed at him and his family. It is this factor that has mostly been an elephant on the table,    mostly ignored or simply pretended that the issue does not exist.

A good measure of where the U.S. is in its movement toward genuine racial equality is not so much the recent events in Ferguson Missouri, but rather the way in which the country has responded. A young, black teenager is gunned down with six shots by a white policeman. The teenager’s body is left in the street for over 4 hours without so much as a sheet over it. The police wait a few days and then finally release the policeman’s name, simultaneously beginning to slur the teenager with a video of him pushing a clerk in a convenience store. For many this was enough of a reason to execute the young man. The riots that followed were all too predictable as was the overreaction of the white police, which included arresting journalists, bringing in an ARMY TANK for God’s sake, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and threatening law-abiding citizens participating in their constitutional right to protest. The NY Times did not help by publishing a front page story about the victim saying he “was no angel” and listing his many crimes – occasionally smoking marijuana, drinking beer underage, jostling a neighbor once – crimes that are consistent with growing up in America – white or black, and perhaps a reminder that none of us are “angels”.

So what has been the response? Well, it varied of course and mostly in predictable ways. There was the initial gnashing of teeth in most of the press with the notable exception of Fox News – an exception also predictable. Then over time the slurring of the victim, the calls for peace in the street, the calling of a grand jury investigation, the burial of the victim, and then back to a sense of normality which means that nothing much is likely to change. Although there is some public concern over their local police forces turning into military machines, dedicated to keeping the people under control rather than protecting them. We shall see where that goes.

But perhaps the best measure of where W.B. Yeats’ “worst…full of passionate intensity” have ended up is that a few weeks after the event, nearly $500,000 had been raised (some by the KKK) for the defense of a so far not even charged white policeman who managed to put 6 bullets in an unarmed black teenager. This spontaneous outpouring of support is as good a measure as any of where we are in our crawl toward racial equality. The money quote in the fund-raising for the officer came from one contributor who said: “We’ll all see this in the end that it was a good shooting. You know, it was a good kill.”

All of this keeps the issue of race on the table when thinking about Obama’s performance as President and the cost to America of continuing to avoid fully addressing the problems facing black Americans. Americans were justifiably proud of their willingness to vote an African American to the presidency – twice. Now they need to do the really hard work of persuading the rest of the country of the need for mutual respect and of the common interest in renewing the nation’s efforts to finally, at long last, put racism in its past. The effort needs a new beginning.

No Comments

Public Diplomacy: America’s Lost Battle

Posted March 20, 2014 on 5:22 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Press, Public Diplomacy, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Ukraine | by Jeff

The role of public opinion in the current Ukraine/Crimea crisis is a good illustration of the short sightedness of America’s reduced commitment to public diplomacy,  as it continues to have a defense budget that more than exceeds the combined defense budgets of the next ten largest countries’.

President Putin has committed considerable resources to Russia’s international TV, “Russia Today” (RT), including an American operation that can be viewed in English or Spanish. In 2011 it was the second most popular international broadcaster after the BBC and claims particularly high viewership in the U.S.’ five largest cities. An international TV network that competes with CNN for its audience, including and especially a Western audience, “Russia Today” is available to some 85 million Americans via cable TV and internationally to over 650 million people via approximately 250 cable and satellite providers. RT also manages a sophisticated website that focuses on U.S. news as well as international news. And while clearly a propaganda tool of Russian foreign policy, it has managed to find Western viewers tired of CNN’s diet of American-centric news augmented with a heavy offering of political and social drivel.

The 2011 budget for RT was ca. $380 million, a large jump from its 2008 $120 million budget probably partially due to a serous image deficit following the Russia – Georgia conflict. In any case from an American perspective RT amounts to Russian operated surrogate broadcasting within the U.S., much like what Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were to the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

At the same time that Russia has promoted its image outside Russia via RT Putin has succeeded in improving his popularity at home with extensive and harsh control of traditional sources of information, especially TV, radio and the print press. While RT has ready access to American audiences Putin has banned Russian radio stations from affiliating with Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian broadcast service, forcing that service to rely heavily on social media, access to its website and its increased popularity on You Tube. Native Russian investigative journalists have had a tendency to “go missing” or worse; anti-government rock groups go to jail and demonstrations merely lead to mass arrests.

During the Cold War U.S. surrogate radio broadcasts into Russia and its Warsaw bloc and Soviet neighbors provided news of their own countries and the world otherwise not available. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of the Soviet Union those efforts were reduced and, in fact almost eliminated. Assuming the Cold War was over, the U.S. Senate, led by a somewhat naïve Russell Feingold, led a move in 1994 to cut RFE/RL’s budget from $210 Million to $75 million. Today, RFE/RL broadcasts to 21 countries (including Afghanistan, Iran, and of course Russia) in 28 languages via the Internet, SMS text messaging, online video, satellite radio, and popular social media networks with a budget of $95 million – less than one quarter of RT’s budget. America no longer seriously competes with Russia in the critical area of public opinion and the results are obvious as we watch the Russian people salute the re-emergence of an at least semi-cold war.

1 Comment
« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress with Pool theme design by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS. ^Top^