2006/06/30

Language is not neutral

The latest Media Matters analysis of how the media discusses the Iraq War (Lengthy piece at 40 kilobytes) illustrates a very old problem. Language is not neutral. It takes a considerable amount of time, thought and conscious effort to describe issues in a truly neutral or even in an effectively partisan manner. This would not be such a serious problem if it were not the favorite pose of the media, which can be described as "A pox on both your houses!" The mainstream media likes to pretend to be the harried housewife in the driver's seat who turns back to the two squabbling kids in the back seat (The Democrats and the Republicans.) and says "Stop fighting! You're both at fault!"

During the case of Jack Abramoff and his extensive political contributions to the Republican Party, several media outlets tried to claim that the scandal was a bipartisan one, with both Democrats and Republicans being equally at fault. Problem is, this framing of the story had a "Procrustean bed" quality as the Democratic connections to Abramoff had to be invented wholesale. As Howard Dean pointed out, there simply were no such connections. Wolf Blitzer, who was interviewing Dean when Dean claimed this, was obviously upset to hear this because it messed up his nice, neat storyline and required that he adjust his story to account for reality. The story as a whole really took a bizarre turn when the Ombudsman of the Washington Post not only refused to correct a reporter who had claimed that "both sides were to blame," but even insisted that Abramoff was an equal-opportunity giver. "L'il Debbie," as she was sarcastically named, finally admitted that she was wrong to defend her thesis and that Abramoff made contributions exclusively to Republicans.

So, when mainstream "respectable" media outlets use Republican "talking points," these points take on a more persuasive air as they appear to be coming from neutral, objective reporters who have taken a "pox on both your houses" attitude. When these reporters describe an anti-war speaker as being against "the troops," or as being "anti-military" when the speaker is actually just against the Iraq War (Not all anti-war speakers are pacifists, many of them just oppose this particular war.) it's a way to put down the speaker without blatantly, openly taking sides.

Point number three is especially pernicious. The claim that Republicans make is that "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror." When we actually consider what that phrase might mean, it appears to suggest that if that "front" goes well and Iraq calms down and US casualties decrease, then America is winning the WOT (The War on Terror). If on the other hand, Iraq continues to be a chaotic mess (As it has in the aftermath of the elimination of Zarqawi, formerly the "Emmanuel Goldstein" of Iraq), then the WOT must be going poorly.

Clarification: Back during World War II, it was meaningful to say that Okinawa was the "central front" in the War in the Pacific because the loss of Okinawa severely hurt Japan's ability to continue fighting and enabled American B-29 bombers to more easily hit Japan. Would the loss of Iraq impact worldwide terrorist activities in the same fashion? It's not at all clear that it would.

The first point, that "victory" in Iraq would mean that terrorists worldwide would have to ratchet down their deadly activities, is plainly false. If the Iraq War goes poorly for the other side and order is brought to that frantic country, any foreign fighters, whether they are jihadists or terrorists or whatever else one wishes to call them, would simply disperse to their countries of origin or they would assemble in whatever country they felt was the next target.

There is no reason whatsoever to presume that they'd all go down fighting and that the ranks of the jihadists/terrorists would therefore be thinned. An Egyptian has absolutely no reason to sacrifice himself to hang onto territory in Iraq. He'll remain in Iraq as a jihadist only for as long as he feels he's helping "the cause" and hurting "the enemy." If and when the Iraq War ever ends, the rest of the world will probably experience an upsurge in terrorist activities. The collapse of the "central front" for the enemies of America's efforts there would very likely be bad news for other regimes in the Middle East as many thousands of now-seasoned fighters would then be freed up for fighting elsewhere.

It's very bad news for Americans that mainstream media persons feel obliged to mindlessly parrot Republican talking points like this. The talking point that Iraq is a "central front" gives American citizens the impression that the fighting there is contributing to peace efforts elsewhere. Actually, as BTC News points out, terrorist activities worldwide have increased every year since 2002. Whatever else the Iraq War is accomplishing, it is clearly not making the world safer.

2006/06/29

Hip-hip-hooray for Supreme Court!!

Good for the decision of the Supreme Court to slap down the illegitimate treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay!

To clarify what the choice in Guantanamo Bay was, talk show host Bill O'Reilly delivered his opinion of the matter:

During the "Talking Points Memo" segment (12 June 06) opening the program, O'Reilly asserted: "The Guantánamo controversy is easy to define. The Bush administration sees the 460 detainees as prisoners of war. The liberal press and some human-rights groups believe they are criminals entitled to due process."

This is incorrect. The choice facing the Bush Administration was never between treating the Guantanamo detainees as prisoners-of-war versus treating them as ordinary criminal suspects. The choice was between treating them as belonging to either category versus using a third, wholly made-up-on-the-spot category that had no meaning in either domestic or international law. "Unlawful" or "enemy" combatant has no legal meaning either nationally or internationally as it was invented by the Bush Administration and has never been defined by the passage of a law or backed up by any judicial decisions.

What the Supreme Court has done has been to return the Guantanamo detainees to a place where the rule of law has some relevance. Unfortunately, as Atrios points out, the story isn't over yet and we'll see what the Bush Administration does in response.

2006/06/25

Santorum's accusation

Senator Rick Santorum's (R-PA) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra's (R-MI) claimed on June 21st that there were indeed "Weapos of Mass Destruction" in Iraq shortly before the March 2003 invasion, pointing to a stash of degraded chemical weapon shells that Iraq had produced and then lost track of during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that the report specified that the chemicals were in a degraded state and it has long since been apparent to opponents of the Iraq War that there was no serious chance that Saddam Hussein would have passed along any serious weaponry to terrorist groups as 1. They would have been traced back to him and his country and 2. Saddam Hussein exercised a Soviet-style chain of command over his army. Control was very tight and very explicit. There was simply no room for free agents in his war-fighting doctrine.

Buzzflash explains how the "Iraq-al Qaeda link" idea works and thoroughly debunks it.

Nevertheless, Media Matters tells us how right-wing news sources, from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh, have kept the Santorum story of Iraqi WMD alive. Even though, as Media Matters points out:

The Washington Post also reported June 22 that "[n]either the military nor the White House nor the CIA considered the shells to be evidence of what was alleged by the Bush administration to be a current Iraqi program to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld demonstrated that Santorum was not acting along when he went on Fox News to confirm the charge:

ANGLE (video): Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the first administration official to comment publicly on the declassified report that some 500 chemical weapons have been found in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: They are weapons of mass destruction. They're harmful to human beings. And they have been found and they had not been reported by Saddam Hussein as he inaccurately alleged he had reported all of his weapons, and they're still being found and discovered.

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), characterized the shells as "old, fairly toxic stuff," but was misquoted as saying the shells were "less toxic than most things that Americans have under their kitchen sink at this point." A folksier, but less accurate rendition.

Rush Limbaugh has now stated that he is determined "to get the truth out on weapons of mass destruction" so we can look forward to hearing much, much more on the issue.

Attytood wonders what the "terror alert level" must be now and links to Vice President Cheney making a speech that sounds like it's cribbed directly from speeches on the alleged Vietnam "Domino effect" in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

2006/06/23

In response to call for patience

The Inquirer published an article today (Jun 23rd) entitled: “Key to success lies in patient, united America" that posited that the "center of gravity" in the Iraq War was the US population and that things were going well in an unquantifiable way, in small-scale, personal experiences. The artcle asserts the need for Americans to have patience and to hang in there until victory.
My answer was as follows:

I believe that Lt. Col. Glen Butler is incorrect when he asserts that the “center of gravity” in the Iraq War is the American population. That center always was and always will be the Iraqi poulation. Non-US journalists interviewed Iraqi civilians after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and found a very wary, skeptical population. Iraqis were, in general, pleased that their dictator had been removed from office, but very suspicious as to US motives for having done so.

The fact that “The undermanned Iraqi army and police units are challenged by corruption, desertion and enemy infiltration” is no accident and relates directly to suspicion over US motives for having invaded in the first place. No matter how many individual success stories occur, it's clear after more than three years of occupation that those suspicions remain as strong as ever.

The US Army cannot remain indefinitely where it is not wanted and Iraqis as a whole have made it clear through the people they have elected that the US is an unwelcome presence in their country. The Bush Administration laid out a detailed plan involving many “purple finger moments,” but the fact that those plans have been successfully accomplished with all the proper checkboxes checked off and the fact that Iraqis are still very sour on the idea of being occupied by US troops indefinitely means those plans have failed.

It's time to call an end to the experiment and to bring US troops home.

2006/06/12

WaPo reviews Lapdogs

The Washington Post's Michael Getler reviews Eric Boehlert's Lapdogs and makes a point I found rather bizarre:

One obvious failing is that a book by a journalist attacking the press ought to have included some responses from editors and reporters who disagree with Boehlert's conclusions. There is basically none of that here.

First off, blogger's criticism's have been made out in the open and most lefty blogs have comments. Right-wing blogs have email addresses for readers to contact writers with, so it's not like papers and magazines and TV studios hav been unable to respond. Being from a group with a smaller audience, bloggers would be happy to feature defenses by mainstream media people as to their rolling-over for Bush & company. Had the mainstream folks had any defense or excuse for their conduct, we readers of blogs would have read of their defenses a long time ago.

Laying this out, he writes, "makes the conclusion -- that the press rolled over for Bush -- inescapable." But there is no way to prove that this is "inescapable," which would mean knowing what was inside the heads of producers and editors at the time their news decisions were made.

"...knowing what was inside the heads of producers and editors" is what the advice columnist Miss Manners derisively refers to as "mind-reading," a feat that's generally impossible in any event and that's an activity best avoided by serious people. Usually, it's quite enough to observe the words and actions of a person, which normally tell one all that one needs to know.

So does that mean that the editors who made those calls were pro-Bush or cowed by the aftermath of Sept. 11, fiery right-wing bloggers, conservative broadcasters and a mean White House press strategy? Or did some editors simply exercise poor news judgment or lack the experience or determination to make sure that nothing was left unsaid, unchallenged or uncovered? Or were they convinced that a war with Iraq was coming and were too focused on getting ready to cover it?

Interesting questions all, but going into them would require getting the inside scoop on still-ongoing matters. It reminds me of the continual discussions about "Is torture justified if there's a ticking time bomb...?" Sure, you can torture the bad guy, but there's no way to confirm that the bad guy is telling you the truth. Just because he appears to break down and appears to desperately gasp out the location of the bomb doesn't mean you're finally getting the truth. Likewise, as long as media people have any motivation to not tell us the truth about why they write what they do, we the public will not get the truth.

Generally, it's a good review, but I think Getler misses the boat on these questions.

2006/06/09

Ann Coulter's question

Yeesh! I need to disinfect after slogging through the muck and the mire of reading right-wing partisans attacking the Jersey Girls, four women from New Jersey who have very serious questions about 9-11 and who have publicly asked why their husbands died in the conflagration of the World Trade Center towers 1 & 2 on that day.

First off, let's look at one of Ann Coulter's statements on them:

COULTER [video clip]: Why can't we hear these half-baked liberal bromides from Howard Dean? Why do liberals always choose spokesmen like the "Jersey Girls," like Cindy Sheehan, like Joe Wilson, who, because of some personal aspect of their life, we are not allowed to respond.

To begin with, pro-Bush Administration people ARE allowed to respond. It's just that we owe these women and Joe Wilson a fair hearing, we can't simply say "Oh, pish tosh. Poor silly women, you know not whereof you speak." and wave them away. Their criticisms should be taken seriously and discussed in a serious manner. The problem for the right wing is that the criticisms made by the Jersey Girls are thoroughly legitimate and are not easily answered. Before September 11, it was thoroughly routine for jet fighters to go up and check out anything happening in the air that didn't seem right. For a plane to be a half of a degree off course or for a pilot to not answer a radio call, was reason enough to scramble jets and get them up there. The hijacked planes on 9-11 starting going off course around 8:30 and didn't start crashing into the twin towers until around a half-hour later. There was no sign of any fighter planes in the sky. The Jersey Girls have asked "Why not?" No satisfactory answer has been supplied nearly five years later.

Why can't we send Howard Dean or some other spokesperson without an emotional stake in the issue to speak for us? Not our fault that the media only heeds certain spokespeople. Not our fault that Democrats don't want to take the risk of being seen as conspiracy theorists. We'd be happy to take the heat for them. We have zero problems with being their lightning rods and taking some grief for views they dare not express themselves. I attended the 9-11 Truth Convergence and I feel that we have nothing to be embarrassed about in terms of the quality of the speakers we can present.

As to the purely ad hominem attacks launched by the right wing partisans (Nowhere in the Media Matters quotations are there any hints of substantiative policy questions or disagreements. If anyone has come across any substantiative disagreements, please let me know.) the charge has been made that the Jersey Girls are seeking to make money off of the deaths of their loved ones in the WTC towers. Consider the comments on the 9-11 compensation fund:

Leslie Dimmling of Garden City, who lost her husband, Bill, said she feels many in the public have lost sight of the fund's original purpose.
"The victims' families never asked for this money," she said. "This is not free money. This is money given in lieu of giving up the right to sue."
---------

"The reason I opted out of the fund and chose to litigate was because 9/11 represented a massive failure and there was no avenue for accountability," said Monica Gabrielle of Manhattan, who lost her husband, Richard, an insurance broker.

Gabrielle said the Sept. 11 Commission has been a disappointment. "I have a legal right to litigate to find out where the responsibility lies," she said. "If that means people are fired, if it means a financial penalty, so be it."

The Jersey Girls could have made a great deal more money if they had remained quiet. That they did not is their right as US citizens "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". In other words, in order to "petition the government", i.e. to put pressure on the various 9-11 commissions to seriously and truthfully examine the evidence, they had to give up lots and lots in compensation. In stark contrast to the charges of the partisans, the Jersey Girls made the less profitable choice, a choice that has opened them to wildly irresponsible attacks.

For more on 9-11, see an excellent overview (Quite lengthy at 74 kilobytes), or check out 911Truth.org

2006/06/08

Zarqawi has perished

Over in Glenn Greenwald's blog, Anonymous Liberal adds an update to his or her blog post:

UPDATE: The big news this morning is that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was apparently killed in an airstrike. That rare bit of good news (and it certainly is good news) comes just in time for people like Blankley, who have entirely run out of coherent things to say.

What is A.L.'s purpose in explicitly declaring that the news is good? Well, obviously, A.L. is concerned about right-wingers suggesting that we lefties are pleased when US forces meet deadly setbacks: and that many people on our side were secretly rooting for Zarqawi. For example, take the right-winger who was earlier quoted by A.L.:

But what further cuts is to listen to media people casually perpetrate libel against not just the still- presumed-innocent Marines [In Haditha, where a number of Iraqi civilians were butchered] but against our services more generally. To see the gleam in the eyes of reporters happily cackling on about "other possible incidents" -- about which they know not whether they even exist -- is to be filled with a fury that we have a system of journalism that permits people with such mentalities to poison the minds of the world with their malice.

The quoted right-winger of course fails to provide any examples of newspeople "happily cackling" because, very simply, there are none. The news is delivered by corporate newspersons who are practiced in controlling their presentations so that no one can tell what they think of the news that they're reporting and who probably have no genuine opinion in the matter anyway (They're probably more concerned with their stock options and where they are on the corporate ladder and what they'll serve their guests for dinner that night so as to impress them with their skills as a gourmet, not that I'm, y'know, generalizing or anything). If one was not a corporate newsperson, then one is most likely very self-conscious about saying or doing anything that might hurt the cause of ending the war. So it's very highly doubtful that a noncorporate person would openly approve of a killer of American troops, regardless of what one thinks of the butchery at Haditha. So, what does A.L. get for his or her trouble?

The Hidden Imam said...

The big news this morning is that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was apparently killed in an airstrike. That rare bit of good news (and it certainly is good news) comes just in time . . . .

I found this bit illustrative of a problem among the Left. A.L. -- why did you even feel the need to add the parenthetical, "and it certainly is good news?" Of course it's good news. Why would there be any doubt? Unless, of course, you recognize that many among your audience on the Left is not rooting for success in Iraq.

This website, and Glenn's writing, is often geared towards forcing people to face the truth when their entrenched beliefs and motives conflict with a reality they don't see. The target is almost exclusively the Right. I think many people on the Left would do well to face up to the fact that they are, on some level, rooting for our failure in Iraq.

11:37 AM

Yeesh! We just can't win for losing. No matter what we say about Zarqawi's death, it'll be interpreted as "Ahh those lefties aren't really happy! Their true feeling is one of despair and disappointment that one of their heroes is dead! We know what they're really feeling!"

So the heck with it. I'm gonna say what I'm gonna say and y'all will just have to take my word for it:
Good for Zarqawi dying. The US gets one cheer (Out of a possible three) because I don't see this as being significant. About three years ago, Saddam Hussein's two sons also met their deaths and those deaths were met with great cheering and celebration and predictions that the insurgency in Iraq would soon collapse and end. Obviously, no such thing ever happened. Saddam Hussein was captured in December and again, there was a great cheering and congratulating and again there were predictions of the imminent demise of the insurgency and again nothing of the sort ever occurred. The "decisive blows" and "turning points" have been so numerous and so universally meaningless, I've lost track.
My prediction is that no one will remember this "great victory" a few months from now. I'll let Yglesias have the final word:

TIME AND AGAIN (AND AGAIN!) K-Lo with an assist from David Pryce-Jones unleashes a dispatch from the Gamma Quadrant: "He calls Zarqawi’s demise both a 'collassal [sic] morale boost' for all of us but says it also has 'big operational significance.' 'When you get rid of a leader, it’s very hard to replace him.' The Israelis have proved this time and time again."

The Israelis certainly have proven a lot of things about the tactical/operational aspects of counterterrorism time and again. And, indeed, again. And again. They've proven them so often, for so long, that one might almost conclude that tactical counterterrorism accomplishes very little absent resolution of the underlying political conflicts.




2006/06/06

Red State post

I lived for a few years down in Pensacola, FL. We had a columnist who, every few months, would write a column explaining what "The Left" was up to and how those lefties felt abou the various issues of the day. Having had subscriptions to The Nation and Z, and having Internet access to various lefty authors (Back in the ancient days of the late 1990s) I would read her columns and wonder "WHO is this woman TALKING about?!?!" She never referred to the statements or viewpoints of anybody that I was famliar with, that was for sure! I got a similar feeling reading the following:

Were this merely the activity of identifiable partisans on the far-left wing, this would arguably be a healthy part of the debate that ought to go on in any self-governing country. However, in the United States, there exists a substantial cadre of far-left partisans who cloak their advocacy as "journalism." Such people are sufficiently numerous in the companies that provide the public's news that they severely restrict the ability of voters to receive information about military affairs that has not been processed and filtered by far-left partisans wearing reporter masks. This condition is extremely dangerous in a self-governing country, for the public cannot make informed decisions if it is not so much informed as manipulated by political partisans.

The process of correcting the political imbalance in the institutions of mass communication has begun, but it is not so far along that the public could not today be stampeded into adopting far-left policies by the partisans who still control much of what the public is told about events.

Those who oppose the far left bear a special burden in these times, to make sure that they are accurately informed about these events, and that they share this knowledge with friends, family, and co-workers who are still dependent on "news" provided by "reality patriots" who seek America's defeat.

No, I have no idea what the author means by "reality patriots." It seems to be a term the author has used so many times he feels no need to further explain it. So wow! The "far-left partisans" are running the newsrooms of America, huh? Reminds me of the story of a young Russian Jew meeting an elderly Russian Jew on the train and remarking that the elderly person is reading a Tsarist paper that accuses the Jews of plotting and planning all sorts of diabolical, anti-Tsarist, anti-Russian activities. The young one asks the old one why he's reading a paper that makes such terrible accusations against their people. The elderly one replied "Oh, this paper is marvelous! It tells me that we Jews are in charge of everything and that society is but putty in our hands. We are in charge of all the ministries and bureaus. It makes me feel very powerful! I love to feel like a member of such a powerful, effective conspiracy!"

I got pretty much the same feeling reading the above complaints about "political imbalance in the institutions of mass communication." It's like "Wow, we lefties REALLY have that much influence?" Seems to me that people of my persuasion (I consider myself a member of the "center-left", well to the left of the mainstream media, but there are many buddies of mine that are more leftist than I am.) Thinking back over the past five years, the blogs didn't really have any appreciableimpact on the public until the beginning of 2003, when Democrats running for President "discovered" the Internet and the blogs. Real influence on the other media, via the radio (Air America is pretty much it), the TV (Jon Stewart's Daily Show and Keith Olbermann) and newspapers (The Knight-Ridder chain is an unusually fair & responsbile group of newspapers) and that was pretty much it until perhaps six months ago, when still more media outlets began chiming in.

Noting the pathetically feeble response by Democrats to the Censure Resolution proposed by Senator Feingold doesn't give me much hope that the Democrats are among the "far-left partisans" the author cites.

The comments by the right-wingers after the article are interesting. They're completely unable to answer the proofs supplied by liberal commenters that, yes, the Iraq War WAS primarily justified by the phantom WMDs, Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech very STRONGLY suggested an Iraq-al Qaeda link (No, Bush didn't explicitly and precisely draw the connection, but the very strong sugestion is there) and no, as both the article and as one of the commenters completely overlook, the Vietnam War could not have been won short of the utter genocide of the people of Vietnam. Something like a quarter to a third of the people of Vietnam would have had to have been slaughtered in order for there to have been "peace."

So Americans left Vietnam and people in the millions died at the hands of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. OK, so what was the alternative? The idea of "stay the course" was simply not an option and no one in the 30+ years since then has come up with any reasonable answer to that question of how to achieve "victory" short of simply slaughtering huge numbers of Vietnamese.