2007/07/23

A generation's call to duty

Glenn Greenwald quotes a writer from the Weekly Standard:

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.
Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers -- those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation -- took the opposite path from their parents during World War II.
...
Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military.
...
But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents.

Er, sorry, but no, the young people of the "9-11 Generation" are no more likely to join the military than those of the Vietnam Generation were. In 1996, the number of personnel in the Army was a little over 490,000, in 2005, it was almost 489,000. The number stayed between 475,000 and 500,000 between those years.

Total numbers for the armed services as a whole were
1996: Over 1,470,000,
2005: Over 1,378,000.

We're constantly hearing stories like the following:

...as the war in Iraq rolls into its fifth year, the escalating cycle of combat deployments is wearing on the children and their families...

In other words, not only have the armed forces not expanded, they can't even bring in enough new people to replace those who are worn out and who are suffering from PTSD and really need to quit and allow others to take their places.

Nah, Greenwald accurately nails the problem. The Vietnam Generation had three components, those who went off to fight the war, those who stayed home and opposed it and the third, least honorable group, the chickenhawks, who enthusiastically supported the war, but who remained at a safe distance from the battlefield. Unfortunately, it's the chickenhawks who now run the country and the Iraq War. The "9-11 Generation" was told by their President to "Go shopping," so they did. There's nothing particularly wrong with the 9-11 Generation, but nothing particularly heroic, either.

2007/07/17

More reasons Bush's Mideast peace push will go nowhere

From yesterday's briefing with Press Secretary Tony Snow:

"Q Who drew up this plan? Was it Israelis and Saudis and our -- or State Department worked with them --

"MR. SNOW: Who drew up this plan?

"Q Yes.

"MR. SNOW: Well, typically something like this -- you're talking about what the President will be describing today? We worked it out within the administration. That involves the NSC, it involves the Department of State, but it is not something that has been vetted or run by other governments.

"Q Why not?


"MR. SNOW: Because they --


"Q And how about with Congress?



"MR. SNOW: Members of Congress will get some notification, they will have a chance to see it."



----------

Y'see, the whole theory behind the idea called groupthink is that members of a group get along too well. They sit down with each other and sort of outbid one another in a not-really-conscious process, each one "daring" the other to get more extreme and more casual about being extreme.

The way to defeat groupthink? It's well-established that the best way to break up that sort of thinking is by bringing in outsiders, by opening up the group to fresh viewpoints and new ways of seeing things.

Reading the above, it's pretty clear that the Bush Administration will do no such thing. The quote below is from a story about how President Bush wants a Mideast summit. Sounds good, but the quote here reveals the catch:


"Palestinians [are] divided between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Hamas is unlikely to be invited: Mr Bush said it must first renounce violence and recognise Israel."

In other words, "we'll deal with our friends (i.e., people who are predisposed to agree with us) and ignore our enemies (i.e., people likely to stand up for their own national interests)."

Same-old, same-old. This is going to be strictly a photo-op summit.

2007/07/10

Media vs government

Marcy "Emptywheel" Wheeler comments on The Next Hurrah about Michael Isikoff's story on Bush's decision to commute I. Lewis "Scooter' Libby's just and richly-deserved prison sentence. Warning: Marcy is a loud and proud DFH Blogger, so don't read her account if you like your language clean.

Th main question that occurred to me as I read Emptywheel's account was "Why do we still have confessional insider-type accounts in the mainstream media? The media that's allegedly full of Very Serious people?" Emptywheel makes it clear right off the bat that Isikoff does not consult any sources other than the people he interviewed and it's also quite clear a few paragraphs into reading Isikoff's article that it's absolutely chock-full of unverifiable, alleged facts that Isikoff simply takes the word of his sources for. Many years back, first Ronald Reagan and then the Elder Bush and then to a lesser extent Bill Clinton and then to a huge extent GW Bush, all decided that the handling of the press was an extremely important task that required serious study and education and long, late-night talks.

We lefty bloggers don't think much of Joe Klein, who wrote Primary Colors, but the movie effectively pointed out how politicians view the press. When "Hillary Clinton" was apprised of a scandal, her first thought was of which media source was the best one to leak the news to. The Elder Bush made it very clear during his time in office that his wife Barbara, was keeping careful track of "friendly" and "non-friendly" reporters. Those reporters who were not considered friendly, i.e., those who wrote critical stories, were denied access to the President. Friendly reporters, of course, got unlimited access.

When a reporter is getting an "inside account," we need to keep in mind that these interviews occur after the President's PR people have thoroughly discussed "the mark" and his "tells," his liquor preferences, his level of knowledge on the issues and his favorite conversational topics, etc. They know how to make their "insider" stories convincing and gather afterwards to talk over what worked, what didn't, what the reporter found convincing and what he appeared skeptical of. What this means is that the much-admired reporter I.F. Stone got it right. When he was told that counter-insurgency warfare was being given primacy in Vietnam and bombing was being phased out, Stone looked up the respective budgetary figures and found out that the US was spending less on counter-insurgency per year than it was on B-52 bombing per month.

Reporting on the President requires of reporters a stubborn refusal to be manipulated, a keen awareness of the many tricks presidential administrations will use to steer reporters towards favored narratives and a deep appreciation for the subject the reporters is reporting on.

My solution? There are many stories that can be covered adequately by a single person, but I'd like to see teams on many other stories. To have a reporter being close to sources and to do a lot of personal interviews in Washington DC, over cocktail weenies and over glasses of expensive scotch is not a bad thing in and of itself. Even "bad guys," however one defines the term, deserve to be heard and to be able to relay their stories in an up-close and personal manner. What I'd like to see, though, would be for the interviewing reporter to turn over his or her notes and observations and conclusions to a blogger up in Minnesota or down in Alabama and for the blogger to take those notes and put them into context, with other facts and opposing viewpoints. The editor can then make sure that the resulting story flows well and isn't choppy and disjointed. As I said, I'd like to see a real team effort on important stories.

2007/07/04

The "Libby Motion"

Defendants in criminal cases involving lying are taking note of President Bush's defense of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, convicted felon who will now serve no time behind bars. The Alberto Gonzales Justice Department wants to throw the book at Democrats and decorated veterans, but appears to want special treatment for Republicans accused of similar crimes. We get some serious snark from Digby on the agony of President Bush as he seeks to decide between commuting Libby's sentence and between full pardon. Hint: If Libby is fully pardoned, he cannot "take the Fifth" if brought up to Congress to testify about the Valerie Plame Wilson case. If his sentence is "merely" commuted, he can still claim that he risks self-incrimination by speaking about it. The WaPo did a "Clinton accused" special on impeachment and the intent of the Founding Fathers in constructing the President's pardon powers. James Madison assured his fellow framers that "[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty. . ."
Dan Froomkin of the WaPo is collecting a list of questions to ask at press conferences about the commuting of Libby's sentence. One very good one is "When did [Bush] find out that Karl Rove and Libby had both leaked Plame's identity? Before or after he vowed that any leakers would be fired? Did anyone lie to him about their role? Why didn't he fire them?" Froomkin's email address.
A strongly pro-Bush article in the NY Times raises many more questions about the purposes of the commutation. The author comments several times about how unusual the case was and how unprecedented Bush's actions were. Question: If Bush felt that Libby's sentence was "excessive," why wait until long after the verdict to say so? Libby was sentenced on 5 June. President Bush commuted his sentence on 2 July. Funny, but I don't remember Bush commenting that Libby's sentence was too harsh until he needed to cast about for a reason to free a crony of his.

Update: Tony Snow, the President's Press Secretary, said: "The president believes pardons and commutations should reflect a genuine determination to strengthen the rule of law and increase public faith in government."
Fine words, but his actions did precisely the opposite. His action in commuting Libby's sentence demonstrated that no such determination had been made, that it weakened the rule of law and that it decreased the public's faith in the government.
"Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time." As Libby didn't serve as much as a single day, it's hard to credit Bush's explanation that he merely considered Libby's sentence to be excessive. BTW, the usual sentence for the obstruction of justice charge is 70 months. Libby was scheduled to serve 30.
Finally, just how much concern has Bush shown towards those appealing for pardons? Answer: Not much. The question of special favors, of a quid pro quo, is very much alive.

2007/07/02

Comparison-contrast

I thought this was pretty interesting:

One Reader's View

Be up-front about your political bias

Re: "Compromising a precious asset," editorial, Tuesday:
Personally I don't have a problem with journalists' giving donations to political candidates, parties and causes. Even if they don't act it sometimes, they're American citizens and are afforded the same First Amendment rights as all citizens.
All I ask is that the consumer of the news be told what the journalists' political leanings are. We conservatives aren't shocked by the study done by MSNBC. We've been preaching in the wilderness about political bias for decades. It was the journalists, of all people, trying to tell us not to believe our lying eyes. "You Republicans are just paranoid."
Ninety percent of polled Washington journalists voted for Bill Clinton? Coincidence! From Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather to Katie Couric, the bias was plain to see. Whether it's the New York Times, Time magazine, the Washington Post or The Inquirer, adjectives are selectively placed to give an impression.
While Gloria Steinam is "witty and cordial," Phyllis Shlafly is "shrill and bitter." George W. Bush provides a "huge" tax cut and a "small" increase in education spending.
Sometimes it's not what is put into a news report but what is not: The American treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is reported, but without equal time or weight given to the treatment of Americans and Iraqi citizens by al-Qaeda sadists. "The Earth is getting warmer." So what? So are Mars, Venus and Mercury.
So give to your favorite candidates and causes, whether it's Hillary, the Green Party or NARAL, but just let us know, so we can view the news through the proper lens.
Fran Steffler
Philadelphia

My letter in response to the same piece (Not published):

Re: "Editorial | Political Donations by Journalists" Jun 26

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20070626_Editorial____Political_Donations_by_Journalists.html

As to the story that %0.03 of journalists made political contributions (144 out of 50,000 and those contributions were heavily weighted towards Democrats), I certainly agree that fairness in journalism is important, but I've never felt that journalists can or should be completely neutral.

Right now, Rudy Giuliani is trying to establish himself as a serious presidential candidate and it was revealed recently that he was kicked out of the Iraq Study Group for failing to make a single meeting. A conservative online newsmagazine, The Politico, makes a very big deal about how marvelously objective and neutral they are, yet can't seem to find room in their reports to mention this very embarrassing fact to the Giuliani campaign. The much-vaunted neutrality of The Politico is just so much hot air.

Fairness is important, but objectivity, both in fact and in theory, is a hugely overrated virtue. There is no shortcut to judging how fair a news source is. One has to follow a news source over a period of time and one has to view it from what both their friends and opponents say about them. Judging news sources by a shortcut such as employee political donations is a waste of time.
Rich Gardner

---------

In my view, the really telling instance is in two recent events. Media Matters commented on Ann Coulter's hour-long interview on the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball over her book Godless, which was being reissued in paperback:

"Ann Coulter is not only a remarkably unpleasant person, she's a serial liar. And yet NBC's David Gregory -- among other journalists -- pretends that she has a meaningful point and makes false assertions about progressives based on her lies.
"That's why it would be folly for progressives to ignore Coulter in hopes that she goes away: because the media don't ignore her. They promote her. They parrot her false claims. It's also why progressives should not only denounce Coulter, but MSNBC and ABC and CNN and Time and every other news organization that gives her a platform and doesn't challenge her lies and repeats them as though they are true."
Now, on July 2nd, Amazon reports that the hardcover version of Godless is selling for $18.45, reduced from $27.95 and that it's sales ranking is #1,625. The recently-released A Tragic Legacy by blogger and lawyer Glenn Greenwald is at #96, well above Coulter's book. Our local paper contains nothing about Greenwald's book and he himself states that:

"Despite its continuing strong sales and widespread attention in the blogosphere, Tragic Legacy is yet to be reviewed, or even mentioned, by any major newspaper or magazine."

Yes, the media is biased, but it's a very strong rightward bias.