2008/04/28

Accomplishments?

Several years back, I heard about a high school girls cross-country track team. For a reason I forget, it didn't have much in the way of leadership for a whole school year. The girls slacked off and ran at a leisurely pace, didn't really try and didn't push themselves. Their poor performance really made itself felt at their year-end party. They realised that they had nothing to celebrate as they hadn't accomplished anything.

I remembered that story when reading about this years White House Correspondents' Association dinner. It was apparently a complete drag as the Bush Administration had nothing it had accomplished in the past seven-plus years that it could openly brag about. Katrina/New Orleans is something they may have regarded as a success, but obviously, they can't brag (at least not openly) about it. I mean, besides voter suppression and initiating bogus "voter fraud" (i.e., anti-likely-Democratic-voter cases) and getting the Iraq War extended into the next president's term, what can loyal Republicans brag about?

The press corps? The statement by the evening's entertainer was "It is your task to watch the government, to make sure they do not exceed their power. Well done on that, by the way, the last eight years." But the press corps did nothing of the sort. On March 8th of this year, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have outlawed waterboarding. That very evening, Bush attempted some off-key warbling and the press corps stood to applaud him. One could perhaps argue that the correspondents were applauding his singing and that his veto of the bill wasn't considered to be relevant, but it's not like their publications made a big fuss over the veto, either (Our local paper covered it, but it's hard to say where in the paper the story appeared. A Yahoo search shows many, many more alternative media sources on the story than it does traditional media sources).

The story of networks using retired generals as TV commentators, generals who were still working for the Pentagon to spread the Bush Administration's stories, was put out on the 20th of April. On the 24th of April,

Judy Woodruff stated:"[W]e invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond."
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Media Matters for America previously noted that, in contrast with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, as of 11:59 p.m. on April 22, none of the following outlets had covered the Times report on shows whose transcripts are available in the Nexis database: PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and NPR. A follow-up search* on April 25 determined that as of 11:59 p.m. ET on April 24, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News had still not covered the report during news programs whose transcripts are available in the Nexis database.**

So no, it really can't be said that the traditional media had anything to celebrate, either. But Froomkin gets in a good one:

Throngs surrounded aging professional floozy Pamela Anderson, a guest of Bloomberg, who happily posed for countless photos in a dress that exposed the preponderance of her two most outstanding achievements.

Ooooh! Snap!!

2008/04/21

Armed Liberal's flawed argument

Whiskey Fire introduces us to Armed Liberal, who tries to argue that for the Pentagon to hire retired military officers to testify on the TeeVee that Bush's war is a-okay and peachy-keen and is a necessary step to defeating the Iraqi insurgency (Which apparently includes both the Palestinian Authority and Hezbollah). AL appears to see the other side as engaging in propaganda. Okay, sure, I'll go with that. But as Iraqi insurgents don't have direct access to the American public, and as AL is apparently arguing that they are degrading the fighting spirit of our public, then that of course means that our traditional media is complicit in carrying their message to us. A quick look at any day's worth of output from Media Matters makes the very strong case that the traditional media is very much an Establishment institution, dedicated to bringing us the word of the day as seen from a deeply Republican national power structure.

But what I find very disturbing about AL's viewpoint is his apparent belief that it's okay to manipulate American public opinion to support whatever war the Establishment chooses to fight at the moment. According to "Betz," whom AL quotes:

Third, by contrast, we do not focus enough effort on winning and maintaining the hearts and minds of the most critical and accessible population: our own. [emphasis in original]

This of course presumes that the war that the US is fighting is a just one and that the cause is a good one. The Establishment certainly thought Vietnam was a good cause, the American public disagreed. Certainly the Establishment under President Ronald Reagan thought it was a good idea to get involved in Lebanon, at least until the Marine barracks was blown up with nearly 300 Marines inside. They supported President Bill Clinton getting involved in Somalia until the "Black Hawk Down" incident occurred.

See, the problem is that the American public is supposed to act as a brake on leaders who want to get our country involved in unwinnable conflicts. We're supposed to act as a "check" or a "balance" against overeager warmongers. AL doesn't seem to understand that there is something deeply undemocratic about treating our own population as a dumb audience to be manipulated. It's explained in the Whiskey Fire comments section that AL is not a liberal at all, he's a libertarian, which is a different creature altogether.

This problem is compounded by AL's refusal to recognize the distinction between a government PIO (Public Information Officer), who clearly and explicitly speaks on behalf of the government and between a covert spokesperson who is allegedly speaking as an individual. The manipulation that the Marine PIOs engage in in the movie Full Metal Jacket or that the "Five O'Clock Follies" (Public briefings given in Saigon) engaged in is not a danger to democracy as the public can easily see where the information is coming from and can weigh it and judge it accordingly.

ALs view of the American and Islamic audiences is an interesting one;

Basically, if you need to target your base and find that it is fractured and lacks purpose, lacks the attention span for in-depth appeal to argument but is exquisitely sensitive to manipulation and possesses an innate mastery of semiotics then you have a problem. And if, moreover, your opponent’s base is unified, has a sense of purpose, a rich oral tradition which lends itself well to story-listening (and telling) and is fairly credulous when it comes to conspiracy theories then you have got a very serious problem.

First off, we've known since very early in the Iraq War that the Iraqi insurgency is made up of many different groups with many divergent viewpoints and strategies. The problem for the US has been that they all agree on ejecting US troops from what is, after all, their country. Second, this is a very, VERY insulting way to describe the American public! Obviously, someone who describes us as a population that "lacks the attention span for in-depth appeal to argument but is exquisitely sensitive to manipulation and possesses an innate mastery of semiotics" is someone who simply doesn't believe in democracy. Period.

There's a reason we liberals keep saying that conservatives worship Gee Dubya Bush, their "Dear Leader."

2008/04/18

The 16 April Obama-Clinton debate

George Stephanopoulos defends the 16 April so-called "debate" between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but really, it was largely just an attack on Obama by Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson. Clinton caught some flak as well, but she joined in a few times, thereby occasionally making it a three-to-one fight.

“The vote for the president,” Stephanopoulos said, “is one of the most personal” decisions that someone makes.

“When people make that choice, they take into account how candidates stand on the issues,” he said, but also are concerned with “experience, character [and] credibility.”

“You can’t find a presidential election where those issues didn’t come into play,” he said.

Stephanopoulos explained that since the candidates are not far apart policy-wise, the “core of the nomination fight” has been about these issues.

“They’ve been fighting it out on this turf,” he said, adding that these are things that “came up between this debate and the last one.”

But as Media Matters has pointed out more than once, the media really can't be relied upon to assess character with any accuracy.


Of course character is important in choosing a president; of course personality will always play a role. The problem isn't that journalists think character and personality matter, it is that they are spectacularly bad at assessing these traits, and even worse at predicting how the candidates will govern as a result.

One example was the case of Al Gore and Naomi Wolf. It was charged during the 2000 presidential election that Wolf was advising Gore to wear "earth tones." Well, Wolf was indeed working with Gore as a campaign adviser, but she wasn't hired to provide clothing advice. And if she had been doing so? Well, John McCain was heard to complain just a few months back that his campaign adviser instructed him to wear what he called "gay" sweaters, so it would hardly be a dramatic break with tradition for Wolf to have provided that advice.

In their attempt to assess Gore's character, the media messed up the Gore-Wolf story on two levels. One, it wasn't even true. Two, even if it were true, so what?

As to experience, G W Bush was an MBA, the CEO of several companies and Governor of Texas. We can see where all that experience got us.

The Obama-Clinton "debate" spent almost a full hour on such idiotic trivialities as to what Obama's pastor said during a sermon shortly after 9-11 (Obama says he wasn't there and nobody considered the speech significant enough to have told him about it, a quick look at Wright's biography shows that the attitude expressed in the speech was a very minor part of his life) and Obama's being on same board of directors with a former Weather Underground member who made a really stupid statement about 40 years ago (Obviously, if the fellow was serving on a board of directors, then he's apparently matured and is much less stupid these days). Clinton, to her discredit, chimed in to agree that Obama showed poor judgement in both cases.

Clinton claimed that she's faced the Republican Noise Machine in the past and so knows how to handle it. Well, I don't think it shows very good judgement to back up the other sides' talking points and attacks on your own side. Even if you agree that your ally showed poor judgement, it's a very, very bad idea to join up with the other side to attack your own side. As Allahpundit from the blog that Michelle Malkin sometimes contributes to, Hot Air, puts it: "Hillary: Why, yes, Jeremiah Wright is a legitimate campaign issue," followed by "Coming soon to a McCain campaign ad near you."

That was a major complaint about Joe Lieberman that cost him his membership in the Democratic Party. As the Jewish Daily Forward put it:

Many activists believe that Lieberman’s conciliatory approach [to Republicans] undercuts the party’s unity, consistency and confrontational posture, all of which are essential for an effective opposition party. They resent his style more than they resent his voting record, which is not very different from those of many popular Democrats.

Andrew Sullivan was less than impressed with Clinton's performance:

Clinton has exposed herself in this campaign as one of the worst shells of a cynical pol in American politics. She doesn’t just return us to the Morris-Rove era, she represents a new height for it.

The Swamp from Baltimore agrees:

...for Hillary Clinton to get so giddy about the Wright question was really just sad. She was the official purveyor of fringe talking points. Shockingly so. And, she seemed to enjoy it. There’s a reason people think Clinton is dishonest as we saw today in the findings of the Washington Post-ABC News poll. She’s not only in this to win, she’s in it to win dirty — and to destroy Obama. She invoked Louis Farrakhan tonight for no reason — just to say it.

Daily Kos was considerably less than kind to the two interrogators:

I’ll bet if they had more time, ABC anchors Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolus would probably have gotten around to asking Obama and Clinton about Willie Horton….The questions asked were not the kinds of questions Democratic primary voters care about. But they are the “gotcha” kinds of questions Republicans try to spring on Democrats in general elections.

Very interestingly, a blogger from Hot Air was very supportive of Clinton:

…The winner of this debate? John McCain. Both Democrats came out of this diminished, but Obama got destroyed in this exchange.

Jon Stewart's Daily Show for 18 April also commented on this episode:

ABC News had traveled about, taping questions from Pennsylvanians. Which question was presented to Obama? A woman asked him to explain why he doesn’t wear a lapel pin.
Should that question have been selected? You can make a case for almost anything. And it’s true—this matter has been bruited about; almost surely, there are other Pennsylvanians who are wondering about it. Some Pennsylvanians, including that woman, may even cast their vote on this basis. (People vote for every imaginable reason. See example below.)
But ABC News had less than two hours, and the world is full of complex issues. At some point, journalists have to set their priorities. And by the way: If ABC taped a lot of citizens, surely someone looked into the camera and asked Obama if he’s a Muslim—or if it’s true that he won’t swear on a Bible. Did someone ask Clinton about all her murders? At some point, a news org has to show some judgment about which questions to pick.
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In the real world, some questions are more equal than others. And some questions reflect the broken-souled culture of a broken, multimillionaire press corps.

Both The Moderate Voice and AmericaBlog have done round-ups of opinion on the web.

2008/04/11

Bush's speech on Iran

On Iran, Bush ratcheted up his so-far rhetorical battle with that country's government. Bush said the Iranian government has a choice: It "can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran
"If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners."

Very tough and clear speech. If Iran continues to meddle in Iraq, watch out! Slight problem: there doesn't appear to be any evidence that Iran is doing any such thing.

It's blame-blame-blame, blame-blame Iran. We've heard this song before. The Bush administration warbles it every time it needs to justify its failed Iraq policies and rally a skeptical public.

One of the main charges against Iran is:

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who will also testify, accused Iran of providing some of the rockets that have struck the Green Zone in Baghdad, causing a number of U.S. casualties. "We got the tailfins of what was dropping on us ... This was quite literally made in Iran," Crocker told reporters.

But Juan Cole points out that religious pilgrims travel from Iran to Iraq and back again in very large numbers, perhaps a million a year. Weapons may indeed be traveling across the border, but it's not like the weapons would necessarily come to Iraq via a deliberate Iranian policy:

Cole also questioned U.S. claims that Iran was intentionally supplying weapons to the Mahdi Army. "There's no proof for that, and whenever the U.S. Army is pressed for evidence, they always back off." The weapons are available on the black market, and the Mahdi Army, flush with funds, can easily buy them.

Back during the Vietnam War, whenever an advanced weapon appeared in the hands of Vietnamese who were fighting the Americans, it was so plainly imported from either the Chinese or the Russians that no attempt was made to hide where any of the weapons came from. That's not the case in the Middle East. With approximately 100 million AK-47s produced worldwide (They sell for $30 to $125) and with no gun control in Iraq, an AK-47 is part of pretty much every family's arsenal. IEDs and RPGs are also pretty generic and similarly hard to trace.
Vice-President Cheney had a talk with Sean Hannity wherein he warned darkly about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad having all sorts of crazy beliefs. Beliefs about Iran's need to destroy Israel (Juan Cole has argued that Cheney is quoting from a mistranslation) and that Ahmadinejad believes in "The 12th Imam," a rather mystical notion similar to the Christian Biblical "End Times." Mid-east scholar Bernard Lewis has already predicted an Iranian attempt to bring about an Islamic version of the "End Times," but nothing happened on the predicted day of Aug 8th, 2006.

In a rather alarming statement from Bill Kristol (Whose magazine, The Weekly Standard, pressed for war with Iraq from that famous September 11th until the invasion began), he said: "I think people are overdoing how much of a lame duck the president is." Shades of the 1989 "Wimp factor" that the elder George Bush exorcised by invading Panama!

And finally, the very latest news is that "Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. will be as aggressive as possible to counter the increase in Iranian support for militias." As the Iranian support for the militias appears to be more a matter of covering all their bets as opposed to trying to push Iraq in one direction or another, it's not really clear what countering Iranian support actually means. Gates was then quite vague about whether Iran was supplying more weapons to Iraq or not, echoing Bush's "gut instinct" of the period before the Iraq War. Gates went on to claim: "I think the Iraqi government now has a clearer view of the malign impact of Iran's activities inside Iraq."

I'd say if there was an Iran War equivalent of the nuclear "Doomsday Clock," I think we can move it a bit closer to midnight.

2008/04/02

Too good not to quote

From the WaPo's Dana Milbank:
Bush may be a loathed figure in much of the world, but one group owes him a debt of gratitude: the many opposition leaders who came to power after Bush-friendly ruling parties were voted out. Howard took his place alongside Jos¿ Mar¿a Aznar of Spain (whose party was dumped in 2004), Italy's Silvio Berlusconi (tossed out in 2006), and Britain's Tony Blair (stepped aside in favor of a Bush-skeptical understudy in 2007). Ruling parties in Poland and Japan also paid for their leaders' friendships with Bush with big defeats.
Bush's pariah status has turned his Coalition of the Willing into a retirement community and given the president an unusual role in the domestic affairs of other countries. In Australia, one of Rudd's predecessors as Labor leader, Mark Latham, got the top job after describing Bush as "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory." He further described members of Howard's government as a "conga line of suckholes" to Bush.
Howard, in turn, expressed a view that al-Qaeda terrorists would be praying for a 2008 victory by Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular.
Bush enjoyed this mutual affection. "I can tell you, relations are great right now," he said last year in Sydney, which was all but shut down by security measures needed to keep him safe.