2009/10/24

How seriously can we take media objections to the Fox News vs The White House "war"?

Charles Krauthammer complains that the President's Chief Of Staff "Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he's put a horse's head in Roger Ailes' bed." In other words, the White House is not only at war with Fox News, but it's a particularly nasty and vicious war.

What exactly is the White House accusation against Fox News? Krauthammer says:

Meaning? If Fox runs a story critical of the administration -- from exposing White House czar Van Jones as a loony 9/11 "truther" to exhaustively examining the mathematical chicanery and hidden loopholes in proposed health care legislation -- the other news organizations should think twice before following the lead.

That is, Fox is just doing "tough" but completely honest and aboveboard, "fair and balanced" reporting. Is that true? Erm, not exactly.

Fox's "news" staff regularly conflates commentary and news reporting. The network's "news" reporting is full of smears, falsehoods, deceptive editing, and GOP talking points. Just Thursday morning, the Fox & Friends crew parroted a House Republican press release and repeated its claim that the stimulus impact is "6 million jobs shy of what the administration promised us" since the administration stated "that 3.5 million jobs would be created. And, in fact, the United States has lost 2.7 million since the stimulus plan." However, the administration estimated 3.5 millions jobs created or saved by 2011. It's so much easier to read GOP talking points than actually do journalism!

Krauthammer talks about Fox being banned from a Treasury Department press pool and how the news media bravely and heroically stood up to the thuggish Obama Administration and forced them to include Fox. Mediaite tosses a bit of cold water on that thesis, noting among other things that: "As yet, none of the other network bureau chiefs has gone on record to corroborate Fox’s reporting."

Anyway, Krauthammer then gets all noble and Constitutional on us:

There's nothing illegal about such search-and-destroy tactics. Nor unconstitutional. But our politics are defined not just by limits of legality or constitutionality. We have norms, Madisonian norms.

Slight problem with that. Where was all of this teary-eyed nobility back during the Iraq War, specifically in early April 2003 when the Palestine Hotel was shot at by an American tank?


An American tank fired on the Palestine Hotel early Tuesday, where foreign journalists have been covering the war from balconies and the roof.
Less than a mile away, a reporter for Al-Jazeera television was killed when U.S.-led forces bombed his office. Nearby, coalition artillery battered the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi television, trapping more than 25 reporters who phoned for help from the basement.
----
More than 50 news cameras were set up on [the Palestine] hotel balconies when the tank fired, according to Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay. "How can they spot someone with binoculars and not [see] cameras?" he asked.

And from the British reporter Robert Fisk:


The next assault, on Reuters, came just before midday when an Abrams tank on the Jamhuriya Bridge suddenly pointed its gun barrel towards the Palestine Hotel where more than 200 foreign journalists are staying to cover the war from the Iraqi side. Sky Television's David Chater noticed the barrel moving. The French television channel France 3 had a crew in a neighboring room and videotaped the tank on the bridge. The tape shows a bubble of fire emerging from the barrel, the sound of a detonation and then pieces of paintwork falling past the camera as it vibrates with the impact.

General Buford Blount of the US 3rd Infantry Division claimed that there had been rocket fire from the Palestine Hotel, but no one who was in the hotel or in the area heard or saw any such thing.


The WaPo's Ruth Marcus asked what she clearly considered a rhetorical question comparing the Obama Administration with its predecessor: "Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC."


'Fraid to say, the Bush Administration did far worse than just to pull a hissy fit, military weaponry was used against reporters who were just doing their jobs. Was there any sort of outcry from the same people who are now crying and bleating and fussing over the Obama Administration now "beating up" Fox News? (Sound of wind blowing through the grass, crickets chirping).

2009/10/21

Disregarding the War on Drugs

WaPo columnist Kathleen Parker puts out a column about the recent decision by the Obama Administration to legalize state-run pot dispensaries, places where people who need the marijuana for medical purposes get to consume it in a non-partying, non-secretive, or back alley-type setting. A blogger calls the decision "one of those rare instances of unadulterated good news from Washington." Both writers feel that the War on Drugs started by President Nixon and continued up to the present day is a complete flop. The section of the public that agrees that the War on Drugs should be consigned to the dustbin of history is still in the minority (44% to the 54% that wish to continue battling on), but it's a large and growing minority.

A right-wing writer featured on Sadly, No! feels that it's awful for the Obama Administration to stop enforcing a law, that the law should be changed, rather than just ignored. He's correct in principle, but he ignores the fact that President Bush

...quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Seems as if the principle of not ignoring a law is one that applies exclusively to Democratic presidents, or IOKIYAR (It's OKay If You're A Republican). The absolutely huge difference between the Bush and Obama approaches to disregarding the law is that Bush did so secretly. The article linked to above was published in 2006, meaning it took from January 2001 to April 2006 for the public to discover that signing statements were being used in an unprecedented fashion. There's nothing wrong with putting out signing statements and just about every president has done so, but never before was a signing statement used to justify disregarding a law or a portion of a bill passed by Congress and signed by the President.

President Obama, on the other hand, very clearly and openly announced that he would take a more or less "state's rights" position and allow specific state laws to override a specific type of federal law. This is more along the lines of a "command decision" or in the case of civilians, an "executive decision." This is where a supervisor openly announces to anyone within hearing or to anyone who reads the memo that "I know I'm disregarding instructions, but I'm going to do it anyway."

Ex obiter dicta (A more or less related point): I've long felt that the "command decision" was the way to handle the "ticking time bomb" scenario where the protagonist has to decide between torturing a suspect or allowing a bomb to go off. Sure, okay, fine, make the call, but a command decision is not a "get out of jail free" card. If the protagonist is wrong and the suspect doesn't know anything, the protagonist should go to prison for having violated the human rights of the suspect. The moral error right-wingers make is in saying that torturing suspects should be a completely cost-free exercise, one where a wrong call should have consequences only for the suspect and never for the protagonist. The protagonist should be absolutely, positively 100% certain beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that torturing the suspect is the one and only way to get the desired information in time. If he or she is wrong, there should be meaningful consequences so that the decision is never taken lightly or casually.

2009/10/14

The GWOT and social progress

It's difficult to add much to this post on Charles Krauthammer's Weekly Standard piece on why President Obama is allegedly hastening America's decline, but I'll make a few extra comments anyway.

Krauthammer feels that "decline is a choice" and that America can remain the world's top dog if it wants to. I'm not so sure about that because the problem with the US remaining dominant is more than just the single nation of China. It's that before World War II and the following decolonization, the non-Western world was easily dominated by the advanced weaponry and advanced way of organizing their armies that the rest of the world simply couldn't match. We saw in Iraq, however, that Third World people are now able to do so. Nir Rosen authored a series in Asia Times back in 2005 that examined the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation. He shows us not just a stubborn and determined group of fighters, but a canny and sophisticated group that made good use of whatever technology they could get their hands on. The easy domination over other nations that Western powers enjoyed from around 1500 to roughly 1950 is over.

No, I disagree with his statement that "Decline--or continued ascendancy--is in our hands."

The current foreign policy of the United States is an exercise in contraction. It begins with the demolition of the moral foundation of American dominance.

Is it the statements made by President Obama that are demolishing the "moral foundation of American dominance" or is it actions like the tortures that took place at Abu Ghraib? Keep in mind that these tortures were justified by low-level functionaries like Judge Jay Bybee and John Yoo, they weren't simply the rogue actions of some out-of-control people indulging their own twisted desires. These were people who were carrying out official US policy.

Obama didn't just say "America's been bad," he instead went over many actions that the world already knew about and that it clearly and loudly disapproved of and he agreed "Yeah, these actions are wrong."

What happens if the US is no longer dominant?

But that leads to the question: How does this new world govern itself? How is the international system to function?

I would suggest that perhaps the rest of the world probably doesn't need a world sheriff or a daddy figure or an administrator. I would further suggest that liberals refuse to view US power and dominance as inherently good things not because the US is fundamentally bad but because all nations are fundamentally bad. In other words, liberals view competing international powers in much the same way our Founding Fathers viewed competing domestic political interest groups back in the day.

The UN may not be up to snuff today, but that hardly means that the liberal experiment in world government is a failure. Clearly, the countries of the world won't be able to get rid of armies and weapons tomorrow, but Europe is doing a pretty good job melding all their different countries into one framework. It is not the United States of Europe and may never be, but it's grossly premature to say that the experiment will never succeed.

Demonstrators are shot in the streets of Tehran seeking nothing but freedom, but our president holds his tongue...

Krauthammer ignores the very sound and sensible reason that Obama "holds his tongue" and refuses to interfere. It's because the Iranian opposition has asked America to keep its distance. The last thing Iranian supporters of a democratic Iran want is the US throwing its weight around, trying to "liberate" them. Partly because the Iranian opposition may (quite reasonably) fear that the US may seek to do so for the exclusive purpose of liberating Iran's oil fields, but mostly because Iranians consider democratization to be an internal affair that outsiders cannot effectively steer. It's not that the US specifically can't effectively usher Iran towards democracy, it's that no outsider can do so. Iran's opposition figures that democracy has to be something Iranians gain in their own way, on their own timetable.

Krauthammer seem quite upset that "there is no more 'Global War on Terror.'" Well, that's right. Maybe because the GWOT was a complete, total and unqualified failure. First of all, the GWOT has been extraordinarily expensive to parts of the Mideast:

As of April 2009, in the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan Territories post-invasion non-violent excess deaths total 0.3 million, 1.0 million and 3.2 million, respectively; post-invasion violent deaths total about 10,000, 1.3 million and 2-4 million...

The same piece estimated US deaths from terrorism (Including the 3,000 killed on 9-11) at about 10,000. Bit of a disproportionate response, I would think. The GWOT has also been very expensive as far as civil liberties are concerned, with citizen protections against overly-intrusive surveillance being especially hard-hit. And what did America get for it's money, time and effort? The chart here only goes to 2006, but it's rather obvious that the GWOT was having the exact opposite of its intended effect. Deaths and injuries due to terrorism steadily increased.

A recent piece in the Boston Globe shows that continuing along the course advocated by those who would like continued war in Afghanistan could very easily end up having the same corrosive effect on social progress in the US that the Korean War had under Harry Truman and that the Vietnam war had under Lyndon Johnson.

Krauthammer follows with a "parade of horribles" where it's rather difficult to see just what the US has lost that's of any value. My concern with these examples is not that Krauthammer is being at all untruthful, but that in all cases he's only telling part of the story, that he's only giving us a very partial and limited view of what's actually going on with these issues.

So when Krauthammer reaches the preliminary conclusion that:

The express agenda of the New Liberalism is a vast expansion of social services--massive intervention and expenditures in energy, health care, and education--that will necessarily, as in Europe, take away from defense spending.

My response to that is "And your problem with this is...?"

2009/10/08

Views on the Afghanistan occupation

The leaders of Code Pink say that they have ascertained the views of Afghan women concerning continued US occupation of that country and the women there say they would prefer that US troops stay until an Afghan army is trained and armed and ready to provide them with security.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR only mentions Afghan popular opinion by noting that "Five years ago, 70 percent of eligible voters participated in the Afghan presidential election. This year it was down to 38 percent." Even if Afghanis wanted US troops to remain, five years of occupation have seen a serious deterioration of the security situation.

Concerning the primary reason for being in Afghanistan, i.e., US troops are acting as a bulwark against al Qaeda, we might wish to keep in mind that "...Taliban elements have free reign in many areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, yet the administration is contending that there are only an estimated 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan."

How's the Afghan drug trade doing? Wel-l-l-l... "...the 13 provinces reckoned by Afghan and foreign observers to be largely under insurgent control, where poppy cultivation often extends to the outskirts of the government-controlled administrative centers and opium is sold in bazaars within a stone's throw of the governor's compound."

But the government is legitimate, right? Wel-l-l-l... Nasrine Gross says: "I have just returned from Kabul. And I am shocked how little the extent of fraud in the presidential elections is understood outside Afghanistan."

As much as I sympathize with Afghan civilians who want US troops to remain in their country, our troops need to leave Afghanistan yesterday!

2009/10/04

The "a few bad apples" defense

A local columnist summarizes the current rap against ACORN:

...consider the ACORN videos, in which a fake pimp and prostitute seek help from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to set up a brothel, commit tax fraud, and engage in sex trafficking of underage illegal immigrants. ACORN employees at five offices seemed happy to help.

He goes on to say racism is a bogus defense that an ACORN board member used. From what I've seen of the case, I agree with the columnist that racism appears to be completely irrelevant to the launching of the sting operation. For me the question is: Just how much of a problem did the sting operation uncover? ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, said:

Well, when you run an organization, what you need to do is to make sure that everyone knows your standards and everyone is trained to understand how to do intake. I think, in the end, most of these employees just felt like, well, I have to talk to whoever comes in here. However, that cannot trump common sense and also it cannot trump someone going to their supervisor and saying this is unusual, what do I do? So, in any case, though it's indefensible, that's why I terminated everyone. And I am making sure not to take this lightly. My board was outraged, and I think I owe it to the other employees that did the right thing. It's just a handful of folks out of hundreds and hundreds of employees.

The use of "It's just a handful of folks..." raises immediate red flags because we heard that for the Roman Catholic priests who were engaged in pedophilia. Father John Geoghan was identified as a child rapist by the alternative newspaper The Boston Phoenix in March 2001 (The Boston Globe followed up in January 2002 shortly before Geoghan was convicted, whereupon the case came to the attention of the public at large). A major aspect of the case from the very beginning was that Father Geoghan's activities were so extensive that it was suspected immediately that his activities had to have been known of by his superiors. He was "suspected of fondling, assaulting, and raping hundreds of children over three decades." And, "parents had complained to Geoghan’s superiors about his behavior with children as far back as 1973."

During the investigation and trial, Fitzpatrick, among other victims, charged that top Church authorities at the Diocese of Fall River had known about Porter’s behavior all along. ... Cardinal Law infamously blasted reporters for focusing on what he termed “the faults of a few”: “We deplore that.... By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.” ... At the time Law made these remarks, Geoghan had already been placed on temporary “sick leave” at least once, according to the Official Catholic Directory. This leave of absence, as alleged in court records, followed a complaint of abuse against Geoghan by one mother of an alleged victim from Jamaica Plain.

Since then, pedophile priests have shown up in Ireland - In April 2002, the Irish government began its own investigation and issued its report in October 2005 and in Italy - The Meter Association, founded by Italian Father Fortunato Di Noto announced the existence of "A hundred online pedophile communities" in September 2009 and said they'd be dismantled and prosecuted.

Defenders of pedophile priests certainly tried to claim that the problem was limited to "a few bad apples," and while it's certainly true that it's wrong to physically attack priests "As if all priests are pedophiles. As if all priests are perverted. As if all priests are immoral, or corrupt, or just bad" (emphases in original), it was clear from the very start that the problem was an institutional one, that it wasn't just a couple of rogue individuals.

Torture at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib was also allegedly limited to "a few bad apples," but the US made a very poor case for that owing to the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq in the first place and again, the problem didn't trace back to just a few rogue individuals. The historical roots of the practice of torture with American assistance traced back to the Shah of Iran and his agency SAVAK. The Red Cross had found serious problems with US treatment of and policy towards Iraqi detainees as early as March 2003, the month that the US invaded Iraq. By March 2006, the website Salon had collated a list of government and private investigative reports.

It was also confirmed in May 2009 that the Bush Administration had a few low-level employees write out some torture-justifying memos, memos that opined on the authority of the President to order the lawless abuse of helpless prisoners at will. As the blogger Christy Hardin Smith put it:



The ACLU has put together a video of these words of tortured logic being read aloud. Watch it.
The words you are hearing were written by and for the US government. As guidance for governmental agencies acting in all of our names.

So, again, we're not dealing with just a couple of rogue individuals, we're dealing with an institution that went seriously off the tracks.

Back to ACORN, do we have any evidence that we're dealing with a deep, systemic problem? Any indication that ACORN is a corrupt institution? Well, the NPR story that quotes the ACORN CEO came out on September 21st and the quote from a local columnist came out today, October 4th. As one can see, there are no new developments in the case. There is no evidence that any of the employees who agreed to help the fake pimp and prostitute brought their case up to any higher levels. There's no evidence that any money actually changed hands or that any organizational favors were actually granted. As Anonymous Liberal points out, it's entirely understandable for people, faced with a completely unexpected situation to improvise as best they can and importantly, in as non-confrontational a mode as they can. This does not, of course, excuse the people who agreed to help the fake prospective clients, but it does make their actions more understandable.

No, I think the ACORN case is one where the idea of "a few bad apples" does indeed apply.