2010/11/29

Libelous Lapse


A recent BBC Editorial Complaint Unit ruling has led to the BBC publishing an apology to pop musician Bob Geldof over claims made in several recent reports about the use of Live Aid benefit money and how it was used in Ethiopia.


The pieces that prompted the apology were a BBC World Service program called Assignment broadcast on March 4, 2010, in which a reporter investigated whether or not money raised by Bob Geldof's Band Aid Trust had gotten into the hands of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front and was used to purchase weapons and further politics, rather than provide famine relief. This prompted Geldof's organization to complain, given the damage done and the lack of evidence necessary in order to make such a claim, as well as the fact that the organization did not get to respond.


The apology later goes on to mention pieces run on bbc.co.uk that mention exact amounts of money raised and hypothetically spent on weapons with insubstantial evidence, with claims that upwards of $95 million was raised by western organizations and then used to further rebel warfare in Ethiopia.

The BBC's apology then consists of a list of findings for each of the programs and pieces either broadcast or published online, with many of them pointing out the fact that the BBC's investigators used certain pieces of evidence to tie Band Aid towards funding rebel activity when it was a blatant stretch to do so. It also points out the fact that the report provided insufficient reason to the Band Aid Trust to provide a response before the piece ran given the nature of its allegations.

The apology further picks apart a number of pieces, pointing out places where similar moves were used to tie the Band Aid Trust towards rebel fighting and emphasize Geldof's unwillingness to discuss the issue, with each piece's complaints either being listed as "Upheld," "Partially upheld," or "Not upheld" (with complaints concerning PM, The Andrew Marr Show, and The Media Show) all being dropped.

As a resolution, the BBC published and broadcast apologies to the Band Aid Trust on BBC One, the News Channel, Radio 4 and BBC World Service. The organization also made edits to online pieces in order to ensure that readers know that complaints have been made and upheld about the articles before they view them and pointed out several more instances in which the piece that aired on Assignment was either "inaccurate or potentially misleading" about the success of Band Aid Trust fundraising towards Ethiopia.

In essence, the BBC faced consequences more than anything else for sensationalizing what would otherwise be a fairly normal piece of reporting, using insubstantial evidence when making rather lofty claims about how large sums of money were spent and the consequences. Geldof and his organization were understandably angry, especially if they have the proof that 95% of relief money was not, in fact, used to fund rebel warfare in Ethiopia, which the ECU's investigation seems to have pointed out.


Andrew Hall is a blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Accredited Online Colleges for Guide to Online Schools.

2010/11/28

This year's Unity08


Kathleen Parker of the WaPo is excited about a group that calls itself No Labels. Problem is, there's no obvious difference between No Labels and early 2007's Unity08, a group that was being touted by David Broder, that centrist "Dean of the Press Corps." The problem that both Parker and Broder cite is that neither group has/had a leader who had anywhere near the popularity of Jesse Jackson or Ross Perot. But the real problem that both pundits ignored was that the centrist voters who don't like either party, but who will vote for a mushy compromise party is a real group, but it's a very, very small one that will only have clout in a closely-divided electoral contest.

Parker's thesis is that both of the major parties are just so awful. Her evidence that the Democrats are now extremists consists of Speaker Pelosi's opposition to the absolutely awful group led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Yes, one is a Democrat and the other is a Republican, but they've both richly earned their group the name of the "Cat Food Commission" as both persons obviously despise Social Security recipients and clearly want to see grandma and grandpa living on scraps retrieved from the garbage dump.

Her charge that Republicans are extremists has a good deal more substance to it because Republicans really are extremists who really have put the squeeze on moderates in their party. Remember, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) said: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Dunno about you, but that sounds like an awfully extremist statement to me. The Senate minority is even opposing the ratification of the START Treaty. This is quite serious as the treaty is what allows the US to inspect Russian nuclear armaments. With the treaty being allowed to lapse, inspections have ceased and they will not begin again until and unless the treaty is ratified. Yet, Republicans appear perfectly content to allow the treaty to remain a dead letter. Again, that sounds pretty darned extremist to me.

No, America doesn't need a centrist party. What it needs to do is to see to it that Democrats get a spine-stiffener and to toss Republicans out on their keisters.

2010/11/27

Reviewing "Decision Points" - G.W. Bush's memoir


Dan Froomkin, one of the better critics of G.W. Bush during those dark years when he was in office, focuses on two particular items that Bush addresses in his memoir: The "decision" to go to war against Iraq and the decision to torture detainees. I was especially amused by one part of the decision on torture from another Froomkin piece on June 2009:
Comey describes how he and some of his colleagues had "grave reservations" about the legal analyses being concocted for Cheney. And he accurately predicts that Cheney and other White House officials would later point the finger at the Justice Department during the investigations that would inevitably ensue once the administration's actions were made public.

Indeed, in one e-mail, Comey describes an exchange with Ted Ullyot, then Gonzales's chief of staff: "I told him that the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the s--- hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say they had only asked for an opinion."

And in Bush's justification for ordering torture:
"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."

Following illegal orders is not just a bad thing in itself, there's a high probability that you'll get tossed to the sharks or thrown under the bus if the people you're carrying out illegal acts for find that they're feeling the heat for the acts that you performed for them. Froomkin goes over the many Bush and Cheney assertions that torture "worked" (That is, that acts of torture resulted in the obtaining of useful information) and finds each and every time that, well, they're simply assertions that after all this time, remain completely unsubstantiated.

The only clear benefit that Froomkin can find for torture under Bush is that it provided clear (even if obviously coerced) "confessions" that helped to make the case for launching the Iraq War. As he points out, both Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell used the "confession" coerced out of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi by Egyptian authorities to make speeches in which they declared that they had "proof" of the danger that Iraq posed. Of course, neither man saw fit to inform the public as to where exactly this information came from and, as a consequence, how reliable this "confession" truly was.

Did Bush make a "decision" to go to war against Iraq? Froomkin points out that in order for there to have been a real decision, there needed to be an alternative course of action that might have been chosen in preference to what actually happened.
Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly "demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan subsequent to that except for a military solution, and enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to generate support for a war."
That's right: There never was another plan. And therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision point" either. There were some debates about how to invade Iraq, and when, but not if.
I took part in what I believe was the first anti-Iraq War demonstration. It was in September 2002, in the same month when Bush made his "We gotta git Saddam afore he gits us" speech at the UN. I very clearly remember that none of the speakers at the march nor any of the people carrying signs made or even suggested anybody else make, any attempt to communicate with the President and to try and convince him to change his mind. I believe we all reached the same conclusion, that Bush had absolutely and unequivocally made up his mind and that he was going to invade Iraq, period.
As another reviewer points out:
The structure of “Decision Points,” with each chapter centered on a key issue—stem-cell research, interrogation and wiretapping, the invasion of Iraq, the fight against AIDS in Africa, the surge, the “freedom agenda,” the financial crisis—reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back.

Also, I found this description to be all-too-accurate:
Here is another feature of the non-decision: once his own belief became known to him, Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them. If there was an honest and legitimate argument on the other side, then the President would have to defend his non-decision, taking it out of the redoubt of personal belief and into the messy empirical realm of contingency and uncertainty.

Yep, I remember the pieces about "Some say...", the phrase that signaled to readers and listeners that Bush was about to drag out the rhetorical device of a straw man to make his argument of the moment.
Campaigning for Republican candidates in the 2002 midterm elections, the president sought to use the congressional debate over a new Homeland Security Department against Democrats.

He told at least two audiences that some senators opposing him were "not interested in the security of the American people." In reality, Democrats balked not at creating the department, which Mr. Bush himself first opposed, but at letting agency workers go without the usual civil service protections.

And it's almost amusing to run across this statement about trying to decide whether to go to war against Iraq:
During this period, Bush relates, “I sought opinions on Iraq from a variety of sources.” By coincidence, every one of them urged him to do it.

Yeah, funny how that happens when you've absolutely made up your mind to do something and when you have a limited circle of advisers, everyone you speak with just
happens to have reached the same conclusion! One of the Bush vacations that really stuck me as wildly irresponsible was in August 2003. It was becoming clear that the Iraq War was transitioning from a straightforward military-to-military battle followed by a more-or-less peaceful occupation regime and turning into a situation more like what Mao Zedong described as "protracted war" where the objective is to outlast a technologically-superior foe. Had Bush drawn around him a more heterogeneous set of advisers, had he been listening to something other than a bunch of "yes-men" or "loyal Bushies," he would have spent that August hunkered down in the map rooms and consulting with people who knew something about guerrilla wars. Instead, he just treated that month as simply another vacation and twiddled his thumbs on his Texas ranch for a month while the Iraq situation deteriorated.

More on Bush's dodgy language:
Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."
[...]
And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or that going to war was a sickening mistake.
It's most curious that the Republican Party constantly speaks of personal responsibility and how important it is and how Democrats don't observe it, but for Bush, just about everything that went wrong appears to have been somebody else's fault. He says "My bad" for purely rhetorical mistakes, things like the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) or for saying "bring 'em on" in response to a question about the emerging Iraqi insurgency. But when it came to really serious misconduct on his part:
In fact, Dubya and his ghostwriters’ version of the Plame-CIA outing is even more curiously incurious than Packer suggests. Condensing the lengthy investigation and Libby’s trial to roughly a paragraph, Bush faithfully cites the GOP talking point that Richard Armitage was Robert Novak’s source in exposing Plame, so special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald shouldn’t have bothered investigating anything or anyone else… and then blithely notes that he refused to pardon the convicted Libby because his lawyers unanimously agreed the verdicts were justified. [emphasis in original]
Bush's book just came out a little while ago, but as Froomkin points out, the traditional press corps, "The Village" as the blogger Digby calls them (The Village and how they're responding to Sarah Palin), is doing its collective best to ignore, downplay and paper over Bush's crimes and the immense damage that he did to this country and to the rest of the world. They shouldn't be allowedto get away with that. If the US doesn't place Bush on trial and then imprison him, we risk a reprise of the temporary imprisonment and national embarrassment of Augusto Pinochet in 1998. From a piece on Bush and torture:
Tom Porteous, the UK Director of Human Rights Watch said, “There is no point having international justice for petty African dictators if you can’t apply it to the leaders of powerful countries like the US."

Porteous is right. For justice to not simply be "victor's justice," something that the winners get to apply to the losers, it has to apply to the "Leader of the Free World" as well.

2010/11/19

Bit of an adventure

Tried starting up the car this afternoon. Lights went on, but began fading, suggesting that the battery had gone bad. I was without a car for the first year I was in Pennsylvania, so I remembered how to do a lot of stuff. I determined that I was going to see "Fair Game," so I walked about a half an hour to get to the nearest spot where the local bus picks passengers up. Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait. I got to the theater around 7:20, but unfortunately, the times the movie showed were 7:30 and 10:30. Hadn't had anything to eat since morning, so I knew I couldn't last through a movie and heck, it's just a little after 10:30 as I write this.
Went to a restaurant in the same shopping center that the movie theater was in. Hadn't eaten there for several years. Noticed that they now had wi-fi. Woo-hoo! Pulled out my laptop and had plenty to read for dinner. Had a nice long leisurely meal and again, caught the bus going back very shortly after I began waiting for it.
So, I have a computer society meeting tomorrow, I can get to a bus line going there by walking another half an hour in the opposite direction that I walked in tonight. After that, I guess I'll stop and pick up a car battery. At that point, it's probably better to just get a cab to get the rest of the way home where, hopefully, it's just a new battery that the car needs. Must remember to get the specs on the current battery before I take off.

2010/11/04

The 2010 Mid-terms: Is there a silver lining?

One would think that if progressives being too progressive was the problem with the Democratic Party, then the "fiscally conservative" Blue Dog Democrats would have done better than progressives. They didn't. Blue Dogs got absolutely hammered at the polls.

As far as The Democratic Party is concerned, there actually is a silver lining to the 2010 mid-term election. In 2006, Senator Joe Lieberman was a Democrat from Connecticut and not just some meaningless Joe Schmuckatelli, he was very recently (2004) the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate. So when Lieberman stepped all over Democratic messaging:

Lieberman claims to be a staunch supporter of affirmative action, when in fact he has always added the caveat, "but I oppose quotas"
[...]
Lieberman is also the strongest Democratic supporter of faith-based bribery in the Senate.

Democrats found that the Republican retort of "But Joe Lieberman, a Democrat in good standing, says..." was very difficult to refute or ignore. The inclusion of Lieberman in the Democratic Party did Democrats far more harm than good, so Democrats were well rid of him (Ned Lamont won the Democratic primary, but lost the general election, so Lieberman is still a Senator, but as an Independent).

Lieberman was a "Blue Dog Democrat," a group that was strongly favored by the President's former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and is favored today by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Their message of "fiscal discipline" was one that was problematic for Democrats in the best of times, but during an economic crisis like the present one, is downright destructive. The identification of Democrats as free spenders compared to the Republicans as being tight with a dollar is one that is challenged by the Republican desire to keep the younger George Bush's tax cuts going for those making over $250,000 annually, but has been a reasonably good shorthand description of how Democrats manage the economy versus how Republicans manage it.

So the good news from the mid-term election of 2010? The Blue Dogs took it on the chin! Blue Dog losses far outnumbered Progressive losses.

23 of the 46 Blue Dogs up for re-election went down on Tuesday.
[...]
Half of the Blue Dog incumbents were defeated, and by themselves accounted for close to half of the Democratic losses. [emphasis in original]
[...]
the worst possible choice Democrats can make is to run as GOP-replicating corporatists devoted above all else to serving corporate interests in order to perpetuate their own power: what Washington calls "centrists" and "conservative Democrats." That is who bore the bulk of the brunt of last night's Democratic bloodbath -- not liberals.

One thing I'm very cheerful about is that Blue Dogs who ran against the Speaker of the House fared particularly poorly. And obviously, if the "Cat Food Commission" takes a meat-ax to Social Security as progressives suspect they will, the Blue Dogs will be playing a major role in lending the credibility of the Democratic Party to such a destructive project. That's why it's particularly important to diminish the role of Blue Dogs immediately and not to approach that project in a casual manner.

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) may have lost his seat, he was a particularly energetic progressive who caused many members of the traditional press corps to grab at their hearts and retire to the fainting couch, but the Democratic next-door-neighbor of Grayson lost too.

Regarding Grayson,well we have a little controlled experiment. His neighboring first term Democratic congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas, in a very similar district, took the opposite approach to Grayson. She ran as hard to the right as she could get away with, never had a controversial thought much less uttered one, was rewarded with big money and support from the DCCC --- and she lost too. This race was bigger than both of them. Florida is turning hard right.

So it's far from clear that Grayson's aggressiveness and ill manners explain much of anything.

So the lesson on how progressives should proceed seems pretty obvious to me. Get rid of the danged Blue Dogs even if it means losing the Democratic majority. Let Democrats earn majority status the hard way, by campaigning as unapologetic progressives who have no problems with the label of being free spenders and who oppose unnecessary wars and racial hatred (Both against American minorities at home and Muslims overseas) and excessive corporate power just because, well, just because that stuff is wrong.

Let Democrats stop making excuses for being Democrats!