2010/12/17

Jon Stewart is outraged


And he's got every right to be. The usually mild-mannered comedian puts the funny stuff aside so that he can talk about the fact that 9/11 first responders are being denied a bill that will give them medical care. Republicans are filibustering the bill because, well, they're just filibustering everything because Rush Limbaugh told them all two years ago I Hope Obama Fails,” so like obedient little drones, they've striven to obey. Here's the link to The Daily Show. As of midnight, the December 16th show isn't posted yet.

The true outrage here though, is not just that Republicans are filibustering what should be a no-brainer, unanimous “good thing” that everybody should agree on without hesitation, the true outrage is that hardly anyone is covering this vote! Media Matters agreed with Stewart on the night of the 13th, that 

On the night of the 9/11 first responder bill vote, neither ABC, CBS, nor NBC mentioned the story on the evening news. Cable news channels seemed equally uninterested. 

And again, Stewart pointed out tonight, that all of the major news stations demonstrated a complete lack of interest in the vote. Well actually, one TV station did cover the vote with a full 22-minute report, Al Jazeera! Yup, the first responders have had their plight documented by the station that also featured Usama bin Laden. But the US major networks can't bring themselves to mention that Republicans are making complete hash of their supposed reputation for supporting the heroes of 9/11. As Stewart pointed out, Fox News has absolutely zero problems cranking up the outrage when they want to. Why haven't they wanted to in this case? Seems pretty obvious to me that, first and foremost, they're a Republican station. 

What explains the rest of the media? Why is everybody else so quiet about such a no-brainer issue? The problem with the media, I think, goes to the love that journalists these days have for balance. Personally, I think the Fox News slogan “Fair and Balanced” is fine as far as fairness goes. Fairness is always good, is always appropriate and should just be a habit for journalists to engage in. Balance? Eh, not so much. Not much point in balancing the science of evolution with the religious beliefs of Intelligent Design / Creationism / Biblical Literalism because that stuff simply isn't science. But to present a one-sided issue, where the Republican Party is solely and exclusively to blame, journalist would have to sacrifice their beloved balance and to say “One side is to blame.” That, I believe, is something journalists simply don't want to do. In an attempt to be fair to both sides, networks are shortchanging the viewers by refusing to let them in on a serious story.

Update: Here are the videos.

Further update:
The utter moral degeneracy of the opponents of the 9/11 First Responders bill just absolutely astonishes me. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) complained bitterly about Democrats trying to set a time limit for debating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"To have a time agreement after all of the fooling around that we've been doing on [the] Dream Act, on New York City ... we will not have a time agreement from this side," he insisted angrily.
Oh, and it turns out that it's the national Chamber of Commerce that has persuaded Republicans not to support the bill "because it's financed by closing tax loopholes for foreign businesses that do business in the United States."


2010/12/16

"If we keep taxes low on America's high earners, the terrorists win. "

I wrote the following in response to Did someone say we're at war? The writer of this argued that the burden of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is being unfairly borne by a very small portion of our population. What's truly amazing is that people are actually arguing that taxes should be kept low, as though there wasn't a war going on!
I completely agree with this, but I would point out that G.W. Bush tried to get Americans interested in what I call a "Colonial Corps," a group of people who would take over the administration of cities, towns and villages. Most importantly, they'd assess what these people needed and then request money and material from the US Government. The military was drafted into doing this to a degree, but that's really not a military function. That requires a separate organization. So, when Bush suggested ideas along those lines, did the country respond? Nope. They remained sitting on their comfortable couches and in their nice climate-controlled homes and with their loving families. During the Spanish Civil war, left-wingers ran off to join the Lincoln Brigade. But occupying Iraq was not a left wing project. During the Iraq War, right-wingers stayed home.

2010/12/09

We appear to be on the road to imperial decline

Alfred W. McCoy, author of the 1972 The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, has written a very depressing, but probably quite accurate view of the near-future collapse of the American empire (Probably by 2020 or 2025). With two active wars, around 800 military bases arounthe globe, but a declining economy accelerated by the Republican/Blue Dog Democrat/Tea Party refusal to allow government stimulus measures to pull America's non-wealthy out of the sharp economic downturn that began in late 2007 with the collapse of the housing bubble (The wealthy are doing splendidly, thank you very much), America appears to be very solidly set upon a path to national decline and "imperial overstretch."


McCoy considers the invasion of Iraq to be the crucial event that future historians will compare to the Athenian attack on Sicily and the joint British-French-Israeli attack on the Suez Canal. These were the events that sounded the death knell for their respective empires. Of course, Athens and Britain continued long after their empires disintegrated, so naturally, the US wil survivie any approaching cataclysm. The anti-war left in the US considers the beginning of the Iraq War to be a good, universally-agreed-upon time to protest the Iraq War at least once a year. That date may one day be regarded as the beginning of the end of American supremacy over the rest of the world.


What's curious is to see all the yelling and screeching and beating of chests over the US budget deficit, with no thought of, perhaps, reducing America's military commitments. Very bizarrely, with states struggling to make ends meet and to keep citizens from falling into poverty and starving, the President and Republican opponents have agreed to extend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Unfortunately, as with the political fight over the public option in the Affordable Care Act, it's pretty clear that the President isn't really on the progressive
side, despite his many earnest-seeming protestations.

2010/12/05

An interesting turn of phrase

The WaPo uses an interesting phrase that I'm not sure actually means anything in the context in which it's used. In talking about the WaPo's reaction to the movie "Fair Game," they say:

The movie portrays Mr. Wilson as a whistle-blower who debunked a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger. In fact, an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee found that Mr. Wilson's reporting did not affect the intelligence community's view on the matter, and an official British investigation found that President George W. Bush's statement in a State of the Union address that Britain believed that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger was well-founded. [emphasis added]

The sentence that I added the emphasis to, the assertion that Wilson's review did not change the intelligence community's view of the question "Did Iraq buy yellowcake uranium from Niger?" appears to be indisputable true. The intel community was highly skeptical that Iraq has made any such purchase.

Also in early October 2002, an Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba, received copies of documents from Rocco Martino that indicated the Iraqi government had arranged the purchase of 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium from Niger in 1999 and 2000. The documents were signed by officials of the government of Niger and appeared to be on official letterhead. Under instructions from her magazine's editor, Burba gave copies of the letters to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, and then left for Niger to investigate the situation herself.

It quickly became obvious to Burba that the story was unsubstantiated and she quickly dropped it. Seems pretty clear that if a reporter could quickly discover that the story was baseless, then US intel services could, too. So did Wilson tell US intel services anything they didn't already know? Probably not, but the important point was, what was President G.W. Bush telling the rest of the world? What were those famous "16 words"? Oh yeah:

“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Bush very obviously had no intention of ever re-visiting the issue or of ever clarifying that the British claim was quickly found to be without substance. In 2006, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported that:

On February 27, 2003, the CIA responded to a January 29, 2003, letter from Senator Carl Levin which asked the CIA to detail "what the U.S. IC [intelligence community] knows about Saddam Hussein seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The CIA's response was almost identical to the points passed to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in early February, saying "two streams of reporting suggest Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger." The response said the CIA believes the government of Niger's assurances that it did not contract with Iraq but said, "nonetheless, we question, based on a second source, whether Baghdad may have been probing Niger for access to yellowcake in the 1999 time frame." The CIA's response left out the sentence, "we cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims," that had been included in the U.S. government's IAEA brief.

Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare with Prewar Assessments (United States Senate, 2006), pages 16–17.

Both a US Senator and the International Atomic Energy Agency were told that Iraq most likely tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Keep in mind that Jaques Baute, the IAEA Chief for Iraqi Nuclear Matters, did a single day's research on the allegation (Hubris, p. 203) and quickly concluded that the documents that were supplied to him had a number of extremely serious flaws.

Within a couple of hours, he discovered about fifteen significant anomalies in the papers. The letterhead, the signatures, the dates, the format of the document—none of them matched up.

Okay, "an official British investigation found that [the Niger story] was well-founded." But if any such evidence for such a conclusion existed, why did the US forward such preposterously flawed documents to make their case to Baute? If either the US or Britain had better evidence, why didn't they transmit that better evidence to the IAEA?

Joe Wilson did Americans an enormous favor by informing them that Bush was knowingly, consciously and deliberately lying to them.

The important question was not what the intel community knew. Bush's people, if not Bush himself, already knew for a fact that the intel community knew full well that the report was baseless. The important question is what was Bush telling the American people? On that, the WaPo had nothing to say.