Saturday, September 13, 2008

Like the world was coming to an end

BBC News carries this story of the impact of Hurrican Ike on a British Overseas Territory in the West Indies. The story contains no reference to the predicted consequence of global warning that hurricanes will become more intense and more frequent. Perhaps such a statement might seem too political in such a tragic time.

The devastation on the island of Grand Turk is absolute.

Nothing has been left untouched by the sheer power of Hurricane Ike.

It made landfall as a category four storm and the damage is immense.

The streets are strewn with debris, palm trees have been shattered and 90% of the buildings have been damaged; some are simply no longer there.

"It was terrible, the whole earth was shaking, the house was rocking," said resident Austin Dickinson, who decided to ride the storm out.

"There was a point in time when I thought everything was going to crumble on us. The house was dancing from side to side, it was like the world was coming to an end."


But the infrastructure on the island has been almost entirely destroyed by the storm.

Power cables are strewn around like matchsticks, the courthouse is a tangled wreck and the islanders face months if not years of rebuilding their homes.

Roland Hull, a resident of the Turks and Caicos islands, moved here after visiting Grand Turk.

When he saw the extent of the damage the British Red Cross volunteer broke down in tears.

"I'm really upset to see the state its now in," said the former schools' inspector.

Leading us to adopt the grand illusion

Blogging at the invaluable Pen and Sword web site, Jeff Huber concludes his "Y I+8 Bob Woodward" piece with this stunning indictment of the fourth estate and one of its best known icons.

Lamentably, Woodward has become the template of success in the journalistic profession: cultivate powerful connections, break one big story, then sit back, let interns write your books for you, and ride the talk show circuit.

Perhaps the greatest damage Woodward did, however, was his investigative work on Watergate back in the 70s. He, as much as anyone else in the media, led us to adopt the grand illusion that our free press would always protect us from our government. Now, we can't even condemn FOX News as the government propaganda network because it's all FOX News.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What you mean, "we", Charlie Cook

I found this quote from a Washington Post article striking:

"We have created a system where there is not a lot of shame in stretching the truth," said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

From paragraphs two and three of that same article:

"I told Congress: 'Thanks but no thanks for that Bridge to Nowhere up in Alaska,' " Palin told the crowds at the "McCain Street USA" rallies. "If we wanted a bridge, we'll build it ourselves."

Palin's position on the bridge that would have linked Ketchikan to Gravina Island is one example of a candidate staying on message even when that message has been publicly discredited.

And in the fourth paragraph we read this:

As the presidential campaign moves into a final, heated stretch, untrue accusations and rumors have started to swirl at a pace so quick that they become regarded as fact before they can be disproved. A number of fabrications about Palin's policies and personal life, for instance, have circulated on the Internet since she joined the Republican ticket.

And by paragraph five we finally see the "L" word wrote:

Palin and John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, have been more aggressive in recent days in repeating what their opponents say are outright lies. Almost every day, for instance, McCain says rival Barack Obama would raise everyone's taxes, even though the Democrat's tax plan exempts families that earn less than $250,000.

It would be useful to know what percentage of families earn less than $250,000 to get an idea of the extent to which we can just whether or not Palin and McCain ARE repeating outright lies (as is claimed by their opponents); to evaluate the extent to which Palin and McCain are lying on this particular issue. But the Post apparently want its reader to look the information up. Or perhaps the importance of the fact of how many families earn less than $250,000 was not grasped by the Post's Jonathon Weisman, who wrote this column.

In the next paragraph, we learn of a taboo:

Fed up, the Obama campaign broke a taboo on Monday and used the "L-word" of politics to say that the McCain campaign was lying about the Bridge to Nowhere.

I wonder whose taboo was broken. If a political candidate, or a political party, or a political campaign LIES, shouldn't that be news? Shouldn't such LIES be reported? Wouldn't it go to the issue of credibility? One might think.

Next paragraph, PLEASE:

Nevertheless, with McCain's standing in the polls surging, aides say he is not about to back down from statements he believes are fundamentally true, such as the anecdote about the bridge.

In other words, if McCain believes a lie to be FUNDAMENTALLY TRUE, then he will not back down. It's all about McCain's fundamental beliefs. This would, of course, make McCain a straight shooter. Thank you Jonathan Weisman, for including that anecdote about McCain's standing in the polls surging. Because that too might explain the man's ability to countenance a lie.

Finally, we come to a truth teller:

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said the campaign is entering a stage in which skirmishes over the facts are less important than the dominant themes that are forming voters' opinions of the candidates.

"The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent," Feehery said. "As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter."




She's 44 years old. That's not new.

She's popular in Alaska (and has been for a couple of years). That's not new.

She's an insurgent. Words fail me. Thus, from Miriam Webster's Online Dictionary;


1: a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government ;

: a rebel not recognized as a belligerent

2: one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party

Exactly WHICH policies and decisions of the republican party is Governor Palin acting contrary to?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An echo of those earlier controversies

In an important Tom Dispatch piece, Michael Schwartz discusses the Iraq government's opposition to the U.S. proposed "status of force agreements." Schwartz also notes that Iraq has "revived a Saddam-era agreement with the China National Petroleum Corporation .. to develop the Ahdab oil field."

Here's a key paragraph from the Schwartz piece. Note how the Bush administration propaganda war on the U.S. public leads to some unintended consequences, suggesting that those who "make their own reality" ultimately have to deal with the consequences of that reality:

As the Iraqi government accumulates an expanding lake of petrodollars and finds ways to shake them loose from the clutches of U.S. banks and U.S. government administrators, its leaders will have the resources to pursue policies that reflect their own goals. The decline in violence, taken in the U.S. as a sign of American "success," has actually accelerated this process. It has made the Maliki regime feel ever less dependent for its survival on the American presence, while strengthening internal and regional forces resistant or antagonistic to Washington's Middle East ambitions.

These developments beg two questions:

The question remains: Can anything reverse the centripetal forces pulling Iraq from Washington's orbit? Will the President's "surge" strategy prove to have been the nail in the coffin of its hopes for U.S. dominance in the Middle East?

If this turns out to be the case, then watch out domestically. The inevitable controversy over "who lost Iraq" -- an echo of those earlier controversies over "who lost China" and "who lost Vietnam" -- is bound to be on the way.

My present guess on the November presidential elections is that McCain wins. Between voter ID laws supressing democratic votes, republican control of the voting apparatus in Florida and Ohio, and the reenergizing of the dominionist foot soldiers, I expect the 2008 electoral map to look like the 2004 map.

If the republicans steal the election for McCain (or democratic congressional ineptitude loses it), don't expect the troops to leave Iraq, so the "who lost Iraq" question will be mute for the tenure of the Palin administration.

Monday, September 8, 2008

With perks like these, just stay embedded

In a previous post, I blogged about the arrest of Amy Goodman, well known reporter for Democracy Now! at the RNC in Minnesota. Given the perks provided to the press, it's easy to understand why it would have appeared that the police / state police / FBI were targeting alternative media personnel. There were lots of goodies inside the convention centers and checking in and out was a time-consuming process. Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Megan Garber writes about the view from the inside of the convention centers. One might quickly conclude that THESE reporters were embedded.

I’d like to defend the media against the accusations (of being biased / petty / snobbish) hurled at them. Generally speaking, those accusations are incredibly unfair. But after eight days spent in the twin whirligigs of the Pepsi and Xcel Energy Centers, it’s hard to find the words to do it. The biggest impression that remains in the residue of the whole thing—one that isn’t new, I realize, but worth reiterating regardless—is that of the utter disconnect between the highly fortified bubbles of the convention centers themselves and the areas immediately outside, and between those bubbles and the areas less immediately outside: those expansive and diverse areas often shorthanded as, you know, “the real world.”

Part of the former disconnect is logistical in nature. The security at both conventions—on overdrive in Denver, and full-on paranoid in St. Paul—was more than a (semi-)permeable membrane protecting the centers’ interior organelles. While walls keep things out, of course, they also keep things in. And the rabid security (credentials were checked in no fewer than five locations at each convention, and the TSA-like screening lines often took nearly an hour to move through) made osmosis nearly impossible. “I wanted to go out and cover the riots,” one reporter told me, as we walked through the Xcel Center, “but, if I did, I wouldn’t be able to get back in time for the speeches.”

As a partial result of this, the nucleus of the conventions’ media coverage was contained inside the conventions’ security-designated perimeters. Inside those walls, reporters, sequestered away from the madding crowds—sequestered away, in fact, from crowds of most kinds, save for those comprised of other reporters—analyzed speeches, described “the mood on the convention floors,” gathered sound bites from delegates, and otherwise Served Our Democracy. They relaxed from their labors at corporate-sponsored “media lounges,” defined areas in which the storied scribes of the first draft of history could: swig free beer; swig free booze; swig free smoothies; down free jalapeno poppers; down free chicken fingers; down free Swedish meatballs; down free chips and salsa; down free chips and guac; get free chair massages; get free hand massages; get free facials; get free yoga instruction; get free swag; inhale flavored, colored oxygen at a free oxygen bar; play games, for free, on a Wii; or some combination thereof.

Call for compassion and care

In an Atlantic Journal Constitution commentary piece, columnist Cynthia Tucker wrote a thoughtful column expressing her hopes that compassion and caring concern be extended to all unwed pregnant teens and not just the daughters of Republican vice-presidential candidates.

For some reason, the pious social conservatives of the Republican Party did not denounce the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Instead, they greeted the news of her pregnancy as evidence of the strong moral fiber of Palin and her husband, citing the fact that they have offered Bristol their comfort and support.

For a minute there, I feared that right wingers would attack the young lady as evidence of the moral failings of a liberal, anything-goes culture, or as proof that her parents had failed to provide a Christian upbringing that eschews sex outside marriage. After all, that’s what conservatives usually say when unmarried adolescent girls get pregnant.

When Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy was revealed, for example, Bill O’Reilly went after her parents.

“On the pinhead front, 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant. The sister of Britney says she is shocked. I bet.

“Now most teens are pinheads in some ways. But here the blame falls primarily on the parents of the girl, who obviously have little control over her or even over Britney Spears. Look at the way she behaves,” O’Reilly declared.

Of course, the Palins reside inside the magic circle of ultra-conservative approval, so, naturally, they are judged less harshly. But since the pious arm of the GOP has extended its compassion to Bristol and her parents, perhaps it will be moved to extend that grace to every other teenager who experiences a similar crisis and decides to rear her child and every other family who struggles to lend support.

But others in similar positions haven’t been shown the same mercy. Instead, they’ve been denounced as irresponsible, foolish, immoral. The mothers-to-be have been mocked, derided as the products of a modern culture of moral relativism. Perhaps that’s all behind us now. Perhaps we’re all willing to agree that children sometimes stray even when their parents work hard to keep them on a straight and narrow path.

For invoking Bill O'Reilly's name in this thoughtful column, the attack hounds of Fox were unleashed to confront Cynthia Tucker, hoping to make her look foolish (or worse) on camera. Jay Bookman writes:

As Tucker stopped outside her house to pick up her mail, the Fox camera crew emerged out of a car parked across the street and advanced on her, yelling questions. At this point, I’ll turn it over to Tucker for the blow-by-blow account, as she recalls it:

O’Reilly guy: “Cynthia, in your column, were you comparing Bristol Palin to Jamie Lynn Spears?”

Cynthia: “In my column, I was criticizing Bill O”Reilly. And I stand by that.”

O’Reilly guy: “Bill pointed out that Jamie Lynn Spears was running around unsupervised. You know that. So you were saying that Bristol Palin was running around unsupervised.”

Cynthia: “If I said that, read that part. You’re holding the column (in your hand). Read where I said Bristol Palin was running around unsupervised.”

O’Reilly guy: “You inferred (sic) it.”

Cynthia:I inferred O’Reilly is a hypocrite. And I stand by that. Good day, gentlemen. I’m going inside to finish my Saturday chores.”

(They ran behind me, shouting, “Why weren’t you in Minneapolis? You went to the Democratic Convention. Why didn’t you go to the Republican Convention?” I didn’t look back — just got in my car and drove into my driveway.)

For the record, the AJC sent reporters to both conventions. Tucker went to the Democratic Convention, while our more conservative colleague Jim Wooten went to the Republican Convention.

Now, “Bluster Bill” O’Reilly likes to try to intimidate people. But in this case, he didn’t have the courage to do it in person. He probably didn’t want to bite off more than he could chew — as Clint Eastwood once said, “A man has to know his limitations,” and apparently O’Reilly knows his.

ANY critical reading of Cynthia Tucker's column shows it to be both a call for compassionate care and concern for ALL pregnant unwed teenagers. The headline of her commentary reads Concern, care for Palin’s teen should extend to all.

But somehow O'Reilly sought to interpret this column as a comparison between Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears. Clearly, both are teenagers, both are pregnant, both are unwed, both are going to be mothers. But to think that is the point of Cynthia Tucker's column is miss the point comletely.

Consider these two unambiguous phrases: "pious social conservatives" and "inside the magic circle of ultra-conservative approval." Tucker's column is clearly a strong critique of the lack of compassion directed by pious social and ultra-conservative conservatives towards families in this situation. Well known media figures Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are named, and samples of their commentary are given.

Either O'Reilly doesn't get it, or he decided to deflect the criticsm towards him as by suggesting that the column all about two teen agers.