Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Do Journalists Know Their Roles?

White House spokesman Tony Snow and a bunch of White House reporters just had a roundtable discussion in which they diss bloggers, presumably because those bloggers and their pesky opinions give the White House press briefings so much scrutiny and that never used to happen in the old days when a citizen knew his place.

Check out this gem from Newsweek's Richard Wolffe: “[Bloggers] want us to play a role that isn’t really our role. Our role is to ask questions and get information. … It’s not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender.”

Uh, wrong, Wolffey.

Your role is to ask questions and to get true, coherent information, in its full context. If it were just as easy as asking questions, we wouldn't need a press. But since the government lies to us (and because businesses lie and sports teams lie and publicists for celebrities lie) we need a press that's willing to get into a dragout fight to get to the bottom of whatever's being reported.

Covering the White House is a political job. Just admit that. That doesn't mean it's a partisan job. But, the reason we have a constitution that makes the press free is that the founders knew that the press would have a political role to play. The press is supposed to keep the government honest. Your relationship with Tony Snow should probably be so uncomfortable that you wouldn't want to spend an afternoon complaining about blogs with him.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Yes and No, Tom McMahon

Executive director of the Democratic party Tom McMahon is sending Democratic supporters an embarrassing e-mail.

In the e-mail, McMahon attacks House minority leader John Boehner for labeling critics of Bush's Iraq policy as terrorist symphathizers. Fair enough. Boehner is doing that, just like Bush & his administration have been doing that since the White House started pushing the invasion. And it's sleazy. It should stop.

But the "Democrats good, Republicans bad" portion of the e-mail is sort of pathetic, and it's a good example of why voters who try to pay attention to political debates often stop trying pretty fast.

McMahon writes:
Why are Republicans scared of a debate on America's top issue? And why can't they stand up to the Democrats on the current situation in Iraq?

Because it wasn't the Democratic Party that led us into a war on false pretenses. Democrats didn't alienate our global allies by ignoring diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution. Democrats didn't reject the advice of our military leaders, who recommended we change the course. And Democrats didn't decide to put more of our troops in harm/s way to interfere in a bloody civil war with no end in sight.

The Democrats didn't start this war, but we're working to end it -- and the House resolution is an important first step to changing the course and bringing our brave men and women home.

Gee. While it's true that the Democrats in Congress in 2002 & 2003 didn't lead us into war or alienate our global allies or reject the advice of our military leaders, it's also true that with rare exceptions like Russ Feingold they didn't do squat to stop any of it. They all voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq at his discretion. They didn't challenge any of the lousy evidence used to support the decision to invade. They didn't ask hard questions. So Bush quarterbacked the Iraq debacle, but most of the Dems in Congress were standing on the sidelines with towels and Gatorade at the ready, cheering the team on.

It's fine to point out that the invasion was always a bad idea. It's fine to oppose the troop surge. It's not fine to pretend that you were knocked over the head and locked in the closet during the year before and after the invasion. Taking responsibility for your wartime mistakes (Tom McMahon, Hilary Clinton) is about more than "taking reponsibility" while pointing your finger at the White House and pretending you were out of town when that shit went down. Taking responsibility is about admitting you were wrong and responsibly trying to fix it.

Send me an e-mail about that, Tom McMahon, and I'll gladly read it.

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Speculative History of a Joke

So, Fox has just started airing The 1/2-Hour News Hour, a hi-larious new conservative version of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report conceived by 24 producer Joel Surnow.

This makes sense, given that Fox News supplies so much of the footage those shows use anyway.

As far as I can tell from my sample of online viewing, Surnow's show isn't very funny. (Click below to see what I mean.) Surnow should probably stick to terrorists and torture. But watching it did provide me with an incredibly vivid fantasy so crisp in its detail that I'm tempted to take it for a vision. To wit:

In the show, the unfunny male anchor (Kurt McNally) says:

[picture of Obama in background]
Illinois Senator Barack Obama admits that as a teenager he sometimes used cocaine.
This news sent Obama's approval rating among Democrats plummeting to an all-time low of 99.9%
But in a related story, Senator Obama has just been endorsed for President
[picture of Barry in background]
by former Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry.

Here's my vision. In the pitch meeting a writers says, "We're doing a conservative Daily Show, right? So we should make fun of Obama, right? But the Daily Show does a pretty good job making fun of Democrats, right? So we should do joke that shows we're out to bring the funny first and foremost, not caring whose ox gets gored. So use Obama's coke use as a set-up to a punchline about how Democrats seem to love him without thinking about anything he does. And then we turn it around with, 'But in a related story, Senator Obama has just been endorsed for President by current President George W. Bush.' Cuz, we all know that W. used to party like crazy, right? Never even bothered to deny it, right?"

And then, three minutes before the show goes on the air, Rupert Murdoch pressures Surnow to pressure the writers to cut the Bush reference. Since writes and producers can't find a single archive photo of someone arrested for drug use in the past decade, like, say, the Rev. Ted Haggard or Kate Moss or Tara Conner, they reluctantly go with the Marion Barry joke.

And I believe my vision. After all, Barry's drug use has been out of the news way too long (13 years) to have been the real punchline in the story. And no way the fine folks at Fox News thought, "Hey, you know what's funnier than black man on coke? Two black men on coke! " (No way.) So the Barry punchline must have been a late, involuntary substitution, right?

The poor bastards over at the 1/2-Hour News Hour. Comedy's rough when you don't get to play at the top of your intelligence.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Surly Villagers

The first two times the lonely little shepherd cried wolf, the villagers came running only to find that there was no wolf. The third time there was a wolf, but the villagers were suspicious and tired. They didn't come, and the wolf ate all the sheep and then the little boy.

Imagine how surly the villagers would have been if they'd had to run from Des Moines to Baghdad. They probably wouldn't have run the second time. So it'll be interesting to see how we villagers respond to Bush & Cheney crying "Iran! Iran!" every time something blows up in Baghdad.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Puppies, Happy Puppies!

Because we've had a string of negative, borderline depressing posts lately, Mike & I want to take a moment to say that we're in favor of puppies.

Except pug puppies, which now have to be born by C-section more often than not, which seems wrong.

But, basically: puppies! And little children playing with beach balls. Them too.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gulf War I Syndrome

Joe Klein, now blogging at Time Magazine's "Swampland" is in a bit of a pickle. He claims he's long been against the invasion of Iraq, but his record doesn't show it. This post at the Washington Monthly shows that he advised John Kerry not to vote for the "Use of Force" resolution, but Klein never went public with that. The question is, what was Klein afraid of?

The answer, I suspect, is what we were all afraid of. We all saw the first Gulf War. It was fast and decisive and was such a major American victory that people said it had cured America of "Viet Nam Syndrome," a condition that had kept us from invading other countries for fear of getting caught in a quagmire. The fear was that Bush would push ahead with the invasion despite any opposition (a true fear) and that the second war would go as well as the first (which turned out to be false.) Had Iraq II turned out to be the same cakewalk that Iraq I was... Bush and his decision to invade would be enormously popular right now.

Some people, who were opposed to Iraq II were just clearly afraid of winding up on the wrong side of history. Heck, in the early days of Iraq II, where Saddam's regime fell quickly, those fears were seemingly realized. Then came the civil war and quagmire that other war opponents had warned about.

Klein now says he's done debating about whether or not he opposed Iraq II from the start. Too bad. He should really just admit that he was too scared of a possible cakewalk to oppose the idea in public.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Military Budget

Bush's $481.4 billion Pentagon budget is 20% of the total budget. Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan points out that the number is a sham and that the actual requested military budget is $739 billion.

Kaplan also points out that this money, including money for a new aircraft carrier (we already have the biggest and best carrier fleet and we're the only nation with carriers that's talking about building another one) is made possible by China investing its huge currency reserves in our debt.

A few years ago a currency analyst told me something interesting, though I dismissed it at the time. Aside from some market fluctuations, he said, the value of the dollar against other currencies is really just a reflection of the US military. I guess that's what Bush is trying to do -- he's trying to over-militarize in an attempt to make up for our country's economic shortcomings.

Gitmo, Still

I'm listening to Chicago Public Radio's "The Story" right now as Chicago lawyer H. Candace Gorman is talking about Abdul al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan held in Guantanamo. Like pretty much the 395 others still there, he's been there 6 years and has never been charged with a crime.

Al-Ghizzawi is married to an Afghani and was arrested in Afghanistan as "enemy combatant." The first time the government reviewed his status once he got to Guantanamo, he was found NOT to be an enemy combatant. In violation of US government procedure, the government then held a second review and reversed its own decision. (Doing so violated promises that the Justice Department made to Congress that it would never hold a second panel.) As far as Gorman can tell, al-Ghizzawi is innocent and was turned in by somebody who got a bounty for ratting him out. (Like 85% of Guantanamo detainees, Al-Ghizzawi was NOT picked up on a battlefield.)

(For more details about al-Ghizzawi and Gorman see Gorman's blog.)

Innocent or not, Al-Ghizzawi has Hepatitis-B, which he had (though didn't know he had) upon arriving in Guantanamo. He also has tuberculosis, which he contracted in Guantanamo. He's fought for about 6 years to get a lawyer in large part because he's been getting sicker and wants to be released to seek treatment.

That's right: released to seek treatment. Because he's not gettting any in Guantanamo. The US government is saying that he doesn't want treatment. He says that's crazy, of course he does. He has tuberculosis. He has Hep-B. He's jaundiced. He wants to get healthy.

In American prisons, we give mass murders medical care. In our prisons, we give medical care to lying bastard CEOs and CFOs who raided pension funds medical care and, in some cases, made it hard or impossible for their former employees to pay for good medical care. We give all prisoners, regardless of what hideous crimes they've committed, medical care. We should. Because they're human beings. Because we're human beings, and if you withhold medical care from somebody whose life you hold in your hands, you become a monster.

And here's this guy who we haven't even charged with a crime who has a couple potentially life-threatening illnesses. And Justice officials and Guantanamo officials are refusing to let a doctor look at him because, no matter how much he begs for medical help, he doesn't want medical help.

How much longer are we going to put up with this disgusting nonsense happening in our name? How much longer are we going to let paper-pushing and fear-mongering deprive people not just of the freedom we supposedly stand for but even of the right to see a doctor?

If we let it stand much longer, we'll be monsters.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Blame the People!

Was just watching "This Week at War," on CNN and a general (sorry, didn't catch the name) argued against a non-binding Senate resolution against a troop surge by saying that it undermines our military's confidence in its mission. Then, the general invoked Viet Nam saying that he didn't want a repeat of a situation where the American people would turn against a war and abandon its soldiers.

This kind of argument is going to get more and more common -- war supporters will claim that war opponents should just shut up because they're abandoning the troops, as if the war opponents should have no voice in policy.

They will also imply that the people were all for the war at first but now don't have the stomach to see it through.

Just remember, there was never a broad based public clamor for invading Iraq. Nor was there ever a clamor for getting involved in Viet Nam. Both wars were started by presidents with their own agendas. The worst you can say about the people is that they didn't rabidly oppose the invasions before they happened. But it's not like you can say that the American people wanted to invade Iraq until it went bad. The people were divided about invading it and, when it went bad, the scales tipped against it. The troops are not being abandoned by anyone. Support for invading Iraq was always tenuous at best. Now, mainstream opinion is against continuing the fight.

The troops are supposed to be an extension of the will of the American people. That will says to bring them home.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Global Warming

In an astonishingly thorough survey of scientists and scientific literature, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared that global warming is real and that it is "very likely" caused by human intervention.

According to these scientists, if we don't change our ways now (which we really can do), the problem won't just be higher temperatures and sea levels but all of the consequences of those changes--including harder rains in some places, droughts in others, and more severe storms almost everywhere.

In a political process often driven by a longing for certainty, it's important to understand that "very likely" here is the cautious scientific version of "very nearly beyond doubt." Scientists, unlike certain Presidents, allow that there might be things that they don't know, things that would radically change their understanding of the physical world (hence they have the "theory" of gravity). But it sounds like it would take a revolution in thought almost that big to change their minds at this point.

More on this here, here, here, here, and here.