Thursday, July 31, 2008

No Comment Necessary

Yesterday, introducing a report on the Israel/Palestine conflict and Olmert's announcement that he will retire, Michele Norris states:
"At the State Department today, Condoleezza Rice tried to keep the push for Middle East peace on track."
I guess if Henry Kissinger can win the Nobel Peace Prize, anybody can be a pusher for peace...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I just had to laugh at Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson's report from Baghdad during the hourly news summary this morning. NPR (following the dreary AP's lead) decided that Iraq's being allowed to send four athletes to the Olympics in Beijing is not just big news, but joyous news:
"Iraqis here are ecstatic after IOC officials announced they had lifted the ban following a meeting with the Iraqi government."
Call me skeptical, but I'm willing to wager that you'd be hard pressed to find an Iraqi outside the Green Zone who could give a rat's ass about this news. But hey, celebrating Iraqis always make for thrilling news from the land of liberation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Art of Distraction

(graphic is from NPR's web site)

This morning, as I listened to Jennifer Ludden's moving story of an Iraqi refugee finding work, support and kindess in Billings, Montana - I had the odd experience of finding myself seething. How dare NPR run this kind of folksy, feel-good story about one Iraqi refugee while it does virtually nothing to report on, investigate and expose the criminally negligent US response to the Iraqi refugee crisis that its invasion and occupation created.

I'm happy that there are people of goodwill who will help out an Iraqi refugee in the US, but good God, where is the attention to the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees displaced by this war of choice? Where is the focus on the heartless and inadequate assistance and resettlement that the US has provided for this humanitarian mess of its own making? It's not as if the problem has gotten better since the UN statistics were released in September of 2007; Amnesty International issued a scathing report on the Iraqi refugee crisis just this past June.

I was angry because I was being had. Like a good pickpocket, NPR is trying to strip us of informed outrage. It wants to distract us with a story that is notable for how little it represents the experience of most Iraqi refugees and how little information it contains about the scale of the problem and who is responsible for creating it. It takes advantage of the humanity and decency of listeners, trying to leave us feeling moved and reassured about a case that is the exception, while - of course - leaving us less informed than ever.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Right Out of the Movies

NPR was in a festive mood on Saturday, celebrating the 100th birthday of the FBI. On Weekend Edition Saturday, agent Temple-Raston was excitedly telling us about the heroics of 102 yr. old former FBI agent, Walter Walsh. Completely ignoring FBI assaults on our civil liberties (as usual), NPR simply lionizes the FBI.

Temple-Raston describes the career of ex-agent Walsh in adoring, comic-book style:
  • "Walsh was an FBI agent in those days when the life of an agent seemed right out of the movies."
  • "...he's sharp and funny and there's a twinkle in his eye."
Then on All Things Considered Andrea Seabrook runs with the movie metaphor, telling us "Here are a few of our favorite FBI flicks [sound clips play from G-Men, Point Break, Breach, Silence of the Lambs, and Catch Me If You Can ] - just a few of the great FBI moments from movie history."

Seabrook finished this commercial with an invitation: "What are your favorite FBI movies, visit and click 'contact us' and send us a note with 'FBI Movie' in the subject line." Call me gullible, but I took NPR up on the offer. Here was my note to them:

Dear NPR staff:

Andrea Seabrook invited suggestions for FBI movies. Here are a few that might take a bit of the shine off the celebratory tone that NPR has adopted for the FBI centenary:

The Murder of Fred Hampton
The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Incident at Oglala
Ruby Ridge: Anatomy of a Tragedy
Waco: The Rules of Engagement

These movies would help correct NPR's lopsided portrayal of the FBI as simply heroic and would convey its more troubling role as a weapon of government power exceeding and often abusing its legal role.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Benny Gets a Pass

I hope Tony Karon over at Restless Cosmopolitan is right that Iran is definitely not going to be attacked by the US or Israel, because Robert Siegel's distorted interview with Benny Morris is bloodcurdling in its implications. Siegel raised a few weak challenges to Morris' logic, but here are some Morris statements that essentially went unchallenged:

"I think Iran is bound for nuclear weaponry...if they get it there is every chance they will use it against Israel..."

"...Israel must consider the military option."

"Bush a true and trusted friend."

"Israel has never threatened any country with destruction..."

"the Iranians on the other hand...have been threatening Israel with destruction for the past few years."

Iran is "driven by religious fanaticism."

"Iranian regime is completely different...these people are not rational by our lights."

"[the Iranians] look offensively and aggressively at places like Israel...want to destroy it..they say that every day."

To his credit Siegel mentions Israel's nuclear arsenal, but he never mentions that Iran has not attacked or threatened to launch an offensive military attack on any state for over a hundred years. And of course, Siegle never mentions that Israel has a history of invading and (as in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon) trying to destroy sovereign states. He doesn't mention that much of Israel's occupation and annexation is driven by religious fanaticism. Siegel also doesn't challenge the idea of Iran being completely irrational: he could have noted that Iran has actually behaved quite rationally for the last several years - it's manuevering in Iraq would have been an excellent case in point where it has played its political hand in a very rational manner or he might have mentioned Iran's willingness to accept a two state solution if Palestinians approve it.

More Balance

Obama is touring Israel and Palestine and NPR is on it. This morning Inskeep and Gonyea report with a big emphasis on balance:

Inskeep tells us that Obama's tour "is taking him to both sides of the dividing lines between Israelis and Palestinians. But while visiting both sides..."

Gonyea insists that Obama "is trying to balance things...probably the trickiest day of Senator Obama's overseas' trip."

Too bad our intrepid NPR journalists don't report on some of that tricky balance. They could have started with that slightly imbalanced US aid to Israel (you can also click on the graphic above to see another breakdown of this aid). They also could have gone looking into the balanced killings and human rights abuses between Israel and Palestine. Or reminded us that one side is an internationally recognized state which has used the full force of its military and US alliance to occupy, annex and repress the other side for over forty years instead of treating the situation as if it were a conflict between two balanced forces.

The other interesting aspect of this Morning Edition report is that Gonyea's pretense to being an authority on the full spectrum of Israeli and Palestinian opinions. Consider this exchange:
Inskeep: "What questions do Israelis have about Obama?"

Gonyea: "They are worried that in dealing with the peace process with the Palestinians that in forcing compromise and trying to broker a deal, he might push the Israelis harder, he might side a bit too much with the Palestinians...and that's obviously reflected in the kind of things we're hearing from Jewish voters in America."

Inskeep: "Are Palestinians any happier about Barack Obama?"

Gonyea: "They have some concerns as well...will no doubt have a warm meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, but there is concern...he might bend over backwards to please Israel."
I'm just curious how Gonyea knows what they are worried about? Who is this mythical they anyway? Gonyea is not reporting on surveys or polls. It's sloppy to report as if Israelis have some kind of unified opinion on Obama (or just about anything for that matter), and in spite of the reactionary politics of many American Jewish organizations - there are diverse opinions about US policy in Israel/Palestine (Jewish Voice for Peace or Tikkun for example). And of course, Gonyea is not talking about even a sampling of Palestinians, but only the US/Israel approved Palestinian officials who supposedly represent the "other side" in the conflict.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

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Friday, July 18, 2008


According to Michele Norris on Thursday's ATC, NPR was "curious about John McCain's premise that applying the lessons of Iraq could lead to victory in Afghanistan." Opening the report, Norris says, "McCain asserts that the best way to turn around the situation in Afghanistan is by using the experience in Iraq as a blueprint." This is followed by McCain's voice asserting " is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan; it's by applying the tried and true principles of counterinsurgency used in the surge - which Senator Obama opposed - that we will win in Afghanistan."

What NPR should be curious about is whether the very premise of McCain's claim is true. Has the Surge has been a "success?" Unfortunately, as anyone who follows NPR knows, NPR has simply accepted that the Surge has succeeded.

In the report Norris talks to Nathaniel C. Fick, counterinsurgency advocate and fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Fick is all for using the "lessons learned" in Iraq, Vietnam, Malaya, etc. (NPR has a long history of promoting US/British counterinsurgency) as the US seeks "victory" in Afghanistan. If you listen to the report you won't hear anything about these lessons from the Surge: rearming parties to an unresolved sectarian conflict, that the US may be helping Maliki crush political opponents, that a lot of the "peace" of the surge is from cantonization of Baghdad and ethnic cleansing.

What NPR should be doing is acknowledging that the Surge has been a smashing success if its goal is to reduce immediate violence and postpone the final horrors of the Iraq War until Bush leaves office. If they were reporting truthfully on the failures of the Surge, then McCain's wish to apply the Surge wouldn't even merit serious consideration, but would reveal itself as the self-evident folly that it is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

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Open Season on Afghanis

Yesterday's ATC featured one baby step forward, followed by a huge stride backwards. Robert Siegel was talking with Globe and Mail correspondent Colin Freeze discussing the released video of Omar Khadar.

Siegel deserves credit for asking the obvious -but rarely asked - question. Discussing the capture of the teen fighter Khadar in Afghanistan he says:
"....a story about a firefight...he allegedly throws a hand grenade...that sounds to be as close to the capture of a POW and as different from capturing somebody who's hatching a plot to bomb an airplanes let's say as I can imagine. I just wonder if that's a point of contention that his lawyers have raised?"
It's a well stated question, and his guest, Freeze, responds:
"Oh certainly and it's also something we got to ask John Bellinger of the US State Department - a legal adviser there; he gave a briefing to Canadian media on that one. Bellinger's answer was by our laws, al-Qaeda, Taliban were illegal enemy fighters. By UN resolutions we were okay to fire at them, but because they were by nature illegal fighters, anything they fired back was illegal. So therefore what Omar Kadar did was a war crime."
When I heard this stunning response, I thought. Please follow up, please... No chance. Here's just a few possible follow-ups that any journalist might have made:

  • Doesn't John Bellinger represent the Bush Administration anyway? Why would his interpretation be decisive? [Bellinger is a complete Bush tool. As his bio notes, "From February 2001 to January 2005, ....he provided legal advice to the President, the National Security Adviser, NSC Principals, and NSC and White House staff on a broad range of national security and international legal matters."]
  • What UN resolutions are you referring to?
  • Are you suggesting that a UN resolution backed the US military attack on Afghanistan in 2001, and also prohibited any military response by the Afghanis?
Seriously, the UN had plenty of condemnation and sanctions against the Taliban, but nothing like Bellinger and Freeze claim. I came across one coherent argument for denying Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters POW status here, but it's conclusion is interpretive at best.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

War Erupting and The People's Army

Tonight's coverage of the exchange of bodies and prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon provided a good case of contrast and compare on NPR. Reporting from Israel, Eric Westervelt had some interesting comments:
"....since they were seized in an ambush on July 12th, 2006 while on a routine patrol near the Lebanese border. Hezbollah guerrillas rained machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire down on their armored jeeps. Three Israeli soldiers were killed on the spot and Goldwasser and Regev were taken captive. They were reservists Israeli soldiers doing their annual duty in what many here call 'The People's Army.'"
That is some colorful storytelling. I searched and searched and could find little details about the ambush itself. The Washington Post and the BBC both had some sketchy information about the operation in which the two Israeli soldiers were captured. Both quoted Hezbollah officials claiming that they had seized the two men in order to force prisoner exchanges. I couldn't find anything about the machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenades, although one might assume such weapons were used given the deaths of the soldiers. The bit about the "People's Army" was just plain salesmanship for the militarized state of Israel.

From Lebanon, NPR has Ivan Watson reporting on the reactions of citizens, government officials and Hezbollah supporters. Unfortunately, Watson - who did some of the better reporting from Lebanon when it was being pulverized by the IDF - has switched to the unoffending passive voice in describing Israel's planned destruction of Lebanon in the summer of 2006. He states,
"When Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in that 2006 raid, Israel refused to negotiate. Instead a vicious five week war erupted which left much of Southern Lebanon in ruins."
War didn't just "erupt," it was planned and premeditated with US assistance. However, the part about Lebanon in ruins was true, but it didn't occur by happenstance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Times on the Plantation

Any doofus who knows anything about the history of South and Central America knows that most of the countries there have suffered for centuries the horrors of the latifundia /hacienda system whereby tiny, extremely violent elites held nearly all the arable lands. Slavery, murder, torture and terror were used to crush resistance and enslave workers in these plantations. In the twentieth century the US was often the generous provider of arms, funds, and training for the elites that ruled these countries.

But in Venezuela the problem according to six-figure Steve Inskeep is that "President Hugo Chavez uses revolutionary rhetoric that has incited poor squatters to invade large farms. Chavez says rich land owners care little about the poor." And the solution is..."one of those landowners..." Honestly, "one of those landowners"!

Unlike the misfired New Yorker cover, this story is not parody. It's dead serious. Yep, from the centuries of hacienda hell (which is not ancient history), NPR worked hard to find the one exception, Alberto Vollmer, a rich hacienda owner who seems to have both power, wealth and morality. The guy seems like an interesting man, and if one can believe Forero's report - and that's always a big if with Forero - the policies of the democratically elected Venezuelan government (including Hugo Chavez) have created an opportunity where the extremely wealthy can use their holdings to better the lives of others instead of destroy them.

But God forbid that any credit go to the government of Venezuela. No the only hope is from the plantation master, who in spite of everything has a heart of gold.

Monday, July 14, 2008

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You Can't Spell Elliott without O...I...L

Sometimes NPR is pretty darn slick (as in oil that is). This morning I heard their piece on the debates around offshore drilling for oil and gas along the Gulf Coast states. As the report progressed, it seemed all right: a range of comments from people holding different views on whether or not Florida should allow offshore drilling. But then it struck me as curious that in Debbie Elliott's report the only significant challenge she raised was to an opponent of drilling offshore. She was interviewing Sandy Johnston, executive director of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, who said, "We have people coming from all over the world to see this. Why even take a chance?" Elliott retorts, "We're sitting here on the front porch of your visitor information center and we're watching the traffic come in. People have to pay for gas to drive to get here. Do you not think that at some point the trade off is worth it when people can no longer afford to come here?"

That was odd, given that no one else in her report was put on the defensive with such a direct question. But the real zinger came right at the end. After giving a lot of airtime to the pro-drilling Frances Coleman, editorial page editor of the Mobile Press Register, Elliot sums up her views and the report with, "So when she hears her cross border neighbors whining about the price at the pump her response: Well bless their hearts." Whining? That's interesting...seems like somebody else was recently just accusing the public of who could that be?

The other major problem with Elliot's story is how it is framed completely as an economic issue. Will "unsightly" drilling negative affect the tourism business in Florida, and if so, is it worth it given the energy and financial gains that might come from drilling. There was absolutely nothing of substance offered regarding the environmental risks and impact of offshore drilling. That is odd, given that there are significant impacts and risks (even from natural gas drilling). Furthermore, there was no input from environmentalists, even though there are local environmental activists available for input. This lack of the environmental aspect is striking, given that even such bland outlets as USA Today include the environmental angle as a substantive part of their coverage.

Let's just say, this NPR report seems a bit rigged (oil that is) from the start.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Imagine someone saying the following:
"I am free, free as any man can be, as free as any man ever was - almost continuously. Sure I have to occasionally stop, touch land, mingle with dirt dwellers and their slick glad handing politicians and of course the related uniformed power thugs which anxiously encircle them - you know they don't talk about extortion, these days, nah that's not PC. They don't talk about strong armed tactics or intimidation, nah, they are too civilized for that. Instead we call it taxes and universal health care, and my favorite - paying one's fair share."
Extortion, strong armed tactics, intimidation = health care! Give me a break. Anyone can harbor whatever resentful, bitter ignorant attitudes they want about taxes and health care, but it's not fit material for a public news program. However, NPR sees fit to provide a forum to captain Fatty Goodlander.

I could only wonder if Goodlander felt the same about health care when he had a minor heart attack and was "evacuated by air to a cardiac unit in Puerto Rico"? I wonder who was extorted and intimidated to get him the care he needed then?

The Royal We

I'm always suspicious when some talking head on the news is talking about some disastrous situation such as the Iraq War, the credit crisis or - as was the case today - the banking crisis, and lays the blame on "us" saying, "We all got it wrong," or "We've all been lulled." Usually these statements are just not true, and serve to ignore the critics and dissidents who actually "got it right" or "weren't lulled" at all.

Talking about the burgeoning banking crisis, NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition talked to financial analyst Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics. Petrou had the following to say:
"We'll have more bank failures....we've all been lulled into complacency. We've had a lot of good years - a boom brings that out in the banking system, and it makes us all lazy; it means that uninsured depositors get too relaxed and they don't take care. It means that regulators get lazy. We've been through a period of time in which we all sort of thought that 'Gee, regulation is always wrong and the market is always right' and I think we got a little too careless."
If only there were someone there to say, "Speak for yourself, Karen." Not everybody was having good years and a lot of people saw banking deregulation for the swindle it was.

Back in 1999 Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman denounced Sec of the Treasury Robert Rubin for his work spearheading banking deregulation, and pointed out the problems with such a policy. Weissman is still writing on the issue. There have been others warning about deregulation such as this article from The Boston Globe in 2000 and this from The Seattle Post Intelligencer in 2002. I wonder when NPR will be consulting some of the folks who got it right? If the Iraq War experience is any indication, it won't be anytime soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Gaggle of Journalists

Today's Saturday Weekend Edition began with it's hourly summary describing the death of Tony Snow. The summary featured a clip of Tony Snow on the Colbert Report where Colbert is congratulating Snow on being a "journalist" because of his years at Fox News. Apparently the sarcasm went right over the heads of the NPR folks because Linda Wertheimer opens the show's segment on Tony Snow by saying, "...former White House press secretary, journalist Tony Snow...."

I'd suggest that Wertheimer and crew brush up a little on the ethical standards of journalism. The Society of Professional Journalists has a few criteria of what journalists should do:
  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
  • Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
Let's just say that Snow's career doesn't even come close. But what about the coverage of Snow's dishonest (very dishonest) work for the Bush administration. NPR hands the job over to David Folkenflik who tells us how Tony Snow "played a raucous blues flute....lived life easily, enjoyed it too," had a "genial presence" and was "a conduit for the President to conservatives, but also to his former peers in the press corp." Clearly Folkenflik was taken with the personable Snow.

NPR's feature really is an odd, and rather shameful piece - unable to distinguish between partisan hack and journalist. Even when we are given a sound bite of Snow saying that Valerie Plame "wasn't a covert agent, she wasn't compromised," no comment is made about this being a blatant lie. The only revealing bit of news in the piece is that after Snow's work as a speech writer (journalist?) for Bush senior, he "then became a newspaper and NPR commentator."


How does NPR find these guys for interviews? This morning Wertheimer talks to former CIA servant, Kenneth Katzman, who now works for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service [of course nonpartisan here just means neither Democrat nor Republican, not independent of serving the interests of US global hegemony.]

The heart of Wertheimer's talk with Katzman is the Iraqi Occupation Prime Minister Maliki's call for a timetable for withdrawal. Can you guess where the pressure for such a ridiculous demand is coming from? Iran! What a surprise. Katzman has the following to say:
"I think he is getting pressure from the Iranians. Iran views this as a US attempt to basically complete or contiue its encirlcement of a US attempt to secure bases from which the United States can easily conduct an able to send covert operatives and special forces into Iran...and it's trying to mainly work through the Sadr faction to undermine the agreement."
There's that canard about the Sadr movement being nothing but an Iranian proxy - a bit of doublespeak that simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. As Gary Kamiya notes in his Salon article, which relies a lot on Juan Cole's expertise, Iran is far closer to Maliki's Supreme Council than it is to the Sadr movement.

You also have to love Katzman's arrogance. He says, "several blocks in the Parliament do not want this agreement at all, or at the very least, are arguing that it's an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty - although I suspect that's not the real reason why they oppose it." Yeah, having over a hundred thousand foreign troops in your country for years who are allowed to mount operations without your government's approval and who are not accountable to your government for crimes and atrocities would hardly be an infringement on a country's sovereignty.

It is interesting to read Katzman's interview with CFR from November 2003. He seems to have become far more favorable of occupation and anti-Iran spin than he was back then.

Friday, July 11, 2008

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wait a Minute

This morning John Ydstie was on to talk about the tax policies of John McCain and Barack Obama. I have to say, that tax policy is out of my league - but I think I know when I'm being hornswoggled. Ydstie had this to say:
"...for McCain the big idea is, a Republican idea going back to Ronald Reagan, and that is to boost growth...." After hearing a sound bite of McCain claiming that our corporate tax rate is the "2nd highest in the world" Ydstie is back to add "...and I think most economists would agree - if you cut corporate tax rates, if you cut personal income tax rates, you're going to boost growth. The rub is this: if you don't pay for those tax cuts and you increase the deficit, you could very easily undermine that growth..."
Now wait there one second fella. Before you go and sell the store claiming such miraculous powers for supply-side economics, I just don't think it's all that straightforward. I did a little research and currently there does seem to be a lot of religious faith (CATO institute and AEI, of course) in the powers of cutting taxes for corporations - but that "most economists" stuff is pretty darn sloppy. As this article from Smart Money notes, the tax rate is one thing, but what corporations in the US actually pay is a quite a different story. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has some interesting views on the whole "most economists agree" angle, too.

The thing that I have discovered is that since the Reagan-Thatcher counterrevolution of the 1980s corporate taxes have been falling globally (see the CATO article above). And I don't know about you, but looking around at jobs, real wages, health insurance, infrastructure, etc. - I'd say the period has been marked by definite growth (the rich getting a whole lot richer) combined with some serious shrinkage in the quality of life for most humans on the planet, and a lot of downward pressures on the middle class.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone with a bit more expertise in this area.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Leading the Charge

Inskeep was loading the language this morning. First he introduced the story on Iran firing its missiles with this:
"Iranian officials CONTEND they are responding to hostile rhetoric from the United States and Israel - THAT is their explanation for firing a long range missile today. The test shot comes as THE WORLD is trying to persuade Iran to abandon any ambitions for NUCLEAR WEAPONS."
And then discussing the US push for anti-missile installations in Eastern Europe, Inskeep states that
"Iran's test comes during the same week that the United States MADE PROGRESS on installing a missile defense system in Europe. And one of the goals would be to DEFEND AGAINST IRAN'S MISSILES...."
When was the last time you heard Inskeep say "the Pentagon contends" or "President Bush contends," etc. It's also quite an inflation to go from the US/Israel/Europe to "the world" and of course it's a mighty jump to go from enriching uranium to "ambitions for nuclear weapons." To follow these misstatements with the claim that the US military expansion east is making "progress" and will "defend against Iran's missiles" [hitting Europe(???)] is not reporting or newscasting, but simply arguing the case for the Pentagon.

The Double Talk Express

Wow, McLiasson is working extra McHard:

On ATC Tuesday:
Liasson: "You can't really say that McCain switched his positions. What McCain did is the bill he proposed and sponsored had a path to legalization for undocumented aliens, also it had some border security measures. He hasn't given up on the path to citizenship, but he now says we have to secure the border first because if we don't Americans won't support comprehensive immigration reform."
[Holy smokes, McCain couldn't have spun it better himself.]

Liasson: "...both these candidates are for the same thing."
[Fact based journalism at its best.]

Liasson: "...but McCain did change his emphasis and Obama sees that as an opening."
[That Obama is a wily devil!]
And then on Wednesday's ME Liasson is back at it, with a little help from her friends:
Inskeep: "One of his strengths is his record on immigration reform. McCain favored a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants and he paid a heavy political price for that."
[So heavy that he lost the Republican primary...okay, not that heavy.]

Liasson: "...on immigration reform Obama and McCain are very similar."
[At least it's no longer "the same thing."]

Liasson: "Last year McCain took on his own party."
[Along with that maverick George Bush.]

Liasson: "to the McCain campaign, Obama is trying to get credit for a bipartisan compromise that he supported but also tried to torpedo by sponsoring or voting for labor union backed amendments that if passed would have weakened support for the bill."
[Labor backed amendments? Same thing? Very similar? Hmmm.]

(an attendee at the LULAC conference): "I actually voted for Obama in the primaries. I think I just kind of jumped in the bandwagon and sort of voted because I really like his personality and I always say I like him with my heart and I like McCain with my head."
[Surely a representative perspective.]
Pretty amazing stuff.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Yesterday Wade Goodwyn reported on the three freed US military contractors who had been hostages of the FARC.

Goodwyn notes: "The Americans had some pointed and angry words for their former captors.....he [Gonsalves] had scorn for the rebels, he described his captors' cruelty to the hostages and he mocked the guerrillas rhetoric about building a better more democratic Colombia while they acted like bullies."

No comment needed.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Community Radio - Intelligence Community That Is

(click on image for source)

Tom Gjelten is on ME today talking about the two major candidates latest turns against rule of law and Constitutional liberties. It's an odd report in that Gjelten seems not to be reporting on the relationship between the candidates and the "Intelligence Community," but to be actually speaking for that "community"....

Gjelten's statements about FISA and Obama are misleading. Of Obama Gjelten states,
"he's advised on intelligence matters by John Brennan, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Like many intelligence professionals, Brennan says the FISA program is essential to the fight against terrorism - by adopting Brennan's view, Obama improves his standing with the intelligence community. For someone looking ahead to a presidential administration, that's important."
When Gjelten refers to Brennan and "many intelligence professionals" saying that "the FISA program is essential to the fight against terrorism" he is continuing to cloud the issue, implying that Obama's original stand against unconstitutional and illegal disregard for FISA (which is what the Bush administration has done) was a stand against FISA. FISA has never expired, and the government has had and continues to have the lawful means under FISA for intercepting suspected terrorist emails, phonecalls, etc. What Obama is now supporting is the Orwellian Protect America Act amendments to FISA, and as Glenn Greenwald so cogently explains,
"What Barack Obama did here was wrong and destructive. He's supporting a bill that is a full-scale assault on our Constitution and an endorsement of the premise that our laws can be broken by the political and corporate elite whenever the scary specter of The Terrorists can be invoked to justify it."
It is also worth noting that Gjelten fails to mention that Brennan is also in the intelligence profiteering business; he's the president and CEO of The Analysis Corporation - and so would have a vested interest in getting Obama to back more invasive surveillance and immunity to lawbreaking telecoms.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

You Won't Even Know They're There

The best thing about losing your Constitutional liberties is if it's done right, you won't even know they're gone. On Saturday morning Dina Temple-Raston gets an inside tour of the FBI's surveillance routines.

Linda Wertheimer tells us the "the FBI has an entire army of people whose only job is to do surveillance whether tracking a terrorist suspect or mobster or potential spy....the secret is all about blending in." Golly, Linda forgot to mention a few other targets of the FBI surveillance, like say peace groups in California, Maine, and Michigan, raging grannies, and potential GOP convention protesters.

Temple-Raston adds that if the FBI surveillance "team is doing the job right, you won't even know they're there." That's comforting...Hey, but it was an exciting adventure for Temple-Raston; she got to call the agents by aliases and learn their cool tactics. As she says, the surveillance teams "have all kinds of techniques, and they all have catchy names like Picket and Web or Leapfrog." Wowzer! Groovy! Like Wertheimer, Temple-Raston also forgot to mention a few other FBI tricks, like other hip surveillance tactics that the G-Men (and women) have used for surveillance in our post 9/11 world.

Let's Keep Pointing Fingers

Ed Kashi is a very talented and successful photographer, and a global citizen who cares about social and environmental issues. On NPR this morning to talk about his book, the Curse of the Black Gold, it was disappointing to hear him say the following:
"And while it's very easy to point our fingers at the oil companies and we absolutely need to, it's the Nigerian government, that I feel - having spent three years working there - that really bears the greatest responsibility, because after all our governments are."
The problem is that the government that exists in Nigeria, is there in large part because of the actions of the big oil companies that have helped foster a culture of violence and exploitation in Nigeria. The biggest villains in the oil sector are Shell Oil (see the chapter "A Game for Spin Doctors" in the book Where Vultures Feed) and Chevron.

Kashi does not deny that the oil companies are guilty, but I can only guess that he assumes that NPR has covered the oil company aspect fully - but it hasn't. Also it would seem to me that private citizens would have more impact organizing to improve the behavior of the oil companies than we would on the government of Nigeria (which he rightly condemns for being abysmally corrupt and brutal).

Saturday, July 05, 2008

And the Answer Is...

There's something to be said for hearing from establishment figures who are loyal to the role of US as global hegemon. People like Richard Clarke are interesting in that they reveal just how radical and extreme the Bush administration is, but they are not usually critics of US military, economic, and political control of the world. This morning Linda Wertheimer interviews Clarke about the troubles that the US-NATO is experiencing in Afghanistan. Wertheimer asks, "Is there a way to turn the situation in Afghanistan around at this point?"

Now astute readers, what do you think the answer is? Any guesses? Maybe a regional solution? Come on, I think you can guess. Clarke says, "There is, but only by sending in MORE TROOPS, and keeping them there for a while...."

Now that is a smart idea, as the Soviets discovered. Clarke goes on to explain how the problem is also with Pakistan that and US unilateral action without Pakistani permission makes sense because, "any President has to act that way to protect the lives of Americans."

As Barnett Rubin notes in a post on Afghanistan, this flattening of the complex situation in Afghanistan to a rather stupid either/or proposition is common in the US media, but doesn't do anything to inform people, or suggest a way out of the morass of Afghanistan:
"As usual, the Times article presented the alternatives as do nothing, Predator missile strikes, or invasion by U.S. Special Forces, without any discussion of competing Pakistani and Pashtun political agendas for the tribal agencies. A successful and sustainable strategy has to be carried out together with allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, within a political framework that they support."

Friday, July 04, 2008

Racial Pride

Let us now praise hateful men:
  • "The fact is we keep talking about flip-flops - how politicians change their positions - Jesse Helms never changed positions. He was not a compromiser....He was true to his ideals."
  • "Well that was always part of his, those who loved him and those who hated him, race was always a big issue. One famous moment...up against Carol Mosley private he sang Dixie to her....obviously race was a big part of him."
  • "Appealing to racial pride, appealing against quotas, and things like that helped his career."
So we have Ken Rudin's Jesse Helms, with no dissent from Ari Shapiro, on July 4th's Morning Edition. NPR's coverage of Helms (and his ilk) illustrates how extremely far to the right NPR works to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Helms built his career on supporting segregation and race baiting (Now would that be racism or racial pride?), general bigotry, and savvy fund-raising abilities that helped him eke out electoral victories.

I'd suggest folks at NPR take a look at that radical publication The Economist, for a few ideas on how to write a fitting obituary on someone like Jesse Helms. They would also do well to take a look at Mother Jones interesting survey of Helms "accomplishments" as of 1995. Though overdue, Washington Post's Broder had a fine piece on Helms when he retired from office - it serves just as nicely now that Helms has mercifully retired from the planet.

Oh an finally a little hint to Mr. Rudin at NPR. When you hum or whistle "Dixie" to an African-American Senator in an elevator that's an "infamous" moment, not a "famous" moment - that is unless you admire such an incident.

Q Tips

You know, those comforting little swabs you use to clean out your ears. Anyway, I was tired of typing Open Thread over and over, so NPR related notes, comments, rants, quips, etc. are welcomed here - as always.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

And That Other Minor Detail

In the wake of the Colombian Army's successful hostage rescue operation the surgery on memory continues. Robert Siegel talks to Professor Marc Chernick who's bio notes "has been a consultant to the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the U.S. Department of State and the government of Switzerland."

Supposedly we are going to learn about the FARC. Siegel asks, "How old a group is this...?

Chernick states, "Well they were founded in 1964. Their leaders first took up arms in the late 1940s...before the group (FARC) existed they were rebels in the mountains, part of a broader struggle and in the 60s they transformed themselves into the FARC."

Siegel asks a reasonable question: "What were they struggling for?"

And Chernick giving a meaningless answer says, "Well, they came out of an intense period of partisan civil war in Colombia called 'The Violence' - 40s and 50s - one of the bloodiest periods in Latin American history, but the main groups there made peace, but a small group of guerillas - liberal guerillas they were at the time - stayed out of the conflict; it's that group that formed the FARC."

I was hoping Siegel would say, "Yeah, but what were they struggling for?" Instead he says, "Then during the years of the Soviet Union...we associated the FARC with being a Marxist group - fair?"

Chernick replies, "No absolutely, the key moment is actually not the Soviet Union, but the Cuban Revolution...when the FARC was formed there was an era of revolutionary groups being founded all over the continent. The FARC became decidedly Marxist, allied themselves with the communist party and were pro-Soviet."

I have to say, that whatever you think of the FARC, this conversation was so mind-numbingly stupid and misinformed that it is impressive in a sick sort of way. Can Chernick say poverty? The UN can - even the World Bank can! And regarding "The Violence" of the 40s and 50s, even the Library of Congress country report on Colombia notes that "the basic cause of this protracted period of internal disorder, however, was the refusal of successive governments to accede to the people's demands for socioeconomic change." How convenient that poverty (and dictatorship and horrific government brutality) never came up in the conversation.

Listening to Siegel and Chernick talk you'd think that it was some Marxist virus sweeping the continent that just made people want to take up arms and head to the mountains for no other reason than having commie or "pro-Soviet" sympathies.

And people wonder why so many Americans are so stupid.

What the Doctor Ordered

One or more people at NPR deserve medals for getting past its typically awful coverage of our national health care disgrace. This morning NPR offered the first of a series of examinations of the health care systems of other leading industrial nations (today's was Germany's).

Noticeably lacking was any of the usual dismissiveness toward a comprehensive national health care system. The reporter conducting the story actually tried to discover what works with Germany's system, what its users think about it, and - rarely mentioned in news reports - how the guarantee of full and equitable health care for all citizens of a country can improve the humanity of that country, creating a sense of compassion and unity (the report even called it solidarity!).

As I've written before, I am disgusted at paying exorbitant rates (now $8000 a year for my family - with $25 office visit copays) for employer supported coverage that is far worse than what one should get - and that doesn't do anything to help include the uninsured in coverage. So thank you, whoever you are at NPR who put together this show. It is crucial to highlight the possibilities of a better health care system in this election year when there is a slight possibility that our own system may be improved (although I confess to having the same delusion back in 1992).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Would You Expect?

If you were born in Gaza and had to start working at age 6 to help support your family because your father was in an Israeli jail, if your 17 year old brother, on his way to school, was killed by an Israeli sniper, if just over a week later an Israeli bulldozer attacked and destroyed your home without warning and with your family in it (severely injuring your mother) - what would you do? What would any human being do? The young man in this case decided to fight back: pick up the weapons of a notebook, pens, and a Canon D20 camera. Such is the story of Mohammed Omer (bio in pdf. file)

And what if you did this and became an award winning journalist in the process? And what if on your way back to Gaza from an awards ceremony in London you were stopped at the border by the Israeli Shin Bet agents, harassed, mocked, strip searched, tortured and finally sent home with broken ribs and unconscious in an ambulance? You might think that journalist advocacy groups would take up your cause and you might think US and British media would also give attention to the story (you'd be partially right on both counts (see BBC and Independent), but the overwhelming reaction was...silence.

Of course, IDF-loyal NPR did not have a single word of this gross (but all too common) human rights abuse case. On the other hand, you can be sure that we will hear ad nauseum about today's tragedy in Jerusalem where a Palestinian man killed innocent Israeli civilians with a construction bulldozer. In NPR's coverage, you can assume that there will be nothing of the context of such homicidal rage and - of course - no one will dare utter the bitter irony of this man using a bulldozer to commit his crime. An irony compounded by Olmert's reaction, noted in Haaretz, where he is reported to have "ordered ministers to examine the possibility of razing the terrorist's home in East Jerusalem."

Keeping the Liar in Liasson

"Maverick" journalist Mara Liasson was on Morning Edition today to burnish the "maverick" myth of John McCain. Here are a few priceless assertions:
"McCain has made a career of taking heat from his own party for working with liberal Democrats like Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, or Ted Kennedy on immigration and these bipartisan efforts are both the source of his maverick reputation and the cause of his ongoing problems with the Republican party's conservative base."
Actually the source of his "maverick" reputation are hacks in the media who keep repeating it despite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Liasson's assertions of "taking heat from his own party" leaves one asking, What heat - has he ever been passed over for important committee appointments? Has he been denounced publicly by the leadership of the party? Has he been sanctioned in any way? Facts be damned, Liasson is not about to be deterred:
"...if the criteria is who's stuck their neck out on difficult issues and paid the price for doing it, McCain has it all over Obama."
Whether it's her recent collaboration with Montagne in citing the biased National Journal's attempt to paint Obama as the ultra-liberal (Don't I wish!) or her joining in on Fox News to bash liberal bloggers - you have to wonder just how far into misinformation, smear, and outright lies someone like Liasson has to go before getting called out by NPR. Or could it be that her tactics and politics are right in line with the tactics and politics of NPR's leadership? You'll have to make that call yourself.

UPDATE: I emailed Media Matters regarding this piece and I see they've dinged NPR...again.

Open Thread

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Real Meat

On NPR this morning Ari Shapiro gushes with Peter Zeihan - O'Reily endorsed "analyst" from the rightist Stratfor company (Stratfor has a place of honor on the RightBias news site).

As Porter mentioned in the Open Thread below, the discussion had all the overtones of soft porn. Let's just say that Ari and Peter were very stimulated by the whole scenario of our oil - that happens to be in Iraq - finally coming back to its rightful owners after so many years:

Shapiro: "Iraq's Oil Ministry has opened its legs the door to five western oil companies. They haven't had access to Iraq for 36 years. "

Zeihan: "...the real meat in Iraq's industry is going to come later."

Ari does get all in a bunch when Zeihan mentions that this first round of deals doesn't just give the whole shop away to the "western" oil companies. He practically shrieks, "The production is not something you own! Does that mean that the oil companies are not going to profit significantly from this?"

Zeihan reassures Shapiro (and all us listeners) "Well, they'll make a profit..."

Well, thank God. I mean seriously, if this war can't guarantee the poor, excluded "western" oil companies making a profit, then I want my half a trillion dollars back!

Velvet Gloves

This morning Ari Shapiro talks with Benjamin Wittes (of the Brookings Institute - ugh) about the "need" for new laws to codify detention in the eternal GWOT. It's a brilliantly repulsive interview in which the entire sham of the "War on Terror" is accepted and extolled - and in which the US is the exceptional nation, blessed with the responsibility for waging this "war" exclusive of any international laws or obligations.

Here's a taste of the interview:
  • Shapiro: "So it needs to be a new set of laws crafted by Congress. Describe what those laws would look like."
  • Wittes: "In a military conflict in which, you know, Congress has authorized the use of force against an enemy that has declared war against the United States, the nature of that conflict necessitates some kind of a detention authority, that is a detention power that is not connected to necessarily a pending indictment in US Federal court."
  • Shapiro: "And so when you say a detention authority, you mean conceivably for that person's lifetime."
  • Wittes: "You know one would hope that it would never have to go on that long but you know there are a certain group of people that you're going to be holding for a very long time."
  • Shapiro (interjecting one vague critique): "If as you propose, Congress creates a system of military commissions or national security courts...human rights groups say that opens the door to harsh interrogations, secret evidence, and things that the US really doesn't and shouldn't condone."
  • Wittes: Responds that though he has "a lot of sympathy with a lot of human rights groups complaints," he is "a little bewildered" by critiques of his proposals. Given how extremely bad the current system is he just can't understand how his own authoritarian system is "retrogressive."
Listening to these two, you'd never know that there is something called International Law which is meant to prevent just this kind of legal morass in which the most powerful nation makes up the rules that only it is allowed to follow and which only it gets to enforce. It's easy to find information on international laws (unless one is committed to US exceptionalism) : the American Society on International Law, the UN, and the Red Cross for example.

I'm struck by how often NPR turns to these soft-authoritarian types like counterinsurgency promoters and torture apologists. In many ways they are a perfect fit for NPR news which also promotes, celebrates, and justifies the iron fist of US military, economic, and political hegemony in the world, but always with a velvet touch.

Open Thread

NPR related comments encouraged and welcomed.