Monday, June 29, 2009

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Between Fred Thompson and the American Enterprise Intstitute

Reporting this morning for the private health insurance lobby, NPR's Julie Rovner gets very, very basic:
"The health care cost debate pretty much comes down to this: 'You can't cut costs without hurting someone.'"
How's that for analysis. And to back it up we get a little Meet the Press sound-bite from Fred Thompson (yes him): "The only way to really save cost is to have rationing or it can be done by a cram down by the government and take it out of the hides of doctors hospitals."

Rovner's report mainly serves to highlight and promote the research of Elliott Fisher of the Dartmouth Institute. The big deal is that Fisher has found that some areas in the US with lower cost prices for health care have better outcomes. Funny thing is that on June 11, 2009 NPR featured this exact research. An interesting thing not mentioned on NPR is the chief "partners" of the Dartmouth Institute. On the list are
I do smell a conflict of interest, eh?

Rovner fills out the report by going to a solid centrist - Len Nichols (no single payer, he) - of the New America Foundation (as far left as NPR dare venture) , and then the wrap up is provided by Joe Antos of the far right AEI who concludes that real change to health care is a cultural/behavioral issue more than a cost issue.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On the DL

Hello all. I want to let readers know that I'll be posting infrequently for the next week or so - and any posts will be very brief. Lately, my hands have been starting to show signs of carpal tunnel syndrome and so I'm going to take a bit of a break/summer vacation from the computer.

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NPR and the Pragmatic Police State

This morning NPR features "an exclusive first look at a legal proposal....a detailed plan for holding terrorism suspects without trial, and it comes from two experts outside of the government." Inspite of the two "experts" mentioned by David Greene, Ari Shapiro only interviews one of them, Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution.

According to Shapiro "Wittes occupies a relatively unique position in national security. He has studied and written books on pragmatic approaches to fighting terrorism." [Actually he has written only one book on terrorism - Law and the Long War.]

I don't have any problem with NPR interviewing Wittes. Unfortunately, he is an important fish in circles of state power in Washington, DC, though - not surprisingly - his ideas are not particularly fresh or inspiring, and he heartily supports for projections of US military and foreign policy hegemony. Consider the Publisher's Weekly and Booklist reviews of his book:
  • PW: "Both a defense and critique of the Bush administration, the book argues in favor of many of the measures taken by the executive branch while condemning its failure to secure congressional cooperation and the necessary legal architecture to back policies that were bound to be unpopular."
  • Booklist: "Wittes remains highly sympathetic to the administration’s aims, giving them the benefit of the doubt on matters that other critics of the administration have not. Ultimately, his hope is that innovative legal structures will be forthcoming and seen as legitimate in a way that current efforts are not."
As Wittes himself states in an article on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, "we have no choice but to continue the war on terror in some form."

My problem with NPR's coverage of Wittes is that it is an endorsement of Wittes' viewpoint. In spite of his utter lack of credentials in the area of human rights, international, or Constitutional law and his rather conventional apologist approach to torture, he is a "expert" with "pragmatic approaches." As Glenn Greewald notes, Wittes can't even get the most basic Constitutional points correct when he argues for "legal" dictatorial powers for the President.

And what is the thinking behind Wittes' expert, pragmatic approaches? Consider this excerpt of the report:
(Shapiro) "So why push for indefinite detention at all? Well, Wittes says we already have it. People have been at Guantanamo for years. There are thousands more in Afghanistan...." (Wittes) "And so there's no question that we're detaining people outside of the criminal justice system. The question is what the rules are for those detentions and who makes those rules."
Look closely at the logic of this.
So why push to codify and legalize practice __________?
Because __________ is already being done!
All you have to do is put any debased government abuse of power in the blank - torture, rape, murder, rendition, illegal surveillance, etc. to see where this can lead. In Wittes' world (and NPR's by extension) the problem is not with the practice itself and a craven and complicit Congress that refuses its constitutional role of holding the executive office perpetrators accountable. Instead, the problem is that Congress has been slow to enact legislation to codify the practices. And according to Wittes, this reluctance to legislate away basic Constitutional values - and this is where he becomes a hero of the Weekly Standard security state devotees - opens up the possibilty of serious judicial oversight -OMG!

As Grumpy Demo points out on his blog - this is the kind of logic would please anyone who is hoping that our three branches of government would get "pragmatic" and realize that what we really need in the "war on terror" is a Unitary Benevolent Authoritarian Strong Man in the mold of Pinochet, Peron, or Castro.

Impromptu Shoulder Rub...Oooh La La!

According to Eric Westervelt:
"During the George W. Bush years Chancellor Merkl was often seen smiling and friendly with the president even when he surprised Merkl by giving her an impromtu shoulder all accounts the two leaders liked each other...there's been no such personal chumminess thus far between Merkl and President Obama."
This does say a lot about Westervelt's feelings for the "George W. Bush years."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Militant Funeral

NPR may struggle mightily with what to call torture - "the problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties the United States has signed" - but when it comes to human beings killed by the US military, be they civilians or irregular forces, there's no hesitation: they are militants plain and simple.

This morning David Greene introduces another drone attack story by claiming that the "US has struck again at militants near the border with Afghanistan. The American airstrikes yesterday killed at least 45 militants...." Greene then turns things over to Julie McCarthy who says, "The details of the assault on the remote tribal area of South Waziristan - known as Pakistan's badlands - are still emerging, but local media report that dozens of militants were killed when three drone missiles were fired on Taliban fighters as they gathered for a funeral of fellow militants."

There are a few problems with Greene and McCarthy's reporting. Despite the heavy civilian toll of past drone attacks, Greene asserts as fact that "at least 45 militants" were killed. So where is the evidence? How does he know any of them were "militants." McCarthy notes that details "are still emerging," but that doesn't stop her from claiming that "local media report that dozens of militants were killed," that they were "Taliban fighters," and that it was a "funeral of fellow militants." So what local media is McCarthy referring to, and just how were the dead identified as "Taliban fighters"?

It's interesting to look at other reports of the same attack. According to the BBC
"At least 43 people have died in missile strikes by a US drone aircraft in a militant stronghold of Pakistan, a Taliban spokesman has told the BBC."
Pretty basic journalistic practice. "People" get killed, and the allegations are sourced. The Guardian goes even further noting that "one local security official, who could not be identified as he was not authorised to speak to media, said that more than 60 had died of whom 'half are civilians'." Civilians? What do you know, another detail that NPR somehow missed.

In addition to the factual vagaries of the report, Greene and McCarthy's casual attitude about unmanned killing machines and attacks on a funeral is really disturbing. So now it's acceptable military practice to bomb funerals? It's telling that when the word is torture NPR is concerned about "the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties," but when they are using language favorable to the US military there is no such concern.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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NPR Does Care About European Demonstrations - Sort Of

According to Renee Montagne, "Europeans are reacting with outrage over events in Iran...and demonstrators in major capitals have taken to the streets." Wow! European protests are so important that NPR quickly puts a reporter on the story and has her on the scene. Eleanor Beardsley checks in from the outskirts of Paris at one of the demonstrations, complete with ambient sounds of protesters and speakers.

Could it be that NPR is changing it's outlook on European public demonstrations? It seems like only yesterday that the record shattering February 15, 2003 demonstrations against the coming Iraq War rocked the globe and especially those "major capitals" Montagne is so keen on. But back then European demonstrations drew a yawn from NPR -

- picking up a mere mention during a Margot Adler report on the concurrent demonstration in New York and an explanation of why those meaningless protests wouldn't deter the Commander in Chief from doing his job.

So what gives? Why is NPR so interested in European street protests now? It must be the Iran factor (see post below), and the opportunity for Eleanor Beardsley to slip in these sly closing lines that would do Benjamin Netanyahu proud:
"Wayne White is a fellow with the Middle East Institute and a former director of Middle East intelligence at the State Department....says if the Iranian leaders discredit themselves in front of the eyes of the world, European nuclear negotiators are likely to be much more wary. He says that if they stole the election, they surely wouldn't hesitate to lie about The Bomb."

Faster Than You Can Say NSA

On Democracy Now!'s Monday headlines, Amy Goodman reported on the WSJ disclosure about Internet surveillance in Iran being aided by Siemen's and Nokia. Later that afternoon NPR had a far more detailed report on the same topic. All in all, nothing wrong with that - but I couldn't help thinking there was something familiar about the ominous technology described in the report:
"It involves the insertion of hardware into the flow of online data, allowing Tehran to search each and every digital packet of information for keywords."
Somewhere in my memory I could have sworn that there was another government somewhere that engaged in the unlawful surveillance of "the contents of all the electronic voice and data communications" passing through AT&T. Well, dang, if it wasn't my own government rooting around in our Internet and phone traffic! As the link to the ABC blog indicates, the story broke way back in May of 2006 and offered some startling and (dare I say) ominous details that seemed awfully similar to what the Iranian government is now doing. Given that this was in our own country and clearly was in violation of existing surveillance laws, surely NPR was on it right away. The source of the May 2006 story was whistleblower, Mark Klein. Let's see when NPR got around to bringing him on: November 7, 2007 - not bad, just under a year and a half!

There seems to be an interesting prioritizing system at work at NPR: if it's a story indicating criminal behavior by the US Government against its citizens - that goes in the Ho Hum We'll Get Around to it Eventually queue, but if the story reflects poorly on a State Department approved enemy, it zips right to the front of the line. However, if the story reflects really badly on Uncle Sam - as whistleblower Russell Tice's allegations do, that Get Around to it Eventually queue can actually end up being Never At All.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Recommendation

If you haven't seen it, definitely head over to Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory blog to read his take-down of Alicia Shepard's defense of NPR's refusal to call torture torture. Then consider heading over to Shepard's disgraceful post and read and/or add to the slew of comments taking her to task for her Orwellian tour de force.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Irony (and History) Is Dead at NPR

On Saturday's ATC Guy Raz held a friendly with John Negroponte to see what he thought about the US joining the UN Human Rights Council. Negroponte told Raz
  • "No matter how repugnant some of these organizations or behaviors might be, we're probably better served in an international organization by participating..."
  • "I think the leadership...are from countries that have good human rights records..."
Raz added his own skepticism noting that it barely approved monitors for Darfur and "it's already withdrawn human rights monitors from places like Cuba and Belarus. Can the council really be taken seriously if, as some have argued, many of it's decisions are simply political?"

Has Raz ever heard of irony, or for that matter Google? All one has to do it Google "Negroponte human rights" and voila! you get a whole assortment of interesting information about Negroponte's lifelong journey through the dark side. During the report Raz tells us that John Negroponte was "former US Ambassador to Iraq and UN, former director of National Intelligence, and most recently Deputy Secretary of State under the Bush Administration" but - dang! - he somehow failed to mention Negroponte's gig in Honduras from 1981 to 1985. That's odd because there's a lot of information out there about it. Let's see he's got his own special file at the National Security Archive, a nice long newspaper article in the Baltimore Sun, a virtual dossier of articles at In These Times, attention from The Nation and The Progressive, and even a film about his time there.

But really, who needs to know that Negroponte was running cover for an infamous Honduran death squad (Battalion 316) and paling around with death squad leader General Gustavo Alvarez when all he's on to talk about is the effectiveness of a UN human rights council? Besides that was so long ago, and after his tenure in Iraq there's no indication that the US had created death squads like the ones Negroponte helped operate in Honduras...or is there?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

And That Video?

On Tuesday I saw Glenn Greenwald's post about secrecy-creep in which he noted this report from McClatchy regarding the Pentagon's decision to suppress a report on the May 4th massacre of Afghan civilians in Farah. This passage in the McClatchy piece caught my eye:
U.S. officials also said they'd release a video that military officials said shows Taliban fighters attacking Afghan and U.S. forces and then running into a building. Shortly afterward, a U.S. aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed the building.
Video...hmmm? That seemed awfully familiar - and then I remembered that I'd heard about it on NPR. Back on May 29th's Morning Edition - Steve Inskeep interviewed General Petraeus and actually asked him about the May 4th killings, which led to this interchange:
  • Inskeep: "....U.S. military officers have said that there is video showing that in fact Taliban fighters were the targets. Have you seen that video?"
  • Petraeus: "I have....there is indeed video from a B-1 Bomber that very clearly shows bombs hitting individuals who are the Taliban who are reacting to the movements of the Afghan and coalition forces on the ground."
  • Inskeep: "How are they identifiable as Taliban? Men with guns? Men who had just been fighting with Afghan allies on the ground? What is it?
  • Petraeus: "It's a combination of intelligence that is then confirmed by this actual video. But we'll lay this out when in fact this brigadier general briefs the press in Kabul, when he's done briefing President Karzai, our leaders in Washington and then returns to Afghanistan."
  • Inskeep: "Are you going to release the video itself?"
  • Petreaus: "We won't give it to you, but I believe that we will show it as part of the press briefing."
  • Inskeep: "So, you're that confident that this video will prove your side of events that you're willing to publicize this?"
  • Petraeus: "What it will prove, is that the targets of these different strikes were the Taliban. What it does not prove, is that there were not civilians killed. I think we agree, actually, that there were civilians killed in this incident along — again — with a substantial number of Taliban...."
That was May 29th, and the military quickly made Petraeus' claims a DefenseLink news item. But now it's mid-June and it seems the amazing video isn't so amazing after all. So now I'm just waiting for NPR to get Inskeep back on the phone to the good general and ask him, "Oh yeah, General, about that video....?

My guess is, I'll be waiting and waiting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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NPR Does Health Care Right - Far Right That Is

A few days ago a reader (h/t to Masbrow) mentioned an interesting article by Felice Pace in CounterPunch. Pace does a little exploring with the NPR search engine to see how poor, old single payer fares there. He notes that "...stories mention single payer. [but] I can find no NPR news reports or other shows which actually focused on single payer or on the movement to achieve it."*** This prompts him to ask, "Why is NPR refusing to report on what 60% of US citizens and the majority of health professionals want?" To answer that question he did a little more digging at NPR and found that (as of 2006) NPR's financial health care was mighty dependent on some heavy hitters in insurance industry:
  • $1 million+: Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Prudential Financial
  • $500,000 - $999,999: Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Allstate Insurance Company, Northwestern Mutual Foundation
  • $250,000 - $499,999: AARP, The Hartford Financial Services Group, UnumProvident
  • $100,000 – $249,999: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
Single payer may be off the table, but when money sets the table, public radio isn't so different from our trusty public servants.

***A slight correction: I found that by searching "Physicians for a National Health Program" there was one relatively recent (Dec. 24, 2008) report that focused on the single-payer plan; however, the whole point of that Christmas Eve coal-in-the-stocking from NPR was how single-payer is neither as popular nor realistic as supporters claim. It featured Baucus and Rep. Pete Stark poo-pooing single-payer and Rovner relying on one dud poll to claim that "while single-payer has won big majorities in many polls, in this one it came in dead last" (How's that for unbiased?).

Now that Obama and the Dem's sadly watered-down health care proposal is working its way through the bowels of Congress [and still facing attacks from the GOP, PhRMA, and insurance industry because of the public option] I thought it might be worthwhile to put NPR's most recent health care stories into perspective and see whose viewpoints (i.e. $$$) hold sway.

My poor little post of last Friday - noting how TWO features on Morning Edition flogged the public option - had barely seen the light of cyberspace when the next morning NPR felt obliged to give oft-consulted Karen Ignagni of AHIP ("enemy number one" of single payer) unchallenged airtime to denounce the public option with the help of Scott Simon. Instead of responding here - I dropped a comment (reprinted at the end of this post) on NPR's site.

Since then things have only gotten worse. On Sunday morning Rovner claimed that "the bill coming up this week is going to be the most left-leaning if you will...could provide subsidies to people earning up to 5 times the poverty this may be the farthest to the left of all." With that salvo, is it any wonder that on Tuesday morning Steve Inskeep was all over Kathleen Sebelius with the Republican talking points about the public option and denouncing single-payer:
  • "I want to understand this number because...Republicans have said, quoted a study, way over a hundred million what's your number?"
  • "Just the numbers you mention...this option, this public option, if it passes as you imagine is going to be vast."
  • "....people in Congress are talking about putting some kind of limit on this public plan...what kind of limits are you prepared to expect..."
  • "...would you accept a limit that would say this is just not going to be a national health insurance at some point in the future...?"
  • "Can you say flat out it's just never going to be single-player health insurance....?"
This morning Inskeep was at it again in a chat with Juan Williams. After Williams claimed "what the government's doing may in fact drive up the cost of health care" and touted a CBO report alleging that the Dem/Obama plan would "cause some people to lose their insurance" - Inskeep played a clip of the Sebelius interview in which she calls the potential for single-payer insurance a "draconian scenario." He then asks Williams, "Has the White House found any effective way to prove a negative here; to say this is not going to become creeping socialism?" [I swear to God, I'm not making this stuff up.]

You might think I'm selectively picking only the anti-public plan stories or the anti-single player reports. If you can find any featuring a positive tilt on either the public-plan or single-player, let me know; when I searched NPR to see if even a few of the major proponents of progressive health care reform have been featured in the last two weeks, here's what I found:
  • Progressive Democrats of America - nothing
  • California Nurses Association -nada
  • Physicians for a National Health Plan - zilch
Alas, seems that real health care reform at NPR is DOA...

[My comment left at NPR below Scott Simon's schmooze with Karen Ignani]:
Congratulations NPR - as a "public" news station you have done a great service by providing a voice to the voiceless: the health insurance industry which lacks the funds and connections to get it's message out. After yesterday's Republican slant on the public plan from Liasson, Rovner, and Inskeep - you showed a brave commitment to your mission statement ["'Fair' means that we present all important views on a subject."] by giving yet more airtime to the insurance lobby this morning.

Methinks it's time to tell your member stations to stop begging for support from the public (whose opinions don't seem to amount to much on NPR) and to just plug into the money stream from the insurance industry that you are so loyal to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NPR Hearts IMF

Over on the sidebar you'll notice that I list Dean Baker's "Beat the Press" under General Media Critics. If you've never taken a gander a Baker's work - let me recommend it - especially today. He has a real smackdown of NPR's pathetic attempt at giving props to the IMF this morning.

Baker's merciless dissection of NPR's disinformation hinges on two major problems (lies?) with the story. One is a lie of omission - and one of commission.

On omission, Baker points out that though the NPR piece claims that IMF money is going to developing countries,
"The piece never mentions the fact that the bulk of the IMF lending at present is going to East European countries, not the developing world."
As for the making-crap-up department, Baker notes that NPR
"referred to a 'global savings glut' which it attributes to developing countries' fears that the IMF won't have enough resources to bail them out in a crisis, and therefore their need to self-insure. WRONG!!!!!!"
As he points out the reason for countries' savings was so these countries would never have to borrow from the insidious IMF which has a track record for ruining the economies it "helps." But instead of reading about it here, head on over to Baker's blog - you won't be sorry.

Monday, June 15, 2009

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Specialized News from a Specialized Reporter - NPR Promotes Counterinsurgency

In these times of austerity and job "shedding" at NPR, I have an excellent money-saving idea for those running the show at NPR. Instead of spending all the money it must take to embed a reporter like Tom Bowman with the US military in Afghanistan, why not cut him out of the picture and just hand a microphone to one of the officers or commanders there? Heck, if that's too expensive, why not just get on the Internets and pull some hard-hitting journalism from the military web site of whatever unit Tom would have been embedded with? It sure would be a lot cheaper, even though it would mean we wouldn't get the kind of critical insight that Bowman coughed up for us this morning:
"What they're going to be doing is something similar to what they did in Anbar province in Iraq. They're going to move out into the countryside and really live among the people - and that's the whole point here, is the counterinsurgency technique is to live among the people, provide security, and eventually help rebuild this part of Afghanistan...." [Could you have a more sanitized, propaganda laden description of the often repressive, brutal and violent strategy of counterinsurgency?]
And how about this informative answer when Liane Hansen asks about the "new top commander, General Stanley McChrystal...can you tell us something about him?"
Bowman: "....[he] ran the Joint Special Operations Command, that's the secretive unit that goes after high value targets. These are the guys that rolled up Saddam Hussein in Iraq and also Abu Musab he's sort of a specialized soldier with specialized forces...."
How's that for on-the-ground, in-depth reporting. From Bowman's report we'd never even guess that the whole Afghanistan counterinsurgency surge strategy (or any military solution) is likely to fail. And when asked to "tell us something" about McChrystal, Bowman somehow failed to mention the specialized assassinations and specialized interrogations carried out under McChrystal's tenure with JSOC.

I guess I can see why NPR doesn't want to can Bowman; imagine how boring plain, old propaganda, straight from the Pentagon would be without Bowman telling us how the Marines at Camp Leatherneck have some apprehensions, but are "really eager to get out of this base and really start doing the job here....they're eager to get out into the field and into the fight" (and really live among the people, too.)

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Friday, June 12, 2009

NPR and the Biggest Obstacle to Health Care Legislation

Guess what the biggest obstacle to health care legislation is?

Could it be the mountains of cash being being poured into Congress by the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies so that they can override public opinion [and physician opinion] favoring government run health insurance? Or might it be obstructionists like Senator Baucus and "moderate" Democrat, Senator Kent Conrad? (or Evan Byah or Ben Nelson or ...)

According to NPR and Mara Liasson (...and PhRMA) the option of a public (government-run) plan "has emerged as the biggest obstacle to health care legislation." And why is it an obstacle? Because, Liasson explains, "Republicans oppose a public plan, so does the American Medical Association...and even more perilous for the President, so do many moderate Democrats in Congress..."

As if Mara Liasson's Friday morning take on a public plan wasn't enough, NPR followed her report with Julie Rovner and Steve Inskeep providing their slant on the matter. Inskeep repeats the Republican argument about "this government plan [that] is going to offer a very nice service, which is good, but it's going to be cheaper than private insurers can manage" and is "actually going to damage, as Republicans say, damage my private insurance company." Neither Rovner nor Inskeep offers the most obvious response to this argument: if the government can offer a more efficient, cost-effective program than the private sector, what's the problem?

Inskeep is not done either. He then puts this question to Rovner: "We have Democrats here who are saying it's absolutely essential, if we don't have this public plan, we've got nothing, there's no health care reform, NOTHING. On the other side you have Republicans who say if you put this public plan in, your're right on the way to socialized medicine. Are law makers at all seeing a way between those two extremes."

Rover doesn't even acknowledge the fact that reform without a robust public plan is not reform at all, or as former Sec. of Labor Robert Reich notes:
"A public option large enough to have bargaining leverage to drive down drug prices and private-insurance premiums is the defining issue of universal health care. It's the only way to make health care affordable. It's the only way to prevent Medicare and Medicaid from eating up future federal budgets."
Instead, Rovner agrees with Inskeep, then goes on to claim that the reasonable way between the "extremes" will be a plan "having co-ops...regional buying groups...[or] a government plan but very limited."

NPR is really crafty in this coverage. In these two back-to-back Friday reports they've managed to take an option like the public plan [which is already a serious compromise from the single-payer model] and turn it into "the biggest obstacle" and one of "these extremes." Furthermore, they manage to tout the dismal co-op model as the reasonable compromise. I'll let Robert Reich have the final say about co-ops: "Kent Conrad came up with this bamboozle. Finance chair Baucus is impressed, and some Republicans -- even Grassley -- seem interested...."

Well, almost the final word: he could have added NPR to the list of those "interested."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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Forerovision - NPR Keeps the Focus on Venezuela

I'm not going to defend every action of the Chavez government in Venezuela - reports of harassment of journalists and the narrowing of press freedoms in Venezuela deserve some attention. But one has to wonder who sets the agenda at NPR and Juan Forero's obsessive focus on Venezuela - a focus that mirrors US government perspectives on Venezuela [similar problems exist with human rights reporting on Venezuela].

If one considers the critiques of Venezuela by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), they appear serious and deserving of some news coverage. However, a glance at the CPJ's page parallel page on Colombia is eye-opening to say the least - many cases of government persecution of journalists, and a ranking of 5th worst in the world for unpunished killings of journalists. If you look at Forero's NPR coverage of journalism in Venezuela you'll see a focus on government restrictions, whereas his coverage of the same topic in Colombia has nothing about the problem - and in fact features one one story touting the amazing Colombian military and one alleging ties between Chavez and the FARC!

This morning Forero - regular Chavez critic and past apologist for Colombian death squads - was at it again, focusing on the Chavez government's campaign against the right-wing TV channel, Globovison. The report is unstintingly critical of Chavez; Inskeep introduces it, claiming that
"the president is threatening to close it down, which has press freedom groups raising questions about the future of democracy in the highly polarized country."
Forero explains that
"since taking power over a decade ago, President Hugo Chavez has had a thing about Globovision"
noting (as he does in his mirror piece in the WaPo) that Globovision's reporters have been "refused access to official functions." Forero's report features critics of Chavez; Carlos Lauria of CPJ states that "this is an attack against freedom of expression," while Globovision's news director, Ravel, claims that one can still say what one wants, but "you risk your life, your concession." Finally, Forero closes out his report by noting that Ravel "says that covering the news in Venezeula these days can carry serious consequences."

Forero does give the slightest nod to the fact that there is a context to this "thing about Globovision" that Chavez has: "Globovision did black-out coverage of a counter-coup that put Chavez back in power - the station also gave favorable coverage to Chavez foes, but investigations of Globovision's alleged role went nowhere and no one at the station was charged in the overthrow." Forero's brief aside minimizes the role of private media such as Globovision in supporting the coup, a role that - as McChesney and Weisbrot point out in an article on RCTV - would not be tolerated by any government.

Finally, Forero's report is noticeable for the lack of any real critics of Globovision's activities or it's role in helping to make Venezuela the "highly polarized" country that Inskeep refers to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

$100B War Supplemental May Fail - It's Not the Attachments So Much As the Lack of an Exit Strategy

Ever pressing their case, Nonstop Pentagon Radio's David Welna gave us 3 minutes this morning of the pesky hangups getting in the way of Congress coughing up another $100B in walking-around-money for the Pentagon in the form of a war supplemental bill for the Pentagon.

In the lead up to the story, Inskeep says the problems are not in "funding the troops," but in the attachments. That's not quite true: the real problem for many Democrats who are angling to stop the bill is the lack of an exit strategy.

Welna's entire report can be detailed in little space.

The Senate passed its version of the spending bill 86-3 "so you might think the skids would be greased" but there are some issues
  • $5B for International Monetary Fund at Obama's request is not liked by Republicans.
  • 51 Democrats in the House objected to expanding the AfPak war without an exit strategy.
  • Many Democrats object to preventing release of photos of detainee abuse.
  • "But wait, there's more:" (like he's selling Ginsu knives) the Senate version includes a prohibition on using money to transfer detainees from Guantanamo
Lindsey Graham's nattering nasal is heard in outrage that we would show pictures of what we do in the war,
I cannot believe that we're about to do this, that we're going to dismiss the advice of our commanders who are leading our troops at a time of war to give in to a fringe element.
and this is followed by Joe Lieberman's ever unctious, sonorous fail,
Senator Graham and I will not go quietly into the night.
Dick Durbin is heard supporting transfers from Guantanamo, an obviously sensible position, but still one requiring a place holder for the dark side of the argument. The best they can do is Rep. Peter King (R NY), who is heard not exactly opposing the idea, but suspicious of the WH tactics:
I think the administration is trying to ... make a point ... they're trying to take a case where they feel a conviction is somewhat easy and use that as a precedent for bringing other detainees to the United States.
which allows Welna to segue to a close:
That may well be the administration's plan but it won't be possible if the war plan bill passes as it stands now. That's left the WH insisting on changing the bill even as it urges House and Senate to pass it.
The words "war supplemental" were apparently not important to use together in this story. The preferred phrase is "war funding," as if there would be no funding without the supplemental - yet another huge war supplemental without an exit strategy - exactly the sort of thing Obama faulted Bush for in '07 and not only voted against, but built his winning campaign for the White House on.

Late breaking development: I've just received an email from Just Foreign Policy's Robert Naimon
For once, I'm not necessarily going to ask you to call your own Representative. Instead, I want you to go to Firedoglake's Citizen Whip Tool, using the link below. If your own Representative is on the target list, call your Representative. Otherwise, look for another Representative from your state, or any other Representative you'd like to call. Please use the Citizen Whip Tool to report your result. The bill is H.R. 2346, the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes funding for the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and for the IMF.

With each passing day, the IMF/War Supplemental gets more controversial. As Mark Weisbrot notes, the story is getting out that the IMF wants $100 billion in U.S. tax dollars to bail out European banks. Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed Members of Congress who asked for reforms of IMF policy to be attached to the IMF money.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Our Lives - Their Deaths : NPR Spins Afghanistan

On Tuesday morning Tom Bowman - embedded with Green Berets (it's special) - proclaims that
"What happened in this village [Azizabad] last summer tightened the rules about the use of air strikes. They should only be used in life or death situations."
Life or death situations: that is a statement that Yossarian would appreciate! Bowman doesn't mention that the lives that count in Afghanistan are US-NATO service members and the throw-aways are any and all others that get in the way of preserving those lives. Robert Fisk summed it up last May after another US air-launched massacre:
"And of course, the reason is quite simple. We live, they die. We don't risk our brave lads on the ground – not for civilians. Not for anything. Fire phosphorus shells into Fallujah. Fire tank shells into Najaf. We know we kill the innocent."
Being embedded with US special forces also tends to constrict and simplify the complexities of Afghanistan into US/them, good-guy/bad guy nonsense. Though he mentions a "tightening of the rules" - Bowman fails to mention the lengths that the US-military went to in trying to cover-up and deny the Azizibad killings - and the subsequent Callan report (critiqued here by HRW) put out by the US military which undercut the premises of "tightening the rules" in the first place.

Bowman's report also features the typical lumping of all insurgent forces under the Taliban name - a distortion that Anand Gopal of the CSM noted in this discussion of insurgent forces in Afghanistan. Bowman has so adopted the language the Green Berets that he states that after the US massacre in Azizibad, US forces pulled back and "allowed the Taliban to regroup and move into the void. Coalition forces call them anti-Afghan forces or AAF." Anti-Afghan forces? According to who? According to what impartial evidence?

Bowman ends his report with this extra shiny assessment of what the US is up to in Afghanistan:
"Fighting among civilians, winning a counterinsurgency takes a particular patience, these soldiers say, and a willingness to make sure your weapons are precise, helping the people, killing only the enemy."
This from a man who last fall reported on the wonderful counterinsurgency efforts of the US during the Vietnam War and then in December gave a glowing report on the use of drone attacks in Afghanistan.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Taxing Our Health - Can NPR Say "Single Payer?"

In The Risks and Rewards of Taxing Health Benefits this morning, Scott Horsley discusses ways of paying for health care reform without mentioning Single Payer.

Horsely lays out the arguments in favor of a new tax on health benefits pretty much as they are described by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities who argue that

(1) the exclusion provides the greatest benefit to those with the highest income.

(2) the exclusion encourages costlier coverage

(3) "the White House has announced that it will insist that health reform legislation be fully paid for. Congress will likely find it difficult to meet this objective unless the bill includes a cap on the exclusion as a significant source of financing. As a result, attaining universal coverage may depend on including a cap in the legislation."

The CPBB claim that the health insurance tax exclusion is "the nation's most costly tax subsidy," estimating it at about $145B/yr. But elsewhere, the CPBB estimates that the tax subsidy affected by lowering taxes on capital gains and dividends costs $148B/yr, thus contradicting themselves?

During the presidential campaign, Obama derided the tax on benefits claiming that

John McCain’s health plan would tax health benefits for the first time ever — imposing a trillion [$] tax increase on working families and leaving millions without heath [sic] care.

We didn't hear about that in Horsley's report - nor the comparable benefits of letting the dividends and capital gains tax cut expire. Instead we get a lame comparison with crass consumerism:

"Just like for anything else, if you got 30 percent off on your next car purchase, you'd probably buy a bigger car," said Leonard Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Coincidentally, 30% are the estimated savings were we to go to Single Payer.

Now Leonard Burman is, no doubt, very intelligent and knowledgeable in these matters, but health insurance is not a commodity like a car and the analogy does a disservice to listeners. Without going into the arcana of the health care debate, suffice it to say that the words "Single Payer" did not pass through NPR's Horsley's lips, nor any of those he chose to interview.

According the GAO (as cited here) a Single-Payer type plan would save $150B/yr (2002 dollars) in administrative costs and you'd have "everybody in/nobody out."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL–CIO has weighed in on this recently, and to his credit, Horsley does bring in Gerald Shea from AFL-CIO, but Horsley undercuts Shea with a swift boat slash saying, "academic arguments [aren't] very persuasive to union leaders." As if you wouldn't expect union leaders to be well-educated (Shea is a graduate of Boston College.)

Of course, Shea doesn't much support single payer either. He is quoted here commenting on the health benefit tax exclusion:

That would be a radical change. If you’re going to go that far, you might as well go to a single payer system. I’m flabbergasted that you would even consider it.
So what was really excluded was the option that about 60% of Americans favor: Single Payer. It's interesting to note that a NPR search for "Single Payer" yields 157 hits over the last 13 years, but a review of the last 10 or so shows that most hits are from reader's comments, not the article itself.

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Whatever Happened to Nigeria?

Hi folks, Gopol here. If you're wondering, Gopol is short for "Gope on line," where "gope" is a nickname I've had, and has nothing to do with the Grand Old Party, aside from the coincident acronymic syncretism, perchance.

Mytwords has inspired me to join in the collective call out of NPR on multiple issues. Since many hands make light (sic) work I would suggest we share our methods and ask others to improve on these. Mytwords has suggested using the npr search engine to research stories (or the lack thereof) on npr. After my previous post on NPR coverage of Nigeria, it occured to me I hadn't heard much about Nigeria on NPR in a long while. So I searched for "saro-wiwa" and came up with an Inskeep report from 4+ years ago that is part of a series that, if this particular report is typical, is quite an indictment of the oil companies, but only if you listen hard and put the pieces together.

Inskeep's report presents the consequences of oil exploitation by multinational petroleum corporations as sort of acts of nature. It's not at all accusatory, though the implications are. The article couches facts of the matter in passive terms like "bad things are happening because of this flaring phenomenon" as if it's something beyond the control of man. This is followed, almost like a non sequitor, by"Shell says that burning gas doesn't create pollution" then to "somehow there is pollution anyway."

All this requires focused attention on the part of the listener to put the disjoint facts together on the order of "19+41+37=97." Since the preface of the whole series includes this gem:

Nigeria [] a country of increasing importance to America's oil-driven economy

listeners may tend to skip doing the sum.

There were a bunch more reports on West Africa in this series. They deserve further analysis by the many people who are paid to do this sort of thing. What was it Jello Biafra said about not bellyaching about the media and instead becoming the media? How's that working out?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

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Rumors of His Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated - NPR Champions Drone Attacks Again

In the comments section, NPR Check reader "Gopol" took note of more Drone Love from NPR on Friday morning. With his permission I'm posting his critique.
Where do these reporters come from? Mary Louise Kelly graduated from Harvard in 1993. Just in time for the Contract On America to usher in fellow Harvard grad Keven Klose as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an acknowledged arm of CIA/Pentagon propaganda.

On Friday morning Mary Louise Kelly had a piece on how Predator drone attacks are cause for guarded optimism that we may yet kill Osama Bin Laden, whom, you may recall Benazir Bhutto claimed was murdered by the double agent Omar Sheik (about 6 minutes into the interview), just before she herself was murdered. It seems that killing (rekilling?) the straw man OBL has been a preoccupation of MLK (no, not *THE* MLK) for some time. In her pursuit she has made acquaintance with a large number of CIA ops:

"The trail for bin Laden was allowed to get stone cold over seven years," says CIA veteran Bruce Riedel.

Juan Zarate, the top counterterrorism official in President Bush's White House, says, "The administration smells blood here. I think al-Qaida is on its heels."

And of course she's intimately familiar with Ullysees S. Offishalls:
"Predator attacks have killed 11 out of 20 on the Pentagon's most-wanted list along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, say U.S. officials."

Not to be left unnamed, Hank Crumpton:
"a career CIA officer who led the agency's Afghan campaign after Sept. 11. He says Predator strikes are useful on two fronts: They have disrupted terrorist attacks, and they help in the hunt for bin Laden.

'Using the Predator and other drones, it gives us an opportunity to create a great deal of uncertainty, a fear among enemy leaders. It forces them to communicate more, forces them to move more, which provides other opportunities,' he says."

It's so sickening to be invited for an inside seat on the biggest kabuki charade on the planet.

MLK ends with this classic bit of ... what's the word for it when you do the thing that you say you would never do? As in, w"e would never even suggest guarded optimism."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

True Lies from Bagram

On Wednesday morning Dina Temple-Raston resurrects a very old story about one of the first senior Army interrogators at the infamous Bagram Air base in Afghanistan. Temple-Raston tells us that her guest is Christopher Mackey and that his name is "the pseudonym for a highly trained Army interrogator. He arrived in Afghanistan in December 2001 — just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks." (The pseudonym stuff is pretty silly, since Mackey is most likely Chris Hogan mentioned here and here.)

Temple-Raston opens the story with this bit of framing:
  • "Mackey....was not just a witness, but a participant in tinkering with interrogation techniques that could work against a new kind of enemy."
  • "Mackey...was taught methods more suitable for the Cold War....didn't really work with religiously motivated al-Qaida detainees....That's why Mackey and the interrogators working with him ended up having to, in his words, 'adapt.' "
The only bad thing Mackey and his team supposedly did was to develop "monstering," a technique of sleep-deprivation in which a prisoner was kept awake only as long as one interrogator could also stay awake with him. According to Temple-Raston "Mackey said the technique worked." [Mackey] "We certainly had the best results when we had to get immediate, actionable intelligence for the battlefield commander, when we engaged in this concept of monstering."

There is so much that is disturbing about NPR's delivery of this story. Not one bit of context is given as to what was happening to detainees seized and sent to Bagram during the time that Mackey was there - Dec. 2001 to August 2002.

How prisoners were seized (according to Human Rights Watch):
On a night in late July 2002, U.S. forces raided the home of Ahmed Khan, a resident of Zurmat district in Paktia province....During the raid, Ahmed Khan was arrested along with his two sons, aged 17 and 18 years.14 A local farmer died from gunfire during the arrest operation, and a woman in a neighboring house was wounded. Human Rights Watch spoke with several neighbors and other witnesses to the raid.
In late May 2002, U.S. forces raided two homes in the village of Kirmati, near Gardez city, and arrested five Afghan men, all of whom were later released and returned to Gardez. During the raid, U.S. forces reportedly used helicopters and airplanes to patrol the area and lay down suppressing fire. The raid took place in an entirely residential area, and there is no evidence that U.S. forces met any resistance.
According to HRW arrest was just the beginning, for example - the five men in the May 2002 raid were sent to Bagram. According to one of the detainees, at Bagram:
"They threw us in a room, face down. We were there for a while. Then they stood me up and led me somewhere, and then they took off my blindfold....I was the only prisoner. I was on the ground, and a man stood over me, and he had a foot on my back....They made me take off my clothes, so that I was naked. They took pictures of us, naked....A man came, and he had some plastic bag, and he ran his hands through my hair, shaking my hair. And then he pulled out some of my hair, some hair from my beard, and he put it in a bag. . . . The most awful thing about the whole experience was how they were taking our pictures, and we were completely naked. Completely naked. It was completely humiliating."
Mother Jones also reported on Mackey and Bagram back in 2005 and noted the case of Hussain Youssouf Mustafa arrested in Peshawar, Pakistan and sent to Bagram in May of 2002. Mother Jones reports:
"During his imprisonment at the compound, Mustafa estimated that he was interrogated about 25 times. Sometimes, he said, the soldiers forced him to kneel on a concrete floor with a bag over his head. Other times they woke him from sleep or interrupted him in prayer. He said he occasionally heard detainees screaming and concluded that they were being beaten. Then one day, he recalled, 'an American soldier took me blindfolded. My hands were tightly cuffed, with my ears plugged so I could not hear properly, and my mouth covered so I could only make a muffled scream. Two soldiers, one on each side, forced me to bend down, and a third pressed my face down over a table. A fourth soldier then pulled down my trousers. They rammed a stick up my rectum.' "

From Temple-Raston's report we get nothing of the extreme violence and intimidation used in rounding up detainees - and the fact that most were probably rounded up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We get nothing of beatings and sexual abuse and humiliation occurring at Bagram when Mackey was there. We get nothing of the lack of adequate translators and complete ignorance of cultural norms on the part of the interrogators. Yes, these were indeed a "new kind of enemy" alright.

In the report we are expected to believe Mackey's reporting of the "success" of his method's without any supporting evidence.

And we are supposed to believe that Mackey had no idea of the abuses already occurring at Bagram during his tenure there. For someone in intelligence he is awfully ignorant about things that were going on right under his nose - or he is simply lying.