Saturday, September 30, 2006

Greatest Generation

Scott Simon talks about Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who died this week and who was convicted and later pardoned of being "Tokyo Rose," a World War II propagandist. Simon was doing okay describing how the government went after Toguri falsifying evidence to have her jailed and convicted. But then Simon fell into cliche, schmaltz and sappy patriotism. Mentioning that a veterans' organization recently gave Toguri an award, he states, "…as newsman Bill Curtis said yesterday, in this great admiration we have for 'the Greatest Generation' Iva Taguri should be included in those patriots loyal to America."

This seemed a really strange thing to say. First, I am really sick of hearing about "the Greatest Generation." I always wonder are we talking about the Jim Crow loving bigots who also fought in WWII -- or people like George H. Bush and Bob Dole who never met a Central American torture regime they didn't like. Howard Zinn, a WWII veteran, also has problems with "the Greatest Generation" apellation. And then ending his report with his sensitive, serious "patriots loyal to America." Sounds like a warning to those who are disgusted with the direction our current US government is taking.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Envy of the World

Did I ever have my eyes opened on Wednesday: during Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep was interviewing David Wessel ofthe Wall Street Journal about "productivity." I learned that "American workers are among the most productive workers in the world; that's why [our] wages are higher than other workers, and American productivity growth is the envy of the industrial countries around the world." I also learned that "if we are more productive we have more stuff for less effort" and that increasing productivity increases the "standard of living." Finally Steve Inskeep informed me that productivity is "our defense in effect against cheap imports from abroad and low wage workers abroad" and that " as long as we’re more productive we can deserve and earn more money."

Golly, and I thought that family incomes were dropping, health care and college costs were outstripping wage increases, and the income gap between rich and poor was fast increasing. It's also odd that I somehow connected US intervention against countries like Nicaragua and Haiti with low-wage impoverished workers abroad. Silly me, I'd better quit thinking so much and get to work--I wouldn't want to be unproductive!

Aiming for a Major Issue

On Morning Edition today during the top of the hour round-up, David Welna offered this summary regarding the latest intelligence assestment on the Iraq debacle:
  • "Democrats aim to make the Iraq war a major issue in the midterm elections."
Those manipulative Democrats, trying to make a major issue out of something as trivial as the Iraq war which was launched with some minor tweaking of the truth and some slight infractions of international law, and has cost a bit more than expected in money and lives. Can't those Democrats find a real issue to run on?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Spreading It On Thick for Agribusiness

I look forward to a day when Morning Edition has a ten minute "labor" section in addition to its jolly "business" section with its feel-good, toe-tapping music intro. Today NPR earned those corporate dollars it gets from the sleazy agribusiness giants ADM and Cargill. Adam Davidson offers a "gee whiz" infomercial for agribusiness "reporting" from the Big Iron farm show in Fargo, N.D. Here are a few of his breathless comments:
  • "...the new version doesn’t just steer it takes control of the whole tractor...."
  • "...we're just a few years away from the next big breakthough: fully automatic tractors that plant and fertilize and pick crops without a farmer anywhere in sight!"
  • "and that’s not all: there are new machines like smarter seed planters and bigger combines; there's the latest yield management software and new paint polymers to spray on storage containers; there are even animal breeders touting cows bred for better tasting meat or horses bred to be calmer."
  • "...overall technology has really paid off -- at least for the farmers who are still in business."
  • "Once your neighbors start using something new and become more productive, more efficient, you have to get it too, or else you won’t be competitive, and you’ll probably loose your farm."
There's no polite way to put it: this is crap. No mention of the predjudices against sustainable agriculture and manual labor inherent in this world view (see Wendell Berry's lovely piece). Nothing about the role of US Farm Policy in building up agri-monopolies and destroying sustainable family farms.

That NPR can pass off such sloppy pro-corporatist work and still be considered liberal/left by so many people is really quite an accomplishment.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blame Level at Green -- Zone That Is!

It is always interesting to see where the blame for disastrous wars gets placed. It is rare for the actual villains to be held accountable -- instead the net spreads out for scapegoats. I've noticed a distinct shade of green coloring the blame game regarding the current disaster of the war in Iraq. Any rationale person assigning blame for the nightmarish mess in Iraq would begin at the top (Bush) and work down: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz, etc., then the Congress members who voted for it and continue funding it, then the compliant press, etc. Instead the blame is being put on guess who--the Iraqis! Remember those ungrateful Iraqis who just didn't appreciate the "foreigner' s gift?" It seems that the main problem is the Iraqi government (you know the one that has real sovereignty and full control of its armed forces!). This morning NPR joined in this latest spin. Renee Montagne introduces Anne Garrels reporting from Baghdad by saying that "American commanders are speaking openly about their frustrations with what they see as the Iraqi government's failure to back up these [US military] efforts." Garrels ends up being the mouthpiece for the opinions of "a senior US military officer." She quotes him as saying, "some militias seem to have links with Iraqi government officials and ministries especially the ministry of interior...." and that "in the is up to the Iraqi government and security forces to take action."

How convenient to blame the Iraqi Government that exists only in the Green Zone and has no real armed forces at its disposal. How helpful not to blame the lies and arrogance of Bush and Co., nor the Bush/Rumsfeld ordered destruction of Fallujah, nor the US military's 1991 attacks on Iraq's infrastructure, nor on the meat-fisted pushing through of the Iraqi Constitution for Bush's political advantages, nor on the devastation of the sanctions over the decade of the 90's.

Juan Cole had an excellent post (9/20/06) exposing the ludicrousness of blaming Maliki or the Iraqi Government. Be sure to see his link to this Iraq Study Group.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

That's So Twenty Minutes Ago

In the latest case of reality running headon into the US/Bush war fantasy in Iraq, the source of the oncoming truck is none other than the US intelligence establishment. This is a major story: all 16 of the US spy agencies conclude that the war in Iraq has increased the ranks of terrorists and made the US more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. I wondered how NPR might eviscerate this story, here it is.

Mary Louise Kelly describes the report's dismal findings and Debbie Elliott responds by saying, "Now is the main thrust of this report anything very new; you know we have heard reports before that Iraq is a breeding ground and motivation for terrorists?"
To which Kelly answers, "Right, that point has been made in a number of reports and in terms of the link between Iraq and the war on terror that is hotly debated...."

Here's a newsflash for NPR. "That point" may have been made in a number of other venues (CBS, Washington Post, NYT, and CSM for example) but not on NPR. Search their site or Google NPR and you'll find very little on this score--although you will find one story where those making the connection between the London bombings and the Iraq War were called extremists.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scott Simon: Poster Boy for Torture

Saturday morning's weekend edition made my skin crawl. There were two features in which Scott Simon reveals his comfort with the use of torture in the so-called "war on terror." In the "analysis" segment of the show Simon -- responding to Juan William's remarks on the proposed legislation on detainee treatment -- says (in his soft-spoken, sensitive tone) , "hmmm…one of those nettlesome questions that people who've actually conducted prisoner interrogations sometimes, ah, sometimes raise, is, um, is there some frailty in the system if people who are about to be interrogated know that the people interrogating them will abide by rules."

Incredible! What people who've actually conducted interrogations--let's name them! Frailty in the system? It is clear that Simon is implying that only if torture is a real and practiced threat will interrogations be effective.

Earlier, in the show Ari Shapiro, reporting on the proposed detainee legislation "compromise," states, " you’ve got this definition after definition after defintion after definition and when you get down to the very bottom there’s still this question remaining whether waterboarding, stress positions, hypothermia and so on are permitted, and some legal experts are saying 'Yes, in fact I think they are permitted under this legislation.'" To which Simon responds,

"This is something local police forces, uh, it must be said I don't know about waterboarding at local police forces, but they deal with this all the time, and that it's considered to be all right to deceive someone you're interrogating because that's transitory mental harm arguably, but not leave long term damage."

This incoherent non-sequitor is truly surreal. Local police forces? Comparing misleading a suspect in questioning [e.g. stating that a co-conspirator has confessed or that one has damning evidence] to near-drownings of detainees. I thought Shapiro might ask Scott what he had been smoking, but instead he responds, "that's right and because the argument goes, waterboarding only creates mental harm for a short period of time and it doesn't create long lasting harms for years and years to come, some legal experts are saying it might actually be allowed under this legislation."

This kind of soft-pedaling of the assault on the rule of law and on the integrity of human beings is really grotesque. For readers who want to explore the complications and problems with current detainee abuse policy I highly recommend this piece by Jane Mayer from the February 14, 2005 New Yorker. It is a bit long but really informative. If you don't have time to read it, at least consider the following excerpt from the article:

  • "Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, told me that he had treated a number of people who had been subjected to such forms of near-asphyxiation, and he argued that it was indeed torture. Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn't take showers, and panicked when it rained. 'The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,' he said."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Blurring Israel's Brutality

It seemed that it might be a good report--NPR covering the deepening tragedy of Gaza. Peter Kenyon reports from Gaza which he describes as a "tightly surrounded enclave." That is a mild way to describe a miltarily surrounded and attacked ghetto of 1.4 million Palestinians. He does mention some of Israel's recent crimes, citing Palestinian human rights officials as noting more than 33 civilians killed since August 1st. He then states that in addition to civilians, "militants have been killed by Israeli forces as radical factions have resumed launching rockets into Israel and plotting other attacks....equally devestating to Gazans have been the murders thefts extortions carried out by their own people."

If you listened to this report you'd assume that Gazans are as responsible for their misery as the ruthless Israeli policy toward Gaza--a sad distortion of the situation. For better reporting on Gaza you should take a look at some of the following: The Guardian, Electronic Intifada, the International Solidarity Movement, and this piece from Agence Global which looks at how the election of Hamas could have been handled if the US and Israel were interested in peace.

Painting the Real Threat

On ATC yesterday, Michele Kelemen reported on the Iranian president's "style" of discussion and negotiation. She said, "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a habit of responding to questions about his policies by raising his own complaints about the US. On the nuclear issue he tried to paint America’s nuclear arsenal as the real threat in the world."

That's all we get. No explanation as to where that delusional thinking might be coming from. That's interesting because I too have some similar delusions--probably from reading these hallucinations that seem so real I've hyperlinked them for you here: USA Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, The Guardian, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

As an important footnote, NPR might occasionally read from the actual Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in order to inform listeners that the US is clearly out of compliance with Article IV which states:

"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

And in helping to cover up Israel's nuclear arsenal, the US is in complete violation of Article I which states:

"Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to....and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices."

Did Someone Say Cocky?

In a report on Thursday's ATC, Robert Siegel talks with Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relation, about a recent Q & A session with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Referring to Ahmadinejad (and not that other guy!) Haas states:

  • "...whenever you deal with a leader who's confident it's something of a mixed blessing: confidence can be good because it gives leaders the ability to make compromises if they so want – but confidence that spills over into cockiness can be dangerous because history is filled with examples of leaders who are cocky and as a result often overreached and that can trigger, shall we say, international crises or worse."

Yes, I'd definitely say worse!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ridicule by Association

Where to begin unpacking NPR's unprofessional and biased reporting on speeches at the UN's General Assembly? First, I have to say that I wasn't impressed with Chavez' speech ; I think his repeatedly calling Bush a "devil" undermined the seriousness of his allegation that the US is an imperialist state that endangers the world. Also, I am no fan of Iran's narrow-minded President Ahmadinejad--but to use these two men to belittle the speech of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Noam Chomsky's rigorous critiques of US foreign policy is unacceptable.
Consider Michele Kelemen's remarks in her report:
  • "[Chavez] took center stage…to call on nations to rise up against what he called America’s hegemony....Chavez even had some recommended reading for his colleagues, Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America s Quest for Global Dominance." She then mentions Pres. Ahmadinejad's speech yesterday and concludes with this description of Pres. Morales, "there was another bit of diplomatic showmanship last night by Bolivia’s new president Evo Morales, an ally of Chavez...[who] challenged US drug policy in the Andes, calling it a form of neocolonization....he seemed at ease making his UN debut reading off some notes scribbled on what looked to be the back of an envelope; the leftist leader talked about his indigenous roots and what he called the pillaging of natural resources in his country.
This was followed by Melissa Block interviewing Jeffrey Laurenti, who critiqued Chavez' speech. Block introduces the interview by saying,
  • Hugo Chavez' speech before the Gen Assembly was truly remarkable – one that startled both for its use of props: the Noam Chomsky book that President Chavez held up before the delegates....Chavez also railed against President Bush, the 'world tyrant' in his words, for trying to consolidate the United States' hegemonistic the way I spoke today with one of Noam Chomsky's publishers, Metropolitan Books, Sarah Bershtel there says she agrees with Hugo Chavez, she says everyone should read Chomsky’s book, Hegemony or Survival.
Notice how slyly the reporters deride the various subjects of their reports and blur distinctions. Morales' talk is "showmanship;" he's no more than an "ally" of Chavez, and he "scribbles" on the back of an envelope (how childlike!). Therefore we can ignore his assertion that Bolivia's resources have been pillaged even though it's true. Chomsky's scholarship and compassion are likewise reduced to nothing but a "prop," published by someone who "agrees" with Chavez.

Imagine a speech by Bush getting such a send up on NPR. You'll have to be content with your imagination, because on NPR his speeches are covered with great seriousness--never treated with such derision--regardless of how filled with lies and nonsense they may be (e.g FactCheck or Common Dreams ).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reaching Out

I can finally sleep easy tonight. Giles Snyder informed me on ATC at the top of the hour news summary that "President Bush reached out to the Muslim world today" at the General Assembly. That's so comforting. I can't help but think of the 14,000 Iraqis whom this administration has reached out and touched lately. Perhaps Snyder meant to say "put out of reach"?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Smug as a Commentator on NPR

Credit for the title of this post goes out to Greg Brown, from his song "Where's Maria?" I thought again of Brown's line when I heard Cokie Roberts providing chuckling analysis of the Bush administration's attempts to push (putsch!) through its plans for torturing detainees and the trouble it has run into in the Senate.

Her laughing and smug tone seem grossly inappropriate, even if one believes in what Bush wants to do. She is reporting on our government making it official policy that people can be detained and held incommunicado indefinitely (at the whim of the president)! Just writing these words gives me the creeps.

Roberts closes her insulting and stupid piece by talking about an upcoming meeting between Laura Bush and Bill Clinton by saying, "so [it's] possible Steve, even though we see absolutely no bipartisanship in this city these days, maybe there is life after the presidency that allows people to speak civilly to each other." There it is, strong opposition to kidnapping, indefinite detention, unlimited executive power, and torture is just uncivil partisanship...ugh.

It's Fun to Torment

Imagine for a moment that NPR would run a report stating that Bush administration officials delight in tormenting the Palestinian Authority, or delight in tormenting Cuban leaders. Even I'd find this a bit strange and unprofessional. Now consider Tom Gjelten's words in reporting on the Non-aligned Movement Summit in Havana, Cuba:
  • "Among the stars of the Havana summit were the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Venzuelan President, Hugo Chavez -- both of whom seem to delight in tormenting the Bush administration."
I'm no fan of the religiously narrow, bigoted president of Iran and I'm disturbed by the human rights abuses of the duly elected Chavez government, but these two men have every reason to be aggressively defensive toward the US. Iran is being threatened with military aggression (even nukes have been considered) and Chavez was the victim of a coup attempt involving the Bush administration back in 2002.
To describe the actions and rhetoric of these men "delight in tormenting" is to completely mislead listeners as to the serious threats these nations face from the current administration in Washington. I don't know if he delights in it, but Tom Gjelten is bound to torment anyone with a knowledge of history and a bit of common sense!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Are They Making a Monkey of Me?

I'm all for occasional relief from the depressing news of the day, but a commercial for ABC's Grey's Anatomy and then a plug for the Monkee's from someone who got turned on to the Monkee's in the 80s on MTV. Help!

A Fine Corrective

I wonder if there is any chance of putting Sylvia Poggioli in charge of NPR. I often find her reports to embody what is so often lacking in other NPR features: research, historical context, nuance, etc. Today she presents on Pope Benedict XVI's anti-Islam remarks (see my post below on yesterday's coverage). Not only does she examine the fuller implications of his whole speech, she also did some research into the history of this pope's attitudes and actions regarding relations with Islam. Kudos to Poggioli!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Foot in Mouth Disease

Pope Benedict XVI recently put his foot in his mouth with statements that join in with the trend of bashing Muslims (e.g. Sam Harris ). As I read the Pope's speech, he is continuing the misleading description of Islam as a "religion of the sword." I found it even more troubling that he somehow seems to be trying to say that Christianity is compatible with reason, while Islam is dedicated to faith without reason. On Saturday's ATC, NPR minimizes the Pope's remarks and gives a lot of time to John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter who categorizes the criticisms of the Pope's remarks as belonging to "sound-bite culture" and "P-C sensibilities." For those curious about the issue, I'd recommend Juan Cole's remarks on the subject.

Opposing Agression Equals Repression?

I feel a bit like a broken record (see my previous posts of Aug. 3 or Aug. 6) by announcing again that I refuse to justify Cuba's human right's abuses ( see Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch for more on this). However, tonight on ATC, Tom Gjelten offered some twisted reporting from Cuba, this time on the occasion of the Non-aligned Movement Summit being held in Havana.

Describing the speeches at the summit, Gjelten stated,
  • "...whoever governs Cuba next, I think, will have to deliver improvements in the quality of life, but in the short term there could very well be a hardening of the situation here and more repression – one of the things I noticed among all the Cuban leaders who spoke this week was that they consistently took a pretty hard line."
I listened to this thinking that Gjelten was going to describe speeches specifically indicating crackdowns on dissidents or increased prison terms for political prisoners or perhaps expansion of the death penalty--in other words evidence to back up his conclusion of "more repression." What Gjelten said immediately afterward telling:

  • "Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, and the man who's the designated successor, was the one who presided over this meeting. He's someone, for example, who has had the reputation in recent years of being in favor of reform and even possibly in favor of better relations with the United States but the speech he delivered at this summit meeting was as hardline as any speech I’ve ever heard Fidel give."

I wondered what the repression and hardline were in the speeches, so I did a little searching and all I could find in various news sources was that the speeches were highly critical of the US -- especially current US policy. Given that the current US policy entails military agression in Iraq and Lebanon, threats of agression against N. Korea and Iran and a severe economic embargo of Cuba, one might expect the tone of Cuban leaders not to be particularly conciliatory toward the US. But there was nothing to indicate moves toward greater repression.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Some Amnesia with That Chile?

In the series on left-leaning governments in South America (see previous post), NPR presented a piece on Chile which was problematic to say the least. At one point Julie McCarthy states that, "now age 90, Pinochet has faded from the public scene, but the memory of his rule has not." She notes that over 28,000 were victims of torture during his dictatorship, but fails to mention that one of the proud parents of the dictatorship was the CIA which maintained a close working relationship with its murderous offspring.

Also disturbing is when McCarthy asserts, "the dictatorship ended in 1990; it was brutal; it also laid the foundation for Chile’s remarkable growth today." I think not! Greg Palast has an excellent critique of this canard. His analysis is born out by the reporting on NPR which mentions that much of Chile's economic growth can be attributed to the high price that Chile's copper fetches on world markets. Even a writer for the Miami Herald in 1998, concluded that much of the Pinochet economic moves were disastrous for Chile.

After spending much of the 1980s studying the Chile tragedy, it is really heartbreaking to listen to NPR's silent coverup of the US' prominent role in creating and sustaining the torture state of Pinochet's Chile, and perhaps even worse to hear the dictatorship (and its eager economists from the University of Chicago) lauded for whatever economic successes Chile may be having.

Part of the Story

NPR has launched an ambitious series of programs looking at growth of left-leaning governments in South America. The programs are interesting in that they often offer more nuanced information than you get from most mainstream media--for example Castro and Chavez are not demonized, and issues of economic inequalities are mentioned. That's commendable. But, I have to say that as I listened to the reports, I kept wondering when the nefarious role of US intervention (particulary in Latin America) was going to be given its due. The answer is,unfortunately, never. This history is important, how else can US citizens understand the distrust and anger voiced by governments such as those in Venezuela or Cuba. It also struck me as tragic that there was nothing in the reports on NPR about the US role in spreading torture throughout Latin America in since the 1960s--a legacy that continues to reverberate in today's so-called "war on terror."

For some great resources on the less savory history of the US in South America take a look at this resource page from Third World Traveller.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Missing Piece...the BIG Missing Piece

Mike Schuster gave a pretty good report on the negotiations underway regarding Iran and its uranium enrichment program. "Pretty good" in that he noted various opinions on possible moves toward compromise on the part of the Iranians--but what was absent was a consideration of why the US might stick to its "non-starter" insistence on Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition of any further negotiations.

This missing possibility is the desire of some core members of the Bush administration to launch military strikes against Iran. Without discussing the neocon hawks who want wider US (or Israeli) military action in the Middle East, Schuster leaves listeners without a key piece of information.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Alternate Realities & Lethal Consequences

I was struck by several statements in tonights ATC report, "Taliban Borrows Brutal Tactics from Terrorists." In this piece Michele Norris talks with Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, who is in Kabul. Early on Norris states, "after 9/11 Afghanistan was a success story; the US military was talking about how they were able to easily crush the Taliban. I guess the question now is how is it they were able to come roaring back." Well, that is a question--but it ignores well founded dissenting opinions about just how "successful" the story of Afghanistan was after 9/11. If one goes "way back" to 2002, Ted Rall was detailing how the US campaign had already sowed the seeds of failure (it's a prescient piece). Further evidence of these seeds of failure can be found in the cast of criminals who have found sanctuary in the highest levels of Afghanistan's current government (something that Human Rights Watch has also noted). Peterson seemed to agree with Norris as he offered no challenge to her framing of the current situation.

A second, really troubling statement was made by Peterson. He stated that "we've seen evidence of al-Qaeda and also Taliban remnants rebuilding over the last few years and kind of actually conducting attacks in places like Uzbekistan and in a lot of other countries." Uzbekistan? Interesting. I did a little digging around and could find no reliable evidence of al-Qaeda or Taliban attacks in Uzbekistan. In fact what I found was a mountain of evidence that Uzbekistan is a nightmarishly repressive torture state (just read a bit of Human Rights Watch's collection here). Yes, there were suicide bombings attacking police in the capital Tashkent in March 2004 and the Guardian noted that Uzbek authorities "said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizbut Tahrir was behind the blasts, a group the authorities have repeatedly persecuted and tortured for terrorism, despite the US and UK thus far considering the group non-violent." The Guardian goes on to report that "the Uzbek persecution of Hizbut Tahrir, which reportedly involved some prisoners being boiled to death, has led to insistent criticism of the regime of President Islam Karimov from human rights groups, the Foreign Office and the EU."

These are large and really inexcusable distortions of events in Southeast Asia, especially as the situation in Afghanistan looks to be getting even worse--with dire implications for the people living there and for us, too. And papering over the sickening situation in Uzbekistan is really irresponsible and sad.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Power of the Commander

NPR offered "analysis" right after Bush's speech last night. The commentators brought on were Tod Lindberg of the Hoover Institution and E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution. Given the explicit rightwing tilt of the Hoover Institution and the firmly center-right leanings of the Brookings Institute, it was actually surprising how critical the two guests were of Bush's speech, noting that it was very political when the White House implied it would not be, and criticizing how much it focused on Iraq and not the sorrows of the anniversary.
The real kicker though was David Greene who tends to do a lot of "traveling with the president" for NPR. Michelle Norris asks Greene, "you've spent the day, really two days traveling with the president…, is there anything that really stuck out with you -- a moment that stands out in your mind?" Greene's answer is a stunner and deserves to be quoted in full:

It was striking the power of the commander in chief no matter what the polls are saying, no matter which party, uh the ability to really capture people and become the focus of attention on a day like this, in New York, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon. There were firefighters, there were families of victims who just seemed to be reaching out for someone to give them a sense of mission, for someone to really recognize their sense of loss, and that person was the president.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget

This morning Mary Louise Kelly visits the National Counterterrorism Center and remarks that "on the wall are the words 'Never Forget.'" She should have taken that advice when she later went on to meet and interview one of the great terrorists of the 1980s, Mr. John Negroponte. Instead she continues the media whitewash of Negroponte's past and notes that he has "a sunny office overlooking the Potomac" and accepts at face value that he is working to stop terrorism. Here are just a few choice pieces you can find by searching "Negroponte" on the Common Dreams website: from the Progressive, The New York Times, or The Nation.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Tip of the Hat

If all I ever had was brickbats for NPR, I might end up being considered no more than a crank or curmudgeon. However, NPR can do a compelling piece--even on a controversial topic. Tonight's piece featuring an extended discussion between two novelists regarding Israel's war on Lebanon was just such a one. Debbie Elliott speaks with Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua and Lebanese writer Elias Khoury.

It was refreshing was to hear conflicting points of view discussed with commitment, seriousness, and passion on the part of the speakers (and to hear points of view that are rarely aired in the mainstream media.) And credit also goes to Debra Elliot who tried to keep a focus to the discussion but didn't adopt a glib or smug tone.

A Double-barrelled Plug for Israel

NPR turns its attention to Olmert's political fortunes following Israel's assault on Lebanon. The story mentions the woes of northern Israel during the war, but makes no mention whatsoever of the crimes and atrocities committed by Israel in Lebanon. Or perhaps even more disturbing, Israel's crimes against the Israeli administered mega-ghetto of Gaza. Then after this soft piece, NPR follows it up with a piece that subtly attempts to link criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The piece purports to look at German laws against anti-Semitism and how they might stifle critiques of Israeli policy, but what we get to hear is how critics of Israel may well be like Gunter Grass -- former members of the SS. We also hear how critics of Israel often absurdly compare Israel's practices to the actions of Nazi Germany.

I absolutely agree that comparing any human rights abusers to the Nazi's is a stupid tactic. Whatever the merits of the comparison, it is a non-starter for debate or discussion. Instead a better tactic is to just list the crimes and atrocities of the government, army, militia, etc. that one is concerned about--and let the reader/listener draw their own conclusions. With this in mind here are a few of the atrocities that Israel has committed of late:
  • Gaza (see link above)
These are just a few. Maybe NPR will give these substantial coverage some day.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I'll say right at the start of this post, that I have a bias about torture. I think it's disgusting, immoral, and destructive to the human community in both the short and long term. Frankly the "ticking time bomb" theory that apologists like Mark Bowden and Alan Dershowitz use, is the sloppiest bit of logic imaginable. It would be more honest for these hacks to ask "Would you be willing to be savagely tortured as an innocent caught up in a hunt for intelligence on terrorism?" That is after all the track record of interrogative torture in recent history--as Amnesty International so eloquently relates.

This brings me to this morning's "talk" on NPR between Linda Wertheimer, John Hendren and David Greene. In discussing Bush's recent admissions on the CIA secret prisons and the "harsh tactics" (the Bushspeak term for "torture") used there, Greene and Wertheimer give credence to Bush's claims of how successful the torture has been. Wertheimer says of Bush, "he talked about how much the country has learned from these people and how valuable it has been. He said that some of the things they’ve learned from these prisoners actually stopped future attacks." To this Greene responds, "That's exactly right." Greene goes on to restate Bush's speech: "a lot of these very harsh tactics produced results, and the crux of his message was that this kind of interrogation is effective – he said that these tactics produced vital information and acually broke up some terror attacks and saved innocent lives."

These journalists offer no challenge to these claims, which is inexcusable, especially since rebutting Bush's lies is not terribly difficult as Leigh Pomeroy of Minnesota Monitor shows.

Pygmy -- Excuse Me!

Friday afternoon’s piece on Oto Benga struck me as really bizarre. Oto Benga was a captive from the Congo area brought to the US for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair who ended up on display in the Bronx Zoo a few years later. Listening to this feature, I had that disturbed feeling I get when someone says in a shocked voice, “You won’t believe the racist joke my coworker told today” and then tells the joke in full.

NPR kept calling the man a Pygmy, which I’ve understood to be one of those terms like “witch doctor” or “gypsy” that’s not very respectful to the people it is being applied to. But what struck me as most strange was the complete lack of context given to the time period when this man was being brought to the US to be put on display. In 1904 the Congo was undergoing the Belgian orchestrated holocaust in which about 10 million Congolese were slaughtered (half the population!). The genocide enriched King Leoplod’s Belgium and was strongly opposed by progressives in the US—including one of my favorites, Mark Twain. An excellent treatment of this horror is given in the book, King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.

It’s sad to think of listeners now hearing about the more recent bloodletting in the Congo and having no greater historical reference than the story of Oto Benga—a story told on NPR with the smug assurance that our current attitudes about foreign people are so far advanced to those of our backward progenitors living at the beginning of the previous century.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Missed Opportunity on a Missed Opportunity

What if Iran (the supposed arch nemesis of the US) offered a significant peace plan to the US? What if the Iranians offered huge concessions to the US (giving up its nuclear program, cutting-off funding for Hezbollah, and recognizing Israel!). What if this proposal was approved by all levels of the Iranian government? Given that the current US administration may well be considering attacking Iran, this would be astounding news, worthy of broad and detailed coverage. The fact is that just such a peace proposal was made in 2003, and yet NPR hasn't covered it (search their web site if you don't believe me).

The president of Iran at that time was Mohammed Khatami, and so today when NPR reported today on the visit of Khatami to the US, I hoped they might put his visit in context by discussing the earlier peace overtures of Iran. Instead all we here about is how Khatami's tour has been carefully planned, how "many people are outraged that Khatami had been granted a visa to the United States," and how no US government officials attended any of his talks. That's it, nothing more.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Quite Fascinating

I consider it big news: our president not only acknowledging, but flaunting a policy of kidnapping, secret prisons, incommunicado detention, and indefinite secretive interrogations--a policy which violates international laws and the very principles of our republic. Given the gravity of this kind of revelation I would expect any news organization to carefully analyze and scrutinize all public statements of the president. Take a look at Juan Cole's post today for a passionate, informed analysis of the story (note his reference to the WaPo story on Zubaida).

Instead NPR rebroadcasts as facts Bush's mix of statements, lies, and misinformation. On Morning Edition, Renee Montagne interviews NPR's Mary Louise Kelly who is breathless about the Bush statements: "interesting detail," "remarkable details," and "really quite fascinating." She then quotes unnamed sources who affirm that the secret detainees were "treated in a safe manner" and given regular medical treatment, Korans, dvds, and even gym equipment! This in spite of direct evidence that Zubaida was denied medical treatment for gunshots as a form of torture and years of corroborated testimony of torture and abuse from other captives in the "war on terror."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another Award Winning Terrorism Expert

The White House released a new "strategy" paper on terrorism. This morning, NPR states that "for a closer look at the White House Strategy" it will turn to "Bruce Hoffman; he’s a Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown School of Foreign Service." Hoffman also has worked for the US security establishment RAND center which notes that "Bruce has been awarded the United States Intelligence Community Seal Medallion"(from the CIA).

I really tire of the MSM's terrorism experts; as Rami Khouri explains, these experts often know very little, speculate a lot, and "their guesswork is ideologically defined by the prevalent White House script of the day." This fits Hoffman to a tee. In the interview he states,
  • "I think the strategy very, very commendably talks about the dynamic nature of terrorism and argues that terrorism is changing and therefore our strategy has to, which is quite right. It also, I think, is remarkably candid; it talks at length about the challenges of ending the sanctuary that terrorists can receive from states and the support that they obtain from states. And then goes on, as I said, very frankly to discuss how Iran and Syria have reemerged as problems after having be quiescent, or after having been, in Syria's case remarkably cooperative during the first phases of the war on terrorism.
It's convenient that Hoffman ignores the history of US terrorist actions and support for terrorism. And of course now (just as the Bush neocons argue) the bogeymen of the disastrous US policy of dominating the Middle East are Iran and Syria--despite the fact that Iran and Syria want nothing to do with the Sunni-inspired jihadists, but are more interested in controlling Shia power movements such as the "government" of Iraq and Hezbollah. ...Some expert!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yeah It's Fun

As you might have guessed, I'm pretty cynical--but always hopeful. Actually I'm hopeful about this fall's elections--might the Bush administration lose its rubber stamp congressional majority in one or both houses of congress? What might this mean for health care, the environment, investigations into executive wrongdoing? These are questions that might actually motivate some of the apathetic and disenchanted citizens out there to vote, get informed, get involved, and be active. Here in the Illinois 15th Congressional District we actually have a home-grown, nice guy progressive democrat (Dr. David Gill) challenging a dull, career republican incumbent who supports Bush when push comes to shove (Tim Johnson).

So how does NPR's morning edition deal with this critical juncture of congress reconvening? With a glibness that is really disheartening. Steve Inskeep asks Brian Naylor, " you like this season..." to which Naylor responds, "Yeah it’s fun; this is where it gets down to the real politcal nitty gritty—these guys are all worried about their election; the climate seems very much against the republican majority and so there’s going to be a lot of scrambling and a lot of rhetoric and it’s going to fun to watch..."

Fun to watch!

Then when Inskeep notes, but "there are real issues to discuss—what’s on the agenda?" Naylor states that defense and security will be at the core of debate and then goes on to note how republicans will try to make democrats look weak on defense and security and democrats will try to embarass the White House by seeking a vote of "No Confidence" in Rumsfeld.

That's really about all we get. It's too bad because there could be a lot of ground covered to inform people about how corrupt the defense and security spending is in congress or how the military industrial complex threatens the institutions of our republic (read Chalmer Johnson's Sorrow's or Empire for a good primer on this).

On the other hand maybe that's too much to ask...

Do They, Has He?

According to the top of the hour news on Morning Edition Congress is turning it's attention to national defense and "battling terrorism" as it reconvenes. And then Carl Kasell states that Israel has approved expanding settlements which "Bush has consistently opposed."

Two lies in less than two minutes!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

If Our Side Kills Them They Must Be Militants

I'm really sick of hearing how many "militants" are supposedly being killed by US, NATO, Israeli, coalition, and other allied armed forces. In the hourly news bulletin this afternoon NPR reported that 4 NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan along with two hundred miltants! Excuse me, but was there an independent source on the ground there to count the dead and notice if all of them were armed fighters or occupants of an armed bunker? Why is "our side's" word taken as fact when the past proves that "our side" often lies when it comes to killing lots of civilians. And why militant? Is someone militant when they are taking up arms to fight an army of invasion or occupation? Are Iraqi "militants" the same as Palestinian "militants"--or Afghan "militants" or Columbian "militants." I don't recall armed Israeli settlers or trigger happy Blackwater mercenaries being called "militants" (or for that matter the violence prone hawks in the Whitehouse or Pentagon!) NPR's use of the term reflects the simplistic "for us or against us" mentality of the entire "war on terror" as it's being run and it should find a more accurate term (armed fighter, armed supporter, guerilla, etc.) and use it only when they can confirm its veracity or qualify it as "alleged."

Echo Chamber

When NPR wants "insights" on US and UN diplomacy in the Middle East it seems like they always turn to someone within the establishment. I've yet to hear them conduct and extensive interview with an expert who seriously critiques many of the bedrock principles of US foreign policy in the Middle East: we have a right to control the region's oil (remember the Carter doctrine?), that we can support dictators and ignore elected governments, that we can selectively insist that certain UN resolutions are sacrosanct while violating others, etc.

Today featured one of those "insider" talking heads, Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution -- director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs--discussing US Middle Eastern policy and acting as an apologist for US policy there. I've posted before on the shortcomings of the Brookings Institutions (May 17, 2006 and July 20, 2006).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Facts Instead of Perceptions Please

Listening to NPR of late (this or this for example) you might think that the importance of what's happening in Iraq is the "perception" of how things are going there among American voters. It's not that poll numbers have no importance in news reporting (they do affect elections and policy decisions) but it would be a greater service to listeners to hold up to scrutiny the claims of the Bush administration that keep getting rebroadcast on NPR. The facts that are often overlooked are the complex details of Iraq such as Shia factionalism, Kurd authoritarianism, Turkey's possible invasion of Kurdish Iraq, Iran's role (not in the insurgency but it bolstering the ruling bloc (SCIRI) of the green-zone government through the Badr Corps, US predatory policies regarding business and industry in Iraq, the nature of the Sunni insurgency, the infiltration of Jihadis (and why were the borders left unsecured for so long), the atrocities of the US military (and how that bolsters the insurgency), the effects of mercenaries (Blackwater) on the insurgency, etc.... As it is we mainly get generalizations and spin. If you are interested in these kinds of details, one of the best sources is Juan Cole's Informed Comment.