Thursday, April 30, 2009

Q Tips

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Excuse Me?

ATC Wednesday featured an "expert" weighing in on credit card issues - which have been in the news of late. The expert fields a question from a listener who called in to note that in spite of never missing or being late on a payment his credit card rates were DOUBLED!

Michele Norris asks the expert, Joan Goldwasser, "He's never been delinquent so why would the credit card company make this adjustment?"

Hmmm....that's a real stumper. Why would credit card companies be gouging customers? Could they be trying to cover their profitable little asses for all the predatory lending they've been doing now that that bubble's starting to burst? Oh no, not according to Goldwasser - her answer:
"It's hard to know for a specific individual, but it could be because he is having trouble in some other area of his life. You know credit card companies will look at your payment record on everything - whether it's your home mortgage, your insurance, your utility bill whatever. If you happen to be delinquent on one of those, that's a red flag. They also are looking at people who live in your neighborhood..."
No comment needed on that one...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Q Tips

(graphic from xrrr at flickr)

NPR related comments welcomed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I Am So There Already

It's kind of interesting that NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation did a poll about health care issues. The summary of it is here (in PDF) and here are two interesting excerpts:
"Many Americans are experiencing the rise in health care costs personally....These higher bills can be hard to meet....about 45 percent have taken some action to try to reduce the cost of their health care over the past year, including 32 percent who have skipped dental care, 21 percent who haven’t filled a prescription and 20 percent who have skipped a recommended medical test or treatment."
"Finally, the survey finds a large gap between what the average health insurance policy costs and what uninsured people are willing to pay. Majorities report being willing to pay $25, $50 or even $100 per month for coverage, but only 29 percent would pay $200 per month, and only 6 percent say they would pay $400."
It would make an interesting personality (or political or class interest) test to see how someone reacts to these two bits of information. I look at them and think "The growing cost of health insurance far outstrips the sagging or shrinking incomes of most people in this country." But I guess if I were a champion of the drunk with cash health insurance industry, I'd skewer those tightwad uninsured people who blanch at paying more than $100 or $200 a month for bottom of the bucket health insurance.

So where does NPR go with this kind of information? Do you really need to ask? On Friday morning Richard Knox talks to health insurance industry gurus (grubbers?) and comes up with these little pearls of wisdom:
"Economist Jonathan Gruber of MIT says if everybody's going to be covered, some people will have to get used to the idea of paying more than they think they can....He says the nation needs to create a culture of health insurance where people think it's as much a part of the budget as car payments and utility bills."
Holy smokes have these guys been going through my trash and looking at my pay stubs? They must have looked at my bi-monthly $362.50 health insurance deductions. Let's do some maths. That comes out to $725 a month or $8700 a year for our little All-American family of four. Man, what a bargain. We love it. We just love that every doctor visit is a $25 dollar co-pay and that our plan is a gold-standard 80-20 plan. We are just soooo "used to the idea of paying more than we think we can" - come to think of it, we've had about 20 years to get used to this idea. In fact I'd say in our nation's great "culture of health insurance" we are one cultured family.

Q Tips

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Planet Money counts to a TRILLION!

I'm sure that readers of this blog don't need me to point out how increasingly vacuous and self-indulgent NPR's Planet Money has become, but the latest installment on this Friday's ME was particularly pointless and lame.

Channa Joffe-Walt and David Kestenbaum set out to provide some perspective for understanding the scale of the recent federal bailouts of financial institutions. However, to do this they decided to recreate a 5th grade math exercise. They considered how long it would take to count to 165 million (the AIG executive bonuses), 45 billion (Bank of America's bailout so far), and 1.2 trillion (total estimated federal bailouts of banks so far). The exciting answer: It takes approximatley 39,000 years to count to 1.2 trillion.

Remarkably, ME gave them five LONG minutes for this. It was infuriating after a long week of severely deficient coverage of actual financial news, such as the superficial coverage ATC gave to credit card legislation, or the 40 seconds ME spent pararaphrasing a New York Times article on the looming Chrysler bankruptcy.

The sad thing is that it actually might have been helpful to provide some real context for the scale of the federal bailouts. However, rather than counting to 1.2 trillion, it would be much more useful to place the bailout figures into contexts that matter, such as comparing the AIG bonuses to the median U.S. household income ($50.2 K in 2007); comparing the $45 B to BOA's ownership equity ($146 B); or comparing the $1.2 T in bailout funds to the U.S GDP ($14.3 T) or the annual U.S. federal spending (approximately $3 T).

Still not exciting, to be sure, but perhaps a little more meaningful than counting for 39,000 years.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Q Tips

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


If you listened to NPR Tuesday morning you might be surprised to know that in the US there are such things as laws on torture and that those who flagrantly violate them are subject to prosecution. In Tuesday morning's coverage of the torture memo release there was no suggestion that law has anything to do with it, or that we actually have a Constitution that requires that treaties and laws be enforced.

What we do get is Mary Louise Kelly issuing a vigorous defense of the CIA's right to torture detainees. She begins her defense with some rather bold disinformation as she covers President Obama's reception by members of the CIA, a reception which was according to Montagne "a surprisingly warm welcome." After hearing the CIA employees whooping and cheering for Obama (keep in mind that he just released the torture memos) Kelly concludes
"clearly the silent warriors of the CIA needed to blow off some steam."
That's odd, because the last time I looked, blowing off steam is what people do when they're really angry at someone. In case you still don't buy Kelly's dishonest fabrication she declares - apropos of nothing -
"the roaring reception for President Obama belied the deep concern CIA officials feel for his decision to declassify the memos. On FOX News this past weekend..."
Did I say apropos of nothing? Oops, I stand corrected - Kelly picked up her facts from FOX News! Kelly's not done, either. Anyone who gives a crap about our country's Constitutional values and about the rule of law might be a tad appalled at the sickening details of torture in the released memos and might even be wondering when investigations and prosecutions will begin. But not Mary Louise Cheney Kelly; according to her
"the big question hanging over all this is what happens now if the US government finds itself holding a terrorist with knowledge of an upcoming attack on the US who won't talk."
What more can you say to this? Well, Kelly has plenty. She asserts that
"there seems to be general consensus on this point that whatever legal guidelines the task force eventually agrees on, the President must still be able to grant the CIA emergency authorization for more aggressive tactics."
To prove her point she turns to a former general counsel to the CIA and a former Deputy Director of the CIA, who - surprise - agree wholeheartedly with Kelly.

And then there was Juan.

After Kelly's assault, why not just go right to the FOX himself, Juan Williams? Montagne and Williams spend four minutes rehashing all the authoritarian protorture critiques of Obama's release of the memos.

There is never a mention of law, treaties, or the Constitution. Instead Williams cites Cheney several times, noting that Cheney "says they got critical information out of these detainees" and this whopper:
"that there's no benefit to the US in confirming these reports and Vice President Cheney's point is that those reports and the memos contain only the detainees' side of the story because they don't reveal what further terrorist acts were prevented by getting this information at that point, arguably a critical point."

According to Montagne and Williams its not about the rule of law, or the threat to all of us that torture represents - it's about attitude. And what is that attitude? Let's let Montagne sum it up in her inimitable way:
" much is this about extreme techniques preventing another 9-11 as many critics have claimed?"

Fortunately in the real world we still have some semblance of laws and citizens can act to pressure officials and representatives to enforce these laws. You can visit the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights or Amnesty International among others to take action now.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Q Tips

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Galeano Who?

If you doubt that NPR is an obedient lapdog of US foreign (and military and economic) policy, consider how Scott Horsley reports on Hugo Chavez's gift to President Obama of Eduardo Galeano's book Open Veins of Latin America.

Here's Horsley on Saturday's ATC:
"...this morning in what a senior administration official called a publicity stunt Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez presented Mr. Obama with a book about five hundred years of exploitation of Latin America (chuckles). Now even the critics don't lay all five hundred years of at Mr. Obama's doorstep (chuckle)...."
And then this morning on Weakened Edition Sunday Horsley is back at it:
"As cameras clicked away Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stepped into the frame and presented Mr. Obama with a book, Open Veins of Latin America, it's a leftist history of the region with a subtitle: five centuries of the pillage of a continent. The barbed gift was a reminder of the resentment that some Latin American leaders still feel toward the United States."
One can't help but be struck by Horsely's contempt. It is striking that Galeano's name is not even mentioned - ever. From Horsley's description and tone, one might think Galeano was some two-bit, dull leftist historian - instead of a major literary figure of the continent. In the introduction to Open Veins of Latin America, Isabelle Allende described Galeano as "one of the most interesting authors ever to come out of Latin America, a region known for its great literary names. His work is a mixture of meticulous detail, political conviction, poetic flair, and good storytelling...." He has received major literary prizes and global critical acclaim.

Everything about Horsely's remarks mirrors the viewpoint of US power. A literary, powerful (and thoroughly researched) work of history is reduced to "a leftist history" and "a barbed gift." There is no mention of the truth underlying Galeano's work: that the US has worked tirelessly for over a century to inflict killings, rape, torture, poverty, and economic exploitation on Latin America. This long, sordid and thoroughly documented history is laughingly reduced to "resentment that some Latin American leaders still feel."

Fortunately, many people in the US are far more curious than the timid newsreaders at NPR.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No! Not the Bar-b-q!

Michele Norris couldn't even get through the intro to the article without diving into the industry talking points:
"A major shift in environmental policy today from the federal government. The EPA declared that greenhouse gases linked to climate change endanger public health and welfare. Scientists and environmentalists have been waiting years to hear that acknowledgment. And the declaration is a big first step toward regulating carbon dioxide. It's also a new restriction on almost every part of the economy."
Well, that seems a little alarmist, considering that it was actually not the point of the federal report released Friday, which didn't really mention regulations. However, it is certainly true that greenhouse gas pollution comes from sources throughout the economy, so let's see where NPR's going with this. The story is narrated by Jeff Brady who reports that:
"The EPA under the Bush administration had been reluctant to make that statement [that greenhouse gases are air pollution] for fear of the economic consequences of the agency regulating everything from new cars to power plants."
I'm pretty sure this is the absolute, most generous way you could ever possibly find to describe the Bush administration's refusal to admit to scientific realities or comply with environmental laws. Brady includes a quote from the environmental organizations who had to sue to force the government to release the suppressed federal report, but the story then quickly turns to the corporate talking points:
"Bill Kovacs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shares that concern. He worries the EPA could become a huge regulator involved in every part of American life. 'They would also be regulating office buildings, warehouses, of the farm industry. Twenty-five cows produce enough methane to be a regulated entity.'"
No! Not 25 cows! In the interest of full disclosure, readers of this blog should know that I often work on regulations related to climate change. And I have never, ever, heard anybody in government, environmental organizations, or industry, ever suggest regulating churches! What does that even mean?

Of course, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying and PR group for corporations, and these are obviously the talking points they decided might work best to scare Americans about today's report from the government. It is an obvious ploy, and lame. So does the article include a quote from scientist or the authors of the report in response to these scare tactics? Of course not. Instead, NPR uses the exact same talking points from an industry PR flack for the next day in their hourly "news" summary:
"This can clearly impact office buildings, hospitals, schools, your backyard bar-b-q, your weedwacker, everything that impacts our daily lives."
NO!!! First it was 25 cows and now the backyard bar-b-q! I'd better get out there and grill (beef) and weedwack before it's too late. Damn those government reports!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Q Tips

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Doors, Huts, and the Occasional Tree

I've been laying off listening to much NPR news, but I happened to hear Gwen Thomkins reporting on the census in Sudan on Wednesday's ATC (the comments at the link are worth a look). If you can stand it, the first minute of the report is worth a listen just to hear how awkward and silly Thomkins can be. In the opening of the story Thomkins makes this priceless statement:
"This is what's happened so far: last April two separate commissions representing North Sudan and the semi-autonomous South dispatched thousands of enumerators abroad in the land. The enumerators knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors, huts, and the occasional tree and interviewed millions of people."
Occasional tree! Jeez, does NPR have anyone editing this rubbish? I'm sorry, but if a reporter handed me that, I'd just cut it to "knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors and interviewed millions of people." I found myself wondering which "occasional tree" was Thomkins thinking of?

Maybe it was this one she recalled from watching old movies?

Or maybe this one from a trip to Disneyland?

Or maybe she's a bit more contemporary and was thinking of George of the Jungle?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Q Tips

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I think this little gem of a title from (Monday's ATC) gets the corporate wet kiss award. Internet Bandwidth Hogs? I don't think Bewkes could have written it better himself.

Interestingly the feature ends with Siegel stating, "and you can find some links to groups fighting the Time Warner bandwidth cap and other stories on the matter at our website at" Somebody help me here. I poked around and seemed to miss those links - anyone see them?

The most obvious link would be to Free Press which is leading the fight against this latest corporate attempt to strangle the Internet. At the link you can sign their petition.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy Bees

I know, I know. I'm a big sissy leftist with a bleeding heart for people living in their homes who happen to get blown to bits and maimed by robotic drones firing missiles at those elusive "high value" targets. And so of course I just swallowed it hook, line and sinker when I saw the Pakistani News report that - according to Pakistani authorities - US drone attacks since January 2006 have killed 14 al-Qaeda leaders and 687 civilians. Dang! 687 to 14. Last time I did my maths that came to 49 civilians killed for every al-Qaeda operative killed.

Call me silly, but I could swear NPR never mentioned such a sloppy killing weapon. In fact I remember Mary Louise Kelly getting all gooey for The Reaper drone back in April of 2007 when she asserted that it would be just dandy "if you don’t want to level a whole building, but just take out - say - a single sniper sitting in a third story window." And in December 2008 Tom Bowman went weak in the knees for the glorious Reaper, going as far as having a real, live Air Force colonel tell us that the Reaper is so precise that from five miles away it can "pick out what color clothes you're wearing."

So given how much NPR just luvs them some drones, let's just see if we can find any coverage of this Pakistani report. I'll just search "687 civilians" on NPR's site. Well what do you know - NOTHING. I guess in NPRworld there's only good drones and better drones.

FDIC is funded by banks

Putting aside the nauseating condescension and Montagne's childish lead-in, there was something weird about the way Planet Money's Chana Joffe-Walt started her story on Friday's ME:
"One quick thing to clear up and then we can get to this weird banking drama that's playing out right now. Banking drama. You know you want to know. Okay, here's the one thing, the FDIC, the agency that insures our bank's funded by banks. Maybe it's a name problem, the "Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation," but lots of people seem to think it's funded by taxpayers. It's not. Every bank that's FDIC-insured has to pay a fee for that insurance, and all those fees put them all together, they go into a deposit insurance fund that pays for bank failures.

"John Bovenzi is the chief operating officer of the FDIC. 'If you put a hundred dollars in a checking account in a bank, what the bank has to do is pay the FDIC an insurance premium.'

"Just like you pay a fee to get your car insured, the banks pay a fee to get their deposits insured. Now that we've cleared that up...banking drama."
To her credit, Joffe-Walt did point out that the banks will pay those premiums by increasing the fees you and I pay on our bank accounts. Also, she did mention that while the FDIC is funded by fees from banks, it also has asked Congress for an increased line of credit of up to $500 billion of U.S. Treasury funds (otherwise known as taxpayer money).

However, she failed to mention that the S&L crisis of the 1980s and 90s ended up costing U.S. taxpayers approximately $124 billion dollars, much of it through increased fees on our bank accounts, but also in large part through federal bailouts of federally insured deposits.

In the current financial crisis, with Citibank alone carrying over a trillion dollars in liabilities, it seems pretty clear that a single failed mega-bank would force the FDIC to call on its credit with the U.S. Treasury. Considering that the FDIC had only about 19 billion in funds by the end of 2008, and is expected to collect only about 12-13 billion in FDIC premiums this year, it seems far from certain that the FDIC would ever be able to pay back $500 billion in federal loans.

Much more likely, despite the assurances made by Joffe-Walt or by FDIC's Bovenzi (whose incentive to downplay this nasty possibility is glaring), such a "loan" would end as yet another gigantic bailout to the banks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Q Tips

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Slow News Friday

It was a particularly bad day to listen to NPR this Friday. We got 4 and 1/2 minutes on the ongoing search for prime numbers; almost seven minutes devoted to an R&B gospel group; a surprisingly long interview with a tax preparer explaining that business is brisk this time of year; a few minutes in anticipation of the presidential puppy; and, of course, continuing in-depth coverage of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta. (Although I must admit this last one was marginally less painful than Tom Goldman's interminable article Thursday on the greenness of the grass at the Augusta golf course.)

Don't get me wrong, I understand that ME and ATC are magazine shows, and not every article needs to be hard news (although I suspect many readers of this blog would argue that ANY hard news would be an improvement). Also, I completely understand there is such a thing as a slow news day, when editors fall back on long, boring filler pieces.

I only bring it up because over the past week, NPR has devoted some relatively large chunks of time to allowing corporate CEO's to present their propaganda, unimpeded by opposing view points. On ATC Thursday, Robert Siegel gave us eight and a half minutes of unchallenged happy talk from Wall Street brokers, including Bank of New York Mellon CEO Robert Kelly explaining how un-toxic and yummy those toxic assets really are for America. ME's Renee Montagne gave Chrysler vice chair Jim Press several minutes to give a commercial for the federal bailout for his company.

If NPR were having such a hard time finding news to fill the time, they could have given a few measly minutes to some of the myriad other voices on these issues, folks who have been working to expose and dispell the spin of these corporate CEOs. The options are almost endless, of course, but as an example they could try Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research or the auto industry watchdogs at Public Citizen.

Taking the cake, ATC gave us almost 9 minutes of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein defending executive pay and the Wall Street bailout. This one was particularly maddening because the article opens by explaining that a recent speech by Blankfein was interrupted by people protesting the billions of dollars in bailouts that Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street companies have received. If NPR has so much time to kill that they can offer us two and a half minutes on how spring is a good time for spring cleaning, they could have at least given a few seconds to these protestors.

One last thing, to be clear, I liked the R&B gospel singers just fine. But seven minutes...?!!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Q Tips

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Birth of a Notion

Somalia? History? Who the hell needs research when there's a a movie that tells you everything you need to know - a movie so accurate and so truthful that its Washington premier "attracted Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Oliver North and other military top brass."

Can you guess what the movie is? A listen to NPR's Thursday morning coverage of Somalia piracy might help:

Tom Bowman checks in with Ari Shapiro who asks, "What options does the US, and do American allies, have in these kinds of situations?" Tom responds:
"....there aren't that many great alternatives. Admiral Gortney, the commander of the 5th Fleet says that the best way to deal with this is to create a more stable government in Somalia, but of course the United States tried that before back in 1993, going after the warlord Mohamed Aideed and it led to a lot of bloodshed, in a movie and book called Blackhawk Down."
After Bowman and Shapiro, NPR has a second report with Renee Montagne interviewing familiar "expert" - Maj. General Tom Wilkerson of the US Naval Institute. Wilkerson explains that dealing with Somali piracy "is not a Navy problem; it is an American problem and the American leadership has to decide at some point when they're going to accept that the pirates can not have a safe haven on land...." Montagne interjects
"when you suggest trying to deal with a safe haven on land in Somalia - again as Tom Bowman and Ari have just spoke about - that brings up some pretty bad memories for the US: Blackhawk Down and what happened in the early 1990s when they tried to tackle Somalis' militias."
Let's review our NPR history movie lesson: The US tried to bring stability to Somalia back in 1993 but that "led to a lot of bloodshed" and "brings up some pretty bad memories for the US."

Don't get distracted by the fact that from 1977 to 1991 the US poured weapons and support to Somali dictator Barre who wreaked havoc on traditional Somali social structures and pitted clans against each other. And definitely don't bring up the sudden rise in piracy (and death and misery) that followed the US/Ethiopian invasion of Somalia late in 2006. And please don't worry about the basic distortions of events and facts in the Pentagon-approved (and revised) movie about Somalia. And...

Let's just say that there's a wee bit of danger in relying on racist, grossly inaccurate movies to simplistically retell and reshape the past. Then again movies like Blackhawk Down, in which there are good guys (us) and evil bad guys (them) do give one (or certain reporters at least) a certain warm, clannish reassurance about our past - what a notion!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Perpetrators Rule

Whew, am I ever relieved. I used to think that US POWs were tortured in Vietnam, that Pinochet's government inflicted horrific tortures on dissidents, and even that Saddam Hussein operated torture chambers in Iraq. Silly me, actually the stories and reports of torture in these places were probably just made up by the "alleged" victims. In fact, I'll bet US POWs in Vietnam sat together and concocted all those stories about rope torture and beatings as part of a big propaganda campaign.

I'm basing my new conclusions on what I'll call the Michele Norris Standard: if the torturers are not interviewed and don't corroborate the allegations of the supposed victims, then it's nothing but hearsay. Don't take it from me. Let's hear Michele as she interviews Mark Danner who has published the full ICRC report on US torture of ghost detainees :
"Now we should say that the allegations in this report are based on interviews with these fourteen detainees. Has the information been confirmed or corroborated by the people who allegedly participated in these sessions?"
Danner reminds Norris that the conclusions were "based on lengthy interviews conducted by Red Cross professionals" and that the similarities and details of torture would have been impossible to concoct since the fourteen detainees were never together and were always isolated - to which Norris responds,
"Though because they have not actually interviewed or do not include in this report information from either the health professionals or others that participated in the CIA interrogations is that potentially problematic in terms of the credibility of the report?"
It is truly mind boggling, but Michele is not done. From trying to discount the Red Cross report, Norris moves on to shred the rule of law. Now that there is overwhelming evidence of torture from the highest levels of the US government down to CIA operatives the law is very clear. No one states it better than Glenn Greenwald:

"The U.S. really has bound itself to a treaty called the Convention Against Torture, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994. When there are credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture, that Convention really does compel all signatories -- in language as clear as can be devised -- to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution" (Art. 7(1)). And the treaty explicitly bars the standard excuses that America's political class is currently offering for refusing to investigate and prosecute: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture" (Art. 2 (2-3)). By definition, then, the far less compelling excuses cited by Conason (a criminal probe would undermine bipartisanship and distract us from more important matters) are plainly barred as grounds for evading the Convention's obligations."
Norris doesn't see it this way. She states, "The findings in the report point to a very thorny question and that is, 'What happens to the people who participated in these interrogations or who helped develop the policy that led to the conditions that have now been described as inhumane. The question of whether they should be subject to justice or adjudication or some sort of punishment..."

Unfortunately, Danner is not a Constitutional law expert and so goes along with Norris, claiming that, "the question of what should be done is a very complicated's very complicated because the responsibility for this is very widespread in the former administration...have an authoritative account of what was done and what was gained if anything...yield from this stuff was very, very meager..."

Actually what should be done, is not complicated at all; what is complicated is what will be done, since the Obama justice department seems as hostile as the Bush administration when it comes to upholding the rule of law regarding the US practice of torturing detainees.

Monday, April 06, 2009

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bipartisan Warheads

Back when it was the Bushcorp crazies running the show it was no surprise for Bush to say utterly absurd and stupid things like claiming that Iran was a threat to launch WWIII and the only thing to stop it would be a "missile shield" based in Eastern Europe. What was disturbing was that NPR (see May 2007 and July 2008) and much of the rest of the media treated this nonsense as reasonable and necessary.

Ah, but times have changed, and we now have a new President, Democrat Barack Obama, pushing the same missile shield lies, and - guess what? - NPR is along for the ride. Don (my moral compass points toward power) Gonyea has been following Obama around and had this to say on Sunday ATC:

"Now in the speech the President segued from the threat posed by North Korea into the topic of Iran - specifically, the proposed US missile shield that would protect Eastern and Central Europe from a potential attack should Iran develop a nuclear weapon."

" would be a shield against a potential nuclear missile attack from Iran."

Looks like President Obama's not the only one who can slyly segue from one story and on into a paranoid, hypothetical (but very profitable) militarist fantasy.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Such a Treat

(click for some "careful" Cokie)
Scott Simon: "Cokie, thanks so much for being with us."
Cokie Roberts: "Oh, Scott, what a treat to be with you."
So it began, and if you could bear the gooey ooze of this NPR soft-core jornography, you have a strong stomach indeed. What is Simon thanking her for? She comes on and gets a four and a half minute commercial for the release of a revised version of a book she has written - some sacrifice. And as for the treat? We do get treated all right.

The treat starts with some love for Sarah Palin:
Simon: " write about the 2008 election in this book and you believe that both Senator Clinton and Governor Palin had to endure some nonsense and worse. You even use the word sexism and abuse."

Roberts: " I think, absolutely, I think that the words used about them - words like shrill, were not words that you would ever hear applied to a man. You certainly have NEVER! EVER! EVER! EVER! ever had a male politician asked who's going to be taking care of the children when he runs for office including the current President of the United States..."
I'm not about to claim that there was no sexism in regard to Palin (or to Clinton) - obviously there was. But for Roberts to treat the Clinton candidacy as equivalent to the Palin candidacy is both stupid and absurd. Whatever one thinks of Clinton, she brought knowledge, national political experience, and a record of advocating for women's and children's rights to her campaign. Palin on the other hand brought us Joe-plumberism: stupidity, arrogance, reaction, bigotry, and spin.

Secondly, you have to love how Roberts tries to have it both ways. She opened the interview with this unsubstantiated claim:
"...and women cooperate more - this is a broad statement obviously - but they cooperate more across party lines."
And then after she yells and rants about the question of who will take care of the children, she follows with this winner:
"...women are caretakers. We take care of our children, our friends and our of our great talents..."
The contradiction wasn't even subtle, and Scott Simon's reaction? Does he ask for some concrete examples? No, instead he moves on to another NPR favorite - Michele Rhee, the privateering school superintendent of the Washington DC public schools. And of course Roberts is just so enamored of Rhee: "...but she discovered, she working with another teacher, could really make a difference in those kids lives."

All that was missing was some love for Condi Rice and Jeane Kirkpatrick. But the love fest between Scott and Cokie wasn't over yet. The interview ends as it began:

Simon: "Cokie thanks so much."
Roberts: "Thank you Scott, it's such a treat to be with you."

***Note regarding graphic: During the interview Cokie noted that "women have to be careful about a lot of things still as we saw in the last political campaign. One of the things I've learned is that you have to be careful when you speak and when you don't speak on say Sunday television programs." Oh how funny Cokie is.

Friday, April 03, 2009

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Three Legged Stool Meets Two Legged Stooges

The headlong rush of the US military (and the coalition of the willing) into Iraq back in 2002 and 2003 was notable for the dismal performance of most of the US media (NPR included) which offered virtually no alternatives to war and invasion.

So you might think that a new grand Pentagon plan for settling into Afghanistan (and Pakistan?) for the long haul might be subjected to at least some oppositional analysis. You'll get nothing of the sort on NPR. Search in vain for any consideration that Obama's "new" strategy is likely to end in more misery, death, and failure. Search in vain for any demands that the US end its occupation of Afghanistan. Instead we hear from all the US generals and politicos running the Afpak strategy, with every interview being generally supportive and sympathetic. If you want to get alternative perspectives you'd better go elsewhere. Here's a sampling of the viewpoints you won't hear on NPR news:
Contrast the divergent range of opinion with the endless pro-Pentagon coverage NPR offers. We get - among others - Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Petraeus, an unabashed homage to the #3 at the Pentagon, Michele Flournoy, and this winner, National Security Adviser James Jones explaining that a winning strategy in Afghanistan is like a stool with the three legs of security, economic development, and rule of law and government (which the US is going to provide -hee, hee).

God forbid I forget to mention the one big voice of dissent that NPR finds worth featuring: Leslie Gelb (Mr. Former Senior Official in the Departments of State and Defense). Gelb wants to basically get out of Afghanistan after declaring that the US has the right to intervene militarily whenever it deems it necessary. His noble reason for urging withdrawal? Because, as he says of those lazy Afghans, "We can't fight harder for their freedom than they will."

Soft, Plastic Science

At first I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Sadly, it wasn't. ME on Wednesday ran a story by Jon Hamilton, lamenting the Congressional ban on phthalates--chemicals used to soften plastics--from being used in children's toys. For some reason, Hamilton appears to really, really like phthalates. Either that, or he just turns to mush when he sees a lab coat, because he basically just turned the story over to the government researcher (Dr. Wind) who claims the chemical is not a problem for children who ingest it.

To be certain, at no point does Wind say that phthalates aren't toxic, only that most children probably don't chew on plastic long enough each day to warrant banning the chemical. Hamilton explains that another form of phthalate had been found to cause cancer. Bizarrely, he somehow interprets the fact that the plastics industry had been forced to "voluntarily" stop using the chemicals as evidence that this new version must be safe, even though it was linked to liver disease. The article ends with a joint quote from Wind and Hamilton criticizing the ban on the chemical: "Sometimes people don't listen to the good science...even when it comes from the government scientists we pay for good advice."

Where has Jon Hamilton been living for the past eight years?!! It is as if he has never heard of any of the myriad perversions of science and policy that occurred under the Bush Administration (during which the studies on phthalate were finalized) where politics overruled science and health concerns in everything from asbestos dust at ground zero to FEMA trailers to global warming.

Now, I'm not a chemist or a physician, and I certainly don't claim to have any particular insight into the health risks posed by phthalates, and I'm not saying that the good Dr. Wind is wrong. I'm just saying it seems insanely credulous of NPR to simply take the word of a government administrator during the Bush administration who says the chemical is good to eat, and to dismiss out of hand anybody--including scientists and researchers outside the government--who says otherwise.

It took me a little less than 30 seconds to turn up a report by the National Academy of Sciences that says that the federal studies may seriously underestimate the risks posed by phthalates by failing to adequately account for cumulative effects. And I suppose it should be no surprise that the article included not a single mention of the fact that phthalates are banned in Europe under the EU program that requires manufacturers to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it can be used in commercial products.

Q Tips

Midweek open thread. NPR related comments welcomed.