Friday, August 28, 2009

US Spying on Reporters in Afghanistan

Remember the post I had about the Afghan media showing more fortitude and independence than our corporatized media? I am sure you do. Tens of you read it. Well, there may be a reason for our media's lackey ways in war coverage. Thanks to our military, we are apparently keeping dossiers on reporters covering the war. I am sure this is entirely innocent [removing sarcasm hat].

Military monitoring reporters' work in Afghan war

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military in Afghanistan acknowledged Thursday that it pays a private company to produce profiles on journalists covering the war.

But despite a report showing the company rated some reporters on their work, officials denied that the information is used to decide which media members travel with military units.

Pentagon officials are on the defensive after a recent series of stories in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that said journalists were being screened by a Washington-based public relations firm, The Rendon Group, under a $1.5 million contract with the military.

The newspaper, which is also partly funded by the Defense Department, said it had obtained documents showing Rendon graded journalists' work as "positive," "neutral" or "negative" and suggested ways to make the coverage more positive.

"U.S. Forces Afghanistan has never denied access to any reporter based upon their past stories," said a statement issued Thursday by Army Col. Wayne M. Shanks, a military spokesman in Afghanistan.

Shanks said the Rendon contract provides a number of services, including news releases and "talking points" as well as reports on media accuracy. The information is used partly to assess how well the military is doing in getting information out, Shanks said.

He said the military gets information on journalists, including biographical details and recent topics they have covered, to prepare commanders for interviews. A sample profile released Thursday included information on reporters under the headings of professional "Background," "Coverage" and "Perspective, Style and Tone."

Rendon has said a small part of its contract involves preparing profiles of reporters preparing to travel with U.S. troops. These reviews are done only upon request and are intended to give commanders a better idea of what topics the reporters embedded with the unit are most likely to ask about, according to Rendon.

In a statement posted on its Web site, Rendon said it provides analysis of news content focused on themes such as stability and security, counterinsurgency and operational results.

"The information and analysis we generate is developed by quantifying these themes and topics and not by ranking of reporters. The analysis is not provided as the basis for accepting or rejecting a specific journalist's inquiries, and TRG does not make recommendations as to who the military should or should not interview," it said.

Rendon gave as an example: "Neutral to Negative coverage could indicate that content in stories were negative in relation to mission objectives," which it said could include kidnappings or suicide bombings.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters that he had not "seen anything that violates any policies." But he also appeared to question why the activity was needed.

"For me, a tool like this serves no purpose and it doesn't serve me with any value," Whitman said.

A number of reporters in the Pentagon and elsewhere are demanding to view their profiles. The International Federation of Journalists also complained about the policy Wednesday.

"This profiling of journalists farther compromises the independence of media," Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels-based federation, said in a statement. "It strips away any pretense that the Army is interested in helping journalists to work freely."

AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.


I wonder if any of our gun-toting white right friends showing up at townhall meetings in their undersized member-envy attire will have the gumption to say anything about this one. After all, being forced to hand over a driver's license to purchase a rifle at a gun show is now being compared to Communism by our erstwhile Second Amendment fetishists. Somehow, I do not anticipate Hannity and the next Howard Beale taking up the issue. No, they are still fighting the good fight against the Weathermen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP, Senator Kennedy

I had my disagreements every once in awhile with the recently departed Senator from Massachusetts. For a liberal icon, Senator Kennedy was remarkably affable when it came to compromising away legislation with Republicans (the No Child Left Behind Act being foremost among them). And for a labor man, which is what folk from my labor union household always referred to fellow union supporters, he was a free trader, voting in favor of NAFTA and GATT.

Still, when it counted the most, on the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of this country, Edward Moore Kennedy was with the angels.

Published on Monday, September 30, 2002 by
Eliminating the Threat
The Right Course of Action for Disarming Iraq, Combating Terrorism, Protecting the Homeland, and Stabilizing the Middle East

Text of speech by US Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Friday, September 27, 2002

Thank you, Dr. Fukuyama for that generous introduction.

I'm honored to be here at the School of Advanced International Studies. Many of the most talented individuals in foreign policy have benefited immensely from your outstanding graduate program, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with you today.

I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted. But I begin with the strongest possible affirmation that good and decent people on all sides of this debate, who may in the end stand on opposing sides of this decision, are equally committed to our national security.

The life and death issue of war and peace is too important to be left to politics. And I disagree with those who suggest that this fateful issue cannot or should not be contested vigorously, publicly, and all across America. When it is the people's sons and daughters who will risk and even lose their lives, then the people should hear and be heard, speak and be listened to.

But there is a difference between honest public dialogue and partisan appeals. There is a difference between questioning policy and questioning motives. There are Republicans and Democrats who support the immediate use of force – and Republicans and Democrats who have raised doubts and dissented.

In this serious time for America and many American families, no one should poison the public square by attacking the patriotism of opponents, or by assailing proponents as more interested in the cause of politics than in the merits of their cause. I reject this, as should we all.

Let me say it plainly: I not only concede, but I am convinced that President Bush believes genuinely in the course he urges upon us. And let me say with the same plainness: Those who agree with that course have an equal obligation – to resist any temptation to convert patriotism into politics. It is possible to love America while concluding that is not now wise to go to war. The standard that should guide us is especially clear when lives are on the line: We must ask what is right for country and not party.

That is the true spirit of September 11th — not unthinking unanimity, but a clear-minded unity in our determination to defeat terrorism — to defend our values and the value of life itself.

Just a year ago, the American people and the Congress rallied behind the President and our Armed Forces as we went to war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban protectors who gave them sanctuary in Afghanistan posed a clear, present and continuing danger. The need to destroy Al Qaeda was urgent and undeniable.

In the months that followed September 11, the Bush Administration marshalled an international coalition. Today, 90 countries are enlisted in the effort, from providing troops to providing law enforcement, intelligence, and other critical support.

But I am concerned that using force against Iraq before other means are tried will sorely test both the integrity and effectiveness of the coalition. Just one year into the campaign against Al Qaeda, the Administration is shifting focus, resources, and energy to Iraq. The change in priority is coming before we have fully eliminated the threat from Al Qaeda, before we know whether Osama Bin Laden is dead or alive, and before we can be assured that the fragile post-Taliban government in Afghanistan will consolidate its authority.

No one disputes that America has lasting and important interests in the Persian Gulf, or that Iraq poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed.

How can we best achieve this objective in a way that minimizes the risks to our country? How can we ignore the danger to our young men and women in uniform, to our ally Israel, to regional stability, the international community, and victory against terrorism?

There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary.

Nor has the Administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation.

With all the talk of war, the Administration has not explicitly acknowledged, let alone explained to the American people, the immense post-war commitment that will be required to create a stable Iraq.

The President's challenge to the United Nations requires a renewed effort to enforce the will of the international community to disarm Saddam. Resorting to war is not America's only or best course at this juncture. There are realistic alternatives between doing nothing and declaring unilateral or immediate war. War should be a last resort, not the first response. Let us follow that course, and the world will be with us – even if, in the end, we have to move to the ultimate sanction of armed conflict.

The Bush Administration says America can fight a war in Iraq without undermining our most pressing national security priority -- the war against Al Qaeda. But I believe it is inevitable that a war in Iraq without serious international support will weaken our effort to ensure that Al Qaeda terrorists can never, never, never threaten American lives again.

Unfortunately, the threat from Al Qaeda is still imminent. The nation's armed forces and law enforcement are on constant high alert. America may have broken up the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and scattered its operatives across many lands. But we have not broken its will to kill Americans.

As I said earlier, we still don't know the fate, the location, or the operational capacity of Osama bin Laden himself. But we do know that Al Qaeda is still there, and still here in America – and will do all it can to strike at America's heart and heartland again. But we don't know when, where, or how this may happen.

On March 12, CIA Director Tenet testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Al Qaeda remains "the most immediate and serious threat" to our country, "despite the progress we have made in Afghanistan and in disrupting the network elsewhere."

Even with the Taliban out of power, Afghanistan remains fragile. Security remains tenuous. Warlords still dominate many regions. Our reconstruction effort, which is vital to long-term stability and security, is halting and inadequate. Some Al Qaeda operatives – no one knows how many – have faded into the general population. Terrorist attacks are on the rise. President Karzai, who has already survived one assassination attempt, is still struggling to solidify his hold on power. And although neighboring Pakistan has been our ally, its stability is far from certain.

We know all this – and we also know that it is an open secret in Washington that the nation's uniformed military leadership is skeptical about the wisdom of war with Iraq. They share the concern that it may adversely affect the ongoing war against Al Qaeda and the continuing effort in Afghanistan by draining resources and armed forces already stretched so thin that many Reservists have been called for a second year of duty, and record numbers of service members have been kept on active duty beyond their obligated service.

To succeed in our global war against Al Qaeda and terrorism, the United States depends on military, law enforcement, and intelligence support from many other nations. We depend on Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union that border Afghanistan for military cooperation. We depend on countries from Portugal to Pakistan to the Philippines for information about Al Qaeda's plans and intentions. Because of these relationships, terrorist plots are being foiled and Al Qaeda operatives are being arrested. It is far from clear that these essential relationships will be able to survive the strain of a war with Iraq that comes before the alternatives are tried – or without the support of an international coalition.

A largely unilateral American war that is widely perceived in the Muslim world as untimely or unjust could worsen not lessen the threat of terrorism. War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, or without genuine international support -- could swell the ranks of Al Qaeda sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts. As General Clark told the Senate Armed Services Committee, it would "super-charge recruiting for Al Qaeda."

General Hoar advised the Committee on September 23 that America's first and primary effort should be to defeat Al Qaeda. In a September 10th article, General Clark wrote: "Unilateral U.S. action today would disrupt the war against Al Qaeda." We ignore such wisdom and advice from many of the best of our military at our own peril.

We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence community is also deeply concerned about the acquisition of such weapons by Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and other nations. But information from the intelligence community over the past six months does not point to Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States or a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.

In public hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, CIA Director George Tenet described Iraq as a threat but not as a proliferator, saying that Saddam Hussein — and I quote — "is determined to thwart U.N. sanctions, press ahead with weapons of mass destruction, and resurrect the military force he had before the Gulf War." That is unacceptable, but it is also possible that it could be stopped short of war.

In recent weeks, in briefings and in hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen no persuasive evidence that Saddam would not be deterred from attacking U.S. interests by America's overwhelming military superiority.

I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years.

And the Administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. As General Joseph Hoar, the former Commander of Central Command told the members of the Armed Services Committee, a case has not been made to connect Al Qaeda and Iraq.

To the contrary, there is no clear and convincing pattern of Iraqi relations with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testified before the Armed Services Committee on September 23 that Iran has had closer ties to terrorism than Iraq. Iran has a nuclear weapons development program, and it already has a missile that can reach Israel.

Moreover, in August, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft wrote that there is "scant evidence" linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist organizations, and "even less to the September 11 attacks." He concluded that Saddam would not regard it as in his interest to risk his country or his investment in weapons of mass destruction by transferring them to terrorists who would use them and "leave Baghdad as the return address."

At the present time, we do face a pressing risk of proliferation -- from Russia's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. America spends only $1 billion a year to safeguard those weapons. Yet the Administration is preparing to spend between one and two hundred billion dollars on a war with Iraq.

I do not accept the idea that trying other alternatives is either futile or perilous – that the risks of waiting are greater than the risks of war. Indeed, in launching a war against Iraq now, the United States may precipitate the very threat that we are intent on preventing -- weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. If Saddam's regime and his very survival are threatened, then his view of his interests may be profoundly altered: He may decide he has nothing to lose by using weapons of mass destruction himself or by sharing them with terrorists.

Some who advocate military action against Iraq, however, assert that air strikes will do the job quickly and decisively, and that the operation will be complete in 72 hours. But there is again no persuasive evidence that air strikes alone over the course of several days will incapacitate Saddam and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Experts have informed us that we do not have sufficient intelligence about military targets in Iraq. Saddam may well hide his most lethal weapons in mosques, schools and hospitals. If our forces attempt to strike such targets, untold numbers of Iraqi civilians could be killed.

In the Gulf War, many of Saddam's soldiers quickly retreated because they did not believe the invasion of Kuwait was justified. But when Iraq's survival is at stake, it is more likely that they will fight to the end. Saddam and his military may well abandon the desert, retreat to Baghdad, and engage in urban, guerilla warfare.

In our September 23 hearing, General Clark told the Committee that we would need a large military force and a plan for urban warfare. General Hoar said that our military would have to be prepared to fight block by block in Baghdad, and that we could lose a battalion of soldiers a day in casualties. Urban fighting would, he said, look like the last brutal 15 minutes of the movie "Saving Private Ryan."

Before the Gulf War in 1991, Secretary of State James Baker met with the Iraqis and threatened Hussein with "catastrophe" if he employed weapons of mass destruction. In that war, although Saddam launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel, he did not use the chemical or biological weapons he had.

If Saddam's regime and survival are threatened, he will have nothing to lose, and may use everything at his disposal. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced that instead of its forbearance in the 1991 Gulf War, this time Israel will respond if attacked. If weapons of mass destruction land on Israeli soil, killing innocent civilians, the experts I have consulted believe Israel will retaliate, and possibly with nuclear weapons.

This escalation, spiraling out of control, could draw the Arab world into a regional war in which our Arab allies side with Iraq, against the United States and against Israel. And that would represent a fundamental threat to Israel, to the region, to the world economy and international order.

Nor can we rule out the possibility that Saddam would assault American forces with chemical or biological weapons. Despite advances in protecting our troops, we do not yet have the capability to safeguard all of them.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are serving their country with great distinction. Just under 70,000 Reservists and National Guardsmen have been mobilized for the war against terrorism. If we embark upon a premature or unilateral military campaign against Iraq, or a campaign only with Britain, our forces will have to serve in even greater numbers, for longer periods, and with graver risks. Our force strength will be stretched even thinner. And war is the last resort. If in the end we have to take that course, the burden should be shared with allies – and that is less likely if war becomes an immediate response.

Even with the major technological gains demonstrated in Afghanistan, the logistics of such a war would be extraordinarily challenging if we could not marshal a real coalition of regional and international allies.

President Bush made the right decision on September 12 when he expressed America's willingness to work with the United Nations to prevent Iraq from using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The President's address to the General Assembly challenging the United Nations to enforce its long list of Security Council Resolutions on Iraq was powerful -- and for me, it was persuasive.

But to maintain the credibility he built when he went to the U.N., the President must follow the logic of his own argument.

Before we go to war, we should give the international community the chance to meet the President's challenge – to renew its resolve to disarm Saddam Hussein completely and effectively. This makes the resumption of inspections more imperative and perhaps more likely than at any time since they ended in 1998.

So this should be the first aim of our policy – to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq without conditions. I hope the Security Council will approve a new resolution requiring the Government of Iraq to accept unlimited and unconditional inspections and the destruction of any weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution should set a short timetable for the resumption of inspections. I would hope that inspections could resume, at the latest, by the end of October.

The resolution should also require the head of the UN inspection team to report to the Security Council every two weeks. No delaying tactics should be tolerated – and if they occur, Saddam should know that he will lose his last chance to avoid war.

The Security Council Resolution should authorize the use of force, if the inspection process in unsatisfactory. And there should be no doubt in Baghdad that the United States Congress would then be prepared to authorize force as well.

The return of inspectors with unfettered access and the ability to destroy what they find not only could remove any weapons of mass destruction from Saddam's arsenal. They could also be more effective than an immediate or unilateral war in ensuring that these deadly weapons would not fall into terrorist hands.

The seven years of inspections that took place until 1998 succeeded in virtually eliminating Saddam's ability to develop a nuclear weapon in Iraq during that period. Even with Iraq's obstructions, those inspections resulted in the demolition of large quantities of chemical and biological weapons. By the time the inspectors were forced out of the country in 1998, they had accomplished far more disarmament than the Gulf War itself. And before going to war again, we should seek to resume the inspections now – and set a non-negotiable demand of no obstruction, no delay, no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

What can be gained here is success – and in the event of failure, greater credibility for an armed response, greater international support, and the prospect of victory with less loss of American life.

So what is to be lost by pursuing this policy before Congress authorizes sending young Americans into another and in this case perhaps unnecessary war?

Even the case against Saddam is, in important respects, a case against immediate or unilateral war. If Prime Minister Blair is correct in saying that Iraq can launch chemical or biological warheads in 45 minutes, what kind of sense does it make to put our soldiers in the path of that danger without exhausting every reasonable means to disarm Iraq through the United Nations?

Clearly we must halt Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction. Yes, we may reach the point where our only choice is conflict – with like-minded allies at our side, if not in a multilateral action authorized by the Security Council. But we are not there yet.

The evidence does not take us there; events do not compel us there – and both the war against terrorism and our wider interests in the region and the world summon us to a course that is sensible, graduated, and genuinely strong – not because it moves swiftly to battle, but because it moves resolutely to the objective of disarming Iraq – peacefully if possible, and militarily if necessary.

Let me close by recalling the events of an autumn of danger four decades ago. When missiles were discovered in Cuba – missiles more threatening to us than anything Saddam has today – some in the highest councils of government urged an immediate and unilateral strike. Instead the United States took its case to the United Nations, won the endorsement of the Organization of American States, and brought along even our most skeptical allies. We imposed a blockade, demanded inspection, and insisted on the removal of the missiles.

When an earlier President outlined that choice to the American people and the world, he spoke of it in realistic terms – not with a sense that the first step would necessarily be the final step, but with a resolve that it must be tried.

As he said then, "Action is required…and these actions [now] may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of…war – but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced."

In 2002, we too can and must be both resolute and measured. In that way, the United States prevailed without war in the greatest confrontation of the Cold War. Now, on Iraq, let us build international support, try the United Nations, and pursue disarmament before we turn to armed conflict.

It is easy to read that speech now, but when he delivered it (back in the fall of 2002) Dr. Fukuyama (the Senator's presenter for that evening) was one of many supporters of the Iraq invasion (along with two-thirds of the American public at that time). Anti-war speakers were booed and hissed and openly accused of being traitors. So brow-beaten, a majority of the Democrats in the Senate cowered to President Bush and voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2002. It is in that context that Senator Kennedy delivered his speech against the war.

Here is the Senator's proposal following the 2006 midterm elections to reaffirm Congressional control over presidential authority to send more troops to Iraq (what would become the 'surge,' the lack of successful results you can currently see in the near daily bombings and attacks that occur on the streets of Baghdad).

A prescient man. RIP, Senator Kennedy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hypocrisy of the Cult of Hating Nadya Suleman

The recent reviews of Octomom's new reality show are in, and as expected they are overwhelmingly negative. Not against the quality of the show, mind you, but against the person herself. Not that I would watch a program like this, as I intensely dislike reality t.v. shows (which have infested all of my old favorite channels like Discovery, National Geographic, History and Bravo [God, I hope they don't take PBS next]), but whenever the word Octomom is orated people begin to reach for their lighters and torch sticks. Why is that?

After the California mom of 14 was revealed to be poor and unemployed, creating a media furor, the hatred of the general public began to swell. The death threats, denunciations, etc., is odd but predictable. This is the same public who feeds on hating media-created villains (the main plotline character template used in reality t.v. to sell its uncostly product to advertisers and viewers [and avoiding the harsh reality of trying to produce actual shows that would require stockholder-unfriendly inconveniences like paid actors, scripts, and real talent-based direction]).

I would even concede that it was probably not the greatest idea for a woman with six kids to be receiving vitro fertilization treatments, but what offends me the most is the utter hypocrisy of those most vociferously critical of her. To see Charles Murray (the racial scientist most famous for claiming that blacks were endemically, intellectually inferior to whites) exclaiming in the LA Times that a woman's birth rate should correlate to how many children she could financially support, I cannot help but wonder: Are these not the same conservatives who tell pregnant women they are cold-blooded murderers for aborting their fetuses? Are these not the same critics who cry crocodile tears at the thought of those precious little fetuses being ripped out of the mothers' wombs? And yet when a poor woman has what people claim are too many kids, they want to sterilize her and take her kids away from her? The same folks who claim children's services exist only to break apart traditional families?

When and how did we become so convoluted on this issue? Yes, Nadya Suleman is costing California taxpayers. So is Charles Murry every time he drives on a road, or puts one of his kids through school, or uses public facilities for any reason. Why is it that these people see nothing wrong with sweet 16 birthday parties that waste hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars on the children of the wealthy, but paying a million dollars in hospital bills (at the potential expense of the barely taxed people throwing private orgies for their spoiled kids) is suddenly too much for us to bear?

The invectives aimed at this woman reminds me of much of the Welfare Reform Act debate back in the '90s, which was preceded by decades of baiting poor and non-white single mothers as 'welfare queens' out to suck dry off the tax dollars of white Christian suburbanites. It succeeded so wildly that an entire generation of poor women are being pauperized, relegated to working at McDonald's, and enduring the continued societal backlash and intolerance towards their very existence. It never made sense to me, but then I was not raised to look down on people for this.

But if we are to take seriously the notion that Suleman is such a terrible person for having so many children, as a jobless single mom, is this not an issue for millions of other mothers in this country? Over the course of their underage lives, children in this country cost on average about a quarter of a million dollars in care (clothes, housing, medical bills, school, books, toys, etc.). The average number of children per household (under the age of 18) in this country is 2 (actually, it is 1.9, but I will round so as not to depress the 9/10 kid). That means the average family in this country is paying out a half million dollars for their kids, which is significantly above the accumulated annual per capita income, savings, and assets of the average household. If we followed Murray's command to base childbearing on the means to support that kid, the vast majority of the women in this country would have to be put in the same category of Nadya Suleman.

Yes, she spent $1,500 buying clothes for herself with 14 kids. How many other parents in this country have overspent on themselves? How many moms and dads have more debt than they can afford (spent on such needless items like an F-150 [which very few F-150 owners probably need], shoes, and hobby trinkets)? Ah, but she took tax payer's money. Well, how many of you, out of solidarity with the same preached fiscal prudence for others, will be giving back your Medicare and Social Security check once the benefits begin to exceed your tax contributions? I can guarantee you that Charles Murray will not be one of them (and he is already receiving and living off your dollars now as a Social Security recipient). If Octomom's detractors held the mirrors up to their own lives, they would find much more in common with her than they would otherwise like to admit.

Could it be the directed hatred toward this woman is society's way of extrapolating its own frustrations? Could people possibly be upset because their own bank accounts are not doing well at this time? And could not people be really projecting their own socially constructed and accepted prejudices against poor(er) women who have children? If any or all of this is the case, then the problem is not with Nadya Suleman. The problem is with those among us who use her situation as an excuse to vent their own hatreds against anyone who remotely fits Suleman's circumstances.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Media: Afghanistan's and Ours

It is a sad commentary when the Afghan media is light years ahead of the American media when it comes to media coverage of campaigns.

Afghan media refuse to censor election reporting
By RAHIM FAIEZ and HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writers

KABUL – Afghan journalists on Wednesday rejected a Foreign Ministry demand that they suspend the broadcasting of news about attacks or violence on election day, accusing the government of unconstitutional censorship.

The Taliban have ramped up attacks ahead of Thursday's vote, including two suicide bombings against NATO troops, rocket fire on the presidential compound and an armed assault on a bank in recent days. The militant group has also threatened to attack polling stations on Thursday.

Even before the ban went into effect, police beat back reporters arriving at the scene of an attack on a bank in Kabul.

Fearing that violence could dampen turnout, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday saying that news organizations should avoid "broadcasting any incidence of violence" between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on election day "to ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people."

Afghanistan's active local media — the country has a host of newspapers, radio stations and television news outlets — condemned the statement as stifling freedom of the press that was supposed to have returned after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

"We will not obey this order. We are going to continue with our normal reporting and broadcasting of news," said Rahimullah Samander, head of the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Fleur Cowan said the U.S. acknowledged the sovereign rights of the Afghan government but believed that free media reporting "is directly linked to the credibility of the elections."

Samander said a presidential spokesman called him Tuesday night to tell him to inform members of the association not to report violence on election day. He refused.

When there are rumors of violence, "the first thing they do is turn on their radios or TVs, or go on the Internet to read news," he said. "If the people aren't able to find information, it will be very difficult for them to participate in the election. If there is, for example, an attack on a highway going to a polling station, the people should know about it. It may be dangerous for them to use that highway."

Fahim Dashti, the editor of the English-language Kabul Weekly newspaper, called the demand "a violation of media law" and a constitution that protects freedom of speech.

"If some huge attack occurs, of course we are obliged to cover it," he said.

But the appeal may embolden security forces who have already been increasingly hostile to journalists trying to cover attacks in recent days.

On Wednesday, reporters who rushed to the site of an attack on a bank in Kabul were beaten back by police, who hit photographers with pistols and threatened them by pointing loaded rifles in their faces, according to journalists from The Associated Press at the scene. At least one photographer's camera was broken in the melee, during which police also attacked civilians. One officer beat a man with a baton, AP journalists said.

Saad Mohseni, the owner of a media conglomerate that includes the country's most popular television channel and radio station, said Afghan news outlets must consider how their reporting would affect voter turnout, but "to try to enforce it through some sort of presidential decree is bizarre."

Mohseni said he had not seen the document from the Foreign Ministry but had had phone conversations with government officials who had described it as a request rather than an order. And he said there is a danger of the media irresponsibly overplaying small attacks to get viewers.

"Certainly there was one report yesterday when two rockets hit Kabul and they were comparing it to the civil war in the '90s, and that is going too far," he said.


Somehow, I doubt the Kabul Weekly wastes its time on stories about Karzai's favorite ice cream or his six pack.

One wonders if the newspapers and media outlets in Afghanistan would have been as fawning in the run-up to the Iraq war. You do not see too many stories from our media today about it because they basically spent most of their time as unpaid agents of the White House.

Here is another perspective on our media, from an Iraqi lady, who has experienced the war, the impact on her life, and her observations from her time in the US.

This is not universal, of course. I have always enjoyed Democracy Now host and reporter Amy Goodman, who gave this interview on the foibles and problems of our media. It is an excellent recitation of the corporate nature and structure of our news, which filters our perception about politics and society.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Moron Report #32: Tommy Benton

--Have a Twinkie but hold the brownies, Rep. Benton

Whenever a wingnut out of red stateland exhibits his/her sensitivity and dedication to democratic pluralism by saying things like gays are worse than Islamic terrorists, or calling supporters of socialized medicine Nazis, you know it is only a matter of time before the people who gave us the Ku Klux Klan would offer a solution to the problem of weed smokers. Enter Georgia State Representative Tommy Benton (representing some lovelorn South American Appalachian trail hikers in Jackson, Hall, and Barrow counties). Benton is not your run of the mill member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (imagine a liberal politician who was a member of the Sons of the Third Reich). Like the lynchers of old, Tommy views people he deems less worthy of life to be in need of canings and executions. Not pedophiles, child killers, or the garden variety wrongly convicted black man (although I am sure a person of Benton's character would see nothing wrong with killing them, either). The offenders worthy of beatings and death are none other than those evil doers who smoke weed.

Georgia Lawmaker Calls For Caning, Executing Marijuana Offenders
August 12th, 2009 By: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

[Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML's free e-zine here.]

State Republican lawmaker Tommy Benton (31st House District) favors “caning” minor marijuana offenders and “executing” those who sell the drug, according to a recent correspondence sent by the representative to a constituent.

In a July 29, 2009 e-mail (which was voluntarily forwarded to the NORML office), Rep. Benton wrote: “Thanks for the email. We will have to agree to disagree on this and whether or not money is wasted (by mandating the state to prosecute minor marijuana offenders). I am opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I think we should go to caning for people caught using and maybe execute dealers. [emphasis NORML’s] That would solve the problem as well. That is what they do in Singapore and they don’t have a drug problem.”

Caning is a form of corporal punishment consisting of up to 24 violent lashes with a long rattan cane that has been soaked in water. The procedure inflicts intense pain and deep, bloody lacerations that can take several months to heal.

Rep. Benton followed up his remarks in a separate e-mail on August 11 (also forwarded to NORML) in which he threatened to turn over the names of citizens who disagreed with his political viewpoints to local law enforcement.

He wrote: “You and your cronies want it (marijuana) legalized so you can get a hit anytime without having to worry about getting arrested. I have forwarded your email to the Lowndes County sheriffs [sic] office so that they can be on the lookout for you. [emphasis NORML’s] Consider this my last correspondence on the the [sic] subject to you or anyone else who shares your similar “conservative views’.”

Benton was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2005.

Naturally, Benton sees nothing wrong if you grow, smoke, or use tobacco, the deadliest drug known to our species. I am sure he would even see our right to smoke and give people lung cancer as a practice of liberty of some kind, a freedom that kills thousands of unsuspecting socialist heathen, unaccustomed to the charms and hospitality of the representative's "culture" (that is, if one defined culture to include treason, slavery, and racism). Surely, this is also the same kind of conservative who thinks the government is our enemy and should get off our backs, on the condition that you are an overeating, white heterosexual Evangelical nicotine abuser, looking to rake in a few extra bucks. For everyone else, well, the state should only be too happy to put a needle in you and a stick on your back to show you how vital government action can be in promoting virtue.

I wonder what Mr. Benton thinks of his state's peanut company, who knowingly exported their tainted product and killed several people? Any law and order government intervention for them? Unsurprisingly, there is a lacking record of any expressed viewpoint from our esteemed representative on the matter. The slave mentality has never completely gone away in the American South, particularly among Southern whites who continue to believe in the 'lost cause', and nowhere is it more prevalent than in a man of such moral hypocrisy as Rep. Benton. These are the same folk who whine about concentration camps and government control at the thought of someone receiving health care at the expense of an entity that is not stuffing their campaign coffers, and yet the representative's thuggish response to a disagreement with NORML, other than advocating their beating and murder, is to threaten to snitch them out to local sheriffs (as if the rolling meter maids would have time to care about the law when sucking dry off the pocket books of errant motorists).

I have never understood how people like this could be so anti-government on guns and taxes, and yet transform into commissars out of 1930s when it comes time to command us how to pray (if at all), scrog, or what to roll. It just makes me want to sing that famous little ditty to Benton's ancestors, a popular Georgia tune in its day, which will hopefully be rekindled when he and his white brethren try to secede again.

Here is to hoping when our boys reach the representative's neck of the woods, they will give him that special Singaporean greeting. Who knows, if he is anything like his Republican colleagues in Congress, he may even enjoy it.

By the way, if you want to contact this week's moron and tell him what you think of his fondness for a foreign country's criminal code, here are his particulars. I am sure the kind assemblyman will want to hear from you (in between his invoking death for our Cheech and Chongs), particularly if you are from outside of the South, to which the proud Jefferson Davis admirer will certainly prefer being reminded about.

Contact Representative Benton at the Capitol

Room 501
Coverdell Legislative Office Building
Atlanta, Georgia 30334


Contact Representative Benton in the District

177 Martin Street

Jefferson, Georgia 30549

706.335.5519 - Office

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Alexander Cockburn, RIP

This is not an easy post for me to write. I have been reading Alexander Cockburn for over two decades. He was unlike most "progressive" writers in that he took the time to critique American liberalism, although always with a tint of a leftover from the '68 siege in Paris. And like in the US, upon losing their revolution many of these white leftists across the pond devolved into skepticism, self-hatred, and over time admitted their defeat by slouching themselves to the right. Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz, Dennis Miller, Joshua Muravchik, et al. The list of white ex-lefties over 50 is long as it is instructive to the inquisitive mind in what happens to people when they begin to lose their values and beliefs.

Now, we can include on this list of old leftovers Alexander Cockburn. It should not come as too much of a surprise. He has spouted off contrarian views to the left for the better part of two decades. I have posted on these right-wing leftists in the past, with most of the converts becoming over time either neo-conservatives or libertarians. Whereas Hitchens malformed to the Manichaeism of neo-conservatism, Alex has cast his lot with the Old Right paleolibertarians (i.e., right-wing isolationists, social conservatives, and Social Darwinists). This is a strange descent for a man whose father was a leading voice for Communism in Great Britain back in the day, but Alex was never the organizer or politician that his father was, and ideologically Alex's greatest influence came from anarchism, not Marxism. This is a curious marriage, considering the role Claud Cockburn (Alexander's father) played in repressing the anarchist-influenced POUM during the Spanish Civil War. Then again, the Cockburn family is one filled with several generations of ambassadors, diplomats, and servants of the British Empire. Contradictions have never been a problem with this clan, although Claud was probably the most principled of the lot.

Unlike Hitchens' seemingly quick pre/post-test dip to the pools of the proprietor, Alex's was a long, slow march towards the politics of Ron Paul. He started probably under the influence of so many on the New Left, as victims of government persecution during COINTELPRO, instilling in our educated middle-class denizens a healthy suspicion of government, to the 1980s and '90s by becoming an apologist for anti-government militias, even supporting their cause celebre of opposing gun control. In that context, dislike for government is entirely understandable and still is, since the FBI continues to harass political radicals and leftists to this day (even monitoring pacifists and peace activists under the Patriot Act). What is less understandable is the attraction to the politics of white supremacist militia groups.

I first noticed it in Cockburn's support for the Branch Davidians and its pedophile leader David Koresh, and later on the Michigan Militia group following the Oklahoma City bombing. Some have opined that Alex's love affair with guns and militias might be a product of his own rural living in Northern California. This may be true, but there is nothing wrong with liking guns per se and a huge gap between hunting for game and claiming that David Koresh was a religious dissident on par with past political martyrs in this country's history. I think it was for him a sincere support for anything that opposed government power (a reductivist methodological obsession for anarchists and why so many of its ranks ultimately transformed over to those who stopped pretending that you could use such a tactic to build a cooperative society) since Alex's interest in anarchism following the 1960s brought him down his path.

You will also notice that if you bother to read Counterpunch over the years there is a disappointing lack of class-consciousness or much of anything to say about labor unions (unless it is a periodic guest article from JoAnn Wypijewski). There is a reason for that, particularly because so many of his site's articles are written by people (like Paul Craig Roberts, Bob Barr, and Ron Paul himself) who oppose the Wagner Act and would just as soon see labor unions outlawed. This is the same man who once wrote in his diary/autobiography that whenever he was bored or down he would go back and read Marx and Lenin to gain proper insight, advise previously given to him by his father. I suppose somewhere between his hunting trips and gun cleanings Murray Rothbard and Herbert Spencer must have entered Cockburn's daily reading list.

What is almost as disturbing as anything else, and the tipping point for me, is Cockburn's love affair with that other great cause of the right, anti-abortionism. Most recently, Alex has taken to comparing abortion to eugenics, and when not insinuating that being pro-choice is basically the equivalent of being a Nazi, he synopsizes modern liberalism and by extension feminism to this overtly misogynist statement.

Since the major preoccupation of liberals for 30 years has been the right to kill embryos, why should they not be suspect in their intentions toward those gasping in the thin air of senility? There is a strong eugenic thread to American progressivism, most horribly expressed in its very successful campaign across much of the twentieth century to sterilize “imbeciles.” Abortion is now widening in its function as a eugenic device.

Unless Alex has endorsed abortion under the guise of eugenics, there can be no other interpretation than abortion is the same as murder, especially if you equate the use of embryos for research to 'killing.' What compounds this nonsense is his views on the poor, in the same article.

"The poor die sooner, starting with black men who tend to drop dead in their middle 60s, usually from stress and diseases consequent on diet. The better-off folk drink less than they did in the 1950s, take a bit more exercise, and sometimes live longer. The poor get fatter and fatter."

"Mostly shunned in all this are the major causes of modern disease, which are environmental. Between 70 and 90 per cent of all cancer is environmental in origin. Heart disease and stroke – the largest killers today – are largely caused by hypertension and stress, which are derived from social conditions."

"America is very efficient in promulgating Death Plans –- tobacco, sugar additives, excessive salt, nitrous oxides out of power plant chimneys, nuclear testing in the 1950s, industrial accidents, speed-up at work and lengthening of the working day, rush-hour traffic – launched in the hope of making a buck and protected fiercely until, very occasionally, the mountain of corpses gets too high to be occluded by even the most refined techniques of the PR industry and the most lavish contributions to politicians. Thus it was with tobacco."


Note, this is the same Alexander Cockburn who in the late 1980s attacked the ban on smoking in commercial flights, and compared good health advocacy to fascism. I guess it is all environmentally-caused now, which is his way of saying if you are poor you are too stupid to be healthy. For such a great defender of the unborn, Alex seems quite Darwinian when writing about the poor in our current health care debate.

These are all part of the ambiguities of Cockburn's character. He can, on the one hand, attack Bernie Sanders for being insufficiently socialist for his support of NATO's attack on Serbia during the Kosovo War, while simultaneously not betraying any recognition of his own anti-socialist tendencies when endorsing Bob Barr for the 2008 presidential elections (an ironic choice for an anti-choicer, considering Barr's past run-in with embryo hate during a nasty divorce case). Alex can advise Paul Wellstone that he should not even think of running for president, because his politics is not liberal enough, and the Democratic Party beyond redemption, while endorsing the likes of Bob Dole (yes, Bob Dole) for the White House. He can write a book on the environmental battles of a group like Earth First! while then asserting that climate change is a hoax. He can be an opponent of the death penalty and in the same exact article advocate killing all of the CEOs of food companies.

Thus it is the diminution of Alexander Cockburn's career into a dustbin of rants and ravings against the evils of liberalism, while touting his progressive roots, and obliquely using all of this as a cover to give aid to the very same people that would have had his father thrown in prison fifty years ago, if they were in a position to do so.

I suppose at this pace, within the next decade or so, if Alex is still amongst the living, he will be talking about the slovenliness of unions and finishing off his act of self-immolation by converting to Catholicism and leading a Mass for the forgotten fetal heroes, 'killed' by those greedy middle-aged women who aborted them. Who knows, maybe he will tell us all why he is posting articles written by a man who thinks the Confederacy was right and that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. When Ron Paul's candidacy died a year ago, I wrote a eulogy for the death of the right-wing left (those leftists who lived the illusion that a grand political coalition could be built with people who want to banish all public welfare, the minimum wage, and advocate secession as a Constitutional right). Cockburn was one of the right-wing left's last great proponents, a rank and assembly he can no longer consider himself amongst, seeing how he is now a full-fledged rightist.

One speculates what his father would have thought in 1937 Spain. I surmise Alex would have probably been on Franco's side, while telling us how Naziistic the Republicans were. A sad loss, but like with the all of the old rock bands who go on their elderly fund raising tours, I choose to remember Cockburn when he was still a radical progressive.