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Wednesday, March 26, 2003
11:34 AM      

George Carlin is so good with words...(Thanks, empty bottle.)


Some day yesterday, huh? The tax cuts are going through, Bush is asking for $75 billion as the first installment for the war [remember, the fight is closer to the beginning than the end.]...

In an entry called "Ignoring War" ArgMax, an interesting economics blog, spills the gory details, and has this to say:

The attention of the US public is rightly focused on the war and our troops that are in harm's way. Now is not the time for the US Congress to enact a large and controversial change in tax policy while the country is distracted.

Congress ought to sit down and turn on CNN like the rest of us.

The one thing they got wrong, is who Congress should be watching. CNN's spin isn't very different from the major networks, who advance a pro-Bush perspective in the guise of "fair and balanced" coverage. [More on that in a minute.]

Just what do those cuts entail?

The proposal would cut basic “mandatory” programs for the elderly, veterans, and the poor... [and] cuts in discretionary programs... over the next ten years.  In combination, these cuts would be steep, amounting to around $475 billion....

...if the budget contained no spending cuts but the top one percent did not receive any tax cuts, it would cause less of a dent in the nation’s fiscal outlook....

Specifically, the budget contains widespread cuts in basic domestic programs such as Medicaid, veterans programs, student loans, school lunches, child care, food stamps, cash assistance for the elderly and disabled poor....

  • The package includes tax cuts totaling $1.4 trillion through 2013, or approximately three times the size of the program cuts....
  • ...the tax cuts for the top one percent alone (of more than $500 billion) would exceed the program cuts (of $475 billion) affecting basic assistance for tens of millions of the nation’s neediest citizens, as well as services to much of the middle class.


I got together for drinks last night with Thomas, a friend of mine who's originally from Austria. He's got a broad historical perspective and and outsider's view of American history and politics. A year or so ago, he moved his retirement investments out of stocks and into bonds. Now, he says, even the bond market is sinking. We talked for a while about the nature of the war, and the attempts to control the discourse. Thomas' perspective is that Bush genuinely thinks he's doing the right thing, but that he is the puppet of cynical handlers. Makes a lot of sense.

Meanwhile, where are the fuggin' Democrats? Useless.

The war in Iraq has become more of a war of words than I've ever seen before, with the US, the Brits, and the Iraqis all holding daily press briefings. Interesting that the Allied forces tried to blow out Iraqi television's transmission capabilities yesterday.

I can remember many times growing up, hearing references to the Russian News agency Tass, as being "state-run" -- insinuating that anything they report is at best vetted and at worst badly distorted. In an article called "Voting with their eyeballs", ABS-CBN shows how market-driven news organizations don't need to be state-run to be just as biased:

This doesn’t mean that CNN is like Fox News, which proudly proclaims its conservative, Republican agenda. It does not mean that with Fox News gaining a greater share of the local American market, and with its thoroughly attack-dog, conservative “take no prisoners” attitude with regard to the other networks, Fox is able to determine what CNN does -- or doesn’t do. Fox regularly attacks CNN, and CNN in turn has attempted a more entertaining, heavier on opinion, less heavy on analysis (and objectivity) type of programming more suitable to the American heartland.

An example of this his how CNN, which aired Iraqi videos of captured American soldiers, suddenly pixelated the faces on the same videos after the US government denounced the airing of those videos, which embarrased the Bush administration and upset Americans. CNN took up the American position, presenting it without question.

And yet, ironically, it took a state-run news organization, the British Broadcasting Corp., to ask an obvious question: How could Americans object when the Americans and the British both released official videos showing Iraqi prisoners?

The BBC went even further and questioned the American invocation of the Geneva Convention when the conduct of the Americans vis-à-vis the prisoners they captured in Afghanistan (taken to Guantànamo Bay, Cuba, and kept prisoner there without benefit of POW status) shocked much of the civilized world....

Among American activists criticizing the war against Iraq, the way CNN has held back on properly covering antiwar protests has become an issue. And it is an issue with a basis, as the more even-handed coverage of the BBC again proves.

Unfortunately, American audiences are the biggest hindrance to objectivity or even independence in the reporting of the news...managers can tell the impact their reportage has on the ratings. A stampede of Internet hits or rating percentages to Fox will lead to a more Fox-like coverage....

Obviously there is still much that needs to be done. Coverage is often vapid, too regularly subject to asinine comments, oversentimental exchanges, a fetish for displaying the titles of staff. Most of all, it betrays the ignorance of even some talking heads -- masquerading as journalists -- of world geography, current events, and the historical background of the conflict....

I had no idea that BBC is state-run... amazing how that seldom seems to get mentioned!


Denise sent me an interesting article by Paul Krugman about the source of the "grassroots" pro-war demonstrations. Excerpts from "Channels of Influence":

Who has been organizing those prowar rallies? The answer, it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry -- with close links to the Bush administration....

The company claims that the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: According to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious -- and widely hated -- for its iron-fisted centralized control....

...there are also good reasons for Clear Channel -- which became a giant only in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership -- to curry favor with the ruling party. On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: It is being sued over allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don’t tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who want to roll back the deregulation that made the company’s growth possible. On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further, particularly into television.

...The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks, whose name may be familiar to readers of this column. When Bush was governor of Texas, Hicks was chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., called Ultimco, and Clear Channel’s chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Hicks, Ultimco placed much of the university’s endowment under the management of companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Bush a multimillionaire....

...We should have realized that this is a two-way street: If politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn’t we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians -- by, for example, organizing “grassroots” rallies on their behalf?
What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don’t you know there’s a war on?

Looking around for a web source for the Krugman article to link to, I came upon a re-post of a New York Times editorial called "On the Second Day, Atlas Waffled ". It's addressed to Alan Greenspan:

No doubt you're under intense pressure to be a team player. But these guys are users: they persuade other people to squander their hard-won credibility on behalf of bad policies, then discard those people once they are no longer useful. Think of John DiIulio, or your friend Paul O'Neill. It's happening to Colin Powell right now. (A digression: The U.S. media are soft-pedaling it as usual, but the business of the Osama tape has destroyed Mr. Powell's credibility in much of the world. The tape calls Saddam Hussein an "infidel" whose "jurisdiction . . . has fallen," but says that it's still O.K. to fight the "Crusaders" — and Mr. Powell claims that it ties Saddam to Al Qaeda. Huh?...

Osama called Hussein an infidel?! Funny, how we don't get that part of the transcription in the network news coverage (or the Post, for that matter)...

I also found a New York Times editorial called "Why Colin Powell Should Go" [requires registration] by Bill Keller:

...His formidable skills have been too much engaged in a kind of guerrilla war for the soul of the president, and it has shown. Critics in the administration and colleagues on this page have unfavorably compared his performance in the buildup to war with James Baker's whirlwind of global coalition-building before the gulf war in 1991. But Mr. Baker was operating as his president's right arm; Mr. Powell was busy protecting his right flank....

Let us pray the combat is better planned and executed than the diplomacy of the past few weeks, which managed to make the U.S. seem simultaneously inflated and very small. The first U.N. resolution was coyly general in its wording, but the second — in all its misbegotten versions — was simply fraudulent, designed to cover up its real meaning, which was not disarmament but regime change. As Mr. Powell was deployed time and again to dispense credulity-straining information about our intelligence, about our purpose, I kept thinking of the wised-up passages in his autobiography, when he deplored the way Vietnam had eroded America's national conviction with "euphemism, lies and self-deception."...

Perhaps the single saddest moment of the whole cynical prelude to war was Mr. Bush's abrupt promise to take on the issue of Israel and Palestine, a paramount and long-awaited commitment that was demeaned by the crassness of timing. (Just in case anyone believed he was serious, the word quickly went out from the White House that it was all intended to buy Tony Blair some peace at home.)...

Critics of the Bush administration talk about the breach in the Atlantic alliance and the division at the United Nations as "collateral damage," as if, in the rush to get Iraq, the administration has blundered. That assumes it was an accident. It seems more plausible that this was not an attempt to put spine in the United Nations and NATO, but to discredit them. The global engineers talk with such contempt of these organizations, it is difficult to believe they want to salvage them as anything but appendages of American power....

"I think it's a bit of an overstatement to say that now this one's pocketed, on to the next place," Mr. Powell said. The larger question of America's role in the world, he said, "isn't answered yet."

Such a loyal and optimistic man would make some president a great secretary of state. Just not this president.

[ link | e-me ]

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
12:24 PM      

I was talking to a friend today about Michael Moore's comments during the Oscars. He suggested that the Oscars wasn't the appropriate forum to do that. I said that Moore was completely in character, and had spoken out in other such public arenas, so it should have been expected. Further, I said that in many ways, it's no different than Bush interrupting Jeopardy with a speech featuring several minutes of ass-kissing followed by rambling threats of hostilities.

After I hung up the phone, it occurred to me that there's another phenomenon in effect here. The administration has gone to extensive efforts to suppress dissenting discourse regarding this campaign. The American press obliquely covers anti-war protests, distorts the portrayal of how widespread the protest is, and rarely shows pictures. In a climate like that, it's only natural for people with opposing views to find other avenues to get their message out to the public.

I saw an interview with some veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial, talking about the Oscars broadcast. One of them said that it was a disgrace to the President and undermines the troops. Yeah, I could vouch for how questioning the legitimacy of this Presidency might be seen as a disgrace. But, I have a hard time swallowing how continuing to question why we're engaged in warfare, wishing for speedy resolution to the shooting, or even acknowledging that we're all human on both sides of this conflict, undermines the troops in any way.

Over the last couple of days, I've gotten to see a few hours of the BBC coverage of the war. It has a different face than the overly-consistent view portrayed in the US press. For one thing, you can see that lots of civilian structures have been severely damaged, not so much because they've been hit by errant missiles (that's happened too), but because the shock waves from these massive bombs are so intense. It's also becoming clear that many of the Iraqis that we're claiming to be freeing, don't seem so excited about US or British presence in their land.

The American press (out of some sense of deference?) hasn't shown the faces of those frightened hostages, but BBC has. Supposedly, it's because they don't want the families traumatized -- of course we saw footage of the Columbia breaking to bits over Texas for days -- but somehow that's not the same. For that matter, it seems to serve someone's interests to continue to show the World Trade Center towers collapsing on a fairly regular basis even now -- a year and a half after the fact -- but somehow that's not the same.

Denise told me about an article she read about the big (US) companies that are lining up to provide services in rebuilding Iraq once the new regime is installed. Interestingly, Halliburton [in case you're not keeping track, that's Vice President Cheney's old company] is slated to be a leading contractor...

[ link | e-me ]

Monday, March 24, 2003
10:52 AM      

"We kill each other at an enormous rate, more so than virtually any other country on this planet...What was the lesson that we taught the children of Columbine this week? This was the lesson: that violence is an acceptable means to resolve a conflict." - Michael Moore, backstage at the Oscars

The AP coverage acknowledged that Michael "railed against the White House, saying, 'Shame on you, Mr. Bush,' for going to war." But the same article failed to mention that Moore also directly challenged the legitimacy of his Presidency, calling it "fictitious." MSNBC's coverage got more of the quote right, but emphasized the boos he recieved. CNN's account was the most complete, including this quote from Moore backstage: "Asked what he thought of the catcalls, he said, 'Don't report that there was a split decision in the hall because five loud people booed.' "


During the build-up to hostilities, the White House found lots of ways of insinuating that our troops would simply mop up Iraq in a matter of days. Of course, as the engagement began, we started hearing Bush saying things like "might take longer than some had suggested" -- some, like himself!

It amazes me that during the attack on Afghanistan, Bush & Co. made major noises about how Al-Quaeda members were not subject to the terms of the Geneva Convention. Then, we saw Bush & Co. turn their backs on the UN, simply because they would not rubber stamp the Bush call for aggression. Now, Bush wants to say that captured US troops are to be dealt with according to the terms of the Geneva Convention. He's incensed that pictures of the captives and the dead are being broadcast. Considering the Bush claim that we're dealing with a "madman," and in light of US "leadership's" disregard for international policy that's not self-serving, we should only expect the worst.

I think these are only the beginnings of the repercussions of the choices that were made over the last three years. Quite possibly, the worst is yet to come.

[ link | e-me ]
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