I post opinions at least once a week here. Often I write about politics or media coverage of politics -- two subjects I have followed closely for more than 30 years.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I am really tired of...........Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and other "phony celebrities" who seem to do anything to attract media coverage. OK, I concede that Spears is at least a singer, but, to this day, I don't know what Lohan and Hilton even do for a living. Are they entertainers? I guess I'm old-fashioned, but, I like the idea of people doing something to earn fame.
I am really tired of ..........seeing so many people get on the commuter train and stare non-stop - like robots - at their Blackberries or "super-equipped" cellphones. I guess people prefer interacting with their little electronic toys more than human beings on the train. But, what really gets me is when I hear people calling their spouses to give all-important updates by cellphone: "The train left five minutes late," a husband tells his wife in a monotone. I wince - wishing for the time when cellphones didn't exist and people didn't feel these new, unnatural impulses to do meaningless "check-ins." What would happen if people had to throw out all Blackberries, cellphones, pagers, etc? I think the human condition might improve a bit......Just my opinion.
I am really tired of..........the White House press corps distorting little events and details relating to President Obama into stories that go on for days rather than discussing Obama's policies on a substantive basis. For example, a great deal of attention was given to Obama's short, firm reply, at last week's press conference, to a television reporter who asked Obama why he hadn't responded more quickly after learning of the bonuses given to AIG executives. Obama said: "...because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."
In days that followed, many references were made to Obama being irritable or snapping at the reporter when his tone was not that glaring. In any event, it was not a BIG deal.
I am really tired of ......... members of the press acting surprised as they've complained that Obama is too "cool" and does not show emotion when he "should." Obama, in his entire campaign, maintained a cool demeanor. Why the surprise now? I would say "He is who he is..." and sometimes that means he'll probably display less emotion than some might think matches the moment.
I am really tired of......Republican members of the US House and Senate offering no substantive comments or proposals of their own (besides tax cuts), and, instead, only whining about Obama's ideas. It seems to me the "Party of No" nickname totally fits right now.
I am really tired of........so very few Democratic US House members and Senators showing support of President Obama's proposals on the economy and other issues. Talk about wimps. After eight years of Bush and control of majorities in both chambers, most Democrats have been remarkably silent in as Obama tries to take advantage of perhaps the only period of momentum he'll have during his Presidency. It seems Democrats want to see more signs of huge improvement in the sagging economy before they speak up to defend Obama.
I am really tired of..... receiving hundreds of telemarketing calls for nearly two years from companies wanting to make money to help me deal with the pending expiration of my car warranty AND other firms wanting to help me "consolidate my credit card debt." OK, I guess I'll have to take preventive measures, but, why should any of us be forced to do that?
I am really tired of ........hearing about the weather. It seems that since some TV executives decided winter weather chatter improved ratings, local TV stations are happy to discuss "possible" minor snowstorms five days away instead of real news. Thank God it's spring.
I am really tired of.............getting into bad traffic no matter where I drive around Boston. The Boston area was clearly not meant to accommodate so many people. This city so desparately needs new roads, but I never hear state officials discuss any ambitious plans to improve infrastructure. It seems we'll be driving forever on roads like Storrow Drive, a road designed more for the traffic during the 1950s.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
CNN's John King asked former Vice President Dick Cheney if - now that he was out of government - there was something he felt more free to say now.
"That's an interesting question, John, I -- I guess my general sense of where we are with respect to Iraq and at the end of now, what, nearly six years, is that we've accomplished nearly everything we set out to do. Now, I don't hear much talk about that, but the fact is , the violence level is down 90 percent. The number of casualties and Iraqis and Americans is significantly diminished. There's been elections, a constitution. They're about to have another presidential election here in the near future. We have succeeded in creating in the heart of the Middle East a democratically governed Iraq, and that is a big deal, and it is, in fact, what we set out to do.
King: It's a dangerous term because of the political debates in the past, but, mission accomplished?
Cheney: I wouldn't use that, just because it triggers reactions that we don't need. But I would ask people and the press, too, take an honest look at the circumstances in Iraq today and how far we've come. The defeat of Al Qaida in Iraq, the writing of that democratic constitution, a series of elections that involve power sharing among all the various groups, the end of sectarian violence. I thinka major defeat for the Iranians living next door to Iraq, who tried to influence events there...."
There it is: Now that Cheney's out of office, he's more direct and honest about the US goal of trying to reconfigure the make-up of the Middle East to better suit US interests. Back in 2002, when he and President Bush frantically disseminated propaganda about why we had to remove the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Cheney couldn't talk as free-ly about wanting a "democratic Iraq" to help the US meet its objectives. It was easier to tell Americans that the reason for starting a war was the false message that Saddam Hussein had WMD and ties to Al Qaida.
That Bush and Cheney lied about Iraq's WMD has been well-covered - although, I still believe it was a potentially impeachable offense and I wince every time I hear former Bush Administration officials - STILL - try to rationalize - after their lies were proven - that even if no WMD were found, Hussein still had a "capability" or "potential" to develop WMD.
The post-mortem revisionism doesn't cut it --- not when we all can remember the hysteria and drama of Bush, Cheney and company telling us how "dangerous" Iraq's threat was back in 2002 and 2003.
Which reminds me: How can Cheney or Bush have the gall to continue trying to convince us - as Cheney just did on CNN - that the US "defeat of Al Qaida in Iraq" is an accomplishment? Al Qaida was not in Iraq at all until the US invaded. Al Qaida joined the fight against the US and killed many people - as the result of the US starting the war there! So, why do we keep hearing former Bush administration officials lie to us about this?
To me, when Cheney is that lazy in his efforts to mislead, it's either a statement about how arrogant he is and detached he is from the American people OR how ignorant and gullible he thinks all of us are.
He must be in some form of denial because, in his "reflective" comments on CNN, he said nothing about the costs of the Iraq war. Cheney chose to not mention the death of so many thousands of Iraqis and Americans. He didn't mention that the US had stimulated many young men to join Al Qaida and inflamed people around the world to hate and oppose the US.
Further, his remark about Iraq's progress being a "major defeat" for Iran seems unsupportable. Has Iran ever had the power and influence it has right now? The US invasion of Iraq hurt our credibility in the Middle East, inflamed tensions with Iran and complicated continuing international concerns about Iran's developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
Instead, Cheney, in the CNN interview, actually cited the reduction of violence in Iraq as part of the significant progress there. He doesn't mention that his Administration initiated all the violence by invading the country back in 2003. Sometimes, I think Americans blot out the insanity of what the US really did to Iraq. Maybe if Iraq or some other country sent troops and weapons into the United States and started killing thousands of people in New York or Philadelphia or anywhere - because, they claimed, they believed there were "WMD" here -- and, then, later, the WMD were never found, the reality might sink in more.
I am not dismissing that the United Nations had passed many resolutions that asked Iraq and Saddam Hussein to allow inspections and that it was a concern that Iraq failed to comply. However, as I recall, in one of the last inspections there, no WMD were found, and the IAE wanted to continue its work there to reach a more "final" conclusion. There was no grounds for an invasion and a war.
I was disturbed by other parts of Cheney's interview too. One particular comment is relevant to his outlook - and "denial" about Iraq.
Cheney commented on President Obama's handling of the economic crisis and his ambitious, proposed budget priorities.
"I worry a lot that they"re (Obama administration) using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion in the government and more authority for the government over the private sector and I don't think that's good...."
Yes, Cheney's comment referred to Obama's handling of domestic issues, but, it reminded me of Cheney's many moves - as vice president - behind the scenes - to "expand" the power of the executive branch, particularly the handling of certain aspects of the so-called "war on terror."
Cheney - like many others in highest office - appeared to be corrupted by power. Perhaps he'll come falling down to Earth a bit in the months and years ahead, but, he seems to have a long way to go.
There was an unfortuate juxtaposition between Cheney's interview and the sight of US Congressmen, last week, jumping over each other, trying to see who could sound more "outraged" by the bonuses that AIG executives had given themselves. I always get bothered when I see members of Congress all reacting the same way --like sheep "covering" themselves - to make sure they're "on record" regarding something they fear might hurt them otherwise.
Where was the outrage when Cheney and Bush spent a year presenting a false, completely insufficient, irrational reason for the United States to start a war with Iraq?
Some might claim Cheney's remarks last week are irrelevant now, but, he and Bush had a huge, negative impact on US relations with the rest of the world and they've left many problems for the Obama Administration to clean up.
It's important to see the truth emerge -- even if that happens years later. CNN's interview sheds a bit more light on Cheney's past outlook as vice president. Cheney's comments are disturbing and worth scrutinizing as the United States attempts to re-emerge in a new, improved, more constructive and humane role in the world.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Huh? Excuse me?
This is the same news media that witnessed Palin's poor performance during the entire 2008 presidential campaign. Sarah Palin, in her words and actions, was revealed as one of the worst vice presidential candidates in modern history and embarrassingly unqualified to be President.
Let's refresh our memories for a second:
-Palin, when asked, on more than one occasion, could not describe the duties of vice president accurately. As late as Oct. 21, 2008, she made the erroneous claim that the VP was "in charge of" the US Senate, when, in fact, that's false. (The VP can cast the deciding vote in only a Senate tie).
- Palin, in an interview with ABC's Charles Gibson, did not know what the "Bush Doctrine" was.
-Palin, in her interview with CBS' Katie Couric, could not name a US Supreme Court decision - besides Roe vs. Wade - that she disagreed with or had any comment on.
-Palin, asked by Couric to name a newspaper she read regularly, could not name one.
-Palin suggested that because Alaska bordered Russia, this had enhanced her foreign policy credentials, but, made only vague, incoherent, (humorous) references to Vladimir Putin coming into air space over Alaska and "trade missions" between Alaska and Russia that she never described later.
- Amazingly, Palin, in one speech to soldiers headed for Iraq, repeated the false, outrageous claim that the US' invasion of Iraq was a response to 9/11 and told the soldiers they'd be defending people "from enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans..."
- Palin repeated reckless, malicious, false attacks on Obama, saying that he was " 'pal-ling' around with terrorists" in referring to his association with William Ayers and that he (Obama) was not patriotic and advocated "socialist" policies.
- Palin, in a speech at a North Carolina fundraiser, said: "We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you, hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation." After Joe Biden blasted her for this quote, Palin tried to "clarify" her remarks.
For the entire campaign, Palin displayed that she was simply not up to the job of vice president. She couldn't discuss national issues with any knowledge or command. (Instead, she seemed to recite rehearsed lines). She didn't even demonstrate a familiarity with her own running mate's record. She couldn't provide Couric with one example of when, in his entire political career, John McCain had pushed for more government regulation.
So, why the hell are some of the same political correspondents now telling us - with a straight face - that Palin is on the short list of Republican candidates in 2012?
"Keep your eye on Palin," MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the liberal host of Hardball, told his audience back in late January.
I think it's absurd for her to get any serious attention or respectability at this point. She has not earned that and reports on her future should include realities about her 2008 campaign.
I believe the main explanation for this "soft" speculation/coverage about Palin is that news coverage today - particularly television - is all about entertainment value. The content does not matter. The truth doesn't matter much. As long as the story attracts ratings, TV people will talk it up - especially in the days of non-stop cable coverage.
This has, unfortunately, become a familiar pattern for the news media in recent years. Even after a person is discredited, the subject of scandal, wrongdoing or some regrettable episode often he or she re-surfaces in the news without reporters attempting to give context to the person's re-entry. A recent example: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is suddenly appearing on news shows and publicly considering a future run for President; yet, when Gingrich was last a steady subject in the news, as Speaker, he drew much negative controversy for his polarizing tactics, was reprimanded by the US House for ethical violations and criticized by some for how he handled divorces from his first two wives. He reportedly discussed his first divorce while his wife was in the hospital recuperating from cancer surgery. Recent media coverage is not keeping these parts of Gingrich's past in context.
Other examples of missing context:
1) Ross Perot was treated as a serious presidential candidate in 1992 without ever officially announcing his candidacy during the primary season. At the Democratic National Convention in July, Perot announced he would NOT be a candidate partly because the Democratic Party seemed "revitalized" as it prepared to nominate Bill Clinton. Then, in October, he announced his candidacy, and said nothing about the Democratic Party changing. In the waning days of the general election campaign, Perot made bizarre allegations - covered on the Oct. 25th "60 Minutes," - that the Republican campaign had had plans to sabotage his daughter's August wedding. He told reporters he'd heard about an alleged plan that would involve doctoring a photograph and giving it to a supermarket magazine, and, that Republican operatives had planned to wiretap his phone. Perot admitted he had no evidence to prove any of these charges. However, at least two prominent reporters said that Perot's charges raised serious questions about his temperment and readiness to be President. Yet, on Election Day, Perot received 19 percent of the vote - a near-historic high for an Independent candidate. It showed the importance of placing these stories in context!
I did a six-month study on media coverage of Perot's campaign, and learned that when Perot appeared on TV talk shows, the ratings would soar upward - and that was what contributed to his take-off. The content of his remarks and its accuracy mattered less to news executives.
2) Rev. Al Sharpton, who has emerged as a national leader and spokesman for African-Americans, ran for President in 2004 and continues in the limelight without anyone mentioning the controversial, highly questionable role Sharpton played in the Tawana Brawley episode in NY State during the 1980s.
3) Oliver North, initially convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal and who certainly appeared to lie to protect his superiors, went on to host a nationally-syndicated radio talk show, ran for - and, came fairly close to winning - a US Senate seat in Va., and, in general, was not really held accountable for his unethical conduct.
4) G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergete fame, not only admitted to outrageous acts as part of Watergate, but made some wildly controversial remarks. He, like North, had a talk show and seemed to gain a "second acceptance" into society while his past wrongdoing received little attention.
5) Monica Lewinsky - She was treated like another "hot" People magazine subject for months after her affair with President Clinton. But, she had little to say, and, the news media really should have stopped reporting on her completely after her saga with Clinton was over. Yet, the Monica story lived on - and on - and on because it had "entertainment value."
This pattern toward entertainment-driven news coverage has taken over the business. That's why you see Larry King and other interviewers competing to question "American Idol" participants or TV actors so often, and, why, last summer, Larry King dedicated so many shows to Sarah Palin. The mere mention of Palin - combined with her good looking appearance - probably hiked ratings.
If journalists choose to focus on content and remind voters of Sarah Palin's actual 2008 vice presidential campaign, she will not remain on any "short list" of the media's. Rather, she would fade, naturally, to the background. Her only chance at any re-emergence - and, it is a tiny one -would require her acknowledging her flaws and inexperience and spending many years of hard work to un-do the damage done in 2008. It'd involve "remaking" her political personality and I think it's impossible.
Despite my opinion, however, I predict we'll hear many, many meaningless, entertainment-driven stories about Palin before 2012.
What a waste of time!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
We've all grown too accustomed to the lack of honesty and candor in American politics. We're used to hearing politicians from both parties make comments that are almost always predictable, self-serving and "safe." We accept that politicians don't say how they really feel about things.
While Barack Obama has revived some hope and is able to speak more directly about some problems, he, alone, cannot reverse this chronic undercurrent of politicians lacking the will to speak the truth about real issues affecting real people. Obama, too, needs to be more candid.
One tremendous consequence of this undercurrent is that many important issues affecting millions of people simply are not part of the political conversation anymore. Politicians have become so driven by self-interest, cowardice and fear that they do not want to be associated with even raising these subjects.
Consider the following examples of topics that receive far too little attention in Washington D.C. or in state capitals:
- Poverty. Our national leaders never bring up poor people. We hear constantly about the middle class or "middle class tax cuts" - but not about the poorest among us and the crises they deal with - hunger, homelessness, health problems and no money to pay for medical treatment. Over many years now, poverty has become less and less "acceptable" for politicians to raise. In 2008, presidential candidates barely mentioned poverty. Think about it: It has become politically "too risky" to even talk about helping those in most desparate need in our society. That's a sad state of affairs, and, an indictment of our system.
- The real causes of violent crime. Back in the 1960s, people used to discuss the underlying causes of crime and other societal ills. Now, politicians are afraid of being labled as "bleeding-heart liberals" if they try to raise factors like poverty, racism, broken families, poor schools or mental illness. What we hear, instead, is right-wing talk show hosts obsessed with venting against individual criminals like they're animals. Until we address the root causes, how will we reduce crime?
- Our deplorable, failing prison system. All my life, I've read about the indisputable facts showing that most prisons simply do not work. Recidivism is high. Yet, the United States keeps building prisons and incarcerating more people than any civilized country. Putting human beings in cages usually doesn't help "rehabilitate" them, but, it does impair them.
- Problems of inner cities. It's still a familiar dynamic in so many cities: Suburban dwellers drive in and out, leaving behind urban areas where families raise children amidst inexcapable crises - whether it's gang violence, lousy schools, economic deprivation, adult illiteracy and segregation of neighborhoods.
- Gun control. Politicians dropped this topic years ago when critics blasted gun control advocates as being unrealistic and most have taken the "safer" route of voting to allow all kinds of guns to be sold. It disgusts me that during every presidential election - including 2008 - candidates gush about the value of the 2nd Amendment, which is outmoded. Yet, as a proponent of imposing far more controls on the purchase of guns, I have yet to hear anyone present an argument that convinces me that somehow we'd be worse off if less guns are in circulation, thereby less available to use in violent crimes.
- Reducing the military budget. I heard a Congressmen, in a rare moment of candor, recently acknowledge that the US has a nuclear capacity far beyond necessity. The costs of producing weapons systems and maintaining a military presence in many locations, surely, can be reduced. We can adjust our budget to the new realities of the 21st century without sacrificing our security. Will a large enough group of Congressmen argue for such cuts?
- Addressing the Middle East without a pro-Israel bias. Are there any US Representatives or Senators who ever question or criticize the role or actions of Israel in the Middle East conflict? Similarly, do any leaders ever openly defend the legitimate rights and grievances of Palestinians? The complete unwillingness of politicans to discuss the history and current realities of the Middle East without blatantly, blindly favoring Israel -- even when that requires ignoring facts and conditions on the ground - is one of the more depressing, cowardly behaviors in Washington DC.
- Re-examining the Role of the US' Foreign Policy. It seems our leaders are usually afraid to raise topics that involve questioning or criticizing major US decisions and policies impacting other countries. Further, they seem unable or unwilling to consider the rights, perspective, priorities and interests of these other countries and their peoples. It seems - until Obama, anyway - that we've held to the same outmoded, ill-conceived notion that the United States is somehow a "superior" country entitled to more rights to intervene, influence and supersede the rights of other countries to follow their wishes. Reagan spoke of the US supporting "freedom fighters" around the world. Bush used the words "to support democracy" abroad....but, my question is: What gives the US the right to act in an imperialistic role of trying to dominate and disregard other countries? Look at Iraq. To this day, I have not heard a US congressman who dares stand up and discuss the views of Iraqi citizens and people in neighboring countries. How do they feel about the US invading without any jusitification? No, the crazy desire of some neoconservatives here to have a "beachhead" in the Middle East doesn't cut it as a good reason - but you'd never know that from watching the cowardly silence of most US congressmen. Now, I hope Obama doesn't initiate moves in Afganistan or Pakisatan without respecting and involving people who live there.
- Radically changing the campaign finance system. For my whole life, I've been hearing about how we'd all benefit from a completely public campaign finance system. Yet, politicians never stay with this and wrestle it to the ground. If they did, maybe we'd have a system that encourages more honesty among elected officials.
Instead of tackling these tougher, more controversial subjects, what we've seen in recent weeks is Congressmen or Senators regressing to old, partisan attacks. A number of Republicans and right-wing talk show hosts have called Obama and his programs "socialist." Politicians, the media and the public have gotten so cynical that we just accept this "socialist" name-calling when, in fact, we should all stand up and label it as the reckless falsehood that it is. (For Republican extremists: Socialism means the government OWNS the means of production, by the way).
Republicans - again - are whining about the evils of Big Goverment. They offer tax cuts as the solution to everything. Democrats, while at least offering more ideas to help people, are still not candid about acknowledging their mistakes, and, like Republicans, seem predisposed to return to petty, partisan fighting to getting things done.
Maybe they should all start a conversation about how the economic crisis is affecting the poorest people out there. And, if they all lose re-election, wouldn't we all be better off as a result of they're holding that discussion?