Sunday, January 30, 2005

Michael Ignatieff gets it all so very very wrong

Iraqis fight a lonely battle for democracy:
"Just as depressing as the violence in Iraq is the indifference to it abroad. Americans and Europeans who have never lifted a finger to defend their own right to vote seem not to care that Iraqis are dying for the right to choose their own leaders....

Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neo-conservative bombast. Anti-war ideologues can't support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies...."
Where to begin with such patent foolishness?

Let's start with the mistaken premise that this 'election' is going to institute democracy.

This premise is simply erroneous. Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy. If that were the case, then the Soviet Union would truly have been a 'People's Republic': after all, they had plenty of elections and extremely high voter turnout. But they didn't have choice you say?

And what choices do Iraqis have today? Candidates cannot campaign, indeed, cannot reveal their identities. The few major players are parties or personages with murky (at best) platforms.

Most observers understand the hard facts of the matter, no matter what tomfoolery Ignatieff would have us believe about this being a 'battle for democracy.' This exercise is really one of two things: for the occupiers, it is one more PR exercise for the TV consumers at home; for the Iraqis who are political players, it is just another way of carving up the spoils of civil service prior to the real brokering of power that will occur once the occupiers leave. In other words, for the people who are really calling the shots, this is just this 'election' is simply another made for TV event that will do little except to reshuffle the frontmen and acceptable faces of occupation. For the Iraqi powerbrokers it will serve to reshuffle the distribution of perks and office titles, without significantly changing the facts on the ground. If democracy is brought to Iraq, it will not be as a result of this 'election' but due to a commitment by actual players like the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or SCIRI.

So, if this election is in fact a sham, why are people willing to die in the attempt to participate? Are they dying for the sake of democracy? People on the ground may believe they are dying for democracy... but that does not make it so. The soldiers who fought in WWI thought they were fighting to end all wars... but it just was not so. The Germans were told they were defending Kultur against the barbarism of the East and the decadence of the West. Down through the ages people have been promised many wondrous things to fight the battles of their social 'superiors.' And in each instance there were priests, or fellow travelers, dupes or willing stooges to propagandize on behalf of the powerful and demonize those who are willing to look behind the curtain.

And that is precisely the role Ignatieff is playing. By falsely investing this PR operation with false meaning (election = democracy), he can attack those who see through the ugly manipulative nature of the event as being insufficiently supportive of 'democracy' when if fact their only thought crime is to be insufficiently supportive of the latest fabrication designed to 'shock and awe' the television audience.

[Let us not forget the priorities that lay behind this operation, after all, which is being run according to a schedule set to accomodate Dubya's own political agenda -- after the US elections, but before the hard lifting involved in pushing through the final dismantling of FDR's Social Security program. If the aim of the elections were remotely designed with the realistic aim of aiding the institution of democracy, then the elections should have been staged when Sistani first asked for them and not delayed for over a year, during which time Iraq has witnessed a virtual implosion of the security situation. But no, Jerry Bremer had to create a neo-con dreamland of crony capitalism first, all rubberstamped by his handpicked Iraqi council... but I digress. The point being, the motives that lay behind this exercise, which are clearly visible for those willing to see, are an accurate guide as to its design, intent and likely result.]
The beauty of Ignatieff's intellectually dishonest stance is that he will then be able to blame the 'failure' of democratization on the very people who saw through the nullity of this exercise to begin with, as is already anticipated in his casting blame on liberals and anti-war activists for their failure to be 'on board with two feet' due to their fear of "admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies." Of course, when viewed logically, blaming liberals and anti-war activists for the failure of democracy in Iraq is akin to blaming the US Armed Forces for the failure of Syria and Iran to adopt Western democracy -- for the current plans for 'democracy' in Iraq (drawn up by many of the same folks who 'planned' the post-war stabilization) are just as divorced from reality as those grandiose promises that the successful invasion of Iraq would lead to democracy throughout the Middle East. Except that, unlike the military, the liberals and anti-war folks have been completely shut out of the process, having had no input into planning and execution whatsoever....

Contra Ignatieff, cheerleading the latest PR exercise in Iraq should not be confused with a championing democracy.

Nor is the refusal to swallow propaganda the equivalent to fear of "seem[ing] to collude with neo-conservative bombast."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Embarrassment - American 'Style'

Where oh where are the adults when we need them?
At yesterday's gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. It is embroidered with his name. It reminded one of the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp. And indeed, the vice president looked like an awkward boy amid the well-dressed adults.

Like other attendees, the vice president was wearing a hat. But it was not a fedora or a Stetson or a fur hat or any kind of hat that one might wear to a memorial service as the representative of one's country. Instead, it was a knit ski cap, embroidered with the words "Staff 2001." It was the kind of hat a conventioneer might find in a goodie bag.

It is also worth mentioning that Cheney was wearing hiking boots -- thick, brown, lace-up ones. Did he think he was going to have to hike the 44 miles from Krakow -- where he had made remarks earlier in the day -- to Auschwitz?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More payola

Or would perhaps a better term be graft, since these sort of lickspittles are on team Bush anyway?

Writer Backing Bush Plan Had Gotten Federal Contract: "In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families....

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal."

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Just in time for the inauguration...

Daily Drink Helps Keep Brain Sharp, Data Suggest: "Women who imbibe a little wine, beer or even spirits every day are less likely than teetotalers to see their memories and other thinking powers fade as they age, according to the largest study to assess alcohol's impact on the brain.

The study of more than 12,000 elderly women found that those who consumed light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily had about a 20 percent lower risk of experiencing problems with their mental abilities later in life....

While the study involved only women, the findings probably hold true for men, although previous research indicates that men seem to benefit from drinking slightly more -- one to two drinks per day, researchers said.

The findings provide the latest evidence that indulging in alcohol, long vilified as part of an insalubrious lifestyle, can actually help people live longer, healthier lives...."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Frank Rich

All the President's Newsmen: "...perhaps the most fascinating Williams TV appearance took place in December 2003, the same month that he was first contracted by the government to receive his payoffs. At a time when no one in television news could get an interview with Dick Cheney, Mr. Williams, of all 'journalists,' was rewarded with an extended sit-down with the vice president for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a nationwide owner of local stations affiliated with all the major networks. In that chat, Mr. Cheney criticized the press for its coverage of Halliburton and denounced 'cheap shot journalism' in which 'the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene, when they obviously are not objective.'

This is a scenario out of 'The Manchurian Candidate.' Here we find Mr. Cheney criticizing the press for a sin his own government was at that same moment signing up Mr. Williams to commit. The interview is broadcast by the same company that would later order its ABC affiliates to ban Ted Koppel's 'Nightline' recitation of American casualties in Iraq and then propose showing an anti-Kerry documentary, 'Stolen Honor,' under the rubric of 'news' in prime time just before Election Day. (After fierce criticism, Sinclair retreated from that plan.) Thus the Williams interview with the vice president, implicitly presented as an example of the kind of 'objective' news Mr. Cheney endorses, was in reality a completely subjective, bought-and-paid-for fake news event for a broadcast company that barely bothers to fake objectivity and both of whose chief executives were major contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign. The Soviets couldn't have constructed a more ingenious or insidious plot to bamboozle the citizenry...."

here are clips... read the whole article

A televisual fairyland: "On Thursday, the fairy king of fairyland will be recrowned. He was elected on a platform suspended in midair by the power of imagination. He is the leader of a band of men who walk through ghostly realms unvisited by reality. And he remains the most powerful person on earth.

How did this happen?...

You can say what you like in the US media, as long as it helps a Republican president. But slip up once while questioning him, and you will be torn to shreds. Even the most grovelling affirmations of loyalty won't help. The presenter of 60 Minutes, Dan Rather, is the man who once told his audience" "George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just tell me where." CBS is owned by the conglomerate Viacom, whose chairman told reporters: "We believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company." But for Fox News and the shockjocks syndicated by Clear Channel, Rather's faltering attempt at investigative journalism is further evidence of "a liberal media conspiracy"....

These stories, in other words, are illustrations of the ways in which the US media is disciplined by corporate America. In the first case the other corporate broadcasters joined forces to punish a dissenter in their ranks. In the second case a corporation captured what was once a dissenting programme and turned it into another means of engineering conformity.

The role of the media corporations in the US is similar to that of repressive state regimes elsewhere: they decide what the public will and won't be allowed to hear, and either punish or recruit the social deviants who insist on telling a different story. The journalists they employ do what almost all journalists working under repressive regimes do: they internalise the demands of the censor, and understand, before anyone has told them, what is permissible and what is not.

So, when they are faced with a choice between a fable which helps the Republicans, and a reality which hurts them, they choose the fable. As their fantasies accumulate, the story they tell about the world veers further and further from reality. Anyone who tries to bring the people back down to earth is denounced as a traitor and a fantasist. And anyone who seeks to become president must first learn to live in fairyland."

Fearful US TV networks censor more shows

"The panic that is gripping American TV bosses facing a puritanical backlash or exorbitant government fines has today extended to a cartoon series and a BBC drama.

Fox TV has decided to pixelate a bare derriere in a cartoon series, The Family Guy, which was originally broadcast five years ago with no complaints.

And American public television network PBS is censoring BBC drama documentary Dirty War, wary of attracting a public backlash and fines from the federal watchdog...."

An easy way to make your voice heard

The accountability moment has not passed... Simply, don't spend one damn dime on Thursday -- the beancounters will take notice.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Krugman on private accounts

The British Evasion: "...The U.S. news media have provided readers and viewers with little information about how privatization has worked in other countries. Now my colleagues have even fewer excuses: there's an illuminating article on the British experience in The American Prospect,, by Norma Cohen, a senior corporate reporter at The Financial Times who covers pension issues...."

Just like all those commie-pinko-liberals said...

...and so it has come to pass: "Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of 'professionalized' terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank."

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The real question is... many other 'journalists' are secretly being paid taxpayer 'payola' dollars to push GOP propaganda?
Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same....

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB....

The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda."
Who won the cold war anyway? I thought we did, not the Soviet Union. Why the state sponsored propaganda?

And if the bushies are willing to drop a quarter of a million on a fairly low visibility schmuck, what are they coughing up for others?

Friday, January 07, 2005

A good question

double standard? "If it's OK to show us images of dead Indians, Sri Lankans, Thais and Indonesians killed by a giant wave, then isn't it OK to show us images of dead Americans? We see virtually no images of Americans killed in Iraq. The U.S. government will not even allow us to see images of flag-draped coffins of American soldiers. Why is that? Do we think that only Americans deserve privacy in death?"

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Surprise surprise

Didn't someone warn us about a backdoor draft?

"Army leaders are considering seeking a change in Pentagon policy that would allow for longer and more frequent call-ups of some reservists to meet the demands of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior Army official said yesterday.

Reservists are being used heavily to fill key military support jobs, particularly in specialty areas, but Army authorities are having increasing difficulty limiting the active-duty time of some normally part-time soldiers to a set maximum of two years, the official said....

The change under consideration, the Army official said, would essentially make a reservist eligible for an unlimited number of call-ups but stipulate that no single mobilization would last more than 24 consecutive months...."

Tom Toles

This says all that need be said about Gonzales and the confirmation 'process.'

Key GOP memo on social security

This one comes froma key Rove deputy, Peter Wehner. Although it is full of all sorts of NewSpeak ('ownership society' "unsustainable' 'dependency on government' 'responsibility to individuals') it comes clean in one frank passage: "For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win -- and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country."

For the GOP this is not an issue about sustainability or reform, it is about 'winning' the battle they lost under FDR. It is a cardinal point of ideology for them, as willingly acknowledged here: "Let me add one other important point: we consider our Social Security reform not simply an economic challenge, but a moral goal and a moral good." Unfortunately for the rest of us, the hard-core GOoPers version of 'moral goods' are zero-sum -- for them to win we must lose.

The GOP could just adopt Prince Charles' statement as their motto: now is the time to halt people from trying to 'rise about their station.'

Too little, too late

General Says Army Reserve Is Becoming a 'Broken' Force: "The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing 'deepening concern' about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers 'is rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force.'

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. 'Ron' Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and 'dysfunctional' policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities...."