Monday, February 26, 2007

Thou Shalt Not: Reflections on the So-Called "Eleventh Commandment"

Recently, Bill Richardson asked Democrats to hold their fire against other Dems.  Richardson and others suggested that the worst thing Dems do is bring out the "circular firing squad."  Some suggest that, in the 1990s, the GOP's refusal to criticize their own helped them win Congress and, ultimately, the presidency in 2000.  The truth is the GOP has been pretty ruthless at disposing of real and pseudo-mavericks.  However, Richardson is both right and wrong.  He's right in that we should avoid senseless, untruthful, or unkind attacks.  He's wrong in that airing "negatives" is necessary for informed decisions and necessary change.  Additionally, we have every right, even a responsibility, to be angry that some of our Congressional representatives let us down in 2002 and that their neglect leaves a pall over their candidacies.  Too many traded away our Bill of Rights, refused to speak out (or didn't do it enough), handed our public resources to the private sector, and constrained and gutted public education.

Just as patriotism depends on our questioning, keeping in formed, and speaking out when our leaders go astray, so too does commitment to party candidates who hope to lead the nation.  As a party, we must do more, not less, reflection, and  discussion (even heated).  I realize the old party regulars'mantra: "The party is not a debate society; its an organization to elect Democratic candidates." I disagree.  The party has its primary mission to elect candidates, but the party and its leaders earn our commitment.  Commitment requires much more than mindless buy-in.

We invest in our candidates our best hopes for our country, our labor, and hard-earned money. We owe them earnest appreciation, thanks and respect for their effort and time, not subservience.  We are neither their grunts, nor their groupies. They are, in fact, applying to serve us.  This is their employment screening.  The employment process is more rough-and-tumble than the ordinary applicant process, but the job is arguably the most complex in the world.

"Circular firing squads" can be either informative or destructive.  It's up to everyone to assure they are not abused, don't create false impressions, or disseminate false information.  The main problem with them isn't that they give the GOP its ammunition. Republicans are plenty good at developing their own opposition research.  The real danger is that they cause our own side of the aisle to cave to groupthink.

I respect any Democrats, whether they agree with me or not, who arrive at their decisions reasonably early (not during the last six or eight weeks), do so out of conviction, and stick with their candidate. I would rather someone disagree with me than move on a whim.  Rather, I challenge those fair-weather supporters, who turn on a dime and according to the media Gestault.  It is they who are vulnerable to over-influence by the "circular firing squad," the media and the GOP. But they both game the process (go with the winner at the moment) and believe everything they hear.  They can't make up their minds because they haven't done their homework.  With their citizenship self-suspended, they let the media decide for them.  How do we engage them earlier?  How do we persuade them that their pliability is a danger to a free society? If they are so malleability where our own party is concerned, they may be malleable at the hands of demogogues from other quarters.

Bloggers and the super-active at least partially inoculate themselves against the fickle nature of primary support.  They do this with their active engagement, research, writings, commitment and proximity to issues and ideas.  Bloggers and the super-active aren't guaranteed freedom from flights of whimsy away from their candidates either, though.

Of course, there are rare circumstances in which we must change our support.  Except for the most extreme cases, there is usually no cause for panic.  Our candidates are not and cannot be perfect.  We are bound to have differences with them.  However, the last reasons for switching support should be either that we haven't done our homework or that the media "made us do it."  How can we persuade Independents, Republicans and Greens of our positions and candidates if we aren't steadfast?

Ironically, many dennigrate activists who get too involved because "politics is so dirty." This feigned superiority belies a different truth: What's dirty and ugly about politics, aside from possible corrupting influences, is its whimsical opportunism.  Politics can't be so with engaged citizens.  What have the apathetic done to make it better? 

Though in 2004 I worked to support Howard Dean with all of my energies, I do not argue here that Howard Dean should have won in 2004.  What I argue is that we should never again see an entire election change so dramatically in just 6-8 weeks.  That rapid turn-around suggests deeper problems for our party.  Essentially, the media owns us and not the other way around.

2004 was not the first time this has happened, but it was possibly the most dramatic instance.  Howard Dean, clearly the front-runner for most of the primary campaign, and far ahead of other contenders, fell prey to the circular firing squad, malicious ads (equating him with Bin Laden), robo-calls accusing him of "environmental racism," rigged caucus processes, and 4 AM robo-calls falsly claiming they were from the Dean campaign.  But there was no Keith Olbermann exposing the dirty tricks unfolding even as election day dawned. 

The media helped by pushing its own version of crash and burn.  It replayed the so-called scream thousands of times and created rigged buzz.  Dean, they suggested, had "lost it" mentally.  In fact he had laryngitis and was trying to be heard above 3,000 screaming supporters, whose noise had been sound engineered out of the video. Most who heard CNN, MSNBC and FOX never knew that. 

Who really caused the crash and burn?  You may have your own ideas.  But a candidate who made even more mistakes won our nomination.  And the most fallible of all candidates "won" the general election. 

I believe that understanding this vulnerability to media whim, the most likely "victims," and the mechanisms by which such momentum shifts, is crucial to our survival as a party and nation.  When I grew up, we were taught to never make last minute shifts in our vote based on calculated attacks. But in 2004 voters did just that.  Any time an electorate is that pliable, it is no longer in charge of their own vote.

PS: The irony that I have not made my own 2008 decision is not lost on me.  In the next couple of months I will decide.  But I await the possibility of one or two more hats in the ring.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Drumbeat for War Without End: Triumphalist TV Media Cheerlead War Agenda

[Note: This article is cross-posted at Raising Kaine.]

You can see the powerful graphics, the fear-inducing ticker on our television screens.  You can hear the familiar drumbeat, triumphant music swells, and rising anthems to Vulcan escapades.  There's music to warm an embedded journalist's heart and thrill a Vice-President's ear.  There's even a show on CNN entitled: "This Week at War."  Reporters at CBS, ABC, CNN, FOX each falsely Note: This article is cross-poclaimed a "smoking gun" justifying war against Iran.  The so-called mainstream media's television wing cavalierly cheer-lead.  They feign their subject is no more serious or monumental than Monday night football.  We should "be true to our school," I mean country, as if love of country involved nothing more than mindless rah-rah.  All of us here know that that is not love of country at all, but rather a caricature of it.

At the same time as the "war networks" promote unending war, they also force-feed a nauseating pablum: Mindless bimbos, self-destructing for others' sadistic consumption.  Following the death of "Anna Nichole," one study found 37% of stories on cable "news" concerned the icon, famous only for being famous.  As Jon Stewart lamented, one station went 90 minutes on the story  without commercial interruption.  "Anna Nichole" and Britney Spears' bald head took over much of the remaining time on cable news, networks again failed to give citizens the information they need. And that's just how George W. Bush likes it.

According to the BBC earlier this week, elaborate "contingency" plans are on the drawing board for a large-scale war against Iran. Read it here.

Here at RK, Lowell today posted the IAEA findings.  And the Guardian UK illustrates how the IAEA report and US "intelligence" do not equate.  How many people will read or hear about what the report says?  How many will know the real extent to which Iran is, and/or is not, a threat to us? 

UN action to both monitor and police nuclear proliferation is essential.  However, unilateral preemptive US action is not.  Because a dedicated, informed citizenry is essential to defending against corrupt and dangerous pre-emptionists, we are more vulnerable to manipulation than ever.  We're at the mercy of those who pitch democracy at every turn, but fail to deliver it to US citizens, much less the countries they purports to "liberate."

By their many deceptions, lip-services, and manipulations the so-called MSM, especially televised "news" and talk-shows, are guilty, just as surely as are the "Vulcans," of sacrificing our soldiers, killing an estimated 600,000 civilians (according to the British journal Lancet), destroying a country, wasting our treasury, neglecting whole devastated states at home, neglecting our crumbling infrastructure, privatizing public assets(both here and in Iraq), and eliminating human services.

The propaganda effort is multi-pronged.  First, it creates a hostile environment for critics.  Recently, Rupert Murdoch made the astonishing admission that he intentionally used FOX to set the agenda for war (Olbermann's Countdown, Feb. 7th 2007).  It's happening again. Today, the same relentless pit-bulls savage John Murtha.  And the NY Daily News labels a non-binding resolution "treason." Documented by Josh elsewhere on RK's front page, is evidence of the savaging of Barack Obama by Murdoch's henchmen.

Second, the propaganda machine reassures with iterative airings of Bush's claims that he's kept us safe.  Ironically, Bush also used the SOTU last month to assure Americans of his protective abilities.   But as Dave Swanson and Keith Olbermann ably documented, Bush made up the episodes of his supposed saves from terrorism.  Not one of them was true.

Third, the propaganda machine presents an exaggerated or even false threat.  Here's the story the television media should have told.  Says the AP, "President Bush's tough new stance on Iran and his military buildup in the Persian Gulf recall some of the drumbeats that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003."  There's more.

Media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has an excellent summary of the media dereliction in the Iran controversy.  Notable is that, even while the BBC registered British concern about Iran, it at least clearly stated there was "no smoking gun" concerning Iran's alleged role in Iraq. Not so in the US.  Among the US Media, NBC Nightly News (a bit late) and Keith Olbermann's Countdown did reality-check the claims.  On NBC we learned that the basis for assuming weapons came from Iran was that they were "sophisticated." The administration and numerous outlets first suggested that serial numbers gave conclusive proof that Iran was killing our soldiers.  But, seeming to back peddle, the administration later equivocated, twice delaying its report on the "evidence."  But if history is any test, the administration will recycle the same claims, true or not. Bush is playing a dangerous game of what one writer called "Liar's Poker".  To put the allegations in perspective, read this report from the Congressional Research Service

Also on MSNBC, security expert Roger Cressey said that  about 90% of insurgents are from within Iraq.  The remainder are from various countries and include Al Qaeda members infiltrating Iraq since the US invasion.  The Congressional Research Service also reports that Iran shares America's goal of fighting Bin Laden and fighting terrorism in general.  But it doesn't want permanent US bases in Iraq. Read more about the threat posed by Iran here.

The National Intelligence Estimate shows Iran poses little threat to the US (read more here.) Newsweek found that the evidence of Iranian influence and meddling in Iraq was ambiguous .  See also stories by the Los Angeles Times here and here. And here's an AP article on the same subject.

Meanwhile, we've learned belatedly that last fall, the then-GOP-led Congress slipped into a defense bill a mechanism for George W. Bush to declare martial law almost at will.  And the NY Times finally opined about it Sunday.  Why didn't the Times or others report it sooner?  Read about it here.
The media silence on this subject is, as they say, deafening.  With a few exceptions, the media keeps singing the same old White House tune.  And the dereliction of duty continues...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivin's Last Column

My favorite columnist,Molly Ivins, has died. I'm at a loss to blog about it at this point. So, I'll let her own words speak for her. Here's her last column.