Archive for February, 2012

Here We Go Again

By • on February 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

In 2004, after a year of ferocious criticism, the New York Times published a famous mea culpa, apologizing, sort of, for its relentlessly misleading cheerleading of war against Iraq in the months leading up to that invasion. (Most notoriously, in the front page fictions of Judith Miller, who for her service to country as a “journalist” landed nimbly afterwards at the Manhattan Institute and Fox News, and is currently on the Council of Foreign Relations and a contributing writer to the far-right Wingnutistan site Newsmax. Moral of the story: Jayson Blair’s sin wasn’t that he made shit up, but that the shit he made up wasn’t particularly useful to anyone.)

Since then, the performance of the mainstream media, and particularly the Times, in unquestioningly parroting the bullshit fed to it by the Bush administration and its allies, has become a standard example of the failures of establishment journalism.

Apparently, the Times and the rest of American legacy media learned nothing from that debacle. Today, yet again, there’s a front page NYT story that builds the case that this year’s State Enemy, Iran, is run by unstable monsters who pose a clear and present danger to the good ol’ USA – just like Saddam did in 2002-03:

A string of aggressive gestures by Iran this week — assassination attempts on Israelis living abroad that were attributed to Tehran, renewed posturing over its nuclear program and fresh threats of economic retaliation–suggest that Iranian leaders are responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West.

There’s a lot to unpack in that lede. First of all, it’s far from clear that Iran had anything to do with the bombings cited. The saber-rattling from Tehran turns out to be standard fare: “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran announced Wednesday what he said was his country’s latest nuclear advance, and Iran’s Oil Ministry threatened to pre-empt a European oil embargo by cutting off sales to six countries there.” And, really, do you expect Iran’s leaders to say and do nothing in the face of an unprecedented attempt by the US and its allies to cripple Iran’s economy? Instead, anything less than abject capitulation gets depicted as “unstable” – the standard formulation that America’s enemies, like Saddam, Qaddafi, Castro, Noriega, and many others, are irrational madmen who just might lash out and hurt us if they’re not bombed into irrelevance.

Thing is, the rest of the article really doesn’t support either the headline (“Aggressive Acts by Iran Signal Pressure on its Leadership”) or the lede. First of all, only Israel is blaming the Iranian government outright for the attacks so far, and Netanyahu’s government, which has been threatening war against Iran for years now and especially in recent months, isn’t exactly a neutral observer. So where’s the aggression? And what’s “frantic” or “unpredictable” about any of this? While I’m no fan of Iran’s government, their rhetoric–basically, that they have a right to a nuclear program (which, legally, they do) and that they’ll strike back when attacked (which any government would)–is, in context, pretty predictable. And there’s this:

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, confirmed on Wednesday that she had received a reply from a top Iranian official responding to her invitation to negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Iran’s Al Alam television said the country had offered to “hold new talks over its nuclear program in a constructive way.”

Iran has used such talks mostly to stall on concessions in the past, and there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of such offers. Nonetheless, how is that “aggressive” or “frantic”?

The NYT piece, though, is actually quite reasonable compared to some of the dreck being aired on network news. Greenwald
has useful overviews of some of the most offensive of these pieces, like this one aired on ABC Tuesday night:

Sawyer begins by warning of “a kind of shadow war being waged by Iran around the world” — based on her blind acceptance of totally unproven Israeli accusations that Iran was behind three bombings yesterday in India, Georgia and Thailand, and without any mention of the constant attacks on Iran over the course of several years by the U.S. and Israel. After seeing video of ABC‘s Martha Raddatz riding on U.S. naval warships into the Strait of Hormuz, we are told by Sawyer — echoing the warnings just yesterday from Alan Dershowitz, Ethan Bronner, and some NYPD official — that “Israeli and Jewish facilities, including those here in the US, are on heightened alert,” and then Brian Ross is brought in to warn that “the violence could spill over into the US” as “Jewish places of worship in at least ten US cities have been told that they could be targets.” This, you see, “follows what appears to be the increasingly violent series of attacks by Iran.”

The State Department spokesperson is then brought in “to tie the incidents to Iran”; we hear her warn that “we are concerned about use of international terrorism by Iran or anyone else against Israel or any innocents.” Richard Clarke is then hauled out to say that Iran is sending a signal to Israel that it can retaliate using “its terrorist network.” Needless to say, no contrary information or critical sources are included: no Iranians are heard from and there’s nobody to question any of these accusations. It’s just one-sided, unchallenged government claims masquerading as a news report.

Particularly astonishing here – and reminiscent of 2002-03 – is the completely unsubstantiated suggestion that Iran might target Jewish houses of worship in the US. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the days after 9-11, when government lists of “likely targets of terrorist attacks” included things like a petting zoo in rural Idaho. Iran has no history – none – of direct attacks against US targets. The US, by contrast, has been waging covert operations inside Iran’s border for years now, and then there’s the matter of those murdered Iranian nuclear scientists – attacks widely attributed to America’s special friend, Israel, which used exactly the same method of assassination (magnetic devices attached to cars by a passing motorcyclist) that was used in this week’s bombings. Unlike this week’s bombings, though–which didn’t actually kill anyone–five Iranian scientists are dead at the hands of, presumably, Israel. (Even if Iran is behind this week’s bombings, that would render them retaliations–and less lethal ones–rather than acts of “aggression.”)

If Israeli or US scientists had been similarly killed, or Iran had been operating a terror group within US borders that had
open ties with prominent Iranian political leaders – Tehran would now be rubble. In other words, Iran’s leaders, erratic madmen that they are, have actually shown far more restraint than politicians in Tel Aviv or Washington would under similar circumstances. But don’t expect to hear that perspective on network television.

There’s plenty more like this out there, The Times has been fairly forthright in parroting, without few qualifying doubts, the Israeli assertion that Iran was behind this week’s bombings. It’s as though the events of 2002-03, and the decade of disastrous consequences that followed – and that continue today – have all gone down the American memory hole. There’s almost no discussion in these reports of the economic or budgetary cost of an Israeli (and, inevitably, American) war against Iran, or of the futility of air strikes against Iran’s buried, widely dispersed nuclear program, or the domestic benefits to Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, and their ilk from all this Western aggression, or, most especially, the fate of the 75 million Iranians held hostage by their hardline theocratic government and considered expendable collateral damage by seemingly every pundit in Beltwayland. But then, perhaps a million people died in Iraq, and hardly anyone in DC noticed, let alone cared.

The one thing that’s different this time is that US media actually seems more anxious to build up the Iranian threat and the case for war than the Obama administration is. Unlike Bush and Cheney, Obama and his people have been firm but relatively understated in their assessment of Iran’s threat. It’s been Israel that, as in 2003-03, has been hyperventilating as a drumbeat for war; and it’s the lead of Israel and its American apologists, today, that US media seems more interested in following. And, once again, the result is a US media cheerleading for catastrophic war as a first resort. –Geov Parrish

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The Republican Farm Team

By • on February 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Charles R. Pierce – whose ability to combine thoughtfulness and snark has made him one of my more favorite political writers in legacy media the last couple of years – has a post surveying a few of the nuttier Republican-proposed laws now in play at various state legislatures. He makes a useful point:

What you’re seeing in the state legislatures is the activity of the Republican farm team. The people voting for laws springing from the mushy brains of people like Bob Marshall and Lori Klein are the young Republicans who, a few cycles from now, will be running for Congress, probably from safe Republican districts that they’ve helped draw up, and aided immeasurably by voter-suppression laws that they’ve helped pass. Most of them will be the products of the vast conservative candidate manufacturing base — the kids at CPAC, the College Republicans, the various Christianist organizations. They will not equivocate. They will not moderate. And they are the future of the party. Anyone who thinks the Republican party eventually again will have to “move to the middle” (this translates from the Punditese to “regain its sanity”) isn’t paying attention.

In 2006, the Republicans were handed a defeat every bit as epic as any one ever handed to the Democrats. They did not pause to give it a second thought. Their resolve hardened. They ran what few “moderates” were left right out of the party. And, in 2010, they got a wave election that not only gained them the House of Representatives, but also the legislative majorities in the states that are now producing these goofy-ass laws, and a lot more seriously dangerous ones as well. And, even then, they blew a chance to retake the Senate by running sideshow freaks like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. They didn’t care.

They do not stop, even when they’re losing. The country told them, through the 1998 midterms, that it didn’t want Bill Clinton impeached. Bill Clinton got impeached. In 2005, everybody including their Democratic colleagues told them that they were going off the cliff in their meddling in the life and death of Terri Schiavo. There were gobs of polling data to back them up. The Republicans kept meddling even after Ms. Schiavo passed….The current [presidential primary] frontrunner is a nutball ultramontane Catholic who lost his last race by 18 points, at least in part because he was one of the more noxious of the Schiavo meddlers.

The fact is that the presidency is not really that important to them. They have found a way to make it impossible for any Democratic president to govern as a Democrat. Their real goal is in the legislatures, federal and state, where they have been able to exercise their power on the issues they care about. They will not change themselves.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this. (I would add that through the legislatures, they’re also a long way along in their project to reshape our state and federal judiciaries in their image.) And I have not seen, among progressives, anywhere near the commitment to developing a bench of future candidates for higher office, or the political and media infrastructure to support and market them, that you see among the Christianists and Tea Partiers. Some of them are savvy enough to tack to the middle long enough to win elections; most don’t bother. But they all have an agenda that is a clear and present danger to what we think of as a representative democracy – not to mention a functional economy, a nation of non-theocratic laws, and a biologically habitable planet.

The most encouraging development so far in the Republican primary circus is the developing schism between the one percenters, who want to use the Tea Party movement to remove all limits on their efforts to steal what wealth they haven’t already stolen from the rest of us, and the true believers of Wingnuttia who are rejecting Mitt Romney like a bad organ transplant. Romney’s transparently awful attempts at pandering to the Republican base have done more than any Occupy sermon to remind the base that the GOP’s political and economic elites think they’re idiots and chumps (a not unreasonable conclusion, but with Romney they overreached) – and that the oligarchs who take control of the GOP for granted really don’t share their concerns or priorities. With luck and intent, that schism can be widened if deep corporate pockets suddenly come to the conclusion that setting up their Frankenstein For America SuperPACs maybe isn’t such a great idea.

That said, Pierce is right, and any number of Democratic (and not a few moderate Republican) commentators are wrong when they idly muse that a blowout loss by Santorum or Gingrich might be just what the Republicans need in order for them to pull back from the far side of sanity. No such luck. The wingnuts are not going away, no matter how badly they lose this November, and they will continue to be a menace to our future for the foreseeable future even as a disproportionately vocal and influential minority. The current example of this is the contraception “debate” – a deliberately staged insta-controversy in which a very small minority of reactionary bishops, legislators, and media figures took a public policy considered completely uncontroversial by most Americans and made the “debate” over it mainstream. Sure, Obama kicked them in the teeth over it, but now most of us “know” that contraceptive use is “controversial.” Mission accomplished. State-level bills will probably start showing up next year.

Pierce’s conclusion is also important:

The president should not be talking about “Congress” and “Washington,” and expect the country to clue in that he’s nudging and winking in code about the Republicans. He should make it clear that one of our two major political parties is now an extremist party from its lowest levels to its highest echelons. This should be an issue in the campaign as important as income inequality or campaign finance, but it won’t be. Barack Obama’s just not built that way. And, out in the states, things are getting crazier by the day.

Obama won’t say it, and neither will corporate media, but others – from high elected officials down to lowly progressive bloggers – need to, over and over and over. Are the Democrats problematic? Sure. But one of our country’s two major political parties is being hijacked by a noisy minority of people who have gone seriously gone off the rails. They are a menace. And it may be a long time, if ever, before they let up.

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Nature & Politics: Goodbye to Afghanistan

By • on February 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm

The day after the Florida primary, when all eyes were fixed in astonishment on the victorious Gov. Romney expressing his indifference to the sufferings of the poor, the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, gave a speech in Brussels. He said that as early as mid-2013 American forces in Afghanistan will step back from a combat role. [...]

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The Political Arena

By • on February 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm

On the topic of building new palaces for professional sports teams, Seattle has something like the political equivalent of PTSD. Large numbers of people are still bitter that not once but twice in the mid-90′s, Seattle voters turned down public financing of large new stadiums, only to have them built with tax dollars anyway. For [...]

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Reclaim Our History Feb. 1-15

By • on February 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Feb. 1, 1960: Four black students sit in at Woolworths’ lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina to protest segregation. Similar protests later take place all over the South and in some northern communities. By September 1961, more than 70,000 students, whites and blacks, will have participated in sit-ins. 1978: First US postage stamp to honor [...]

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