Posted on 21-12-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Continuing on a theme of giving credit where it is due we come to Jon Stewart.  After the Republicans filibustered a bill to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders because of cost (while gifting a far larger giveaway to millionaires) , Stewart responded with a take down of the GOP and the media that some have termed operatic.  The targets were some of his usual foils – the news networks who responded to yet another filibuster with silence, Fox “News” whose 9/11 outrage machine seems to have taken an early vacation and the GOP.  Videos below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

The second video is much more sober.  Stewart sits down with some 9/11 responders needing help to pay for their bills while taking some shots at John Kyl for asserting that working on Christmas was somehow sacrilegious and Mitch McConnell’s teary farewell to Judd Gregg.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

The third video is an interview with former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate (also a Fox “News” host) Mike Huckabee who urges Republicans to vote for the bill.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mike Huckabee
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Stewart’s rage from the bully pulpit seems to have woken up the media and shamed some Republicans.  Below is an unusual video of a Fox anchor breaking the party line and calling out Republicans for their obstruction (other Fox personalities generally blame Congress and not Republicans in the Senate) – well maybe not that unusual since it is one of their rare fair and balanced journalists Shep Smith.

Yet the grinches are still around.  Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn objects to funding the bill by closing a tax loophole and is seeking further review on a bill that has been floating around Congress for most of the year.  He has vowed to block the bill adding to conservative unease on the wisdom of continuing to block the bill.  It also hands Democrats a political softball epitomized by their new video below:

It begs the question whether all this public shaming is sufficient to force Senate Republicans to act rather than merely provide their usual vocal support for 9/11 first responders.

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The strange political odyssey of Scott Lee Cohen has come to a close.  See link.  Cohen was the unexpected winner in a political primary for Lt. Governor in a multiple candidate race.  An early entrant into the race he spent lavishly to build early name recognition and eked out a narrow win over the favored candidates.  There is plenty of egg on many faces, and justifiably so.

Cohen made an ambiguous disclosure about a previous battery arrest, but thinking he had no chance to win no media outlet bothered to investigate any of this until he actually won the nomination. None of his opponents or the party  establishment bothered to check Cohen’s shady background either.  Exposes like this abruptly popped up when the media realized that a candidate they failed to vet had actually won.

It is in some ways reminiscent of the 2004 Illinois Senate election when the leading (and relatively unvetted) Democratic candidate Blair Hull was torpedoed a week before the election by disclosures in his divorce file which he tried to avoid.  The Republicans failed to get the divorce file on their winning candidate Jack Ryan until after the primary, leading to a tragicomic farce in their attempts to find a replacement.  That election is notable of course because it saw the rise of one Barack Obama into national politics.

The position of Lt. Governor in Illinois is a cushy job with no responsibilities.  It was amusing to see various candidates in the recent primary promise to bring changes that they have no ability to provide.  There is a legitimate question as to why the position exists at all.  In fact, Illinois like most other states has a surfeit of elected positions.  The general public probably cannot distinguish between the function of comptroller and treasurer at the state level.  At the local level it is a mystery why certain positions like the commissioners for park districts and water districts (and in some states the position of coroner) are subject to elections rather than becoming civil service (and non-patronage) positions that allow experienced people to perform these jobs.  Then there is the issue of judicial elections, which as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has pointed out opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical conflicts while requiring a public to vote on judges they have never heard about and about whom they generally do not bother to take the trouble to read about.

General voter disinterest in the political races at the bottom of the ticket opens the door for the Scott Lee Cohens’ to enter based largely on name recognition or the pull of the party machine.

Direct elections for many of these positions arose from the desire for more democracy in the late 19th and early 20th century.  But it also results in state executive teams that may not be pursuing the same political goals.  It can also make it harder to assign responsibility and blame for the actions of government.  The states may be better served with fewer elected positions at the top (like Governor and Attorney General) with the rest nominated subject to the approval of the legislature.  It could allow for a more coherent functioning of state governments with no doubt as to where the buck comes to a stop.

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It often comes down to what gets through the filter of the American media. To be fair, the United States is hardly unique in this.  Few countries engage in serious introspection about their actions.  However, there often seems to be a major disconnect between American self-image and the image as seen abroad.

To some extent it is understandable.  Self-criticism is too hard to take and certain groups can often go too overboard on the critiques of America without acknowledging the good.  But too often the American media goes to the other extreme by embracing the Pollyannaish version of American exceptionalism (like the ridiculous George W. Bush assertion “they hate us for our freedoms“) in which all American foreign policy actions are undertaken for noble reasons.  As many Latin Americans would tell you, that has unfortunately not always been the case.

A column by Juan Cole brought this issue up for me recently.  The column deals with the continuing human catastrophe in Gaza.  Israel’s apologists in the United States often attribute any criticism of Israel to an undercurrent of anti-semitism and are only too willing to grant it unquestioned support.  However, it is stories like the one linked above that have undercut the sympathy Israel attracts (including among some progressives in the United States) in many parts of the world.

Israel is no longer the plucky underdog of the Six Days War or the Yom Kippur War threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds.  While the threat to Israel is real, the armies of its Arab neighbors have atrophied since the fall of the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile the Israeli army built up with a steady diet of American aid is the 800 lb gorilla in the Middle East.  Add to that the (not publicly acknowledged, but understood) second strike nuclear capability delivered to Israel by the United States and Israel has the ability to pulverize any of its neighbors (as Lebanon and the Gaza strip found out in the last two years).

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  American media coverage generally fails  to acknowledge this change in status for Israel or the extremely disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in the last decade.  American media has also not really delved into the details of the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza in the past year.  When the destruction is covered, it is generally framed solely in the context of a response to terrorist attacks with little discussion of whether a hammer is being used to swat a fly.  As a result, the United States remains one of the few countries where public opinion and elected officials generally uncritically support Israel.

In contrast, the rest of the world’s media has covered this issue extensively.  So now a furious and sometimes bewildered Israel finds much of world opinion treating it as a bully for actions it feels are justified self-defense.  Israel is also painfully learning the lesson the United States learned in Vietnam.  Civilian suffering transmitted to the living rooms makes for awful public relations for a democracy, unless of course the media chooses not to cover it.  It is unfair, but countries are generally held to higher standards than terrorist groups.

A critique I have had for the Cheneyian vision of the world is that it often seeks to lower American actions to the standards of the thugs they oppose while encouraging charges of hypocrisy by maintaining the high minded rhetoric that plays so well domestically.  Israel does have a point that it should not have to take too many pious bromides from human rights “paragons” Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. who are only too willing to use the Palestinians as props while doing nothing to ameliorate their lot.  However, the question does arise whether Israel really wants to lump itself on the issue of human rights with these countries?

Juan Cole’s column also brought about a sense of deja vu.  The stories about Gaza sound distressingly similar to the stories about the sufferings of Iraqi civilians during the sanctions in the 1990s.  These stories were circulated by human rights groups, dismissed by the Clinton and Bush administrations as solely Saddam Hussein’s fault and were largely ignored by the media.  While nobody should discount Saddam’s brutality, hiding behind indifference of a tyrant to the suffering of his people is an odd way to absolve yourself of any responsibility.  And ultimately all that suffering made not a whit of difference to toppling his regime.  As the Iranian people are finding out and as the Chinese found in 1989, public outrage by itself cannot topple men with the guns who have no qualms about shedding blood.  It is also very easy, as in the case of Iraq, for governments used to manipulating public opinion to transfer the blame to the people implementing the sanctions.

The result is a propaganda coup for the regime (another example would be Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba that blames the yanquis for the failures of its socialist revolution) and a recruiting boon for fanatics like Al Qaeda who tap into the resentment caused by the suffering that is transmitted into living rooms across the Middle East.

However, as little of this is transmitted to American living rooms the perspective of the American public is shaped very differently than the rest of the world.

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Posted on 15-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • The New York Times on the difficulties on reporting a natural disaster and getting reporters on the ground (beyond twitter which continues to emerge as a suprising news source, though one that is hard to vet for accuracy).  See link.  Foreign Policy summarizes Haiti’s misery over the last 50 years.  The only country to win its freedom though a slave rebellion has been a failed state for some time now.  The earthquake removes what little government was left.
  • Newsweek takes a look at China’s love affair with rogue states. See link.  At least one can say that the Chinese actions are motivated by genuine self interest – preventing a collapsed state on its border (Myanmar and North Korea), locking up natural resources (Iran and Sudan) and trying to prevent another example of street protests toppling a regime (Iran). Contrast that with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who squanders his country’s wealth in strategic alliances with rogue states, quixotic socialist largess to Cuba and a military buildup against Columbia primarily to stick his finger in the eye of the United States.
  • Another one from Newsweek commending the mainstream media for doing its job during the Harry Reid controversy and not allowing the ridiculous Republican talking point of equivalence with the Trent Lott comments to stand. Its not often I join in to give a nod to traditional media.

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Posted on 09-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

John McCain’s campaign manager comes out swinging on Sarah Palin’s issues with the truth.  This Sunday’s 60 Minutes could be entertaining.  Also read about previously disclosed emails regarding the Alaska Independence Party.  Alaska blog Mudflats has a great read of just how Palin could make stuff up with a straight face.  See link.

For the last 15 years or so the mainstream media has generally been awful in calling out politicians on their bullshit, acting as stenographers reporting stuff verbatim.  Fox News (when they are not making stuff up) is an extreme example of this when it comes to the Republican Party.

With the media not doing their job emboldened politicians up the ante. This was evident the last couple of weeks when Republicans (including Mr. 9/11 himself) started peddling the fiction that no domestic terror attacks occurred George Bush.  At least this time the media did step up.  See link.

Andrew Sullivan has compiled a fairly thorough list of Palin’s odd and often easily disprovable lies since she hit the national stage.  It is hard not to lose respect for John McCain for trying to position a truth averse clueless neophyte a 71 year old cancer survivor’s heartbeat away from the presidency.

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Posted on 30-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Previously posted on the administration calling out Fox.  Its been amazing to see the mainstream media rally to Fox’s defense and pretend that what the Obama administration is doing something new…except that the Bush administration did the same thing to MSNBC this last year.  But the reason for this post is the absolutely brilliant, must see video from Jon Stewart skewering Fox.  Enjoy!

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
For Fox Sake!
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis
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The “Main Stream Media” has disapprovingly noted the Obama administration calling out Fox News as the media arm of the Republican party.  See here, here, here, here and here.  Not unexpectedly Fox News howled in outrage and liberal blogs cheerfully detailed the hypocrisy of Fox’s complaints when it cheered on the Bush administration calling out NBC News and MSNBC.  Very few media members noted that the underlying charge that Fox News is “opinion journalism masquerading as news” is essentially true.

A couple of good reads from the Economist’s Democracy in America blog today comparing Fox News to what is happening in Russia, Italy and Thailand, and Slate’s Jonathan Weisberg noting that the Fox response to the administration shows the inherent bias in its coverage.

I agree with the final point in both articles.  Cable “news” is now unwatchable.  Opinion shows dominate the peak hours and off-peak hours are filled with a bunch of documentary shows.  Even CNN Headline News which a decade ago provided 24 News coverage is now filled with shows that masquerade as news.  The Internet would be a refuge for finding news, but alas even the AP has decided to muddy its role as a wire service by falling for the opinion journalism lure.

More than ever, developing a filter to separate the wheat of news from the chaff of opinion is essential.  Paraphrasing the legal principle of caveat emptor, let the  unwary news reader beware.

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