Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Supremely Supine

Chris Ferris rants in typically vicious fashion:

It seems amazing that Newsweek has the cojones to print an article like this so soon after the administration made them their biatch for (correctly) reporting that an anonymous Pentagon source had seen in a report of allegations that the Koran had been flushed down the toilet.
The topic is Good Intentions Gone Bad, the farewell article by Rod Norlan, Newsweek's exiting Baghdad Bureau Chief which has received much skewering in the blogosphere for what it unwittingly reveals about a journalist's conception of his job (as with Judith Miller's Chalabi-exploited naiveté). The article is full of items that could have been Pullitzer material if pursued. Chris highlights this sentence in particular
The most shocking thing about Abu Ghraib was not the behavior of U.S. troops, but the incompetence of their leaders.
Chris rejoins
Actually, what is most shocking is that despite "plain as the nose on your face" knowledge that their leaders have proven to be so incompetent, is the fact that they somehow managed to get re-elected.
I'd add that even worse is that, as Brad Delong also noted - Now He Tells Us (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?), this same bureau chief was supremely supine in allowing the kind of reporting that his magazine did in the run up to the Iraq war and also ever since that that black hole began sucking up life from all those around it. Remembering your cojones only with the benefit of hindsight, once you've safely left the Green Zone and don't have to worry about getting cut off from access to highly misleading and stage-managed briefings with Pentagon and anonymous "Senior Coalition Provisional Authority officials", is mighty noble don't you think?
"Just the facts, Ma'am."
And MSNBC, which falls under that same tainted Nothing Bad to report Corporate (NBC) umbrella, is a far more malignant culprit than Newsweek in its flag-waving Pollyanna posturing. It outdoes even Cheery Neverland News (CNN) at the Fox News imitation. I actually respect Fox News because, like all Rupert Murdoch productions, it is simply an articulation of the man's parochial concerns and personality. The Sun in England taps directly into Murdoch's id but Fox News gets quite close to the heart of the matter. The things that matter to him are well known and who can blame anyone for assuming that what they like is what others would like. In much the same way, many Americans assume that what is liked or is good for America must be liked by, or good for, the rest of the world, but that's just an overblown sense of self at work. Besides media à la Murdoch is fun, sexy and exciting with enough sports to satisfy me on a weekend afternoon.

As far how the November vote went, well that's just the way of politics. One needed a savvy opposition figure who would be willing to play as dirty as the incumbent (who controled most of government) and to court all the country instead of preaching to the choir.

The cognitive dissonance of the moment, of the Greek chorus of "The insurgency is wilting! Vctory is right around the corner! We don't torture prisoners!" set against my dread at hearing what horror the BBC World Service will reveal as I wake in the morning, cries out for a sustained response and for someone to speak up incisively and engage the country because the current government has no policy clothes and is plainly what Pentagon planners would call a target rich environment - despite a fawning media.

Joseph Biden's call to Close Down Guantanamo Bay is a step in the right direction, but the critique needs to go beyond foreign policy and needs to address the real domestic and economic train wreck that even leaves that bagman we call Greenspan puzzled (Greenspan Says Low Rates Tempt Investors to Risk More). The socially regressive policies are more difficult to report but they also are interesting to consider and motivate many an interest group. Political journalists can take a look at the Downing Street memo and ask ingenuous questions about dates, people and places.

If that fails, we should remember that Al Capone was ultimately busted for tax evasion (incidentally that fellow-traveler in deviousness called Augusto Pinochet will finally be facing the music for tax fraud if he doesn't again fake illness whenever Riggs Bank or Allende are mentioned). No one expects politians to be choir boys but Dick Cheney and co make Bill Clinton look like the freshest Kuumbabe in town. Looking at the petty corruption from Tom Delay (with him you don't have to even squint) to Bill Frist, to the mismanagement of Iraq's oil revenues, or the way contracts (Haliburton et al.) are being awarded by the CPA in the abortive Iraqi reconstruction effort etc. (your tax dollars at work) should be an easy thing for a patient hack seeking to make a name for themselves. There are so many areas to look at and far more "there" there to grapple with than say something obscure as the Oil for Food program. 2 years of the War in Iraq, 18 months of the CPA or 3 years of the Department of Homeland Security has brought to light in the public domain a larger paper trail than Deep Throat ever handed to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Will US journalists ask the questions?

On political rhetoric, Dana Millbank has the right idea about the Administration's Amnesty Amnesia.
The folks at Amnesty International are practically begging for a one-way ticket to Gitmo. After the human rights group issued a report late last month calling the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times," top officials raced to condemn Amnesty.

President Bush: "It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation."

Vice President Cheney: "I don't take them seriously. . . . Frankly, I was offended by it."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld: "Reprehensible . . . cannot be excused."

Funny -- these officials had a different view of Amnesty when it was criticizing other countries.

Rumsfeld repeatedly cited Amnesty when he was making the case against Saddam Hussein, urging "a careful reading of Amnesty International" and saying that according to "Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture."

The White House often cited Amnesty to make the case for war in Iraq, using the group's allegations that Iraq executed dozens of women accused of prostitution, decapitated victims and displayed their heads, tortured political opponents and raped detainees' relatives, gouged out eyes, and used electric shocks.
In any case, the only reason that stereotypical american voter cares about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or Bagram is that there is a nagging sense that it will cause blowback. Deep down the American psyche was bloodied and wounded by the temerity of those Bin Laden cultists to attack as they did and a little frontier justice and dead-or-alive treatment is well within the cultural zeitgeist, as evidenced by those recent paens to flagellent revenge Man on Fire and The Passion of The Christ, to name just a few movies (the South Park - Passion of the Jew was better I felt).

The fact that swarthy types are being roughed up is of little matter: you can't fight Al Qaeda without breaking a few bones. Even when you tell them that that Afghan taxi driver was innocent, that he was a witness to the bombing and not a suicide bomber, and that getting beaten to death is a rather steep price to pay for objecting to being one of The Usual Suspects picked up even if said beating is at the hands of clean-cut, wholesome, flagbearing, GI types with crew-cuts that you can bring home to mom.

Showing that the current government policies, in almost every sphere, are not only wrong-headed but counter-productive with daily evidence of blowback in body bags, unphotographed caskets and deficits is only in start.

Talking in plain English about these things is the correct tactic. And the talk should not be in the weasely and vapid pseudo-senatorial lobbyist-lackey lingo. The most shocking aspect of that attention-grabber demagogue, George Galloway's dismantling of Norm Coleman's Senate Committee was that while his rhetoric was rather sober even if quotable, it seemed light years from what any American politician could come up with. From Issue A to Z it should be a matter of repeatedly saying,
  1. The policy is wrong.
  2. It's not working. Indeed it's alienating people and worsening things.
  3. This is how we would change it.
Repeat ad infinitum.

The Democrats' choice of which issues to take stands on is quite puzzling although Harry Reid is getting better. They don't even seem to get to the "It's not working plank let alone proceed fluently to the "How we would change things" aspect. The concept of a strong Whip, of getting strong ground-level organization, of articulating deep policies and positions - an agenda in short, of having a party with a cohort of thinking heads ready to repeat the party's line at every opportunity is missing. In other words what is needed is the the equivalent of the work that John Smith did for the Labour Party in 1990s England before his untimely death, work that paved the way for the emergence of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (and there were 50 others who could have assumed their roles). When Labour took the reins of power from the analagously sclerotic John Major's Thatcherite Conservatives (John Major is at the Carlyle Group along with George Bush Snr), they hit the ground running with a comprehensive program and manifesto that they can still point to today and which has won them 2 consecutive elections (even despite the UK electorate's evident distaste for Blair's embrace of Bush's apocalyptic "Because we could" Empire-building Persian folly and the consequent costs in blood, taxes and peace of mind they are bearing). And the Assyrian conquest looms.

In any case, as I've written before, how Americans chose to mismanage their patrimony is of rather minor concern to me, although housing purchases loom, it's the collateral damage that worries me.

At the risk of repeating myself, and being my father's son, I believe in the joy of repetition, let me harken again to the Ga proverb my father is so fond of recounting
An elephant which is lean is still bigger than a cow.
  • A chastened US will still dictate to much of the rest of the world
  • A lightly grazed GOP elephant could very well be bigger than a rising donkey some might say.
I was discussing with my Afro-French cousins this past weekend the way the French bloodied Chirac with a resounding non in the past few weeks. Their typically Gallic response was "Les Français sont con". Later on we read the Observer and found a quote echoing the same sentiment:
Danielle Larre is tending her tomato plants when I drop by. I ask her whether she will be voting oui or non. 'I'm going to vote yes. Now that the train is on its way, we can't simply jump off. I started reading the constitution, but I decided I had more interesting things to read. It's ridiculous to have a referendum because nobody understands it.'

Danielle's husband is a member of the chasse (the hunt), many of whom oppose the constitution because they fear it would remove their right to trample through people's gardens hunting wild boar. 'My husband, mum, son and sister will all vote yes,' she says firmly. 'We're all voting yes for different reasons. My mum will vote yes because she likes Chirac. Me, I don't like Chirac at all.' Danielle shrugs: 'Les Français, ils sont un peu con. Ils sont jamais contents.' Roughly translated: 'They're awkward sods, the French. They're never happy.'

Jean shows me a computer program he has, analysing the vocabulary of the constitution. The word 'bank' appears 176 times; 'market' 78 times; competition 174 times; and social progress three times. The word fraternity does not appear. 'Services public' appears only once; the preferred term now is services economiques d'interĂȘt general. 'It's not just a choice of words. Services public means something very specific in France. We don't want to lose that distinction,' he says.
In other words, the French chose to vote down an inconsequential constitutional treaty but may still very well vote Chirac and his cronies back into power at the next presidential elections. In much the same way, if no US politician steps up soon to the proverbial plate, the same thing might happen and worse in the 2008 elections. If that comes to pass it will be every man for himself because the Global Goodwill Quotient ® will be maxed out like the US national savings rate is being minimized. Have you bought any euros lately, Chris?

Soundtrack for this political toli posturing:
"Holding Someone Is Truly Believing There's Joy In Repetition."
There's Joy In Repetition.Iraq and Afghanistan are plainly not working
There's Joy In Repetition.Nuclear Proliferation is not working (India, Pakistan).
North Korea is not working
There's Joy In Repetition.Economy is not working
There's Joy In Repetition.Human Rights are scarce (Mr Patriot and Tom Ridge's Homeland Security beckon)
There's Joy In Repetition.Job security? Hello? Anyone there?
There's Joy In Repetition.Health care is not working (my insurance copayment is $35 and I'm a lucky camper)
There's Joy In Repetition.Affordable housing or education is a pipe dream for a growing number
There's Joy In Repetition.Retirement Funding? Will your company pay your pensions? Is your 401K safe? Well less said on that
There's Joy In Repetition.Environmental Policy? I've got some Redwood Forest, National Park and some Alaskan oil field drills for you
There's Joy In Repetition.
[                             ]

The above space deliberately left blank.
There's Joy In Repetition.Let's cut taxes for the top 1 0.1%.
There's Joy In Repetition.Let's spend the loot like a Long Thief in the Night


Brand America is being flushed down the toilet along with those copies of the Koran.

More toli on The B-Movie Theory

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The same BBC World Service who spent weeks telling us elections could not possibly be held in Iraq on Jan. 30 ?

Obviously, they have a good handle on what's going on.

Koranteng said...

Here here.
Se have no end of people crying wolf (and the thoughtful military folks and some of the civilian staff are obviously great counterbalancers to that party line). The critics of the Iraq enterprise have no monopoly on insight or accuracy being further away from the decision-making. Still they appear closer the far closer to ground than Pollyanna and on the topic of Iraq many of their predictions have come to pass.

And as far as journalism goes and actually seeking out stories, the Beeb is not bad. It has its faults and many blindspots; when my mother worked there this was a constant refrain. But they dig far more doggedly.

An anecdote I was saving for another piece: "I was sitting in my barber's chair, we were watching Judge Mathis (I knew of Judge Judy but this was the first time watching). All of a sudden there was a Breaking News interruption. Now this was the day a few weeks ago that was the bloodiest of days in Iraq (there were 10 or more blasts and spectacular "incidents"). If I remember correctly there were other spectacularly bad news items on the economic and social policy front that day. I worried that perhaps this was bodybags, or layoffs or worse, or a Presidential speech or anything. About the only thing I could think that could interrupt Judge Mathis (who after all is like King Solomon) was perhaps the Michael Jackson trial.

The newscaster came on (a nice blond talking head - she exuded telegenic genes perfection). She said: "This just in. A seal has been found dead on the shore of Quincy"

Tnat is the story. They didn't have pictures

Now a certain amount of frivolity is expected this is silly season, but as my hair got clipped in my barbershop chair, the entire barbershop cohort couldn't help but say that that is what the US media has been about. Our conversations about housing prices, job security, Iraq, race, pollution, love, fun, sex, church etc all needed to stop because of this breaking news. Oh well.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.