Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

August 26, 2008

The AT&T Party Thanking the Blue Dogs

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:53 am

Some things just have to be seen to believe.  Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher played party crashers trying to interview guests going to a celebration for Blue Dog democrats apparently sponsored by AT&T.  The quid pro quo of the whole affair is brazenly obvious, although that is true for the whole convention.   It is particularly stunning how tight-lipped every guest turned out to be.

The other striking thing was the lack of other media coverage.  Democracy Now! and a couple bloggers, where was everyone else?  Blue Dog Democrats, the key enablers for a revision to FISA that granted immunity to civil liability, have a lavish party filled with VIP guests arriving in limos and luxury SUVs, sponsored by a company that directly benefited from the sponsored legislation and the mainstream media finds no reason to investigate it?!

The reason for this should be obvious even to the most casual of observers.  The mainstream media is owned by corporations, selling audiences to other businesses.  There is no “liberal” bias.  There is a business bias.  Everything else is driven by the bottom line.  The corporate owned media doesn’t report on the shenanigans of their advertisers unless they have to.  Bias is best displayed, not by the stories the media covers, but rather the stories they choose to ignore.

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July 18, 2008

Al Gore’s Challenge

Filed under: economy, environment, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 8:59 am

Al Gore challenged the nation to get to renewable, zero carbon electricity within 10 years.  What Al Gore proposes is the type of large-scale action that is necessary to combat the related crises we are facing.  If you watched it on CNN, you probably didn’t see the website you could visit for additional information.  It is http://www.wecansolveit.org.

Al Gore’s suggestions meet the scale of the challenge that lie before us, not just as a nation but as a species.  America needs to lead, not dig in our collective heels.  Gore demonstrated the type of rhetoric that demonstrates a good contrast between the ideas of the Republican party and his.  The Republican solutions to these crises are actually counter-productive as Gore explains in his speech.

In general, the Republicans don’t win because of the strength of their ideas.  They win based on image.  Glenn Greenwald examines this dynamic in his book Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.  The corporate-owned, mainstream media plays a critical role.  The MSM doesn’t ask about climate change, they ask about lapel pins.

On the other hand, Democrats play along by trying to blur the distinctions between the two parties.  This is another reason why the FISA capitulation is so disappointing.  Democrats seem unable to convincingly stand by a principle.  The only “strength” they show is by a willingness to surrender even when their base tells them not to.

One thing that is so disappointing about the wecansolveit.org site is that the largest initiatives seem to be contingent on federal government action.  Sadly, the federal government is broken and there is no way it is getting fixed in time, even if the Democratic party is in control of both the legislative and executive branches.  Can we really afford to wait for this broken and corrupt institution before we take decisive action?  Is there any way to get a good head start without federal government help?  Not just researching it, but building it.  I can’t see how we will succeed otherwise.

July 2, 2008

The Obama FISA Fiasco

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , , , — codesmithy @ 9:16 am

Keith Olbermann gave a “Special Comment” on Monday encouraging Obama to do the right thing on FISA.  Olbermann’s suggestion to try to strip immunity, vote for the bill when that fails, then promise a full criminal investigation if Obama were to become president is a rather ineffectual gesture as Olbermann describes in his comment.  Olbermann is correct when he says it frees telecoms from civil, not criminal prosecution.   However, Glenn Greenwald points out the glaring flaw in the analysis.

That the FISA bill only immunizes telecoms from civil but not criminal liability isn’t some mystical discovery generated by John Dean’s Talmudic examination of the fine print, but rather, is something that was crystal clear and known to everyone for a long time. Indeed, from the start, the Bush administration only proposed, and telecoms only sought, immunity from civil — not criminal — liability. That’s because criminal prosecution would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and beyond that, Bush could and likely will simply pardon telecoms from prosecution before he leaves office (nobody who has watched the last seven years would believe that Bush would be deterred because pardons are deemed by courts to be technical admissions of some level of guilt, and those asserting that pardons can’t be issued until there are charges brought simply don’t know what they’re talking about).

Immunizing telecoms from civil liability will ensure that the vast lawlessness of the Bush Administration is never aired in a court of law.  They have already knowingly broke the law.  We already know that they have a vast array of legal opinions from the likes of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales that basically say the president can do what ever he wants in a commander-in-chief capacity.  The executive branch has turned any congressional oversight into a complete and utter farce.  This is precisely because Congress is unwilling to use the one tool they have for curtailing an out of control presidency: impeachment.

That said, it is not the case that the legal opinions of the presidential advisers are law.  In fact, they are most likely intended to shore up plausible deniability, to give the president fall guys.  The facade of legality only last as long as the doctrines are tacitly accepted and unchallenged.  Their true test is within a court of law.  There is no doubt in my mind that they will crumble under judicial scrutiny.  The legal opinions were always just pretense.  This is precisely why the Bush administration is so keen on getting the civil lawsuits dismissed.  With a pardon it is just he said, she said, Bush will come up with something lame like: “I don’t want to see members of my administration having to defend their actions in order to protect our nation.  I know they did the right thing under difficult circumstances.”  And that will be it.  Dismissing civil liability is giving Bush a trump card.  Is Olbermann really going to be that surprised if and when the president plays it?  THE DEMOCRATS ONLY GAVE IT TO HIM!  IT WAS ONLY WHAT HE OBVIOUSLY PLANNED ALL ALONG!  After all this time, does Olbermann really believe Bush cares what the public thinks of him?

Of course, there is Obama’s stance in the whole matter.  Krugman did a good job summing the current problems with the Obama agenda.  Obama might actually be centrist.  However, the one attribute I thought Obama had that Clinton lacked was moral courage.  The ability to stand by a principle and unabashedly defend it.  Clinton seemed too willing to compromise principal to meet some political end, which I felt was particularly displayed in her attempt to get the Michigan and Florida delegates seated.  So, even if Clinton had better policy papers, I thought Obama would be more effective in actually implementing something.

Telecom immunity is one of those issues that has no constituency outside of K Street.  Congressional oversight has proven itself to be a complete failure because punishment is off the table.  I want this administration judged in a court of law.  Any other issue is largely irrelevant.  What is the point of enacting new provisions when the president wasn’t following the old ones?  Really, what good does that do?

For a campaign that seems to be planning on continuing popular support as part of their fund-raising strategy, Obama surely demonstrates his willing to bite the hands that feeds him.  This isn’t to say Obama is worse than McCain.  However, a lot of my enthusiasm for his candidacy has certainly dissipated to a degree.  If his fundraising drops, he shouldn’t be wondering why.

June 18, 2008

FISA: Not This Again

Filed under: politics, protest — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:42 am

Glenn Greenwald writes about Steny Hoyer’s back room dealing to enable telecom amnesty.

Keith Olbermann had a special comment about the matter back in February.

As is usually the case, I’ve eventually come around to Olbermann’s use of terminology.  There is increasingly no other way to describe our government other than fascist.  Back in February, I thought the word was too much of a distraction.  However, as the 5-4 decision to restore Habeas Corpus demonstrates, we are only hanging on by a thread.  5-4, think about what that means.  Four judges on the Supreme Court endorse the notion that the leader can jail a person without any charge, indefinitely.  Their dissent isn’t based on any constitutional principle but rather the chilling belief that placing our complete trust in the executive leader is the only way to keep us safe.  Their utter contempt for the legal system which they are a part of is palpable.  So I ask this not the least bit rhetorically: how would a fascist argue differently?  Can anyone demonstrate a tangible difference in the thinking beyond the superficial?

Next comes Steny Hoyer, working to ensure if the glorious leader told you to break the law, then it is legal.  As Glenn Greenwald shows, Hoyer argued for the rule of law when it applied to Libby and now stands opposed to it.  That rank corruption and cynicism is only exceeded by his seeming plan to vote against the legislation once he feverishly ensures there are enough votes to guarantee its passage.

The only way to change this behavior, including but not limited to lying about the role they are playing, is to make them pay a political cost.  With an election closing in, this is the best time to affect change.  The plan to run an advertising campaign against Hoyer seems to be as good of a tactic as any.  Complaining about Hoyer on a blog is fine, but injecting something into the mainstream media via advertising is sure to get notice, not just from Hoyer, but from all the people like him.  Please consider donating some money to Act Blue for the campaign.  This isn’t a democrat versus republican issue, it is a people versus the fascists issue.  Do you want the government secretly spying on you without warrants?  Do you want the leader to be able to throw you in jail without charge indefinitely?  Do you want those who break the law to be able to get away with it if they are politically connected?  One set of laws and rules for us, another set for our rulers?  Unless you do something about it, your tacit answer to all those questions is yes.

$5?  Is that really going to break the bank?

Here are some quotes to ponder while you decide:

Eternal vigiliance is the price of liberty.

Freedom isn’t free.

June 13, 2008

Supreme Court Restores Habeas Corpus

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 8:59 am

Glenn Greenwald, former constitutional lawyer, has a piece on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the military commissions act and restores some semblance of Habeas Corpus.  The ruling was 5-4.  The four dissenters were Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito. As happy as I am to see one of the major institutions uphold some of the basic values and principles of our government, however limited it may be, the score is also important 5-4.  That is how close we are: one justice.  We are one justice away from an unquestioned unitary executive.  One justice away from a president being able to throw a person in jail and throw away the key.

As Greenwald notes, McCain has promised to appoint justices in the mold of Roberts and Alito.  Despite McCain’s flip-flopping nature, along with his obvious stay in Iraq stance, and proclivity to start a war with Iran, I have no doubt this is one campaign promise he would keep.

In a sane world, this decision would used to impeach the four supreme justices who dissented.  We don’t live in a sane world, and we are standing at the brink of a much darker one.

Dahlia Lathwick has more at Slate.

May 29, 2008

Charlie Gibson: Stupendous Tool of the Bush Adminstration

Filed under: culture, media — Tags: , , , , — codesmithy @ 9:11 am

Matt Lauer from the Today Show sat down with the three major corporate network news anchors, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Charlie Gibson. They were promoting “Stand Up to Cancer” but while Lauer had them in studio he asked them to respond to McClellan’s charges that the media was too deferential in the run up to Iraq.

Here is the result. (h/t Glenn Greenwald)

Couric’s assessment was fair but a bit lacking. The Bush administration is media savvy. They knew how to bully reporters. Her claim was a little bit narrow in that she felt like it didn’t effect her coverage, but admitted that she felt that it affected the coverage in the media generally. In all fairness, Lauer poked her in that direction also, ensuring she did not impugn the integrity of the news organization she worked previously.

Brian Williams was establishment enabling as always. It was basic apologetics. The media wanted to verify the administration’s claims, but it was just too hard.  Iraq is on the other side of the Earth you know.

Then along comes Gibson and demonstrates what being a complete and utter douche is all about. He thinks the media did a terrific job, couldn’t have done any better. He was a grizzled veteran of the administration’s tactics, but he stood up to them. The media questioned Powell’s U.N. presentation. Gibson was a fine example of such skepticism.  Here is an example of him asking those hard-hitting questions he asked in the run-up to the war from Glenn Greenwald’s update:

On February 6, 2003 — the day of Powell’s speech — Gibson had on as guests former CIA Director James Woolsey and Terence Taylor of the International Institute For Strategic Studies to analyze Powell’s claims. Here are some of the super-tough, skeptical questions Gibson asked:

* Terence Taylor, let me start with you. Specifically, of all the biological and chemical weapons that he outlined, and the means of delivery, what’s the most frightening? Should be the most frightening?

* Question number two that was in my mind. James Woolsey, he showed intercepts, he showed photo intelligence. He talked about human resources that we had. How much intelligence was compromised?

* On a scale of one to 10, one being the most sanitized of intelligence information and 10 being laying out all our intelligence ammunition, where was he yesterday on the scale?

* Terence Taylor, as I look at some of the pictures that we were talking about just a moment ago with James Woolsey, the pictures dramatic in that they show Iraqi trucks pulling away from sites virtually as the, as the inspectors trucks are pulling up. How compromised are the inspectors there? Are they totally infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence?

Here’s how the segment ended:

CHARLES GIBSON

James Woolsey, the Iraqis immediately challenged a lot of what was shown, said it was altered, said it was doctored. The international community — do they know that stuff was genuine?

JAMES WOOLSEY

Oh, anybody who is objective about this I think does. The people who now doubt whether or not Saddam really has WMD programs, chemical and bacteriological, in particular, are really of two types, either they work for Saddam or they’re doing a human imitation of an ostrich. There really are, I think, no other possibilities.

CHARLES GIBSON

James Woolsey, former CIA Director, Terence Taylor, former weapons inspector, I thank you both.

Again, I have to ask, how would Pravda be any different?

Although, Gibson already proved his credentials as Republican water-carrier as he jokes about the crowd turning on him at the Democratic debate that ABC hosted.

I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.

May 11, 2008

How Would Pravda be Any Different?

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 10:57 am

Glenn Greenwald covered the Pentagon’s military analyst program today.  The operative question remains the following: how would media coverage before and after the invasion of Iraq be any different if the media were directly state controlled?  The insight the Pentagon’s military analyst program gives is a resounding: not much.  The Pentagon was able to shape news coverage by controlling the media’s access to sources.  The Pentagon informed a few military analysts who the Pentagon trusted to tow the chosen line.  If one of the analysts stepped out of line then they were simply excluded from access thus risked falling into irrelevancy.  Matters were further complicated by the fact that many of these military analysts stood to gain financially in an event of a war.

The success of this military analyst program represents a systemic failure in society.  The founders believed a free press would act as a check on government power and prevent exactly this type of abuse.  So the question becomes: why did it fail?  The simple answer is that the press relies too much on government sources, didn’t properly vet the analysts it put on the air in these particular circumstances and didn’t do enough independent fact-checking.  All these things are true, as far as they go.  However, it is telling that this particular predicament is more pronounced in the mainstream/corporate owned media.  It seems appropriate to look at the unique circumstances these institutions were placed under to better understand the failure that took place.

The first fact of the corporate owned media is that it is profit driven.  From the very outset, the goal is to produce the news that will sell for the most while keeping production costs to a minimum.  Filling a newspaper or air-time therefore becomes an externality.  It is the very nature of the corporate-owned media to fill their newspaper with as much externally produced material that sells as possible.  In this respect, the military analyst story is not an aberration in coverage, it is the expected outcome of the corporate owned media.  The military analysts represented a gravy-train for these corporate entities, the analysts’ backgrounds were unexamined for the sole reason that the only possible result from asking such questions was to disrupt this favorable flow of government subsidized information.

What is the solution?  Stop getting news from corporate sources.   Try sources like Democracy Now! or The Real News.  If the only meaningful competition for corporate media entities remains other corporate media entities, these problems will persist and very likely worsen.  Effective change starts by supporting some of the alternatives.

May 7, 2008

Harry Reid’s Bizarre Daily Show Interview

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 7:53 am

Harry Reid was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for what was atypical interview. Harry Reid is promoting his new book, The Good Fight. If there is any “fight” in Reid, one would be hard-pressed to find it in the interview. Glenn Greenwald dissects one of Reid’s strange comments surrounding Joe Lieberman’s voting record.

Joe Lieberman has already endorsed Republican candidate John McCain and is said to be close to attending the Republican National Convention serving him up to play the role Zell Miller played in the 2004 election. Lieberman is one of the most extreme hawks looking to strike Iran and an ardent supporter of expansionist Israeli policies in the Middle East. As Greenwald also points out, Lieberman is also a supporter of some of the most extreme assertions of executive authority and privilege.

Reid’s failure is in his insistence to get things done. The Democrats were brought to power, not to get things done, but to stop what the government was doing. Stop torturing. Stop spying on Americans. Stop the War. The great power of the Senate and the House is not in its ability to get things done, but rather its ability to obstruct. This is the precise reason Congress was given the power of the purse. The fact of the matter is the Democrats have all the power they need to end the war and bring this unlawful presidency to account. They don’t because Democrats won’t “fight.” In fact, the only fight Reid has is towards his own party and his own base as was highlighted in the whole Telecom immunity debacle.

Book promotion is actually a good time to interact with people like Reid. Firedoglake is hosting a book salon May 10th, 2008 at 5:00 pm EST. I don’t really think Harry Reid actually knows what he was getting into when he signed up. However, now we have two hours of Reid’s undivided attention. So, you can ask him questions about his Bush enabling leadership, strange Lieberman comments and even his low-key interview. Reid is a human being, and now is a good time to get him to personally respond to your concerns.

May 1, 2008

NBC and the Myth of the Liberal Media

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 7:46 am

Glenn Greenwald has a post about NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ response to the New York Times military analyst story. Ok, that is a bit convoluted, so let me try to clear this up. First of all, the New York Times on April 20th ran a story exposing the complicity of the “independent” military experts used by various news agencies and the Pentagon. It is very likely that the Pentagon program was illegal. Not only that, but these military generals frequently had various conflicts of interests, none of which was hinted at by the networks on which they appeared to viewers. The goal of the Pentagon program was to use the generals as “message force multipliers” (no, I’m not making that up, it is what the Pentagon called them).

This story has been met by the mainstream news media with almost complete silence. There have been a few mentions in the mainstream media, but for the most part it has been blacked out. The major networks just won’t talk about it. In fact, there are now some clocks about it.

In one of the ways that old world meets new, Brian Williams now has a blog. He took some time to knock some of the more gossipy stories in the New York Times and expresses his thoughts that former Reagan speech writer and current Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan should get a Pulitzer prize for commentary.

In one of the great moments of web 2.0, Glenn writes a post about this and causes a virtual mob to descend on Williams’ blog until he finally addresses the Pentagon “message force multiplier” story.

In doing so, Williams displays more of the jaw-dropping insipid behavior it took him to be completely silent about the story to begin with.

To get insight into this behavior, we must look at the institutional structure of the mainstream media. I posted this before, but it bears a view if one hasn’t seen it already.

It is important to realize that we don’t have a liberal media. But, if you believed that wasn’t true, where would you get the evidence? How would you notify others of your findings? How could you dissuade people who hear the numerous assertions from mainstream and right-wing channels constantly asserting the opposite with various anecdotal cases? The voices have always been there, they have just been buried.  The dominant narrative is the one most often repeated, just keep connecting liberal and media, eventually people will believe it.

One of the best counter-examples of the liberal media is NBC’s flap with Arianna Huffington. NBC confirmed that she wouldn’t be booked on any NBC-affiliated show to promote her book. Is this because of criticism of Tim Russert on her site the Huffington Post?  Whatever the behavior, it certainly isn’t liberal.

In short, certain messages are multiplied. Others are ignored. Some are dismissed. Still some are demandingly challenged. It is not a matter of standards, it is a matter of agenda. There is a reason why the mainstream media gives equal time for lies, others are allowed in but placed under constraints of concision, and others are allowed to opine endlessly.  We then reach the inescapable fact, the news media does what it sees in its interest which is profit.  And for some, like those in the media, war can be very profitable.

April 23, 2008

The Right-Wing Smear Machine

Filed under: media, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:00 am

I’m nearly finished reading “Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics” by Glenn Greenwald. In the book, Greenwald explores how the right-wing effectively markets their candidates and how in reality these candidates bear little to no resemblance to the myths that are propagated about them. On the flip-side, the right-wing is successfully able to smear Democratic candidates with seemingly reckless abandon. The criticism of Democratic candidates is hardly substantive, it involves the endless droning about the same misinformation which is endlessly repeated. Even in supposedly more “respectable” venues, what in more honest days would be called “political gossip,” pundits vapidly ask whether or not such controversies would hurt the candidate in the various election contests.

One must ask: what purpose endlessly chirping and hand-wringing over manufactured issues serve? The discussion certainly isn’t enlightening. What it does aid is the repetition of the lie. Information transmission is not a perfect process. There are still people who believe Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” or Columbus proved the world was round. It is not because there is a lack of information to disprove these beliefs, it is the fact these untruths are endless repeated from a multitude of sources and go unquestioned. The power of the right-wing is in setting the agenda. They do this through the Internet (through sites like Drudge, etc.), Radio (Limbaugh, etc.), T.V. (Fox News) and subsequently disseminated through the “liberal” media, often wholesale. One can view how it works in the following video.

Brave New Films post.

There is no rising above this. If the Democrats are interested in winning this November they must insist on holding the Republican candidate to the same standard. This will be particularly challenging because of the way the establishment media is infatuated with John McCain. The only problem with the Democratic primary getting drawn out is that it gives more time for the right-wing smear machine to work without adequately responding as was evidenced in the ABC debate. Democrats need to pick a candidate who will win in November and this is becoming more difficult for either eventual nominee because the right-wing smears are being unmet.

At the end of the day, Democrats need to use their political will-power to put these issues on the table:

  1. McCain was fifth from the bottom in class rank, 894th out of 899.
  2. a sub-par flier, with limited patience for studying aviation manuals.
  3. Crashed his plane THREE times, before shot down and taken prisoner.
  4. Possible/alleged role in Forrestal fire?

The big one is number 4.

From the Daily Kos post:

McCain and the Forrestal’s skipper, Capt. John K. Beling, were warned about the danger of using M-65 1000-lb. bombs manufactured in 1935, which were deemed too dangerous to use during World War II and, later, on B-52 bombers. The fire from the Zuni misfire resulted in the heavy 1000 pounders being knocked loose from the pylons of McCain’s A-4, which were only designed to hold 500-pound bombs.’ WMR further reported, ‘The unstable bombs had a 60-second cook-off threshold in a fire situation and this warning was known to both Beling and McCain prior to the disaster.’

…crewmen aboard the Forrestal have provided additional information about the Forrestal incident. It is believed by many crewmen and those who have investigated the case that McCain deliberately ‘wet-started’ his A-4E to shake up the guy in the plane behind his A-4. ‘Wet-starts’, done either deliberately or accidentally, shoot a large flame from the tail of the aircraft.

In McCain’s case, the ‘wet-start’ apparently ‘cooked off’ and launched the Zuni rocket from the rear F-4 that touched off the explosions and massive fire. The F-4 pilot was reportedly killed in the conflagration.

‘Wet starting’ was apparently a common practice among young ‘hot-dog’ pilots. McCain was quickly transferred to the USS Oriskany (the only Forrestal crewman to be immediately transferred). After the disaster, McCain was shot down over North Vietnam on October 26, 1967.

…informed by knowledgeable sources, including an ex-Navy A-4 pilot, the ‘wet-start game’ was a common occurrence. However, it is between ‘very unlikely’ and ‘impossible’ for the Forrestal ‘wet start’ to have been accidental. ‘Wet starts’ were later rendered impossible by automated engine controls.”

None of this has any of the respectability necessary to make it a mainstream story (yet). However, we need to ask: what was McCain’s role in the Forrestal incident? Did McCain wet start his A-4? Let’s not forget that McCain’s dad was an Admiral in the Navy at this time either. Did he have a role in a cover-up? These are the types insinuations that Democrats are constantly responding too. It is time to throw some mud back. However, unlike the right-wing lies, these issues are actually substantive under any rubric of a “character issue,” but they are not going to become an issue until there is a concerted effort to make them one.

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