Nov 1 2008


A Test of Faith?

“Next time you meet an atheist, tell him or her that you know a bold, fresh guy, a barbarian who was raised in a working-class home and retains the lessons he learned there. Then mention to that atheist that this guy is now watched and listened to, on a daily basis, by millions of people all over the world and, to boot, sells millions of books. Then, while the non-believer is digesting all that, ask him or her if they still don’t believe there’s a God!”

— Talkshow host Bill O’Reilly, offering his career as proof of the existence of God (USA Today, 9/22/08)

Circling Hawks

The Washington Post (9/28/08) gathered reactions from “foreign policy analysts and others” to the presidential debate on international policy, and what was striking was how hawkish the Post’s circle of international experts was. The lineup included Henry A. Kissinger—inevitably—and several hawks from right-wing think tanks and/or the Bush administration: Danielle Pletka of American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Michael Rubin of AEI and Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, David Makovsky and Patrick Claw-son of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. (Clawson also co-wrote a book with Rubin.) Michael O’Hanlon, another Post expert, works at the centrist Brookings but is a well-known Iraq hawk. Most of those who weren’t obvious hawks had Republican connections: Michael J. Green of CSIS worked for G.W. Bush’s NSC; Karen Donfried of the German Marshall Fund was an aide to Condoleezza Rice; Brookings Pakistan expert Stephen P. Cohen worked at Reagan’s State Department; Nancy Soderberg, who used to work for Bill Clinton, now advises Michael Bloomberg. Ronald D. Asmus was a former Clinton aide, but is best known for his advocacy of NATO expansion. For a change of pace, they also tapped David M. Walker of the Peter G. Petersen Foundation, who’s a deficit hawk. You’d think the disasters of the Bush years would create interest in new ideas on international policy—but at the Washington Post, a debate between alumni of Bush’s Pentagon and Bush’s State Department really is considered balanced.

Who Are ‘You’?

Corporate media have a peculiar view of who “you” are when it comes to economics. Take the New York Daily News’ graphic (9/21/08) on the major candidate’s tax plans, which used as examples families making $35,000, $75,000, $150,000, $200,000, $500,000 and $2 million—in other words, roughly speaking, families making more than 39 percent, 74 percent, 94 percent, 97 percent, 99.5 percent and 99.9 percent of U.S. households. Picking such skewed examples gives predictably skewed results—four out of six of the Daily News’ families do better under McCain’s plan, for example, whereas the Tax Policy Center calculates that 81 percent of families would get a tax cut under Obama’s plan, versus only 56 percent for McCain’s.

Isolation Chamber

“The technology of campaign propaganda has advanced to such a degree that the concept of campaign-trail ‘journalism’ is now indistinguishable from corporate PR. . . . The constant Secret Service security protocol leaves everyone On the Bus roped off from all external human contact from morning till night; at the events in between, the press is often kept in windowless rooms behind closed doors or curtains, where reporters sit and listen to the candidate’s speeches fed in via loudspeaker. This hilarious setup makes it possible for so-called ‘political journalists’ to cover a candidate without (a) seeing him, (b) seeing his audiences and (c) receiving any information at all that is not fed to them directly by the campaign.”

—Matt Taibbi, (9/18/08)

The Missing Source

Mark Weisbrot and Nichole Szembrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (9/08) looked at 267 TV news stories that mentioned the offshore drilling proposal—and found only one report that cited the finding of the federal Energy Information Agency (2/07)—“the country’s most authoritative source for statistics on energy”—that opening up currently restricted offshore areas to drilling would take 20 years to have even an insignificant effect on gas prices. Citing polls in which over half of those surveyed call environmental protections a “major cause of the recent increase in gasoline prices,” Weisbrot and Szembrot suggested that “omission of the relevant data from this recent reporting may have contributed to the widespread public misunderstanding.”

Democratization via Dictatorship

A Fareed Zakaria column (Newsweek, 9/22/08) argued that Bush-style democracy promotion is good in theory, but difficult in practice: “Consider, for example, Haiti, where the United States has attempted to foster democracy on and off for almost a century—with almost no success. Why? Surely Haitians yearn to be free. But there are aspects of its politics, economics and culture that have made it very difficult to establish liberal democracy.” But it’s very hard to put U.S. policy toward Haiti in a “democracy-building” framework. Toward the beginning of Zakaria’s time frame, for instance, the U.S. had Haiti under military occupation for 20 years. Are we supposed to interpret this as an early, if misguided, attempt at democracy-building? More recently, the U.S. supported a coup against Haiti’s elected government in 2004 (Extra!, 7-8/06). Rather than trying to understand this as a failed effort to “foster democracy,” doesn’t it make more sense to see this as an instance of the U.S. being opposed to democracy in Haiti?