Thursday, July 31, 2008


The western press is all worked up over Beijing's limitation on website access for those who are covering the Olympics.

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I can't see a lot of difference between Beijing's up-front censorship and western censorship, which is more subtle but just as effective.

Beijing's limitations on visiting journalists apparently do not affect savvy Chinese internet users, while the self-censorship that western, and especially American journalists have to exercise, affects what the public gets to know on a broad range of vital issues, from the war in Iraq to the amount of vacation other developed countries grant their workers.
As for spin, talking points, rewriting of experts' reports - for example on climate change - what is that if not censorship?

Most Americans don't even know there is such a thing as an alternative media, and many of those who are aware of it, believe that reading it or watching it could be a form of brain washing or lack of patriotism.

This is all part of the charade that goes on over our heads: all leaders go to the limit of what their respective publics will allow them to get away with, and on a certain basic level, even enemies understand that about each other.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Myth of Objectivity

The McCain campaign complains that the press is showing more enthusiasm for his opponent.  This brings to a head an issue that has underlain the problem of the press in the United States for decades.

The problem is this: a basic premise in journalism is that the press must be “objective”.  Dozens of books have been written that show there is no such thing as objectivity: every decision made in the mind of the journalist or editor (what stories to cover, how much space to allot, what page to run it on, what size headline it will have, etc.) is colored by his or her background, education, what he or she ate for breakfast or drank the night before. Yet the myth of objectivity continues, because it suits the owners of newspapers and magazines.  (The owner doesn’t sit in the editor’s chair, but he fires him if he does not perform as expected.)

Now there is the deliberate confounding of equal time with so-called objectivity.  Television, where most Americans get their news, bends over backwards to devote equal time to the two candidates, but they can only tangentially doctor actual coverage (such as turning down the applause for Obama and turning it up for McCain.) It is not the press’s fault that Obama is inspiring, nor can individual reporters be expected to sound like robots.

When jaded reporters cannot hide their enthusiasm, you know something big is happening.  But the emotion that cannot always be stifled even by the most experienced journalists, does not alter the fact that under the guise of objectivity, the American press has become the docile lapdog of government and business, both of which include the military.  Skeptics need only consider the latest example: last Friday’s House Judiciary hearings on the use of power by the executive.  The hearings were neither announced nor covered by the major television networks, and they were not reported by the New York Times, whose motto is “All the news that’s fit to print”. According to the on-line new source Scoop, the only mention of the hearings in the Washington Post was a derogatory quote by a republican witness.

The hearings were in response to Representative Dennis Kucinic’s long list of articles of impeachment, read on the House floor a couple of weeks ago. To get around Nancy Pelosi’s anti-impeachment stance, the articles were boiled down to one, and the day-long hearing eschewed the word impeachment in its title.  The title which dared not say its name was “Executive Power and its Constitutional Limitations”.

If hearings by the country’s elected representatives on possible reasons for impeaching a president with a 30% approval rating are not news, what is? And if the American public is not informed that far from requiring a lenghy procedure, impeachment could be voted for the executive’s failure to respond to a congressional subpoena, how would it know to urge its representatives to hold properly labeled impeachment hearings before they are confronted with a “preemptive” attack on Iran?

Monday, July 28, 2008


The right has a way of using phrases invented in one context, and having one meaning, to serve in another context, with a totally different meaning.

The term “unconditional surrender” was used at the end of the second world war to communicate that the defeated axis powers could pose no conditions to ceasing combat, by opposition to previous wars where each side could lay down conditions for ceasing hostilities.
Senator John McCain has been using the term to refer to the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, stating that it would be equivalent to “unconditional surrender”. In terms of war, we defeated Saddam’s army. Victorious, occupying armies are expected to eventually withdraw. To not withdraw from a sovereign country whose government requests it, is an act of war, which would require another “victory”. An intrepid journalist should ask Senator McCain what further “victory” he is seeking in Iraq, since Al Qaeda is holed up in the hills of Pakistan. Is he referring to the victory of one Shiite faction (Al Malaki’s) over another (Al Sadr’s)? The return to power of the Sunnis (Saudi Arabia’s allies)?
Or maybe just the signing away of Iraq’s oil wealth to Exxon?

P.S. Barack Obama met with Al Malaki before he met with General Petraeus, in what I believe is a significant inversion of U.S. diplomatic practice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin: Build New Bridges Across the World

CNN didn’t tell us how many people waited for Obama to speak in Berlin’s Tiergarten today, I’m guessing because the number would have offended McCain.

The number is important because it brings home to otherwise oblivious Americans just what a momentous event the Obama candidacy is for other peoples.  The enthusiasm of Europeans, who are the most politically sophisticated of our Others, should bring home how ignorant the American public is of attitudes toward their country.  Our media has kept most os us blissfully unaware of how our country is seen abroad, and this does not only apply to the Bush years.

Having lived abroad for most of my life, I can attest to the fact that there has never been a time, since the early fifties, when our governments have been revered.  Had our disgrace been merely the fact of one presidency, the crowd in Berlin would not have responded as it did to Obama’s apology for past misdeeds and his determination to radically change the way we behave on the world stage.  Americans hearing his speech may have found it slightly over the top when he spoke of bringing down all the walls, and declared the need for all peoples to “listen to each other, learn from each other and trust each other”, but I can say here with absolute certainty that the rest of the world will not have agreed with that assessment.

Obama said what the rest of the world has been waiting for an American president to say for sixty years.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The most significant thing about Barack Obama’s interview with Fareed Zacharia yesterday on CNN, was his serenity. Obama’s detractors have called his noble demeanor a suit. But nobility is a manifestation of inner strength, and as was plain to see yesterday, strength brings serenity. American’s yearn for an end to the shrill hype that has characterized the political stage, and Zacharia’s Sunday GPS brings discussions and interviews to a new level. Yesterday, his firmness delineated a space where Obama’s equanimity could flower.

During the first world war, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the phrase “clear and present danger” to designate circumstances that would justify government regulation of free speech. The expression later was given a different meaning. Courtesy of Jaideep Singh, writing on B-Net in 2004:

“The first Committee on the Present Danger was formed in 1950 by Cold War liberals who favored a policy of containment vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; the second installment came after Vietnam, launched by hawkish Democrats who felt their party had gone soft on the Reds, and who during the Reagan years had become active in Republican foreign-policy circles. The latter group, known as neo-conservatives... has relaunched the committee to ‘educate free people everywhere about the threat posed by global radical Islamist and fascist terrorist movements; to counsel against appeasement of terrorists; and build support for a strategy of victory against this menace to freedom.’"

The term clear and present danger - code for alarm - has driven American foreign policy for half a century, and the result has been a country whose infrastructures are crumbling, which is hated even by many we call our allies, and where to become president a candidate cannot back the single payer health care that exists in virtually all other advanced countries.

In February 2007 I wrote a blog entitled: “Obama’s breath of fresh air, Hillary's blast from the past and Putin’s credo”. A year and a half later, everything it said is broadly recognized. I’m saying today that if Obama reaches the White House, his serenity will power the replacement of alarm bells with cooperation.

A good place to start would be to let the just signed treaty with the Czech Republic to place missile tracking devices on its soil die quietly. The Poles have not agreed to the corresponding installation of interceptor missiles on their territory, and neither population wants to be so defended from attack by Iran. Under this guise, the plan adds up to merely moving the Oder/Neisse line that divided Europe in half for forty years slightly eastward, reviving the threat to Russia, to which Putin has responded accordingly.

As long as different levels of development and different - sometimes tortuous - roads to development are perceived as threats, there will be money in military hardware, but not in government sponsored health care.