Thursday, March 29, 2007

March 16 - March 28, 2007

Desperately Seeking News

I'm developing a bad case of TV-remote carpel tunnel just trying to get my minimum daily requirement of hard news. Every evening at 4 pm I settle in front of my TV set to begin tanking up on the day's happenings in the world and nation. I want to know what's happening in Washington, Iraq, Afghanistan and whether nuclear-armed Pakistan has fallen yet into al Qaida's hands.

I also want to know if, three years from now when I show up at the Social Security pay window, if it'll still be handing out cash – or just food stamps. I want to know if the world's governments – especially my own – are ready to do more than talk about global warming, or if they are going to let my great grandkids fry.

I figure keeping abreast of such weighty issues is the least a citizen should do. So I do my best to keep up.

But it's getting harder to accomplish because more and more CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the old non-cable news networks apparently suffer from severe cases of attention deficit disorder. All it takes for the world's pressing news to get knocked off the air is an every day distraction, like the Boy Scout that wandered off into the woods an got himself lost. From the moment that piece of non-news broke it was wall to wall lost Boy Scout on every channel for three days. Throw a dog into the story – and they did -- and the story was good for another two days.)

From time to time real news breaks through the human interest pablum. For less than minute hard news would appear as a breathless announcer races through a story about fresh riots in Pakistan and how they might mark the beginning of the end for Pakistan's president/general, Musharraf.

Then the announcer would brighten, as though to say, “Okay now that that depressing crap is out of the way...” and announce “Now back to MSNBC's special investigation, Who Is Her Daddy? The mystery of Anna Nicole's baby.

So I click from channel to channel with reduced expectations. These days my goal is to hit one of those 30-second ”News Breaks,” on the so-called 24-news channels. For thirty seconds an announcer reads headlines from the real world before they switch back soup opera of life dejure.

You would think that the absurdity of it would dawn on network news editors.

Memo to News Network Editors: When you running something 24-hours a day, and have to carve out something you have named a “News Break” might it just mean you are no longer covering the news. Duh!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not insensitive to the every-day suffering of my fellow humans. But I already know that, on any given day, people lose their jobs, homes burn down, cars crash, small planes crash, entertainers get drunk and misbehave – hell, some even shave their heads. But none of those incidents has any effect on my life, or likely ever will. A zillion compelling human dramas unfold every day that I don't know about. But just because I don't know about them does not make them news.

So why are such stories increasingly displacing hard news on networks that bill themselves as “news” channels? Sure, if a kid in Hog Haven, Idaho goes missing on a camping trip, that's story... but it's a story for the folks of Hog Haven and environs, not for CNN.

When I sit down to consume News here's the kind of stuff I want to learn about:

1)Which world leaders are acting in ways that, if it gets out of hand, could get me, any member of my immediate family or friends killed?

2)How's the nation's checking account holding up? Are we broke yet? How much interest are the Chinese charging us on our national VISA card?

3)I'm just three years from qualifying for Medicare. So who's working on making sure it's not broke just when I and 30 million other whining Baby Boomers show up it's door demanding someone fix our failing hips, knees and eyeballs?

4)Who in Washington is lying to us – this time? And is anyone going to do anything about it -- this time?

5)Have Democrats finally gotten their collective heads out of their collective butt?

6)Have Republicans finally worn out their welcome with Red State voters, or do they suffer a learning disability?

That's the kind of news I look for when I tune in CNN or MSNBC. But too often these days that's not what I get. Instead increasingly what I get is a bunch of human interest crapola and/or reports on the latest antics of some over-paid, under-educated entertainment/sports celebrity.
That's not News. Not, not, not!

If I anointed Editor in Chief over all national broadcast news, I would immediately issue the following memo to all cable and network news editors:

Telling the difference between News and Not News.

1)Ask yourself this question; What makes the story you want to run news -- other than the fact it's just happening? If you can't answer that question without giving yourself an stoke, don't run the story. Lots of stuff happens every day that did not happen the day before. But “new,” does not automatically equal “news.”

2)How many people's lives could be affected by it? If the number you come up with is less than the population of a mid-sized American city, forget about it. It's local news.

3)Is it something contagious? Yes? Okay, so far, so good, but don't stop there. Now ask yourself, how many people have died from it? If the answer is not at least in the low thousands AND it's heading our way – it's not news – at least not yet. Assign someone in the newsroom to keep and eye on the bug and, if it becomes a genuine threat to mankind as a whole, do let the rest of us know.

4)When a public figure of lesser stature than, say, the President, Vice President or Pope dies, especially of unnatural causes, it's newsworthy – but just barely. Give it 30 seconds of airtime to announce the death and any updates that may develop. But please, spare us the retrospectives that drag us through his/her childhood, interviewing their 4th grade English teacher, etc. If I care enough to care about all that I can look it up on Wikipedia.

5)Who may or may not have inseminated some bimbo is not News. NOT NEWS! (Write that down.)

6)A Boy Scout lost in the woods, is NOT automatically national news. An exception would be if he was a gay scout who got lost while running for his life from a lynch mob of fellow scouts. That would make it news.

7)A 14-year old boy trapped under a slab of cement is not news, unless he turns out to be John Gotti's nephew and was working as an FBI informant at the time of the “accident.”

8)Baby animals are cute, but they are not news. Anyone that wants to see pictures of baby animals can do so any time here. They don't need CNN for their baby animal fix.

9)Nothing about sports or sports figures is news. That why sports was given its own section in newspapers, to make sure no one is misled into thinking it's important. Now, if Barry Bonds steroid use were to drive him to climb at top San Francisco's TransAmerica pyramid, and refuse to come down, that would be News.

10) Heart-warming stories are not automatically news. I know people like to tell pollsters that the news is all bad and that editors should run more “good news” stories. Trust me, they don't really mean it. First of all, if any good news happens they want it to happen to them. The last thing they want is to be sitting in their tattered 15-year old recliner watching some other guy gushing about his good fortune on CNN. Besides, if folks want feel-good and sappy sagas there's already a place for them where they can get a belly full. It's called Oprah.

11)Finally, who has entered or left rehab, is NOT news – (unless of course his initials are GWB.)

Knowing News When You See It
A Cheat Sheet

News Is...

1) Any national or international happenings that, unless dealt with wisely, could get a lot of people killed.

2) Any developments involving the economy or business that could blow a hole in wallets of average Americans.

3) Any actions by our national elected officials that, if he were still alive, would cause Thomas Jefferson to exclaim, “Who the hell are these people, and why aren't they in jail?”

4) Any environmental developments that, unless dealt with quickly and wisely, may result in mass extinctions – possibly including you-know-who.

Now, is that so complicated? I don't think so.

But look, Britney's out of rehab and some time next week we will learn whose the real father of the dead bimbo's daughter – the bimbo who died from a drug overdose just five months after her son died of a drug overdose. What could be more important than to keep Americans abreast of the lives and travails of such an admirable collection of characters? Will the little girl's real father end up being the bimbo's mega-sleazy lawyer? Or will it be her sleazy peroxide frosted blond Hollywood boy-toy? We are sentenced to learn the truth, whether we want to or not.

So there's that. Then there's the great unknown – the non-news incident(s) that could happen at any moment, driving hard news once again to 30-second News Break status. Who knows, a panda could die, a Girl Scout could get lost in the giant Mall of The Americas, or a dog could fall down a well.

Maybe I should just going to ditch the remote, slip on one of those wife-beater tee shirts, nuzzle up to a case of Budweiser and just go with the flow. I could trade the travails of Tony Blair for those of Britney, Bolton for Bonds. And the hell with Condi, dish me up some fresh dirt on Nicole. And why search in vain for news of Dick Cheney's latest crimes against humanity (and common sense) when I could just lay among nacho crumbs as Anderson Cooper croons me into a trance as he interviews American Idol's Simon Cowell – a person who got rich and famous by being demeaning and just plain mean.


March 21, 2007

Is There an Executive Privilege to Lie?

One of my favorite lines in the movies is from Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart slaps a thug around. When the thug protests Boggie slaps him again, this time adding, “When I slap you you'll take it and like it.”

The Bush administration has the same attitude when it comes to the information they dole out to us. And when we protest their reply is, “When we lie to you you'll take it and like it.”

That was pretty much the message President Bush delivered yesterday in response to complaints from congress that the administration is being less than truthful or forthcoming about the firing of eight US Attorney's. How dare elected members of congress question the undocumented, unsworn and contradictory White House version of events!

Last night Chris Mathews, and other MSM commentators described Bush's demeanor after yesterday's news conference as “loaded for bear,” and “clearly itching for a fight with congress.” That's not what I saw. I saw a petulant little man throwing a hissy-fit because he wasn't getting his way.

I guess that should not come as a surprise. After all, Bush has gotten his way – his whole way – until now. Even the media rolled over for this guy. If you want to read the closest thing to criminal indictment of the mainstream media's coverage of the Bush presidency it's posted on Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. (HERE)

And of course, for his first six years of the Bush administration, a Republican-controlled House and Senate meant no oversight, no hearings, no objections, no checks, no balances. Those six years were about as close to a monarchy as I ever want to see America come ever again.

I'm not naive. Of course, congress itself is a political entity. And, no matter which party controls congress at any given moment, they can't be entirely trusted to always tell the truth or do the right thing.

Finally, thanks to the six years of one-branch rule noted above, the judicial branch has been politicized to an extent not seen since Franklin Roosevelt tried to stack the Supreme Court. In fact, it's worse than that. While Roosevelt only tried to subvert the top court, the Bushites have seeded political/ideological moles deep in the bowels of the DOJ and federal judiciary -- a legacy that will linger for decades.

At the end of the day only one thing trumps all that – information – accurate information. Or, as Dragnet's Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) used to put it;

“The facts, ma'am. Just the facts.”

Facts have been way too few and too far between during this administration. And on the rare occassions we finally get the facts, they turn out to be at odds with the original version served to us via the what has been a way too gullible, lazy and unquestioning media.

This administration, more than any other in memory, rules from atop a steaming mountain of lies -- venial and mortal. They lied about the environment. They lied to us about Iraq's WMD. They lied to us that al Qaida was in cahoots with Saddam. They lied to us about national energy policy – lies they've successfully hidden hidden behind the screen of “executive privilege.” Now they are fixing to use the claim of executive privilege to deny us the facts, and just the facts, the facts about the White House-engineered purge of US Attorneys.

I will not dispute that executives have privileges. That's a fact of life, if not law. What we should question though is whether that extends to the privilege to lie with impunity? To lie without consequence to those the executive was elected and is being paid to serve? That's most important issue at hand.

If the chief executive of the Unite States of America has the privilege to excape exposure when he or she lies then, simply put, kiss democracy goodbye. Because you can't have a functioning democracy without an informed electorate. Conversely, when you have a misinformed electorate, what you get is quite the opposite of democracy.

Which brings me back to Bush's reaction to congressional inquiries into his firing of eight US Attorneys. In response to threats from congress to subpoena White House aides Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, Bush offered to allow members an informal chat with Rove and Miers. But, during that chat, he refused to allow his closest aides to be put under oath or for any of their responses or comments to be recorded or even written down.

Translation: Rove and Miers could lie with impunity. And, if anything they said is later contradicted by evidence or others, they can deny they ever said it.

In other words what Bush offered was something even TV Detective Joe Friday would scoff at.

Instead Bush once again told congress and the American people, “When I lie to you, you'll take it and like it.”

Site of the Day

March 19, 2007

But Then
Who's Counting?

A lot of water has gone under the national bridge since George W. Bush & Co. took over in January 2001. I thought I might take a moment to list the things I think they did right, and what they've done wrong.

Without any further la de da, to the list:

What they Did Right:
  1. They toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
  2. Barny's Christmas Web-cam

What they Did Wrong:
  1. They developed what has matured into a disasterous national energy policy. They did so in secret meetings with energy company executives that to this day remain secret. Meanwhile oil company profits have achieved breathtaking record highs.
  2. They cut taxes by nearly $2 trillion, in ways that disproportionately favored the already wealthy, resulting in exploding annual deficits and further widening an already widening wealth gap between working Americans and the top 1% of earners.
  3. They got the intel on Iraq's WMD completely wrong, (intentionally and otherwise,) in order to justify the first unprovoked invasion of another sovereign nation in America's history.
  4. As a result no nation on earth any longer believes US intelligence claims on their face.
  5. They had bin Laden and the bulk of his al Qaida fighters pinned down and cornered in the Afghan mountains, only to let them get away.
  6. They recklessly dismissed advice from their own military experts on the number of troops that would be needed to pacify post-invasion Iraq.
  7. As a direct result they had neither the number of troops required, nor even plans to maintainin law and order in a post-Saddam Iraq.
  8. As a result they were unable to stem looting and general lawlessness for weeks after the fall of Saddam's regime.
  9. Failed to either recognize -- or simply decided to ignore -- the thousand-year old blood feud between Iraq's Shiite/Sunni communities.
  10. Failed to recognize or adjust their post-Saddam strategy to address what military commanders on the ground warned was an the early stages of what has become a robust and deadly Sunni insurgency.
  11. In the early days of the US occupation they cavalierly dismissed Iraq's army and national police, sending them home without pay, without hope, without jobs, but with their weapons.
  12. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by robbing military and financial recourses from finishing the job in Afghanistan in order to support a growingly troubled occupation in Iraq.
  13. Sent troops to war with the Army they wished they had, rather than the Army they had.
  14. Failed to provide troops with enough vehicle or body armor.
  15. Provided no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars to private companies, like Halliburton, then failed to assure those companies provided the level, quality and quantity of services they promised to provide.
  16. As a result most of the civil reconstruction, such as providing dependable electricity, clean water, schools and policing services to Iraqis, remain either woefully behind schedule and over-budget, or, if completed, are were so poorly done they are nearly useless.
  17. Because they failed to heed the warnings of their own generals before the war, the US Army and Marine Corp are now exhausted by four years of repeated redeployments to Iraq. The Army has even had to lower it's standards allowing for the first time high school drop outs and those with criminal records to enlist.
  18. Because they underestimated the number of troops and resources that would be required to pacify a post-Saddam Iraq, they have had to lean heavily on Reserve and National Guard units for both additional troops and equipment. As it has left almost every National Guard and reserve unit in the US critically short of both soldiers and gear to respond to a national emergency.
  19. They added America, for the first time, to the list of nations accused of employing torture.
  20. From their first day in office this administration dismissed reports of global warming as “bad science,” or “junk science,” while muzzling government scientists whose scientific studies dared to report otherwise. Even though global warming has now been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, and it's early effects clear to most, the administration continues to oppose mandatory greenhouse gas emissions.
  21. They doubled our national debt from just under $5 trillion to over nearly $9 trillion. Every dime of the nearly all the $9 billion a month Iraq war bill is borrowed money, most of it borrowed from China.
  22. Which is one reason why the administration has no leverage when it comes to forcing the Chinese to revalue their currency upward to help balance the very unbalanced trade deficit between our two countries, which this year alone will top...
  23. They put Harriet Miers up for seat on the US Supreme Court, a woman whose only discernible qualification for that job was her unquestioning service and obedience to George W. Bush.
  24. They made Alberto Gonzales Attorney General of the United States, a man whose only discernible qualification for that job was his unquestioning service and obedience to George W. Bush.
  25. Alberto Gonzales, who as White House Counsel, gave the president a green light for torture, went on to politicized the Department of Justice. Among his acts, dismissing US Attorney's who either refused to pursue politically motivated investigations or who insisted on pursuing cases that risked exposing yet more corruption within Republican ranks.
  26. They have repeatedly placed Christian religious beliefs ahead of hard science in areas of contraception, the environment and in schools.
  27. They manipulated public fear of terrorism to justify spying on American citizens in ways that, just a decade ago, would have landed them in prison. They claim that, in order to protect America's traditional freedoms, they must violate some of those very freedoms, particularly the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
  28. They failed to either anticipate or prepare for the casualties the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would impose on military and veteran hospitals and services. (re: Walter Reed)
  29. They politicized intelligence when, among other such offenses, they exposed CIA undercover agent, Valarie Plame, in an attempt to discredit reports from her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that contradicted the administration's claim that Saddam had tried to by uranium from Niger.
  30. They put the US taxpayer on the hook to pay for a Medicare drug benefit program, but prohibited Medicare from negotiating bulk drug discounts with pharmaceutical companies.
  31. Since they came to office the number of Americans who cannot afford health insurance climbed to nearly 50 million.
  32. They passed education reforms -- “No Child Left Behind,” -- then refused to sufficiently fund the program while insisting states meet the program's benchmarks, regardless.
  33. New Orleans.

Whew! That was an exhausting trip down memory lane. What amazes me is how, in the face of so many documented failures, there remains a pool of conservative support for these guys. I remember when the term "Republican" was synonymous with "organized, effective and fiscally responsible." Where did those Republicans go? And where did this bunch of big borrowers, bigger spenders, gang-that-can't-shoot-straight, come from?

Anyway, the list above is just the failures we know about. You have to know it's just the tip of the provervial iceberg. One congressional Democrat was anonimously quoted last week reflecting that, “We've only had the subpoena power for six weeks and every tree we've barked up so far has had a cat in it. Imagine what we'll discover over the next six months.”

Yes, and there in lays the explanation for another failure – the failure of Republicans to hold virtually any meaningful oversight hearings during the six years they were in control. Because they knew, as we now are learning, that if they turned over one administration rock the amount of slime they'd expose would force them to turn over more rocks... under which they'd expose god-knows-what. With the war already costing them political support back home, the last thing congressional Republicans needed were oversight hearings too.

Hopefully Democrats will insist on doing just that. Because, as I said in an earlier post, this administration is either so incompetent, misguided, downright evil, or all the above, that the only thing congress can do to avoid more damage during the next two years is to grab hold of the parking brake and refuse to let go until these bad news bears gone and back shitting in their own woods.

March 15, 2007

An Incoherent Rant

I am in quite a state, as you will see. Sometimes writing about the kind of stuff I focus on is damn near impossible. I mean, when events themselves become more cynical than anything I can concoct, why bother.

It's been that kind of month. No matter where I look I find reality has out-cynicaled me. And it's not just the usual suspects on the right running amok, either.

For example, this Tuesday Hillary Clinton was asked if she agreed with Joint Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace's, statement that homosexuality was “immoral.”

And how did our little triangulation hag reply? “I'll leave that determination to others.”

Oh my. And Hillary, whatya about the genocide in Sudan? You gonna leave that determination to others too? You can bet she would -- if there was a large enough block of pro-Sudanese voters here she could round up. That woman is beyond contempt.

Hillary Clinton is nothing less than the anti-Christ of the Democratic Party.

Things have been no better on the right, as we've seen with the scandal at the Bush Justice Dept. It was hardly a revelation that Alberto was never anything more than George W. Bush's obedient legal houseboy. But Gonzales and Karl Rove's ham-handed execution of the US Attorney purge made the Bush/Cheney WMD gambit in Iraq look like a well-oiled scheme.

Then there's the growing mess in my wallet. Well, actually in all our wallets. The happy talkers on Wall Street are performing the financial-markets version of the movie, “Weekend at Bernies.” Every time the public gets spooked by stocks, and the market dives, the insiders dress the stock market up in a lively Hawaiian shirt, slap on a pair of sunglasses, drag the body out in public and declare that rumors of the market's death have been greatly exaggerated.

So far it's worked. The suckers buy, afraid they are about to miss out on a rising market. The market recovers, once again – a classic dead cat bounce. They even have a name for it -- “a sucker rally.” That gives the insiders one more chance to unload their stocks -- on who? The suckers of course.

Wonder where the insiders are putting their money? (Here) Hey, they may be evil, greedy, cynical little liars and cheats, but they aren't stupid. They count on you being stupid. You who buy their over-appreciated shares at the top of bull markets. You who pay them fat loan fees on high interest, usurious home loans, credit cards and cash-out refinancing, just so you can live beyond your means. You who so eagerly trade your precious home equity to "invest" in wasting assets – you know, like SUVs, boats, vacations... stuff a smart person would only buy with disposal income. But no, you borrow, from them, then buy their stuff with their borrowed money. In the old days it was called “the company store.” Today it's just called stupid.

If the shoe fits, wear it. And you deserve all the misery that's heading your way.

Democrats in Congress – arrrggggghhhhaaaaaa! You little bastards. We voted for you last November because you said you were going to end the illegal-immoral-waste-of-money-and-lives war in Iraq. So why haven't you? You can't even rally enough gumption to force a freaking debate in the Senate on the war... a war that is draining nearly $10 billion a month from my wallet... my kid's wallet, my grandkids wallet's and my great-freaking-grandkids wallets.

You guys misled us. So don't be getting on your high-horse on the campaign trail about how Bush mislead us into the war. Because now you're in the same boat with him -- you misled us into believing you were going to reverse that outrage. You haven't, and that's an outrage too. So shut up until you live up to your earlier promises. (Oh, and please spare us the bull about how “hard” it is to get the votes. When you say that you sound just like you-know-who.)

Then all week I had to sit through news footage of George lecturing South Americans on the promise of bio-fuels, as though he were Al Gore's twin brother, or something. Meanwhile we are still trying to find out just what Cheney's Energy Task Force cooked up with energy producers back in 2001 that gave us $3 a gallon gas and sky high home heating bills.

Walter Reed.... there's another wart that bugs the hell out of me. That damn hospital isn't in Omaha Nebraska, it's in down-freaking-town Washington D.C. It's just a few city blocks from Capitol Hill. Just a cheap cab ride from the offices of Republican and Democratic members of Congress who are now pontificating about the outrageous conditions and treatment of our wounded GI's.

I bet that every one of those blow hards has one of those yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbons on their bumper, the bastard hypocrites. How come THEY didn't know? I bet their staffers got plenty of complaints from military families and GI's long before the Washington Post reported on the mess. And I bet all those complaints were ignored. Am I wrong? Okay, then I demand an audit of every member of congress' email for the past two years. I will put my home up as collateral on a bet that we would discover lots of complaints – hundreds of them -- about the shameful treatment our wounded troops were getting.

Then there's Halliburton – the company once run by Dick Cheney. First Halliburton makes hundreds of millions of dollars off a war started by it's former CEO, and screws American taxpayers blue in the process. Then, just as congressional subpoenas are about to fly the company skips the US for a safe haven in Dubai. But wait, there's more. At the same time the company removes itself from the line of legal fire, and US taxes, it announced that Halliburton was going to hire an additional 13,000 employees. My, my, but it would appear someone has big plans for the future. I wonder what Halliburton thinks is just down the road that would require that many additional food-servers, base-builders, logistic and supply services for the Pentagon?

See? See the state I'm in? See why I have not been able to put fingers to keyboard for days?

Just yesterday a federal court ruled that a woman dying of cancer has no right to relieve her pain by smoking marijuana. Hello? What are the feds afraid will happen? That the poor woman will ruin her life – or more precisely, what's left of it? With so many really important things going wrong, with so much blood being spilled in Iraq, with the administration working day and night to subvert justice with political sycophantic political appointees – US attorney's wasted our time, our resources, and their moral authority to make sure one woman dying of cancer can't smoke grass. What's wrong with that picture? Am I crazy for thinking they're crazy?

Up until now I've boosted my morale by reminding myself that Bush has “just” two years left in office. But that's not working for me anymore. I honestly don't think we can survive two more years of Bush/Cheney. Not because they are a couple of ultra-conservatives with whom I disagree, but because it's now clear they are as mad as a couple of hatters. And I don't mean that figuratively, either. I mean OCD, megalomania, paranoid/schizophrenic crazy. It's clear now that those two are capable of damn near anything – especially now that their days in control are numbered. When crazy people learn they're coming for them, they hurry up with whatever it is they are obsessing over at the time.

There is a solution, but it would require mature Democrats and thoughtful Republicans to do something: pull the national parking brake and refuse to let go until January 2009.

They need to bring the whole Bush/Cheney juggernaut to an immediate, screeching halt. They need to cut off financing for the war and begin an orderly withdrawal. They need to insist on congressional authorization for any new military deployments or attacks on anyone, anywhere, anytime. And if they claim we face attack, require compelling and independently confirmed evidence.

Oh, and just to let those two manics at the top know congress is serious, they should immediately begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Because there's nothing quite like a fresh blood on the carpet to send the message that this time Congress is serious. Dead serious.

Whew! I needed that rant.