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Friday, February 04, 2005

The Hillsborough Option

President Bush nominates a Florida couple to assist with Iraq counterinsurgency.

Point Taken

If you want to see how the government and media manufacture consent, just check out any major newspaper on Saturday or any of their web pages today. Both CNN and MSNBC, for example, report as their top stories that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proclaimed that attacking Iran is "simply not on the agenda."

Sounds reassuring, considering the disaster that is the invasion of Iraq. But read her entire quote to see if you still feel all warm and comfy inside:

“The question is simply not on the agenda at this point.”

At this point.

The three words, which did not make it into the headlines, changes the meaning, because it clearly implies that attacking Iran could become an agenda item at any other point, as decided by the Bush administration.

Headlines are important because many people simple skim the newspaper headlines or the scrolling headlines on the 24-hour news channels, without reading the articles themselves.

There is little doubt where this is going. In Bush's state of the union speech, he called Iran “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror.” The highly respected investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reported recently that the US is already running recon missions in Iran to identify good military targets, with the goal of ensuring we can find some evidence of WMDs to use as a pretext for war that leery US voters will believe, considering that WMDs were falsely used as a pretext for the Iraq invasion.

Hersh's article points to this summer as a starting point for attacks, likely on known or suspected nuclear facilities in Iran. Hersh was the reporter who broke the prison torture scandal in Iraq, and even though the government sought to discredit his story when it was published, he has been proven right by subsequent investigations and court trials of some of the torturers.

CNN and MSNBC are not the only culprits. The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News and even the BBC all ran an identical headline.

Consider your consent manufactured.

Only in America

Thanks for the fear tactics used by the Bush administration and the overly sensational way that TV news focuses on crime, an elderly woman in Colorado nearly had a heart attack when two sweet teen-age girls left a surprise package of cookies on her doorstep one evening.

Nevertheless, what the hell was this judge thinking when he awarded the woman almost $900? Sure, she went to the emergency room, but considering that the girls had done nothing to scare the woman and that instead had offered a generous gift of cookies adorned with paper hearts, how could they be liable for that? I can't believe the woman sued or that the court took it seriously.

Like I said, only in America.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

He Tolls For Bush

Today is as good a day as any to point you to one of the best political cartoonists of our time, Steve Bell, of London's The Guardian. About every second or third cartoon is about US policies and actions, and Bell really knows how to highlight the Orwellian streak in the Bush administration, as well as Britain's Blair administration.

I love that he portrays Bush as a smirking chimp, and apparently his Bush toons are being released in a book to be titled "Apes of Wrath". He already has one book available, titled "Bell's Eye: A History of the Twentieth Century in Rude Words and Pictures."

Bell's cartoons are in full color, which is a giant artistic leap ahead of most political cartoonists who simply use a black ink pen. Today's toon skewers Bush's State of the Union speech in a slightly subtle way. You can flip through his archive on The Guardian's site.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Answer

White House Chief Propagandist Scott McClellan on the disconnect between the Bush administration's support for displaying the Ten Commandments and its penchant for breaking them. It shows there is an easy answer even for the hard questions.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

All The News That The Cops Told Us About

That TV20 has decided not to renew anchor Gary Mattingly's contract apparently concerns some people, because he is African American and the second black TV20 on-air personality not to be renewed (Carla Banks is the other).

I have no clue whether this has to do with this race, talent, salary or what, but if you want to have a serious talk about TV20, let's focus on the real issue, namely how TV20 is one of the most worthless news organizations imaginable.

The nightly broadcast has devolved over the years into 15 minutes of crime news, followed by the weather, some chuckling about Gator sports, and then a happy smiley feature.

Having spent two decades in the news business, part of it covering and writing about the media industry, I know why TV20 has moved in this direction – money. Covering crime is easy and cheap, because the cops do all the reporting for you. And because TV is a visual medium, covering crime scenes helps fill the space.

Case in point – when I was working for the City of Alachua as the city clerk, the City Commission made a landmark vote one night on a proposed massive industrial development that would have changed the city from small town America into Truck Stop Capital of the South. TV20 was on the scene, so I joined a few city staffers to watch the coverage. The story followed a half dozen relatively minor crime stories, including a purse snatching in which no one was hurt.

Although resorting to such coverage might be good for the bottom lines of TV stations, it is bad for the rest of us. The hyper-attention to crime creates a false sense of insecurity and danger in our society, and studies have shown that the increase in this kind of reporting has convinced people that crime is also increasing, when it has not. Crime accounts for a quarter of TV broadcasts, but crime accounts for a small fraction of our lives.

So Mattingly is out. My guess is that whoever replaces him won't matter when it comes to what TV20 reports.

The Truth Hits Everybody

Republicans love to talk about freedom, but that's all it is – talk. When it comes to people actually exercising freedom, especially the freedom of speech, many Republicans are vigorously opposed to it.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, this has been a more severe problem, as has been noted in many places. The Bush administration sets the bad example by calling dissent over the Iraq war unpatriotic and worse, as comforting our enemies, which is a pejorative short of calling it treason. Bush leaves that to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

The latest incarnation comes at the University of Colorado, where Department of Ethnic Studies Chairman Ward Churchill was forced to resign because of a 2001 essay he wrote titled "Some People Push Back." The essay explored the connections between US foreign policies and the root causes of anti-US terror attacks.

Having read the essay, I couldn't agree more. His argument is simple – as long as the US commits war crimes and atrocities against civilians through over and covert operations, we can expect to be the target of attacks.

I am not sure what is controversial about that statement, and from reading the arguments of those calling for his resignation, I see no attempt to prove him wrong.

Instead, the UC College Republicans and the GOP members of the state board overseeing the university claim he is "supporting the terrorists." Others have said he "grossly defames those who were murdered in the attack on the World Trade Center" and that he called "for the murder of innocent people."

Which of course is nonsense. Read his essay and see for yourself. In his resignation letter, Churchill wrote: "I am not a 'defender' of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy."

People who advocate against US aggression are often challenged this way. Noam Chomsky, who has been arguing against US imperialism for decades, often finds himself charged with helping the evil-doers, and his response I think says it best. From a recent interview with Z Magazine in which he was asked about this, he said: "We happen to be particularly responsible for our own actions. That is a moral truism. If you want to blame someone else for what they do, that's okay, but there is nothing moral about that. Our actions happen to be severe and we can change them."

I was victim of such an attack last year when I wrote a letter to The Gainesville Sun arguing that our mayor should have arrested President Bush when he visited Gainesville in October and charged him with committing war crimes. Someone later wrote a letter, not responding to any of my points, but instead accusing me of "demeaning American casualties" and of being "typically liberal" and an "exquisite example of the moral and social bankruptcy that soaks the political left".

Luckily, I don't work for a public institution and can speak my mind more freely, apparently, than even a tenured professor. Speaking of which, Churchill only resigned his chair position, not his faculty position, but the GOP is not satisified with that: "I think our actions helped lead to his resignation, and I hope our actions help lead to his termination," said Isaiah Lechowit.

Yes, I learned that lesson a decade ago when I did work for a public institution – the City of Gainesville. I was publishing a local magazine on the side, and when my boss' boss found out I had implied a local developer had significant influence on the city commission, he had me fired, even though my boss said I did a great job and wanted to keep me. I was unprotected and had to take my lump, but I decided then to shouter louder than ever, rather than let the system silence me.

Let's hope Ward Churchill does the same.

The Kids Like to Ball

I'm not surprised by this news. A study of Texas' abstinence programs shows that they're ineffective at curbing teen sex. Well, duh.

The study doesn't need to say why, because it is obvious – kids like sex, kids rarely listen to adults, and kids generally do the opposite when adults tell them not to do something.

This won't stop the Bush administration, which plans to spend $130 million of our tax dollars funding high school abstinence programs this year.

More dollars down the drain, and for what? “These programs seem to be much more concerned about politics than kids, and we need to get over that,” says the author of the study.

The worst part is that abstinence programs won't receive federal sponsorship if they mention birth control, which ensures more teen pregnancies, thank you Red State America very fucking much.

I have two daughters, and I plan to educate them thoroughly on birth control and the nature of teen boys, who get en erection at the mere site of most females. Heck, many adult males are that way, a fact of life which I am sure accounts for the way the PR industry uses sex to sell most products.