Whether it’s Egypt or America, Biased News is Bad for All

The opening line of this article from the CSM speaks for itself:

Last week, Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram helped kick up an international storm with a bit of dodgy journalism: It ran an opinion piece by Amr Abdel Samea, a former loyalist of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, that stated that Mervat el-Tallawy, the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women, had complained that Egypt’s parliament was considering a piece of legislation sponsored by Islamists to allow men to have sex with their wives after their death.

We find out now there never was a piece of legislation suggesting this and the whole story was a hoax perpetrated by one media organization trying to publish stories harming the people they do not want to see in power as Egypt makes its way into a new democratic government.  The problem here is that the truth is too late and the damage has likely been done.

Will this be exceedingly devastating to Egypt in the long run?  Probably not and no reason to overstate its significance.  But the fact remains, propaganda works and the people who know this better than anyone would be the folks in the media.  They understand all that is needed is a seed to be planted among the public no matter how ridiculous the claims they are making seem to be.  Irrational people and conspiracy theorists will do the rest.

When the news organizations do not question the outrageous claims of authority figures thoroughly, society will typically suffer.  News organizations, in the interest of beating their competitors to the punch nowadays, do not investigate these claims as they should and sometimes report them as facts (i.e. the absurd notion of death panels in the U.S. health care reform).  When they later realize their mistake, they make a small note of it then move on in order to reduce the embarrassment, pending of course that they have enough respect for their audience to admit their mistakes in the first place.  But in the end they know propaganda still works.

America is no exception.  One of the most startling cases of this happened just a decade ago:

Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year(2003), attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

In short, at one point virtually everyone knew the truth.  Less than a year and a half later, nearly half of the country believed a lie.  We all know the reason for this so no reason to delve into the Bush administration’s actions at this time.

The ultimate point here is to just be skeptical.  If a claim is made or something is read that seems unbelievable, even if that claim is made by someone with a fancy sounding title, be skeptical first and believe it once you are sure it is true.  Or at least as sure as we can be…

Rupert Murdoch is Ideological. His Money is Bipartisan.

ABC News reported some of the political donations of Rupert Murdoch and his media organizations and the recipients of those donations included some names that may surprise some.  Names like Pelosi, Schumer, and even Obama.  Names that have the (D) by them when they run for office.  Names that also regularly get attacked by the Murdoch-owned pundits at Fox News.

This should really surprise no one paying attention to the media scandal in Britain.  Murdoch has been shown to wine-and-dine prime ministers of different ideological schools of thought on his private yachts so the reality that he donates to both parties in the U.S. is logical and should be expected.  Murdoch is simply an opportunist.  Tighter campaign laws in the UK force him to use one type of tactic to buy influence there.  Loose campaign finance laws allow him to more openly buy his influence here.  He uses the tools (money) at his disposal to get his way.

Remember that these methods of gaining influence are not the illegal actions Murdoch’s organizations are under scrutiny for using.  That he gives money to different political parties is no surprise as many corporations and wealthy donors do the same in the U.S.  The fact that these donations are not illegal is what should concern people.

It is amazing we do not legislate campaign donations in a much tougher way in the United States.  Let’s face it.  When someone donates a large amount of money to many different people on separate sides of the ideological spectrum, it is not a donation because those recipients reflect the ideological philosophy of the donor.  It is a donation to make sure legislation tilts in the interest of the donor.  We have a word for that.  It’s called a bribe.

Any rational and truly democratic society would call it what it is and make sure the laws would not allow this buying of influence to occur.  The likelihood of corruption is obvious and the fact it has happened many times in the U.S. is no secret.  In a democracy with an objective media, there would be an uproar calling for change.  In a democracy where the biased-media is the one performing the corruption, the silence is deafening.

More Defense of Torture Heading Our Way

60 Minutes will be airing its interview with the ex-head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, this week.  It appears Rodriguez will be going on the defense for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terrorism suspects during the War on Terror and will be arguing they worked in extracting information from suspects that saved lives.  Rodriguez specifically uses (like many before him) the example of Khalid Sheik Mohammed as a suspect that was tortured and provided valuable information.  Now if only we could ask KSM’s opinion to either corroborate this story or debunk it we could prove whether torture worked on him or not and show if Mr. Rodriguez is correct.

Oh yeah.  That happened already.  Five years ago.  Again, the widely reported quote that seems to be forgotten too often from KSM:

During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.  I later told the interrogators their methods were stupid and counterproductive.  I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the U.S.

Now make no mistake here.  KSM (and many criminals like him) is a terrorist and deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.  But the last part of his statement combined with another nugget of information produces an interesting situation.  During Lesley Stahl’s appearance on the CBS Evening News to preview her interview, she tells Scott Pelley it was Rodriguez who ordered the destruction of the videos that recorded the “enhanced interrogations” of KSM and other terrorist suspects.  He apparently ordered this destruction to both keep the interrogators identities secret and keep the harsh images from reaching the rest of the world and giving the U.S. a bad image regarding its use of torture.  But what if there was a somewhat significant third motive?

What if Rodriguez also destroyed these tapes to save himself and his fellow torture advocates the embarrassment of proving KSM’s allegation about producing false alerts correct and show they could not tell when he was lying while being tortured?  The recordings would have no doubt been dated so a direct trace could be made between the information given and the changing in the now ridiculed color alert system put in place by the Bush administration after 9/11.

Imagine how this would look.  We would be shown a video of KSM being tortured and giving false information on a Monday.  On Tuesday, the government raises the terror alert to…I don’t know.  Eggshell white mixed with aqua blue and a hint of hunter green?  The country goes into its collective panic expecting a terrorist attack.  Then we are shown the video from a few days later of KSM laughing at an interrogator and telling them he lied and their methods are stupid.  Then the government lowers the alert level and issues a statement saying an attack had been thwarted. Just a thought.

How’s torture being a useful tactic looking now?  It’s at least possible and probably likely Rodriguez and others around him could see the problem here and had good reason to destroy these recordings.  He did the “right thing” in his eyes and can now give his interview without the possibility of being proved wrong by those videos.  Good for him and torture, I suppose.  Bad for the country.

Romney’s Startling Proposed Spending Cuts

After getting a look at the proposed spending cuts by a potential Romney administration, I asked myself the following: why would any rational person vote for this?  No doubt some of this is simply rhetoric to win over some voters in the hard-right base but how is this appealing to the alleged swing or independent vote?  I don’t understand it and the details are rather shocking.

The first two sentences of the article say a lot:

Reducing government deficits Mitt Romney’s way would mean less money for health care for the poor and disabled and big cuts to nuts-and-bolts functions such as food inspection, border security and education.  Romney also promises budget increases for the Pentagon, above those sought by some GOP defense hawks, meaning that the rest of the government would have to shrink even more.

Romney is obviously wanting to look tough on defense but the important element to note here is that will always come at the cost of other programs.  But this increase in defense spending begs a question regarding recent reality.  Didn’t we just finish one war in Iraq and aren’t we winding down another in Afghanistan?  How and why are we needing to increase defense spending as we finish two wars?  Shouldn’t the only conversations about defense spending at the moment be regarding what cuts will be made now that the wars are over or coming to an end?  Shouldn’t we be discussing how to divert some of that defense spending to shore up some of the domestic programs that need it for the long term like Medicare?

My fault.  I forgot Romney wants to end Medicare.  As stated in the article he supports the Ryan plan “to gradually transform Medicare from a program that directly pays hospital and doctor bills into vouchers for subsidizing future beneficiaries in buying health insurance.”  Make no mistake about this being a plan to end Medicare and actually make things worse for everyone in the long run.  One of the reasons Medicare is expensive is because the elderly are typically needing to use medical care more than the young for obvious reasons.  If Medicare is ended and those folks are put into the private insurance pool through vouchers, premiums will go up for everyone as insurance companies will have to cover the higher expenses of the elderly.  Not to mention, if the Supreme Court throws out all of the Affordable Care Act in June, insurance companies will have no obligation to carry the elderly with preexisting conditions and will be able to drop them when they get sick.  The potential disaster should be clear.

Then there is Medicaid.  Romney wants to turn it over to the states in the same way welfare was turned over in the mid-’90s and became a disaster once the economy hit a downturn.  (I’ve addressed this failure here so I won’t be redundant.)  The ability to divert that money into other programs by the states in the same way welfare money is diverted will just lead to more poor people not getting health care.  “An Urban Institute study last year estimated that Ryan’s cuts would force between 14 million and 27 million people off of Medicaid by 2021. Romney’s budget would make deeper cuts.”  Note the word “force” in that quote.  Not help people find a way off.  Force.  Just as Jesus taught us, right conservatives?

One last piece of the article to address:

At issue are these programs, just to name a few: health research; NASA; transportation; homeland security; education; food inspection; housing and heating subsidies for the poor; food aid for pregnant women; the FBI; grants to local governments; national parks; and veterans’ health care.  Romney promises to immediately cut them by 5 percent. But they would have to be cut more than 20 percent to meet his overall budget goals, assuming veterans’ health care is exempted.

Some of these speak for themselves and speak volumes about conservative priorities.  A lot of attacks on the poor since they don’t contribute their $peech to campaign coffers and do not vote in high numbers so these attacks always go on without much of a fight from the people they affect.  And just to drive that point home, Romney (and Ryan) would also cut “food stamps, school lunches, crop subsidies, Supplemental Security Income for very poor seniors and disabled people, unemployment insurance, veterans’ pensions and refundable tax credits to the working poor.”  Who says Romney is out of touch with the working class and the poor?  Clearly he notices them when it comes to his budget proposals.  And remember, this isn’t cutting spending alongside defense cuts.  It’s cutting this spending because of defense increases.

But hey, let’s look at the bright side of all these cuts.  We will have plenty more bombs to blow stuff up with if Romney gets his way.  And those will help tremendously in improving our schools, health care, and economy for the future by comparison to the rest of the world.  Think about it.  Any country that hasn’t already passed us in health care and education and that starts to come close to us and make us look bad, we can blow up their hospitals and schools and maintain our mediocrity in comparison to the rest of the industrialized world.  Yay, bombs!

The Danger of Sheriff Joe Arpaio

We learned yesterday the controversial Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, used his snubbing of the federal government as a prop in his comic routine in order to get a laugh and delight his enthralled listeners.  I’ll bet Carrot Top never thought of that one.

Clearly, the sheriff is a person who has very little appreciation for American history and is unaware of the danger of his actions.  Arpaio has done plenty to garner the wrath of people scolding him for his ways, particularly toward immigration, but this could be one of his worst actions.  A state government employee thumbing his nose at the federal government and saying he is above them is a bit reminiscent of governors during the Civil Rights Era saying they would continue to enforce segregationist policies regardless of the orders handed down from Washington.  (Amazing how racism continues to be the reason for this type of situation.)

A state government employee trying to stand up to the federal government is not an oddity and has been used often to gain a political point.  In my home state, Governor Steve Beshear (D) has often spoken out against the EPA in the interest of the well funded coal industry (ignoring the interest of the environment and the people who live in it, also know as his constituents).  It happens but is usually done in a way that appears to be reasoned debate with a knowledge of which entity still overrides the other when the smoke clears.

That, however, is not what Arpaio is doing.  He is ridiculing and doing it in a way that seems to suggest state employees should do as they please regardless of what the federal government says.  This is where the sheriff needs a history lesson because we’ve been there before.  It was called the Articles of Confederation, the original form of government taken in the United States prior to the writing of the Constitution.  It lasted eight years, was clearly failing, and was replaced with a stronger federal government by the Founding Fathers.  Even those great thinkers knew states running themselves with little to no oversight by a central government would never last and would be a disaster in the long run.

Arpaio making a joke about this relationship to the cheers of a crowd of Americans is disturbing.  That type of discourse plants the seed of the federal government coming in second to each states’ wishes which makes more people want to push legislation that breaks the hold of the federal government on the states.  This simply gets us one step closer to what the Founding Fathers themselves knew wouldn’t work.  In this case, it is clearly the sheriff who is not seeing the forest for the trees.

If Arpaio was a true patriot, he would respectfully disagree with the federal government, not ridicule it.  And since he is a state government employee, his ridicule shows just how unpatriotic the man truly is.

Bring Back the Draft!

This editorial from Thomas E. Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today,” forthcoming in October, states an opinion that I totally agree with: bring back the draft.

I believe every 18 year old should spend 2 years in the military before attending college or beginning a life outside of school. This is what many, many smaller countries in the world do.

As Mr. Ricks states, it would avoid unnecessary wars and everyone would think twice about national aggression if their son/daughter were on a plane to the next war zone.

Read Here

Murdoch Questioning This Week Has Murdoch and Politicians Worried

A good article from the NYT on how nerve-wracking the questioning of Rupert Murdoch by the U.K. government should fray the nerves of not only Murdoch but the politicians who have curried his favor, too.

Read Here.

What Got Overshadowed in Colombia

As the Secret Service scandal continues to rage in the media (we can’t get enough of meaningless sex scandals, can we?), someone at Foreign Policy was apparently not distracted by the shiny object and actually reported something of value from the Summit of the Americas in Colombia.  Clearly he did not get the memo that anything involving a prostitute and high level government employees takes center stage over relevant information at all times.  He should have been spending his time finding a way to tie the Secret Service story to a Kardashian instead of being a real journalist.

But he didn’t and Mr. Traub penned a really good article giving a great general overview of the summit.  Lots of tidbits to chew on in his piece but two particular elements stuck out.

The first being: why do we continue to seemingly fear Cuba?  Everyone is aware of the failure of the trade embargo to dethrone the Castro brothers and some have even argued they have kept their grip on power because of the policy.  But the U.S. stills refuses to deal with Cuba whenever and wherever possible as stated by Traub:

The immediate (and yet seemingly ageless) provocation was the question of whether Cuba should be admitted to the next summit, in 2015, which the United States and Canada opposed and all 30 Latin American countries, both left-wing bastions like Ecuador and traditional U.S. allies like Colombia, favored, thus bringing the meeting to an end without a planned joint declaration.

So the U.S. still won’t invite Cuba to the summit and they are in a majority of approximately…2.  Versus 30.  Aren’t we supposed to be the world’s light for democracy?  Great way to be an example for the rest of the world on that one.  Two votes apparently beats all in a democracy regardless of the larger numbers against it.  Now if I can just get someone else to write in Gallagher for president with me in November we can Sledge-O-Matic the debt to oblivion.  Yay democracy!

The second interesting piece of info was kind of pleasantly surprising.  President Obama did something U.S. officials have maybe never done before in discussions with Latin American countries.  He listened.  Shocking, I know, and if Fox News got a hold of this info they would proceed to announce the weakness of the president along with the oncoming zombie apocalypse.  But this is actually a very positive sign (albeit seemingly meaningless as indicated by the Cuba stance.  On a side note, if this had been reported of Biden I’m pretty sure we would have all assumed he had just fallen asleep.)

At the very least, indicating a willingness to listen shows a sign of wanting to improve relations with these countries which is something the U.S. has not done in the past and is proven by the justified skepticism of the United States in Latin American populations.  The U.S. has a long and well documented track record of behaving badly in Latin America and many countries have suffered weaker economies and governments because of U.S. intervention.  This has led to worse and more dangerous conditions pertaining to the drug trade and a higher desire for Latin Americans to immigrate to the greener pastures of the U.S. looking for work and safety.

If the U.S. changes course and engages the countries to the south, it could mean greater improvement in their economies and stronger and more effective self-governance.  This in turn would help the U.S. stem the flow of some of the more dangerous drugs into its borders and improve the economy through increased trade with emerging markets in our region.  Obama has made a nice first step in this process by simply listening.  Let’s hope he will not be distracted by the media circus surrounding the Secret Service scandal and will take more important steps in engaging and working with the countries of Latin America to improve all of America, both North and South.

CIA Looking to Expand Drone use in Yemen

The CIA is reportedly asking the Obama administration for loosened rules in its use of drone attacks in Yemen in order to strike more frequently at potential terrorist activity.  The agency wants to expand this use “even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed.”  Should we be concerned?

Asking for this loosening of rules suggests the current rules are of the highest standard.  One can only assume the strikes being carried out in Yemen now are only involving people who have the most detailed evidence against them showing they are without a doubt an enemy.  So is this true?  Apparently not.

According to the article, “The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone operations, estimates that there have been 27 strikes in Yemen since 2009 and that 198 militants and 48 civilians have been killed.”  This means with the “toughest” rules in place for the drone strikes, the ratio of terrorist to civilian killed is 4 to 1.  With the loosening of the rules, would the potential for civilian deaths increase and what would the new ratio be?  3 to 1?  Possibly 2 to 1?

This information raises two important questions.  The first question: how many terrorists tend to be created when a civilian is accidentally killed by a drone strike?  Anyone who has an innocent friend or family member killed by a foreign entity because of that entity’s ’cause’ in life generally wants retribution.  Think of how we as Americans felt after 9/11.  This isn’t meant to draw any comparisons between the actions themselves but only to compare the feelings and reactions in the aftermath.  When people see the blood of their countrymen spilled, they want blood in return.  It’s only human.  Why should we expect the people of Yemen, Iraq, or Pakistan’s reaction to be any different from our own?

So if the current ratio is 4 to 1, are we creating more than four new terrorists with every civilian killed?  Even if we are only creating four with every civilian death, the current policy would be nullifying itself.  (All of this assumes that non-terrorist friends and family members in these countries have no feelings for terrorists when they are killed by drones.  Assuredly an inaccurate assumption but let’s just assume for now.)  Which brings us to the second and more important question.

What is ‘acceptable’ in terms of a terrorist to civilian casualty ratio with these loosened rules?  Or maybe another way to ask that: what is ‘unacceptable’?

Questions about Supporting the Troops in Light of Tragedy


I awoke this morning to find this article at the top of the front page of Louisville’s Courier-Journal paper:

A Louisville Marine was killed Saturday while supporting combat in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the Defense Department has reported.

Cpl. Aaron M. Faust, 22, was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.. His death is under investigation.

Faust’s family declined to be interviewed, instead issuing a statement: “We appreciate the concern from our neighbors. As you must understand, our family is still in shock, and we are grieving the loss of our son and brother. It comforts us to know that we have the support of our community, citizens and country that Aaron died to protect.”

Faust graduated in 2007 from DeSales High School, said Doug Strothman, president of the school.

Strothman said he didn’t know Faust well. But Strothman said teachers who knew Faust described a young man who “didn’t mind testing the waters of authority, but he would do it in a respectful way.”

In his senior year after a Christian Awakening Retreat, Faust began to exhibit heightened maturity, Strothman said.

That maturation furthered a few years after Faust graduated — Faust showed up at the school in his Marine Corps uniform, looking like a “significantly different” person, Strothman said.

“He’d really grown to be an impressive young man,” Strothman said.

Faust’s mother, Tess, is employed in the media and public relations department of the Kentucky State Fair Board, according to a separate family statement sent by fair board spokeswoman Amanda Storment.

I went to DeSales High School like Cpl. Faust graduating ten years before.

This news has caused much tumult within me today. It has me asking many questions that are very unpopular but but I feel need answering:

1)      Is supporting the troops mean that we also have to support the war?

2)      What about the fact that members of the armed forces have volunteered to be cogs in the U.S.’s imperialistic war machine?

3)      How should we parse out today’s volunteer army compared conscripts who fought in other wars?

4)      What should I think about Cpl. Faust when he was shooting people who are rightfully fighting against foreign invaders?

5)      What role do soldiers play when they are the tentacles that are on the ground involved in the, though accidental, killing of innocent civilians?

6)      What about Abu-Ghraib, urinating on dead Taliban fighters and mutilating bodies?

7)      What about the fact that many armed forces members come from lower to lower-middle class backgrounds and they join the military as their only choice to find employment or for funding with which to use to attend college?

8)      When people say that the armed forces are protecting our freedom, who are they protecting it from?

9)      Despite the fact that I am 100% against the war in Afghanistan, should I still attend a memorial service for Cpl. Faust if one is held at DeSales High School?