Thursday, May 30, 2013

MPBN's False Balance



Re: "Tar Sands Pipeline," Maine Calling, MPBN Radio, 05/30/2013.

This afternoon's edition of MPBN's noon-time call-in show, Maine Calling, focusing on the topic of tar sands in Maine, is a perfect example of how "liberal" NPR routinely utilizes the same corporate media approaches to its brand of supposedly non-commercial journalism.

To begin with I was infuriated when host Susan Sharon asked Portland-Montreal Pipeline President Larry Wilson whether or not he "believes in climate change." (Wilson, for his part, did not truly answer the question, though his equivocating blabber of a response suggests the definitive answer is, no--he does not.)

But whether or not Wilson personally "believes" in climate change is irrelevant. The phenomenon is an undeniable scientific reality. Sharon may as well have asked Wilson if he believes in gravity or if he personally accepts the fact that the earth is round.

This is an example of false equivalency and the media's insistence on giving "both sides" on every issue. This sort of pseudo-objectivity is the same kind employed whenever the media reports on gay-rights or gay-marriage. Despite the rapid and growing societal acceptance that LGBT Americans deserve to enjoy the same rights and privileges as straight Americans, the media still feels the need, whenever reporting on gay-rights, to seek out bigoted, Bible-spouting homophobes in the name of "balance."

There is no longer any doubt among scientists as to the existence of anthropogenic, or human-induced, global warming. Corporate oil barons like Wilson can doubt the planet's warming all they want. It does not change the fact that it is happening, and that it would behoove us to stop burning fossil fuels. By simply posing the question, "Do you believe in climate change?", Sharon reinforces the false idea that there still remains some sort of doubt about it--or that, even if the planet is warming, human activity has nothing to do with it.

The second infuriating moment was when Sharon hung up on a caller. (As the show's name indicates, Maine Calling allows listeners to phone-in and voice their opinions about the day's topic. It is worth noting, not one of today's callers supported the potential transportation of dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, into the U.S. via the Portland-Montreal Pipeline. Every caller was either opposed to the idea or offered critical comments or questions for Wilson. In other words, if there is "another side" on this issue, that minority has chosen to remain suspiciously silent.)

Essentially, the caller took too long to summarize his comments and Sharon booted him off the airwaves. Now, I understand this is radio and the show has a set time-slot. And yes, the caller was taking a long time getting to his point. But cutting a speaker's mic or literally hanging up on him smacks of behavior one would expect to find on Fox News--not proper, polite NPR. If Susan Sharon--who is MPBN's deputy news director--does not want to take the time to hear all listener comments on a show called Maine Calling, she should, perhaps, find a different show to host--one where she gets to do all the talking. (In fairness, Sharon was filling in for regular host, Keith Shortall, who has been suspiciously absent all week.)

By employing the same false equivalency standards and bullish hosting tactics as the corporate media, MPBN undermines its mission statement of providing an "open exchange of information, ideas, and cultural content."

You can read my full-length post on the threat posed by tar sands oil, here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

War Immemorial


 
Why the "War on Terror" will never end. 
President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech Thursday was predictably and perhaps characteristically, frustrating. In what seems to have become his modus-operandi, President Obama said all the right things, acknowledging that the war on terror cannot and should not, be sustained indefinitely. But, as usual, he was short on specific plans or legislative actions to put his vast promises into concrete action.

That did not stop the Obama Cheering Squad (a.k.a., the corporate media) from salivating in orgasmic ecstasy over the entire speech, though.

A lengthy New York Times editorial lauds the president’s address, calling it a “momentous turning point in post-9/11 America” (“The End of Perpetual War,” 5/24/13). The Times editors conclude the piece, “There have been times when we wished we could hear the right words from Mr. Obama on issues like these, and times we heard the words but wondered about his commitment. This was not either of those moments.”

Well, I’m glad the NYT is apparently so easily satisfied. The rest of us, however, may need a lot more convincing beyond Obama’s rhetoric, lofty as it may be.   

Bob Dreyfus of The Nation hails the president’s speech as “important and transformative” (“Global War on Terror, RIP,” 5/24/13). Dreyfus then goes on to defend Obama’s use of unmanned predator drones, or simply “the drone issue,” as he calls it. He writes: “First of all, a drone is just another weapon in the American arsenal, not unlike cruise missiles which President Clinton unloaded on Al Qaeda in 1998, and other lethal power.”

Except that, to my knowledge at least, Clinton never used cruise missiles to illegally and arbitrarily target American citizens. Indeed, it is astounding how blithely Dreyfus minimizes “the drone issue” as though it is an afterthought. Then again, given some 80 percent of liberals approve of drones, I suppose I should not be surprised.

Certainly, there is no doubt the “War on Terror,” or the “Global Struggle Against Extremism,” or whatever made-for-newspaper-headlines label we are supposed use for it now, must end. I just would not hold my breath waiting for Obama to end it. Obama is, in many respects, a greater warmonger than George W. Bush. Upon accepting his absurdly undeserved Nobel Peace Prize shortly after taking office, President Obama disingenuously invoked the peace activism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. only to then attempt to discredit the approach.

“[A]s a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [King and Gandhi’s] examples alone,” Obama said.

“I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism—it is a recognition of history… So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.”

Yet, how can Obama say for certain that negotiations with al-Qaeda would prove fruitless?

Al-Qaeda leaders have proposed peace negotiations—on the condition the U.S. leave Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israel withdraw from the Palestinian Occupied Territories—twice in the last ten years and the Bush and Obama administrations have both promptly dismissed them outright. Once again, the “politically practical”—military aggression, in this case—trumps the “na├»ve altruism” of peace and nonviolence. Perhaps the real reason peace is not considered a “realistic” foreign policy option is because weapons manufacturers—like tax-dodging NBC owners, General Electric—cannot make any money off it.

The United States has been at war with al-Qaeda and other affiliated organizations for over a decade now. The war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history. And while the military combat in Iraq may be technically over, the corporate occupation remains very much in place. According to the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight (POGO), 14,000-16,000 private contractors and U.S. corporations—including such heavyweights as KBR, DynCorp and Blackwater/Academi—maintain a strong presence in Iraq. And those are just the officially declared wars most Americans are cognizant of. We also deliver daily bombings, via unmanned predator drones, to Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

The “war on terror,” like the Cold War of the 1950s, is an open-ended, potentially endless conflict against an ambiguous, ill-defined enemy and a culture—Islam, essentially—which we stubbornly refuse to understand. Rather than educating ourselves about the Islamic religion or the history and culture of the Middle East, we instead hide behind the infantile question, “Why do they hate us?” (The correspondingly infantile answer: “They hate us because of our freedom.”) The actual answer, of course, likely has less to do with how much “freedom” we enjoy, and the degree to which we, through our ongoing efforts of pre-emptive war, militarization and occupation, inflict upon the rest of the world the same sort of barbaric violence we vehemently decry when unleashed upon us.

And therein lays the bitter irony of the war on terror. Our imperialist actions—carried out in the name of fighting terrorism—only serve to create more hostility against America, thus leading to more terrorist attacks. According to Guardian blogger, Glenn Greenwald, this is, in fact, the point. In a piece from earlier this year, Greenwald called the terror war, “a pure and perfect system of self-perpetuation” (“The ‘War on Terror’—by Design—Can Never End,” 01/04/2013).

He writes:

“…what one can say for certain is that there is zero reason for US officials to want an end to the war on terror, and numerous and significant reasons why they would want it to continue. It’s always been the case that the power of political officials is at its greatest, its most unrestrained, in a state of war…

If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It’s that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.”

The war on terror, therefore, can never end. Not, that is, unless We the People force that ending through massive organized resistance, nonviolent civil disobedience and by abandoning the two corporate parties that enable (and benefit from) this war of terror’s continuation.

“The war is not meant to be won,” George Orwell wrote prophetically in 1984, “it is meant to be continuous.”

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Democrats to Third-Parties: Drop Dead


Re: “Ralph Nader Loses Maine Court Appeal Over Ballot,” Portland Press Herald, 5/23/2013.

The article states, “The Democratic Party said it has a constitutional right to challenge Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot.”
What about Nader's constitutional right to run for office in the first place?
Here’s the thing: Even if the Democratic Party does, as it claims, have a legal right to intentionally obstruct an opposition candidate from running for office, it is still a highly anti-democratic maneuver. It also suggests how little confidence the Democrats had in John Kerry’s ability to honestly defeat Nader in the realm of political debate. (Not that Nader would have been allowed to participate in any of the actual debates, of course. But you get the idea.)
The Democrats are traditionally held up as the party of inclusiveness, multiculturalism and diversity. But the reality is just the opposite. The party is just as exclusive, politically homogenous and elitist as the Republicans.
Maybe if the Dems had not devoted so much time and millions of dollars to kicking Ralph Nader and his running-mate, the late Peter Camejo, off of every state ballot they could, but instead focused on running a substantive campaign based on actual progressive issues beyond the pathetic “Anybody But Bush” rationale, they might have actually won.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Beat The Press

 
 
 Why the A.P. Phone Records Seizure Should Frighten Us All.
Forget about Benghazi or the IRS’s alleged targeting of “nonprofit” Tea Party groups. There is a scandal brewing in the Obama White House—one that should outrage all Americans who care about civil liberties. But it is not either of these media obsessions. The real scandal is the Justice Department’s unprecedented seizure of the Associated Press’ phone records.

As the AP reported last week, the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months’ worth of its reporters’ and editors’ phone records without a warrant or justifiable cause. The records cover over 20 AP reporters’ telephone lines, including their homes, offices and cell phones. AP President, Gary Pruitt denounced the move, and called on Attorney General Eric Holder to return the phone records and destroy all its copies.

In a letter to Holder, Pruitt wrote, “We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

The DOJ claims it needs the phone records to identify a source who allegedly leaked information to AP reporters regarding a foiled terrorist plot originating in Yemen. However, as former constitutional lawyer and Guardian blogger, Glenn Greenwald notes, “The legality of the DOJ’s actions is impossible to assess because it is not even known what legal authority it claims nor the legal process it invoked to obtain these records. Particularly in the post-9/11 era, the DOJ’s power to obtain phone records is… dangerously broad” (“Justice Department’s pursuit of AP phone records is both extreme and dangerous,” 05/14/2013).

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges agreed. Speaking on Democracy Now! last week (05/15/13), Hedges called the seizure “frightening.”

“[I]t is one more assault in a long series of assault against freedom of information and freedom of the press,” he said. “And I would also, of course, throw in the persecution of Julian Assange at WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning as part of that process.”

The Obama administration has overseen more prosecutions of government whistleblowers than any other administration in history. Barack Obama has invoked the 1917 Espionage Act twice as many times as all previous administrations combined. What is further infuriating is Obama—a former constitutional scholar—ran in 2008 on a platform of “restoring transparency” to government. Instead, he has done just the opposite. Perhaps that explains why the transparency theme was largely absent from his 2012 campaign.

Whistleblowers, government insiders and other often times “off the record” sources are crucial to investigative journalism. The classic example is “Deep Throat,” who helped Woodward and Bernstein break the Watergate break-in story during the Nixon years. Without Deep Throat (revealed in 2005 to be FBI Associate Director Mark Felt), The Washington Post reporters would never have been able to shed light on the Watergate scandal.

Both these intrepid whistleblowers and the reporters who bring their insider information to the public are an indispensable part of democracy. The very job of journalism is to serve as a watchdog of government and corporate entities. It is to bring citizens the truth—no matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable that truth may be. And while it is true the privately-owned, corporate news media have not always lived up to this standard, the press (print-news, in particular) is one of the few remaining safeguards to protect democracy and an open society. Indeed, as history has shown, when totalitarian forces shut down free countries, the press is typically the first institution that is silenced.

But Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on leakers has created a chilling effect.

According to Hedges in the aforementioned interview:

“If you talk to investigative journalists in this country, who must investigate the inner workings of government, no one will talk, even on background. People are terrified. And this is, of course… not really about AP. It’s about going after that person or those people who leaked this story and shutting them down. And this canard that it [the leaked information] endangered American life…there’s no evidence for this.”

Yet the “liberal” media seems more upset that the IRS singled out some right-wing political organizations attempting to pass themselves off as nonprofit, “social welfare” groups, than the DOJ’s gross violation of the First Amendment. Not to suggest, mind you, that liberal groups do not do the same thing. MoveOn.org, for instance, is registered as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

Indeed, many media outlets are defending the DOJ’s move. The Nation’s Leslie Savan--who, like so many other reporters, lumps the genuine AP scandal in with the IRS and Benghazi pseudo-scandals--urges readers to “take a deep breath” (“Don’t Get Sucked Into Obama Scandal-Mania,” 5/16/13). She then, in classic liberal style, blames the phone records seizure on the Republicans. Savan writes:

“Republicans have made a fine art out of demanding Obama do something, then attacking him when he does… [N]ow the same Republicans, like Joe Scarborough, who were screaming for Obama to shut down national security leaks like the one in Yemen, are now screaming that he’s trampling on free speech.”

But Republicans’ double-standard opportunism—however hypocritical—while perhaps noteworthy, does not actually address the severity of the issue. Then again, I suppose that is the point—shoot the messenger, ignore the message.

Over at the left-leaning Daily Banter website, Oliver Willis decries the Associated Press—and the news media in general—for apparently believing they are above the law (“Dear Professional Press, You Aren’t Special,” 5/15/13). “The press does not have special powers not afforded to the rest of us,” Willis sneers. “If you have material relevant to a crime and think that magical source protection applies, there’s no constitutional right to a confidential source.”

Curious side note: Does Willis consider himself a member of the “professional press”? And, if not, does that mean he belongs instead to the class of “unprofessional” press? Just wondering…

Regardless of what Obama apologists and the outright uninformed may think, the U.S. news media does have freedom of the press protections. And this is not the first instance of blatant hostility to those protections on the part of the Obama White House.

New York Times editor, Andrew Rosenthal, sums things up best (“Did the A.P. Leak ‘Put the American People at Risk’?”, 5/17/13). Noting that the AP editors held off on publishing the insider account for five days at the request of the CIA, Rosenthal makes clear the nation was not “at risk.”

“Hyperventilating about threats to ‘the American people’ a year later is outrageous,” he writes. “Mr. Holder might have directed some of that energy into prosecuting crooked bankers and mortgage companies or, say, people who tortured prisoners.”

 

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Big Green Country



Musings on why it's not easy being Green. 
The Maine Green Independent Party held its annual state convention Sunday, in Belfast. Jill Stein, 2012 presidential candidate, delivered the keynote address. While many of the looming threats Stein outlined in her speech are dire (economic collapse, exploding student debt, a permanent low-wage economy, environmental crisis), she also offered attendees reason to take hope. Indeed, after nearly 30 years of struggling to defend our political legitimacy, it seems voters are finally listening to what the Greens have to say.

“We are not powerless,” Stein told the crowd. “We are so powerful the corporate media is afraid to talk about us.”

Media coverage of the Green Party tends to follow the pattern outlined in Gandhi’s famous saying, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The corporate media tried to ignore us for years. Now they seem to have moved on to the “laugh” phase.

This was largely the case with Stein’s campaign last year. ABC News political blogger, Matt Negrin dismissed not just the Greens but third-parties in general, claiming their ideas “tend to be a bit radical” (06/06/12). Those “radical” ideas include cutting the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget, legalizing marijuana (a concept now supported by a majority of Americans) and creating decent, well-paying jobs. He’s right--such common sense policies are way too radical for Disney-owned, ABC. In a follow-up article some weeks later (07/11/12), Negrin condescendingly calls third-party candidates a “fun footnote in U.S. presidential elections.”

In a rigged, one-party system where it is virtually impossible to vote against a Wall Street sponsored, corporatist candidate, the Green Party is the only genuine grassroots party that speaks for the citizens. “The politics of fear has given us everything we were afraid of,” Stein said. She is right: The corporate media are afraid of us. That is why they go out of their way to mock, ridicule and belittle us. The last thing they want is for informed, morally conscious voters to take us seriously.

And this sort of negative coverage is not limited to the national media. Bollard editor and Bangor Daily News blogger, Chris Busby has been waging a personal vendetta against recently elected Portland School Board member and Green, Holly Seeliger for several months now.

Two weeks ago, he devoted an entire column to discrediting her (“Taking ‘sexist’ back,” 04/25/13). In it Busby writes, without a hint of irony, of his detractors, “…the people who resort to personal attacks and name-calling are morons.” Yup. You’ve got that right, Chris.
To date, I have not read one substantive criticism Busby has of Seeliger’s politics, school reform proposals, or votes. His comments are almost exclusively about Seeliger’s hobby of burlesque dancing. If Busby has a legitimate gripe with an elected official, that is one thing. But he doesn’t. In fact, the man has nothing of substance to say about anyone or anything. If Holly were not a Green I highly doubt he would devote nearly as much ink to her.

Democratic apparatchiks like Maine Rep. John Hink persist in baselessly blaming Ralph Nader for throwing the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. This argument ignores the fact that Al Gore won the election. It was the Supreme Court—engaging in the same sort of “judicial activism” its conservative members constantly decry by those on the left—that voted to end the Florida recount, thus handing the presidency to Bush. More importantly, this entire argument hinges on the presupposition that, had Nader not been an option on the ballot, Green voters would have automatically selected Gore as their default candidate. Some of them likely would have done so, yes. But most Greens I know do not compromise so easily. Had Nader not been running, it is more conceivable those voters would have simply stayed home.

Yet 13 years later this bogus notion that Nader “stole votes” from Gore refuses to die. (Point of clarification for liberals: Greens do not “steal” votes. They earn them.) Democrats hysterically trot it out every election cycle to scare progressives into voting against their own interests. Democrats’ marginalization of Nader comes directly out of the Republican playbook: Shoot the messenger, ignore the message. It is the same tactic they have used more recently to smear Julian Assange (“Rapist!”) and Bradley Manning (“Angry gay!”).  Nader’s public transformation from honored consumer advocate, to egomaniacal “spoiler” was no accident. The corporate-controlled Democratic Party orchestrated it.

As John Stauber writes in a recent article for Counterpunch (“The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats,” March 15-17, 2013):

“After the 2000 presidential election…rich liberal Democratic elite began discussing, conspiring and networking together to try and make sure that no scruffy, radical political insurgency like the Nader 2000 campaign would again raise its political head. They generally loved Al Gore, the millionaire technocrat, and they put in play actions which led to the creation of a movement of their own that aped the right-wing’s institutions.”  

Being Green makes you something of a pariah not only in politics, but even in everyday social interactions. A recent encounter with BDN blogger, Carol McCracken at the grocery store, serves as a perfect example.  “You’re a Green, huh?” McCracken sneered upon seeing my Maine Greens pin on my jacket. She then proudly informed me, “I never vote Green.”

I responded as I always do in these sorts of exchanges. I asked her, “Which of our Ten Key Values do you disagree with?” McCracken did not respond to my question, which indicates to me she is not familiar with any of the Key Values. (In other words, she has completely dismissed a political party she knows next to nothing about. Good to know she is such an informed voter.)
Instead she repeated robotically, “I never vote Green!” After Mrs. McCracken lectured me on how marijuana is the “gateway drug,” Congress Square Park should “absolutely” be sold to private realtors, and would-be City Councilor Wells Lyons (I hear he’s running again this year) is a “covert Green,” I managed to cordially end the conversation and escape to the check-out line.

This is the sort of treatment Greens receive on a regular basis. Even the seemingly innocuous act of grocery shopping turns into a political debate over our very right to exist. Of all my quirky, left-leaning pins and t-shirts, none provoke as much rage from liberals as the one that says simply, “Maine Greens,” with a hand-drawn dandelion flower. 
To watch the video stream of the May 5, 2013 Maine Green Independent Party convention in Belfast, ME, click here.