It’s been a while since I’ve written anything personal but I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  So instead of writing about myself, I’m going to point you to a really good blog post about something that I struggle with every day–depression.  Go to http://bitterempire.com/rain-roof-managing-depression-night/ and read it, seriously, it’s good.  My favorite paragraph is this:

What a demoralizing way to exist, you know? What a stupid life you’re stuck with when the first thing you have to do in the morning and the last thing you have to do at night is not die. And what a stupid life you’re stuck with when you have to concentrate wholly on yourself just to get off the floor and put one foot in front of the other. All the automatic motions have to be done in manual with this damn thing.

And for the last year I don’t know if I’m actually truly busy or have I just been stuck on manual. All I can seem to focus on is the next thing that’s right in front of me. It seems to work to keep the worst of my depression at bay. But it sure as hell doesn’t allow for much reflection, which is crucial to writing. Anyway, I’m off to do the very next thing in front of me, which would be doing some database queries. Can you feel my enthusiam through these magical web toobs?

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about a recent Bloomberg poll that asked:

Do you support banning Muslims from the United States for a while?

65% of Republican voters said yes and a surprising 18% of Democratic voters said yes.  They did not interview any Independents so it’s safe to assume that more than 37% of American likely voters support what is essentially an unconstitutional and unethical policy.  If that doesn’t worry you maybe their answer to the follow-up question should.  They asked a second question that states it even more clearly…something like “even if it’s unconstitutional and goes against everything that America stands for and it makes us less safe” do you still support it and they STILL answered yes.

They then talked to a focus group of Trump supporters.  Most of them were college educated (so claiming their ignorant isn’t an answer to this conundrum). When asked why they supported the ban it was VERY clear there were two main reasons:  1) fear and 2) spite. The spite is something many online have speculated about.  Essentially they think Trump challenges the status quo and the “elites”, which they define as the media.  They believe the media elites are looking down on them (and they are and rightly so) calling them bigots.  Well if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…But instead of shaming them, it only makes them madder and makes them support Trump more.  So that’s why we’re seeing his numbers go higher every time he says something awful–so the online and media speculation was correct.

What it all boils down to is these two important points.  First, they are SO afraid of more terrorist attacks that they will trade long term safety (and scoff at rational policy as presented by Pres. Obama and any Democratic nominee) for short term safety (as offerred by Trump).  I.e., they know it’s wrong they just don’t give a f*ck.  Second, the left and the Media telling them it is wrong, makes them so angry that they are willing to cut their nose off to spite their face.  It’s like telling your 4 year old, ‘if you do that one more time I’m going to spank you’ so, of course, they do the forbidden thing out of defiance.

When you really understand the dynamic here and you look at how many Americans probably feel this way, it is incredibly disturbing.  Maybe we should be concerned about the Democratic Party’s nominees chances in the general election.  Fear is contagious and so is anger.  These two emotions have been the main impetus behind some pretty ugly things in our history like the Internment of the Japanese during WWII.   This could be another one of those defining moments.  Unfortunately this decision will most likely be made by people with the mentality of 4 year olds.

The U.S. Senate has once again decided it’s A-OK to let terrorists buy guns legally in the U.S.  Yes, you read that right.    You can be on the FBI’s Terror watchlist and buy a gun in the U.S.  You can also be batshit crazy and/or have a history of harrassing and attacking women’s health clinics.  Or you can be anybody, like a man with a history of domestic violence, and just show up to a gun show–no background check required!

There have been 351 Mass Shootings in the first 334 days of 2015.  Note that doesn’t include individual shootings–just “mass” shootings.   And all we’re getting from our leaders is “thoughts and prayers”.  I’m not saying don’t pray.  That’s your right to do so.  It probably makes you feel better, but it doesn’t actually DO anything to address the gun violence in this country.  A true Christian demonstrates faith through deeds.  Words are not enough (Christ specifically said it wasn’t enough to simply profess faith but one must engage in good works).

So while everyone is running scared of Muslims right now, please note that white extremists (domestic terrorists, our fellow citizens) have killed twice as many Americans as Jihadists since 9/11.  Twice as many.  But the right will demonize Muslims because “fear of the Other” is such great motivator for voting.  But it’s not the Mooslims you need to fear…it’s the white guy sitting next to you.  And for those of you who want to argue this, you can’t.    FBI stats don’t lie.  It is true for every type of violent crime–rape (twice as likely), assault, robbery, murder (4.6 times as likely), gange violence (53.3%) etc, etc.  If you’re white, the odds of your attacker being white is significantly higher than being attacked by someone of a different color and/or religion.  But white folks don’t see that because our white dominated media focuses so much on crime by other races against whites.  It makes sense that Americans don’t think this is the case.  It’s totally screwed up but that’s the reality.

So America will continue to believe and fear that brown and black people and particularly those with a different religion are the real problem.   The innocent will continue to die and the grand experiment of our democracy will go out with a whimper drowned out by the cacophony of prayers by disingenuous and detached politicians and the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic machine guns.

This morning I ate breakfast with my son, something I don’t often get the chance to do. We had juice and cereal. I had orange juice but couldn’t get him to try it. And I really wanted him to try it for some reason. Probably because I love, love, love the taste of Orange Juice and Milk and Cereal together and I wanted him to experience that. Most people don’t like that flavor combination and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not the flavor combination so much as the memories it triggers.

When I was a kid, can’t remember how old exactly, sometime between the ages of 6 and 10 my mother would drive myself and my sisters up north to central Pennsylvania to see my Dad for a couple weeks in the summer. We had a station wagon, white maybe, with faux wood paneling–a faux woody, so to speak. Imagine, if you will, six females, five of whom are children, in a very small space over a looooong period of time (long at least to a mere child). To say that it was difficult would be an understatement. My mother would often try to drive it straight through, which if she was successful would shorten the trip into 24 hours. If she couldn’t do it, she would have a hotel reservation at the half way point somewhere outside of Knoxville, TN. But she was a tough lady and she often would push right on through the weariness. And when she did, that meant we all had to find a way to sleep. Thankfully this “faux woody wagon” had a foldable back seat. My oldest sister always sat up front, the twins and our middle sister would stretch out in the expanded back, and I, as the youngest and smallest, would curl up in that narrow in-between space on the floorboard with the hump in the middle.

How I did it never ceases to amaze me. Not long after this time period I became claustrophobic and since then I can’t imagine how I managed to stand being in such a small, confining space. I do distinctly remember the roughness of the carpet and the warmth of the hard steel frame underneath. I do understand, all too well, why I did it though. I simply could not stand to sleep shoved up against my sisters. No insult meant to them but even today I am not much of a snuggler. Also by that time I was sick to death of the endless poking, prodding, teasing and just plain fractiousness of my siblings. Basically I desperately needed to be alone.

The best way I can describe what it was like is to pose it as a couple of math problems. A car is traveling slower than a South American tree sloth on heroin, ie 55 mph, for 1,000 miles with stops every four hours with one adult female driver and five female siblings.

  1. Will the driver use the no-look back-handed slap to adjust behavior in the back seat:

a) before Nashville
b) after Nashville
c) before leaving Memphis city limits
d) All of the above

    2.  At what point will blood be drawn by one or more of the children in the back seat?

a) 1 hour into the trip
b) 6 hours into the trip
c) 12 hours into the trip at the halfway point
d) Never, they’ll skip bloodletting and proceed straight to choking

If you answered d to both questions, then you must have been a member of my family or have grown up in one just like it. But that’s what it was like. So my mother, understandably, did her damndest to drive straight through. At some point we would all fall asleep–the susurrus of the highway, emotional exhaustion and bleeding out will do that to you.

My mother would stop at dawn, usually at the same place, high up in the mountains. I would crawl out of the hot stygian darkness and sleepy breath-filled air of our car into the cold morning. Gasping at the air like a drowning person, I stumbled over to a silvered wooden picnic table. And there, sitting on that chilly, hard bench, I would try my best to ignore the sound of the highway traffic behind me and the grumbling around me.  As I ate my cereal and drank orange juice I would watch as the sun rose over the foggy tipped mountain range in front of me.   I was well on my way to being out of that damn car and my father was not far away.  And that, dear reader, is what orange juice, milk and cereal tastes like to me.

There’s nothing I hate more than hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I see it every single day in our news media. Who controls the majority of our news media is primarily to blame and the number of people who control it has been shrinking for decades. In 1983 there were 50 companies who controlled the majority of our news and information and now there are only 6. And when such consolidation happens, it means fewer individuals shape the news and that news will inevitably be shaped by their individual opinions, journalism be damned. Let me give you the perfect example.

Yesterday, I heard that Robert Redford had a new movie out called “Truth” about Rathergate. Some background–You may recall that Rathergate refers to the scandal that ended the long illustrious career of newsman Dan Rather. Two months before the 2004 Presidential election, “60 Minutes” aired a Rather segment critical of President Bush’s service record in the Air National Guard in the early 1970’s based on a set of memos called the “Killian Documents”. The memos turned out to be forgeries and Rather retired, quite unwillingly, a year later. The award-winning producer who broke the Abu Ghraib prison tortures, Mary Mapes, was fired and never worked in the field again. Mary Mapes did write a book, however, and the film is based on that book.

Interested in the movie I viewed the trailer online and saw that the New York Daily News had a review so I read that too. It panned the movie and used it as a platform to excoriate Mapes and Rather, as if the destruction of their careers had not been enough punishment. I would like to think that such a scolding comes from a wellspring of journalistic integrity and a desire to protect the profession. After a little more=e digging, I decided, unfortunately, that’s probably not what is going on here.

The author of the piece is Don Kaplan, TV editor for the NY Daily News, for whom I struggled to find any bio information. However, what I did find is that the paper is owned and run by billionaire Mortimer Zuckerman, a long time supporter of the Democratic party, who also happens to be a big supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. He has been accused by John Mearsheimer, Harvard political science professor, as being part and parcel of the “Israeli Lobby” in the U.S. Zuckerman’s response in the conservative paper, the New York Sun, to that accusation was as follows:

I would just say this: The allegations of this disproportionate influence of the Jewish community remind me of the 92-year-old man sued in a paternity suit. He said he was so proud; he pleaded guilty.

While I won’t speak about Professor Mearsheimer’s accusation as to whether Zuckerman and the Israeli Lobby have an outsized influence on US foreign policy (although I do have an opinion), I think it is fair to say that Zuckerman has a bias towards Israel when it comes to foreign policy. At this point you’re asking, what does this have to do with Rathergate and a journalistic scolding disguised as a movie review? Well I’m getting there, be patient.

In the lead up to the Iraq War one of the biggest and loudest cheerleaders supporting the Bush Administration’s desire to invade was Mortirmer Zuckerman. While the UN was saying we needed more time to investigate whether Saddam actually had WMD, Zuckerman took a very public stance saying that we didn’t need a smoking gun and assured everyone that Hussein was “clearly lying” about having abandoned WMDs. According to Robert Wright of The New York Times , Zuckerman’s writing during the build up to the invasion was “melodramatic, borderline-hysterical” about the imminent threat that Saddam posed to the U.S.

What did Zuckerman and many others base their opinions on, the opinions that shaped the national debate and led us into a disastrous war? Their world-altering opinions were based on information coming out of the White House that was in turn being trumpeted by papers like the NY Daily News and the New York Times, and at the Times specifically by Judith Miller. Indeed, while Judy Miller cooled her heels in jail for Contempt of Court she had visits from her rich and powerful friends in the Israeli Lobby including Mr. Zuckerman. I’m not making an accusation based entirely on association, there is plenty of evidence that Zuckerman’s published opinions were the same as Miller’s and that he knew the same people she used as sources and that they have both attended public and television events to discuss their shared opinions over the years.

Now we get to the meat of matter.  Why was Miller in jail and why is it important to my reasoning here? She was incarcerated for refusing to be questioned by a federal prosecutor regarding her sources during the grand jury investigation into the outing of CIA officer, Valerie Plame. We learned later that her source was actually “Scooter” Libby, Assistant to President George W. Bush. We also know that many of her sources were people who had some history with the administration or were actively in the administration per her own admission in a recent book and in recent interviews.  This demonstrates the types of sources she used in her reporting before the Iraq War that was so instrumental in convincing the people that we were justified in our invasion.

Judith Miller’s defense, which has been repeated by Zuckerman in his continuing justification for the Iraq War, was that they’d successfully relied on those sources before in regards to other stories and felt they were accurate. Miller was part of the NY Times team that won the Pulitizer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for it’s 2001 coverage of global terrorism before and after the 9/11 attacks. She says she used many of the same sources. Relying on a set of experts, who were essentially Administration lackeys and subject matter experts who had worked for and owed their standing to said Administration, for explanatory reporting the birth and growth of Al Qaeda when that group had openly taken responsibility for 9/11 is NOT the same as relying on that same set of people to develop a casus belli

Furthermore, relying on those experts when the information about Al Qaeda could be found elsewhere and easily cross-checked is NOT the same as the run up to the Iraq war when the ONLY intelligence we had was being filtered and massaged by the Administration, essentially a single source. In the debate in the U.K. over whether to join us in Iraq much was made about the fact that the information came from a single source, but not here in the good ‘ol USA.  To our everlasting regret, the media did not cross-check the information–and this includes Zuckerman.

And there WERE other sources to be tapped. What about Joe Wilson and the trip to Niger? Judith didn’t investigate the President’s claim that Saddam tried to buy uranium in Africa or she would have discovered Joe Wilson. What about Richard Clarke? He has said that from the day Bush entered the White House Clarke was warning Condolezza Rice about Al Qaeda but she and the President were already fixated on Saddam. Rice and Bush said that Al Qaeda was just a distraction from Saddam. The CIA repeatedly told them not to ignore Al Qaeda and that Saddam was the real distraction. In fact, they were so certain of the impending 9/11 attacks and so NOT worried about Saddam that they did a couple of telling things. First they asked Joe Wilson, a non-agent, a non-CIA employee and a diplomat, to go to Niger and investigate whether Saddam had bought enriched uranium there. If they felt it was a serious lead, they would have sent a team. Sure enough, the rumor was just that and Wilson reported that fact to the CIA at the time and later as an opinion piece in the NY Times in 2003.  That didn’t stop President Bush from claiming that Saddam tried to purchase uranium in Africa. The second thing they did occurred on July 9, 2001. The CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center staffers were told in a meeting by a senior official that they should resign so that when the Al Qaeda attack occurred they couldn’t be blamed.  Ironically, the Administration did just that. So, it was abundantly clear to the CIA that Al Qaeda was the imminent threat and Saddam was not.

Why didn’t Judith Miller check with any of those other sources? If she could get high level sources in the Administration wanting to go into Iraq, why could she not find people that thought we shouldn’t because there were plenty of those both inside and outside of the Administraton? She had Scooter Libby as a source and he was involved in the outing and/or cover-up of Valerie Plame, wife of Joe Wilson. The CIA and Wilson was practically doing a jig under her nose. Why wouldn’t you try to get both sides of the story because we were talking about going to war–it was too important to get wrong. War is costly and convincing us to go to war based on lies is ethically abhorrent.

And later when the Administration waved around articles by the likes of Zuckerman, Miller, Robert Novak and others  saying ‘see here’s proof, Saddam is an imminent threat’ why didn’t she publicly say something like ‘wait a minute, it doesn’t work like that’. That’s like me reporting as an anonymous source to my local paper that the moon is made out of cheese. They in turn report ‘our sources say the moon is made out of cheese’, and then I take that paper as proof to my friends and family and say, ‘see I told you the moon was made out of cheese’. It was her’s and their obligation as journalists and as citizens of a country about to go to war to get the opposing side of the story and failing that, to stand up and say something when they used their articles as “proof”.

Another defense that Miller, Zuckerman, and others use to excuse their shoddy journalism (and in my opinion, spectacular failure in their civic duty) was to say “but Saddam wanted to hurt us and would have if he was given the opportunity”. That’s some specious bullpucky there. If intention and desire were the criteria by which we establish a case for war we would have to bomb half the world. And while we are still hearing all kinds of excuses and non-apologies from the likes of Miller and Zuckerman (who can forget Miller’s smirking interview with Jon Stewart), what happened in Rathergate?  Rather admitted he made a mistake in judgment and apologized and Mapes, while she didn’t apologize did admit she made mistakes.

So what was the result of the shoddy and agenda-filled reporting in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq? The Iraq War resulted in over 36,000 dead and wounded U.S. soldiers, killed and wounded over 100,000 Iraqi civilians (some claims are as high 600,000) and displaced 5 million more, and we spent $1.7 trillion of the national treasure. What were the consequences of Dan Rather’s story? Dan Rather’s very distinguished and respected career in journalism ended far too soon and Mary Mapes had her professional livelihood destroyed. It had no effect whatsoever on the election. Let me be clear here…I’m not advocating for Redford’s movie, nor justifying what Rather and Mapes did. In both cases they made huge journalistic mistakes, that could have affected (and in one case did affect) the course of our nation.

The point is that Zuckerman and his paper have some kind of nerve to spank Dan Rather and Mary Mapes for not doing their due diligence and failing to verify their sources, when he and many other powerful, influential people printed stories while failing to do the same thing. Moreover, it just goes to show you that as the number of people who control the news and journalism in this country continues to shrink, this kind of hypocrisy will not only continue, it will get worse and will lead this nation into more disastrous decisions.

 

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6

http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Duty-Press-President-Privilege/dp/0312354118
http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/robert-redford-truth-article-1.2381935
http://www.amazon.com/Israel-Lobby-U-S-Foreign-Policy/dp/0374531501
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/16/AR2005091601646.html
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1451669399/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1451669399&linkCode=as2&tag=bobcescom-20&linkId=2KWKQW7BOE7ZO7Z5
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline
http://icasualties.org/iraq/
http://www.conflictandhealth.com/content/2/1/1
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/14/us-iraq-war-anniversary-idUSBRE92D0PG20130314
http://www.nysun.com/national/kalb-upbraids-harvard-dean-over-israel/29470/
http://www.nysun.com/national/kalb-upbraids-harvard-dean-over-israel/29470/

If you have ever had a cat, this will make you laugh.

I have been asking myself what has happened to journalism in this country for a few years now. I heard two stories on NPR recently where they spent less than 5 seconds on the fact that the Planned Parenthood videos are less than honest and really didn’t address the origin and veracity of the videos. I was and am still so incensed I felt like writing an email to NPR (see said email to NPR at bottom.)

Matt Taibbi’s tweeted something that was very on point today. Glenn Greenwald first tweeted this:

On the ludicrous conceit of “objective, opinion-free journalism

with a link to an article. Someone named The Meteor Guy tweeted back to him and another person:

@ggreenwald @JulianPhilosphy keep separate the facts from the opinions is one of the basic rule of journalism.

And then Matt Taibbi responded:

That couldn’t be more incorrect. Which facts you choose to present IS an opinion.

I think it comes down to them, NPR and the rest of the media, being terrified of the “liberal bias” label. Their fear makes them leave out key facts in almost every single controversial story. And as such are, inadvertently I think, presenting an opinion. An opinion that will affect national opinion, which will in turn affect support for Planned Parenthood. The end result is that they are carrying water for the conservative agenda. Inadvertent or not, it’s just flat out wrong and it’s piss poor journalism. I for one am sick of it.

 


Sent 8/6/2015 via Contact Us form at NPR.org

Yesterday morning I listened to an NPR report on the latest sting video of Planned Parenthood. The reporter (sorry don’t remember her name) spent less than 5 seconds on its questionable nature. She characterized it, downplayed it, so that it came off as “excuse making” by Planned Parenthood. For example, she said something like ‘Planned Parenthood as part of their defense pointed to statements that had been edited out of the video’. That is VASTLY different from the truth. The guy making the video had an agenda and he significantly altered the video in order to make it look as if Planned Parenthood was guilty of committing a crime. That needed to be said but it simply wasn’t. In the real world that’s called framing. Instead the story came across as one of the “poor optics” for Planned Parenthood. This is the exact same thing that happened to Acorn and they are now defunct.

In addition other reports and opinions expressed on NPR’s other shows has been about the optics as well. I don’t want to hear about optics in the news. I want to hear as many facts as you can put into the time slot. NPR used to be the one news source I could go to to get some semblance of reality and avoid the horse race reporting and biased news presented by the rest of the media. But over the last year that has been disappearing. Sadly it seems NPR has bowed to political pressure not to appear as “liberally biased”. NPR is over correcting and it means you are leaving out facts that are vital to understanding a story and presenting it fairly. If the reality has a liberal bias, report it and let the chips fall where they may. And vice versa, if the reality has a conservative bias, then report it and don’t worry about the shrilling of the right or the left.

That does not mean, however, that I only want a centrist view. A variety of opinion is desperately needed and is lacking on all the political shows that I have listened to to include Diane Rehm’s and This Week in Politics. “This Week in Politics” is supposed to present two opposing sides to the political debate. Instead you have E.J. Dionne for the left. He’s more of a Democratic Party supporter….which does not necessarily make him a liberal. He, more often than not, presents mild and ineffectual retorts (if given the time) to snide, condescending rhetoric from David Brooks. David Brooks is a conservative masking himself as a centrist and he does not represent the conservative base in America. Even these two gentlemen, supposedly from opposing sides, took the centrist view on the Planned Parenthood story and the conversation hinged on the bad optics. It shouldn’t be about bad optics and by making it so you feed into those bad optics and as a result carry water for a political agenda. This has been happening with increasing frequency over the last few years.

And finally, while I can see plenty of facts online in NPR articles about the veracity of the videos and how government money to Planned Parenthood is really spent and how they provide crucial healthcare to millions of women, I have yet to hear that on any of the radio shows, which is where most people are exposed to NPR. Like most people, I listen on my way to/from work. Since the radio is how most of your listeners will hear the news, the articles online are of little use in affecting the current national conversation. And make no mistake about it, you are affecting national opinion. If that opinion turns against Planned Parenthood and they lose funding, tens of thousands of women will suffer.

I’m sad to report that NPR has now become the best of the bad and that decline will ensure that I do not rely on NPR for news or anything else in the future.