Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Colbert endorses Obama

On Wednesday's Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert used his "THE WØRD" setgment to officially issue his (tongue-in-cheek, yet serious) endorsement of Barack Obama for President. Embedded video and transcript below the fold....

Comedy Central, The Colbert Report, 2008-10-29, ©2008 Comedy Central

Nation, I have no choice but to respond to my fellow prominent conservatives [former Gov. William Weld (R–MA), Susan Eisenhower, Colin Powell, former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan, former Rumsfeld advisor Ken Adelman] who have the gall to endorse Barack Obama, which brings me to tonight's WØRD: I endorse Barack Obama.
  • I Endorse Barack Obama
I know this is shocking and I can tell you're angry, but it is the only solution to what I see as a crisis. Namely, the crisis that these guys [Weld, Eisenhower, etc.] are getting attention and I'm not.
  • Dude, Your DNA Is In Space
It is time for the media to stop covering these has-beens and start covering this "is-being." [points to himself] I mean, all over the news yesterday, I'm hearing the words "William Weld." I believe the last time that name made news was when Elliot Spitzer used it to check into a hotel.
  • Only Protection He Used
They should be talking about me, because my endorsement of Obama just now took real courage: the courage to cross party lines, from a party that is a staggering mass of flaming agony to the party that looks like it's got a pretty good shot at winning this thing.
  • Someone Knock On Wood, I Have No Arms!
Wow, I am bold. I'm just gonna take a second here to drink myself in. Jimmy, can we get a long shot of me, please? [camera shifts] That's a good shot of me. So that's what I look like when I'm being bold.
  • This Is What I Look Like In Bold
Plus, if I endorse Barack Obama and he wins, I will be associated with a winner. And if there's one thing this campaign has taught us, it's that we are defined by our associations.
  • [graphic of Rev. Wright, Obama, Bill Ayers, and a chupacabra]
Oh, you'll find out all about Obama's relationship with the chupacabra this weekend. [stage whisper:] He launched his political career in its lagoon!
  • Fact Check: Chupacabra Is Desert Creature
And finally, this is a terrible economy, and we may all be out of work soon. Endorsing Obama means I'll be on his good side when I apply to get a job running the combine at the new national farm collective.
  • Only Crop: Arugula
And so, it is for all these reasons that I, prominent conservative Stephen Colbert, am hereby endorsing Barack Obama.
  • Not Enough To Lure Him Away From "The Daily Show"
Of course — [audience cheers] — Of course, folks, I just want to be clear: that does not mean I am voting for him. I am not crazy!
  • Also Not Registered
All right? There are plenty of things out there that you can endorse but not do anything to support.
  • Like The Constitution
For instance, in Japan I endorse a very popular energy drink called Pow Young Power Jogging Now Juice, but I would never drink it — it makes you poop Hello Kitties. No! I am voting for John McCain. He may be in an uphill struggle in these final days, but I believe he can still win. He just needs to do something to prove that he has the judgment to lead and knows where this country wants to go. [snaps fingers] You know what? I've got it: Senator McCain, you need to endorse Barack Obama. That will really make you look like a maverick.
  • [graphic of Stephen with a can of energy drink with Japanese text]

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Endorsements: CA propositions

Here are my endorsements for the California state ballot propositions for November 4, 2008:

1A. Yes. High-speed rail bonds
2. No. Standards for confining farm animals
3. No. Children's hospital bonds
4. No. Parental notification for underage abortion
5. Yes. Reform drug crime sentencing, parole, and rehab
6. No. Increase prison terms
7. No. Renewable energy — hopelessly flawed
8. No. Eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry
9. No. Victims' rights, reduces parole
10. No. Alternative fuel vehicles — self-serving
11. No. Redistricting — fatally flawed
12. Yes. Veterans housing bonds

NOTE: the original state "official voter information guide" listed information for Proposition 1, regarding high-speed rail bonds, but Prop 1 was replaced by Prop 1A, which is covered in the supplemental guide.

Prop 1A would build a high-speed rail corridor running most of the length of the state. The alternatives are to add another bazillion lanes to I-5 or build an airport every 3 miles. YES

Prop 2 sets the commendable goal of ensuring humane treatment of farm animals, but the fatal flaw is that it would only shift more egg and meat production to Mexico, where health standards and animal care standards are even more lax than they are now in California. In other words, humans get more salmonella and E. coli, and the animals live in even worse conditions, plus the California economy suffers. It's a classic "lose–lose" situation. No

Prop 3 provides bonds for children's hospital facilities. The problem is that, contrary to proponents' assertions, it will lead to higher taxes or larger spending cuts in other areas — the money has to come from somewhere. Most tellingly, there is still money left over unspent from a similar measure 4 years ago. The hospitals should use the money we've already given them before they ask for more, especially when they lie about where the money comes from. No

Prop 4 is yet another attempt to curtail abortion rights in California by requiring a waiting period and parental notification before a minor can get an abortion. If a girl is getting an abortion without her parents' knowledge, it's a pretty good bet that she has a good reason, and that decision should not be made by politicians. NO on Prop 4!

Prop 5 reduces sentences for non-violent drug offenses and offers rehab as an alternative to prison for some criminals, at the judge's discretion. It also reduces possession of less than one ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, like a traffic ticket. Our jails and prisons are dangerously overcrowded with non-violent offenders. In many areas of California, it's easier to get crystal meth than to get food; prison isn't the solution, treatment is the answer. Yes

Prop 6 is a grab-bag of misguided "tough-on-crime" measures. It requires massive new spending, especially on prisons. We already send far too many people to prison, and the prison guards' union wants more. It is far cheaper in the long run to invest in schools, job training programs, and drug rehab than to invest in prisons. Lastly, making this kind of policy by initiative is utterly insane. NO!!

Prop 7 aims at the commendable goal of increasing the use of renewable energy sources. It's true that it is opposed by PG&E, SoCal Edison, and SDG&E, but it's also opposed by environmental groups, renewable energy groups, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. When you see groups like that lined up against a measure like this, you know it's bad. Prop 7 would actually set back clean energy in California. NO!

Prop 8 seeks to overturn the California Supreme Court's decision earlier this year that required the State to allow people to marry a person of the same sex. The Supreme Court ruled that it was impermissible to discriminate based on sexual orientation in access to one of the most fundamental rights in our society. The proponents of Prop 8 also have been telling bald-faced lies about their amendment. They say that same-sex domestic partnerships already have the same rights as married opposite-sex couples, but that is absolutely untrue. Your spouse has the right to ride in the ambulance with you to the hospital; your domestic partner does not — and there are at least 8 other significant legal differences between the two. The arguments about "teaching homosexual marriage" have been thoroughly debunked by every education group in the state and every major newspaper. The bottom line is that Prop 8 is motivated by Hate and Bigotry and Intolerance, and nothing else. Many Seventh-Day Adventists — hardly the most gay-affirming religious group — have come out against Prop 8 as a matter of religious liberty: Adventists know firsthand what it means to face discrimination based on your personal beliefs, right here in America. Don't take away the rights of real people to protect against a purely hypothetical threat. NO ON PROP 8!!

Prop 9 is another draconian "law and order" measure. Among other things, it would allow crime victims to refuse to cooperate with the defendant's lawyer in preparing for trial. That right there is flat-out unconstitutional. Prop 9 would also reduce early releases from prison, even when the early releases are required due to prison overcrowding. Locking up every criminal and throwing away the key is not the way to protect society, and it's certainly not the most cost-effective way. NO!

Prop 10 is "the other" fatally flawed alternative energy program. It would provide state money to convert vehicles — mostly in commercial fleets — to natural gas or other non-oil-based fuels. Thing is, its main sponsor owns a company that retrofits cars to run on natural gas; does that sound like a conflict of interest to you? How about if I tell you that the same billionaire also financed the "Swift Boat" ads in 2004? The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and The Sierra Club — all major supporters of the concept of clean energy — oppose the deceptive Prop 10. NO!

Prop 11 is Governor Schwarzenegger's second attempt at redistricting reform, after voters shot down the first one. Sadly, in the intervening years, the Democratic Party has balanced Schwarzenegger's pro-Republican plans with ... diddly squat. The current system is badly in need of being scrapped and rebuilt from scratch, and I'm almost tempted to vote yes on 11 just to take a stand that redistricting is an important issue and then hope that the major problems with Prop 11 will be fixed before the 2020 census, but I can't do that. This redistricting proposal is still all about protecting the interests of the political parties, not the people. Further, it inexplicably exempts Congressional redistricting, leaving it in the legislature. Vote NO on Prop 11, but write a letter to your Assembly member and your state Senator, urging them to push for real redistricting reform. In particular, we should keep Prop 11's goals of creating "geographically compact" districts that preserve "communities of interest," and we should divide each state Senate district into two Assembly districts — we just shouldn't do it with this arcane and bizarre method of selecting the panel to draw the maps. NO

Prop 12 provides bonds to help military veterans buy homes in California. Set aside your feelings about the Iraq War; our veterans have laid their lives on the line to protect our nation, even fighting in misguided and misbegotten wars when ordered by our idiot President. Aside from that, the previous bond measures have been wildly successful, with the veterans themselves repaying the entire cost of the program, including interest and overhead expenses. YES!

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Endorsements: SF Local 2008

Here are my endorsements for the San Francisco local election on Nov. 4, 2008, including State Assembly, Superior Court, School Board, Community College Board, BART Director, and local propositions:

Assembly, District 13: Tom Ammiano (D)
Superior Court, Judge #12: Gerardo C. Sandoval
School Board: (choose 4) Fewer, Norton, Wicoff, Yee
College Board: (choose 4) Jackson, Marks, Ngo, Wolfe
BART, District 9: Tom Radulovich

Tom Ammiano for Assembly is an easy sell; he has a long record of representing the people of San Francisco. Likewise, Sandoval for Judge is a no-brainer: the incumbent, Thomas Mellon, has a terrible record; it's a wonder that Mellon had the gall to put his name up for re-election. For School Board and Community College Board, my algorithm is usually very simple: I vote for whomever Tom Ammiano recommends. (Ammiano started out as a classroom teacher and served on the School Board before moving to the Board of Supervisors.) This year, though, Ammiano has endorsed only 3 candidates for School Board, but Wicoff (endorsed by SFBG and the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club) seems a safe choice for the 4th slot. Tom Radulovich has been a great BART director, and definitely merits another term.

I didn't list Mark Leno (D) for State Senate, because I got redistricted out of that race; it was a relief not to have to choose between Leno and Carole Migden in the primary. However, if you live in Senate District 3, definitely vote for Leno. He's not as funny as Jay Leno, but I daresay he's a better legislator. Similarly, my district isn't up this year for Supervisor; however, if you live in Sup. District 11, please do not vote for Myrna Lim, not even as 2nd or 3rd choice — Ahsha Safai is a much better choice (endorsed by Toklas but opposed by SFBG) or go with SFBG's list of Avalos – Knox – Ramos, or in any case "anybody but Lim." update: I am told that Ahsha Safai is at best unreliable on the issue of rent control.

Also, I'm no great fan of Supervisor Chris Daly, whose infantile behavior, far more mercurial even than John McCain, has been a frequent embarrassment to the City, but the ads financed by downtown developers, targeting Eric Mar (District 1), David Chiu (3), and John Avalos (11) as "puppets" of Chris Daly, are alone enough reason to give serious consideration to voting for those candidates.

San Francisco Propositions

  1. Yes: S.F. General Hospital earthquake retrofit (bonds)
  2. Yes: Affordable Housing (no bonds)
  3. No: Prohibit City employees on boards and commissions
  4. Yes: Develop Pier 70
  5. Yes: Conform City recall requirements to State law
  6. Yes: City elections in even-numbered years
  7. Yes: Allow City employees to buy back lost retirement credits for parental leave
  8. Yes: Investigate the possibility of municipal electric utility
  9. No: Office of the Independent Ratepayer Advocate
  10. Yes: Historic Preservation Commission
  11. Yes: Stop enforcing laws against sex workers
  12. No: Guarantee funding for Community Justice Center
  13. Yes: Protect tenants against landlord harassment
  14. Yes: Transfer tax on sale of real estate valued over $5 million
  15. Yes: Change 911 fee to 911 tax to conform with court decisions
  16. No: Give Mayor Newsom more control over Muni
  17. Yes: Close loophole in the payroll expense tax
  18. Yes: Create the "George W. Bush Sewage Plant"!
  19. Yes: City should identify funding sources for budget set-asides (advisory)
  20. Yes: Provide adequate drug rehab services
  21. Yes: City of SF opposes continued occupation of Iraq (advisory)
  22. No: Re-introduce JROTC in SF high schools (advisory)
Prop. A is very straightforward: San Francisco cannot afford to allow General Hospital to be condemned for earthquake safety reasons. Prop. B creates an Affordable Housing Fund from property taxes, and SF desperately needs more affordable housing. Prop. C is a good idea, but fatally flawed execution: we should prohibit high-level City employees from serving on boards and commissions, especially if they're job-related, but there's no reason a Muni driver shouldn't serve on the Library Commission. Prop. D is a non-controversial development project for the waterfront about halfway between the Bay Bridge and Candlestick Park.

Prop. E increases the number of signatures required to recall a Supervisor, making it more difficult for special interests to attack Supes who vote with the people. Prop. F would move the Mayoral election and other city elections to even-numbered years when turnout is higher; the counterpoint is that the ballot is also more crowded with higher-profile races, but in general it's a good thing to have our top officials chosen by a larger percentage of eligible voters. Prop. G allows employees who took unpaid parental leave to buy back the retirement credit they lost. It is guaranteed not to cost the City a penny.

Prop. H is not the "blank check" that its opponents argue; there will be extensive public hearings before the City lifts a finger to move towards public power. Public power works well in many other cities across the country, including some in northern California, and Prop. H also commits the City to clean energy. Prop. I creates the Office of Independent Ratepayer Advocate, but Prop. H already does that. Prop. J creates the non-controversial Historic Preservation Commission.

Prop. K has been the focus of much heat and little light. It would stop enforcement of laws against prostitution — but not laws against child prostitution, human trafficking, abusive pimps, and other related crimes. It wouldn't drive hookers out onto our school playgrounds in broad daylight, it would let them operate like normal businesses, mostly behind closed doors, thus reducing the nuisance to the surrounding neighborhood. It would also end the current situation where a sex worker is often afraid to report a crime because he or she is afraid of being treated as a criminal instead of as a victim. I strongly endorse YES on Prop K!

Prop. L says that the City shall fund that which it has already funded; it's completely unnecessary. Prop. M defines certain forms of harassment by landlords (that means you, CitiApartments!) in the City's rent-control law; it doesn't harm good landlords and won't scare (non-abusive) small property owners out of the business. Prop. N increases the real-estate transfer tax on the sale of property worth $5 million or more, with exemptions for affordable housing and credits for solar energy and earthquake retrofits. Prop. O replaces the 911 "Emergency Response Fee" with a 911 "Access Line Tax" at exactly the same rate, to conform to recent court decisions. It also updates the application of the tax to include things like business VoIP.

Prop. P is another power grab by Mayor Newsom, replacing independent oversight with political cronies, and the Legal Counsel for the State Legislature says it violates state law and is invalid. Prop. Q closes an enormous loophole in the City's payroll expense tax that lets multi-million-dollar law firms and other "partnerships" pay far less than their fair share. It also raises the small-business exemption, giving our own local "Joe the Plumbers" a break.

Prop. R would rename the Oceanside Water Treatment Plant, dubbing it the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. There are some who say it's a slap in the face to the people who work there, doing important and under-appreciated work, but I can't think of a more fitting tribute to our 43rd President, especially since it would be the very first public facility named in his "honor." Prop. S establishes the policy that the voters will not support funding set-asides unless they identify the source for the money. The voters are still free to disregard their own policy and vote "yes" on some future ballot measure, but only after being specifically told that's what they're doing.

Prop. T requires the City to provide substance-abuse treatment to fill the urgent need. Even if you have no compassion whatsoever for the addicts, consider the problems and expenses laid upon the rest of us by their petty crimes, obnoxious belligerence, and total lack of personal hygiene. Prop. U is a simple advisory statement that the people of San Francisco oppose continuing the Iraq War and urge our representatives in Congress to push that point-of-view. Prop. V is an advisory statement that the people of San Francisco support reversing the School Board's decision to kick JROTC out of SF public schools. Maybe after the Iraq War and the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but not a moment before.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

International assessment of Iraq war coverage

Al Jazeera English's must-see weekly program Inside Iraq this week focused on an assessment of worldwide media coverage of the Iraq war and occupation. The panel consisted of an American independent journalist, Robert Dreyfuss; an Israeli journalist, Akiva Eldar; and an Egyptian journalist (and former AP reporter), Nadia Abou El-Magd. They pulled no punches in their analysis of both American and Middle Eastern media over the last 6 years. Embedded video and transcript follow below the fold.

Viewing note: This Wednesday, 2008-10-22 at 19:00 GMT (3pm Eastern, noon Pacific), Al Jazeera English is having a special edition of Inside Iraq, featuring top military advisors to US Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, debating the best policy for Iraq, moving forward. The host of Inside Iraq is Jasim Azzawi, who was a translator for the US State Department before joining Al Jazeera English. Definitely a "must-see" program.

Inside Iraq, original air date 2008-10-17, ©2008 Al Jazeera English

Jasim Azzawi: Hello, welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm Jasim Azzawi. For all of 5 years, Iraq has gripped the attention of the world media. Journalists have reported on every aspect of arguably the biggest story of the 21st century. But are we getting an accurate picture of events in Iraq? What role, if any, did the American media play in the run-up to the war? Could the war have been averted with more accurate coverage, and have journalists and editors mixed personal ideology and national interest in covering the story of Iraq?

[correspondent]: The Iraq War has put the role of the media under close scrutiny. The war has highlighted stark differences in media perspectives across the world. What the American public saw on their tv screens was often vastly different from what audiences in the Middle East saw on Arabic satellite tv channels. Critics say the period of time between the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq represents one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media. They claim that the American media effectively galvanized public opinion that led the US and its allies to go to war.

Robert Wirsing, Georgetown University: There's no question that an intimidating atmosphere, corrosive atmosphere was created — systematically, deliberately created — to help in the job of mobilizing American media behind this effort to persuade the American people that there was a compelling reason, a compelling need, for the United States to invade Iraq.

[correspondent]: Six years into the war, questions are still being asked if the media has provided fair and objective reporting in Iraq. The US has often accused Arabic-language channels of being selective in their news coverage, and whipping up anti-American sentiments. However, similar charges have been leveled against the US media, accused of supporting the American occupation of Iraq by providing half-truths about the violence and chaos in the country.

Wirsing: Most media narratives about the war in Iraq tend to focus on media issues, tactics out of which we fought and so forth. There's very little discussion — there is some, but there is relatively little discussion in the media about deeper questions relating to the role, why the US is in there at all, why American lives are being sacrificed, why huge sums of money that the US is spending should be — it should be on the front burner. It should be a matter of enormous importance in the media and elsewhere, but that's not the case.

[correspondent]: The US media, which stands accused of not doing enough before the war, today seems to be taking a more rigorous editorial position. In a world of satellite tv channels, Internet access, web logs, and citizen journalism, where media technology has facilitated the dissemination of news and information, the focus on Iraq and how it is reported is more intense than ever.

Jasim Azzawi: In this episode, we are looking for three different perspectives. I'm delighted to welcome from Washington, D.C., Robert Dreyfuss, who is an independent journalist, and from Tel Aviv by Akiva Aldar (a.k.a. Akiva Eldar) (עקיבא אלדר), a senior columnist with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (הארץ‎), and from Cairo by Cairo bureau chief of the UAE newspaper The National [read the excellent editorial "No reason to gloat about American woes"], Nadia Abu Almagd (a.k.a. Nadia Abou El-Magd). Welcome to Inside Iraq. Akiva Eldar, as a senior columnist and a reporter on Iraq, when you write, do you look at Iraq through the prism of Israeli national interest? As Akiva Eldar sits and writes, as Akiva, or as an Israeli?

Akiva Eldar: Good question. Uh, both. First of all, of course my readers are interested in Iraq as a neighboring country, as an Arab country, as a potential partner for peace, maybe even an oil supplier — you know, after the war, we were even playing with the idea to reopen the old oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa — so, naturally, what a newspaper wants to offer its readers is information which is relevant to them, and people, of course, are looking into what's in it for them, once we will be able to establish normal relationship with Iraq. As a political analyst, I see Iraq as a member of the Arab League, which has launched the Arab Peace Initiative after the Saudi peace initiative back in March 2002, and as also a country that will affect the stability in the Middle East, but on the other hand, I'm also asking myself, How can Israel continue by pursuing the peace process with the Palestinians or with the Syrians to help our American friends to put an end to their problems in Iraq, because it's very clear to us Israelis that what's good for America is good for Israel.

Jasim Azzawi: The frankness, as articulated by Akiva, is rather refreshing. That begs the question: Did the American journalists roll over for President Bush on the eve of the war, Robert?

Robert Dreyfuss: There's no question that the media, despite maybe some early suspicions, were completely in the tank — swallowed hook, line and sinker — the President's initial rationalization for why we had to go to Iraq. He claimed — President Bush claimed that Iraq was a mortal threat that had weapons of mass destruction, that was in league with al Qaeda, and of course he implied that Iraq has some relationship to what happened on September 11th. All of this was completely bogus, and you can discuss whether it was a lie or whether it was an error, but in either case the media didn't challenge the facts. Now, personally, I was involved on the side of that. I wrote a number of articles, the first profile of Ahmed Chalabi, for instance, in the American media, and other pieces about the war between the Pentagon and the CIA, over whether it was a good idea to attack Iraq and so forth. The media caved in entirely and became a cheerleader for the war. They succumbed to this patriotic — even jingoistic — march to war that took place, up until the war. Afterwards, as it became clear that the war was bogging down and the weapons of mass destruction didn't show up and so forth, the media began to do its job. Unfortunately, now, today, I would say the American media has almost eliminated Iraq from its pages. Today, the New York Times doesn't have a single story about Iraq.

Jasim Azzawi: I shall come to a decline in the coverage as well as perhaps, ostensibly, the interest of the American public in Iraq. You've been to Iraq several times — I think 6 times — before and after the war. When you look at Iraq, how do you look at it, again? Do you look at it through the eyes of an Arab journalist, or as an independent journalist? How do you look at it?

Nadia Abou El-Magd: What I've always believed in, even in the dark Iraq, that journalists should try as much as possible to be objective, regardless of nationality. I was very interested to see what's in Iraq; I was more, maybe as an Arab in this sense, I was more skeptic[al] about this mass — weapons of mass destruction, and there was amazed how it was taken sort of like for granted by many international media, which is usually more critical in the all of that, but even I was in Iraq during the inspectors were there and stuff, and everybody was sort of like, the question was not whether they have weapons of mass destruction, it was like whether we are going to find them, so I think this has changed, and every time I went to Iraq it was sort of like a different story, and I think we also said we are going to talk about the coverage that — how now, even many journalists who are in Iraq are not actually in the street, and how this has sort of — must be affecting their reporting and for the violence and for the dangers that are in there. But again, to go back to the beginning of your question, I had sort of like mixed feelings about — I had no illusions about who Saddam was and what he did to the Iraqi people, but I was not sure that this was the right way to take him out of power and of the implications —

Jasim Azzawi: So, you separated it from Saddam: Saddam might be a brutal dictator, but he knew in advance that the destruction to Iraq might be far wider than people anticipated. Akiva Eldar, there is some sort of correlation between the American occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Do you relate to that? Do you kind of make a comparison?

Akiva Eldar: I think that the American occupation and specifically the violation of the human rights in Iraq itself or in Guantánamo, makes it in a way consciously or unconsciously easier for the Israelis to live with the occupation and violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, without even having to mention it. Now it's easier to defend —

Jasim Azzawi: So, if the Americans are doing it, then it is OK for the Israelis to do it, too? Is that it?

Akiva Eldar: Actually, in a way, it makes people feel more comfortable, because, you know, we are looking at America as the icon of the struggle for human rights and democracy in the Middle East, so you don't need to mention it, but it's there. It's up there, and it makes people in Israel make them feel a little better with the occupation, and I think that in a way it makes it more difficult for the Americans to put pressure on Israel and to twist Israeli arms when it comes to violation of human rights, settlements, checkpoints, road blocks — because perhaps they don't like to be faced with questions — who are you to tell us? What you are doing in Iraq is much worse than what we are doing here. So, of course it has a clear effect and it's right there.

Jasim Azzawi: Akiva, thank you for that comment. When we come back, I'm going to ask Robert Dreyfuss what's behind the decline in American interest in the story of Iraq. Stay with us.
"War fatigue also struck journalists who find it hard to translate the ongoing battles to an American audience caught between an economic downturn and a pending presidential election." — The American Journalism Review
[commercial break]
"It's not the war in Iraq that's revolutionising the Middle East — it's the media." — Marc Lynch, Author and Expert on Media and the Middle East
Jasim Azzawi: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. We are talking about media perspective, how journalists and media organizations bring different perspective during the coverage of Iraq, with Nadia Abu Magd, Akiva Eldar, and Robert Dreyfuss. Robert Dreyfuss, what lies behind the ostensible recent decline in American interest of the Iraq story? Did the Americans walk away from the story, or the press walked away from Iraq?

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, I think largely the press is following the public interest here, and Americans, I'm sad to say, have stopped caring about Iraq because the level of violence is down, in particular the number of Americans killed every month has declined sharply, so Americans have stopped thinking about Iraq. It's almost as if they don't care over here how many Iraqis are killed, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, that the state has been reduced to rubble, that the economy and the institutions were dismantled and destroyed. The fact that Americans aren't dying has caused the public to shift its attention away from the war. The fact that the Iraqi government is now in the hands, largely, of people who are agents of Iran or at least allies of Iran next door, the precise paradoxical opposite of what President Bush tried to accomplish, allegedly, in going into Iraq, doesn't register here at all, and so Americans have focused on the decline in violence and of course I think we know now that masks the fact that Iraq is still poised to explode, not just over Kirkuk, which could blow up at any time, but also over the coming assault against the Sons of Iraq, the Awakening or Sawa movement, which, again, is poised to explode — there's a lot of problems in Iraq, and Americans aren't paying attention at all. It's just faded away from the front pages. I mean, I think most Americans have turned the page. They initially were big supporters of the war and now they've decided it wasn't worth fighting.

Jasim Azzawi: Nadia, Robert has been brutally frank in his assessment about how the American media is looking at Iraq. As an Egyptian journalist, when you look at it, do you also look on the positive side of Iraq, now that Iraq, everybody tells us, is a democracy, [political] parties abound, newspapers are thriving, and Iraqis can express themselves. Do you look at that with skepticism, or do you give the Iraqi government, as well as the American enterprise in Iraq, the benefit of the doubt, that there is a negative side, but at the same time there's a positive aspect to it?

Nadia Abou El-Magd: I think it's very difficult to talk about positive when you talk about Iraq, or see what's happening still in Iraq. Very, very difficult, indeed. The fact that Saddam has disappeared from the picture doesn't mean that what is existing now is democracy, and even if it was democracy, which it isn't, I mean, how can you justify all of this violence and the ethnic cleansing and the killing and the whole state. It's not a state any more. So, it's very difficult to talk about positive when you have such a very negative picture, all aspects.

Jasim Azzawi: Before I go to Akiva, Robert, argue for me the point why Iraq, in your opinion, is not a democracy, as we are told day in and day out by the Bush Administration.

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, you know, the political parties in Iraq are basically mafias, they're not really political parties. Almost none of them have any deep roots in the country. The main political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, is a militia-based party that doesn't have real popular support. The Al Dawa Party is a party of intellectuals that has no real base in the population. The Sunnis, the Iraqi Islamic Party, was elected with 2% of the Sunnis voting in that last election, and represents almost no one, so they're gonna be swept away in the provincial elections coming up. The people in local provinces are mostly reliant on local militias and armed groups to protect them. Teh same is true in the north where the Kurds are anything but a democracy. The two Kurdish parties, again, are like two mafias that run that part of the country. So, it's a complete and utter mess. It's built around violence.

Jasim Azzawi: Point well taken, Robert. Akiva, when I invited you for this show, you told me that the Israelis are not interested in Iraq any more, absolutely whatsoever. Is it because Iraq is no longer a threat to Israel? We remember back in 1991 when Saddam lobbed several missiles onto Israel. Is it because the threat from the east is gone, or is it because of domestic Israeli policy, they are not interested in this American quagmire in Iraq?

Akiva Eldar: I think both. Actually the Israelis are looking further southeast to Iran right now, and, as you know, President Ahmadinejad was addressing the UN and made some very naughty remarks towards Israel, and the Israelis, of course, are very concerned about the nuclear program, and they also look at this threat of the Shi'ite Crescent going all the way, as you mentioned before, from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon with Hezbollah and Hamas and this is the way the Israelis are seeing Iraq. They see Iraq as part of the Iranian Shi'ite threat, since I think the Israeli media doesn't believe that the Americans will be able to get out with Iraq, leaving behind them a democratic state. So, we are concerned about the risk and the possibility that Iraq will be part of this Iranian huge front that Israel will have to face, so it's not Iraq proper, it's Iraq as part of a very troubling puzzle, if you like, in the Middle East.

Jasim Azzawi: Before I finish this program with Robert Dreyfuss, let me just go to Nadia. Nadia, how [are] the Egyptian newspapers in general — especially the big ones like Al Ahram [English edition, édition française], El Akhbar, and Al Shaab — covering Iraq right now? Are the Egyptians giving the benefit of the doubt to the new regime in Iraq, or do they look at it askance with a negative, negative coverage?

Nadia Abou El-Magd: No, I don't think there is any, they're not giving any benefit of the doubt to the new government. It's almost like what it has been, there's many "I told you so," that many Egyptians were opposed to this war in Iraq, and for them every day proved that they were right. I mean, it's reported about all of these explosions and all of these Iraqis dying and stuff, but they're not happy with the new government or with how things are in Iraq, which is very difficult for anybody to be happy [about]. And the other thing is, there is also a lot of sensitivity to Shi'ites and stuff, so the fact that the government, as Robert said, it's run by allies to Iran and stuff, making Egyptians nervous about that.

Jasim Azzawi: Robert, I am going to close this show with you. I'll take you back to the eve of the war. Explain to me, how is it possible that the American media, world renowned for investigative journalism and asking hard questions — need I remind our viewers that Woodward and Bernstein, they brought the Nixon Administration down — this question of WMD's and the mushroom cloud, nuclear capabilities of Iraq — how did it escape the American media, or did they have an axe to grind?

Robert Dreyfuss: No, what happened was very, very simple. We had just been attacked on September 11th. The country was traumatized. Millions of Americans could only think about revenge, and basically that meant going after anybody who looked like he was anti-American and had a mustache, and as you know, Saddam had a mustache. And so, when President Bush, who had the political power of King Kong at that point, said, "We're gonna go after Iraq," the public overwhelmingly fell in line, and the media, unfortunately, was simply unable to stand up to that avalanche. There were a few brave souls that tried, but especially on television it was overwhelming, the owners of the television channels put tremendous pressure on reporters not to investigate because it was hurting their ratings, because Americans were so revved up for war that they were turning off channels that presented criticism of the war. So, Bush used that momentum to go to war and it's a shameful blot on American journalistic history that more reporters, except for the lonely few, weren't able to stand up to that.

Jasim Azzawi: Independent journalist Robert Dreyfuss; Akiva Eldar, senior columnist with Ha'aretz; Nadia Abou El-Magd, Cairo bureau chief of the UAE newspaper The National — thank you for being guests on Inside Iraq. To access the show and send us your comments, please go to Join me next week when we take another look Inside Iraq; until then, good bye.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

CNN Election News Shocker: John Kerry Won Wyoming!

I was watching some recent election-related news clips on this morning and pulled up one analyzing the electoral college map. John King, in Wolf Blitzer's high-tech Situation Room, pulled up the "magic map" and worked through some scenarios to see what John McCain would have to do to overcome Barack Obama's lead in the polls. What got really interesting, though, was when King offered an historical comparison to the 2004 results. I've highlighted the salient detail: CNN shows that John Kerry actually won the state of Wyoming!

I mean, I know that Dick Cheney has been as popular as root canals and rotten eggs in most of the country, but in his quasi-home state of Wyoming (*cough* 12th Amendment *cough*), one of the reddest of the red states, he is still the beloved crazy uncle who occasionally shoots family and friends by mistake.

Note to the CNN Truth Squad: you might want to double-check the 2004 tally before calling Wyoming for Kerry....

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Letterman, McCain and Oliver Stone's "W."

David Letterman finally had the much-anticipated appearance by Senator John McCain on Thursday's CBS Late Show. ... Just in case you've been hiding under a rock, here's a recap of the back-story: A couple of weeks ago, McCain was scheduled as a guest, but called an hour and a half before taping to cancel because he had to rush back to Washington, because the economy was "cratering" (and he was "suspending" his campaign). As Dave found out during the taping of that night's show, though, McCain didn't actually rush back to Washington. He took time to stop by for an interview with Katie Couric [video of the Letterman segment including the live feed of McCain preparing for the Couric interview; couldn't find a link to the McCain-Couric video itself], and in fact stayed the night in New York City and even gave a speech the next morning at the Clinton Global Initiative. As a result, Letterman has spent the last three weeks ripping McCain and Palin, incessantly but artfully. The only way to get Letterman to let up was to reschedule the appearance [video]; Letterman took the opportunity to probe questions relating to some shady-but-tangential associations in McCain's past and the fitness of Sarah Palin to be President should something happen to McCain, among other topics.

On Friday's show, Letterman still threw in some barbs at McCain and Palin, but shifted his ire to the current President. He played a promo for the Oliver Stone film W. with a bit of a change to the movie ratings disclaimer. (transcript below the fold)

I haven't yet found the video clip on the CBS website, but here's the transcript:

[graphic]: The film advertised has been rated PG-13, Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13

[scrolling graphic plus voiceover]: Sexual References, Brief Disturbing War Images, Ineptitude, Boorishness, Unwarranted Smugness, Disinterest in Facts, Overconfidence, Reluctance to Read, Laziness, Lack of Truthfulness, Ethical Lapses, Inattention to Detail, and Mild Language

Yeah, I think that about says it. Come to think of it, it's been a while since I heard the pundits "doth protest too much"-ing about how "President Bush is not stupid." Well, ya know, I went to see W. this afternoon, and it brought me back to one inescapable point. Dubya may not be "stupid" or even "dumb" — after all, he is quite clever in many respects, and he was at least smart enough to bluff his way through two Ivy League degrees — but he is whatever word you want to use for "not real bright" and quite literally good for nothing. Dubya is King Midas' evil twin. The fact that McCain would pledge to not only continue, but amplify Bush's policies, and then make the bizarrely irresponsible selection of a running mate whose only qualifications were that she was a complete unknown on the national scene and that she's as dim as Bush but twice as ideological, leaves me speechless. For most of the last 8 years, I have taken it as an article of faith that America would be much better off today if John McCain had won the 2000 Republican nomination — even if McCain had won in November — but after the last month and a half, I'm not at all sure.

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