A community of NPR critics monitoring NPR for its corporatist, Pentagon friendly, pro-US foreign policy coverage of the news.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Until Next Time

Hello all. I'm sorry for the back and forth regarding NPR Check and NPR Team Check, but I've decided to put the Team Check blog to bed for the time being. I'm going to close down the comments for now and redirect folks to the original NPR Check site. I'll put a posting up there explaining the indefinite sabbatical that I'll be taking from the blog, and I'll open comments there for a while. I'm very grateful to all who've been involved, and have to extend a very warm thanks to GoopDoggy for the fine work he's done here.

Matthew Murrey

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Dodgy Arts

In the story of April 3rd, U.S. Tensions Rise With Afghanistan's Karzai, Linda Wertheimer chats it up with Jean MacKenzie, Afghanistan correspondent for GlobalPost:
Ms. MacKENZIE: Well, Hamid Karzai is the artful dodger of international politics and I think we've seen that very well this week. This has been his pattern for many years. His speech on Thursday was obviously geared towards the domestic audience, where anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism plays very well. [Dodge the question of why that might be so.] He is exploiting attitudes and fears, prejudices among his constituency to shore up his own political power at home, and then being conciliatory with his international partners in a different form. [Dodge the question of why that is a good strategy for Karzai.]

WERTHEIMER: One of the things that apparently he and President Obama had an unhappy conversation about was the number of relatives that he has appointed to the government and the efforts that he has made to sort of shield the warlords in Afghanistan from any repercussions for anything that they have done. [Dodge the question of how that's any different from the US Government - where seats are routinely passed to family members...my rep, for example, is Mary Bono Mack...]

Ms. MacKENZIE: That is true, but to give him his due, he's in a very difficult position. Many of those warlords and many indeed of his relatives are in close cooperation with the West and with the United States of America. [Dodge the question of how Karzai's brother is in the opium business with the CIA.]

So on the one hand, we are hammering Karzai for corruption. On the other hand, it is some of our own actions and policies that are keeping those people in power. [Dodge any specificity here.]

WERTHEIMER: To some extent, it works for us, I guess. [Dodge the question of who are "us?"] What about the reaction here, though, and among other countries that are contributing troops to the effort in Afghanistan? There were some comments after his speech in which he said there's the sort of thin curtain between invasion and assistance. People are sort of raising questions of why are we doing this.

Ms. MacKENZIE: And I think that's a very legitimate question. But we also have to realize that in terms of international commitment to Afghanistan, it's very definitely on the wane. Canada will be out by the middle of next year. The Netherlands is on its way out. There is a growing movement in the United Kingdom to get out of Afghanistan.

I think, in some cases, we are seeing the international community seizing on these statements and these actions of Karzai as a way of justifying what their policies are going towards anyway, which is getting out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

WERTHEIMER: But for the United States, do you think that the United States' national security reasons for being in Afghanistan first instance are still relevant? Does the United States still have a major interest in staying?

Ms. MacKENZIE: I'm not sure that national security is our primary reason for being in Afghanistan nor was it ever our primary reason for being in Afghanistan. [Back to the Moby Dick theme: so it's just a monomaniacal mono-pod's misguided thirst for vengeance??]

Our national security concerns are quite small. We have broad agreement that al-Qaida is no longer a major player in Afghanistan. And we are fighting a war against the Taliban, who were not the primary movers behind 9/11. What we have is a very big political reason for being in Afghanistan. We went in there under the guise of the war on terror, but moved into nation building. Our mission has become very foggy there.

WERTHEIMER: Where do you see this going?

Ms. MacKENZIE: That's the million-dollar question or the several billion-dollar question, I guess, from the American perspective. Hamid Karzai is the president of a small, poor, very dysfunctional country who seems to have run rings around the largest economy in the world.

We cannot afford to let Hamid Karzai fail. We cannot afford to let Afghanistan fail.


Ms. MacKENZIE: Because then we would have to admit that the past eight-and-a-half years have been an exercise in futility. If Afghanistan can fail with no adverse consequences to the United States, then what have we been doing for eight-and-a-half years? I think that is the political consideration. We want to get out of Afghanistan - I think that's clear. But we want to get out of Afghanistan with some sort of semblance of victory or at least achievement under our belt.
Last August, MacKenzie wrote,
Although U.S. officials have stated publicly and repeatedly that they will neither support nor oppose any candidate, the conspiracy-happy Afghans have been watching for subtle signs like soothsayers examining chicken entrails.
But that's precisely the position Wertheimer and MacKenzie are placing their audience during most of this interview, though, I must admit, there is some shocking candor towards the end: We can't pull out of Afghanistan because that would be admitting that this whole enterprise was just foolish? That it's "good money after bad?" Really?!

Admiral Mullen declared last August that the US was basically starting over in Afghanistan and would need "12 to 18 months to turn this thing around." How is it looking 8 months later? A little ridiculous, I think. Note for example, the artless dodging of the issue of the impending conflagration in Kandahar.

For more light and less dark-room dodging, read Asia Times: The alienation of Hamid Karzai, By M K Bhadrakumarand and Night raids belie McChrystal's new image, By Gareth Porter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Q Tips and Call

So far this "team" blog has been more of a duo effort: goopDoggy and Mytwords. We had hoped for at least 4 writers. Any takers? Email Mytwords if you're interested - click the Mytwords profile under "Contributors" in the sidebar to get in contact.

Meanwhile, NPR related comments are welcomed as usual.

Monday, March 29, 2010

On the Ground and At Sea

Obama visits Afghanistan as "Commander in Chief." Scott Horsley was there for the whole trip. He gives us the "highlights." Here's a bit of his nonsense coverage:
The President went into that meeting [with Karzai] determined to press the Afghan president on what he and his government need to do to match up with the military effort that the US [is] making on the ground here. Steps like rooting out corruption. Steps like doing more to root out the narco-traffickers. [..] The President was accompanied on this trip by General Jim Jones, his national security advisor who outlined what some of the goals were for the US and here on the ground he met with Gen. McChrystal [] now of course the President can talk with Gen. McChrystal via video conference and he gets weekly updates on how the US is doing with all its various efforts here in Afghanistan but this was a chance to get some on the ground intelligence and to meet face to face, both with Gen. McChrystal and with Michael Eikenberry, the US Ambassador. [] Gen. Jones says there are signs of progress here in Afghanistan, he's calling this a strategic moment [It's been six months since Jones last used that phrase, so now it's good for another go]. The battle for Kandahar will be very telling. That's what Gen. McChrystal has said will be the test for whether the strategy that President Obama has put in place is working here in Afghanistan. Kandahar is of course the city where the Taliban was born, there is still a good deal of Taliban sympathy in Kandahar and it's likely to be a bigger battle than the fight for Marjah was earlier this winter.
As cartoonish as this all seems from afar, it's oddly reverberant with the opening chapter, "Loomings," of Moby Dick. Ishmael is explaining his allure for going to sea as a sailor, in which position "head winds are more prevalent than winds from astern" (and winds from Horsley's nether parts)
so for the most part, the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere second hand from from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time as their leaders little suspect it.
Ishmael imagines his whaling story as "a brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances" such as a "grand contested election for the presidency of the united states" and "Bloody battle in Afghanistan."

The first is an allusion to the unusual campaign of 1840 where Harrison campaigned to the refrain of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" thereby earning a 4 to 1 majority. The second is a reference to the Khoord Kabul revolt of 1841 where the Afghans killed all the officers of the British occupying army and then massacred all their retreating troops.

As Brendan Cooney noted in a Counterpunch article titled, Remember the Pequod, eight years ago, Moby Dick should be read as a cautionary tale against foolish chases. The question still rubs, now more than then: is the war in Afghanistan a (preemptive?) retaliatory venture or a commercial whaling expedition? Is it payback for Al Qaeda or a strategic foothold in the resource rich middle east? I don't know. Like most Americans, I think, I'm at sea as to why we're on the ground over there.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Q Tips and Call

So far this "team" blog has been more of a duo effort - from goopDoggy and Mytwords. I had really hoped to get at least 4 or more writers involved. Any takers? Email me if you are interested - click the Mytwords profile under "Contributors" in the sidebar to contact me.

In the meantime, NPR related comments are welcomed as always.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Thrill of War

Dina Temple-Raston, author of The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in an Age of Terror was heard this ME to decry the use of secular incentives to promote jihad: Jihadi Cool: Terrorist Recruiters' Latest Weapon. She worries her audience with the thought that the appeals are "clearly aimed at young people nursing resentments and looking for thrills." I was reminded of this poster recently seen in a Long Beach window.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Settling for Less

There's been a boatload of news coverage about settlements in the Occupied Territories - and especially East Jerusalem - since Israel's kick in the teeth to VP Biden at the start of his "peace" trip to Israel and the tension it created between the expansionist Israeli government and its rock-solid, honest broker for peace, the US.

Given that the core of the disagreement is over Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied Territory of East Jerusalem you might expect a news organization to offer a little bit of historical and legal context - you know, like some small reference to the 20+ Security Council Resolutions on Jerusalem that Israel has violated. Or given the chest thumping sectarian triumphalism of Netanyahu -
"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It's our capital." [Morning Edition, 3-23-10]
- you could hope for a gentle history lesson that would not leave such a steaming pile of racist propaganda sitting out there unchallenged. And given that ALL the Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, you might expect to hear the word "illegal" or the phrase "Security Council" in any one of the pieces on the East Jerusalem settlements aired on NPR in the past week. So how does NPR do? Let's have a look:

At the time of this posting,
Is it any wonder that the US Congress can act as though it were the Likud Party, or that so much of the US public is completely misinformed regarding the conflict in Israel/Palestine? How could a listener have informed opinions when NPR provides an uncritical platform for extremists like Netanyahu and allows expansionists like Israeli Amb. Michael Oren to make the following unchallenged claims during a recent "interview" with Robert Siegel:
"...Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory, and it has the same status as Tel Aviv. And just as Israelis have a right to build anywhere in Tel Aviv, they have a right to build anywhere in the city of Jerusalem...."
Seriously, one doesn't have to be a radical to state the obvious about Israel and its settlement policies. Regarding Jerusalem, UN Amb. George H. W. Bush (seriously) stated way back in 1971,
"We regret Israel's failure to acknowledge its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as its actions which are contrary to the letter and the spirit of this convention,"
and - as President - he and his administration continued to make almost identical points nearly twenty years later. I guess that was so pre-9/11 - you know, back when such quaint ideas as the Geneva Convention still held sway in some quarters of the Village.

Monday, March 22, 2010


NPR related comments welcomed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mum's the Word

There are topics in the shadows of the Main Stream Media, of which Alicia Shepard proudly proclaims NPR is a part. On topics such as (readers may suggest more)
  • 9/11
  • Israeli atrocities towards Palestinians
  • US military atrocities towards Iraqis
  • US military atrocities towards Afghanis
  • US global empire
  • CIA involvement in [fill in the blank]
  • War on Drugs as a tool to oppress the poor
  • Insurance industry control over government
  • Fracking
  • Oil pipelines
NPR is generally mum.

In his talk of March 3rd at the Treason in America Conference, Russ Baker addresses the issue of what happened on 9/11, "one of the greatest cataclysms in American and recent world history" and how "the media turned away from this."
Part of this was revulsion and shock to the system. To the individual system and to the body politic. It was so disturbing on every possible level that it simply doesn't compute. What happens with this kind of trauma is you just shut down. [..] It's the same for the media. It's not that the media is in cahoots or is bad or anything like that, it's just that the media is a whole lot of people trying to cope, trying to do their jobs, trying to keep their jobs, trying to stay focused and so on - you've heard the expression "too big to fail" about Goldman Sachs and these sorts of places, well this story was too big to cover.
Dramatic pause here. Which is well placed. "Too big to cover" is, in some sense, a new phrase for the "the big lie." Think of the sinking of The Maine, the attack on Pearl Harbor, Operation Gladio, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the crack cocaine epidemic, the Niger forgeries - all these events have been exploited by opportunistic government propagandists to incite war. The instinct for it in government seems to undeniable. So Baker's assessment is fairly benign. He continues,
What bothers me about that is that no serious journalist should fail to cover [] the big stories. Somebody at the Washington Post was telling me - do you remember the couple that got into the White House dinner? Apparently they put together a team of 30 people to cover that. And this reporter pointed out to me, they said, we never had more than 3 people covering Iraq.

Journalists should always cover the big stories, and no serious journalist should out of hand reject any scenario as completely impossible or implausible, where human nature and power are concerned. It is our job to consider the evidence and to dig in.


When you look at the reporting on things that are not in dispute, it is inadequate. [] You don't have to have a position on 9/11 to want answers. And you don't have to be a kook to wonder if, when the co-chairmen of The 9/11 Commission, a commission that itself has no credibility, basically claim that they were lied to, that there might be something going on.
But, repeatedly, NPR has characterized people who want answers to these questions as kooks and conspiracy theorists. It's akin to believing in Martians and/or that the moon landing was staged in Hollywood.
One of the things you see [in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes] is that most people helped preserve the system, not because they were told to do it but simply because they were afraid. [] This exists in the most insidious form in our society where we bray about how free we are. Because if you're proud of yourself and how green your lawn is and how well you generally do investing and how cool NASCAR is [] you really don't want to hear that everything ain't hunky dory.
To what degree is NPR self-censoring? Do they know there is a cover up of some sort and so they know better than to interfere with it? Do they just not want to know what's being covered up? Or do they assume the same of their audience? Are there any dissenters? How do they justify their own lack of curiosity and failure to investigate unexplained facts like, oh, the collapse of building 7?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Man of Ideas

According to Guy Raz, Republican Paul Ryan is "a rising star in his party," and so on Sunday's ATC he gets a fact-check free four minutes to promote his Bushrehash plan to slash taxes on the rich, cut Medicare, and redirect Social Security revenue to the stock market. For those of us dwelling on planet Earth, this all sounds vaguely familiar - but to our NPR villagers its dazzling innovation:
"But if there's one Republican who Democrats can't accuse of having no ideas, it's Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

He's written a plan called 'The Roadmap for America's Future,' and in it, he outlines his proposals to reform Medicare, Social Security and taxes." [Raz]
Since Raz concludes this man-of-ideas introduction by noting that Ryan's plan is "controversial, even a little radical," you might expect to learn details of Ryan's roadmap - you know the basics of how extreme his tax policies will be, how it will end Medicare as we know it, and divert revenue away from Social Security. Not a chance. Raz does compare federal debt problems to climate change (curious) and asks how moving Social Security funds into a government guaranteed private market fund is still not a government-run program, but that's it. There's a good reason not to challenge Ryan's mythical revenue stream, because it reveals that Ryan's plan is nothing but a Trojan Horse that won't reduce any debt anytime in the foreseeable future.

Another good reason for NPR and Raz to stick to vague generalities and phony promises - "I think it's important to have a safety net in this country, so that nobody's in poverty in old age, so that people who get sick get the care they need..." [Rep. Ryan] - is because, as Paul Krugman noted in his take down of Ryan's non-ideas, Ryan can get kind of testy when his actual numbers are held up to scrutiny.

So instead of the-devil-in-the-details scrutiny, NPR offers us Republican Moses leading his party (and the country) with a Roadmap to the promised land of debt-free governance AND a robust safety net for the poor, the sick and the aged. In fact the new Moses' ideas are so thoughtful and strong that NPR titles the report "A Republican Plan to Save the Safety Net."

Holy smokes! I think someone's been talking to a burning bush again!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Dots Disconnected

Thanks to Otto (also known as Otl) Aicher, (Artist), German, 1922-1991, Artstor.org

NPR reports on March 11th and 12th on a Senate debate over continued involvement in the Afghanistan occupation and the implosion in the public school system in Kansas City, respectively. I'd like to point out how (badly) these stories were presented and to suggest how concurrent reports on Democracy Now provide the connective tissue that would provide context for the public to make sense out of these seemingly disparate phenomena.

First, Dennis Kucinich presented House Resolution 248 on the floor of the House which he prefaced by a video on his web site, a transcript of which follows:
Hi, Dennis here. This week a privileged resolution will be brought to the floor of the House of Representatives. This resolution, which I wrote, requires the president to remove the troops from Afghanistan within 30 days of the time when the resolution was passed and no later than December 21, of 2010. There are many reasons we need to get out of Afghanistan, I just list a few.
  • We're spending hundreds of billions of dollars: a total waste, because the Afghanistan central government of is totally corrupt.
  • We have a thousand troops whose lives have been lost, and many more injured, some of them permanently.
  • Countless individual Afghanistan citizens have been killed or injured as a result of this conflict.
  • We should take heed of the Russian's experience in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not going to be conquered. We have to understand that the weight of history has been against our efforts from the start.
Now we have to determine whether or not America will take a new direction in Afghanistan. Not to go in deeper with a surge, but to get out. That's what's going to be discussed this week in Washington. Please help us. Please get the word out. Please contact anyone who you think will be influential in getting members of Congress to pay close attention to this vote.
C-SPAN captured testimony from the debate, some of which is excerpt at Truth-Out. Donna Edwards points out that, "As national security director Jim Jones has told us, there are only 100 Al Quaeda left in Afghanistan. Who are we fighting?" But we didn't hear that on NPR.

Kucinich's estimate for the cost of the war is quite conservative compared to nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, whose estimate is more like three thousand billion, but this doesn't fool Robert Siegel or Andrea Seabrook who covered the event for NPR. The Reagan era propaganda machine invested much in discrediting "liberal" ideas, and NPR is quick to cash in. After being teed up (discredited) by Robert Siegel as, "one of the most liberal members of Congress," (the transcript changes this to "more liberal"), Seabrook echoes the theme with a libertarian variation:
It wasn't just liberals arguing this; they found an ally in libertarian Republicans such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
After some audio of Rep. Paul arguing convincingly against occupation (see the TruthOut clip for more of this) and feeling scared nearly to death, we are reassured by Seabrook that
Ultimately though, these liberals and libertarians are outnumbered by members of Congress who support the president and the war.
Pffew. For example, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, (right - no liberal, he) is heard to ask
"Have we forgotten? Have we forgotten what happened to America on 9/11?"
To which the answer screams, "No! We have not forgotten. How can you forget something you've never known?!"

In case the listeners are at all unclear about the events of 9/11, they receive the following wisdom from Ms. Seabrook:
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, it provided a haven to al-Qaida, which orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Well, that settles that. And in case the listener feels at all unsettled, a sequence of vacuous truisms ensue: Ted Poe of Texas saying that "War is hard," and California Democrate Bob Filner advising that "Peace is harder," and the article concludes with the reassurance by Prof. Siegel that,
Congress had an open, bipartisan debate about war and peace.
This hermetically insulates the issue and so, ultimately, strident Kucinich's quixotic flail against the war machine is twisted by NPR into effectively sealing the deal: war's on, 'nuff said.

So when the next day (March 11th) NPR broadcasts Schools Across U.S. Grapple With Closures, we hear how $2bn has been lavished upon the Kansas City School District over twenty years, but not a mention is made of the opportunity costs of the occupations overseas. Robert Siegel passes the baton to Michelle Norris who passes it to Silvia Maria Gross of KCUR--Kansas City's NPR station.

Here's a transcript of the story that aired:
Almost every school year West Port High School junior [Jane Doe] has seen change. A new principal, a different curriculum, even a new superintendent.
Every year it's changing the system's changing, or they're trying to put us in a predicament. It's kinda hard to just stay focused.
This year comes the biggest change of all, her school is one of 26 in the school district that will be boarded up. This follows one of the most ambitious attempts in the country to integrate schools. A court-ordered desegregation plan in the 1980's and 90's poured two billion dollars into the district to fix the schools. It created elaborate bus routes, magnet programs and some of the best facilities in the country including an Olympic sized swimming pool and a planetarium.

But families continued to flee to the suburbs and to private and charter schools. The district's population has plummeted from 70000 in the 1960's to about 17000 now. The new superintendent John Covington [below] proposed closing about half the buildings, and laying off about 700 employees.
Right now we're failing students in large percentages, in large numbers, and that doesn't have to be.
It's all an effort to redeploy resources. Covington calls it right-sizing. But opponents say it's anything but [voice (low volume) of Ajamu Webster in call and response with a crowd]:
I said the "right size plan" is the wrong fit. I say the right size plan [response] is the wrong fit.
At forums across the city over the past few months many parents and community members protested plans to close schools. The superintendent was determined that all schools would need to consolidate, even some of the district's better performing ones.

Ajamu Webster, who founded the district's three Afrikan Centered [Education] schools, (ACE) disagreed:
Our campus is a growing institution, and a growing institution needs space.
The district's flagship, Lincoln College Prep, was recently named among the top 150 public high schools in the country by Newsweek. But even Lincoln Prep is slated to merge its middle and high schools.

Dan Domonitch is director of the American Association of School Administrators. He says districts and cities like Washington D.C., Cleveland and Chicago are all closing under the old schools [sic - weird editing glitch in audio, I think].
The economy being what it is, and school districts having to make major cuts, increasing class size, eliminating sports programs, cutting back on transportation - they don't have the luxury of maintaining a facility open unless it is 100% occupied.
In Kansas City, civic institutions, the Chamber of Commerce, and even the teacher's union supported the school closure plan, though almost 300 teaching positions will be lost.

This morning Superintendent Covington laid out more details. Such things as longer school days, an extended year and an end to social promotion. He wants to use evaluations and early retirements to keep only the best teachers.
I think in 5 years the Kansas City Community, I think they'll beam with pride as to where our schools have come.
As for the buildings, the school board hopes to sell them, or some could be razed to make way for city parks. Either way, residents here hope that this radical public schools plan leads to radical change.

It looks like the teachers' Union has been backed into a corner after not receiving much of a voice. In any case, as Sasha Abramsky points out in The Guardian,
If there are lessons to be learned from Kansas City's dismal experiences, they are about the importance of holistic thinking: of looking for ways not just to desegregate schools but to preserve integrated, economically diverse urban cores; of providing middle-class families with reasons to continue using public services; of building up the notion of common community again so that the public sector flourishes rather than withers. Absent this, Kansas City might well represent a glimpse of a depressing American future: one in which those with resources opt out, en masse, from any and all public services, leaving the public sector to stumble drunkenly from one crisis to the next, a miserable-looking shadow of once-great glories.
To practice holistic thinking, consider the Kansas City public schools story not only in the context of prioritizing foreign occupations over public schools, but also in the context of poverty, the War on Drugs, and the costs to the public sector of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.

Listen, for instance, to legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander on Democracy Now on the same day as the NPR KC story (and part II of that interview). She describes in detail how the discriminatory application of drug laws has been used as a tool to destroy inner city communities. She argues that the racial control functions of Jim Crow laws now persist through the criminal justice system.

Then listen to the next day's DN coverage of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development report on the "wealth gap." The report found nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, and the median wealth for single black women is only $100; for single Hispanic women, $120. This compares to just over $41,000 for single white women.

Count on NPR to not connect the dots.

Talking Gates

Gareth Porter recently had an excellent piece explaining how the Mighty Marja Offensive was more mirage-ah! than Marja - turns out that "Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley." Of course a little detail like reality is not about to deter the Pentagon stenographers working for NPR. Take a look at an NPR search of "marjah" and "city" for on-air stories:

(click for detailed view)

The battle for farmland was so successful that Secretary of War, Robert Gates decided it was time for him to lead the Afghanistan PR campaign himself - while bringing along some press corp dummies to repeat whatever he tells them. For NPR the honor of mastering Gatespeak went to Mary Louise "Two Clocks" Kelly. The highlight of the trip for Kelly was a Potemkin village stroll with Gates through a market in Now Zad. After repeating Gates' comments to troops about being "the tip of the spear" Kelly describes this "unthinkable" miracle:
"We are driving past adobe mud huts and on our way for Secretary Gates to do something that, until a few months ago, might've been unthinkable.

We're in a town market. Afghan men sit before small stalls selling pomegranates and potatoes, oranges and eggs. And what might have been unthinkable, not so long ago, is the sight of the U.S. secretary of Defense walking down the middle of the road. No body armor, just khakis and a buttoned down shirt and a Camp Lejeune baseball cap on his head. Marines are swarming the roofs of the mud huts around us, machine guns in hand, watching for trouble, but all is calm. And Gates chats politely through a translator with a couple of the locals."
Golly, puts me in mind of a "market in Indiana in the summertime." After leaving the market, Kelly informs us that Gates reflected, "It has been a useful day." No kidding, even a dummy could have figured that out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exactly What Was Done

NPR's Depiction of Waterboarding - Click the graphic for Truthiness

I want to revisit NPR Ombudsman Shepard's tortuous and dishonest dance around NPR's refusal to call torture torture when it is committed by agents of the US government. She began her grotesque performance back on June 21, 2009 on her blog, and continued with an encore on June 30, 2009 (after getting schooled by Glenn Greenwald and 400+ commenters at her blog).

This may seem like rehashing old territory, but the subject came up as recently as last month when Shepard visited an unthreatening NPR station for an interview (something she's fond of doing). On WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show she reiterated core of her argument - which she has repeatedly stated in the past:
"I came down saying 'OK, try to avoid the word torture and try to describe exactly what was done and let the people decide'....I think that, again, that you describe it for what it is, and let people decide." [You can listen for yourself here. Her claim begins at the 39:50 mark and continues to about 42:00]
As morally and intellectually bankrupt as this argument is, let's hold it up to scrutiny. In other words, when it comes to waterboarding, has NPR ever tried to "describe exactly what was done" or "describe it for what it is"? An article just published by Mark Benjamin in Salon.com provides a glimpse into how powerful such a journalistic approach can be:
  • "The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner's nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing."
  • "...according to the Bradbury memo, could produce 'spasms of the larynx' that might keep a prisoner from breathing..."
  • "The agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That's because during waterboarding, 'a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis,...'"
  • "...the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid....hyponatremia could set in....a waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die."
Searching the NPR archives for stories aired should make it very plain as to whether Shepard is basing her argument on an NPR practice of detailing what happens with waterboarding - or if she's just lying by claiming to favor a kind of reporting that she knows NPR does not - and probably will not ever do. Let's see:
Recapping the results, NPR's on-air coverage of waterboarding reveals a determination to omit even the most basic and elemental details - stopped breathing, vomit, and coma - that are necessary to convey what waterboarding is.

Stripped of her already compromised argument, all that Shepard - and NPR - have to offer is a position that is remarkably friendly to torture braggarts Cheney and Rove: "the Bush administration felt this was something they needed to do to get information to protect the country..." [Shepard again on the Kojo Nnamdi show explaining why it's not professional to call it torture].

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Genius Thing

In the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake tragedy I noted NPR's typically amnesiac coverage of Haitian history. As Haiti works toward recovery, Wednesday's ATC featured NPR's Planet Money imbeciles [that would be Bank Whisperer Adam Davidson and Count von Count to a trillion Joffe-Walt] explaining how Haitian textile business representatives are out "to change the destiny of Haiti's economy."

Seriously, Adam Davidson states that
"six Haitian businesspeople, five men, one woman, flew to Las Vegas recently to - I don't think you can put this too grandly - to change the destiny of Haiti's economy."
The entire piece was an uncritical paean to the benefits of US/neoliberal trade policies. Davidson introduces the US trade representative with this homage:
"Ladies and gentlemen, Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative. The only reason Haiti even has a textile industry right now is because of this guy, or at least because of his office."
Joffe-Walt soon chimes in with her I'm-lecturing-preschoolers voice as she explains the complexities of how Haiti's textile industry and US quotas work:
"Haiti wants the quota lifted. They want to be able to sell as many clothes to the U.S. as possible. To them, its simple: lift the quota and we get out of poverty."
Joffe-Walt explains that "The U.S. really only gives out trade deals if it serves some purpose, some American purpose." She and Davidson have nothing but praise for the policy - even going so far as to tout its Middle East peacemaking power. Davidson finds an Egyptian textile dealer at the Las Vegas trade fair who says, "President Clinton wanted to make peace between Israel and Arab nations. So, he thought of this genius protocol..." Forgetting to mention that Egypt is dictator-run, torture state and that Israel is a "democratic" torture state bent on destroying Palestinian people - Davidson explains that
"the genius thing there is that Israel and Arab nations only get this special deal if they work together."
If there's any confusion about whose viewpoint Davidson represents in the report, consider this gem when he is talking about Pakistan:
"Pakistan's apparel industry got a huge boost itself right after 9/11, when they got a sweet textile trade deal in exchange for helping us with the war on terror." [I hate to break it to Davidson, but neither "the war on terror" nor Pakistan's role in it has ever done squat for "us" - unless he means the cheerful militarists and war profiteers here in the land of the free.]
And so it goes throughout the rest of the report. The voices never heard are those lucky Haitians who get $3.09 a day working in the exciting world of making clothes for "us" in Haiti. It also goes without saying that Davidson and Joffe-Walt present nothing of the general history of the European/US exploitation of Haiti or the US role in bringing that "sweet deal" of sweat shop life to Haiti.

Ravishing Ravitch vs. Hearing Her Out - A Comparison Study

There is no transcript of Inskeep's recent interview with public school advocate Diane Ravitch, so I've provided one below. I encourage the reader to observe this 5 minute interview in which Inskeep treats Ravitch like a hostile witness who will nonetheless be given a short while to explain how her views are so far out of the official media mainstream - Ravitch gets in some good licks, especially the smackdown at the end - and to compare that interview with the 17 minutes of "part I" of the interview airing on Democracy Now with Ms. Ravitch wherein she is invited to "bring us some of that history" about how Lynn Cheney attacked the history standards and incited "a huge national brouhaha back in 1994, 1995, about whether the history standards were politically correct."

Former 'No Child Left Behind' Advocate Turns Critic

Steve Inskeep: Diane Ravitch is the author of a new book called The Death and the Life of the Great American Public School System [Omits subtitle: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education]. The other day she came by our New York Bureau to say that she thinks No Child Left Behind misuses standardized testing.

Diane Ravitch: The basic strategy is measuring and punishing. but it turns out that as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have dumbed down their test or changed the scoring of the test to say that more students are passing than actually are. There are states that say that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and proficient in math. But when the national test is given, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the same state will have not 90 percent proficient by twenty five or thirty percent . You know Secretary Duncan often says we're lying to our kids, and we are lying to our kids, it's a kind of institutionalized fraud that's been going on these past few years.

SI: The threat of failure is so great because the schools can lose funding?

DR: It's because there's punishment attached with the testing. I have no problem with testing. The problem is that when we, or when the state or the district attaches high stakes to the test and says that teachers will get rewards or they'll lose their job, or the principals will get bonuses or their schools will be closed. This then corrupts the value of the measure, because everyone is striving to meet the measure and they meet the measure but it's usually fraudulent.

SI: But aren't there some states like, Massachusetts for example, that have imposed very high standards and have been successful with them?

DR: Yes Massachusetts has the best standards in the country. But Massachusetts is an exception. There are only a handful of states, with Massachusetts in the lead, that really had excellent standards. Most of the states don't.

SI: You also trace a little bit of history here in which you seem to argue that there was a time when schools were broadening the curriculum and giving students far far more choice about what to take and went to far in one direction and now we've gone too far in the other direction?

DR: Well, I wouldn't make an argument that the schools in the past were so much better. I was very critical of the quality of public education and I still am. But I would say if we went back to uh the 1960s when criticism was very keen, the critics didn't say public education itself is fundamentally flawed and we should get rid of it. This is what's new about our current rhetoric. We now have critics saying public education in itself is fundamentally flawed and has to be replaced by privatization of the schools. It's coming obviously from very ultra-conservative sources and what's happened with the Race to the Top is that we're on the wrong track and we've accelerating the pace of being on the wrong track.

SI: What do you mean by Race to the Top?

DR: Well the Obama administration had 100 billion dollars in stimulus money for education. And they set aside about 5 billion of that and they said to the states, if you want to compete for this 5 billion dollars then you must do several things. One of the things is that you must get rid of any limits on the number of privately managed charter schools. This is, I think, advancing privatization.

SI: What's wrong with charter schools?

DR: They remove students from the public sphere and turn them over to private management. They're...

SI: (interrupting) Although, in some sense, they're public, right? They're under the auspices of the local government even though it might be local parents or someone who manages the school.

DR: No. Not really. Because there's very little transparency with charter schools. You really don't know who's going on or what their salaries are. The basic point about charter schools is - there're about five thousand of them today and they range across the board from very very fine schools to absolutely horrible schools and the only national study that's been done said that 17% of the charter schools did better than the local public school with which they were matched and 83% were either no different or worse. So, we don't have any evidence that this is going to make it any better.

SI: You know there's also placed into this bill, No Child Left Behind, the notion of competition between schools because of course schools are being compared to the test scores of other schools and that's of course competition a cherished American idea. Is there something wrong with inserting some competition into the education market place if you want to call it that?

DR: Yes. There should not be an education marketplace. There should not be competition. Schools should operate like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works. Schools are supposed to get together and talk about what succeeded for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and try to have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block.


Update: The second part of the Ravitch interview is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Parable of Parallel Histories

Mr. Toad and Snarla Vulture .

Mr. Toad and Snarla Vulture
With her perched on his hand;
They stepped so as not to see
Such quantities of the poor:
"Keep them workers pacified,"
They said, "that would be oh so grand!"

"If All things Considered
Tittered and twittered
Do you suppose," said Mr. Toad,
"That that could keep them down?"
"I don't doubt it," said Snarla vulture,
Her frown turned upside down.

"O workers, come listen to us!"
Mister Toad did beseech.
"A peasant's lot is a pleasant lot,
In this here US of A:
Inskeep will talk of Lewinsky,
And how Gingrich saved the day."

And liberal listeners listened
All thinking they're elite:
Skipped Iran/Contra, for Contract on America,
Whose stories are clean and neat--
And thought it's not odd, when you know,
A different history they repeat.

"The time has come," Mr. Toad said,
"To talk of many things:
Of 94 and 95
How NAFTA saved--kept us alive--
And why we need banksters--
And whether G/Sachs can, in the end, thrive."

"But what about tea?" the NPR cried,
"Before we get health care;
For some of us are out of breath,
And caveat emptor beware!"
"Islamists!" said Mr. Toad.
And Snarla admired his hair.

"Let them eat cake," Ms. Vulture said,
"It's what the people need:
Poobahs and Pundits and the Fed
They'll propagate the seed--
And Oliver North rides Reagan's horse,
In the painting, A Charge to Keep ."

"Republicans!" NPR cried,
Turning a bright red.
"After you've heard us, be sure to remember:
Eat what you've been fed!"
"The right wing's fine," Mr. Toad said.
"Would you like to go to bed?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed. Seems like the comments setting was a bit restrictive; it should be better now.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Guilt by Association Fun: From Old Europe to the Village and Emerging Markets

From Washington Life Magazine that includes Sid and Mercedes Bass, John and Diana Negroponte.

Let's play Guilt by Association, both as a diversion from the yuckiness of day-to-day NPR programming and as a way of investigating the coziness of the village people. Start with Diana Villiers Negroponte, who in the above picture (far right) is shown paired with her (they are the Muckety 2009 Power Couple) charming husband, John. It is reported that they have 5 adopted children from Honduras, where John and Diana inhabited the US ambassador's mansion during the Reagan years - the years when the School of the Americas graduates such as General Reinaldo Andino Flores were known for arbitrary detention, torture, and rape.

Guilt by association? I'd say! Though John and Reinaldo are almost never associated in the US press - where John and Diana are treated as royalty. There is, of course, much more evidence of guilt for Negroponte's involvement with Battalion 3-16, among a host of other vile atrocities. Negroponte was even involved in the recent coup d'etat in Honduras.

Her Royal Highness Diana hails from thoroughly British corporatist and royalist stock. She is a descendant of King Charles, II and a daughter of Sir Charles Villiers, a merchant banker who was the chairman of British Steel from 1974 until 1988. Of course, for those to whom much is given, much is expected, and her many philanthropic causes include service as a trustee of Freedom House, whose web site claims, "Freedom House has opposed tyranny around the world, including dictatorships in Latin America...". Really now. Gilded irony?

Robert Parry has reported that veteran CIA officer Walter Raymond Jr. was recruited to lead Ronald Reagan's National Security Decision Directive 77, which called for "the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists [] to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies." Parry documents how the lost chapter of the Iran/Contra Report was deleted as part of a compromise to appease house Republicans such as Dick Cheney. We see how Freedom House both lends HRH Diana an air of do-goodedness and becomes an avenue for propagating the very repression they purportedly oppose. Parry writes,
In line with its clandestine nature, Raymond also suggested routing the “funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political center.”
Ok, now for the association with NPR. I know this is a loose association, since the Brooking institute is so huge, but I find it incriminating all the same: Ms. Negroponte is a senior visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute where Antoine W. van Agtmael is a trustee. Mr. Agtmael is president and CIO of Emerging Markets Management, LLC and a great advocate for exploiting opportunities of ballooning numbers of new consumers in Asia and other "emerging markets," a phrase he claims to have coined. It so happens that Antoine is also, wouldn't you know, chair of the NPR Foundation.

More significantly (perhaps ), Mr. Agtmael is a trustee at the Washington National Opera, where HRH Negroponte was pictured above at their Golden Gala. Also in attendance were Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

The Assassin Look, or News From Alternate Earth

Here's a little thought experiment:

Remember those Freedom Fightin' Contras from the 1980s - you know, the ones who killed and tortured tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians and were organized out of the Reagan White House by Col. Oliver North (and other assorted criminals such as John Negroponte, Dick Cheney, and our current "bipartisan" Secretary of War, Robert Gates!)? Imagine, for a moment, that a team of assassins assumed to be working for the current Nicaraguan government murdered Oliver North while he was staying at a hotel in Mexico City. Just consider that if, as the story broke, the government of Nicaragua refused to confirm or deny involvement in the killing, even though a majority of Nicaraguans believed their government committed the murder, and were actually celebrating and joking about the assassination. Now, is there anywhere but an alternative universe where NPR would run the following story (keep in mind that - except for the words in bold and italics - what follows is an exact transcript of an NPR aired on Thursday's ATC):
From NPR news, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

The murder of Oliver North, a key figure in the Contra war against Nicaragua in Mexico City last month is causing diplomatic trouble for Nicaragua. Mexico City's police chief now says 26 people carrying forged European and Australian passports were involved in the plot, and he says he is 99 percent certain Nicaragua was responsible.

The E.U. has strongly condemned the use of those stolen IDs.

Nicaragua maintains official silence on the killing. Some Nicaraguan analysts are calling it a botched operation because the assassins left behind too many clues.

But it's a different story among many ordinary Nicaraguans who say they are proud of the assassins for eliminating a man held responsible for assisting in the systematic killing and torture of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians in 1989.

Sheera Frenkel reports from Managua.

Frenkel : Nicaraguan Daniel Zamora was caught unaware when Nicaragua's Channel 2 News informed him he had been named as a suspected assassin of Contra organizer, Oliver North.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Frenkel : His first response was to laugh. Great for me, I guess, he said. Then, the presenter asked if he was scared.

Zamora: (Through Translator) Actually, no. I guess I should have been scared, but they've managed to take out another terrorist, so it's better.

FRENKEL: Nicaraguan officials have refused to confirm or deny involvement in North's death. But across Nicaragua, news of the assassination has been met with a wink, a nod and new found pride in Nicaragua's spy agency.

Juan Cardona owns a bakery in Managua. For the past week, he's greeted his customers with jokes over the North assassination.

Cardona (Bakery Owner): (Through Translator) Listen, we're fulfilling the fantasies of many countries all over the world who want to do this but don't have the means. We have the means. It's a great thing, so we'll laugh at this and just move on.

Frenkel: He shrugs off international anger over the killing and the growing number of accusatory fingers pointed at Nicaragua.

Yesterday, Mexico City police released additional information about suspects involved in North's death. Ten of the 26 suspected assassins share names with Nicaraguans, a coincidence Mexico City police say is simply too great to be ignored.

Nicaragua is a small country where everyone knows everyone, says Cardona, so the operation could have been carried out by your neighbor, friend or customer.

In Nicaragua's left-wing daily, Barricada, education correspondent Miguel Lopez proudly wrote about being mistaken for one of the Mexico City assassins. Lopez said he even received phone calls from friends asking why he hadn't bought them cigarettes from the duty-free in Mexico. And in a small health food store in Managua, 37-year-old Jorge Rivera had been mistaken by a number of customers for an uncanny resemblance he bears to one of the alleged assassins.

He's not one of them, he says, but he's still proud of the work they did.

Rivera: (Through Translator) Every terrorist that is eliminated, we are happy about, we give our blessings. Who took him out? We don't know. But, of course, we have an interest in this man no longer being alive.

Frenkel: While some Nicaraguans have criticized their government for its alleged involvement in the killing, most have only taken issue with the supposed trail of evidence the assassins left in their wake.

Mexico City's advanced surveillance cameras caught what they say were the killers in various parts of the city, and airport immigration officials matched names and passport numbers to the images.

Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Australia are investigating claims that false passports from their countries were used by killers to enter the country. And at least some of the Nicaraguans whose names appear on the suspect list are not happy about it.

Speaking to Nicaraguan TV last night, Jacobo Ruiz said he could not have been more surprised to see his name on the list of alleged assassins.

Ruiz: (Through Translator) They took our passport numbers without asking. It's a shock. We have no idea what kind of problems this will create.

Frenkel: Still, most Nicaraguans found time to joke as they pored over the photos of the 26 suspects. Fourteen of them were wearing glasses with thick frames And, according to Nicaraguan radio, that style is now being requested across the country. They're calling it "The Assassin Look."

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Managua.
It's worth noting that NPR also featured Sheera Frenkel's racist, anti-Arab rubbish when she embedded with Israeli vigilantes last October.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shepard Said NPR Should Advise Listeners About Military Contractor's Conflicts of Interests...and Then NPR Doesn't

Pink and green pentagonal peace sign doodles added by yours, truly to annoy the powers that be.

In fiddling about with the Muckety map for NPR, I noticed that Colgen, LP is a client for both Fox News and NPR and that Colgen's CEO, General Robert H. Scales (ret) is a military analyst for these "news" outlets.

Sourcewatch has a good summary of the military analysts propaganda scandal.

Eyes on Fox has a little comparison study of Scales' reports to Fox and NPR from about 4 years ago.

In April of 2008, after being called on this underhanded propaganda, Alicia Shepard vowed to advise listeners that Scales is CEO of Colgen, a military contractor. She wrote,
Rather than toss Scales off the air and lose his practical and scholarly knowledge of the Army, in the future NPR should always be transparent and identify him as a defense consultant with Colgen. NPR's audience can evaluate what Scales says through that lens. NPR should also append a note to each archived Scales' appearances that indicates he is also a defense consultant with Colgen. What also is needed, and I believe NPR will now begin doing, is a more careful vetting of all experts before they go on air,
But in this October 2009 story, Was McChrystal Wrong To Advise Obama Publicly?, Scales is described only as "(U.S. Army, Retired; Military Historian)." So much for that vow. A comment at the ombudsman's web site says it well:

"Scales appeared on different NPR news shows -- a total of 36 times in 2003...."
"Since February 2003, he has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered (ATC)."
"Rhame has appeared on NPR news shows 48 times -- 43 of them in 2003."

And how many times did you have serious critics of the entire US policy toward Iraq? Or experts who were right about the facts from the start. It is ok to get the military view that these retired officers present, but what about Scott Ritter, Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Coburn, Robert Fisk, Juan Cole etc. Your coverage is heavily weighted toward active and former US government or military personnel.

Sent by MyTwords | 10:20 PM ET | 04-30-2008

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Remember How Proust Supports Our Troops?

Today's WESun was just an unending litany of awfulness. Maybe because the puzzle segment is one of the few I usually enjoy, it was the most galling:


Take the name "Proust," as in Marcel Proust. Using these six letters, repeating them as often as necessary, spell a familiar bumper sticker with three words, 16 letters altogether. What bumper sticker is it?

It often happens that a puzzle decontextualizes its subject matter. In this instance, the recombinatory "Proust" seems most apt, since atomizing and recombining news nuggets for optimal Pentagon promotion is part and parcel of what seems to be the propagandizing agenda at NPR. Of course, Proust's most famous work is A Remembrance of Things Past, an activity which Americans are most emphatically urged to avoid. As Gore Vidal has observed, we are The United States of Amnesia.

So deliberately do we seek to "not look back," and to proclaim "Yesterday's Gone" - which is as much Obama's theme song as it was the Clintons' - that NPR's Jon Hamilton reported a while back (if my memory serves me well) that, In Future, Science Could Erase Traumatic Memories. The general thrust of the story is that scientific research into the role played by the protective molecular sheath around the brain cells of the amygdala and the role this sheath plays in the creation of traumatic memory may lead to a cure for PTSD . A drug that can dissolve this sheath and erase painful memories has been developed. Hamilton sees this as a pharmaceutical cure for people who suffer PTSD. But as the commentator at WebNewser who first called my attention to that story wrote,

What Hamilton doesn’t say is that without traumatic memories human culture would be a wasteland and humanity, itself, a thing of the past.

Such a drug is certainly in the CIA mind control medicine chest, and perhaps many of the bathrooms of NPR staff.

Meanwhile, Americans are continually subjected to a sort of MSM version of Groundhog Day. In US Media Replays Iraq Fiasco on Iran, Robert Parry (his amygdaloid nucleus sheath intact) observes how many of the same voices of incestuous amplification that propelled us to invade Iraq are pounding the drums for violent action against Iran. Parry concludes,
But one might at least have hoped that the death and destruction in Iraq would have taught these media figures a painful lesson: that sometimes loose talk about foreign “enemies” can contribute to horrendous human suffering.
When "human suffering" is run through the NPR anagram machine, it comes out, "Um, snuff hearing." That's what I had to do when subjected to the music of 4 Troops who sing - their amygdalic sheaths stripped bare - lyrics like,
Soon as we could see clearly through our big black eye
Man, we lit up the world like the fourth of July.
As Dana Franchitto (Heaviest Cat) wrote in the NPR comments at this story

Unfortunately,this kind of pro-war puffery has displaced critical thinking on "public" radio