Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why Are His Numbers So Low?

I watched Hardball today and Chris Matthews asked his guests why the country would trust the President on big issues, like invading Iraq, and won't trust him on small issues like the port deal. Duh.

On Fox, I caught part of Neil Cavuto's show on Fox. Boy, is he bad. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown should start picking on him and give poor Bill O'Reilly a few days rest.

Anyway, Neil Cavuto asked a panel of conservative sycophants why President Bush's poll numbers were so low. The consensus answer was the mainstream media won't cut him any slack.

As I see it, George Bush was a bad choice for President. He never really had what it takes. He was bad before 9/11. To his credit, when the nation was traumatized by 9/11, he and Vice-President Cheney struck the right tone of strength and stability. They reassured the nation that we could weather the storm and make the terrorists pay. He correctly went after the Taliban in Afghanistan. The nation was desperate for leadership and he did an excellent job of supplying it. Unfortunately, it has pretty much been downhill from there. The President that led us into Iraq, who cares more about money and business than people, who only respects science when it agrees with what he already believes, who thinks the environment is just a pool of natural resources waiting to be tapped, who is certainly not dumb but is slow to adjust and compromise is just the type of president we were afraid we were getting when he was elected.

People want a strong leader. They want to believe the man in charge knows what he is doing. They want to give him the benefit of the doubt since to think otherwise means they made a bad choice (twice) and they worry about what the future holds if they can no longer count on him.

What we have now is a President who does not seem capable of explaining his policies and when he tries, he talks to us like we are five year olds that just aren't capable of seeing the obvious truths he is presenting. We just don't seem to understand the obvious and the poor man doesn't know how to make his explanations any simpler for us. His only solution is to repeat his answer only this time he pauses between the words hoping the extra time will allow them to somehow penetrate our thick heads. He must be terribly frustrated. The country is so dense and getting worse everyday!

Why are the President's poll numbers so low? Because he has been doing a bad job and people can no longer ignore it.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

What If DP World Were French Owned?

A for profit company will, in most cases, operate in a way that benefits the owners. If management fails to do this, it is usually replaced by the board of directors or the board of directors is replaced by the share holders.

When the owners are a government who may, in some circumstances, have goals other than profit, how much can we depend on their motivations? It has been suggested that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might deny us access to their ports or airfields if we stop the acquisition of the port contract by DP World. I believe the UAE ports and airfields are considered crucial to the war in Iraq. I haven't heard that these threats have actually come from the UAE, but it does raise concerns about allowing a government owned corporation to control an operation with national security implications. If anyone in the government thinks that there is even a possibility that the UAE might deny us access if this deal fails, that should kill the deal for sure. Better to face the problem now, then have the threat hanging over us.

If DP World wanted to make umbrellas in the US we wouldn't be having this conversation. No one would care that a government owned company were engaged in a business without national security implications. If DP World were a publicly held corporation there would still be questions, but as an international public corporation the questions would be different. Publicly held corporations may or may not always have high ethical standards, but you can generally trust them to go for the money. Even governments who have been allies for centuries can find their self interests sometimes conflict with ours (think of the French). For those who think that the objections to the DP World deal are racially motivated because DP World is an Arab company, ask people how they would feel if DP World were owned by the French government. I suspect the reaction would be just as strong. The possibility that port operations might be disrupted if we had a disagreement with the French government would be unacceptable.

I've heard the argument that a company owned by the Chinese government has been running a port in California. Instead of a 45 day review of a deal we all know is already dead, we should spend the 45 days reviewing that arrangement. If we can't undo it at this point, we should turn the security spotlight on this arrangement. Should the government prepare a contingency plan to take over operation of the port if the Chinese should try to use this company to change US policy instead of generate profits?

Again, I am not suggesting that either the UAE or Chinese companies involved here are anything but businesses trying to make a profit, but we shouldn't compromise national security just to maintain our free market rep. We also shouldn't give ourselves a potential national security problem to pay back the UAE for access to their ports and airfields. I hope that the UAE feels that our use of their airfields and ports is also in their national and regional interests. If we need to pay back the UAE, let's find another way.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Does A Port Operator Do?

Just what exactly will DP World (the United Arab Emirates company causing the recent contoversy) be doing at the six ports it is scheduled to take over? As is usually the case, you first hear a lot of claims from both sides and only well into the story do people start giving you the facts you need to know to have a reasoned opinion.

The opponents concentrate on the resume of the UAE and how we shouldn't trust our ports to another country. The proponents claim that security will still be under the control of the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. I believe it was Secretary Chertoff who reminded us that cargo will still be moved under the watchful eyes of the International Dock Workers. I can believe and appreciate that the dock workers are doing their part, but this is probably the first nice thing a Republican has said about a union in thirty years.

What will DP World actually be responsible for? Scheduling ships in and out of the port? Loading and unloading cargo? Seeing that containers get moved out of the port and onto their next destination? That's the impression I've gotten, but I'd like to hear their duties spelled out. Administration groupies keep insisting that security is still in the hands of the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. Those who have a problem with this deal don't understand that the ports will be just as safe with DP World. If this were a bank, would you hire a reformed crook as a teller? Even if you have the same guard at the front door?

I have to believe that it would be easier for the port operator or an employee of the port operator to out-flank the security, if they were so inclined, than you or I. Could an employee in Dubia working with an employee in New York have a better chance of getting illicit cargo into this country? Common sense says yes.

I'm still not saying this is a bad deal, but I'm tired of administration mouths acting like we are just as secure no matter who is running the port. Critics say this administration has become tone deaf, I wonder if they haven't just lost their common sense.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Payback or Payoff?

Lego Pirate ship and crewI take the administration at its word that having six major ports in the US run by a company owned by the United Arab Emirates is not a problem. It sounds like the government has done a pretty thorough job of thinking this through. But for an administration that never misses an opportunity so show how strong they are on national security, their current position seems strange.

The country and politicians from both sides of the aisle are lining up against this deal. It's a no brainer position to take. So why would the President say if the Congress votes to stop the deal he will use his FIRST veto to make sure it goes through? If he doesn't change his position and actually fights to get this deal done, I think we'll all be smelling a rat. If the President keeps fighting for the UAE to get these contracts you can a bet this is a big time payoff or payback for something. I'm not suggesting that there is anything illegal here, but the UAE must have done something REALLY BIG for the President to take such a REALLY BIG political hit.

Hmmm. Do you think that besides operating other countries' ports the UAE might have a side business operating other countries' jails?

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Mohammed Cartoons

I struggled with the cartoon issue for a while because I thought that printing cartoons that were offensive to Muslims was wrong. Since then I've listened to other opinions.

My understanding is that these cartoons were intended to make a political statement or a humorous statement, and not demean a religion. If that is true, I see no reason they shouldn't have been printed. If a political cartoon offends some people or a lot of people, so what? Political cartoons usually offend someone. If you are offended, there are many ways to express your outrage. Stop reading the publication. Send letters to the editor explaining why the material is offensive or patently incorrect or unfair. You can encourage others to boycott the publication and/or its advertisers. As you can see, none of these includes any kind of violence or threats of violence.

If Muslims in Denmark were extremely outraged, they could protest as explained above or they could emigrate to a country where freedom of speech is not the law or culture and such outrageous cartoons are not allowed. I'm not suggesting that Muslims should not be welcomed as guests or citizens of Denmark, but living in a country obligates you to some acceptance of its culture or at least some acceptance of the legal ways to change the culture or laws. Denmark is a country with free speech. If you just can't accept that, move on. It is not that hard to move from one country to another to find laws and culture that are acceptable to you. Voting with your feet is an honored tradition in the US.

The Danish Muslims who took their outrage to the Middle East are the real villains here. They created a controversy where there shouldn't have been one. The Danes did not force the cartoons to be shown in countries where they would be seen as blasphemous. While the cartoons may not have been appropriate in a Muslim country, they are acceptable in Denmark and many other countries. Even if they are outrageous.

I recently read an article where Muslims in the Middle East complained that they don't get the respect they feel they deserve. They have a culture and religion with a rich history of accomplishments that rivals any ancient religion or culture, yet no one takes them seriously. Of course, that is the heart of the problem. Other cultures have moved on. Modern societies move toward freedom, the rule of law, individual responsibility, tolerance, diversity, understanding, science and reason. Unfortunately, the out of proportion outrage of many Muslims only proves that they are not ready to join the modern world. Burning down their cities and killing their own people does nothing to gain the respect of the rest of the world. It actually isolates them even more. Burning down a McDonald's restaurant to protest a religious infraction is humorous and makes the protesters look foolish. If a martyr's reward in heaven is seventy virgins, what do you get for burning down a McDonald's? A big Mac, fries and a medium diet Coke.

Do some Muslims really believe that if anyone, anywhere breaks one of their religious laws or does something to offend them they have the right or duty to kill that person? If we gave these same rights to all religions the entire world would be at war all the time. Obviously people who believe such nonsense do not deserve respect or the deference they are being given.

I do not approve of reprinting the cartoons just to show the rioters that we can print them or to intentionally offend Muslims. I don't approve of reprinting the cartoons if their content is designed to enrage rather encourage reflection. But I think editors should reprint the cartoons that are not patently offensive to the general readership of their publication when writing stories about the rioting. An editor must decide whether or not the cartoons are truly offensive to a significant part of his/her readers. If they are offensive, don't reprint them; just report their content. But to not reprint the cartoons that are not offensive to the general population is a form of censorship imposed by a religion. In this case a religion that seems to believe it can censor the entire world. That is unacceptable.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006


Brit Hume With RNC Chair buttonOn FOX News Sunday, Brit Hume and his colleagues mocked the DC press corps for their response to the Vice-President's shooting incident. They couldn't understand why the press couldn't accept that this was just an accident and have more empathy with the Vice-President's pain.

They failed to mention that Brit Hume asked the most ridiculous question of the week. Vice-President Cheney handpicked Brit Hume to interview him about an understandably sensitive issue and Brit, in his excitement, must have forgotten where he was. He must have thought he had his dream gig and was on Saturday Night Live.

Here is part of the actual interview from the White House web site:

Q How far away from you was he?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm guessing about 30 yards, which was a good thing. If he'd been closer, obviously, the damage from the shot would have been greater.

Q Now, is it clear that -- he had caught part of the shot, is that right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- part of the shot. He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body.

Q And you -- and I take it, you missed the bird.

You missed the bird!!!!!! Who cares what happened to the bird?

Brit! Have you given up your RNC aspirations and joined PETA?

What The Hell Were You Thinking?

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Will We Always Be At War?

A few weeks ago, during the NSA press conference, the President promised that he would fight any attempts to disclose more details about the NSA wiretapping program. He said to do so would aid the terrorists which proves, as we've suspected, that there is more to this program than we know. He claims that to reveal more information would only aid our enemies, but cynics point out that it also makes it harder to question the legality, scope and necessity of the program.

The President keeps reminding us that we are in a war. I'm about the same age as the President and I have seen several wars come and go.

The Korean War (Actually, for political reasons, it was called a police action.)
The Cold War
The Vietnam War
The War on Drugs
The War on Poverty
The War in the Balkans
The First Gulf War
The War in Afghanistan
The War in Iraq

I believe in this time frame we also had wars on cancer and the gypsy moth and a few others. I'm not trying to belittle the serious threat of Islamic terrorism, but war is a term that we use quite loosely to describe a condition where we will use our full resources to "win". While you might not put the war on terrorism in the same category as the war on poverty or drugs, you could make a case that the Cold War posed a much more serious threat to this country than Islamic terrorism. The President justifies any action that he wants to take on the fact that we are in a war. At his news conference he vowed to keep renewing his authorization of NSA wiretapping until the threat of terrorism is removed. Implicit in this statement was the assertion, "and I don't care what you think about it".

Does he ever listen to his own speechs? He has already told us that the war on terror will take a long time to win. Does he believe there is any possibility we can win the war on terrorism before his term expires? Does he even have an estimate of when the war on terrorism might be won? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? How will we even know when we've won? Common sense tells us that as long as there are people who are willing to die for their cause there will be terrorism. Terrorism evolves. New groups with grievances will emerge and terrorism is an efficient way for the less powerful to influence the powerful. So even if we destroy al Qaida tomorrow, it is reasonable that some other group will take its place demanding the attention of the world with outrageous acts. The very threat that a group might evolve into another al Qaida will be enough to justify a continued war on terrorism.

The President has said something like, "We have to get it right all the time, the terrorists only have to succeed once." I can understand the logic, but this kind of reasoning will always lead presidents to interpret laws and civil liberties in a way that gives them the most flexibility to do whatever they feel is necessary. As President Bush has shown, presidents are more afraid of being wrong once than on worrying too much about legalities. From a president's point of view, the prudent course is to secretly bend the rules. As the NSA wiretapping issue has shown, if your actions are discovered and your authority is questioned you argue that what you are doing is legal under your expanded war powers. Even if it is not legal, it is essential to national security. Either way, those arguments are easier to defend than trying to explain why some city was blown up on your watch. I can understand why presidents would think this way, but these are false choices and it is the responsibility of congress, the courts, the press and all citizens to make sure the executive branch does not lose perspective. There are fates worse than death. There are more serious threats to the nation than terrorist attacks. I can imagine a devastating attack in the US, but to ignore the constitution to prevent an attack is like making a pact with the devil. Somewhere along the line the devil will need to be paid.

I think you can argue that terrorism will be a popular tool for the foreseeable future. Even if we cleaned up all the loose nuclear material (which we are not working hard enough to accomplish), terrorists will turn to biological and chemical weapons (which as technology improves will probably be easier to create and deliver than nuclear bombs). The genie is out of the bottle; from here on we will face attacks by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. Does that mean we will forever be on a war footing where a president can place himself above the law by invoking his duty to protect us? Presidents of any party will try. We give them every reason to feel that the fate of the country rests, in the end, on them and them alone. Given that charge it is reasonable to expect that they will use every resource at their disposal to do what they feel is necessary. And while their oath to the constitution should keep their actions within the law, the consequences of a mistake and the glaucoma of power make the dark side almost irresistible. That is why we have checks and balances. That is why we have to ask questions that, to some, may look unpatriotic.

You may believe President Bush to be true of heart and a pillar of virtue. You may accept that whatever the President does, he does with the sole intention of saving lives and protecting the nation. But what if, heaven forbid, a Democrat were elected at sometime in the future and claimed these same powers. Would you be comfortable allowing that president to authorize questionable actions in the name of the war on (fill in the current group) terrorism? Keep in mind that technology to spy on us is constantly improving. How long will it be before the NSA has the capacity to monitor EVERY phone call or email in this country? How large must an attack or a threat be before the use of such technology is rationalized? They may even be able to do that now; how would we know?

I'm not suggesting that we don't try to intercept communications between terrorists. I'm not suggesting that we stop the NSA wiretapping program. I am suggesting that this NSA program exposes the administration's belief that immediate threats are more important than laws, civil liberties and the constitution. I am asserting that "war" does not mean that the checks and balances provided by the legislative and judicial branches are diminished. If the NSA wire tapping is as legal and necessary as the administration claims, they need to prove it to Congress and the courts.

The President and his administration claim that since we are in a war, they have additional power and authority. They claim that some of our constitutional checks and balances don't apply during a war. If the President wants to claim extra powers because we are in a war, I would like to hear how we will know we are no longer in a war. The President keeps telling us this is a new kind of war. OK, how about a new definition of how we will know we have won. Without some definition of how we will know the war on terrorism is over we have basically changed the constitution, probably forever. Aren't you concerned about that?

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Philosophy 101

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, did it make a sound? To non-philosophers that question probably sounds silly. How about another version more in tune with the times?

If you say something that you know is untrue, but there is no way that anyone can prove it is false, did you really tell a lie?

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Brit For RNC Chair, II

Brit Hume With RNC Chair buttonI've written a couple of posts suggesting that Brit Hume of Fox News should replace Ken Mehlman as Chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC). I think the Vice-President seconded that nomination when he chose Brit for his interview this week.

Brit Hume For RNC Chair!

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Down With Earmarks

Tonight's edition of Now, on PBS, was about Congressional earmarks. If you missed it, you can read about the issues on the PBS web site.

The Now report made me sick.

We've been watching the Abramoff scandal unfold where a lobbyist is accused of buying votes and influence. Instead of voting for issues based on merit, some legislators may be selling their votes to the highest bidder. One of the ways to pay back a lobbyist is to slip an earmark into a bill, often when no one is looking. An earmark is a targeted appropriation. How can you slip something into a bill when no one is looking? You needed to see the Now report.

What we learned this evening is that a similar kind of unprincipled trading of votes for favors by a few is taking place all the time in the Senate and House by almost all members. The leadership in Congress buys votes by giving individual legislators money from the budget to spend in any way they like, usually for projects in their districts. The Senator or Representative then have earmarks added to bills to designate exactly how "their" money will be spent. For example, someone in the leadership says, "Vote for X and we'll give you 50 million dollars in the new highway bill that you can earmark anyway you like." Or in the case of the Alaskan Bridge To Nowhere, 1.5 billion! The money that the Congressman or Senator gets to earmark and spend in his district buys votes in the next election. As was pointed out in the Now broadcast, would it be better to spend 1.5 billion dollars for a bridge to nowhere or spend that 1.5 billion dollars to rebuild the Lake Ponchatrain bridge badly damaged by hurricane Katrina? The Senate decided Alaska needed its bridge more than New Orleans. In the case of the Bridge To Nowhere, the public was at least aware of this travesty thanks to a Oklahoman Senator Tom Coburn.

Trading favors is not new and will continue to happen, but the current incarnation of this bartering is obscene. Most Senators and Congressmen trade votes for future political success and the currency is earmarks in last minute hidden legislation.

Many earmarks happen in the dead of night when no one is watching. Some powerful Senators or Representatives can slip legislation into a bill at the last minute. Although there are rules that require all parts of a bill be made public at least three days before the bill is voted on, that rule is frequently broken. Legislators often find that they have voted for something they never knew was in the bill.

Write your Senators and Representatives and insist that all legislation, including the earmarks, be made public at least three working days before they are voted on. A Senator or Representative should never have to vote on legislation that they or their staff have not had time to review. While that only seems like common sense, that is not what is happening now. Also, all earmarks should be required to include the name of the legislator who proposed it. Another idea is to allow points of order against individual provisions in conference reports that were not contained in either the House or Senate version of the bill (see Power Struggle Over Pork by Jonathan Allen for a better description of these ideas).

Not only will these proposals help stop corruption from outside, like from lobbyists, it might weaken the strangle hold that the political parties now have (see my post Goodbye, Karl) and allow legislators to vote their conscience and not just what the party requires.

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I'd Like To See A Diagram

No one believes Vice-President Cheney intentionally shot Mr. Whittington, but in all the noise about how the story was handled I've heard very little about the actual incident. Ron Reagan, today on MSNBC's Hardball, gave a few details. This is more than I'd heard up to this point. I'm surprised there haven't been more explanations of the details. Ron Reagan said Vice-President Cheney apparently shot downward into a setting sun. There may be nothing wrong with taking a shot like that, but I would like to hear the details. What was the actual distance between the Vice-President and Mr. Whittington? Maybe, these details were printed somewhere and I missed them.

It is getting harder and harder to determine what is true and what isn't. Whatever the real story was regarding the Vice-President's errant shot, he wounded the truth and public trust as badly as he wounded Mr. Whittington. Who knows what to believe or who to listen to? This would seem to add impetus to the need for a reporter shield law. As the government works harder to control what information we receive, maintaining a strong independent press becomes even more important.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Did I Miss Something?

Last week on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace interviewd Governor Howard Dean, Chairman of the DNC. Here is the final exchange (from the Fox News Sunday web site):

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about this question of the Democratic involvement. I want to put up something from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. This comes directly from their Web page, and it says, "Here is a detailed look at Abramoff's lobbying and political contributions from Abramoff, the tribes that hired him, and SunCruz Casinos, which is a company that Abramoff owned since 1999."

It lists recipients by the amount of money they received. Well, the top two are the Republican campaign committees. The third and fourth biggest recipients were Democratic campaign committees. And if you go down the list, Democrats received more than $1 million from Abramoff-related interests.

DEAN: There's two points to this. First of all, actually, we — the DNC actually got $100,000-some odd. Now, I can assure you Jack Abramoff never directed that money. It is possible that some of Jack Abramoff's clients may have decided on their own to give Democrats money. The key is...

WALLACE: I'm sorry, did you say, I'm sorry. Did you say that you're sure that Abramoff didn't direct them to give that money?

DEAN: No, what I said was that it is possible that some Democrats got money from some of the — yeah. No, what I'm saying is that Abramoff may not have directed some of this money toward the Democrats.

WALLACE: In fact, he did, sir. We've got evidence of that.

DEAN: But the point is that not one Democrat either knew it or acted on it. Nobody got anything out of the Democrats from Jack Abramoff. No Democrat delivered anything, and there's no accusation and no investigation that any Democrat ever delivered anything to Jack Abramoff. And that's not true of the Republicans.

WALLACE: So if we find — and I just want to — we have to wrap this up. But if we find that there were some Democrats who wrote letters on behalf of some of the Indian tribes that Abramoff represented, then what do you say, sir?

DEAN: That's a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble, and they should be in trouble. And our party, if the American people will put us back in power in '06, we will have on the president's desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behaviors. Right now it's a Republican scandal. Maybe they'll find that some Democrats did something wrong, too. That hasn't been the case yet.

But our reforms in the Democratic Party are going to be aimed at both Democrats and Republicans. We want to clean up Congress, and we will within 100 days of the new Congress in 2007.

WALLACE: Chairman Dean, we're going to follow up on that. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us. And don't be a stranger. You're always welcome here.

Later in the show Chris Wallace said that Fox News did indeed have proof that letters were written by Senators on behalf of tribes that Abramoff represented. The clear implication was that Dean needed to crack down on some Democrats and this is a Democrat and Republican scandal.

From the interview it looks like Dean side stepped the first trap, but FNS clearly got him on the second and then after he was off the air and couldn't respond. I watched again this Sunday expecting to hear more about this Democratic scandal. I must of missed something. I didn't hear more explanation about which Democrats had been implicated and details of what they did wrong. Did I miss it? Fox said they had proof and then nothing? If there are Democrats involved in the Abramoff scandal, I want to know who they are.

And if the FNS proof is not there, why wasn't there an apology? Maybe I just missed it.

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Someone Take Mehlman To Task!

I watched Ken Mehlman on ABC's This Week this morning. I generally like George Stephanopolous, but I can't believe he let Mehlman skate on several outrageous statements. Stephanopolous made the point that Republicans (most recently in speeches by the President, Karl Rove and Mehlman himself) were throwing down the gauntlet on national security. He played a clip of Senator Chuck Haegle who said "I don't like it. It's wrong for this country. National security is more important than the Republican Party or the Democratic Party and to use it to get someone elected will ultimately end up in defeat and disaster for that political party." Stephanopolous asked Mehlman his response. He said "I wouild agree with him. I think national security is too important for partisanship."

After a further exchange and a statement by Mehlman that Democrats still used pre-9/11 thinking, Stephanopolou asked
"Are you saying the Democrats don't want to go after the enemy?"
Mehlman responded that Democrats continue to use pre-9/11 thinking. "Well I'm saying when the Chairman of the Democratic Party goes on radio and says we're going to lose the central front in the war on terror." Later he says, "When Harry Reid says we are going to kill the Patriot Act or we killed that Patriot Act, that doesn't connect the dots, that is pre-9/11. When you don't have the ability to listen in on foreign terrorists calling into this country to potential sleeper cells I think that unfortunately is a 9/11 view."

One, I believe Howard Dean was talking about the war in Iraq. It was Mehlman who twisted Dean's words and equated the war in Iraq and the war on terror. Republicans continue to do this because without this clearly untrue connection the failures in Iraq are more obvious. Howard Dean was not saying anything about the war on terror, he was talking about the war in Iraq and most of the country agrees with him. What Mehlman said was wrong and misleading and he knows it.

Two, as I understand it, Harry Reid was talking about stopping the final conference committee version of the Patriot Act. The Senate 79-9 had voted on a version Reid supported that contained a few changes that even many Republican Senators agreed were important to make. The House voted to basically reauthorize the current Patrior Act without any changes. This went to committee and what came out was the House version. Senator Reid wanted to stop that version from becoming law and instead gain some time to negotiate further to try to enact the Senate version (again, a version supported by most Republican Senators). Reid never tried to kill the Patriot Act. Senator Reid and the Democrats offered to extend the current Patrior Act to allow more time to debate the issue, which is what happened. If Senator Reid wanted to kill the Patrior Act, why did he vote on at least two occasions to extend it? Mehlman lied.

Finally, I don't believe I've heard of any Democrat that has said we shouldn't listen in on converstations between al Qaeda members and people in the United States. Democrats and some Republicans have questioned whether the way this administration has chosen to conduct this listening is legal. Members of both parties have agreed to help write legislation to make such listening legal and constitutinal. Most want oversight to ensure that rights are not being abused, but no one is saying we shouldn't try to intercept terrorist communications. The administration has refused to seek such legislation. Democrats have not called for the administation to stop this surveillance. Mehlman lied.

Ken Mehlman says that national security is too important for partisanship and then does just that. It is certainly fair to raise issues about how your opponent would approach national security, but when you distort their position you are not having an honest debate. That is partisan politics.

This guy is unbelievable! Today's distortions are even more reason to hope Brit Hume will leave Fox and replace Mehlman.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cable News as Manufactured Outrage

Sean Hannity, manufacturer of outrage. Picture from FoxNews.COMLife is just not exciting enough. How else can you explain the popularity of reality TV shows? We revel in the turmoil, intrigue and contrived spontaneity. At least that is what I think they offer from seeing the 30 second promos. I haven't been able to watch more than a couple of minutes of any of them. I get bored.

TV sports is another opportunity to live vicariously, feel the adrenalin rush and excitement of the unpredictably, bask in unmerited success and bathe in the knowledge that we are not as dumb and blind as the officials.

I do occasionally watch Cops, or shows like that. Although maybe for the wrong reasons. I don't watch to feel morally superior or excited by the pursuits. I usually come away knowing that life is not fair. For whatever reasons, a lot of people find life harder than others. I don't see how you can watch a show like Cops and not realize that given the right (or wrong) circumstances, you could be the loser on TV. I watch Cops and always come away more humble.

But my real reason for this post is a train of thought set off by George Will a couple of weeks ago on This Week (ABC). He used the term "synthetic outrage" and I immediately thought of cable news. Well, actually, I thought of Fox News and then realized they are not alone in manufacturing outrage.

O'Reilly likes to put down competitors because their number of viewers is not as high as his. I think the difference in popularity is how well a show can manufacture outrage. A really good news show would probably not be called entertaining. I love to watch the News Hour on PBS, but I would call it more informative than entertaining. This is partly because Rush calls himself an entertainer, not a journalist or commentator. I think Rush is sort of an entertainer, I just wish I could believe his loyal listeners saw him that way. I suspect most would call him a commentator and journalist.

But I digress. The cable "news" and commentary shows thrive on outrage. The more outrage they can generate in their audience, the more successful they are. When there is no convenient event or person to build outrage on, they invent something. I have sympathy for Natalee Hollaway's family and don't blame them for using any tool to keep interest in her story alive. But does anyone believe we would still be hearing about this case if it weren't for the outrage manufactured by cable "news"? The same goes for Terri Schiavo, cruise ship murders, Happy Holidays, etc. I'm sure with a little effort you can add to the list.

Fox, and maybe the other cable networks, have a nasty habit of picking guests more on their ability to generate outrage than on their ability to discuss an issue or defend a position. A good "kick me again" liberal can get a lot of air time. The same goes for sycophant conservatives.

As you watch news/commentary shows, even the individual segments in a show, make your own decision as to whether they are offering primarily journalism, commentary, entertainment or synthetic outrage. You can do this by analyzing what is being presented and the manner in which it is presented. Is what is offered fact or opinion? Is opinion offered as fact? Does the anchor or host sprinkle in personal comment and/or opinions while describing fact(the news)? Are you being given information by authentic sources? Are people telling you the thoughts and motivations of someone else? Do they offer these insights as conjecture or fact with supporting reasoning? Or have they somehow crawled inside the other person's head and are now reporting from a remote location? During an interview, does the host cut guests off, interrupt before the guest has a chance to answer or restate what the guest just said in a different way with the implication that the guest is lying or ignorant? Does the host treat the guest and their opinions with respect? You can disagree with someone and still treat them with respect (for examples, watch Now on PBS). Does the host end the interview and then give some comments that the guest has no opportunity to respond to? Is the host really trying to elicit information from the guest or trap them into saying something they can pounce on? I love the common tactic of cutting off an answer with a comment like "We only have a few seconds left and I wanted to ask you....". That really means, you aren't supplying enough outrage, let's try another subject.

If you like to watch Hannity and Colmes because it gets your blood boiling, that's fine. You probably spend too much time on the couch and this little bit of activity is probably good for your heart. But don't come away thinking all liberals are dim witted pin heads who look for every opportunity to dis the troops, hurt the country, lie, cheat, steal and evade the draft (yes, I know we no longer draft people into the armed services).

There is certainly enough stupidity, incompetence, ignorance, prejudice, hatred, injustice, violence, evil, perniciousness, arrogance, malfeasance, ...... to outrage us all. We don't need cable news to manufacture it.

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