Monday, February 25, 2013

News or Propaganda? Who Cares?

If you missed the story late last week, editor at large Ben Shapiro broke a story indicating Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel took money from a group called "Friends of Hamas.”  The “scoop” was picked up by FOX News and reported as fact. Unfortunately for everyone involved, there is no group called Friends of Hamas and the story was blown up from a joke made by someone to a GOP source. What’s interesting in the aftermath is that a) Shapiro and reject the idea that they did anything wrong by publishing the story as an allegation, and b) FOX News had the sketchy editor Shapiro on a show acting as a knowledgeable Washington pundit.

What the Media Matters article fails to point out is that in the conservative media bubble, news and propaganda are the same thing. What we consider news; reasonably objective stories based on verifiable facts, is not what the conservatives consider news. For them, it’s only news if it embarrasses Obama, makes liberals look bad or makes America look good. Facts are not part of that equation. Studies have clearly shown that FOX News viewers are the least well-informed consumers of television news. So it should come as little surprise that Shapiro sees nothing wrong with his unfounded smear of Hagel. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Iraq: An Unwelcome Anniversary Approaches

There has been a hew and cry over the past few years that no major Wall Street honchos have gone to jail related to criminal acts leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown from which this country is still trying to recuperate. And so there should be. However, as much as I think these white collar criminals should pay for their crimes, and as much damage as they did to ruin the financial futures of millions of Americans, they did not send our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, off to a foreign country to kill and die under false pretenses.  

Ten years ago this March 19, President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. Aided and abetted by administration neocons Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney and others, Bush lied us into a war that went on for nine years, cost $3 trillion dollars, and resulted in the deaths of nearly 5,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis. There were no WMDs, and Saddam Hussein was not working with Al Qaeda. What a decade of investigative reporting has uncovered, is that far from the blundering incompetents they are made out to be by some, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others knew they were starting a war under false pretenses. They had planned to topple Hussein from the earliest days of the Bush Administration.

If anyone should be tried for anything, it should be Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for instigating a disaster of epic proportions that continues to have negative ramifications for our country a decade later. These people are war criminals and should be treated as such. They used 9/11 as a pretext to rain war down on a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on America, and had the gall to ridicule and marginalize those who disagreed with their rush to battle.

The roadblock to justice is that there was such widespread collusion among America’s elites and the media that no one wants to open up that Pandora’s Box of embarrassment. Not to mention that even though he opposed the Iraq war, President Obama seems to have no desire to pursue criminal charges against an ex-president, especially now that he has drone blood on his hands.

I’m afraid our only hope is that we will have history on the side of truth, but even then, it’s a toss up at this point as to what the “official” history of the Iraq war will be. George Orwell knew well the dangers of relying on history for truth when he wrote, “He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I want to write a sequel to Orwell’s 1984. I’m going to call it 2013. Clever, huh?  Basically, it’s set in a country where the citizens are under the influence of very subtle and sophisticated mind control techniques that, like a drug, lull them into believing they live in the greatest country in the world, when in fact the government is very evil and corrupt.  

I’ve been jotting down some notes about this fictional country. It’s an updated version of Oceania, where the techniques used to control society are much more modern and sophisticated. Here are some thoughts:
  • Although the government does not control the media outright, the major media channels—newspapers, magazines, television, radio—are all owned by a small group of companies that tightly monitor content. Despite the appearance of a free flow of information, messages are limited to those that support unfettered capitalism, corporate ideology and the status quo. Alternative views and dissenting voices are marginalized and ridiculed. 
  • A huge, bloated military establishment is sold to the people as necessary for the country’s defense. It is unpatriotic to criticize the defense industry or its budget. Small-scale wars are fought continuously around the world to justify the trillions of dollars spent on the military.
  • Whistleblowers, those who speak out against government and corporate abuses and excesses, are punished.
  • Groups opposing the status quo are treated as terrorist organizations.
  • The richest 1% of the population, the true elites, control the vast majority of the country’s wealth.
  • Elections are tightly controlled so that only candidates who support the status quo and the aims of the capitalist elites are considered serious contenders to be the country’s leader.
  • Leaders of the country claim the right to kill suspected enemies anywhere in the world at anytime.
  • Intelligence agencies routinely monitor citizens by tapping telephones, intercepting Internet communications and mail, and infiltrating organizations based on nothing more than hunches and guesses. Presumption of innocence no longer exists.
  • The government operates behind a thick veil of secrecy, which people are told is necessary for the country’s defense.

So what do you think? Too outlandish? I realize it is a stretch to create a country like this where the citizens would allow such treatment and not rise up in revolt, but stranger things have happened. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Look at Obama's Actions, Not His Words

Many liberal publications have gone ga-ga over the President’s SOTU speech last night. “A liberal agenda for his last term.” A progressive road map.” People, people, people. Haven’t we been through this before? Like, oh, the 2008 presidential campaign? Change. Lofty ideals. Progressive buzzwords. Changing the way Washington works. Transparency. Bring the troops home. Help for the middle class. What did we get? Drone wars. Less transparency than the Bush Administration. An administration stacked with Washington and Wall Street insiders. Capitulation. Half-hearted economic policies.

The SOTU was the classic Obama bait and switch. He presses all the liberal and progressive hot buttons in his speech, but when he gets back to the Oval Office it’s Washington business as usual — more war, candy for Wall Street and the head-smacking insistence on trying to negotiate with an opposition party fighting intellectual battles the rest of the world moved past in the nineteenth century.  

Obama is no liberal. As Chomsky noted, Obama would have fallen into the category of moderate Republican not too many years ago. It is way too premature to get excited over a speech with lots of pretty liberal words. The President has given many speeches. It’s his actions that are important. We can start by looking at whom he’s appointing to fill open cabinet vacancies. It’s hardly a bunch of liberal firebrands, but old Washington war horses who have zero interest in changing the way things work in the nation’s capital.

It was a nice speech last night, but Obama’s initial actions are not a promising start to a new term.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Match Made in Hell

On the heels of his announcement he would be attending tonight’s State of the Union Address, rocker and NRA board member Ted Nugent made a startling revelation this morning that is sending shockwaves through the conservative pundocracy. According to a press release from Nugent’s publicist, he and author and right wing pundit Ann Coulter are engaged to marry.

According to Nugent, he and Ann met at a mock lynching of President Obama at a survivalist compound in Montana. “I have to tell you,” writes Nugent, “It was love at first sight. When she touched the barrel of my AR-15 I thought I was going to lose it. Fortunately, the safety was on.”

The Motor City Madman says that the wedding ceremony is set for August 15 and will take place at San Antonio’s Alamodome during halftime at the 2013 Monster Truck Marathon. “I’m a bit of a romantic,” says Nugent. “Everyone coming into the Alamodome will be given an air horn, and when Ann and I kiss after the ‘I do’s’, ten thousand air horns will go off. It’ll be epic.”

The press release also details the newlyweds honeymoon plans. Immediately after the ceremony, the lovebirds will fly to Haiti for a helicopter peasant hunt and then it will be off to Brazil for an adventure on the Amazon River stalking animals on the endangered species list. “It’ll be an awesome opportunity to kill things together and really bond as a couple,” says Nugent. Finally, the couple will fly to North Korea where they will be the guests of leader Kim Jong Un, who will detonate a nuclear device in their honor. “We have much to learn from these people,” said Nugent.

Attempts to reach Coulter for comments were met with death threats. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bush in the Bathroom

So someone hacked George Bush’s email and we are treated to two recent paintings by the former President, one of him in the bathtub, and one of him standing in a shower.

I am not a painter nor am I a psychologist, but that won’t stop me from looking at these paintings and asking WTF? Technically, the work is amateurish and almost childish, but, of course, that’s not what makes these pieces so interesting. It’s the subject matter.

Let’s just say that I had a hankering (we’ll pretend I’m a Texan) to start painting. After buying my canvases and brushes and paints, I need to decide on something to paint. Fine. What’s the first thing I think of? Perhaps a nice still life. You know, a vase with some apples and pears lying around on the table. Or a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Too boring? How about a nice landscape of the Texas hill country or the dramatic plains of West Texas? No? Okay, then what do you think of naked pictures of yourself in the bathroom?

You have to wonder what in the world George was thinking when he decided to paint pictures of himself lying in a bath and standing naked in the shower. Was it a joke? Is there some context to the pictures that we simply don’t get? Otherwise, huh?

Water, especially running water, is a symbol for spiritual cleansing. Think baptism. The water is running in both the tub and the shower pictures. In the shower painting, we see his face reflected in a small mirror. Cleansing. Reflection. Could these paintings be George’s inner desire to be cleansed for his past sins (of which there are so many)? Is he hoping the Almighty will forgive him if he washes his soul clean of his past worldly mistakes? Could he be suffering from a guilty conscience?

Not likely, at least not consciously. Perhaps the tub/shower paintings are part of a bathroom trilogy, and the third will feature Bush sitting on the toilet reading the latest issue of Guns & Ammo. Makes as much sense as any other explanation.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How Does Washington Work? It Doesn't.

Read a good Rolling Stone review of the book Bailout from one of my favorite political writers Matt Taibbi. Bailout was written by Neil Barofsky, the TARP Inspector General in the years following the 2008 economic blowout. What Taibbi finds most interesting about the book is not so much the procedural details involved in the bank bailouts following 2008, but Barofsky’s anecdotes about how Washington works; how people in positions of power do or do not interact with each other. As Taibbi notes in the article:

“… it's a bizarre, almost tribal mentality that rules our capital city – a kind of groupthink that makes extreme myopia and a willingness to ignore the tribe's ostensible connection to the people who elected them a condition for social advancement within.”

The article helped clarify my understanding of the idea that our government today is not really in the business of solving problems. Those of us in the outlands may think that our elected officials and the people they choose to run various government agencies are working night and day to fix things that are broken, but that is a naïve and simplistic view of how Washington actually works.

You see, solving problems means making decisions. When you make decisions, it means that there are going to be people who are happy and people who are unhappy. The question is always: Who will be unhappy with the decision I make? Who will I alienate? Now, foolish you might think that the primary question on the minds of our officials should be: Will this benefit the people of the United States or not? Silly person. As insider Barofsky makes clear, the real needs of the huddled masses outside the beltway are far down on the list of political priorities among our government bureaucrats.

If Washington is not about solving problems, what is it about? It’s about the appearance of trying to solve problems. Officials make adjustments, recalibrate, fine-tune, issue course corrections and modify policies in an attempt make it look like somebody is doing something, when in fact they are merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  

With the iceberg fast approaching, the captain and his crew are more worried about keeping the first class passengers comfy than steering the ship to safety.