Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Big Schmooze in the Hormuz

I've written three times now about how the fake incident in the Straits of Hormuz was really a cooked up provocation by George Bush to start a war with Iran. Today that bastion of liberal propaganda weighs in calling the incident The Big Schmooze in the Hormuz. In my posts I showed how the Minneapolis Star Tribune in particular fell for the whole thing, hook, line and sinker, and never corrected the record, helping pave the way for another Bush war based on lies.

The point of the report is how the traditional media got snookered by the Bushites into inflating a normal encounter into an international military incident, pushing us dangerously close to a confrontation with Iran. Mark Gisleson mocked me for expecting the Strib to correct itself - and who knows, he's probably right; still, it's pretty amazing that the paper has still not run a story that correctly characterizes what happened in the straits, given the gravity of the charges. Be prepared for when Bush cooks up another one of these incidents and the Strib uses the lies to stir up support in Minnesota for more carnage in the Middle East. Minnesota Nice? How about Minnesota Gullible.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Simon in the snow

Yesterday when I took this picture it was nearly 50 degrees in the backyard; today it's 1 and windy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another cat in snow picture

Here's another picture of Molly. These pictures were made with GIMP for Windows.

Saturday cat blogging

Now that it's warmed up a bit (29 today) Molly is back outside.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Would Hillary or Obama commence investigations if elected?

Robert Parry has been saying for quite a while that one of Bill Clinton's major errors when he took office was to not lend his support to investigations and prosecutions of the criminals from the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Many of those criminals made their way back to inflict serious damage on the Clinton administration. Clinton should have taken the opportunity to knock the Rethuglicans back on their heels to prevent them from being permanently on the attack against him. If Hillary or Obama is elected, will they continue this ignorant forgiveness of the Republicans' criminality? If they do, it will haunt them for as long as they are in office:

The final opportunity for the Democrats to turn this pattern around came in late 1992 and early 1993 after Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush. The Democrats finally controlled the Executive Branch as well as the Congress – and all that was needed was some support of ongoing investigations into Reagan-Bush wrongdoing.

But instead of cleaning house, President Clinton took the advice of Washington insiders that it was best to sweep these unpleasant matters under the rug. That way, the thinking went, the new Clinton administration wouldn't be distracted from its domestic priorities, like health care and economic policy.

The deal turned out badly for Clinton. The Republicans still torpedoed his domestic agenda and the Right’s infrastructure was freed up from having to defend Reagan and Bush, so it could go on the offensive against Clinton and his alleged scandals, from his womanizing to the Whitewater real estate deal.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama and Reagan: Naive or cynical?

There's been a lot of justifiable hoo-ha over the past few days over Barack Obama's comments seeming to laud Ronald Reagan. Obama's comments, which miss the mark by a wide margin, omit the fact that Reagan didn't invent the movement that swept him to power, nor did he create that same movement which occupied and guided his government. Reagan was but a figurehead for a power coalition led by conservative philanthropists like the Coors, Scaife, the Koch brothers of Kansas, the Smith Richardsons, and the racist Bradley brothers of Milwaukee.

What an insult to hear Obama say that the Republican party has been the party of ideas over the past few decades! Yes - the ideas of scientific racism of Charles Murray were current, but they weren't new. It is just not true that Republicans had the "new ideas" - they may have had ideas, but they were the same old discredited Republican ideas of the past - deregulate corporations, cut taxes on the wealthy, etc. What was different was that people who controlled the party from without - an apparat - had seized control of the American discourse, and shoved the whole thing to the right. People may have thought the Republicans were turning into the party of the little guy, and of freedom, but that was an intentional ruse perpetrated on low-information voters to bamboozle them into voting against their own interests, and it worked. Now Barack Obama is spouting similar sounding nonsense.

Is Obama being intentionally naive here, or is this entreaty to low-information voters a cynical ploy? Does Obama really think the problem in Washington is that there hasn't been a politician who just says "Can't we all get along?" The simple answer to that question is, no we can't get along; progressives have been getting their noses shoved in by Republican bullies for three decades. That's not going to change just because a politician shows up asking them to play nice. Does Obama really think that he's going to sit down with the Republicans, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the manufacturers, etc., and get them to willingly give up some money and power? That's not only not likely, it's an idiotic strategy that plays right into the Republicans' hands, and is destined to failure.

UPDATE: I might add that the Republicans have a had a campaign to practically immortalize Reagan by having memorials to him built in all 50 states, and name buildings and whatnot after him, like he was some kind of saint. Obama's comments play right into this narrative. Just because Reagan was able to peel away some Democratic votes does not mean he was a benign uniter; he was a destroyer of progressive values who rode a movement to power and then employed that same movement to use the government to achieve their goals.

UPDATE II: Scarecrow at FDL is skeptical of Obama as well, but noted this after one of his speeches yesterday:
The unity Obama is calling for does not sound like DLC centrism; it's more like a precursor to struggle, not only against our own weaker instincts but against powerful beliefs, institutions and interests. You can read it as class struggle, even ideological struggle.

Does he mean it? Can he deliver? Of course, those have been the real questions about Obama all along: is he real, or are we so hungry for leadership we're willing to read whatever we want into his rhetoric?
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman debunks the "Reagan myth:"

...I’d say that the great failure of the Clinton administration ... was the fact that it didn’t change the narrative, a fact demonstrated by the way Republicans are still claiming to be the next Ronald Reagan.

Now progressives have been granted a second chance to argue that Reaganism is fundamentally wrong: once again, the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. But they won’t be able to make that argument if their political leaders, whatever they meant to convey, seem to be saying that Reagan had it right.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

MPR's managed coverage

Here's a piece Mike Tronnes and I wrote in 2001, after Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch's investigation of the health giant Allina had essentially been resolved in his favor. The AG had reported much earlier in the year that Allina was a cesspool where insiders were raiding the company. For the entire period of the story, MPR, which has extensive connections with Allina, basically ignored it. Mike and I wrote this for the Strib, which in its infinite wisdom, refused to run it. Now, with much criticism of MPR on the burner, I offer it up as more evidence of the worthlessness and corruption that permeates Minnesota Public Radio, and, for that matter, much of the Trib.

I might add that this is no ordinary issue. Health care is the number one or two issue for most voters this year - and MPR is one of the prime news sources for Minnesotans, yet the network completely ignored this important and revealing story, then guiltily refused to even discuss their crappy behavior after the story was resolved. Their corporate connections with Allina go the heart of their fundraising strategy, and so call into question just about everything that goes on at MPR.
* * *

When Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch announced in late-March (2001) that he was suing Allina Health System, he handed the Twin Cities news media a potentially great gift: the opportunity to provide a public service by advancing a complicated story that's of paramount importance to its audience.

As part of his ongoing investigation of the state's largest health-care provider, Hatch charged that Allina had misspent tens of millions of dollars Minnesotans had paid it in health insurance premiums. The federal government was also alleging that through billing fraud Allina had cheated it out of at least $19 million.

According to Hatch, Allina was acting more like an out-of-control corporate behemoth than the tax-exempt charity it is. He promised to get to the bottom of the situation, intimating that there was much more to be known about Allina. Having laid out such an inviting scenario, Hatch might have assumed that the media, another traditional watchdog institution, would pick-up where his investigation had left off.

But instead of joining the fray, our local media left the heavy lifting to Hatch, reporting his news rather than digging up much of its own. On the days that he made news, it was prominently featured, appearing above the fold and leading most evening newscasts. The reporting though, was mostly just news about Hatch's news. The investigative resources necessary to support, refute or advance his claims were not forthcoming.

Then, on July 11, Hatch again sued Allina, claiming that it was withholding documents needed for his investigation. But this time the story wasn't just about Hatch and Allina, it was also about the media, and a $300,000 bet by Allina that high-priced "crisis" consultants could help the company gain control of the story and spin its way off the front page.

Hatch was suing for communications between Allina and Bloomington-based GCI Tunheim, the public relations firm it had hired in late March to do damage control. Allina was trying to keep these documents from Hatch by claiming attorney/client privilege, a transparent legal charade executed when Allina's attorney, Doug Kelly, informed GCI Tunheim on June 21 that it would now be working for him, instead of Allina.

But even without these "protected" documents, Hatch had already amassed enough material to fill a pair of three-ring binders, containing hundreds of pages that revealed the nuts and bolts of a major-league spin campaign -- a 90-day "war room" effort with week-by-week itineraries of purported news themes, and reporters to target them with. Its goal was to cast Allina in the most positive light leading up to the attorney general's final report, due out in August.

All of this was reported with great emphasis on July 11 and 12, but once again the local media failed to make any news of its own, refusing even to defend itself against a direct challenge to its honor and integrity. Instead of reporting on, or editorializing about the relationship between public relations and journalism, the Pioneer Press published only a follow-up article on the growth in crisis management, while the Star Tribune gave six PR professionals, including GCI Tunheim President, Kathryn Tunheim, -- who was "unavailable for comment" when the story first broke -- a chance to defend crisis counseling. The predictable headline? "Consultant and PR industry defend Allina work."

In muzzling itself on this important issue, one that hits close to home, the local media passed on an opportunity to address a lingering public perception -- that it's bought and paid for by corporate sponsors, with whom it works closely to create content. In a 1999 survey of journalists conducted by the Pew Research Center of the People and the Press 54 percent cited "lack of credibility" as a reason for declining audiences, second only to "information overload."

While Allina's strategy didn't work this time around, the success of corporate PR campaigns is evidenced by Tunheim's ability to command up to $450 per hour for its expertise in advancing clients' messages via sophisticated media strategies.

Even Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), usually the most reliable of conversation starters, passed on discussing the role that corporate public relations plays in shaping the news. In fact, from mid-March to mid-July, MPR's civic-minded voice was all but silent on Hatch's investigation, providing markedly less coverage than its competitors.

In that time, MPR produced only one significant news feature on Hatch's inquiry -- a late-March report that included Cathy Wurzer interviewing Hatch and Allina CEO Gordon Sprenger. Even more incredibly, MPR ran 80 Midmorning and Midday shows during this period -- 320 hours of programming -- without devoting one segment of one show to Hatch's investigation.

Because MPR is the local news organization most closely tied to Allina, one might assume that it would have bent over backwards to provide adequate and balanced coverage of this story. After all, Allina Chief Operating Officer David Strand chairs MPR's board of trustees, which includes Thomas R. McBurney (chairman of the Allina Foundation board) and Addison (Tad) Piper (a member of Allina's board of directors). Add in Allina's and the Allina Foundation's sponsorship arrangements with MPR, and the connection between these two non-profits exceeds anything to be found in local commercial broadcasting.

KSTP-TV 's alliance with Allina, while less tangled, is more public. They co-sponsor a weekly show that KSTP also airs. Health Matters is hosted by Kalley Yanta, who was Kalley King when she worked as the station's lead news anchor. Like MPR, KSTP downplayed Hatch's investigation, ignoring breaking stories on its 10 p.m. newscast in both late-March and again in early-July. Each time, failing even to mention developments that were headlined in the newspapers and featured on WCCO's and KARE's 10 p.m. newscasts.

Whether these news judgments were driven by corporate cronyism, or some less obvious consideration, the evidence shows that on the Allina story, MPR and KSTP brought up the rear of a slow-moving pack. And as two of only three major locally-owned and/or operated media outlets -- TPT-TV being the other -- KSTP and MPR stumbled badly on a story about a local company that they do business with.

Fortunately the attorney general seems to be aware of the local media’s distaste for this story of malfeasance by their corporate brother. Just prior to Allina’s decision to split-off Medica, Hatch announced that he will be releasing the results of his investigation in a series of “five or six” reports. Shrewd guy that Mike Hatch.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

MPR's Chis Farrell spreads Republican disinformation

Although certainly not always the case, sometimes one comment from a media figure can reveal many deep truths about him or her. A few days ago while listening to Money Public Radio I heard just such a moment from MPR's chief economics correspondent Chris Farrell. He was prattling on, answering a question (that starts at about 46:30) from a listener about what happens to all that money circulating when economic slowdowns occur.

Farrell's explanation focused solely on corporate behavior, not explaining that a general economic slowdown may occur because more and more people have lower and lower incomes, while prices of basic commodities continue to rise (gas prices anyone?). Farrell said economic pullbacks are caused by a slowdown in corporate profits, which leads to a a slowdown in capital investment by said corporations, etc. It wasn't an honest or competent answer, but it was, in Stephen Colbert's term, truthy - it kinda sounded true.

But then he got to the nut of the argument - the reason he thought economic inequality was accelerating, where Farrell revealed his true self. Without evidence or elucidation, he laid the blame for economic inequality at the foot of our education system (about 50:30):
"..what the rise in inequality now reflects is a failing education system...our education system is letting people down..."
thus proving that no matter how rational MPR may occasionally sound, when push comes to shove the radio network is essentially a right-wing Republican outfit, in the pocket of the financial sector types who dominate its corporate boards.

Just to be clear, Farrell is full of shit when he blames our current gross economic inequality, or lack of job growth, on our public education system. His contention is a pernicious canard, pushed by Republican politicians and operatives since the 1980s, that will not die. I'm betting that Farrell knows this, which makes his comments even more disgusting. Exactly how a lack of education is hurting workers in the U.S., or what is the mechanism whereby allegedly poor schools create economic slowdowns and job losses was not discussed by Farrell, as if his postulation was somehow self-evident. The way Farrell makes these false assertions, lacking both reason and evidence, is de rigor in Republican circles, where an imagined piss poor public education system, staffed by union teachers and immune to private competition, is the bane of all our existences.

It's really no secret that these notions are pure partisan crap. Paul Krugman, among others, nicely destroyed the myth that poor education is at the heart of income and wealth inequality:
It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.
David Sirota has also written extensively on the subject, including his column Flattening The Great Education Myth, and his more recent Election '08 Meets The Great Education Myth. As Sirota wrote:
Sadly, the hard data tells us that, as comforting as this Great Education Myth is, we cannot school our way out of the problems accompanying a national trade policy devoid of wage, environmental and human-rights protections.
And it's not just Sirota and Krugman who shred this myth, but that bastion of communistic thinking, Fortune magazine:
As Fortune Magazine reported last year, “The skill premium, the extra value of higher education, must have declined after three decades of growing.” Citing the U.S. government’s Economic Report of the President, the magazine noted that “real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined” between 2000 and 2004. The magazine also noted that new studies “show companies massively shifting high-skilled work — research, development, engineering, even corporate finance — from the United States to low-cost countries like India and China.”
So - Chris Farrell - who is paid in excess of $130,000 a year from MPR - declares our education system responsible for economic inequality even as the annual incomes of college graduates actually declined from 2000 to 2004.

As Sirota wrote:
Pundits, such as [Tom] Friedman and the Washington policymakers who follow him, see the data and understand this reality, and yet continue preaching their “free” trade fundamentalism to the delight of corporate lobbyists whose clients’ profits are expanding under the status quo.
Or in Farrell's case, he kowtows to the "free" trade fundamentalism of his network, and the uber capitalists who control the organization. I have no doubt that if Farrell had a different position, he would quickly be out of a job.

Also notice how closely Farrell's position dovetails with Republican "school choice" fanatics like Mitch Pearlstein, who appeared on the station for an hour by himself about a week ago. These gasbags go on and on about how "school choice" is the panacea for our supposedly failing public schools, without any proof of concept or theory as to how competition will spur better schools, or how supposedly better schools will lead to more jobs or less economic inequality. Just about all research on the subject, excepting that from conservative philanthropy sponsored liars like Harvard's Paul Peterson, has shown that students in voucher and charter schools actually do worse than their peers in regular public schools.

The only question remaining about MPR is when Republicans will stop acting like it is part of the imagined "liberal media."