It's the Oil Stupid

Thursday, December 28, 2006

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Robert Scheer writes that Ike was right and the Iraq war is not about oil, but about the military-industrial complex. Ike was right but Scheer's logic is flawed. His premise explains the plan for endless war and would be more appropriately applied the deceptively named "war on terror." But why Iraq? We could be fighting anywhere on trumped up reasons just to keep lining the pockets of war profiteers. Afghanistan is perfect terrain for bankrupting a national treasury. Just ask the former Soviet Union. It makes a very decent sink hole for our tax dollars and could be far more easily justified to the American people. Yet Bushco moved heaven and earth to convince us that we needed to leave Afghanistan on the back burner and open yet another theater in Iraq. It has been argued by many that our efforts in Afghanistan are collapsing, largely unnoticed by television cameras, because we shifted our focus and our dollars to Iraq. I don't know that the fight in Afghanistan was winnable. Again, the former Soviet Union might be a good place to start looking for that answer.

Make no mistake. We are in Iraq for oil. Not that there aren't numerous, intertwining agendas at work, including the interests of those military contractors and the many Congresspeople who live in their pockets. But "Occam's razor" dictates that it comes down to oil. Put the money aside for a moment and follow the logic. Iraq is sitting on the second largest proven oil reserve in the world and it's sweet crude. Both President and Vice are oil whores. They and most of their cronies -- including the much abused James Baker who helped place the dauphin on the throne -- owe the bulk of their fortunes to the oil industry. Yet pundit after pundit acts as if it's somehow too obvious to be true that oil is the key motivator for an administration that has been hell bent on getting into Iraq on any dubious rationale it could sell, since before it was even elected. Scheer's is just the latest attempt at pretzel logic to dissuade the reader from the most simple and obvious deduction.

Defining Deviancy Down

Thursday, December 21, 2006

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The MADD mothers have dumped Miss Teen USA. Thank goodness someone in this whole, ridiculous melee is capable of acting like a grown-up. Certainly no one can argue with the reasoning.

"In the past, MADD has teamed with Miss Teen USA to raise awareness about the serious and often deadly consequences of underage drinking. However, we do not feel, at this time, that Ms. Blair can be an effective spokesperson on underage drinking and will not ask her to represent MADD in future initiatives," Heidi Castle, a spokeswoman for MADD, said in a statement.

Full disclosure: I have no love for beauty pageants. I have this crazy, radically feminist notion that women should be judged by the content of their character. I know that pageant organizations have long emphasized the crucial role of talent and an abiding concern for world peace in their contests. Yes, the ideal woman can sing an aria, is congenial, and just happens to look great in a bathing suit. Pageants have to work very hard to elevate the idea of parading women around and judging them by their appearance above the obvious objectifying sexism. They do it by insisting on broader criteria that includes things like morals clauses. When Donald Trump gave Tara Conner a "second chance" he gave the lie to the whole business and reminded the world what beauty pageants are all about. Pretty matters. Character, not so much.

Madman in the Marketplace did an excellent job of putting this charade into a broader cultural perspective. There are different standards for pretty white girls from prominent families.

We like to say that we’re a land that believes in second chances, that if someone is sincere about changing their life we Americans will support and welcome them when they’ve picked themselves up, and we’ll do everything we can to help them. This is, of course, utter bullshit. You get second chances if you’re of the right class, the right race, the right connections. Otherwise the full weight of our government and rapacious tabloid media will be brought down on your head....if a darker pretty girl in it had been tested positive for drugs, she’d be far more likely to be facing charges than a stay at a celebrity rehab center. Our enormous prison system is bulging with people who did the same things that Miss Perfect American is reported to have done. Unlike her, many who get caught doing drugs or acting out in public are put into the system, and once in the odds of them getting a second chance disappear...

It would surely be grand if our culture genuinely supported the idea of treatment for addicts, rather than punishment. But there is a difference between the draconian nature of our criminal justice system and simple consequences. Tara Conner faces neither. I doubt Miss Conner is an addict. She's more likely a kid acting out. But lets say for the sake of argument that she really is an addict in need of treatment. If so, Trump has done the worst possible thing he could have done if his intent was to help her. He's enabled her addiction by depriving her of the opportunity to experience the consequences of her behavior. She violated an agreement. She should have been fired. Period.

Perhaps that's what Rosie O'Donnell was on about in her latest bout of verbal diarrhea. I suppose she means well when she tries to remind viewers of "The View" about simple decency. It's unfortunate that she can't seem to do it without equally indecent ad hominem attacks that will likely land her in a slander suit.

I seem to remember a time when public figures acted with a certain level of decorum. I was very young then, I think. It all seems like a memory in my dreams now; an America that strove for a certain cultural standard, even it never quite achieved it. News was presented with a sense of gravitas by men like Walter Cronkite, rather than the screaming hysteria of a Rosie O'Donnell or Bill O'Reilly. And beauty pageants were shiny, child-friendly spectacles, whose winners usually slipped into a kind of quiet, wholesome obscurity. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah.

Slow News Day

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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Oh my God! I agree with Tony Snow. Saying that out loud makes me want to wash my mouth out with soap. But when he quipped that the DC press whores must be having a "slow news day," for all their fascination with Laura Bush's skin cancer lesion, I have to agree. Isn't there anything else going on in the world? Here's a little of the exchange, as reported in the New York Times Blog:

Q: Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush’s skin cancer? How is she doing? And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?

Mr. Snow: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She’s doing fine. And she said, “It’s no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time.” Frankly I don’t think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she’s got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She’s a private citizen; she’s not an elected official. So for that reason she didn’t disclose it. But she’s doing fine, and thank you for your concern.

Pressed as to whether Mrs. Bush would begin advocating for screening for skin cancers, Mr. Snow said:

“She’s also had colds, she’s had the flu, she’s had stomach aches –”

Q: But she could still — it could be a platform.

Mr. Snow: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.

Laura Bush's health concerns, either serious, or, as in this case, un-serious, are not my business. I don't want to know. I'm simply not afflicted with such voyeuristic tendencies.

One of my old college roommates used to quip that, "Every time the cat farts in the White House, it's 'news'." This fascination with the daily comings and goings in the halls of power comes at the expense of coverage of things the public actually does need to know. There are two overlapping and interrelated problems that have led to the perception of the nation's capital as the navel of the world. One is the very structure of news gathering. Gaye Tuchman used the term "news net" in her book "Making News: The Construction of Reality." She explains that news gathering relies heavily on a system of beats and bureaus. You can only catch fish where you throw your net, and the nets are thrown at public institutions which are deemed newsworthy and credible. If a public figure says it, it's a "fact" by virtue of conferred status. If a public figure does it, it's news, even if it's painfully boring and irrelevant to the lives of ordinary Americans.

The second half of the problem is the disappearance of those very beats and bureaus from all over the country. Thanks to the consolidation of mass media, local newspapers from across the nation have slipped quietly down the memory hole. Many have been bought out by competing papers and shut down. Others have been replaced by conglomerates which package tasty, little McNews bites and publish them under the mastheads of small "local" papers. The "Media Monopoly" as Ben Bagdikian calls it, now consists of 5 corporations which own the vast majority of newspapers, television outlets, radio, book publishing, and film. Five corporations own the entire info-tainment business. And their focus on the bottom-line has meant, among other things, that the beats covered by reporters have dwindled to a few major focal points. The result is a well-fed beltway press corps and metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing across the rest of the newsworthy world.

There is still another problem, exemplified by this type of reportage that I'm at pains to explain. That of the DC press corps itself, which elevates the trivial and minimizes the deadly serious, even in its given purview. Where was this aggressive questioning during the build-up to the Iraq war? Anyone with an ounce of sense could have driven a truck the gaps in logic provided by DC officials, in their ever-shifting rationales for bombing the hell out of a crippled nation. Where was it when a male prostitute was sitting among them, gaining unprecedented access to the aforementioned halls of power? Where was it when it fell to David Corn at the ever-vigilant Nation to point out that Bob Novack had no business knowing that Valarie Plame Wilson was in the CIA? Why does the press corps have to be clubbed over the head by the blogosphere to notice crimes and misdemeanors in their midst, but positively obsess over an in-office procedure, performed under local anesthetic. It would be funny if the net result for the public at large weren't so serious.

Editors Note: Both Ben Bagdikian's "New Media Monopoly" and Gaye Tuchman's "Making News" are available in Curmudgette's Reading Room, although the latter is currently out of print and available only from resellers. Still, highly recommended.

Who's Uncivil?

Friday, December 01, 2006

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George Will has joined the beltway circle jerk over Jim Webb's testy exchange with Bush. The consensus view of the chattering class seems to be that it was Jim Webb who was rude. I guess when you're the President you can't ever be in the wrong. It's good to be the King. But George Will was also disingenuous in his reportage of the exchange. He left out his majesty's classically Bushy rejoinder. As reported in The Hill:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.

Of course Will left out Bush's statement. Reporting the things Bush says makes him look bad. The media has been largely complicit in covering for his personality quirks. If he's reported as he is, he looks downright un-Presidential. It is not Jim Webb who has shown "patent disrespect for the Presidency." It's the child-man currently occupying the post. A civil person would have accepted the answer he got to an unwelcome question and moved on. Bush's response was that of a boorish control freak. Once again he put his morally stunted personality on full display and the punditry is too frightfully clever to notice his obvious defects.

George W. Bush has done more to degrade the office of the Presidency than any leader in memory; certainly more than Bill Clinton's or Jack Kennedy's sexcapades could have. At least they knew how to behave in public. Only Bush could get himself snubbed by third world leader. Beyond the echo chamber of the beltway, there's an entire world well aware that the leader of the free world is no longer deserving of respect.