Archive for the ‘Military Policy’ Category



Press Clips: Windbags, War & WikiLeaks

Friday, July 30th, 2010

It didn’t take long for the Beltway’s windbag geniuses to prove anew how brilliant they are, by devising instant conventional wisdom about the unprecedented dump of classified Afghanistan war documents by the double-secret online cult called WikiLeaks.

From the condescending Anne Applebaum (“these documents just don’t matter that much”)  to the first class blowhard Doyle McManus (“The most surprising thing about WikiLeaks’ released trove of officially secret documents is how few surprises it contains”)  and the tiresome Richard Cohen (“the news…is that there is no news at all”)  the message was nearly unanimous from the opinion shapers who spend their days mainlining self-importance: Evvveryone worth knowing already knew all this.

Except…everyone didn’t.

Call us disconnected from the One True Reality of Washington, D.C., but we missed the prime time presidential addresses when Bush and Obama looked straight into the camera and said: “We’ve poured $876 gazillion down a rat hole and all we got show for it is a hyena pack of back-stabbing double dealing so-called allies, an uncounted number of massacred civilians and our own, deeply bruised well-kicked asses.”

Among the allegedly elite East Coast journos who populate cable TV like termites, only the level-headed Jim Fallows, a true insider with an outsider’s mind, had the common sense God gave him to opine that  “information that may be old news to insiders may seem a revelation to the broader public.”

Media massages: We don’t claim to understand the complexities and nuances of AfPak  policy, but the Calbuzz Department of Pioneering New Technologies and Sensitive New Age Guys does know a world-class media story when we see one, and the startling coup pulled off by Julian Assange, the Mr. Weirdo Orville Schell lookalike who runs WikiLeaks  (Rafti Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile remains the defining piece about him) was extraordinary, game-changing and historic.

Not only did Assange imagine and build an unheard-of digital and security infrastructure to solicit, obtain  and channel a steady stream of official and corporate secrets offered up by conscience-stricken whistleblowers around the globe, but, in the instant case, he enlisted the managements and resources of three of the leading  MSM operations in the world to help.

If that’s not some kind of milestone of what you like to call your still-emerging radical transformation of the global news business, well then, Dr. P.J. Hackenflack ain’t from Vienna.

Amid the reams of dead tree and puny-minded analysis, NYU’s Jay Rosen, our favorite Big Think Media Guy, seemed best to grasp the sweeping scope and implications of the event:

If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: “Everywhere.” Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that…WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”

Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what WikiLeaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does WikiLeaks.

Whew. Pass the smelling salts, please, it’s the fainting couch for us.

Silver lining dep’t: Happy to say, all was not a lost cause this week amid the teeming ranks of opinion mongers resident in Our Nation’s Capital.

In truth,  it appeared at times that someone had spiked the coffee in the op-ed offices of the WashPost, where scribblers Ruth Marcus and E.J. Dionne put on a clinic about the logic and rhetoric of expression, with a couple of finely crafted columns of high political import that put the Applebaum/Cohen ilk to shame.

Both pieces came in the wake of the stomach-churning Brietbart/Sherrod scandal. Although neither focused on the particulars of that matter, both  seemed somehow birthed by the industry-wide whirlwind of  post-mortem self-critical navel gazing, which resulted in solemn declarations of renewal and re-commitment to the kind of upright truth-telling that was soiled by the sordid episode, as if the writers had had a bellyful of punditry parsing, mushy language and false equivalencies, and decided simply to announce that the Emperor had no clothes.

First up was Marcus. Tackling the issue of whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended, she noted that Republicans always make exactly the same argument, whether the federal government has a surplus or a deficit, whether the economy is growing or sinking and regardless of the facts. Offering a neat, quick stroke sketch of GOP cant, she had us saying, “we wish we’d said that.”

The modern Republican argument about taxes seems to boil down to two principles, both misguided: Taxes can be reduced, but they can never be allowed to go up. And whatever level taxes are at, they are too high.

Next came our old friend E.J., unburdening himself in a well-reported column called “The Politics of Stupidity,” in which he bashed the absurdities of the U.S. Senate, surgically dispatched pig-headed arguments about the stimulus and worked the same rich vein of tax policy as Marcus, beginning with a contrast between the fact-based tax-and-cuts deficit strategy of British P.M. David Cameron and “the fairy tale of supply-side economics (which) insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich.”

The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States — the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years — are undertaxed compared with everyone else.

Consider two reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. One, issued last month, highlighted findings from the Congressional Budget Office showing that “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007″…

The other, from February, used Internal Revenue Service data to show that the effective federal income tax rate for the 400 taxpayers with the very highest incomes declined by nearly half in just over a decade, even as their pre-tax incomes have grown five times larger.

The study found that the top 400 households “paid 16.6 percent of their income in federal individual income taxes in 2007, down from 30 percent in 1995.” We are talking here about truly rich people: Using 2007 dollars, it took an adjusted gross income of at least $35 million to get into the top 400 in 1992, and $139 million in 2007.

The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we’re not supposed to consider raising taxes on such Americans is one sign of a country that’s no longer serious…

What say you, Meg and Carly?

Today’s sign civilization is getting better all the time: Man’s best friend.

Daily Kos Pollster Busted; The Shame of Lara Logan

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

We’re sorry to say Calbuzz was not all that surprised to hear that Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas on Tuesday announced he plans to sue Maryland based pollster Research 2000 for fraud, charging, in essence, that surveys the firm did for the liberal blog were cooked.

Loyal readers will recall that last summer, in a post jointly published in the Los Angeles Times, Calbuzz threw gallons of cold water on a Survey 2000 poll for Daily Kos that said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had pulled within nine points of Attorney General Jerry Brown in what was then a primary campaign for governor.

We noted then, among other problems, that the Survey 2000 poll had a screwy method of deciding who was a registered voter – including some voodoo statistical dancing and prancing to supplement their list of voters with “self-identified” Dems and Reeps.

So Markos is surely on solid ground when he says: “We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it.”

That’s how we felt about the Daily Kos results back in May, which had Jerry Brown’s favorable/unfavorable at 48-43% and Meg Whitman’s at 47-38%. It just made no sense.

We have, in the Calbuzz library, a copy of Michael Wheeler’s important 1976 book titled “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics,” which owes its title to a saying attributed to both Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”

But since at least half of us has worked in the polling business, we know it’s possible to field public opinion surveys that actually measure public opinion. On the other hand, we also know there are some people who claim to be pollsters who really are hucksters. Looks like Daily Kos bought into one of them.

Toldja II: We’re also sorry that it didn’t take long for our prophecy to be fulfilled  about the journalism geniuses in Washington pulling a Lord of the Flies number on Michael Hastings, whose superb Rolling Stone report about Afghanistan instantly rebooted the national debate over the longest war in U.S. history.

Because Hastings, a mere freelancer, managed in the process to skunk and show up all the sycophantic, self-important establishment reporters on the beat, they naturally had to try and make him look bad, with Howard Kurtz,  high priest of the temple of MSM Beltway journalism, leading the charge.

Kurtz is a walking conflict of interest who gets paid by the Washpost to cover media affairs, including those involving CNN, his other employer.   Conveniently for CNN, they also pay the oleaginous Kurtz for hosting “Reliable Sources,” a Sunday morning gab fest about the media, and a powerful pulpit that he used this week to undercut the legitimacy of Hastings’ reporting.

The show began with a long distance interview with Hastings, who was then still in Afghanistan, in which Kurtz tried to channel Mike Wallace, asking the writer a series of confrontational questions, and consistently interrupting when Hastings tried to answer.

He followed with a segment featuring Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, whom he noticeably did not interrupt, instead letting her spout off freely and proceed to basically call Hastings a two-faced liar and challenge his otherwise undisputed reporting.

Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there no ground rules laid out.* And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me….I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just – I just don’t believe it.

Well, all righty then. If Lara Logan doesn’t believe it, notwithstanding that she has no, you know, facts to sustain her very strong feelings, hell that’s good enough for us.

Not content to hurl mere fusillades of innuendo at Hastings, the dynamic duo followed with this colloquy:

KURTZ: When you are out with the troops and you’re living together and sleeping together, is there an unspoken agreement –
LOGAN: Absolutely.
K: – that you’re not going to embarrass them by reporting insults and banter?
L: Yes.
K: Tell me about that.
L: Yes, absolutely. There is an element of trust. And what I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion and, you know, he’s laid out there what his game is. That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don’t – I don’t go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life.

Where, oh where do we start?

First, here and throughout the interview (the transcript is here) Logan absolutely makes the case, argued by Hastings among others,  that MSM types like her owe their first loyalty to their sources, and see their role as being part of the team – rather than being, first and foremost, the eyes and ears of their readers and viewers.

Second, listening to Lara Logan hold forth about “trust” is kind of like hearing Meg Whitman lecture on the virtues of poverty, given that LL is a notorious home wrecker who was square in the middle of the infamous  “Steamy Baghdad love triangle” a few years back.

That sordid little bit of business ended with her married to a guy who happens to be a top-drawer State Department military contractor, which makes her objectivity on this whole war effort thing more than a little suspect.

“Living together and sleeping together,” indeed.

*(Hastings never said there were no ground rules. He said that everything he reported was on the record, and that if someone asked him to keep something off the record, he did).

Must reading: Matt Taibbi’s head absolutely exploded over Logan’s shameless performance, and he responded by dealing her one of the best body slam take downs (delicately titled “Lara Logan Sucks”) in memory, while Geoffrey Dunn’s skewering of her is somewhat more surgical but no less effective and Charles Calderon at Yahoo News has the best links and overall takeout on the continuing controversy.

Today’s sign that civilization is getting better all the time: I’ll have the meat lovers combo!

Memorial Day: Mystery, Militarism, Meg’s Mendacity

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Remind me again why we’re firing up the barbie? With best Memorial Day wishes, our Dustbin of History Department’s Division of  Holiday Research unearths this entry from the May 25, 2009 edition:

Limbering up for some rigorous holiday chillin’, Calbuzz made a quick online check to find the origin of Memorial Day, figuring we’d just casually…drop it in…to the barbecue conversation; as with most things political, however, the answer came neither quickly nor clearly, as it turns out bragging rights are in dispute and break down along red state-blue state lines.

The holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was started by freed slaves in celebration of Union soldiers who died in prison camps, according to Newsweek, but a Purdue history professor in a new book traces it to Southern ladies honoring Confederate troops. The official, establishment version, promulgated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has it both ways, stating that Yankees and Rebs alike got flowers on their graves at Decoration Day I in 1868. Maybe we won’t mention it after all.

Not sure how the NYT missed this one: Mega-kudos to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who appears to be one of the few politicians in America to use Memorial Day as an opportunity to think seriously about the costs and benefits of our current military policy.

Beyond the 5,000 lives of American service members that have been lost in Iraq – seven years after W. strutted across that carrier deck – and Afghanistan – launched Oct. 7, 2001 -Schakowsky reports that, as of Sunday, the nation has spent $1 trillion – (twelve zeros cq) – on the two conflicts:

This month, we mark the seventh anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq, yet five American soldiers have been killed there in May alone. Iraqis went to the polls nearly three months ago, but the political system remains so fractured that no party has been able to piece together a coalition. There are some indications that sectarian violence is again on the rise.

The only clear winner of the Iraq war is Iran. Their mortal enemy, Saddam Hussein, was taken out and fellow Shiites are in charge. Iran has been emboldened to the point of threatening the stability of the region and the world with its growing nuclear capability.

And then there’s Afghanistan, which, after nearly a decade of war, represents the longest continuous U.S. military engagement ever. Even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service recently declared the situation in Afghanistan as a “deteriorating security situation and no comprehensive political outcome yet in sight.” And the U.S. military just suffered its 1,000th casualty in Afghanistan on Friday.

So the real question is: What have we bought for $1 trillion? Are we safer? As our troops and treasure are still locked down in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists are training, recruiting and organizing in Somalia, Yemen and dozens of other places around the globe. While it appears that we have made significant progress in weakening Al Qaeda’s network, we have increasing concerns about homegrown terrorists.

Oil, oil everywhere: As long as we’re talking awful, intractable problems, no less a figure than Obama environment and energy adviser Carol Browner has now declared that the ongoing, day-to-day horror show of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is “probably the worst environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country.”

“Probably?” Really? “Probably?” Ya’ think?

On the day the offshore rig exploded and sank, we wrote that at the very least, the tragedy would doom efforts to expand offshore drilling in California’s state waters (citing the incident, Schwarzenegger gave up on his pet Tranquillon Ridge project not long after); not wanting to seem ghoulish at the time, we said it was too early then to assess the broader political implications.

It’s now clear that it is a true, catastrophic event that will have policy and political reverberations for decades to come; one thing that seems certain already is that it has inflicted serious, potentially fatal, damage to Obama’s presidency.

The White House communications operation, which already failed the president during the stimulus, health care and financial reform debates, has disgraced itself once again; combined with Obama’s too-cool-for-school personal style, the Administration’s utter failure to display a shred of forceful leadership in the crisis has not only put the lie to his claims of competence but once again undercut his promise to take back control of the government from corporate interests, leaving him to appear weak, hapless and way over his head, reminding us of nothing so much as Jimmy Carter’s impotent, failed performance during the Iran hostage crisis.

We want Hillary.

Whitman lies: Even as the L.A. Times poll has restored the mantle of inevitability to Meg Whitman’ quest for the Republican nomination for governor, it’s becoming clearer by the day that eMeg has but a passing acquaintance with the truth.

Having previously dissembled about her voting record, her residency in California, her cynical pandering on immigration, her ties to Goldman Sachs and the release of her tax returns, among other issues, Her Megness is now claiming with a straight face that she’s always opposed offshore oil drilling.

Aw, come on.

Calbuzz has asked Whitman face-to-face about offshore oil drilling twice, once on Sept. 1, 2009 and again on May 20, 2010, following the disaster in the Gulf, when she acknowledged she’d changed her position.

Here’s what she said the first time:

We have to say times have changed and we’ve got to look at this again…

I would say that when I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells – slant drilling and other things and I think we ought to look at this very carefully because there’s no question that the resources off the coast of California and other parts of the country can help us rescue our dependence on foreign oil.

Here’s what she said the second time:

Historically I was against offshore oil drilling, but I am the living example of someone who believes technology can enable you to do things you’d never dream you could do. So I wanted to look into slant drilling…and convene a group to say, you know, ‘is this possible to do with zero to minimal environmental risk?’

I will say what has happened in Louisiana I think has raised the bar on what, you know, technology is going to be able to have to do, and what we can assure ourselves of. Because, gosh, you look at what has happened in the Gulf, the economic devastation of the shrimpers, the fishermen. I mean you’re starting to see it now go on the north shore of the coast of Florida there, the hospitality industry is at risk.

So I think it has absolutely raised the bar in terms of what we would need to feel comfortable with to go forward. So right now, I’m a no on offshore oil drilling.

So, according to her own chronology, eMeg a) was “historically” against offshore drilling; b) changed her mind after she started running for governor because she “began to understand deeply the new technology that is available”; c) changed her mind again after Deepwater Horizon and is currently against coastal drilling.

For “right now,” anyway.