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Archive for the ‘Criticism’ Category

Whitewashing Bernanke’s Involvement in the Crisis

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Dean Baker gets an excellent catch in what, upon first glance, I thought to be rather solid Washington Post article. Quality from the Post is such a rare beast that I think you’ll forgive me for the mistake. It’s like a guy who gets excited over a bigfoot sighting, but it just turns out to be some hairy guy.

As you probably know, President Obama has hundreds of positions left unfilled within his administration. This is partly due to his not getting around to them, but in large part also due to “Republican” obstructionism, wherein certain senators have placed holds on several key appointments, tossing them into the bureaucratic abyss.

The Post article purports to be about three major posts that Obama has yet to fill in the Federal Reserve and the candidates who may fill them. Now, I’m all for calling attention to Obama’s unfilled administrative positions. They’re a major bottleneck in the bureaucracy and are causing his administration to move sluggishly on matters that urgently need attention – ironically, Federal Reserve issues. It looks as though he’s finally going to bite the bullet and make these appointments during Congress’ recess, which he should have done all along.

So far, so good – it’s all newsworthy. But was it really necessary for The Post to inject yet another ode to Fed Chief Ben Bernanke in its already too-long article? We know how they feel about Bernanke – they’re all for him. If anyone doubts it, I invite you to visit their editorial page. On any given day I guarantee you’ll find some apology for Mr. Bernanke’s malfeasance from one of their establishment cheerleaders.

The phrase in question describes Mr. Bernanke as having “led efforts to make the Fed’s bank oversight more effective and focused on broad risks to the economy that arise out of banks’ decisions.

Not only is that so vague as to be rendered meaningless, but it is also patently untrue.  “More effective”? “Broad risks”? “Bank’s decisions”? How effective? What risks? Which decisions? These are mistakes one goes over in Reporting 101.

They’re sloppy mistakes, too – and they betray a complete vacuum where the writer’s knowledge of history should be. Aside for Lawrence Summers (current National Economic Adviser, who authored the bill that got us into this mess), Timothy Geithner (current Treasury Secretary, who was #3 at the Fed while the banks turned into casinos), and, of course, Alan Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke is the single biggest reason why 1/4 of the workforce is desperately seeking work.

He actively campaigned against oversight, was completely blind to the risks facing our economy (“The subprime mess is largely contained“), and, in fact, actively encouraged those risks by keeping interest rates at almost zero for three straight years after the dot-com bust. This is a matter of public record. A five minute Google search and articles from The Post itself were enough to reveal this.

What’s worrying is that The Post seems to be unaware of this – or if they are aware, put a willfully misleading clause in their “news” article. I can understand it when journalists lie in the Op-Ed pages; that is, after all, what they’re for. But to put a factually ignorant opinion in a serious news article betrays, I think, some very perverse ethics.


“Looters” in Chile

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The rubble from Chile’s horrific earthquake has just barely settled, and already the US media is howling over “looters” and their dastardly attempts to salvage some sustenance and supplies from Chile’s ruined supermarkets.

The Washington Post has the charming headline: “Massive quake brings looters and heroes“, while ABC gives the ominous “Looters Descend Upon Chile“, and The Daily Beast informs us that “Chile Sends Troops To Battle Looters“.

Now, place yourself in the shoes of a Chilean citizen who has just survived the massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake. It’s demolished every structure around you, the shopkeepers have all fled, and you’re literally standing in rubble. You’re hungry, thirsty, and scared. You see, out of the corner of your eye, a bit of canned food peeking out amid the devastation. You’ve got kids, of course, and they’re all clamoring for food. So you pick up the can and begin to dig around for a can opener.

Then clickety-clack go the keyboards of those safe, secure journalists in America and elsewhere, instantly branding you a “looter”. I mean, what would these people have the Chileans do? Go to the nearest ATM, withdraw some cash, somehow find the shopkeeper (who’s house has been destroyed and who has likely fled) and hand him the money? How do they expect them to feed their families if not by “looting”?

This calls to mind the grimly hilarious photo juxtaposition that came out of Hurricane Katrina back in aught-five. I’ve reproduced it here for your viewing pleasure:

Our media learned their lesson well from Katrina: black people loot; white people find.

Written by pavanvan

March 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Bribery in Iraq Elections and NYT Approval

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Well, The Times finally picked up on the story about widespread bribery going on in Iraq’s upcoming elections, and surprise! The article’s thesis is that it’s “no big deal” and “just the way they do things there.” The Times hardly mentions the word “bribe”, preferring instead the far more acceptable phrase “gift”. As you read their “report”, I’d like you to imagine what their reaction would be if, say, Iran had engaged in the same practices:

Across the country, voters are reaping a windfall as candidates in Sunday’s parliamentary elections offer gifts like heating oil and rice. When a candidate recently showed up in a poor village outside Baquba to distribute frozen chickens — in a literal homage to the political slogan “a chicken in every pot” — so many people rushed to get the free birds that many left disappointed after the supply ran out.

You may remember in yesterday’s Guardian a full article describing US darling Al-Maliki’s tactic to win re-election, which was handing out American-made arms to various “tribal leaders”. Now, most people would consider this a serious misuse of American aid, and an extremely dubious election strategy. However, the New York Times is not most people. They bury that story in the middle of the article and select a quote that basically signals their approval of the practice.

When Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was asked about allegations that he gave tribal leaders pistols, emblazoned with a personal stamp, he openly defended the action.

“Some people criticize me for giving people pistols,” he said during a meeting with security officials broadcast on television. “Honestly, I wish I could give a pistol and a rifle to each one who stood beside the government against the gangs to express our appreciation.”

That’s it. That’s all they have to say on the matter. Again, I invite you to imagine what their reaction would be if, say, Hugo Chavez had been accused of buying votes with guns (US-made guns, no less). I think they’d have more to say.

With colorful language and delectable descriptions of “election feasts”, it’s clear the Times wants us to believe that the elections are going A-OK: everyone is campaigning peacefully, and “Democracy” is taking root in Iraq.

Of course, it wouldn’t do to mention the 352 killed in sectarian violence during the month of February – that would go against their narrative of a happy, peaceful election – so they don’t. Similarly, no one at the Times wants to mention the Kurdish activist who was injured in pre-election violence a few days ago.

Now, I’m sure many Iraqis are thrilled with the prospect of “gifts” in exchange for votes, and I’m equally sure that those “tribal leaders” were ecstatic with their free American guns. But for the New York Times to take these as the hallmarks of a successful election,  and especially for them not to mention the very real violence occurring behind the scenes demonstrates, I’m afraid, how debauched our own democracy has become.

Written by pavanvan

March 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Profiles in Idiocy: Thomas Friedman

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Here we go again! Another evasive, revisionist piece of trash from none other than our favorite warmonger, Thomas Friedman! I hasten to point out that Friedman was one of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders, once exhorting the starving Iraqi masses to “Suck. On. This.” (i.e. our bombs). That linked YouTube video comes highly recommended because it reveals, for all the world to see, just what a slimy reptile Mr. Friedman really is. But no, he’s not finished! In his February 24th New York Times column he takes his complete lack of ethics, his shifting morality, and his base “intellectualism” to a new low.

Tongue-twistingly entitled “Iraq’s Known Unknowns, Still Unknown” (a ‘clever’ play, I suppose, on Rumsfeld’s famous quote), his article begins with one of the most poorly written, eurocentric, history-denying openings I’ve ever seen:

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

Maybe Iraq was “the way it was” because the Untied States actively funded Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for decades. Has this man ever read a history book? We supported Saddam all through the ’80s, and then after his failed adventure in Kuwait we imposed “sanctions” on Iraq which had the net effect of strengthening his regime, albeit at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi children (what Madeline Albright called “a price worth paying”). Does he think that may have something to do with it? Nah, it’s much easier to just be a racist and tar Iraq as a “collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist”. That way the US invasion almost seems justified!

It’s hard to imagine anyone topping that astounding bit of stupidity, but really, Friedman is just getting started:

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was a place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

Oh boy! I’m sure the Iraqis were just thrilled that we gave them the chance to “freely write their own social contract” – I mean, sure, it was at the barrel of US artillery, but it’s not nice to talk about that, right, Friedman? And I think you’re missing something here. Do you remember something called “WMDs”? You know, the ones that we never found? I think that was the real reason we attacked Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. All this talk of “supporting democracy” came afterward.

Also, the “liberals and realists” did not contend that Iraq was an “irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest”, you miserable racist. We said that America shouldn’t “stick [its] hand there” because attacking a country that was not actively preparing to declare war would be a monstrous act of aggression and an express violation of international law. It’s “irredeemable” to “contend” otherwise.

Then Mr. Friedman talks about his latest meeting with Gen. Odierno, who, along with Joe Biden, has apparently done the most to “coax, cajole, and occasionally shove Iraq away from the abyss”. You know, the abyss that we opened up. The Iraqis sure are lucky they had Uncle Sam around to “cajole” them away from it!

I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shiite politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom General Odierno indicated is clearly “influenced by Iran” and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

Wrong, you colossal ass, a thousand times wrong! Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you work for the New York Times. The real reason “some key Sunni politicians” are being excluded from the Iraqi election is because of a specific order by our own Paul Bremer that banned former Ba’ath party members from contesting elections. Your own newspaper reminded us of this just five days before your column ran. Don’t you read newspapers? But it’s so much easier to shift the blame onto our scapegoat Chalabi, isn’t it? Facts are just too cumbersome.

How does Friedman think the elections might play out? Well…

The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shiite Nelson Mandela. The Shiites, long suppressed by Iraq’s Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq’s ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shiite politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shiite dominion? So far, no sign of it.

Okay, you want to see a “Shiite Nelson Mandela”. What has the US been doing to promote this? Well, we’ve been arbitrarily arresting and throwing Shiites in jail on false pretexts for a while now. Didn’t Nelson Mandela go to jail? We’ve brutally occupied their country and left it swarming with mercenaries. I guess that’s kind of like South Africa? I don’t know. Maybe Mr. Friedman could just drop this dishonest comparison to Nelson Mandela and try and give some real solutions. Nah, that’s too hard.

So tell us what you don’t want, Mr. Friedman:

The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

Again with the racial overtures! Good lord, what kind of human being are you? “Iraq’s tribal culture”, eh? “A big Somalia with oil”? Did you really write that with a straight face? You “pundits” are all the same. If a country doesn’t have cars and multinational corporations in it, then its automatically a “tribal” culture. Man, you would have fit right in with the European imperialists laying waste to Asia and South America. You were born in the wrong century, Mr. Friedman!

As to your second scenario: forgive me, but why? Why shouldn’t Iraq be friends with its neighbor, Iran? Just because you, personally, wouldn’t like it? What do you mean by “kingmaker”? Iraq’s culture is predominantly Shi’a – so to a reasonable observer it should make sense that Iraq and Iran would be friends. Mr. Friedman, however, is not a reasonable observer.

He ends with a parting shot, and a last bit of historical revisionism:

Why should we care when we’re leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam’s Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratizing regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole Middle East would be different.

Mr. Friedman, unlike myself, was actually alive to remember the Iran-Contra scandal, and thus has no excuse for this spectacular display of ignorance. “So much of the turmoil” in the region was not stoked by “billions in oil revenues”, as it was by billions in CIA dollars, paid to both sides, with express instructions to keep fighting. I mean Jesus, how can he not remember this? The United States gave arms and funding to both sides of the Iraq-Iran conflict, and used the proceeds to illegally fund a terrorist group in Nicaragua. Doesn’t he think that “stoked” some turmoil in the region? I guess when you’re Thomas Friedman, history just doesn’t matter.

I simply cannot believe this guy is writing for The New York Times while tens of millions of Americans are out of work. Anyone who has graduated from high school has a firmer grasp of history than Thomas Friedman. Anyone short of a Ku Klux Klan member has more ethical integrity. Thomas Friedman is a joke.

Media’s “Independent Analysts” Actually Paid Lobbyists

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Some great investigative reporting from Sebastian Jones over at The Nation:

Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials–people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests–have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens–and in some cases hundreds–of appearances.For lobbyists, PR firms and corporate officials, going on cable television is a chance to promote clients and their interests on the most widely cited source of news in the United States. These appearances also generate good will and access to major players inside the Democratic and Republican parties. For their part, the cable networks, eager to fill time and afraid of upsetting the political elite, have often looked the other way. At times, the networks have even disregarded their own written ethics guidelines. Just about everyone involved is heavily invested in maintaining the current system, with the exception of the viewer.

But not only cable news channels are guilty of this. A couple months ago, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting revealed that The Washington Post allowed an anti-social security lobbying firm to write, in full, a front page article. The article, originally from the “Fiscal Times”, a front organization for a Wall Street billionaire and former Nixon Cabinet member, sought to scare readers over the looming deficit crisis Social Security presents. These fears have been thoroughly debunked (notably by economist Dean Baker), but this didn’t prevent The Post from  putting forth this lobbyist’s views as uncontested “fact”.

Online journal Politico is also heavily implicated, as Ken Silverstein at Harper’s reports. Not even the web is safe. Our staid media outlets have basically been reduced to pimps, selling their hard-won public respect to the highest bidder. This behavior is criminal, and should be prosecuted.

Written by pavanvan

February 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm

The New York Times Does Not Like Hugo Chavez

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The Times treats us to a delightful polemic on that Venezuelan demagogue we in America just love to hate. Entitled “Purging Loyalists, Chavez Tightens Inner Circle”, the article is short on facts, but long on accusations. The crux, it seems, is that Chavez has raided the homes and offices of a few of his wealthy financiers and has put out a few arrest warrants, causing these bankers to flee. The total number of people affected is in the low tens, and by all accounts the ‘victims’ were highly corrupt.

Still, this has not prevented The Times from repeatedly referring to this action as a “purge”, and carrying wide and baseless speculation as to the nature of these arrests. Oh, the accusations fly, as “experts” weigh in on the internecine conflicts this signifies, the “power struggle” erupting in Chavez’s cabinet. No one, it seems, is willing to entertain the notion that this was merely an anti-corruption operation – long overdue, but sorely needed.

This, of course, is not the first hit piece the Times has put out on Chavez and Venezuela. Its “Times Topics” page on Venezuela carries exclusively negative headlines, all the way back to the ’90s. Their correspondent, Simon Romero, clearly has a bone to pick.

On July 21st, 2009, we learn that the Venezuelan state is “Ruled by Crime Family and Chavez

On December 11th, he gives a ludicrous headline that “In Venezuela, Even Death May Not Bring Peace”

Oh May 30th, a scary headline: “Chavez Seeks Tighter Grip On Military

So it isn’t hard to see what kind of opinion The Times has of Venezuela, and what they want us, their readers, to think of Hugo Chavez.

But what about Colombia, you ask? That cocaine-producing, para-military infested, murderous neighbor of Venezuela? The one whose record Human Rights Watch has referred to as “appalling“, whereas its neighbor, Venezuela, is “relatively open“? Well, there we get a much different picture from The Times.

Last July we learned that the Colombian Trade Deal Is Threatened– not, of course, by Colombia’s borderline genocidal government, but by “American labor unions, Democratic leaders in Congress and Senator Barack Obama.”

A couple weeks ago, we learn that Colombia’s Capital finds a New Sense of Optimism.

Last September we learned that the US Government has decided to “Upgrade Colombia’s Human Rights Score” – for no reason other than to allow another $32 million into that corrupt and violent country.

And later, a delightful fluff piece on Colombia’s amateur bullfights.

I think you get the idea. The Times prints hardly an negative article on Colombia – our “trade partner” – even though human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned its US-friendly government. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to paint Colombia in as positive a light as possible. Venezuela, on the other hand, is a country which “threatens our interests”, so its leader, Hugo Chavez, must be demonized whenever possible – even though Venezuela is almost universally seen as a safer, more secure, and less oppressive place to live and work.

Now, I don’t want to make a full apology for Chavez’s government, as he has certainly partook in his share of undemocratic practices (most notably political discrimination and abolishing of term limits). But when it comes to Colombia, there really is no comparison. Colombia is in every way a more violent, drug-infested, para-military ruling violent narco-state.

However they also happen to be a major US “trade partner”, and to The Times, that makes all the difference.

Written by pavanvan

February 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

More SOTU Reactions

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The Economist:

An understandably domestic-focused speech could have used more on Iran—probably the biggest issue in American foreign policy and one where a signal from the president in a speech at this level would be huge. Where was an acknowledgment of Iran’s protestors, and the regime’s brutal repression?


The New Republic:

A good defense of the bank bailout, plus an assault on the banks. Obama’s winning smile and sense of humor give his explanation a likeable sheen. He should have done more of that by now. (Geithner still looks, in a friend’s words, “like he got hit by a truck.”)

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder:

I thought it was… good. It think it helps President Obama. I don’t know if it will help his party. It was a speech about the democratic process — a very effective one. It was a speech that challenged his own party as much as it challenged the Republicans. It had little in the way of policy, and a lot in the way of trying to leverage the character traits that Americans see and like about Obama to persuade them to accept that his way is still the right way.

Ezra Klein:

All in all, it was a good speech. But it was a good speech because it told the story of a good presidency and an able president. I expect Obama’s poll numbers will be up for a few days, but if he wants them to remain there, he needs events to bear out his narrative. And that starts with passing the health-care reform bill.

Does anyone notice what all these “reactions” have in common? They don’t refer to the substance of the speech. It’s all a question of whether or not it “helps” the “Democrats” in 2010, whether or not Obama was ‘likeable’, if his smile is ‘winning’, if he’s got a ‘sense of humor’, what kind of “character traits” he has. Not one word on the patent falsehoods or willful misrepresentations of data in the speech. And thus is the public’s consent manufactured.

Written by pavanvan

January 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm