Category Archives: Media Analysis

Tsanarev Photo Forces Us to See a Human Being

It is an odd feeling to say I am weighing in on the Rolling Stone controversy about having Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, since I find it hard to see how it is controversial.  One friend of someone who lost both legs wrote on Facebook:

“Your use of a provocative, borderline sympathetic image and headline of someone who has caused so much pain to our country is appalling, insensitive, and disgusting,”

It is interesting that it is labelled “borderline sympathetic,” because it implies that any image of a person who has committed an evil act that doesn’t depict them as a monster is patently offensive.  I think what is really going on is that 1) people don’t want to be reminded of what happened and 2) if we see Tsarnaev as a normal kid who did something horrible, then we have to face our own ambivalence and see that while he did something horrible, like any human being he has positive aspects too.  It is much easier to label Tsarnaev as an evil monster with no redeeming qualities.  He certainly should face punishment for what he did, but that doesn’t mean we cannot see him as a complete human being.

Rolling Stone has likely helped reduce the risk of terrorism if people actually try to discover what caused this kid to become so radicalized and do something so evil.  We would do well to remember Hannah Arendt’s idea about the “banality of evil.  On another level, one simply wonders if people have forgotten about the idea of a free press.

Read the Rolling Stone article here.

Balanced Perspective on Iran Needed

One lesson in reading the news is that interpretation is always key.  The US Air Force put out a report assessing the threat of ballistic missiles from other countries.  Some Israeli news outlets have put out stories that refer to the part of the report that says “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015. ”  Interestingly, YNet interprets this with the headline “Pentagon: Iran will soon have nuclear missiles capable of striking US.”  The report says nothing about Iran possessing nuclear warheads, but only about missile delivery systems.  There is also the fact that capability does not justify military action or its threat, at least according to international law. (See Article 2.4)  Nonetheless, the Israeli government is very sure that Iran is about to gain nuclear weapons and is threatening to attack Iran.  This is not to say that Iran should have nuclear weapons and is somehow an innocent victim, but balance seems fair.  For example, the report states

“Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force”

To get a sense of how the US may appear to other countries, one need only look at the mission statement of the US Space Command, under the control of the US Air Force:

“Air Force Space Command, activated Sept. 1, 1982, is a major command with headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. AFSPC provides military focused space and cyberspace capabilities with a global perspective to the joint warfighting team.”

Or to go into the history books, there was the 1997 report US Space Command put out that stated its “Vision for 2020″ to be

“dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment.  Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”

As always, I would refer readers back to my post on Arab public opinion polls on who they see as threats.

Serious versus Non-Serious Positions on US Debt

Paul Krugman was on Morning Joe (video below) this week and put forth  his standard arguments about job creation needing to take priority over deficits.  (I encourage people to watch it for a thorough run-through of the basic Keynesian arguments.)  The co-host, Joe Scarborough, wrote an opinion piece on Politico blasting Krugman.  What strikes me is that the opinion piece is shoddy ranting that uses little evidence and mischaracterizes Krugman’s positions.  Yet deficit scolds Simpson-Bowles praised the article.  I don’t have time to run through everything, but a few key points:

1) The article is entitled “Paul Krugman vs. the world.”  Krugman listed on his blog many of the mainstream economists who hold positions similar to him.  Check it out for the details.

2) Scarborough blatantly oversimplifies Krugman’s position:

“Mr. Krugman suggested Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls should be ignored…saying that no one could predict the future of entitlements so there was no need to worry until the programs became insolvent.”

If you watch the show, while Krugman says he thinks it can’t be predicted with absolute certainty that Medicare/Medicaid spending will be unsustainable in the future, he does say it’s a “good bet.”  Nowhere did he say that we need to wait until the entitlements can’t be paid out.  He simply says that it is not something that needs to be addressed immediately given unemployment as a more pressing problem.  Krugman may be right or wrong, but how does someone get taken seriously when they make silly oversimplifications?

 

Watching Krugman’s appearance though made me think that is important to make some major distinctions when discussing the debt issue.   Future entitlement spending problems and the US debt are related issues, but are not the same.  It is important to separate them, because it seems like the average person may think that unless we cut spending on entitlements our economy is going to tank, when in fact the situation is more complex.  There is an issue of the sustainability of entitlement spending related to an increase in the size of the population dependent on Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.  This issue is about whether or not the government will be able to fund those programs.

That is distinct from the size of the US debt, which is usually measured as a percentage of US Gross Domestic Product.  This is an issue of whether bad things will happen if the debt-to-GDP ratio keeps increasing.  An anti-deficit coalition of former and current senators and CEO’s, Fix the Debt, says on its webpage that by the 2040′s our debt will be 200% of GDP.  Krugman actually pointed out on his blog that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects a much more stable debt-to-GDP ratio, assuming economic recovery.  But suppose they are wrong.  Japan’s debt is over 200% of its GDP and its new government is promoting a major stimulus and no one is panicking.
When deficit hawks scold Krugman by misrepresenting his position and dire fears of interest rate increases are put forth when Japan as a counter-example is hardly discussed, it makes it hard to believe that people are making serious arguments.

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Crucial Context on Colombia (Reuters critique)

I came across another Reuters article that needs some facts to add missing context.  This one is about about Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos’ willingness to hold a public referendum on any peace deal his administration makes with the rebel FARC guerrillas.  The article states

The drug funded group [FARC]…has fought successive governments since 1964 and killed tens of thousands.”

It is important to note that Colombian paramilitaries also played a major role in the conflict, committing gross acts of inhumanity with the backing of the state and also made a significant amount of money through drug money.  Despite their demobilization deal with the state in 2003, Human Rights Watch reports that there have been successor groups that “engage in drug trafficking” and “commit widespread abuses against civilians, including massacres, killings, rapes and other forms of sexual violence, threats, and forced displacement.”  HRW reports concerns of “ongoing infiltration of the political system by paramilitaries and their successor groups.”  Perhaps the situation has improved in the past decade since in 2001 HRW put out a report stating paramilitary “groups are responsible for most human rights violations, including massacres and forced displacement…Colombian army brigades and police work with and even profit from paramilitaries, treating them as a force allied with their own.”  The FARC are not nice guys, but it is not as if the state is on the side of the angels.

Reuters leaves out something absolutely critical when they state,

Santos has ruled out discussing major changes to Colombia’s economic or political model, saying that if the guerrillas want to modify the system, they should run for election.  More than 20 years ago, Colombia held a nationwide assembly to rewrite the 1886 constitution. Demobilized rebels from smaller groups participated, but not the FARC or the National Liberation Army, another left-wing group.”

This makes it seem as if the FARC has been hesitant to pursue a political path and leaves out why they may want constitutional guarantees.  The FARC faced a major assassination campaign when they did pursue this path in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

FACT: A 1987 article by the Christian Science Monitor reported,

The country’s oldest and largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), created the Patriotic Union to run candidates in last year’s congressional and presidential elections. Since then, four of 14 UP congressmen have been killed. Authorities have jailed no suspects in any of the killings. But a report last month by Amnesty International accused security forces and their civilian accomplices of murdering more than 1,000 people.”

FACT: A 2007 Amnesty International report stated that “Since the UP [Patriotic Union] was founded in 1985, more than 3,000 UP members have been killed or been victims of enforced disappearances, the vast majority carried out by the security forces and paramilitaries.”

I think this context is important, especially since Reuters notes that the FARC did not participate in the rewriting of the constitution.  Any guesses as to why?

For US, Oil is About Power Not Consumption

A December Forbes magazine piece states, “If the United States no longer needs access to Middle East oil under any foreseeable circumstances, then the priority Washington assigns to the region will plummet. ”  Really?   Looking at some basic stats seems to show a different picture.  US consumption of Middle East oil is not the issue, but rather control over the world’s largest oil reserves, with the Middle East holding a majority of the world’s oil.  Does anyone really think the US will let China, Russia or Europe have control over the the majority of the world’s oil?

The first graph is from NPR and the second OPEC.

Where The U.S. Gets Its Oil

OPECOilreserves_share_of_world_crude_reserves

The Most Accurate News Headline on Israel Ever

Reuters has a news article whose title is 100% accurate:

 

“Netanyahu takes on the world in Israeli election campaign”

 

Apparently, Netanyahu is modifying Nietzsche’s line as follows:

“What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the uber-Israeli: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…”

Owners of “The Corporation” Movie Seem to Put Profit First

I have to go on a bit of a rant against what should be a good leftist project that has run amok.  Many years ago I saw the excellent documentary “The Corporation,” which examines the corporation as an institution and it’s anti-social nature.  Yet when I went to the film’s website today, it is filled with marketing garbage that you would expect from a typical corporation.  Enticements to buy “The Corporation” sweatshirts and other products are prominently displayed.  The site is operated by hellocoolworld.com, which describes itself as “an interactive agency that works exclusively on social cause projects and campaigns. We create, support and promote transmedia content and use grassroots and mainstream methods to get the good word out!”
This sound like basically a leftist marketing agency to promote good causes.  Some of the causes sound reasonable, but I question the basic idea of a profit-based business promoting an institutional critique of the modern corporation.  A corporation obviously is different than a business like hellocoolworld.com, but the profit-based motive they share is part of the film’s critique, at least as I interpet it.  Marketing what you think is a worthy cause as hip and cool simply masks this.

I think what upsets me more as a high school teacher is that their lesson plans associated with showing the movie are only available if you buy the DVD Educational Resource for $195.  The only way this will be bought is if a whole social studies department decides they want to invest their scarce resources in buying it.  What about the teacher who wants to show the movie with the educational resources but can’t because his department doesn’t want to buy it?

I don’t necessarily mind needing to pay for educational materials, or even $195 for good ones, but it upsets me that a movie that could be such an excellent resource for those who want to challenge the power of corporations is behaving just like a business.  It shows that the message is not the main priority. On the “Can I show the film at school” section of their website it says “You can show your personal DVD to as many people as you like, and the filmmakers encourage you to do so. However, in an institutional setting such as a high school or university, a different set of rules applies. Showing the film in these settings requires additional rights.”

The movie was made a long time ago and I assume it’s makers have been compensated.  Yet years later the people who own the rights are more concerned about continuing to make money off of its showing than educating the public.  I would very much like to hear how the rights owners justify this.  I posted a comment on the site’s blog and hope to hear back.

Media Bias on Palestine Elections

A Reuters article today on local elections in the Palestinian West Bank demonstrates rather obvious bias in media coverage.  One article by one news agency is not all that important obviously, but the image portrayed is rather usual in mainstream commentary.  The title of the article is “West Bank vote held to help plug Palestinian democracy gap.”

By itself the title is true enough, as there have not been elections in the Occupied Territories for six years, but reading the article puts everything on the shoulders of Palestinians, as if only they could get their act together then they could have democracy.  The article points out that Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections, but then goes on to observe that Hamas’ victory was “an outcome nullified by the civil war that followed a year later.”

This description leaves out three obvious facts.  Immediately after Hamas won the election, the US, Israel and Europe threatened and proceeded to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, and encouraged Arab nations to do so.  It is disingenuous to leave out that the election results led to a call by the world’s superpower for isolating the party that won.  Secondly, there was indeed a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, but the article leaves out that the US was military supporting Fatah, leading to Hamas taking preemptive action to take over Gaza.  Third, Israel launched a massive war designed to punish Hamas and the Palestinians of Gaza, for which Amnesty International accused Israel (and to a lesser extent Hamas) of war crimes.    None of these facts described are controversial, but there is no threat of receiving any flak for putting the onus on Arabs rather than discuss the full context when it makes the US role seem less than magnificent to put it mildly.

Good Organizations/Projects

Wanted to take the time to promote two worthwhile endeavors:

1) Free Press is an organization based in Massachusetts challenging corporate consolidation of media.  Especially relevant given my recent post on the media’s terrible performance on presidential debates.

2) ZNet is launching a new social networking site called ZSocial.  It is still in beta testing mode, so a lot of bugs still to fix, but it looks really nice and is an excellent way to connect people on the left.  If you join and want to friend request me, type in “Weiss” in the search bar in the top banner of the website (across from “ZSocial”) and my name and pic will come up.  The search field under contacts isn’t operational yet.

Want Real Debates? Put This High School Student in Charge

To understand that political debates should be about substantive issues, all you have to do is talk to a high school student who actually debates.  Click below (embed code isn’t working for some reason).  Skip to 3:53 and the girl being interviewed makes what is an obvious point to anyone who knows the first thing about debates: you should make “warranted arguments” and “in-depth analysis.”  After that it’s worth skipping to 8:30 where the girl says the candidates should stop speculating and actually debate policy.  If we can bring politics and the media that reports on them up to a high school standard, maybe we can have real debates.

High School Kid Knows More About Debate Than Politicians (sorry about the ad)