Obama and the media: a breakdown on both sides

President Obama takes the cake in complaining about the failure of the media to hold politicians accountable.

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After all, his administration has done all it can to stonewall and deceive the media.

On Monday, he made extensive remarks at a Washington, D.C. event for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting about the responsibilities of journalists. His comments, given his record of trying to thwart the media, were remarkable.

“Real people depend on you to uncover the truth,” he declared. “We should be held accountable…What we’re seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society. When our elected officials and political campaigns become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what is true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make decisions on behalf of future generations.”

“The electorate… would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when the politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises that they can’t keep,” Obama said. “And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them… When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism. ”

Though he may well have intended his remarks to be a dig at media coverage of Donald Trump, Obama was a very strange messenger given his misstatements and resistance to media oversight.

After all, it was Obama who made the infamous comment about his Affordable Care Act: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”

And it’s under the Obama administration that the government has set a dismal record of failing to provide information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, many from journalists. People who have asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, a record, according to an Associated Press investigation.

In some FOIA cases, usually after news organizations filed expensive federal lawsuits, the Obama administration found tens of thousands of pages after it previously said it couldn’t find any, the AP said. The website Gawker, for example, sued the State Department in 2015 when it said it couldn’t find any emails an aide to Hillary Clinton and former deputy assistant secretary of state, had sent to reporters. It was only after the lawsuit was filed that the State Department found 90,000 documents about correspondence between the aide and reporters.

Since Obama became president, his administration has pursued an aggressive war against whistleblowers and leakers to the media, with more prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act than under all previous presidents combined.

And to top it all off, Obama proudly proclaimed in his Toner Prize remarks, “…something I’m really proud of is the fact that, if you go back and see what I said in 2007 and you see what I did, they match up,” a comment that, for some unexplainable reason, was met with applause by the fawning media in attendance.

Were they not aware of all the broken promises documented on the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.

Maybe not. Maybe the mainstream media have been too busy serving as cheerleaders or protectors of the administration.

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Even the Washington Post story about his remarks at the Toner event , written by a reporter who covers the White House, was little more than a 510 word press release relaying Obama’s speech verbatim, devoid of any context.

Maybe they were busy writing impactful stories about the Kardashians, or a man dressed as a shark in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time performance, or a 1000 word story about a campaign worker manhandling a Breitbart reporter at a Donald Trump event.

 

 

 

 

 

Washout: Hillary’s foreign policy experience does her no favors

HillaryCaricature

Hillary Clinton and her backers figure she’s got at least one advantage, public trust in her foreign policy experience and judgment.

Hillary tried to highlight that factor when she told a questioner at a recent New Hampshire town hall meeting, “When you vote for someone for president, you’re also voting for a commander in chief.”

But why, exactly, does Hillary, or anybody else, think her foreign policy experience is a plus when you review her screw-ups.

Consider:

Libya

Then: Hillary Clinton urged President Obama to back a military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, over the opposition of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other national security experts.

Now: Libya has deteriorated into a virtual failed state run by hundreds of private militias. Eighteen months after the initial airstrikes, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in attacks by militants on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi. The North African nation has become a primary outpost for the Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to take territory, train soldiers and prove its strength outside Syria and Iraq. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Iraq

Then: On voting in favor of a resolution to take military action against Iraq in the face of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, “I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” Clinton said in a Senate speech the day before the vote. “It is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…It is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein — this is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.”

“We’ve ended the war in Iraq,” Obama said on June 25, 2012, at a New Hampshire rally in New Hampshire. “I’ve kept the commitments that I’ve made,” he said in Iowa on Oct. 24, 2012. “I told you we’d end the war in Iraq. We did.”

Now:

Although the Iraq war has technically been over for more than four years, Iraqis are still dying in large numbers. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries has risen considerably as the conflict between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government and associated forces continues. The U.N. has described the violence as “staggering” and noted the Islamic State may be guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.

A Jan. 2016 report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq also accuses ISIS of holding an estimated 3500 people as slaves across Iraqi territory, using many as human shields, and pressing 800-900 children into military service for the conflict.

Meanwhile, animosity Between Sunnis and Shiites is threatening the Iraq’s stability. Neighboring Iran, home to the world’s largest Shia population, is behind the country’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

Syria

Then: Hillary Clinton joined President Obama in declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces would cross a “Red Line” if they used chemical weapons. On Aug. 11, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Istanbul that it’s clear to the Assad regime the use of chemical weapons is “a red line for the world.” On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is a red line. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now:

Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2016

Today, 4.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria; half are children. World Vision

Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Mercy Corps

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against President Bashar al-Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alewite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension. BBC

Russia

Then: In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red button with the Russian text “перегрузка”, which was intended to be the Russian word for “reset”. Clinton explained that she wanted to reset relations between Russia and the United States, to spur a new era of better ties. “The reset worked,” Clinton told CNN in August 2014.

Now: In March 2014, Russia decided “To hell with the reset” and annexed Crimea. This led to the installation of a pro-Russian government in Crimea, the holding of a disputed, unconstitutional referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence.

 Russia subsequently:

  • blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution on Crimea’s referendum
  • provided a Russian-made Buk missle to Ukrainian rebels who used it to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board
  • granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who’s wanted in the United States for leaking information about National Security Agency surveillance practices.
  • Provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hillary, a tested,  brilliant, strategic foreign policy expert the American people can trust? I don’t think so.

 

 

The State of the Union: who cares?

Americans are getting bored with President Barack Obama.

A pitifully low number of Americans watched Obama’s January 12, 2016 State of the Union address.

U.S. President Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington

U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool

According to Neilsen, just 31.7 million of 323 million Americans, less than 10 percent, watched the president’s address live on 13 networks and tape-delayed on Univision. For comparison, the AFC Championship football game on Sunday got 42 million viewers.

The rating for Obama’s address was the lowest since Nielsen began recording viewership in 1993. About 53.4 million watched his first State of the Union address on February 24, 2009.

Obama does have one thing to be thankful for. Americans’ lack of interest in his State of the Union address probably wasn’t as bad as viewer disregard for S.C. Governor Nikki Haley’s Republican Party rebuttal.

As Politico put it, “…the rebuttal’s viewing audience is comprised almost entirely of members of the press, who are forced to watch the stupid rebuttal as part of their jobs…”

Truth is the 1st casualty

Governments lie.

Even more so when the issue is war.

Obamadebate

“We will crush al-Qaeda,” Barack Obama insisted during the second presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2008. “That has to be our biggest national security priority.”

At various times, Obama has declared al-Qaeda to be “on the run,” “decimated” and “on their heels”. In Jan. 2014, he was quoted in a New Yorker article likening al-Qaeda to an ineffectual junior varsity team.

But just one week after ISIS carried out the Paris terrorist attacks, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda killed 20 people in Mali.

Then, in early December, al-Qaeda fighters seized two major cities in Yemen as part of its effort to expand its influence in the country.

So much for the collapse of al-Qaeda.

On multiple occasions Obama has also asserted that the last American troops in Afghanistan would return home by the end of his presidency, concluding the longest war in U.S. history. But fighting with the Taliban still rages.

On Dec. 21, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle slaughtered six American troops and injured two more near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. And American troops will still be there when Obama leaves office.

“With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001, when the puritanical Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks,” the Washington Post reported today.

As Afghan security forces deal with over 7,000 dead and 12,000 injured in 2015,  U.S. Special Operations troops are increasingly being deployed into harm’s way to assist their Afghan counterparts, according to the Post.

But Obama still insists American troops aren’t at war in Afghanistan any more, just “training and advising”.

Of course, the Soviet government wasn’t exactly honest with its people when it sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 either, or during its next 10 years of war there.

The Soviet Union sent over 100,000 soldiers to fight in Afghanistan, withdrawing only after at least 15,000 of its soldiers (and more than a million Afghans) had been killed.

SovietsAfghanistan

Soviet BMP-1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles and soldiers move through Afghanistan, 1988

Oral testimony from the Soviet soldiers reveals that during much of the war the Soviet government told its people little more than that their children were building hospitals and schools, helping the Afghans build a socialist state and “…bravely protecting the frontiers of the fatherland…in the execution of (their) international duty.”

In fact, there’s a long history of deception in American wars, too.

In 1898, President McKinley said the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana Harbor by a Spanish mine, killing 266 officers and enlisted men and justifying the Spanish-American War. It turned out burning coal in a bunker triggered an explosion in an adjacent space that contained ammunition.

USSMaine

The destruction of the USS Maine

Then there’s the U.S. war in Vietnam.

In 1964, President Johnson ordered retaliatory attacks against gunboats and supporting facilities in North Vietnam after attacks against U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Spurred on by Johnson, the U.S. Senate passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the president “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Only two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted “no”.

But reports of the attacks were a lie, as were so many reports on the progress of the war in subsequent years and incursions into Laos and Cambodia.

And so began the tragedy known as the Vietnam War.

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Wounded U.S. soldiers await a medevac helicopter during a war that in time claimed 58,000 American lives..

David Halberstam wrote an often-cited book “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident, foolish people who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said later, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Years later, Daniel Ellsberg, who made the explosive Pentagon Papers public, said, “The Pentagon Papers…proved that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward.”

And then, of course, there were the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. “…should we take the risk that he will not someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk for the American people.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations

And so the war began.

As columnist Sydney Schanberg wrote, “We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The faux fight against ISIS

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ISIS is on the run. Just read the headlines.

Official: local ISIS leader killed in western Mosul, Sept. 2015; US Airstrikes In Iraq Kill Three Senior ISIS Leaders, Including Baghdadi’s Key Aide, Sept. 2015; White House confirms key ISIS leader killed in US air strike, Aug. 21, 2015; Afghan agency: ISIS leader killed in drone strike, July 2015; U.S.: ISIS No. 2 killed in U.S. drone strike in Iraq, Aug. 2015; Pentagon officials: Prominent ISIS recruiter killed in airstrike, Aug. 2015; Top ISIS leader killed in coalition airstrike, July 2015; ISIS Leader Killed in Airstrike in Syria, June 2015; ISIS hacking leader killed by drone strike, Aug. 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed in extremist-held Hawija, July 2015; ISIS leader confirmed killed by U.S. forces, May 2015; Special Ops Kill ISIS Commander, Free His Family Slave, May 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed during raid, May 2015; Senior ISIS leader killed in U.S. raid in Syria, May 2015; U.S. special forces storm Syria’s Deir ez-Zor, kill senior ISIS commander, May 2015; Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike’, April 2015; CNN: US Has Secret ‘Kill List’ of Top ISIS Leaders, Feb. 2015; Iraqi police: new ISIS commander in Anbar killed, Jan. 2015; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announces that Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition have killed 50 percent of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) top commanders, Jan. 2015.

HAVE WE WON YET?

Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

Donald-Trump-Caricature

He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Observations on media: Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures and gotcha journalism

Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures

Oh come on now, Billy.

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly

Just admit it. You misspoke, fabricated, misled. Oh hell, you lied. You’ve claimed you reported from the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina. Now you’re saying you didn’t.

“I said I covered the Falklands war, which I did,” he says, citing how he covered popular protests in Buenos Aires, about 1,200 miles from the Falklands, as a CBS News reporter.

But the fact is that in 2001 he wrote in his book, “The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America”:

“You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands, and in chaotic situations like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.”

And in 2013, he said in a TV interview that he’d covered a protest “…in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands.”

Politico was right on when it noted that O’Reilly would likely attempt to dismiss the reporting on his lies by David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones by dismissing them “…as left-wing zealots bent on his destruction.”

Yep.

Gotcha Journalism 

On the other side of the coin, eporters and opinionators are jamming Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin with inane questions about things they don’t really care about, but give them a chance to be annoying.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

It reminds me of when KOIN-TV played a gotcha game with five U.S. Senate candidates from Oregon in 1995, asking each of them seven questions. Congressman Ron Wyden got all seven wrong and suffered some embarrassment as a result. But few people would probably have gotten them right. One Wyden missed, for example, asked, “What is the average cost for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of gas, and a pair of Levi’s jeans?”

And this was critical to serving effectively as a U.S. Senator?

In Walker’s case, a television reporter in London asked him whether he believes in evolution, the Washington Post asked him whether the president is a Christian, and reporters at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington hounded him on whether he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who accused President Obama of not loving America.

Walker’s answers, and non-answers, generated media criticism of his qualifications, including an over- the-top opinion column in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank asserting that Walker had “displayed a cowardice unworthy of a man who would be president” and “…ought to disqualify him as a serious presidential contender.”

Let the campaign silly season begin.