FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2009
BREATHTAKING MEDIA ARROGANCE - AT 5:40 P.M. ET: I still consider myself a member of the profession of journalism, but I'm often embarrassed to be part of it.
Today, Secretary of Defense Gates properly reprimanded the Associated Press for its arrogant, self-righteous publication of a photo of a dying Marine, despite the specific request of the family that it not be published:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is objecting “in the strongest terms” to an Associated Press decision to transmit a photograph showing a mortally wounded 21-year-old Marine in his final moments of life, calling the decision “appalling” and a breach of “common decency.”
The AP reported that the Marine’s father had asked – in an interview and in a follow-up phone call — that the image, taken by an embedded photographer, not be published.
The AP reported in a story that it decided to make the image public anyway because it “conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”
COMMENT: The AP's response is absolute garbage. When journalists start waving the flag, you know they're in trouble.
It is appropriate, under certain circumstances, to publish photos of casualties. In World War II, Life Magazine published pictures of American dead on the beach at Buna, New Guinea, in 1943 - the first time such photos were published during that war. However, you could not see the faces. Privacy was maintained.
But here is a case where the family made a specific request that a picture not be published. There is no issue here of "the people's right to know." Americans understand that soldiers are killed in wars. The AP should have respected the family's wishes, and should be reprimanded by public outrage over its decision.
There is common decency, as Secretary Gates said, or should be. We await a rethinking by AP, and an apology. Don't hold your breath.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
IRAN ACCUSES U.S. - AT 5:11 P.M. ET: As a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is building, Iran is accusing the United States of faking the whole thing. From the AP:
Iran accused the US on Friday of using "forged documents" and relying on subterfuge to make its case that Teheran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, according to a confidential letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The eight-page letter, written by Iran's chief envoy to the UN nuclear agency in Vienna, denounces Washington's allegations against the Islamic Republic as "fabricated, baseless and false." The letter does not specify what documents Iran is alleging were forged.
It also lashes out at Britain and France for "ill will and political motivation" in their dealings on Iran.
Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh sent the letter to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose 35-nation board will take a hard new look at Iran's nuclear program next week.
COMMENT: Iran is expected by Western nations to respond to demands, by the end of the month, that it seriously negotiate the future of its nuclear program. The American public is not focused on this issue, but we'll be watching to see if the Obama administration can enforce its demands, or whether it will fritter away more time.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
MORE ENLIGHTENMENT FROM IRAN - AT 10:19 A.M. ET: From The Times of London:
Iran is to recall a number of its ambassadors overseas who chose the wrong horse and gave their backing to "rioters" during the popular unrest which erupted after June's disputed election, it emerged today.
The semi-official Fars News Agency said that Tehran would be replacing 40 of its ambassadors, a clearout similar in scale to the one which followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first election victory in 2005.
"Some of these people officially took positions during the recent riots in Iran in support of rioters," it said in a report. "It is supposed that the new ambassadors will be selected from committed experts loyal to the basis of the (1979 Islamic) revolution."
COMMENT: Nothing to see here, folks, nothing to see. Just a manifestation of cultural choice. Who are we to have opinions about this? Don't we respect other cultures?
Iran is slipping further and further into darkness. Meanwhile, its government announced that it will not be bound by the September deadline given by President Obama to make progress on restraining its nuclear program. Well, you know, we have other things to do.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
ECONOMY - NO GOOD - AT 9:17 A.M. ET: Despite all the hype from the White House, reality is catching up with the Obama administration:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in August, the highest since June 1983, as employers eliminated a net total of 216,000 jobs.
Analysts expect businesses will be reluctant to hire until they are convinced the economy is on a firm path to recovery. Many private economists, and the Federal Reserve, expect the unemployment rate to top 10 percent by the end of this year.
While the jobless rate rose more than expected, the number of job cuts is less than July's upwardly revised total of 276,000 and the lowest in a year, according to Labor Department data released Friday. Economists expected the unemployment rate to rise to 9.5 percent from July's 9.4 percent and job reductions to total 225,000.
COMMENT: I always love it when the in-the-tank media assures us that the number of jobs lost this month is less than last month. You know: "I'm glad to report, Captain Smith, that the Titanic sank less this hour than the first hour."
A jobless recovery is no recovery. And fear of unemployment is holding people back from spending.
Now the president must, after the release of these figures, go before Congress next week and propose a trillion-dollar medical plan. Chris Matthews may be looking hard for that tingle up his leg.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
CIA FIGHTS BACK, ASKS FOR PROBE - AT 8:35 A.M. ET: You know, I'm getting to like Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA. He reminds me of the kind of Democrat we used to have, before the party was McGovernized. Now he's striking back, as The Washington Times reports:
Besieged by leaks of several closely held secrets, the CIA has asked the Justice Department to examine what it regards as the criminal disclosure of a secret program to kill foreign terrorist leaders abroad, The Washington Times has learned.
Two U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said the leak investigation involved a program that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Congress about in June and that surfaced in news reports just a month later.
The vice chairman of the the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence declined to discuss any possible leak investigations but told the Times on Thursday that a growing number of disclosures of highly secret programs, tactics and other information had caused "irreparable damage" to the U.S. intelligence community.
"They foil our attempts to carry out classified missions," Sen. Christopher S. Bond said in an interview. "They tell our intelligence community: We don't have your back; we're stabbing you in the back. Our allies ask us, 'How can we trust you to deal in classified matters in private, when the details are leaked to the press?'"
COMMENT: I'm glad someone said that. It can't be fun to be an ally of the United States, and see critical secrets printed in The New York Times. It's time this cesspool, which has nothing to do with freedom of the press, was cleaned up.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
CORRECT DECISION - AT 8:22 A.M. ET: You don't see much praise at this location for MSNBC, the nutty wing of NBC News, but the unit, under pressure, has made a correct decision:
Pat Buchanan has received a lot of criticism recently for his column marking the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, where the conservative pundit questions whether Hitler has gotten a bum rap.
By extension, MSNBC, where Buchanan is a commentator, has taken heat for promoting the column on its website. In the revisionist piece -- "Did Hitler Want War?" -- Buchanan argues that other countries, such as Poland, should be held responsible for the invasion, and later escalation of World War II. Hitler, he claims, wanted peace and wasn't out for world conquest...
...Well, now the network has pulled it.
COMMENT: Buchanan is an extremist, period. He always has been. He is no longer a Republican, if he ever was. He has fascist leanings. He has quoted Holocaust deniers, was one of those responsible for the Republican Party's "southern strategy," which, we must freely admit, was based on racial hostility, has written anti-Semitic tirades, and doesn't much like his own country.
Buchanan has the same freedom of the press as any of us, but that doesn't give him an automatic right to be employed by, or published by, MSNBC. I cannot understand how any mainstream news organization, knowing his real views, can have him.
Hundreds of thousands of American boys died fighting Hitler, including relatives of Urgent Agenda readers, and they weren't fighting an illusion. While personable, Buchanan has always been an embarrassment, a man who blames World War II largely on Winston Churchill. His leaving the Republican Party was one of the great moments in its history. It is a tribute to the party, and its basic decency, that it turned its back on him. Be gone with the man.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
NEW YORK TIMES HITS THE DEPTHS - AT 7:48 A.M. ET: By publishing an op-ed piece by GOP-hating Max Blumenthal, whose work is often found in such moderate, thoughtful publications as The Nation. Like others on the left, Blumenthal has suddenly discovered the wit and wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower, a man regularly ridiculed by his comrades because he didn't have a speech pattern exactly like theirs. Blumenthal's target - this man who writes for The Nation - is "extremism" within the Republican Party. Naturally, he is hyping his latest book on the subject:
IN this summer of town hall disruptions and birth-certificate controversies, a summer when it seemed as if the Republican Party had been captured by its extremist wing, it is worth recalling a now-obscure letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Say what? What, precisely, is extremist about the concerns raised this summer by Republicans about the Democratic health plan? Most Americans seem to share those concerns.
Although Eisenhower is commonly remembered for a farewell address that raised concerns about the “military-industrial complex,” his letter offers an equally important — and relevant — warning: to beware the danger posed by those seeking freedom from the “mental stress and burden” of democracy.
Oh, please. The "industrial-military complex" comments have been taken completely out of context. Eisenhower was actually speaking about the need for an industrial-military complex, but noted legitimate concerns about its power. His main concern, it later turned out, was pressure on Congress that distorted defense contracting, hardly a headline.
...perhaps it was his experience as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe that taught him that the rise of extreme movements and authoritarianism could take root anywhere — even in a democracy.
Where, precisely, is the "authoritarianism" in the GOP that this fashionable leftist is talking about? Does the GOP have a fringe element? Yes, of course. Almost all parties do. William F. Buckley fought against them and Ronald Reagan distanced himself from them. But to suggest that people who came to town meetings to fight against federal takeover of health care are dabbling in authoritarianism is quite a stretch.
Now, consider this story:
President Obama's "green jobs" adviser could become a mounting liability for the Obama administration, as the latest revelation about Van Jones shows his apparent belief that the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks may have been an inside job.
Jones joined the "9/11 truther" movement by signing a statement in 2004 calling for then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and others to launch an investigation into evidence that suggests "people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war."
The statement asked a series of critical questions hinting at Bush administration involvement in the attacks and called for "deeper inquiry." It was also signed by former Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans.
Jones has now "apologized," something he has never felt compelled to do in the five years since signing the nutbag statement. And...
He also has consistently leaned on racially charged language, pointing the finger at "white polluters and the white environmentalists" for "steering poison" to minority communities, as he makes the case for lifting up low-income and minority communities with better environmental policy.
A declared "communist" during the 1990s, Jones once associated with a group that looked to Mao Zedong as an inspiration.
Jones' exceptional past is reminiscent of associations noted during the presidential campaign, when then-Sen. Barack Obama doggedly fended off claims that he was tied to radicals and overzealous activists.
Extremism? Authoritarianism? Look at your own side, Mr. Blumenthal. Van Jones is still there. So is Samantha Power. So is a science adviser who once called for forced abortions.
By the way, Eisenhower, in his "industrial-military complex" speech, also warned about the dangers of a federally funded science establishment, whose scientific research would be influenced by federal dollars. Hmm. Does the term "global warming" come to mind?
The extremist danger today comes heavily from the left. The New York Times hasn't gotten around to telling us.
September 4, 2009 Permalink
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2009
MORE NORTH KOREAN GAMES - AT 7:25 P.M. ET: North Korea, after some smiles and a few nice words, seems back in the nuclear business, which will come as no shock to Urgent Agenda readers. The question is what Washington will do about it, if anything. North Korea's latest bluster follows by days the election of a new, left-wing government in Japan that may not be as helpful on the Korean question as was the previous government:
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Friday that it was in the final stage of enriching uranium, a process that would give it a second path to making a nuclear weapon.
After a series of conciliatory gestures by the North over the past month, the announcement raises the stakes in efforts by the international community to convince the reclusive state to give up its nuclear weapons programme.
"Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase," the KCNA news agency quoted North Korea's United Nations delegation as saying in a letter to the head of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).
The North has already tested two plutonium-based nuclear devices, the one in May triggering tightened international sanctions.
The United States has long suspected that the North has a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons. Experts have said it has not developed anything near a full scale enrichment programme.
COMMENT: The North Koreans are looking at the United States. They see a soft president, weakened, with international problems piling up before him. The Koreans may well calculate that they have little to fear except, maybe, an occasional scolding letter or some weak sanctions.
September 3, 2009 Permalink
BETTER THAN A PTA MEETING - AT 7:06 P.M. ET: It was inevitable. As soon as American parents learned that their kids would be forced to listen to a speech by The One, there was a revolt. Once again, we see the fruits of an administration tin-ear blunder:
DALLAS — President Barack Obama's back-to-school address next week was supposed to be a feel-good story for an administration battered over its health care agenda. Now Republican critics are calling it an effort to foist a political agenda on children, creating yet another confrontation with the White House.
Obama plans to speak directly to students Tuesday about the need to work hard and stay in school. His address will be shown live on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN at noon EDT, a time when classrooms across the country will be able to tune in.
Schools don't have to show it. But districts across the country have been inundated with phone calls from parents and are struggling to address the controversy that broke out after Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals urging schools to watch.
Districts in states including Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin have decided not to show the speech to students. Others are still thinking it over or are letting parents have their kids opt out.
CORRECT: There is nothing wrong, of course, with the president of the United States urging kids to stay in school and work hard. It's admirable. But, as usual with this administration, it was handled in the worst possible way. The Department of Education put out one of those government guideline sheets, later hurriedly withdrawn, urging students to ask what they could do for the president. Sorry, we don't do that in our democracy.
The key here is to make sure conservatives don't overreact. The handling was incompetent, but the situation can be saved. Sure, let the president address kids on the value of education. For minorities, it could be an inspiring moment. But then a leading Republican, perhaps former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, might also be asked to say a few words. Or John McCain can speak about national service, something he knows a great deal about. What parents have objected to is the "dear leader" idea.
Our kids need every bit of inspiration they can get. What they don't need is American Idol, Obama style.
September 3, 2009 Permalink
RASUMUSSEN REPORTS ON NATIONAL PESSIMISM - AT 9:35 A.M. ET: Rasmussen's survey shows a steady trend:
For the third straight week, just one-third (34%) of likely voters believe the United States is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Rasmussen concedes that this is up considerably from the last months of the Bush administration, when the financial collapse occurred. But still, for a new president to do so poorly in his first seven months in office is startling.
It gets worse when you look at the racial divide:
Seventy-one percent (71%) of African-American voters believe the country is heading in the right direction. Only 29% of white voters and 25% of all other voters agree.
It's understandable that African-American voters would want to cheer on President Obama, but their overwhelming support distorts the poll numbers. Americans generally are in a bad mood. If the economy revives, of course, that could change. If it doesn't, Mr. Obama and his party are in for a tough time next year.
September 3, 2009 Permalink
ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO DESTROY A CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE - AT 8:48 A.M. ET: The Washington Post, in my view, has improved importantly in the last year, and its editorial page, while liberal, is often sane and thoughtful. But there are still lapses. This past week the Post ran a news story exposing an academic thesis written two decades ago by the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. It contains controversial ideas.
Highly respected political observer Michael Barone takes the Post to task for the way it has handled the story, which, Barone feels, smacks of bias:
In the 2006 campaign season the Washington Post ran more than a dozen front-page stories on Senator George Allen’s reference, at an August 11 campaign stop almost 400 miles from Washington, to an opposition campaign staffer as “Macaca.” One of these stories, perhaps, had enough news value to be worthy of the front page; the others were placed there with the obvious intent of defeating Allen and electing his Democratic opponent Jim Webb, who did indeed win by a 50%-49% margin.
Now there’s a campaign on for governor of Virginia, and the news editors of the Post seem to be using their front page once again to defeat the Republican candidate, Bob McDonnell, and elect Democrat Creigh Deeds.
Barone is starting a "Macaca watch":
Item number one on the Macaca Watch is the Sunday front page story on the thesis Bob McDonnell wrote in 1989 at Regent University where he obtained a masters degree in public policy and a law degree...
...the first paragraph of the story, prominently on the front page, sends the culturally liberal voters of Northern Virginia in the Post’s local circulation area a pretty clear message: you better not vote for this guy.
Item number two on the Macaca watch is Tuesday’s front page story headlined “Governor’s Race Erupts Over McDonnell’s Past View.” The “eruption” consists of a bunch of emails sent out by Democrats quoting from McDonnell’s thesis and a McDonnell conference call with reporters answering questions—pretty routine campaign stuff, hardly front page material.
The reasoning behind the "stories":
The obvious agenda here is to raise the specter that if McDonnell is elected, all women in Virginia will be fired from their jobs and forced to stay home knitting or driving car pool. We’ll see how much longer the Post can keep this story on the front page.
Update: The Washington Post published two more stories about McDonnell's thesis on Wednesday.
COMMENT: We declare that it's perfectly proper for The Post to go back into a candidate's past to provide a complete picture of the individual. But why is this only done, normally, with conservative candidates? If a newspaper went back decades to reprint a liberal candidate's, say, Marxist views in college, it would be called - you know it - McCarthyism.
We see the same pattern constantly. Conservative candidate: Detailed investigation. Liberal candidate or newsmaker: Vagueness. Thus, hard Marxists are described as "anti-war" activists or "peace activists." If a conservative candidate made a racially questionable remark 30 years ago, the press hammers away, and the hammering might be appropriate. But if a Democrat did the same thing, the press assures us that he's evolved.
I'm glad Barone is carrying the torch on this. He has great credibility and must be listened to.
September 3, 2009 Permalink
CAUTION ON AFGHANISTAN, FROM A REAL EXPERT - AT 8:02 A.M. ET: The following letter comes from an American who travels to Afghanistan and is a recognized expert on the country's current condition. This is not an optimistic report:
At the risk of melodrama, I think the administration has reached a very real crossroads on Afghanistan. I note that in some conservative circles George Will is getting roundly dunned for his recent piece on Afghanistan, but some of his points are spot on.
"NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible."
Will has been criticized for not crediting the valiant efforts by some NATO partners (especially the British), but he brushes up against a bigger point here. NATO "assistance" suggests that they are just helping out, lending a hand to a largely American endeavor. This would be fine, except for the out-of-proportion influence NATO countries have at the headquarters level. Prickly NATO leaders expect to consulted at every turn and hint at political fallout when their paltry contributions don't merit heavy consideration of their positions. I don't know if McChrystal has changed the atmospherics much at ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) headquarters, but I'd be surprised if he's had much of an impact on that culture. After all, senior NATO officials have little to fear from him...their bread is buttered elsewhere. This leads to a lack of the much vaunted and extremely necessary "unity of effort" that military operations require. Yes, we have succeeded without it before, but only when we were able to bring our decided advantage in firepower and logistics to bear; these advantages mean much less in a counterinsurgency.
"Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development."
I've seen or heard nothing to give one hope that any signficant development will be forthcoming in this backward region. It manufactures almost nothing and its only cash crop is heroin. The work of our military is heroic, but can only produce drops of progress in oceans of stasis. We are not rebuilding in Afghanistan, we are building in Afghanistan. This building is proceeding very slowly, far too slowly to have any impact whatsover on security levels.
Also, Afghan businessman and government officials are being advised by Eurocrats who have no idea how to unleash the untapped potential of capitalism. They are excellent in helping slow and hinder healthy economies, but in jump-starting new ones? I wonder if they have any idea what to do. "Jobs programs" and "investing in the community" sound great, but what do they mean on the ground? The Afghans actually spent time, money, and security on hosting a "women in business" conference, the perfect sort of high-minded and utterly useless event the Eurocrats are good at running.
"Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable."
This is the crux of the problem. For counterinsurgency to work, the people have to feel secure enough to rat out the bad guys. They will never rat them out while they move freely among them. And the bad guys will roam freely among them throughout most of Afghanistan in the absence of a huge expansion of our efforts there. Further NATO assistance is not coming. A rapid expansion of the Afghan security forces, both Army and police, would probably produce poor results. Despite our Herculean efforts, the current Afghan forces are marginal at best. A rapid increase in their ranks would fatally weaken the current structure, overburdening stretched recruiting, training, logistics, and command and control systems. The Afghan army is made up of valiant men who have no concept of management, planning or fiscal responsibility. At this point, training Afghan forces burdens our forces there; it does not add significant counterinsurgency strength to the field.
It is an open secret that McChrystal needs many, many more troops for security forces, but has been warned by Washington to NOT bring in an assessment that requires them. It will be interesting to see if he has the courage to bring the bad news that, without rapid expansion, we will continue to make no significant progress--which is the same as losing in a counterinsurgency.
"America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
This is pure fantasy. Small, potent Special Forces do not drop in from afar without the kind of intelligence that being present on the battlefield produces or without having the tremendous logistical, medical, and air support that a signficant presence in theater provides. Afghans cannot supply any of these, and would not if they could, if we are not there fighting with them. Similarly, drones, cruise missiles, and air strikes will fall uselessly on empty patches without eyes on the ground in theater. Pakistan's porous 1500-mile border will be that much more unpoliced if there is no one there to police it.
No, we cannot do anything about Afghanistan from afar. It is so remote, so splintered, so inhospitable that we are forced to be either all in or all out. Neither prospect is encouraging, but doing a slight bit more of the same, which seems to be what Obama wanted to hear, cannot work.
COMMENT: We have an administration that believes itself too sophisticated to use the word "victory," and we apparently are paying the price. Some say Afghanistan will become Obama's Vietnam. It could be worse. We could be left with an Afghanistan that still harbors and nurtures those who attacked us on 9-11, and dream of doing it again, on a larger scale.
September 3, 2009 Permalink
WELL, WHAT DO YOU KNOW? - AT 7:45 A.M. ET: Even in Washington, some depend, as Tennessee Williams put it, on the kindness of strangers. From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to decide whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan, the political climate appears increasingly challenging for him, leaving him in the awkward position of relying on the Republican Party, and not his own, for support.
The simple political narrative of the Afghanistan war — that this was the good war, in which the United States would hunt down the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks — has faded over time, with popular support ebbing, American casualties rising and confidence in the Afghan government declining. In addition, Afghanistan’s disputed election, and the attendant fraud charges that have been lodged against President Hamid Karzai, are contributing further to the erosion of public support.
COMMENT: The real story here isn't policy in Afghanistan, it's the behavior of the Democratic Party. We can debate policy in Afghanistan, and thoughtful people can even advocate pulling out or setting a deadline for withdrawal.
But there is a wing of the Democratic Party, centered in the California delegation to the House, that is against virtually everything we do overseas. Some of its members, like Diane Watson and Barbara Lee, are followers of Fidel Castro.
That wing was effectively shown the door by Harry Truman in 1948, and they went on to back Henry Wallace, who ran for president on the Progressive ticket. This crowd filtered back into the party during the sixties and has become disturbingly powerful.
Yes, if the president wants to expand our efforts in Afghanistan, or indeed do anything else to enlarge our defense capacity, he may well have to depend on the Republican Party for help. What a comment on the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Jack Kennedy.
September 3, 2009 Permalink