Leon Panetta and Jimmy Carter’s Irrational Attacks On Obama

There has been a lot of criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy from those of both parties who fail to recognize that we were placed in a situation with no good outcome the moment George Bush invaded Iraq. Leon Panetta has been all over the talk shows promoting his book, which echoes the criticism of Obama from Hillary Clinton.

Seeing the poor logic in these attacks makes me glad that Obama as opposed to either Clinton or a Republican have been calling the shots. It is easy to say that acting sooner would have helped, but no real evidence of this. The situation which allowed ISIS to develop and succeed in Iraq were created by the American intervention and subsequent actions of the Malacki government.

The actual advice given makes no sense. Arming Syrian moderates last year would have just led to increased bloodshed and more weapons in the hands of ISIS. Propping up Malicki longer was a dead-end policy, even if the United States could have stayed despite the desire of the Iraqui government for us to leave. While Panetta has criticized him over not bombing in Syria, Obama showed wisdom, not weakness, when he backed away from the military option when there was a diplomatic option to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The Neocon policies have been disastrous, causing this mess and Obama was right in opposing them, and attempting to disengage from the region. The Clinton/Panetta line is a repeat of the Bush/Cheney line and the current Clinton/Panetta attacks are no more credible than the attacks we are hearing from Dick Cheney

Other attacks are more petty. In a dispute between the White House and Pentagon over not giving the Pentagon everything it wants, I’ll generally side with the White House. It comes down to money on two levels. Now Panetta is cashing in to make money on his book, along with doing Hillary’s dirty work.

Kevin Drum put Panetta’s world-view in context:

…his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he’s a “strong leader on security issues.” But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn’t acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he’s “kind of lost his way.”

That’s the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don’t even seem to realize they feel this way. It’s just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we’re addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

Steve Benen had a great response to all the hypocrisy and poor arguments from the right being made by Panetta. He concluded:

The former Defense Secretary last week wrote a piece blaming Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq for the chaos gripping much of the country. And yet, it was none other than Leon Panetta who defended Obama’s withdrawal policy, repeatedly, before he was trying to boost book sales.

Panetta now says he believes Obama should have pressed Iraqi officials to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. What would those troops have accomplished that they didn’t already try over the last decade? Panetta hasn’t really said. What was Obama supposed to do about the fact that Iraq wanted American servicemen and women out? Panetta hasn’t really explained that, either. Why did Panetta see a residual force as impossible in 2011, only to believe the opposite now? He hasn’t offered an explanation of this, either.

And yet, Panetta just keeps complaining, not just about Iraq, but about U.S. policy in Syria, too, where the former Pentagon chief apparently believes it’s irrelevant that Obama rid Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles – weapons that now can’t fall into the hands of Islamic State militants.

Making matters slightly worse, as part of Panetta’s all-out media blitz, he complained to the New York Times about Obama going to Congress last year before intervention in Syria, and then complained about Obama not going to Congress this year before intervention in Syria.

Who knows, maybe this is a terrific public-relations strategy for a guy on a book tour. If Panetta hoped to generate chatter about his book, the past couple of weeks have been a triumph. If he hoped to get White House critics interested in his memoir, Panetta has done what he set out to do.

But those looking for real insights into a sensible national security policy probably haven’t learned much from Panetta’s p.r. campaign.

I would question if Panetta’s motivation is purely to make money from his book. He is also serving the Clintons well, considering that Hillary has motivation to separate herself from Obama but cannot speak out against him to this degree without looking calculating and disloyal. Of course both possible motives are served by the same actions.

The Daily Beast has further criticism of Panetta:

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

The post went on to further criticize Panetta’s current ideas on what Obama should have done, along with his support for using force without adequate recognition of the consequences of using force, or of the positive benefits of Obama achieving an agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Jimmy Carter  has also raised similar attacks but the same issues remain that intervention earlier would have probably worsened the situation in Iraq and Syria. It is also easy to criticize in retrospect, but his current attacks are not consistent with previous criticism of Obama whichwere for being too aggressive.

While I have qualms about some of Obama’s actions, from drones to the current bombing, he is looking far better than most of those who are now attacking him.

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Private Sector Jobs Increase More When Democrats Are In Office

I’ve posted numerous analyses showing that the economy has done significantly better under Democrats than Republicans. The data is clear that if you want a shot to make more money or want to improve stock market returns, vote Democratic.  Today Bloomberg has analyzed the data to also show that if you want more private sector jobs, vote Democratic.

The BGOV Barometer shows that since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents, according to Labor Department figures.

Democrats hold the edge though they occupied the Oval Office for 23 years since Kennedy’s inauguration, compared with 28 for the Republicans. Through April, Democratic presidents accounted for an average of 150,000 additional private-sector paychecks per month over that period, more than double the 71,000 average for Republicans.

For example, lets compare Obama and Bush:

Through April, private employers have added an average of about 900 jobs per month since Obama’s inauguration. During the two terms of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, private payrolls shrank by an average of 6,700 jobs per month.

Here’s data on a few other former presidents:

On a monthly basis, Democrat Bill Clinton averaged 217,000 new private-sector jobs. Democrat Jimmy Carter had an average of 188,000, followed by Republican Ronald Reagan’s 153,000, according to Labor Department data.

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Mitt Romney Remains A Weak Candidate, Except Among The Very Religious

Last night’s primaries, occurring after Rick Santorum left the race, turned out to give pretty much the same picture as when there was more of a contest: Mitt Romney will be the nominee, but many Republicans would prefer to vote for someone else. Smart Politics points out the weakness of Romney’s victories:

Over the last 40 years there have been nearly 80 contests in which the presumptive Republican nominees played out the string after their last credible challenger exited the race.

In every one of these contests, the GOP frontrunner won at least 60 percent of the vote, even when ex- and long-shot candidates remained on the ballot.

But on Tuesday, Romney won only 56 percent of the vote in Delaware and 58 percent in Pennsylvania, home to Rick Santorum who dropped out on April 10th.

While Romney avoided the embarrassment of winning with a mere plurality, never has a presumptive nominee won a primary contest with such a low level of support at this stage of the race with his chief challenger no longer actively campaigning.

Clearly the author doesn’t consider either Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul to be a credible challenger, and the assumption looks valid. Even Newt Gingrich has realized this, dropping out of the race. While Ron Paul’s chances at winning are still the same as at any other point in time,  zero, it will be interesting to see if he manages to receive more primary votes as the last candidate standing, allowing him to take a larger block of delegates to the convention than would otherwise occur.

Jimmy Carter says that, while he would prefer Obama, he would feel comfortable with Romney:

“I’d rather have a Democrat but I would be comfortable — I think Romney has shown in the past, in his previous years as a moderate or progressive… that he was fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics as you know. He’s a good solid family man and so forth, he’s gone to the extreme right wing positions on some very important issues in order to get the nomination. What he’ll do in the general election, what he’ll do as president I think is different.”

I would refer Carter to yesterday’s post on this subject. There is certainly a reasonable chance that Romney is more moderate than he now claims to be. It is really impossible to tell what opinions Romney has, or if he even has any, considering the way he can sound sincere while taking either side of any issue. Unfortunately Romney has painted himself into a “severely conservative” corner and will have difficulty moving out. Even should he prefer more moderate positions, it is hard to see him resisting the wishes of a far right wing Congress, which is the most likely result should conditions in the fall favor a Romney victory.

It is clearly far too early to predict who will win. Polls now favor Obama, but they can change by November. I am encouraged by Obama’s strength in most of the battleground states, although he is likely to lose some states he won in 2008. Republicans who were encouraged by a narrow Romney lead in Gallup’s daily tracking poll will not want to see that Obama has jumped to a seven point lead. I suspect that this is more a measure of the uncertainty among many voters as opposed to a major change in positions, but does emphasize the weakness of Romney as a candidate.

Gallup has also found that the usual partisan breakdown along religious lines still holds in a race between Obama and Romney:

Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by 17 percentage points, 54% to 37%, among very religious voters in Gallup’s latest five-day presidential election tracking average. Obama leads by 14 points, 54% to 40%, among the moderately religious, and by 31 points, 61% to 30%, among those who are nonreligious.

If this is viewed purely based upon religion, the results might not make any sense considering Obama’s religious views. There are two additional factors in play. Many Republicans are still fooled by the attacks from the right wing noise machine, with a meaningful number still believing Obama is a Muslim. The other factor is that the concern among many on the religious right is not whether a candidate is religious but whether they will use government to impose their religious views upon others. In this case, perhaps the religious right has a better understanding of the outcome of a Romney presidency than Jimmy Carter shows.

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Jimmy Carter Advises Calling Off The Global Drug War

Jimmy Carter suggested calling off the global drug war in an op-ed in The New York Times. He began with noting recommendations from the Global Commission on Drug Policy and summarizing the history of the war on drugs:

IN an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. The commission includes the former presidents or prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, human rights leaders, and business and government leaders, including Richard Branson, George P. Shultz and Paul A. Volcker.

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The commission’s facts and arguments are persuasive. It recommends that governments be encouraged to experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs … that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.” For effective examples, they can look to policies that have shown promising results in Europe, Australia and other places.

If the facts that the war is not working and is harming many people are not reason enough to call off the war, Carter also suggests that “the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies.” That might be the best argument to get Republicans to go along.

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SciFi Weekend: The Cape; A Baby Timelord; Torchwood Casting and Filming News; The Voldemort Effect

With the limited number of genre shows on this season, and No Ordinary Family taking a lighter approach to super heroes, there has been considerable anticipation for the premiere of The Cape. The show has been billed as a more serious and realistic superhero show. While there is a limit to how realistic such shows can possibly be, we have seen excellent results with such an approach with Iron Man and the latest Batman movies. Unfortunately it is unlikely that television will match the qualities of  Iron Man or The Dark Knight.

Like Iron Man and Batman, The Cape is an ordinary guy who learns tricks and utilizes gadgets as opposed to having true superpowers. The Cape learned his skills from a gang of criminal circus performers. Unfortunately we had all we wanted of mixing a circus and superheroes in the final season of Heroes.

The story would probably have been stronger if they used the full two hours of the premiere as an origin story instead of cramming in a weak follow up story. It is hard to judge shows such as this entirely by their first episodes as there is often room for improvement after initially setting up the situation. Even the last few episodes No Ordinary Family have been much better than the initial stories.

The best thing about The Cape is the return of Summer Glau as super-hacker Orwell. While I welcome her presence, I also fear that her character risks providing easy solutions to any problems. There is also an exaggerated view of the powers of technology in the show. Besides Orwell’s hacking abilities, having Vince Faraday (The Cape) have a card which opens multiple safes and is never canceled was far-fetched.

Besides Orwell, the show provides other supporting characters such as Faraday’s wife. Faraday is forced to take on a secret identity when framed for crimes committed by Chess/Peter Fleming, and when Fleming threatened Faraday’s family. While I can accept the situation of having Fleming keep secret the fact that he is still alive from the public and from Fleming, there is no reason why he can’t secretly see his wife.

Both Faraday and Fleming were pretty careless with their secret identities. The worst mistake was for Fleming to continue to appear as Chess after making it appear not only that Faraday was Chess but that he had been killed.

It is hard to evaluate the show without seeing future episodes. The weekly format of the show does place limitations on it, such as the need to keep Peter Fleming around  for further episodes as opposed to resolving that conflict as a stand alone movie might. James Frain, who plays the title role,  has provided hints as to where the series is going:

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Frain teased that Vince (David Lyons) and Peter will be involved in a number of confrontations in the future.

“They have to go head-to-head,” Frain said. “Vince has to confront this guy but he’s in a very unusual position of not being able to destroy him.

“The obvious thing to do is to take your revenge and go get the guy who framed you, but he can’t do that. He needs to keep this guy alive because he can’t prove his real identity without him, and so he realises that to really be free, he has to frame this guy and flip the tables on him. And so it’s not just a straightforward combat – it’s more psychological warfare.”

Frain also suggested that viewers will learn more about Peter as the series continues, saying: “We start to find out that Peter is a little bit more of a ladies’ man than we first thought. As the show goes on, the guy who he is by daytime, the guy who he is in the mask, becomes more and more separate and this conflict starts opening up.”

He added: “There’s going to be some action with a young woman that comes up that’s very interesting.”

I am glad that they will be expanding more upon Peter’s character. Having him be the head of a corporation who turns out to be evil was far too much of a television cliche.

Series creator TomWheeler has provided more background on where he wants to go with the series:

Wheeler says that the cape in The Cape also has its own backstory, and it will be explored throughout the life of the series. “In episode three, you get a big chunk of it,” he says. “One of our writers is getting his doctorate in mythology, and one of the things we talk about is the cape has a lot of primal symbolism. There’s the blanket you tie around your neck as a kid. That’s your first contact with being a superhero, so as a symbol, the cape connects you to childhood. But there’s also the cape in Jungian mythology/psychology that represents the shadow. So we are setting up a history for the cape that is quite dark. Even though the cape has no supernatural ability to do something to the wearer, we do get into what it means to embody your shadow; we explore the question ‘Do you wear the cape or does the cape wear you?’ That becomes an issue. We will be planting clues and mysteries along the way about the cape because there’s a big story to be told about the cape and what Vince is destined for.”

Another aspect of the superhero mythos that The Cape indulges is the super-villain. We’re not talking garden-variety crooks–we’re talking diabolical masterminds and high strange baddies. Wheeler’s ambition is to give The Cape a large rogues gallery, though Vince’s ongoing conflict with Chess provides the narrative spine of season 1. “Chess is a psychotic James Bond and we deal a lot with him and his alter-ego, Peter Fleming,” says Wheeler. “But we will see that while Peter is awful, he has a complicated life. In total, we’ll introduce seven new villains in the first season, including one that’ll be the center of a two-parter in the middle of the season.”

Wheeler says viewers can expect a show that will span a range of genres. There’s an episode that’ll be more sci-fi. There’s an episode that’s more “gothic” and scary. He believes non-geeks will be able to connect with emotional heart of the show–a story of a husband and father trying to reconnect with his wife and family. For all its old fashionedness, Wheeler believes The Cape is as entertaining as other state-of-the-art superhero action fantasies–even the ones of the grim and gritty stripe. “I think there’s a thirst out there for something that can marry the old and the new, something everyone to sit down and watch together as a family,” he says. “But we are very aware of the other entertainments that are out there and we believe we can be a compliment to them. God willing, we can be considered a branch on the tree of the great things Chris Nolan is doing or Zack Snyder or Jon Favreau have done–all the great adult stuff that’s out there.”

More from Wheeler here.

Doctor Who, which has had many inconsistencies during its near fifty-year run, has both had stories stating both that Timelord children do and do not exist. If the British tabloids are to be believed, we might have a Timelord child born on Earth this spring. Reportedly Georgia Moffat, who already has an eight year old son, is pregnant. News was recently released that Moffat is engaged to David Tennant. Tennant played the tenth Doctor, including staring in The Doctor’s Daughter where he met Georgia Moffat. Besides playing the Doctor’s daughter in the 2008 episode, Moffat is the daughter of Peter Davison, who played the fifth Doctor from 1981 to 1984.

There will be another reunion of cast members from Doctor Who. John Sim (who has played The Master, in addition to staring in the BBC version of Life on Mars) will be staring with Marc Warren (Elton Pope in a 2006 episode of Doctor Who entitled Love & Monsters) in Mad Dogs:

Woody (Beesley), Quinn (Glenister), Baxter (Simm) and Rick (Warren) have been friends since sixth form. The fifth member of their gang is Alvo (Ben Chaplin, Dorian Gray), a risk-taking opportunist who, having made his fortune in property, leads a luxurious lifestyle in Majorca.

Now in their 40s, they’ve all taken different paths in life with varying degrees of success. When Alvo flies them to his extravagant villa to celebrate his early retirement, they enjoy a trip down memory lane.
However, all does not go to plan and they find themselves entangled in a web of deception and murder involving beautiful police women, large yachts, Speedos and a rather short assassin in a Tony Blair mask…

Continuing Sky 1 HD’s dedication to homegrown high definition drama, Mad Dogs is a dark and twisted comic tale in which four ordinary guys discover how easily the line between friend and foe can be blurred.

The Doctor Who News Page has a report on the first week of filming Torchwood: Miracle Day. TV Squad has more information from Russel T. Davies on the series.  Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire Fisher on Six Feet Under, has been added to the cast. She will play Jilly Kitzinger, “a sweet-talking PR genius with a heart of stone who’s just cornered the most important client of her career … and maybe of all time.”

Julian Sanchez has blogged about The Voldemort Effect:

…as Harry’s sage mentor Dumbledore notes at one point, it was Voldemort’s choice to regard Harry as his predestined foe that made it true.

There’s a similar phenomenon in American politics, which I long ago mentally dubbed The Voldemort Effect. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it seems like especially recently, if you ask a strong political partisan—conservatives in particular, in my experience—which political figures they like or admire, and why, they’ll enthusiastically cite the ability to “drive the other side crazy.” Judging by online commentary, this seems to be an enormous part of Sarah Palin’s appeal. Palin herself certainty seems to understand this. Her favorite schtick, the well to which she returns again and again, is: “Look how all the mean liberals are attacking me!” Weekly Standard writer Matt Continetti even titled his book about the ex-governor “The Persecution of Sarah Palin.” Perversely, liberals end up playing a significant role in anointing conservative leaders.

This is, I think, a bipartisan phenomenon everyone at least subconsciously recognizes: A political figure—though more often a pundit than an actual candidate or elected official—gains prominence largely as a function of being attacked or loathed with special vehemence by the other side. Which means it’s crying out for a convenient shorthand so we can talk about it more easily; I propose “The Voldemort Effect.”

Matthew Yglesias responded:

I think the equivalence here is not only mistaken, but actually 180 degrees off base. You do see this Voldemort Effect in a lot of conservative thinking, but if liberals go awry it’s more likely to be in the reverse way—a lot of Team Blue’s thinking about politics is dominated by a kind of desperate search for leaders who won’t drive the other side crazy. Hence Bill Clinton, southern good ol’ boy. Hence John Kerry, decorated war hero. Hence calm, rational compromising Barack Obama instead of polarizing meanie Hillary Clinton. And that goes back to war hero George McGovern, southern good ol’ boy Jimmy Carter, Massachusetts Miracle technocrat mastermind Michael Dukakis, etc. In retrospect all of these people are hated by the right and “obviously” represent just another strain of out of touch liberalism, but in advance each and every one appealed to the rank and file as somehow “different” from his predecessors in some key way.

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Jimmy Carter Accuses Fox Of Distorting The News

Jimmy Carter is clearly correct in accusing Fox commentators of deliberately distorting the news:

Jimmy Carter said Sunday that Fox News commentators including Glenn Beck have “deliberately distorted” the news.

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday, the former Democratic president took aim at the cable news channel climate, often a target for President Obama as well who says he tries to avoid the cable chatter.

“The talk shows with Glenn Beck and others on Fox News, I think, have deliberately distorted the news. And it’s become highly competitive,” Carter said. “And my Republican friends say that MSNBC might be just as biased on the other side in supporting the Democratic Party, the liberal element.” 

Discussing only the commentators misses the real problem. The problem is not only that Fox commentators such as Glenn Beck distort the news but that the the shows billed as news as opposed to commentary repeat the same distortions.

The situation at MSNBC is quite different even if the evening commentators may be as biased in the opposite direction. One difference is that, while they have a clear liberal ideological bias, MSNBC’s commentators do not see their job as promoting the Democratic Party as Fox promotes Republican candidates. MSNBC’s liberal commentators are often critical of the Democratic Party.

While MSNBC’s opinion shows are  biased, the information the opinions are based upon and information discussed is far more accurate than the supposedly equivalent shows on Fox.  MSNBC does not deliberatly promote deliberate misinformation as Fox does.

Another key difference is that the bias of the evening commentators is not carried around the clock. MSNBC has a conservative host during the morning hours. During most of the day they have legitimate news shows which do not repeat the views of the evening commentators the way Fox repeats distortions in their news.

The difference comes from how the stations were established. Fox was deliberately founded by Republican supporters with the intention of using the channel to distort the news to move the country towards the right. MSNBC is run by Republican supporters who found they can make more money by putting on liberals in the evening.

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Who Is Responsible For The Deficit? (Hint: Conservative Republican Presidents)

As I’ve pointed out many times in the past, if you want to reduce the deficit you should vote Democratic as, despite conservative rhetoric, it is conservative Republicans and not Democrats who are responsible for the deficit. James Fallows presented further evidence of this, taking data compiled by deficit hawk Chuck Spinney. Spinney compared the records of all presidents since Harry Truman, looking at both the change in the debt burden and how much overall federal debt grew, or shrank, as a share of gross domestic product during each administration. Here are his results:

The presidents responsible for the increased debt burden are in red: Reagan, Bush and Bush.

James Fallows

James Fallows – James Fallows is a National Correspondent for The Atlantic. A 25-year veteran of the magazine and former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, he is also an instrument-rated pilot and a onetime program designer at Microsoft.

James Fallows is National Correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for more than 25 years, based in Washington DC, Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and most recently Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford. In addition to working for the Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and has been an Emmy nominee for a documentary “Doing Business in China.” He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards from Tomorrow Square (2009) are based his writings for The Atlantic. He is married and has two sons.

Where Did Our Debt Come From?

Thumbnail image for SpinneyTime.jpgChuck Spinney

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The Worst People In American History–To Conservatives

Right Wing News conducted a survey of conservative  bloggers to find out who they thought were the worst twenty-five people in U.S. history. John Wilkes  Booth beat out Nancy Pelosi, but only by one vote. Jimmy Carter leads, followed by Barack Obama. Both are well ahead of Timothy McVeigh, who also trails Ted Kennedy, FDR, and LBJ.  The results:

23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)

It also appears that, in their view, we are living in really bad times considering how many of the worst people in American history are now living or were around in the not very distant past.

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Conservative Bias At The Wall Street Journal

While the previous post noted the right wing spin at one Rupert Murdoch newspaper, The Times of London, I’m more concerned with the manner in which Murdoch is moving The Wall Street Journal to the right. I’ve continued my subscription so far, but the newspaper is certainly not The Wall Street Journal of three years ago. David Carr of The New York Times looked at this on the second  anniversary of the sale of this once great newspaper:

But under Mr. Murdoch’s leadership, the newspaper is no longer anchored by those deep dives into the boardrooms of American business with quaint stippled portraits, opting instead for a much broader template of breaking general interest news articles with a particular interest in politics and big splashy photos. Glenn R. Simpson, who left the newspaper back in March, is not a fan of the newsier, less analytical Journal.

“Murdoch didn’t ruin The Wall Street Journal; he just rendered it into a much more ordinary paper,” he said.

But there are growing indications that Mr. Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, doesn’t just want to cover politics, he wants to play them as well.

A little over a year ago, Robert Thomson, The Journal’s top editor, picked Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, as his deputy managing editor. Mr. Baker is a former Washington bureau chief of The Financial Times with a great deal of expertise in the Beltway. The two men came of age in the more partisan milieu of British journalism.

According to several former members of the Washington bureau and two current ones, the two men have had a big impact on the paper’s Washington coverage, adopting a more conservative tone, and editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current administration. And given that the paper’s circulation continues to grow, albeit helped along by some discounts, there’s nothing to suggest that The Journal’s readers don’t approve.

Mr. Baker, a neoconservative columnist of acute political views, has been especially active in managing coverage in Washington, creating significant grumbling, if not resistance, from the staff there. Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits — “health care reform” is a generally forbidden phrase — and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride. (Of course, objectivity is in the eyes of the reader.)

The pro-business, antigovernment shift in the news pages has broken into plain view in the last year. On Aug. 12, a fairly straight down the middle front page article on President Obama’s management style ended up with the provocative headline, “A President as Micromanager: How Much Detail Is Enough?” The original article included a contrast between President Jimmy Carter’s tendency to go deep in the weeds of every issue with President George W. Bush’s predilection for minimal involvement, according to someone who saw the draft. By the time the article ran, it included only the swipe at Mr. Carter.

On Aug. 27, a fairly straightforward obituary about Ted Kennedy for the Web site was subjected to a little political re-education on the way to the front page. A new paragraph was added quoting Rush Limbaugh deriding what he called all of the “slobbering media coverage,” and he also accused the recently deceased senator of being the kind of politician who “uses the government to take money from people who work and gives it to people who don’t work.”

On Oct. 31, an article on the front of the B section about estate taxes at the state level used the phrase “death tax” six times, but there were no quotation marks around it. A month later, the newspaper’s Style & Substance blog suggested that the adoption of such a loaded political term was probably not a good idea: “Because opponents of estate taxes have long referred to them as death taxes, the term should be avoided in news stories.”

Ben Smith posted the Wall Street Journal’s response, noting that”the text is classically News Corp. in its treating the news business like a political campaign.”

The news column by a Mr David Carr today is yet more evidence that The New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat. The usual practice of quoting ex-employees was supplemented by a succession of anonymous quotes and unsubstantiated assertions. The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism. Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times.

It does sound like a typical right wing political response: attack the enemy personally without any actual factual arguments. There is certainly nothing in their response which demonstrates any errors in Carr’s criticism.

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Former Speech Writers on Obama’s Comments on Winning Nobel Peace Prize and the Republican Response

A pair of former speech writers have some comments on Barack Obama’s statement about receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the Republican reaction. James Fallows was impressed by Obama’s statement, especially considering how little time he had after receiving the unexpected news. He analyzed the statement paragraph by paragraph, with this comment on the final paragraph:

This was the most important and shrewdest thing he said, because it is where he acknowledges an uncomfortable fact that everyone knows to be true. Of course the award can’t be in recognition of projects he has already achieved and completed, because there aren’t that many of them. In these third and fourth paragraphs, Obama acknowledges that point — but adds the news-analyst’s argument that often the Nobel committee awards these prizes as encouragements, signals, or what it hopes will be momentum-changers. If other people are going to say that, Obama does well to signal his understanding of the point himself. And from there he’s off to the rest of the (fairly brief) statement, enumerating the sorts of common challenges he has in mind.

Jerome Doolittle, who worked with Fallows as a speech writer for Jimmy Carter, posted a set of tips for the Republican talking points:

1. What do you expect from a bunch of socialists?

2. Not that I’m a racist, but I know affirmative action when I see it.

3. Carter, Gore, Obama? Do we see a pattern here?

4. A clumsy attempt by Europe to save a failing presidency.

5. The Norwegians are just using Obama to slap George W. Bush in the face.

6. Besides, who cares what a bunch of geeks in Oslo think? The International Olympic Committee speaks for the whole world.

7. No thinking person has taken the Nobel Peace Prize seriously since Reagan didn’t win one for ending the Cold War.

8. We elect a president to keep America safe, not to win prizes.

9. True leadership is not an international popularity contest.

10. Peace is no big deal anyway. No, wait a minute. Strike that last one.

He missed one potential Republican talking point: So what if we agree with the Taliban on this award. Stopping Obama’s agenda is a goal we both share.

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