Just How Insane and Irrational is Pox News?

The talking heads on Pox News and its related ideologically driven far right wing minions, have been largely going nuts because President Obama bowed to some foreign leaders in a land where such greetings are customary. 

This is pretty scary. On Pox apparently they think the art of diplomacy is to get other countries to hate us for no good reason, and to pass up sensible opportunities to build rapore and communication with no attendant loss to our own interests or goals.

James Fallows writes in the Atlantic that a WH aide who traveled with the President to Asia told him:

When the president heard that some people had complained, I'd characterize his reaction as: The notion that the United States is somehow humbling or humiliating itself by showing respect for a local custom, when it is transparently the most powerful country in the world, leaves me speechless.
That should probably be restated, replacing the world "humbling" with "weakening" and it's a pretty spot on assessment of just how absurd and one dimensional the predominant thinking on Pox News has become.


"Smart Grid" or Another Creep Close to Big Brother?

From the Washington Post:

"The modernization of the grid will increase the level of personal information detail available as well as the instances of collection, use and disclosure of personal information," warns a report (PDF) jointly released Tuesday by the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a think tank made up of chief privacy officers, advocates and academics.

Smart grid technology -- including new "smart meters" being attached to businesses and homes -- is designed in part to provide consumers with real-time feedback on power consumption patterns and levels. But as these systems begin to come online, it remains unclear how utilities and partner companies will mine, share and use that new wealth of information, experts warn.

"Instead of measuring energy use at the end of each billing period, smart meters will provide this information at much shorter intervals," the report notes. "Even if electricity use is not recorded minute by minute, or at the appliance level, information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep. For many, this will resonate as a 'sanctity of the home' issue, where such intimate details of daily life should not be accessible."

According to the study, examples of information that utilities and partner companies might be able to glean from more granular power consumption data include whether and how often exercise equipment is used; whether a house has an alarm system and how often it is activated; when occupants usually shower, and how often they wash their clothes.
This is really not a good thing. Interestingly, it should be one of those rare things that concerns both those on the left and right (such, as for example, reliance upon oil) but just like those other rare things (such as reliance upon oil) will likely not be sensibly solved. 

Frankly, for a whole host of reasons, there should be less emphasis on power grids, and far more emphasis on highly localized, even individualized, power sources. But few seem to be preaching this.

Another Terribly Misleading, and Ill-Informed Column From the Denver Post

David Hirsanyi yesterday tells the Denver Post's readers some extraordinary things with respect to the Sarah Palin Phenomenon. Let's break it down.

He starts with a far overdone point, about stereotpyes:
These days, where you fall on the crucial issue of Sarah Palin tells the rest of us all we need to know about your character. You're either a:

A) Scum-sucking, terror-loving elitist, or a

B) Radical, tea-bag-loving simpleton.
Yes, you are. To some of the simpletons in the media, perhaps, who have to find false equivalency and oversimplification in everything; or to those on the extremes of both parties (which in the case of the Right would now probably be a majority of that party today). But to anybody else, this is an asinine assesment.
Plenty of people simply believe, correctly, that Palin is phenomenally gifted when it comes to spin and rhetoric (hence perhaps why some of her appeal to much of this same far right) but extemely lacking when it comes to substantive understanding, knowledge, or objective insight.
Many others, perhaps more versed in the facts than one should be today in order to be able to comfortably read columns such as those by Hirsanyi without wanting to vomit, are also aware that almost everthing that Palin stated in the first half year since she burst on the scene publicy in August of 2008 (and much of what she has stated since) has been misleading, or manipulative.
None of this has anything to do with scum sucking, or radical tea bagging. 
The media is often accused of being unfair to Palin. And it is true that the media does not give Palin a pass on virtually everthing, as it does many others on the far right -- afraid of being branded as "liberal."  (It does so for two reasons. One -- the profound level of ignorance that Palin exhibited, and two, the disdan and contempt for a media simply doing its job -- albeit marginally at that -- that Palin routinely exhibited, as if in her world a media exists solely to provide the information that one wants, in the manner that one wants it provided.  Exactly the opposite of what a media's job in a free society is, and exactly what the media's job in an authoritarian society is.)
But if the media really focused on the many misleading statements by Palin, and the facts, as it should, and should have, back in 2008, there would be far less ignorance when it came to Palin than there is.
For example, Hirsanyi is correct to insinuate that Palin critics are far overplaying the significance of the fact that a little over half of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of her, and even more don't see her as qualified for the presidency. But many of those who do have a favorable opinion of Palin base this upon her rhetoric that they have heard, rather than the actual facts underlying that rhetoric, which have not been so revealed. Facts which more accurately paint her as the highly authoritarian, intensely hypocritical, extremely, if not purposefully manipulative, and deeply misinformed figure, rather than some rugged individualist thinker that she and her supporters like to portray her as.
Hirsanyi clearly must also feel like Palin's personal protector, because here is what he has to say about Levi Jonhston, the father to Palin's grandchild:
[He is] a man whose only discernible talent is the possession of operational sperm and the ability to humiliate the former vice presidential nominee.
Johnston is not writing columns in the Denver Post, holding himself out as some sort of informed voice.  So why is Hirsanyi attacking him? Because people love to attack people that we perceive as "dumber" than us.
It is a disgusting trait when those being attacked are not holding themselves out as experts or as an authority, or telling other people what to think, or, such as in Hirsayni's case, writing ignorant, and manipulative columns in one of the nation's largest newspapers.
Johnston is still largely a kid, and this is just a gratuitous shot at an easy target.  But why does Hirsanyi feel compelled to rag on the guy? 
Hirsanyi then next, sarcastically asks:
And how could a major magazine like Newsweek be expected to use a cover photo of Palin campaigning or spending time with her Down syndrome child when editors could simply borrow a shot of the 45-year-old mother of five decked out in her exercise tights — nudge nudge, wink wink — from a Runners World piece and slap the headline "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sarah?" onto it?
Here is the answer Hirsayni:  Because Newweek is not Palin's propaganda tool of the fundamenta. wing of the Republican Party.  Bad as it is, it is a news magazine, and it still fits that purpose. If it was the former (much like Fox is today, teaching people like Hirsanyi what media that "says what they want to hear, how they want to hear it" sounds like, and convincing them it is news), then perhaps a nice cover phot of Palin spending time with her Down syndrome child might be a better shot.

Was Palin decked out in ":exercise tights" a proper picture for the front page? We don't know. We do know that Palin has used her looks to her advantage. This is not necessarily wrong. But then it should not necessarily make it wrong for Newsweek to run this otherwise clearly public picture. As for the somewhat slanted Newsweek title, that is another story.  (But for those do see Palin as a problem, whether for the Republican Party, or for Democrats (sadly, Democrats are not yet hip to that possibility), or for America, it is solved by covering the facts. Palin is not a cause of rampant ignorance; along with Glenn Beck, she  is a profound reflection of it.)

Hirsayni also contends:
Who knows what is to become of Palin? Today, though, there is little doubt the left is using her to create ugly stereotypes and attack limited-government types across the country.
Hmmm. This is somewhat of a limited government blog. And this blog will make the point (and back it up with more facts than could be fit into 50,000 of the latest misleading sound bite headlines or "populist" figures spins) that Sarah Palin is the poster child for ignorance. So is she being used here to attack limited goverment types across the country?

The fact of the matter is that many "Limited government" types support increased authoritarianism, and in many ways increased government power -- in almost all respects but the one or two where it makes the most sense for a government to exercise some role. That is, those areas which we must share collectively, like the environment. Or where it makes more sense to handle collectively, and where this creates more freedom than it impinges upon. Such as in food safety and accuracy of representation. (It doesn't pay on on invidivual basis, for example, to go out and test all the food one buys,  nor does it years after the fact to sue after one has lost a family member to excess carcinogen induced cancer, years after billions have been made,and reorganized under other corporate entities).

Figures like Palin, and Glenn Beck, only further promote and feed into this ignorance.  And the less the media does its job helping to objecitvely inform the public,and illuminate wildly misleading rhetoric such as Palin and Beck's, the more this ignorance will be fed, rather than checked.

As an example of just how sad the state of affairs today has become, consider that Beck himself is actually a "part of" that very same "media."  Of course, consider the fact that it is the part of the "media" that operates the way Palin, and it appears Hirsanyi, want it to operate, as noted above. That is, telling them exactly what they want to hear, and how they want to hear it; again exactly the opposite of its function in a free democracy.

As another example of the sad state of affairs, consider that such an ignorant, misinformed piece by Hirsanyi in the Denver Post is what passes for "balance" today.

And it is part of exactly what some on the rtight (usually the far right) did in 2004. Create a shield of insulation from the need to actually look at the facts. Thus anything substantive said against Bush in 2004 was simply because "one hated Bush." (Sadly, also played into by some on the left proudly proclaiming their hatred of Bush, instead of merely focusing on effectively communicating, rather than takin for granted, why). And now anything which makes an effective case against Palin, can be dismissed by Hirsanyi and his clones, ludicrously, as a means simply to create ugly stereotypes and attack limited government types across the country.

The real uglines is ignorance. And Palin, as non ugly as she may otherwise be, as earnest as she may be, and as admirable as she may be, as Hirsanyi also points out, for her undoubted "charisma and her roots," has uttered a profoundly high number of ignorant and often highly manipulative statements passed off as populist "straight talk." Palin has a right to speak her mind, however misinformed that mind may be.  But there is a certain ugliness in accomodating this, in not pointing it out, in accepting it as okay merely because of that "charisma and roots" and her popularity -- popularity fueled by that very same ignorance.

Ugliness is ignorance. Ignorance by those who claim to know, and continually hold the bully pulpit over others.

Hirsanyi, essentially, concludes his piece with this:

Palin claims that a presidential run is "not on my radar screen right now." She may have gone rogue on John McCain — joining the rest of America — but Palin will have to work to articulate her positions, show more intellectual curiosity and fuse her magnetism with more substantive thinking.

But due to the stupendously nasty campaign waged against her, she might not get the chance.
In Hirsanyi's world, Palin joined the rest of America, by "going rogue" on the McCain campaign. Except for one thing. Palin went rogue by going to the right of McCain.  McCain garnered the Republican nomination, and campaigned for President, by going radically to the right of his former self. So this was "joining" the rest of America?  Or is this just more ignorance on the part of Hirsanyi, in the Denver Post. 

Palin -- who has had her book mentioned more than almost any figure in recent modern history, who is on the cover of magazines, who is repeatedly asked to be on talk and news shows, all unlike countless other Americans who may be far more profoundly competent at actual governing as well as insightful idea generation, than Palin -- may not get a chance, according to Hirsanyi, to "show more intellectual curiosity," and more "substantive" thinking. 

Hirsanyi is living in a dream world. Unfortunately, that dream world is slowly starting to ruin America.

The "nastiness" leveled at Sarah Palin does not come close to the nastiness leveled against Hillary Clinton for several years, or even President Barack Obama today. And much of that nastiness (which as actual nastiness is in no way here condoned), is in fact simply pointing out the facts of the matter. Facts which Americans should know. And which most still don't.


What Needs to be Addressed to Solve Health Care, and Some Ludicrous Claims Highlighted by the Washington Post

A Washington Post editorial on health care reform this past weekend, noted the following:

As an example of the hyperbole, take the ludicrous assertion by Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) that the Democratic measure "is the greatest threat to freedom that I've seen in the 19 years I've been in Washington." Come on. The proposal has been endorsed by the American Medical Association and the AARP, hardly wild-eyed radicals.

The editorial is right to point out the absurdity of Boehner's statement.  Not to mention the irony, given that Boehner was a staunch supporter of the controlling, highly restrictive, and power amassing Bush Administration, as well as a supporter of almost every congressional bill this decade that either was highly intrusive and/or expanded government power over individual rights -- something the Post neglected to mention.

But is it really necessary for the AARP and the AMA to have endorsed the proposal in order to be able to point out the ridiculous rhetorical overdosing by Boehner over it?

Hardly. Whether this or that group does or does not endorse a bill does not reflect the accuracy or absurdity of such a statement, which instead requires an examination of the role of government currently in health care, and the facts.  Something that seems to be short supply these days, when it comes to this same media.

As a separate issue, it is valid to point out that the reasonably conservative AMA endorses the bill. But why must the Post then link this point directly to the inane, and wholly gratuitious assertion that the AMA and the AARP are not "wild eyed radicals"? 

Does this need to be stated? And are other opponents of the far right wing Boehner "wild eyed radicals"?  Where are these "wild eyed" radicals? 

Fairly few and far between, it seems, and largely insignificant. Although on the other side of the equation -- and also largely unmentioned by the Post -- there seem to be quite a number of them on talk radio propogating similar outrageous claims on a routine basis.

Not to mention some more in Congress, including those who outlandishly assert that the Democratic measure "is the greatest threat to freedom that I've seen in the 19 years I've been in Washington."

The Post also has its laundry list of concerns with the current proposal. But what the paper misses is that one of the biggest failures of this bill is that it not only fails to address the biggest cause of excessive health care costs -- rampant middleman health insurance for routine health care -- but in essence it adds to it.

The fact is, health care in this country DOES NOT operate under real capitalism now. Almost no one bargains with their doctors. Few have the chance to compare costs. Most are hostage to their insurance companes. And these insurance companies are already often dictating the terms of medical decisions, leaving consumers -- who have given their health dollars to the insurance company rather than directly to their own medical care -- left holding the bag for which there is no money left when coverage, treatement or needed tests are denied. 

If there is going to be health insurance, and the government is going to be involved, spending several hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money annually (and rapidly rising) as it does now -- spending more on health care than anything other than national defense and the fully separately funded Social Security -- it has to be non profit. And more limited.

Catastrophic coverage by the government, or by insurance companies, still makes more sense than the current system that we have -- whereby consumers held hostage economically by insurance companies wind up paying ever and ever increasing fees, while all kinds of often ridiculous and wholly wasteful attendant costs are incurred at almost every step of the way. And all at a profit for large health insurance conglomerates that are essentially covering things that individuals should be paying directly themselves -- into either their own actual health care and or prevention -- while at the same time having the effect of making things far more expensive for government by increasing health care costs across the board.

No one wants to say it.  Particularly the health insurance industry lobby which Congress seems to have its hands deep in the pockets of. (Just google health insurance industry related donations to Congress). But Health insurance, apart from health insurance which covers each individual only for what for them would be catastrophic, is essentially an enormous, needless waste, that greatly compounds our overall private and public costs .

Fixing the system, and the incredible waste in our country on health care relative to the results obtained -- now near 18 percent of our entire GDP -- requires fixing this.

Not adding to it.

Iran Holding Journalists Captive for No Real Reason

As this country moves closer and closer to corporate controlled news, Iran seems to be exhibiting even more profound government controlled news; and is behaving more like an autocracy and less like the democracy that many in Iran -- at least back when George Bush famously called it part of the "Axis of Evil" -- wish it to be. 

Calling out the worst in Iran, a country overflowing with a younger population that wanted to be more like the West in many ways, was probably not a wise strategy move.  Today, continuing to speak out nationally about the perceived need to "bomb Iran," is probably not a wise strategy either.

But these days, it seems, we increasingly seem to be looking at these foreign policy issues from our own perspective only (witness our strategic decisions on and handling of Iraq, for one example), and thus if Iran feels imposed upon by being dictated to by world opinion on weapons, we are oblivious to it. If threats of military action against Iran will lead to increased solidarity within Iran towards the outside world, we are oblivious to it.

Thus some of our rhetoric only tends to further hostility, causing the pronouncement of further animosity toward Iran in a sort of self perpetuating cycle.

At the same time, evidence is creeping up in Iran of exactly the type of increasingly authoritarian and controlling rule that it in some ways has historically been reflective of, and was trying to move away from.  And there is probably nothing else to create internal Iranian solidarity toward a government that it may not even like, than the perceived threat from the outside world.

As an example of this increasing government control, we see actions like these:
Iranian officials arrested a Japanese and two Canadian reporters during anti-government demonstrations this week and charged them with "unauthorized reporting," the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported Friday.
Is this a real report? Note that the Fars News Agency is described in the Washington Post article as "semi-official." 

The article's author, Thomas Erdbrink, was not available for comment, but an assistant at the paper stated that the news source is referred to as "semiofficial" because it is considered to have ties to the government, and is not completely independent as the agency claims. It is likely standard form, as the BBC appears to refer to the News Agency as "semi-official" as well.

Whether the potential tie to the government increases or decreases the likelihood of the story being true is unclear, as there are arguments in both directions: given the propaganda aspect, it could be falsely reported to have a chiling effect on foreign journalists, while on the other hand it is news that does not reflect well upon the government, making it thus less likely to be made up.

Erdbrink's article in the Post also seems to suggest that the Fars News Agency is actually "state run" -- althought it is not clear what this means. And wikipedia, in the link above, suggests that "The [Far News]agency is well known for saying lots of lies and for unreliability."

Either way, whether it is just the threat, or, far more likely, the actual capture of foreign journalists, it is chilling news. 

Additionally Erdbrink reports:
On Wednesday, authorities temporarily blocked all access to e-mail programs such as Gmail and Yahoo during the demonstrations to prevent people from sending images to foreign media organizations.
The Demonstration, apparently, was in response to a state sanctioned event commemorating the 1979 Embassy takeover, by those who don't think the current government is legitimate. 

One wonders -- given the antipathy that we have seen from the far right toward President Obama (and likely would have seen toward a President Kerry)--  if the situation in 2004 were reversed, with Kerry winning, and disputed vote blocking measures propelling him to victory in the election swinging state of Ohio, what we would have seen in America subsequent to that.

At least on the protest side, would it have been much different than in Iran?  Even today, the far right is doing everything possible to question the legitimacty of the current administation regarding an election which had no real outcome controversies as otherwise occurred in both 2000 and 2004.  (Witness the incessant attachment to the "birther" assertion -- That Obama's birth certificate is "not real" and thus he can not be President, for one.  The antipathy toward the Obama Administration's legitimacy is so out of control that even an National Review Online article that mocks the birther controversy as "lunacy" then itself, incredibly resurrects the question as "legitimate.")

Although again not nearly as pronounced in the U.S, very vague similarities between our two countries appear on the news side as well:

As more and more corporate takeover of our news here is occasioned -- something which undermines our necessary Fourth Estate check upon everything but perhaps upon what is needed most by government (protecting capitalism by promoting free competition, and protecting for externalities such as the environment and possibly health and safety) -- maybe, to a much lesser degree, we are becoming more like Iran in the sense of Authoritarian, top down, and concentrated, power and control.

It is certainly what the increasingly vocal far right in this country seem to want. And this story is being repeatedly missed -- most of all, of course, by that same increasingly corporate conglomeration controlled media.