I'm going to catch that horse if I can ...


I did a short post on the VP debate for the Guardian on Friday; it's here. Speaking of which, the moderating, again, was lousy. Just look at this question from Gwen Ifill: "Let's move to Iran and Pakistan. I'm curious about what you think starting with you Senator Biden. What's the greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable Afghanistan? Explain why."

I know it sounds smartish at first, but really, what kind of a comparison is that? "Sir, would you prefer a punch in the nose or a kick in the knee?" The question is not which is a greater threat, as if they are planning to wait their turn if we ask politely; it is "what is to be done" about each one? The way Ifill phrases it, it is pure nonsense.

And second, in light of both McCain and Palin's 'Reptitive maverick syndrome" Petey did a little research. OK, it's Wikipedia, but still:

Samuel Augustus Maverick (July 23, 1803-September 2, 1870) was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. From his name comes the term "maverick", first cited in 1867, which means independent minded. Maverick was considered independent minded by his fellow ranchers because he refused to brand his cattle.[1] In fact, Maverick's failure to brand his cattle had little to do with independent mindedness, but reflected his lack of interest in ranching.[1] He is the grandfather of U.S. Congressman Maury Maverick, who coined the term gobbledygook (1944).

Remember The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein rant of last week in this, where he complained about the stupidity of "the left wing bloggers," adding, "Thank God there is a mainstream media out there that actually does reporting and has people who understand thing [sic], because if the flow of information and news to the American people were left solely to bloggers, we'd be in a big mess."

Not long after reading that, I came across this piece, entitled, "The business press is missing the crooked heart of the credit crisis," by Dean Starkman in Columbia Journalism Review, here. It's a pretty long piece and it almost entirely contradicts the argument of Pearlstein's rant, and gives added ammunition to those "bloggers" of whom he is so contemptuous. I wonder how his quote would read if we substituted the words "Columbia Journalism Review" for "left-wing bloggers." (And wait, it gets much, much better: Check this out: "What we didn't understand was that this was building up. We all bear responsibility to a certain extent," Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli tells Howard Kurtz here. So dude, you think your new editor-in-chief- is also just another loudmouth know-nothing lefty blogger too? Inquiring minds want to know ...)

One of the many twists in the path towards last week's bailout bill was the right-wing uproar over the funding allegedly provided to the community-organizing group ACORN. Conservatives alleged, falsely, that ACORN would get millions of taxpayer dollars if the bill were approved. For example, on the September 29 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs claimed: "ACORN stands to reap hundreds of millions of dollars from a government bailout of Wall Street." Dobbs added later: "This is a straightforward deal for ACORN and other groups, left-wing groups, set up by the Democratic leadership of Congress. They're not interested in the bailout per se. They want to spread this out, and many people believe that this bailout in part is dear to the Democratic leadership because they want to advance a social agenda here as much as much as an economic bailout of Wall Street." This was a claim repeated by Fox News, conservative columnist Mona Charen, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, and others.

The ACORN claims, as Media Matters documents, are plainly false. An amendment -- later dropped -- did direct 20 percent of any profits realized on troubled assets towards competitively bid block grants for certain community groups, but it didn't mention ACORN at all, and all the money was subject to competitive bidding. ACORN's own legislative director says the group probably couldn't get that money anyhow.

CBS News describes this attempt to tie ACORN to a bill with which it has no plausible association as "institutionally driven." It seems like an odd maneuver until you understand the subtext.

Note Dobbs' description of the "left-wing group," and the push to "advance a social agenda." House Republicans described ACORN in an e-mail as a "scandal-tarnished 'community organizing group'" - the scare quotes are theirs. Charen says it's "a busy hive of left-wing agitation.... ACORN does many things under the umbrella of 'community organizing.'" (Scare quotes again hers; she also is sure to note the group's efforts to "try to unionize welfare workers.") The Wall Street Journal described ACORN as "one of America's most militant left-wing 'community activist groups' " (scare quotes also the Journal's).

We have also seen a sustained push to associate the financial mess with -- well, black people, really. In a September 28 Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby asserted: "The pressure to make more loans to minorities (read: to borrowers with weak credit histories) became relentless. Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, empowering regulators to punish banks that failed to 'meet the credit needs' of 'low-income, minority, and distressed neighborhoods.' Lenders responded by loosening their underwriting standards and making increasingly shoddy loans." With her trademark sledgehammer wit, Ann Coulter titled her most recent column "THEY GAVE YOUR MORTGAGE TO A LESS QUALIFIED MINORITY."

This anti-ACORN crusade that materialized out of nowhere is simply an extension of that campaign -- the right-wing Investor's Business Daily claims the group is "the activist leader for risky 'affirmative action' loans." Mainstream media outlets, such as CBS News and The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder should note the obvious context of these random assaults on ACORN - if they choose to repeat them at all.

Imagine how baseball fans would react to this:

The umpire from yesterday's White Sox-Devil Rays game says he regrets letting the players "blow him off." Although Paul Konerko refused to leave the batter's box after three strikes, the umpire said there's "little an umpire can do" to stop that.

That's probably how we should be reacting to this.

George Zornick writes: The New York Times' Jacques Steinberg writes that Campbell Brown is "tack[ing] toward commentary." He notes her recent grilling of McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, and also a comment about how the campaign is handling access to Sarah Palin.

Steinberg writes: "Ms. Brown's plea to 'Free Sarah Palin' has appeared to have had journalistic repercussions for CNN. Unlike ABC, CBS and Fox News, CNN has yet to be granted an interview with Ms. Palin, a distinction the network shares with MSNBC and NBC News, which have also run afoul of the McCain campaign."

"Has appeared to have had," I think, means Steinberg can't draw any connection here. How are we really to know that the reason Palin has done no CNN interviews is because of Brown's commentary? Maybe, but maybe not.

Also, does Steinberg really think her questioning of Bounds represents a "challenge" for Brown, who may want to distinguish herself "from the loud advocacy of Mr. Olbermann" and Bill O'Reilly? If you remember the interview, she was simply trying to get an answer to the question she asked. Steinberg does note this later:

As evidence that her program is more down the middle than might at times be apparent, she argued that rather than attacking Mr. Bounds, she had persisted only in trying to get him to answer her questions. This included her insistence that he name any decision Ms. Palin had made as Alaska governor concerning the state's National Guard unit.

Ah, now that's balance. No danger of commentary in this description -- no logic, either.

The irony: Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams criticized vice-presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill over her upcoming book about African-American political leaders, saying she "should have disclosed" it, and that it is "ultimately impossible" for her not to favor Obama, because she has a "financial stake" in his winning the presidency. However, beginning in 2003, Williams did not disclose that he received $240,000 in Education Department funds to promote No Child Left Behind. The Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Education's actions constituted "covert propaganda" in violation of the law. The rest is here.

In our recent Think Again "The Crisis From Nowhere," we noted that even in the week where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over and even more ominous signs were on the horizon, the economy got only 6 percent of the "newshole" and the presidential campaign got 39 percent.

During the crisis the economy did take front seat, but it was a short ride -- during the week of September 22-28, the presidential campaign was back out in front on cable TV.

From TomDispatch:

Here's a look at the world of 2010 (as seen by the U.S. Intelligence Community back in 1997): "We find a Russia irredeemably in economic decline, a China beset by too many internal problems to hope for military dominance in Asia, and a North Korea so transformed that military tensions have vanished from the Korean peninsula (along, evidently, with the North Korean nuclear program). Oh, and those food riots that swept the globe recently, they never happened. After all, it's well known that food production has kept up with population pressures, and energy production has been more than a match for global energy needs. As for global warming? Never heard of it. On the bright side, the key to the future is 'international cooperation,' led, of course, by us truly."

Consider Tom Engelhardt's latest post, "Spying on the Future," the strangest little tour of the future you've taken in a while. Every four years or so, representatives of the 18 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) turn into so many sci-fi writers and produce a Global Trends briefing document on the relatively distant future for new presidents. It is then made public. The newest one is to arrive this December and a speech by Thomas Fingar, the IC's "top analyst," previewed its main prediction: "reduced" American dominance for 2025. (Evidently Obama and McCain are already being briefed.) This is the sort of prediction that would have been striking back in 1997, but, as Engelhardt writes, "if you've been paying the slightest attention to your daily paper, Fingar's speech offered a hint of a future hardly more illuminating than a headline saying, 'Water predicted to remain in Indian Ocean in 2025.'"

Out of curiosity, then, at a moment when American global power is being shaken to its core, he took a little time-traveling trip of my own back to the intelligence reports of 1997 and 2000 (on the years 2010 and 2015) just to check out the skills of the IC when it comes to planting the Stars and Stripes in the future. As a result, he takes readers on a quick tour of wish-fulfillment worlds that will never happen and conclude:

"The Global Trends reports will remain significant documents for future historians who want to chart just how glacially slow was Washington's realization that the collapse of Soviet power didn't actually mean American power was destined to be transcendent on Earth. In its predictions, it's clear that the IC had little better luck getting its agents embedded in the future than it did getting them inside al-Qaeda or into Iran. Not surprisingly, given what we know about the bureaucratic morass that is American intelligence, the GT reports have all the faults of intelligence by committee and negotiation -- which is why H.G. Wells, Arthur Clark, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, and others, who caught something of the strangeness of possible futures, would never have had a chance in hell of succeeding in careers in the IC."

In this case, the faults of the future should really be seen as belly flops by an obese IC into a present it never saw coming. Think of this piece as another way of offering an anatomy of American intelligence disaster.

Correspondence Corner:

From LTC Bob:

Today there are some very nice fellows ripping the roof off of my house. They promise they will be putting a new one on. So, because the constant pounding above my head precludes any rational thought about serious intellectual issues about which I am writing for other venues, I present the first LTC Bob video collection (Warning: Some of these are non-military related. Only one of them is serious. But it is Monday, and we can use this.)

We appreciate the sentiments when our children show love upon our return from combat. Some of our children have four legs.

Despite my best hopes, karma apparently exists.

And now, the first of my quadrennial rants. I implore you. I beg you. I demand of you. DO NOT VOTE. These people are right. Do not vote. (Follow the link or this whole thing falls flat.)

Being from Ohio, I, of course, take exception to this video. (I also love commas.)

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com. Angry writers welcome. This is, after all, an Altercation.

Name: Stephen T.
Hometown: murfreesboro TN


After watching that softball game of the Veep debate last night [one soft lob after the other], I've decided that "Reporters" have roughly the same 5 questions that they repeat over and over -- I'm not surprised that the candidates are answering the questions in their sleep.

I know that Iraq and the economy are important, I do, but does that importance mean those are only topics that the candidates are questioned about?

And worse we already know those answers -- the candidates have already answered them a hundred times anyway.

Where are the questions about India and nuclear proliferation or anything about the forgotten continent -- South America. I would be curious to hear comments about changing US relations with Columbia, Ecuador, and say Venezuela. How about responding to the Chinese space initiative? Or the tainted milk scandal? Remember Georgia, that whole little Russian incursion thing? Or that worrying naval standoff we have brewing off the coast of Somalia now?

But, no, we are treated to the same old questions and the same old answers. And it just makes me miss ole Mike Wallace. The US sure could use a couple of old style hard-nosed reporters of his breed now.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Perhaps the saddest spectacle I have seen in journalism this year was David Broder's Sunday column "analyzing" the Biden-Palin debate. Not because I support one candidate over the other but because he completely bought the Republican talking points: she did well, showed that she can handle herself, Biden didn't do a better job, etc.

Once upon a time, David Broder was considered a journalist with knowledge and integrity. I have to wonder whether that was untrue or senility has caught up with him. I began to suspect him when he announced that the Senate Democratic caucus wanted to oust Harry Reid as majority leader, every member of the caucus signed a letter to The Post countering that, and his response was that they were full of it. When it comes to being full of it, sadly for those of us who once respected this shell of a reporter, it turns out that Broder is more full of it than anyone else.

Name: John Emerson
Hometown: Osakis

LTC Bob Bateman: As I said, I would have been receptive to your message (and Farley's) if they had not been part of a no-holds-barred onslaught on Greenwald.

Limbaugh has a twenty-year track record of lies, misrepresentations, smears, insults, and nasty, inflammatory, racist, sexist, and homophobic statements, whereas Greenwald has been an indispensable resource for those of us trying to resist the Bush administration. For that reason it seems quite reasonable to expect that Greenwald (but not Limbaugh) be treated respectfully if and when he makes a mistake.

You wrote: "But it seems to me that every time I find myself reading this guy [Greenwald] he is either a) twisting history, b) misinterpreting the military, c) misportraying the military, or, most often, d) all of the above."

Greenwald seldom writes about the military, in my memory. He almost always writes about the Bush administration. I understood his most recent piece to be about something that the civilian Commander in Chief has ordered the military to do which Greenwald rightly or wrongly considered to be part of the Bush Administration's well-known policy of increasing the police powers of the unitary federal executive. I regard this concern of Greenwald's as entirely legitimate, and in no way an attack on the military, but since you vehemently think otherwise, perhaps I'll reconsider my opinion of the military's role in this.

Name: Bill Osborne
Hometown: Glen Burnie, MD

Hello Eric,

Well I, for one, would still like to hear LTC Bateman's (and anyone else who cares to) comments and insights regarding what appears to be increasing politicization of the military. During 32 years of Federal service, culminating at Fort Meade, I found a significant number of officers who were very strongly conservative, not unexpectedly; but also radically so, to include denigration of those with a middle of the road or liberal perspective to the point of disenfranchisement, imprisonment or -- in the case of recalcitrant Federal judges -- death. It seems from the blogosphere that there are increasing numbers of soldiers, or those who claim to be, that reflect similar outlooks. Truly scary if the military has been taken down this path. Oh, for the days of Mr. Kipling's Army, when officers considered themselves above politics ...

Name: Fran McCarthy
Hometown: Washington, DC

Just read your Guardian piece on Paul Newman -- beautiful and heartfelt. The best piece I've read on his passing. Thanks.

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