Friday, September 19, 2014

Success of People’s Climate Change March depends on how media covers it

By Marc Jampole 

Like many of my friends, I’m excited about marching in the People’s Climate Change March this Sunday in New York City. Organizers are hoping it will be the largest demonstration in history in support of solutions to climate change. The march on Manhattan’s Upper West Side coincides with the start of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit two days later. 

By the grace of good luck, the Peoples Climate Change March and the U.N. summit come on the heels of a new study that demonstrates what anyone with common sense should have always known: that weaning the world’s economy off carbon-based fuels will not wreck the economy. For years, intellectual factotums of the oil and electrical generation industries have insisted that replacing carbon-based fuels with solar and wind power would hurt the economy.  Their arguments didn’t take into account that designing, making and servicing solar and wind equipment created jobs or that using less oil, coal and natural gas saved money that companies and individuals could spend, creating jobs elsewhere in the economy.

I haven’t marched in a demonstration since 2008, so I’m psyched! I’m hoping that the turnout runs into the hundreds of thousands.

But be it the largest climate change demonstration or a bust, the success of the march will depend less on how many and who walks and more on the attitude of the news media. The news media will define how many people showed up, and their numbers often stray from reality. The news media will determine whether the march is forgotten three years later or goes down in history.

I first learned this lesson during the Viet Nam War era—my youth—when the news media underestimated the attendance at every antiwar demonstration in the early years of protest—before the media followed the country and started to oppose the war.

The 2010 election exemplifies how the new media can make or break a march. There were three marches and demonstrations on Independence Mall in Washington DC during the election season:
  • March of Tea Party organized by and featuring Glen Beck
  • March of progressives organized by unions
  • March organized by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the Comedy Central which was also a demonstration for progressive causes.

Despite the fact that the most reputable estimator, the one used by CBS—AirPhotosLive—estimated all three demonstrations to have attracted 75,000-100,000, the two progressive demonstrations are lost to history already, while the Tea Party affair is mentioned in virtually all contemporary recounting of the 2010 election.

The mainstream media virtually ignored the union demonstration in the weeks before it occurred, whereas it orchestrated a build-up for the Tea Party demonstration more suited to the first inauguration of a president who won in a landslide.

An apt analogy, since some right-wing liars claimed that as many people attended the rally as made the scene at Barack Obama’s first inauguration—just less than 2.0 million, a number that injected new meaning into the expression, the big lie.

Aided and abetted by the right-wing media, mainstream newspapers tended to float a number of figures for the Tea Party demonstration—the favorite being 400,000. But never did a mainstream print publication claim any number above 100,000 without attributing to someone suspect—nor did most right-wing media for that matter. It was a mass example of the Matt Drudge effect, which occurs when instead of reporting something scurrilous and unprovable, a mainstream reporters says that someone with a poor record of reliability said it, someone like Matt Drudge or the late Andrew Breitbart.

It was the mainstream news media that overhyped the Tea Party’s 2010 Washington DC demonstration, the mainstream news media that irresponsibly misreported the numbers, the mainstream news media that ignored the demonstration of progressives organized by the unions and the mainstream’s leading pundits who have made the Tea Party march a major political milestone in 21st century politics.

As much as I wish for a large turnout at the Peoples Climate Change March on Sunday, I wish harder that recent studies, extreme weather and polar melting have convinced the ownership of the mainstream media to like the march and embrace the cause by reporting accurately. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Photograph shows what American political spectrum would look like without right wing—and what it was 50 years ago

By Marc Jampole 

The 16th century Venetian painter Paolo Veronese might have painted a photograph in the New York Times, so rich it is in symbolic content. Veronese crowded his paintings with myths, symbolic objects, references to literature and visual connections to contemporary politics. Whether intentional or not, the Times photo on page A 20, by Michael Appleton, does the same.

The photo accompanies a story of a news conference about what the New York City area is doing now to coordinate responses to potential terrorist threats. The photo shows the four principle speakers in this order, right to left, as viewers see it:
  • Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie at the far right of the frame
  • Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, at the podium doing the talking. Johnson is a political appointment, so he profoundly represents the views of President Obama
  • Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo
  • Democratic Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, with Elizabeth Warren one of the two most prominent progressive Democrats nationwide.

In short, we see pretty much the spectrum of political opinion in America today, if we lop off the right-wing. Christie, Obama and Cuomo are centrists with not much difference between them, although Christie is to the right of the two Democrats on social issues. De Blasio, by contrast, is far to the left of the centrists.

There are a few symbolic subtleties in the photo. As he speaks, the Obama administration official Johnson stands as a centrist but is looking left, just as Obama acts as a centrist even if he sometimes talks like a progressive.  In a  similar manner, de Blasio is looking right, but with an uncomfortable expression on his face, perhaps expressing the lack of comfort he feels supporting centrist Democrats like Cuomo in the elections. Or perhaps he understands that in responding to the threat of terrorism, we’ve gone overboard on militarizing society and spying on the private lives of individuals.

To my mind the most powerful symbolic association comes from de Blasio’s position in front of an American flag. The good mayor covers a little of it, but a swatch with pieces of five stripes and 17 states is visible and seems almost to be waving. As a progressive I read into this image a statement—probably inadvertently made by the photographer—that de Blasio’s path is the best one for the United States. De Blasio stands for raising taxes on the wealthy; providing greater support to public education; policies that help unions and raise middle class incomes, like ending support of charter schools; government intervention to make housing more affordable; humanistic policing; protection of women’s reproductive rights; increased mass transit; equal rights for all minorities; gay marriage; and diversity in government.

Funny, the photo would have described the full political spectrum presented in the news media in the 1950s, 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s before Ronald Regan started mainstreaming wacko right-wing ideas.  I imagine it would be impossible to place most of the Republican and the Tea Party in the photo today unless it was about three times as long as it currently is.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Editorial: Don’t Bite Terrorist Bait

One of the favorite words Republicans use to describe President Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless,” as if his refusal to rush US military forces into foreign conflicts to satisfy foreign-policy hawks makes him a weak leader.

We’re glad President Obama has taken the time to develop a strategy and build a broad coalition of potential allies — including Iran — who will help the US pursue the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State) as the murderous gang that they are.

It’s depressing that a recent poll conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed only 32% approval for President Obama’s foreign policy. Some 47% of Americans believe the US is less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And poll respondents favored Republican over Democrats as the party best able to handle foreign policy, by a 41-23 margin.

If the polls are to be believed, terrorism works. Joan Walsh noted that the single biggest factor behind the surge of fear is the videotaped beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. “In the NBC poll, 94% said they’d heard news of the beheadings, which is higher than any other news event polled in the last five years. They accomplished what they were intended to: make Americans feel vulnerable, angry and ready to fight. Mission accomplished, ISIS!”

But ISIS couldn’t succeed in drawing the US into another land war in Iraq without “useful fools” such as former Vice President Dick Cheney who, in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, urged House Republicans to take a hard line in the fight against ISIS. The meeting was basically a GOP pep rally, and Cheney spent most of the time bashing “isolationists” and talking about how the Bush administration put the US in a position to “win” in Iraq.

In fact, there would be no opening for a militant Islamic extremist group to control large sections of Iraq and Syria and conduct ethnic cleansing of Shi’ite Muslims, Christians and other minorities if the Bush-Cheney administration had not invaded and dismantled the secular Ba’athist regime of Saddam Husseinbased on the trumped-up threat of weapons of mass destruction.

As the New York Times noted, “[Cheney] did not discuss the fact that many ISIS leaders were former Iraqi military officers who were imprisoned by American troops, nor did he dwell on the sectarian divisions and bloodletting since the 2003 American invasion.”

When President Obama was slow to arm the Syrian rebels as urged by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) encouraged the Saudi and Qatari governments to get the job done — and arms did move to Syrian rebel groups. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014. A month later, McCain said once again, at the Munich Security Conference, “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends.”

But the arms apparently didn’t just go to the Free Syrian Army, the “moderate” armed opposition in the country that is backed by the US, Turkey and Western allies. Shortly after McCain’s Munich comments, Steve Clemons noted at (June 23), Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah relieved Bandar of his Syrian covert-action portfolio, which was transferred to Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. By mid-April, just two weeks after President Obama met with King Abdullah on March 28, Bandar also was removed from his position as head of Saudi intelligence.

It turned out that two of the factions fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who received arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are Islamic extremist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, and the ISIS which was expelled as too extreme for al Qaeda. Qatar’s military and economic largesse had made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra, Clemons was told. But ISIS was another matter. As one senior Qatari official told him, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”

Clemons concluded, “John McCain’s desire to help rebel forces toss off a brutal dictator and fight for a more just and inclusive Syria is admirable. But as has been proven repeatedly in the Middle East, ousting strongmen doesn’t necessarily produce more favorable successor governments. Embracing figures like Bandar, who may have tried to achieve his objectives in Syria by building a monster, isn’t worth it.”

Thom Hartmann wrote, “This is history repeating itself in the worst possible way. Back in the 1980s, the CIA, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis worked together to fund the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The mujahideen were radical Islamists, but we thought it was worth it to support them because it was the Cold War and they were fighting the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

“Here in the US, the guy most responsible for getting us to support the mujahideen was a playboy Texas Congressman named Charlie Wilson, who, like John McCain, thought he was just trying to help people fight for ‘democracy.’ ...

“Whatever good intentions Charlie Wilson may have had, his plan backfired and it backfired badly. Our support for the mujahideen against the Soviets — just like our support for the Khmer Rouge against the Viet Cong and our support for the Contras against the Sandinistas — had a huge blowback effect. You see, one of the people who we and the Saudis armed back in the 1980s was a rich Saudi named Osama bin Laden, who, like a lot of Muslim radicals from all over the world, saw the fight against the Soviets as a chance to prove his worth as a holy warrior.

Hartmann concluded, “Bin Laden went on to form a group known as ‘The Base’ out of the remnants of his Saudi-backed mujahideen force. You probably know ‘The Base’ by its Arabic name: Al-Qaeda. The rest, as they say, is history.”

President Obama is taking a wiser course in providing airstrikes against ISIS forces; assistance to reliable moderate allies where they can be identified, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army and the reconstituted Iraqi army; counterterrorism intelligence and activities to prevent ISIS attacks; and humanitarian aid.

Obama vowed to wage “a steady, relentless effort” to wipe out ISIS. “Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” he said. “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

He was clear that the United States would not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq, but at least 475 more military advisers will be sent in, pushing the total to about 1,700.

After the speech, John McCain blamed ISIS on Obama for withdrawing American troops from Iraq and his refusal to intervene in Syria. He said additional US special forces and advisers will be needed to direct precision air strikes, advise foreign partners on the ground and possibly conduct targeted operations against ISIS leadership.”

House Speaker John Boehner said “the president appears to view the effort against ISIL as an isolated counterterrorism campaign, rather than as what it must be: an all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America and the principles for which we stand.”

Our conclusion: Obama has plenty of feck. He has enough sense to deny ISIS the reinvasion of Iraq by American troops that the jihadis want. And he has an air force to supply cover for any native army that proves to be worth covering. And once again, thank goodness John McCain isn’t making the call. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014
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Selections from the October 1, 2014 issue