Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Horse Race" Media Reporting Arrives at Occupy Wall Street

One way to avoid the laborious task of actual analysis of presidential candidates and their policies is to simply forego the "hard news" and instead focus on the "horse race"--who's ahead and who's behind at any given moment.   I imagine that, compared with hard news pieces with actual content, horse race articles almost write themselves--one simply records the latest polling data, observes that candidate Smith moved up, candidate Jones moved down.  You might add a note on fundraising status, and/or get a couple of soundbite quotes from various competing campaign staffers about strategy or spin, and send it off.   The beauty of such coverage (again, if the object is to avoid generating difficult stuff like policy content and analysis) is that one can essentially write the same article over and over simply by changing the dates and plugging in the latest polling data, rearranging the candidate names to suit the numbers.  Granted, you've also got to get new sound-bites/quotes from the campaign staffs, but you've got all those guys on speed-dial now anyway.

In addition, horse race coverage is popular, and therefore lucrative  for media companies:
Given access to a wide variety of news reports about the presidential campaign in the weeks immediately preceding the 2000 election, we find that voters were drawn to reports on the horserace and strategy. Strategy reports proved far more popular than reports about the issues.
There is a downside however.  Horse race coverage produces voters who are poorly-informed, as shown here in an analysis of how this type of coverage impacted public understanding during last year's healthcare debate:  
While there was certainly a lot of coverage of the bill, the framing and mix of what got covered may have contributed to the public’s confusion on the issue. While the largest component, by far, focused on politics, only a small fraction highlighted the issue at the core of the debate—how the U.S. health care industry actually functions.
Horse race coverage has also been found to boost cynicism, eroding public confidence in government generally: 
Although media organizations stand to profit, the overproduction of horserace news takes a toll on the political commons.  Our results indicate that exposure to this genre of campaign news contributed to increased cynicism about the candidates and the electoral process itself.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

After Nine Years of War, Iraq Liberates the US


As has been widely noted, Obama's decision to remove all remaining troops from Iraq was the result of failed negotiations over legal immunity for any US troops that would have remained after 2011.  The number under negotiation was, according to an interesting article by Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy Magazine, anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 troops.  Immunity, of course, would mean that any action undertaken by occupying US troops that led to property damage, injuries and/or deaths of Iraqi citizens could not be redressed under Iraqi law or by Iraqi courts.  Given our long and very bloody history in Iraq, it is intuitively obvious that many Iraqis would not want to continue granting such a legal blank-check to Obama, even if some in both countries did see benefits in keeping a small US force within the country.  Shame on the Iraqi government for representing that widespread view in their dealings with the US.

The new argument coming from conservative critics of this decision is that Obama "bungled" these negotiations by insisting that the Iraqi Parliament (and not just Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki) must sign off on any immunity agreement.   Iraqi nationalist anti-occupation and anti-immunity sentiment there was apparently strong enough to block any agreement that would keep American forces in Iraq beyond the 2011 calendar year, a deadline previously established between Iraq and the Bush administration.  Behind these criticisms is a vague, unproven, and yet constantly echoed argument that Iraq is going to invite Iran in, as soon as it is finished kicking the US out.  Such claims have never been substantiated, nor are they consistent with Iraqi national identity.

Leaving aside the issue of a supposed shadowy and evil Iranian presence lurking in the background, it is hard to envision how such an agreement could be undertaken without the participation and approval of Iraq's elected parliament, but Rogin's article provides a platform for conservative critics such as Marissa Cochrane Sullivan (based at the Neoconservative "Institute for the Study of War") who are critical of how the negotiations were handled, using the familiar refrain that Iraq is a special case, and that normal measures such as parliamentary approval simply don't apply:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Barney Frank Blames Occupy Wall Street

Did you see this segment on Rachel Maddow last night?  Check it out.

I like Barney Frank, and I'm glad he said what he did. But his complaint that Occupy Wall Street (twitter feed #OWS) should have been in the trenches in 2009, and that OWS really needs to think about voting more Democrats into office in 2012 seems to overlook an important historical fact. In 2008 voters gave the Democrats commanding majorities in both houses of Congress, and they delivered Barack Obama to the White House. In 2009, Democrats assumed the opportunity, the power, and the mandate to deliver change. They overwhelmingly failed to do so.

Instead, in 2009 Frank's Democratic Party began launching a series of policy moves to extend and expand disastrous US foreign military actions along with a series of corporate-friendly domestic policies in the finance, health-care and energy sectors. Most recently, Obama has produced disastrous job-killing federal austerity budget cuts and the largest "free trade" deals since NAFTA (with three pacts to be signed by him this coming Friday). He has alienated his own environmental base to the point of having their leadership arrested at the gates of the White House, and he has overseen the expansion of constitutional infringements and government secrecy, in some cases exceeding those of the Bush era up to and including the unlawful assassination of multiple US citizens without an iota of due legal process. He has done precious little to halt a tsunami of home foreclosures sweeping the country (an estimated 800,000 foreclosures this year alone), many of them clearly involving criminal fraud by banks. Instead of forcefully protecting citizens in their troubled homes, Obama has mouthed vague rhetorical sympathies while protecting his benefactors in the megabanks.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"I've Got Nothing For You On That"

Thanks to Jake Tapper (ABC News) for asking:

Let's face it.  This administration simply doesn't get the civil liberties thing.  And for any law students who were at Chicago when Obama was on the faculty there, I'd suggest you request a refund.    Credit to this blog for posting this video segment.