Now Cough

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

You Guys Go Ahead..

...I'll Watch from the Moon

As the 'war on terror' continues, the Bush administration is once again doing all it can to make us feel safer.

The New York Times is reporting that the Air Force, and the White House, are taking steps to make it possible to deploy offensive weapons in Earth orbit.

The militarization of space (look, satellites are 'defensive' weapons) has long been a big no-no. I recall as a kid a stamp that pledged to keep space peaceful.

I guess Rumsfeld didn't collect stamps.

Anyway, sleep better knowing this:

"We haven't reached the point of strafing and bombing from space," Pete Teets, who stepped down last month as the acting secretary of the Air Force, told a space warfare symposium last year. "Nonetheless, we are thinking about those possibilities."

Full article here (reg. required).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Guess the Context of the Quote

''[This] had real consequences,'' he said. ''People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged. There are some who are opposed to the United States and what we stand for who have sought to exploit this... It will take work to undo what can be undone.''

[They need to] ''clearly [explain] what happened and how they got it wrong, particularly to the Muslim world, and pointing out the policies and practices of our military.''

Abu Gharib? WMD? Bush foreign policy? The war in Iraq?


This is a quote from White House press secretary Scott McClellan lecturing Newsweek on the outcome of the story it had to retract yesterday.

You tell 'em Scott! People lost lives for God's sake. Our image as Americans has been damaged! And what exactly did happen? Yeah Scott. We want answers.


Monday, May 16, 2005

The Battlecry to Save Public Broadcasting

Moyers on Fire

Bill Moyers closed the Media Reform Conference in St. Louis this weekend. And, after a couple weeks of coverage regarding signs of political pressure at CPB and PBS, Moyers addressed the issue directly. He's been pilloried for years--and certainly, most recently -- for his unpopular views. Unpopular to those in power.

Hear what Moyers said. (You'll download an audio file and then click it to play. Runs 1:02 hours)


Kenneth Tomlinson, the head of CPB who Moyers rebutts in his address, had an op-ed in the right wing Washington Times earlier this week. Tomlinson lays out the controversy and tries to explain the need for balance in public TV.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Auf Deutsch

What is German for 'spam?'

Is anyone else being inundated with spam email, maybe from Germany, decrying the Allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945?


In den fruehen Abendstunden des 13. Februar 1945 gegen 21:41 Uhr
heulten die Sirenen der Lazarettstadt Dresden das erste mal auf. Die Bewohner der Elbmetropole machten sich zu der Zeit noch keine Sorgen, da Dresden als Stadt ohne Bewaffnung und ohne militaerischen Nutzen bekannt war und von ca. 1,2 Millionen Frauen, Kindern und Greisen bewohnt wurde...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Law and Disorder

Twenty Years on...

There have been news reports this week (NPR had a pretty good story) about the 20 years that have passed since Philadelphia police attempted to evict the group MOVE from a rowhouse in a neighborhood called Cobb's Creek.

[NOTE: MOVE is often described as a 'back to nature' group or a 'radical group.' Having spent a lot of time with some of its members, it had all the attributes of a cult built around the beliefs of a barely literate man named John Africa who preached a bizarre, polyglot stew of beliefs, rules, leftist anti-establishment mumbo jumbo and other stuff. The leaders of the group could be alternatively charming, persuasive and threatening to outsiders (I received calls at home a few times). By some accounts, being an insider was even more challenging.]

Instead, the police action turned into a monumental disaster: 11 people, including children, were killed in the MOVE house, 61 homes in the middle class neighborhood were burned in a roaring inferno, and the scars have yet to heal. Photos and coverage (reg. required) at The Philadelphia Inquirer

I was there and have endured years of memories, nightmares and all sorts of trauamtic maladies. But my issues are the least of what happened that day.

Based on what I saw and what transpired, I believe that the police came to Osage Avenue that week prepared to kill everyone in the house if that's what it took to finally put an end to MOVE. Mayor Wilson Goode and his managing director Leo Brooks (who had, ironically, played a role in the secret bombing of Cambodia) were weak leaders and managers and the Commission that investigated the tragedy concluded that Goode "abdicated his responsibility' as a leader in failing to oversee what the police were doing.

The planning, command and control and tactics were woefully poor. And that's why, after week's of surveillance, when the plan fell apart, the city resorted to dropping an improvised C4 bomb on the roof of the rowhouse to remove one of two bunkers there. (The bombing involved government at a number of levels: the city police, a state police helicopter and crew, and the use of a military explosive available to the National Guard and the US Army and, based on a couple calls I got, from the FBI.) The bomb failed to do it.

But the fire it started spelled 'opportunity' to the police. The order was given to 'Let the Fire Burn;' fire trucks in the area were kept at bay with their hoses off for 45 minutes. Too late did officials realize that once one rowhouse catches fire--they all will. And they did.

That night, you could feel the heat like a blast furnace from two blocks away. On that hot, humid evening the red flames blazed red and yellow hot against the sky as home after home was consumed. By then, around 9 PM, the fire trucks were lamely pumping streams of water.

The scene of the disaster was still smoking two days afterward. Two people made it out alive: Ramona Africa and a young boy named Birdie Africa.

Given what has happened in subsequent years at Ruby Ridge, Waco with the Davidians, I still don't think we know what to do with people and groups that are committed to dying in the name of their beliefs.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Empire Falls

Strings Attached

Public broadcasting has an appropriate (and to some maddening) aversion to money influencing content. Unlike the filthy, stupid and suspect commercial world of TV and radio, public broadcasting is pure.

In your dreams.

First, programs that exhibit courage and insight, NOW and Fresh Air are lambasted by the right and even their largest public funder, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB):

Important as public comment is, it is only one source of information available to us, and we do not rely on it exclusively. We are also mindful of the views of broadcasting and journalism professionals, public officials, commentators, activists, artists and critics, among others. These opinions may be expressed in the public press, in private conversations with CPB board members and other officials, or even in congressional hearings. We value them all, because each helps us build a fuller picture of the diversity of American opinion and the needs of the public we seek to serve.

We define "press" broadly to include not only mainstream print and broadcast entities, but also the many issue-oriented Web sites that closely follow news coverage and analysis. During the last year, a number of issues involving public broadcasting attracted attention in the press. NPR coverage of Israel sparked criticism, as well as organized protests in major cities. At PBS, Bill Moyers and his dual role as reporter and commentator provoked some unfavorable reaction, including particular attention from Fox host Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly figured in another controversy when he walked out of an interview with NPR's Terry Gross; NPR's ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, later agreed with O'Reilly's charge that the interview was unfair. Finally, a number of news stories explored the issue of perceived bias or lack of objectivity, not only in public broadcasting but in the media as a whole.

Members of Congress also expressed opinions about public broadcasting's objectivity and balance. At two hearings during 2003 – one before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and the other before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation – some members expressed discomfort with perceived bias in the presentation of news and public issues, including NPR's war coverage and NOW with Bill Moyers, while other valued the thought-provoking presentation of different points of views. CPB Board Chair Kenneth Y. Tomlinson also commented publicly on the need to ensure that public television offers balance in its public affairs programming.

The only ones charging bias and imbalance are members of the political right. So, PBS now has on the terrible, didactic program The Journal Editorial Report (whose title I love, because it mixes the word 'editorial,' opinion -- in this case conservative opinion -- with the word 'report,' which makes this sound like a balanced news program. It isn't.)

What is more, the chairman of CPB--Kenneth Tomlinson (who still helps run a new American inspired (think VOA-like) TV channel for Arabic peaking nations--is conservative as well. And, he secretly had two consultants weigh viewer and listener opinion about bias and balance regarding PBS and NPR shows. He didn't tell the programs or PBS or NPR he was doing this. Apparently even the CPB board was in the dark according to The New York Times. In any case, the consultants found NO merit to the allegations or bias and imbalance (read the report here A Report to Congress on Steps Taken by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Response to Section 19 of the Public Telecommunications Act of 1992 for the period January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2003)

An excerpt from the site Center for Digital Democracy:

Conducted between June 29-July 2003 and surveying 1,008 adults, the National Public Opinion Survey #2 showed that public broadcasting had an 80 percent “Favorable” rating; only 10 percent of those polled had an “Unfavorable” opinion of PBS and public radio. PBS "News & Information 'consumers'” were highly supportive of such programs as the "Newshour," "Frontline," "Morning Edition," and "All Things Considered."

More than half of those surveyed believed that PBS news and information programming was more “trustworthy” than news shows on the commercial networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN (while between 6 and 15 percent found PBS programming less trustworthy). Similarly, more than half of those surveyed believed that PBS provided more "in-depth" news and information programming than the networks (compared to between 17 and 24 percent who thought such programming was less in-depth). Only about 8 percent thought that PBS’s Iraq war coverage was “slanted.” More than a quarter of those surveyed said the reporting was “fair and balanced” (while 63 percent had “no opinion” at all). NPR received similar results. Few respondents believed that PBS and NPR “coverage of the Bush Administration” was “slanted” (a result that no doubt disappointed those at CPB who had formulated the question).

Finally, more than half (55 percent) said that PBS programming was “fair and balanced," with strong support for its “high quality programming” and as “a valuable cultural resource.” NPR received an even higher approval rating for its programming, including perceptions that it is “fair and balanced” (79 percent of respondents).

Regardless, CPB has hired two 'ombudsmen' to oversee and opine about how balanced, accurate and fair NPR, PBS and other CPB-funded programs are. Both tend to have a conservative bent and one used to work with Tomlinson at Reader's Digest.

My advice:

  • Be suspect of all funders. Especially now with these developments at CPB.

  • Encourage independent media. The money needs to be separate from the content, whether the money if from business, foundations, universities or government.

  • Pledge to public broadcasting programs and stations that reflect your values

  • Push for the phase out of government support of public broadcasting. This is my sole opinion, but in this day and age there are simply too many strings attached.