Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NYT: Japanese press corps too much like us

Peter Hart of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting catches The New York Times, the premier vehicle for  disseminating establishment disinformation in the U.S. for the better part of a century -- The Washington Times the preferred outlet for those unable to get their crackpot conspiracies published in respectable papers like the central Georgia Penny Pincher -- reporting on the odd arrangement in Japan between the major media and the state:
". . . in which reporters from major news media outlets are stationed inside government offices and enjoy close, constant access to officials. The system has long been criticized as antidemocratic by both foreign and Japanese analysts, who charge that it has produced a relatively spineless press that feels more accountable to its official sources than to the public. In their apparent reluctance to criticize the government, the critics say, the news media fail to serve as an effective check on authority."
Rest assured, though, dear reader: it could never happen here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 'conspiracy' to debunk a smear campaign

Taking a page from her allies with the MEK, Jennifer Rubin of the neoconservative Commentary magazine has written what journalist Daniel Lubin accurately characterizes as a “paranoid post” (approvingly linked by Washington Times hatchetman Eli Lake) accusing a range of writers of various ideological stripes – including Andrew Sullivan, Spencer Ackerman, Matt Yglesias and Glenn Greenwald – of engaging in a secret campaign coordinated by some Washington PR firm to defend the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president, Trita Parsi, from the slanderous and unsubstantiated claim from the likes of Rubin and Lake that the group is a front for the Iranian government.

Now, one should never be surprised to read something bat-shit crazy from Commentary magazine, but this is a truly bizarre instance of projection -- mirroring the MEK approach of accusing all their opponents of being Iranian spies -- wherein one of the very right-wing operatives defaming NIAC and Parsi suggests something shady and conspiratorial is at play in the effort to respond to her libels. This after it was well-publicized that the smear campaign against NIAC originated with a coalition of wacky neocons and agents of the anti-Iranian terrorist group the MEK. The only remarkable aspect of her post, really, is that she never gets around to explaining how George Soros was orchestrating the whole defense of NIAC all along from his liberal fortress in the sky (but I guess Michael Goldfarb beat her to it).

“Weeks before the story actually broke, the groundwork for the defense was being laid,” Rubin writes, reproducing a November 2nd email from Parsi alerting supporters to the coming smears. Weeks later, that smear campaign has unfolded, culminating in Lake's remarkably weak hit piece in the Times accusing Parsi of being an Iranian agent based on documents provided him by a neoconservative ideologue and a reported MEK agent – but it is Parsi and the “Left blogosphere” that is engaged in a conspiracy, Rubin says, suggesting those defending NIAC all go their talking points handed them by PR firm Brown Lloyd James (who?).

“That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude,” Rubin writes, one eyebrow raised, “and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team.”

Again we see how these ever-so-brave neoconservatives aren't willing to debate actual facts, like Luban's evidence the source of the Parsi/NIAC smear is a member of a foreign terrorist organization, so they reflexively fall back to the tactic of smearing, suggesting all who disagree with them are controlled by others. NIAC opposes sanctions and war against Iran? Well, then they must be directed by Iran, goes the line. Unimpressed with Lake's pathetic, evidence-free smear of Parsi as a foreign agent? Why, you must be directed by NIAC (and its spooky public relations team). Of course, the tact is juvenile and asinine, and more than a bit played out, but then so is the neoconservative world view.

Writes Luban:
“While I don’t want to get in the way of a good theory, I would suggest that Rubin could benefit from the judicious use of Occam’s Razor. It is indeed possible, I suppose, that every commentator who has disputed the charge that NIAC lobbies for the Iranian regime has only done so because they are receiving talking points and unmarked cash-filled envelopes from Brown Lloyd James. But let me venture what I think is a simpler explanation: commentators from across the political spectrum have argued that NIAC is not a tool of the Iranian regime because, well, it is utterly obvious that NIAC is not a tool of the Iranian regime.”
Obvious, at least, to those with half a brain (agents of Tehran, one would think, wouldn't send out press releases like this).

But Rubin isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the blogosphere, as she demonstrates with her claim that lefty bloggers “struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same)” in their efforts to defend NIAC, thus their needing to rely on a PR firm's talking points. Except it really isn't so hard to defend Parsi's “conspiracy” to end U.S. aid to Iranian “opposition” groups. In fact, allow me to just quote Iranian dissident and journalist Akbar Ganji on the matter, via the BBC:
"The US democracy fund was severely counterproductive. None of the human right activists and members of opposition in Iran had any interest in using such funds, but we were all accused by Iran's government of being American spies because a few groups in America used these funds."
See? Not so difficult. But people like Rubin don't actually care about facts, the Iranian opposition, or the Iranian people, for that matter. What they care about is U.S. hegemony – that's it – and the Iranian regime's refusal to become a client state. If the mullahs in Tehran allowed a few U.S. bases in their country, then neocons would speak out about Iran's human rights situation about as much as they do Uzbekistan's – which is to say, not at all.

Full Disclosure: This post was dictated by George Soros at the request of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Faux journalism from a quasi-journalist

Few would confuse a publication owned by a messianic cult that requires its editors to attend creepy mass weddings with a credible news organization. And fewer still would mistake a hack reporter who uncritically regurgitates allegations from a reported member of a terrorist organization once closely allied with Saddam Hussein as part of an orchestrated smear campaign with an actual journalist. So it’s with some hesitation that I even bother addressing Eli Lake of The Washington Timesrecent piece suggesting the president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Trita Parsi, is actually a foreign agent working on behalf of the Iranian regime -- a claim Lake, bent on learning only that which he has already concluded, forgets to find any evidence for.

But the article's worth addressing for a couple of reasons, mostly because it provides a case-study in how the militarist right seeks to deflect efforts to engage in actual nuanced, intelligent debate on foreign policy with attacks on their opponents character and motivations -- and demonstrates how, as with the fairy tale about Iraq's fictitious weapons of mass destruction, these right-wing operatives seek to create a narrative by planting dubious stories in the media. That the stories are almost instantly debunked matters not, a headline and a fantastical lede being all that matters when one's seeking to boost a flimsy smear for political ends.

Indeed, the evidence, so to speak, for Lake’s most sensational claim -- that Parsi is a foreign agent lobbying on behalf of Tehran -- is remarkably weak, even by Times standards, amounting to this: Parsi and his organization openly oppose sanctions and military action against Iran -- just like Iran’s government! -- ergo, he is an unregistered foreign agent of Iran. While arguing Parsi is thereby violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Lake doesn’t bother to dig any further than emails handed him by crazed neoconservative Kenneth Timmerman and Hassan Daioleslam, a reported agent of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terror-cult, a group that allied itself with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and which continues to enjoy pockets of support in Washington despite its presence on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The smoking gun?
E-mail correspondence between Mr. Parsi and Mr. Zarif show Mr. Parsi suggesting that the Iranian diplomat meet with members of Congress.
"Happy to hear that you will meet with [Rep. Wayne] Gilchrest and potentially [Rep. James] Leach. There are many more that are interested in a meeting, including many respectable Democrats," Mr. Parsi wrote in an Oct. 25, 2006, e-mail.
And that’s pretty much it, which shows neither that Parsi was operating at the behest of the Iranian government nor that he received any financing from it. The rest of the story is just obfuscatory filler. The weakness of Lake’s case is further demonstrated by former Bush speechwriter David “axis of evil” Frum’s restatement of it:
Here we have a national of a hostile foreign power [ed. note: Parsi left Iran at age 4]. That national has gained important access to U.S. government and media. He has used that access to advocate an agenda remarkably coincident with the wishes of his home government.
It’s basic curiosity to wonder: Who is this guy? By seeking to answer that question, Eli has committed real journalism.
Of course, real journalism would also seek to differentiate between fact and fiction. A real journalist might also be aware that the MEK and its supporters -- who favor sanctions against Iran and ultimately the installing of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi as Iran's "president" -- are notorious for claiming anyone who doesn't back their warped interpretation of Iranian politics and their specific agenda for bringing down the current regime is an agent of Tehran. When I wrote a piece this summer noting Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher's (R-CA) avowed solidarity with the MEK despite its status as an officially designated terrorist organization, I was immediately accused by one of the group's outspoken agents of being part of a plot by Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aimed at "using U.S. media to attack its arch-enemy" the MEK. And I'm a nobody!

An articulate, credible advocate for dialog with Iran like Parsi will naturally attract vociferous, overwrought opposition from these MEK operatives, as we now see unfolding with the attack led by Daioleslam, who first accused Parsi and the NAIC of being Iranian agents back in 2007. A trip to Dailoselam's website reveals he has in fact written little else over the past several years other than purported expose's of the "pro-Tehran lobby", a obsessive fixation in keeping with what one would expect of an MEK member with an ax to grind. It also reveals his ties to the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI), founded by Timmerman, Joshua Muravchik and other extreme neoconservatives back in 1995, and which once claimed that "sources" -- within the MEK, no doubt -- had informed the group "that the Iranian regime is planning a nuclear weapons test before the Iranian New Year on March 20, 2006." So much for that. And so much for claiming Dailoselam and his cohorts have anything in the way of credibility.

As for the claim that Parsi's activities could loosely be defined as in the "interests" of Tehran, making him a foreign agent, well . . . I don't think Lake and his neocon allies want to go too far down that road, as whatever broad interpretation of the foreign agents act employed against a little known group like NIAC and its president would apply in spades to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has long been dogged by claims it acts as a foreign agent. Of course, when AIPAC critics have argued just that, its defenders discovered the merits of a limited interpretation of the law.

Examining the question of whether AIPAC could be forced to register as a foreign agent back in 2004, the Jewish daily The Forward reported that legally "it would be difficult" to prove, according to experts.

“Lots of ethnic organizations throughout America are representing Americans who support foreign countries or political parties in foreign countries. None of those have in the past been considered foreign agents or required to register as such,” Tom Susman, chair of the the American League of Lobbyists’ ethics committee (don’t laugh), told the paper. “[AIPAC] doesn’t advocate on behalf of the government of Israel, but the nation of Israel.” Susman also said the law allowed for some coordination with foreign governments: “a substantial independence [of the lobbying group] is all that’s needed. Not total independence.”

If we’re to expand what it means to be a foreign agent, redefining it as merely acting in the “interests” of another country regardless of whether one’s financed or directed to do so or not, then by all means NIAC should register. But so should AIPAC. The likes of Lake and Frum, however, only appear to want to talk about the so-called Iran Lobby and its supposed influence in Washington, an extreme irony I need not elaborate on, almost as if they have an ideological fixation on one country, Iran, to the exclusion of others. I mean, when’s the last time either of them changed their Twitter avatars to express solidarity with human rights activists in say, Gaza, or Colombia?

The focus on Parsi is illuminating, though. Here we have neoconservatives yet again supposing they know what’s best for another country -- and that they of all people are most in touch with the mood on the ground in those other countries the U.S. somehow always ends up needing to bomb -- confronted with an outspoken guy who actually knows something about Iran outside of what you might hearing at an AEI lecture openly opposing sanctions and war based on the well-supported belief they’re likely to harm average Iranians more than their leaders. Knowing they can’t beat him on the merit of their by now discredited arguments, they turn to the only tools left when reasoned discourse is abandoned: venom and bile. One can’t merely have a difference of opinion, one must be a traitor, or a spy!, or another nefarious foreign agent of some sort dedicated to the unmitigated evil of furthering international dialogue. That they haven’t attacked Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner who also believes “sanctions would only aggravate the people’s hardship,” is likely because she isn’t as active in the Washington think tank community as Parsi (though every good neocon knows George Bush was robbed in ’03).

As Kevin Sullivan at the blog Real Clear World writes:
Anyone who could possibly argue that it's somehow pro-regime to support rapprochement and question Western democracy promotion inside Iran isn't really an honest broker in this policy debate. I happen to disagree with Parsi on sanctions, but I'm not about to call him "Iran's man" in Washington. That's irresponsible, and it speaks volumes about how truly disinterested hawkish pundits are in a conversation absent of bombs and regime change. It simply bores them.
In other words, war -- either on another country or on a perceived enemy like Parsi -- is the force that gives neocons like Lake meaning as they battle on the frontlines of Twitter. How very sad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Misleading headline of the week

. . . courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor: "Irish priest kidnapped in Philippines released by MILF."

Reading the story one finds that the priest was released by the "Moro Islamic Liberation Front", not an attractive mature woman with whom . . . well, never mind.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New game: Is it Fox News or Center for American Progress?

David Swanson recently noted that the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, issued a report arguing that the U.S. government should delay the closing of Guantanamo Bay and transfer some of its prisoners to the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan -- habeas corpus only applying to a select group of human beings born in certain arbitrary geopolitical regions. Now the think tank's deputy research director Amanda Terkel is casually referring to "Iran's nuclear weapons program" in posts on the popular Think Progress blog, which one would think a research director would know is a claim that's rather hotly disputed, with the IAEA (the folks actually on the ground inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities -- and the ones who were right about Iraq) to the U.S. intelligence community and Obama's director of national intelligence Dennis Blair all reporting that there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Perhaps if Terkel and other professional liberals in Washington focus a little less on how crazy stupid the Tea Party protesters are and a just a little bit more on who is actually in power and the claims they make -- and remember how we all still hate that whole distortion of intelligence thing, right? -- further embarrassing inaccuracies can be avoided in the future.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A final word on the 'U.S.S. New York'

Not that there was much need for further evidence, but this tribute from musician Charlie Daniels (using the term loosely) to the U.S.S. New York -- the warship built using salvaged steel from the World Trade Center -- pretty much proves what I suspected those cheering the vessel were really applauding: mindless retaliation against an ill-defined Other.

As Daniels puts it, the ship's "a bringer of vengeance" and "she's armed and she's ready for war." How a $1.2 billion warship will help guard against men with box cutters hijacking planes is not explored. But similar to a child cheering along a team in a sport they don't really understand -- like a Daily Kos diarist on election night -- uber-patriots of Daniels' ilk embrace a knee-jerk, violent militarism because it just feels right, the way shouting "fight! fight! fight!" does to a group of teenage boys witnessing a scuffle, nationalist pseudo-patriotism and a gut-desire to kick ass taking the place of critical thought and a consideration of the bigger picture. Indeed, the mere process of thought -- like hey, how again does a warship help bring to justice non-state actors who planned their crimes in places like Florida, all of whom are already dead? -- is itself bordering on unpatriotic and a tad effeminate, no?

As if the awful, offensive music wasn't enough, reader "Pangloss" points out that the warship has its very own website -- with a blog! -- where one can buy cheesy commemorative merchandise.

Never forget (for only two easy payments of $19.95)!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The latest (and surely not last) grotesque exploitation of 9/11

Violence and perpetual war are the defining traits of America, so when I read that the U.S. Navy has built a massive, $1.2 billion warship “containing 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the fallen Twin Towers”, I found the news as fitting as I did revolting. After all, within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center government officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were eagerly seeking a number of dubious ways to tie the events to Iraq in order to justify an invasion the Bush administration began planning as soon as its first National Security Council meeting (with key principals beginning much earlier). And since that fateful day in 2001, the U.S. government has been bombing poor people around the globe – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia – in a war of terror that has succeeded at little more than sowing the seeds of the next instance of blowback.

I do wonder about the families of the victims of 9/11, though; the ones the president of the September 11th Families' Association tells Newsday were “smiling through [their] tears” at the sight of a floating fortress of death pulling up alongside the shores of New York City, “escorted by four NYPD helicopters and a phalanx of Coast Guard and police boats as sailors and Marines manned loaded machine guns around the decks.” Given that millions of people have either been killed or forced to flee their homes as a result of the U.S. response to 9/11, while Osama bin Laden and his cohorts – the purported targets of the response – roam free, what exactly are these people cheering other than vengeance, a mindless lashing out at those abroad for the crimes perpetrated by 19 terrorists armed with box cutters?

And what does it say about a culture that commemorates – or permits its government to commemorate on its behalf with nary a critical world – the slaughter of 3,000 of its own, not by using scraps from the Twin Towers to build a monument to peace or a school to promote tolerance and understanding, but by building a machine designed solely for inflicting death and destruction on others? To ask, as the saying goes, is to answer.

The pathetic display of gaudy machismo that is the U.S.S. New York is no more sophisticated an expression of masculinity than attaching a pair of truck nuts to an F-150, but its bad taste is compounded by the fact that when the U.S. military builds a warship, you can bet it's not just for display purposes. As Democratic luminary and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once put it, “What's the point of having this superb military . . . if we can't use it?” And so the tragedy of 9/11 will be answered with numerous tragedies still to come, those in far-off lands unfortunate enough to experience the brunt of the American brand of justice at least comforted by the fact that their suffering may provide a sense of closure for the ignorant, exploited domestic victims of U.S. foreign policy.

Your Final Dose of Bad Taste and Criminal Waste of Tax Dollars:
Many on board [the U.S.S. New York] had stayed up late Sunday to watch the World Series with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had ridden out in one of the New York's troop transport hovercrafts to the ship cruising 10 miles offshore.
Nonetheless, the day began as usual with the announcement of "reveille, reveille" and the trill of the bosun's pipe at 4 a.m. But there was also something special, a fitting tribute to the ship's heritage: a recording of Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York."