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That man in the white house used his Veteran’s Day speech to yet again suggest that those bold enough to question his unilaterally-imposed foreign policy are aiding the enemy (happy birthday, G!):

While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. (Applause.) Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war….

The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. (Applause.) These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. (Applause.) Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. (Applause.) And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory. (Applause.)

There is plenty about that quote and the speech in general with which an informed observer of any news more involved than Fox sound-bites might choose to quibble, but that’s not my purpose today. This administration has often made the democracy-averse implication that questioning their policy is somehow un-american, contrary to some unquestionable objective, or an aid to our real or purported enemies.

I saw Good Night, and Good Luck last night. It was generally a very good film about Edward R. Murrow‘s rhetorical struggle against McCarthyism. The parallels to our current situation – especially as highlighted by Mr. Bush’s comments today – are striking and chilling.

Most troubling of all, I thought, was that the movie showed a 1950’s U.S. that was much better equipped to resist – at least in the media – the dangerous ideology of McCarthy and his ilk than we are today to struggle with the neo-con worldview. The closest our mainstream media comes consistently and intelligently noting the emperor’s lack of clothing has to hide as comedy!

Of course, the intarweb provides a critical counterbalance, but at best, its current incarnation lets a small single-digit percentage of relatively like-minded folks stay in touch and informed. I can’t imagine the horrors of our current state without it — we’d certainly have already completed the transition to Oceania. But still, there is no way the net is (yet?) equivalent to broadcast TV in its ability to counter the prevailing message – look no further than last year’s election for proof.

The scene in the movie which shows Murrow and producer Fred Friendly agreeing to pay for the sponsor’s ads during their McCarthy-focused episode is described in further detail in the wikipedia entry:

Murrow and his See It Now co-producer, Fred Friendly, paid for their own newspaper advertisement for the program; they were not allowed to use CBS’ money for the publicity campaign or even use the CBS logo. Nonetheless, this 30-minute TV episode contributed to a nationwide backlash against McCarthy and against the Red Scare in general, and it is seen as a turning point in the history of television.

The broadcast provoked tens of thousands of letters, telegrams and phone calls to CBS headquarters, running 10 to 1 in favor of Murrow. In a Murrow retrospective produced by CBS for the A&E Network series Biography, Friendly noted how truck drivers pulled up to Murrow on the street in subsequent days and shouted “Good show, Ed. Good show, Ed.”

Can you imagine this happening now? I’m reminded, in the opposite extreme, of the part of The Corporation which profiles the Florida journalists who were driven out of their jobs for accurate, documented reporting on rBGH dangers, or of any of countless stories told in Outfoxed.

It certainly isn’t news that our watchdogs have swallowed a sedative of historic magnitude and impact. It’s terrifying, none the less. Murrow was prescient with regard to the overall trajectory TV was/is on as a media force, as well. From his 1958 speed to the Radio and Television News Directors Association:

We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

Imagine what Mr. Murrow might have said about “Who’s Your Daddy?” or “The Simple Life”.

Good luck, indeed.

 

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I’ll admit to being a bit of a weather junkie, but this should be of interest to anyone with a political sensibility generally to the left of, say, those who would advocate privatizing roads and sewers and such.

Apparently Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) — yes, Savage Love readers, that Rick Santorum — has introduced a bill that would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing “a product or service…that is or could be provided by the private sector”, with the exception of severe weather alerts. In other words, services like the Weather Underground would no longer be possible, since they ‘compete’ with commercial interests including what has to be one of the most boring cable TV channels around (and that’s saying a lot!).

In the course of his great analysis of the proposed bill, Dr. Jeff Masters of the WUnderground points out that, in order to fulfill its purported core mission of providing severe weather alerts and information to the public, the National Weather Service has to monitor and forecast continually. In other words, their costs are going to be pretty much the same whether the public has access to the day-to-day weather information or not.

This bill is described as a way to use the more efficient private sector to provide a service that the public sector doesn’t need to provide. If the public sector costs are more or less fixed, however, that argument doesn’t work, and the result is simply to force us to pay for the same thing twice — once to the government, and again to Santorum’s campaign donors.

The bill is still in committee — please take a moment to sign this petition, and if you live in a state with a Senator on the Commerce Committee (and I know at least some of you do, Floridians…), give them a call to urge them to oppose this shameless ploy.

 

This is the scariest thing I’ve heard yet today.

…when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

But wait — there’s more! Seventy-five percent said that flag burning is illegal, and half of them claimed that the government could restrict “any indecent material on the Internet”. Perhaps even worse:

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.

If you’re wondering what kind of sensationalist, radical, statistically-challenged institution is behind the survey, you’re probably wondering in the wrong direction. This was a survey sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which seems to be completely legit. In any case, the whole report is here if you want more detail.

(via Warrenellis.com.)

 

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The United Church of Christ has been
rejected by NBC and CBS
in its attempt to run a 30 second ad welcoming people to its churches.

Apparently NBC and CBS thought the ad “too controversial”, because it shows a pair of bouncers in front of a church turning away (among others) a pair of men we are to presume are a gay couple while a voice-over says “The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, you’re welcome here”. Apparently, in these times, this is over the line:

In a written statement to the church, CBS, a unit of Viacom, said the fact that the Bush administration had proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman made the advertisement “unacceptable for broadcast.”

NBC said the ad violated a long-standing policy of the network not to allow commercials that dealt with issues of public controversy. NBC is part of NBC Universal, which is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co., with the rest owned by Vivendi Universal.

Reading these quotes leaves one assuming that, in some bout of historic PR idocy, the UCoC had shown Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave in flagrante delicto in a confessional. Hardly — watch the video! Watch it. Really. Just do it. It’s only barely on the offensive side of fuzzy kittens frolicing in a pile of fresh daisies.

This “controversial” ad implies that the church would welcome a pair of men, it’s true. It also implies that they would welcome people of color, the elderly, and someone in a wheelchair. It doesn’t say a thing about marraige, not that that would make the refusal any more palatable. It’s unbelieveable that one would argue that because the administration is attempting to enforce gender requirements on marraige, showing a gay couple on TV is “controversial”.

What’s the next controversy? Video footage of someone with health care? Talking about a balanced budget? Sorry – my rhetoric needle is pegged.

I’m nauseous.

 

It seems to be getting hard to publicly point out that war is a horrible thing that kills people and generally sucks.

Today brought two terrifying data points. Note that neither is even about any of the particular wars in which we are currently involved, but rather the general idea of organized armed conflict.

First, 66 ABC affiliates decided not to show the film Saving Private Ryan, apparently due to concern that its graphic descriptions of WWII might incur large fines from the FCC in the post-we’ve-seen-Janet-Jackson’s-breast era. This despite the fact that it has been broadcast on ABC on two previous occasions. Is war only “decent” enough for TV when we’re not fighting any?

But wait — there’s more. ABC News via boingboing via backchannel relativepath (thanks!), the United States Secret Service investigated some Boulder, CO high school students simply for singing a forty year old folk song that questions if profit justifies war:

The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan’s song “Masters of War” during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities.

This falls under the Secret Service’s bailiwick, we’re told, because apparently singing this song amounts to threatening the president’s life:

Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate.

Students in the band said they’re just singing the lyrics and not inciting anyone to do anything.

The 1963 song ends with the lyrics: “You might say that I’m young. You might say I’m unlearned, but there’s one thing I know, though I’m younger than you, even Jesus would never forgive what you do … And I hope that you die and your death’ll come soon. I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon. And I’ll watch while you’re lowered down to your deathbed. And I’ll stand o’er your grave ’til I’m sure that you’re dead.”

The first stanza of this song identifies those to whom the closing sentiment is addressed:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

To confuse non-original song lyrics with the sort of threat that warrants Secret Service investigation is absurd and chilling. In fact, the Secret Service’s FAQ rather clearly and reasonably discusses the difference:

The Secret Service does not desire or solicit information pertaining to individuals or groups expressing legitimate criticism of, or political opposition to, the policies and decisions of the government of government officials. However, we are interested in legitimate information relating to threats, plans or attempts by individuals, groups or organizations to harm USSS protectees.

According to ABC News, the Secret Service got involved after a group of students and adults who heard a rehearsal called a radio talk show “saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die”, and then someone called the Secret Service. I assume that the Secret Service takes all reported threats seriously, but then does do some degree of actual vetting before sending agents to investigate. The Secret Service actually spent time interviewing the students’ principal as well as a teacher involved in an unrelated student protest last weekend (whaa-?), so presumably someone decided that this was an actual threat. (Note that there is no hint anywhere that the evidence of “threat” goes in any respect beyond singing this song.)

We are so very far through the looking-glass. Even knowing that, what I find amazing is that the talk-show callers, whoever called the Secret Service, and apparently some decision maker all seem to have read the first stanza of this song to identify the sitting POTUS, but that doesn’t seem to bother any of them. One of the performers hits the nail on the head (again from ABC):

“It’s just Bob Dylan’s song. We were just singing Bob Dylan’s song … If you think it has to do with Bush that’s because you’re drawing your own conclusions. We never conveyed that Bush was the person we were talking about,” said Allysse Wojtanek-Watson, a singer for the band.

If you haven’t heard the song or read the lyrics lately, check it out. It’s one of those Dylan songs that send shivers down my spine, and on the “moral values” scale, it certainly surpasses fretting about love between people with similar genitalia.

It’s encouraging that these students are acting with such conscience and bravery, and it’s great that their principal supported them and the performance went off as planned. However, that small silver lining is dwarfed by the impact this sort of exercise of state power has on the broader discussion climate in our country. Boulder is, after all, a very progressive city, and this event sends a pretty strong signal to school administrators and others in less progressive places (like Richland County, WI, or 66 local ABC TV markets).

My hat is off to those fighting the good fight in Boulder, but I hold it over a heart that increasingly quivers for our country. We are not acting like a very good beacon of democracy and freedom at the moment.

 

This one’s for you, Jon.

Via Feedster RSS Feed for Video Clips Enclosures, one of the funniest Daily Show segments ever: Birds of a Feather: “

If you haven’t seen this, stop whatever you’re doing now, and go watch it. Seriously. It is that funny.

© 2011 Joshua Heling Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha