Losing Afghanistan (And America ...)

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

If you want to know one of the many (but not all) reasons our MSM is f***ed up, look here.

And speaking of Afghanistan, not only is Osama bin Laden roaming free, here, laughing at Bush's pseudo-macho threats, with the blood of our citizens on his hands, but the Taliban has reconstituted itself, women are being openly repressed again and the heroin trade is flourishing, with a much healthier crop than in recent years. Stories like this and this are horrible and horrific but inevitable, I'm afraid, when you go to war. Bush's crime in this case -- he is guilty of so many, one has to be specific -- is to stretch the military so thin and put its people under such great stress while simultaneously loosening the bonds of discipline, both self- and official, that he actually encourages this kind of behavior, and does tremendous damage to the institution in the process. Fred Kaplan appears to have something to say here and here.

(And congrats to the L.A. Times reporters and editors for some terrific journalism.)

Question inspired by seeing the incredible IMAX version of Superman Returns: I disagree with Hugo Chavez on an awful lot, particularly the intellectual merits of Noam Chomsky's works on foreign policy, as well as reports of his death. But one thing troubles me: Have Bush and Satan ever actually been seen in the same place at the same time?

Speaking of superheroes with hidden identities, by the way, one of my first-ever Altercation posts, nearly five years ago, asked: "Is Spidey Jewish? Were his parents killed in the Holocaust?" Turns out I'm a genius, dontcha think, here?

The United States of Torture.

If you live in Manhattan right now, it's impossible to get away from Katie Couric and her $10 million ad campaign. For that reason alone, I'd be fine with the fact that Brian Williams is kicking her ass, not that I would care otherwise. But the fact is, Katie's show sucks. Look at what she does with the opportunity to interview Condi Rice, here. Look at who her "Free Speech" guests are here. And look at who the show just hired here. You'd almost think that CBS had a purposeful strategy to suck up to right-wing nuts after throwing Dan Rather to the wolves, no?

And Eric Boehlert notes that "the smart guys at The Note, which links to more than 70 stories today, ignores the Dems' hearing on Iraq from Monday; doesn't exist." The Post sent Milbank, here, and the Times did next to nothing as well.

Do I have to say it out loud? "What Liberal Media?"

David vs. Dan, here. Whatever's true, false, or unfair, it's a pretty great story (though it misses Sirota's time at CAP, which was considerable... and rocky(!))

From the Benton Foundation:

FCC FEAR CANCELS PBS AIRING [SOURCE: Denver Post, AUTHOR: Dick Kreck]

Fear of fines from the Federal Communications Commission caused Rocky Mountain PBS to cancel the showing of the two-hour documentary "Marie Antoinette." "I took a look at it at 10 this morning," said James Morgese, president and general manager of RMPBS. "What I saw is nothing worse than what you see on TV elsewhere, but in this era of heightened sensitivity by the FCC, fines are pretty stiff." Specifically, he said, the questionable scenes were 200-year-old pencil drawings of nude couples having sex and "a very specific" discussion of Louis VXI's apparent impotency.

PBS HONES ITS PITCH WITH NEW SPONSORSHIPS [SOURCE: MediaWeek, AUTHOR: John Consoli]

The Sponsorship Group for Public Television -- the advertising arm of WGBH in Boston, the public TV powerhouse that produces about a third of the series that air on PBS -- is stepping up its pitch to media agencies and advertisers. SGPTV, in particular, is stressing value-added packages that include not only on-air spots but assorted ways of involving advertisers with the shows off-air. One recent example involves first-time PBS advertisers Arby's and Macy's. The pair in May, began sponsoring a new kids' show Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman, which taps an animated canine host, Ruff, who poses science-based challenges to real kids. Arby's, in addition to its on-air spots, has attached Ruff to one of its kids meals, while Macy's, as it absorbs its newly acquired Marshall Fields stores, is having the kids on the show appear live in its kids' departments to promote its Greendog kids clothing line.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco

Dear Dr. A,

Many thanks for highlighting Vladimir Bukovsky's excellent piece on torture. Bukovsky's mention of Nikolai Yezhov, who headed the NKVD under Stalin, brings to mind a personal anecdote which colors my views on the torture issue.

When I was in high school in Louisiana in the mid-70s, the state legislature decreed that all high school students had to take a course in "free enterprise." (Apparently, they feared the Louisiana public schools were churning out a bunch of Trotskyites.) Although the required content of the course was vague, it was basically designed to teach us the superiority of the American system over the Soviet one. Fortunately, I had an excellent teacher, and in one lecture he described to us the role that Yezhov had played under Stalin. I remember to this day my teacher's chilling description of how Yezhov had perfected the use of sleep deprivation as a form of, ahem, "coercive interrogation." Hearing that left me in no doubt that the Soviet Union's government was barbaric, because only barbarians would use such inhuman tactics to force confessions from people. I was able to comfort myself that *my* country, then led by a new president (Carter) who had made human rights a focus of his foreign policy, was not only better than the USSR, but morally superior.

The 16-year-old high school student that I was could not have imagined that 30 years later the American government would be using such techniques. The 45-year-old lawyer that I have become finds it dispiriting to think that we can have lost so much of our collective moral character in my relatively short lifetime. I can only pray that there are 16-year-olds out there who still retain the capacity to be outraged by a government that preaches "democracy" while borrowing from Yezhov's playbook.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I take your point about academic freedom. I agree that a university is a laboratory of ideas and tolerates those that may offend in order to test them with the expectation that the test will be a reliable gauge of the truth of those ideas or their service to cultural values. However, academic freedom doesn't provide a license for any sort of intellectual pursuit without consideration for its effects. For example, two neuropsychologists may be involved in related work, but we don't apply academic freedom protections equally to one who studies the effects of certain kinds of stress on human beings and to one who researches ways to develop torture techniques that would maximize those effects in interrogations. Because [John] Yoo worked not only to make torture a real policy but also to undermine the bedrock constitutional value of checks and balances, I would align him with the latter. In other words, Yoo's service to the Bush administration wasn't simply theoretical, it was practical. A majority of legal professors may expose the fallacies or dangers of his formulations, but their intellectual tests don't matter a whit to an administration that seizes upon Yoo's ideas as an opportunity. If a majority of the Supreme Court were to view executive power as Yoo does, then the academic ideal would be rendered into the kind of quaint notion that Alberto Gonzales now thinks the Geneva Conventions are. Given that possibility, I attach greater significance to the constitutional freedoms and protections that, it was once thought, we all have a right to enjoy than to the academic freedom and institutional protections that Yoo enjoys.

Eric replies: When you get to decide which ideas deserve academic freedom and which don't, it's no longer academic freedom. And what happens, when you die and someone else gets to decide? What if John Yoo were deciding about your ideas which he would say, get Americans killed by terrorists. Truth be told, I have precious few principles left, but this is one of them. Academic freedom means freedom for everyone ...

Name: Tom Wiggers
Hometown: Evansville, IN

Eric,

I was truly blown away by the scathing response Bill gave the FOX correspondent (term used very lightly) and his ilk. Here is a man who faced facts, spoke the truth(even his own culpability) and was caught time after time actually thinking about what he was about to say.

With the quality of good candidates the dems have fielded this year, if they would only take a sheet from the pro's (Clinton's) playbook. Don't apologize, speak the truth and think about what you are saying rather than "read the script" as they are so often taught. Following this seems to be working for Brad Ellsworth, Dem candidate who has a very strong opportunity to unseat John Hostettler in our district.

Although you can fault Clinton the man, it is so very refreshing to see a thinking, reacting (not scripted) person catching and holding the "agenda" put forth by the right wingers.

When Pres. Clinton replied the "if I were still president we would have more than 20,000 troops going after BinLadin(my paraphrase)" I couldn't help saying to my wife, "If only he were still my president!"

Eric replies: Dude, spellcheck! That was a lot of work ...

Name: Daphne Chyprious
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Dear Eric,

I never read Howie's columns, and certainly won't start after scanning the latest one via the link you provided. Can you say moral equivalency journalism never was useful? But I do watch his gig on CNN during which it finally dawned on me what bothers me so much about him. There's no existential angst in him. No distinction between important and insignificant issues because to him it's all the same - just another topic as filler between commercials. Neither political nor media matters affect him by virtue of his affluence. It's reflected in his personality which in turn affects his performance.

Name: Nick
Hometown: Brevard, NC

Eric,

The blues lost a legend on Spetember 23rd when Etta Lucille Reid, better known as Etta Baker, passed away at the age of 93 in Fairfax, VA. Etta was an amazing musician, an incredible woman, and most importantly a fine human being. Her father was a musician in the Carolina Piedmont, back in the days when white and black music was cross-pollinating, with the twin offspring of Piedmont Blues and Bluegrass springing forth from a rich mix of old Irish and Scottish folk songs and a just as rich tradition of African rhythms and harmonies. She learned to play guitar around the age of 3 but as an adult spent 26 years working in a mill before returning to music in the mid 70's. Her music influenced many people, from Bob Dylan to Taj Mahal. She played every day, and still performed well into her nineties.

She was truly an original, and she will truly be missed. Thank you Etta Baker, the premier female Piedmont blues guitar instrumentalist.

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