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Thursday, August 30, 2007

War Fatigue

A new study by the project for Excellence in Journalism reveals that not only is war hell, it’s downright uninteresting. Or at least, it is not nearly as newsworthy as it was even a few months ago. Depending on the media source, war coverage dropped by up to 40 percent in the second quarter of 2007. It seems that coverage fell off after Congress approved war funding without withdrawal time tables.

So, that’s it then? Congress approved the President’s request, and everyone fell into line? “Hey George, heck of a job. Let us know when Iraq is a peaceful functioning democracy and the troops are home.” We’re not interested in the details of an endeavor where we spend $200 million a day, a place where thousands of soldiers have died and continue to die and be injured.
What in the world could be so important that it has caused us to turn our attention away from Iraq?

For instance, during the week of August 12 to 17, 2007, the Utah mine disaster was the subject of 16 percent of the stories on cable TV news shows, while Iraq came in at six percent. As of August 17, there had already been 47 US combat deaths in Iraq. At the same time in the US, six miners were trapped in a collapsed coalmine. As sad and horrific as the mine disaster is, isn’t Iraq worth at least equal time? Aren’t the lives of 47 men and women bravely dying while they perform their duty to the nation as noteworthy as the poor miners trapped while performing their dangerous labor?

It is interesting that the two stories are in many ways about the same thing. They are about people, mostly poor people, who risk their lives to give the rest of us access to fossil fuels to power our lives. Whether it is by extracting coal from 1500 feet underground to power our air conditioners, or soldiers fighting in the Middle East in a misguided attempt to monopolize control of oil pipelines to power our Hummers, we are the recipients of the miners’ and soldiers’ sacrifices and labor. When miners are trapped underground, or soldiers die in helicopter crashes, we turn on our televisions, powered by electrical plants that likely are fed by coal. We watch for a while, then switch the channel to a sports or entertainment show when the news becomes too depressing or monotonous.

If suddenly the lights flickered and the television went off, we would be more disturbed by that then the news we had just seen. We would no more imagine for a second that the power plant had run out of coal than we would imagine showing up at the gas station to fill the tank, only to learn there was no more gasoline to be had.
Unfortunately, except for the people whose lives are directly affected by the war, our interest level will continue to wane, unless it somehow alters our daily life in some dramatic way.

We should have a day every month where all the electricity and all the gas pumps are shut off. Let’s sweat on a summer day with no air conditioning, like the soldiers do in Iraq. Let’s walk to work to help keep our wandering minds on the fact that our country is at war, our young men and women are getting maimed and dying, our national reputation is in tatters, and we’re spending millions a day while our economy, schools, infrastructure and society suffer. Maybe that will be worth a minute or two on the news that night.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mitt Wit

Mitt Romney seems to be following Bush’s no-apologies-under-any-circumstances lead. The former Massachusetts’ governor’s stubbornness was in full display recently, following the publication of photographs from a campaign stop in South Carolina. In the photographs, he was seen smiling from ear to ear, posing in front of a sign that read, “No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea’s Moma.”

"I don’t look at all the signs when I’m having pictures taken. I have a lot of pictures taken with people," Romney said. "I don’t really spend all that much time looking at the signs and the T-shirts and the buttons. I don’t have anything to say about a sign somebody else was holding."

Okay, but does he have to say anything about a sign he was holding? has obtained two photographs, one with Mitt simply posing behind the sign, but in the other, he is clearly holding the sign up. But who is holding the sign isn’t really the point; does he really expect people to believe he had no idea what the sign said? That he doesn’t have handlers telling him exactly where to stand, what photos to pose for? Can’t those people read? What if the sign said, “Mitt: Nitwit, Corporation Stock Split, Gay Marriage, Won’t Permit, Immigrants Thrown Under It”?

Are we really supposed to believe that Romney could just have easily made the mistake of posing in front of that sign? I don’t think so.

He is completely disingenuous when he says he never looked at the sign. Why can’t he just say, “Oh, that wasn’t a good decision to pose in front of that sign. Of course I don’t equate Obama and Hillary to Osama. Sorry.” Why is a sincere apology the politician’s equivalent of dropping his or her pants in public?

Romney has developed a reputation as a candidate who professes to change his mind on major issues in seemingly perfect synchronization with whatever office he’s running for. In campaigning for governor in Massachusetts, a very liberal state, he supported gay rights and abortion. Now, he’s against both as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination and needs to gain the support of the conservative base. He recently portrayed himself as a lifelong hunter, having gone, before deciding to run for president, on a hunting trip just once as a child.

As governor, he supported abstinence education and answered yes to this Planned Parenthood question, “Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, in public schools?” Yet, he recently ripped Obama for supporting age-appropriate sex education to make sure kindergarten children know what type of touching is appropriate, saying, “Instead of teaching about sex education in kindergarten to 5-year-olds, let’s clean up the ocean of filth, the cesspool in which our children our swimming.”

Now, he seems to have changed his mind again on when and how a politician should apologize for an inappropriate remark or incident. Romney was interviewed in late 2006 on Fox News about the controversy over the joke Kerry made that seemed to disparage the intelligence of US troops in Iraq. Kerry had just issued an apology that Romney felt was a disguised attack against those Kerry felt were using the joke for political gain. In the interview, Romney said:
“ I think everyone in public life makes a slip or two but generally, if they make a mistake, they recognize it, they apologize immediately, and move on. What was surprising here is that he didn’t recognize the mistake and immediately went on the attack...”

Mitt’s reaction to the criticism about the sign was to tell everyone to “lighten up slightly.” Imagine if Kerry had said that after his joke misfiring? Kerry took two days to apologize. Well, Mitt, we’re waiting…