Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The NYT vs. President Bush

I've made the case in a few different places that, one, the concept of "liberal bias" is at best incoherent, and two, that the New York Times on the whole does not have one. I have challenged the people making these claims to give me examples from the Times's print or online versions to prove it; none have stepped up, and I'm regularly surprised by the conservatism of the op-ed page. (See today's paper for Thomas Friedman's pro-globalization, pro-business, pro-low taxes on corporations column.) What I'm going to do in this blog post is analyze one of the Times's front page articles about Bush's speech.
The headline is "Bush Acknowledges Difficulties, Insisting on Fight to the End." On reading it, I note many examples of what conservatives would perceive as bias; I just see these statements as facts. Here are some:
1) "The questions now are how many more times over how many years he might have to deliver the same message of patience and resolve - and whether the American public, confronted with a mounting death toll, an open-ended military commitment, lack of support from allies and a growing price tag, will accept it."
From one perspective, these are incontrovertible facts: the commitment is open-ended; there are no major allies involved; and the price tag is growing. From another this sentence carries a sort of ominous warning in it.
2) "Using language that infuriates his opponents who say there is no link between the Iraq war and Al Qaeda, he specifically cast the battle in Iraq as part of the bigger conflict that began with the Sept. 11 attacks, which he mentioned explicitly five times and alluded to at others, and invoked the specter of Osama bin Laden."
Here's another--the writer specifically mentions that Bush referred to 9/11 five times. If this speech was about Iraq, why was 9/11 being mentioned? To someone like me, this is again pure fact; to others, I could see how (especially if they believe in a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq) this would be riling.
3) "Mr. Bush certainly has cause for some optimism. While the bloodshed goes on unabated, the Iraqis have made real progress in establishing a political system that includes Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. American and Iraqi forces have been capturing or killing leaders of the insurgency and scooping up caches of weapons."
The articles ends not with the writer getting any last barbs in, but with Bush:
4) "We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage," Mr. Bush said. "And we know that this great ideal of human freedom is entrusted to us in a special way, and that the ideal of liberty is worth defending."
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the Washington Times and 10 being the Village Voice, I'm going to have to give this article a 5--smack in the middle, well-written, objective, fair and balanced. Anyone disagree?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Power and fear

Evidently there's a 70% chance that the United States will be attacked in the next 10 years by weapons of mass destruction--massive, destructive weapons--destructive weapons of great mass.

Is this reckless fear-mongering, or it is a sincere desire on the part of our leaders to warn us of danger? I would say both. (I am tired of the cute WMD acronym, though, and wish it would go away.)

Articles like this remind me of the Cuban missile crisis, for two reasons: one, proclamations of imminent danger from our leaders; and two, most citizens pretending that we have no causal role in the grievances of our enemies. People forget that before the Soviets and their shoe-pounder stepped up to the plate to put missiles in Cuba, Europe was armed to the teeth with missiles pointed at Moscow:

"Similar missiles aimed at the USSR were [already] in place in Europe (sixty Thor IRBMs in four squadrons near Nottingham, in the United Kingdom; thirty Jupiter IRBMs in two squadrons near Gioia del Colle, Italy; and fifteen Jupiter IRBMs in one squadron near Izmir, Turkey)."

The same principles applies to 9/11. Did we deserve 9/11, or did our actions abroad justify it? No, and no. 9/11 was an act of war, a terrorist strike, and a mass murder; Bin Laden deserves to die because of it, and I'm nearly positive that military action in Afghanistan was just. (I still have some reservations about our choices of targets.) But did some of our actions play some causal role? Of course they did--we armed Bin Laden and Hamid Karzai during the Soviet-Afghan War, and have had troops and ships all over the Middle East for decades, inflaming fundamentalist Muslims. (Energizing, galvanizing, and catalyzing them as well.)

This report implicity plays the innocent victim card, and that makes me sick. We're not the morally bankrupt pirates the left says we are, but we're not who W says we are, either. Iraq II is completely unjustified, and there is plenty of blood to go around.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Over at the red hurt machine, someone commented the following:
"It is ludicrous to think that all of Africa's problems have been caused by some kind of racist, premeditated exploitation."
All? Certainly not--we didn't create AIDS. But most? If you watch a child drown, you are guilty of its death. Let me respond pre-emptively to some objections.
1) Yes, everything is more nuanced than this. I'm just providing information, not really making any case.
2) Yes, Africa's situation is deteriorating, which means it used to be better. I think this is because of at least 3 factors: 1) Western complicity with new, more efficient dictators; 2) AIDS; 3) the African infrastructure of the 60s and 70s was not as strong as it looked--the progress wasn't all real.
Read up.

Bias, etc.

In a number of threads on a number of blogs recently many of the conservatives in the room have repeated the line about the New York Times having a liberal bias. Some people have also said that the op-ed page is "ideological," which is like saying it's "opinionated," which is silly, because it's an op-ed page.

Here's the deal. The New York Times does not have a liberal bias. I'm not even sure what a liberal bias is, but perhaps provisionally, we could say that a liberal bias is when a newsperson gives short shrift to relevant conservative viewpoints. For me, making a case on an op-ed page that, say, abortion should be legal is LIBERAL, it's just not BIASED, just as making an argument for strong defense or capital punishment is CONSERVATIVE but not BIASED.

You'll note that not once in my blog have I ever accused anyone of being "biased." What I like to do is accuse people of being WRONG, and then explain why they're wrong. "Bias" is a smokescreen, an ad hominem argument used to discredit your opponent without actually making a case for something.

Some of the Times's stories and writers may indeed have a liberal bias, but you're going to need to prove that to me. We're all equals in the blogosphere, and I can't let anyone get away with "the liberal media" line anymore, especially when the liberal media has, in the last two months, buried the stories about the Downing street memo and the lynching apology. (On the NYT op-ed page today: an article praising Newt Gingrich's suggestions for the UN, and a former CEO of Lockheed-Martin.)

The Times is a damn fine paper with informative, well-researched news, great op-eds, and unbelievable reporting on relevant topics (see their recent series on class for an example of this.) Read it online while it's still available for free--you'll learn a lot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Government--what's it good for?

I made the point in a comment over on redhurtmachine's sweet blog that the so-called MSM, whatever they are, if they can be treated as an entity and if they have a viewpoint, just aren't that liberal.

Here's a New York Times article about the Heritage Foundation's summer interns. I don't know how else to say it--there's just no "bias" in this article. It's just news, and if there were a forum to mock conservatives, this would be it.

Now, I'd like to use this article as a springboard to discuss conservatism. At one point it is reported that one of the interns wrote a paper on the inefficiencies of a government-run park system--he's in favor of privatizing it. For me, what's crucial to note here is that "privatizing" could mean one of two things: bringing in an outside company to run it, OR running it more like a business. Conservatives think the distinction between "government" and "private" is one of function, whereas I see it more in terms of funding, because I agree with conservatives that everything should be run like a business.

So, for me, "government" just means publicly funded, whereas "private" means privately funded. We need to run everything like a business--we just haven't yet agreed on what we should all pay for, and what we should individually pay for. I'd like health care, mass transportation and education to be paid for by tax money, but I'd like them to be run efficiently, like businesses. If you're not a good teacher, or HMO, or bus driver, you're out, in my system.

Conservatives and liberals miss this distinction between function and funding. Conservatives are trying to insist that we run government agencies more like businesses, which is GREAT, but all liberals hear is "cut social programs." Liberals want aggressive, publicly-funded solutions to social problems, which is also great, but all conservatives hear is "more bureaucracy." WE NEED BOTH.

Monday, June 13, 2005

More surrender from the Democrats

Here's CNN reporting on a Time story about Guantanamo Bay. I'm sure the Time story is full of exciting glossy photos, interactive and informative charts, hard-hitting questions, and relevant sidebars.
I don't know what to think. On the one hand, we can't have hijackers flying planes into our buildings; on the other, we can't have everyone in this country completely misunderstanding such attacks and doing nothing to help oppressed Muslims around the world. The problem is not people who hate freedom; I've never met anyone like that who wasn't insane. The problem is a region of countries controlled by clerics and autocrats and indirectly funded by US corporations--and me. We shouldn't have prison camps in other countries; we'd never let Cuba have one in ours. But you can't just let people who shoot at you in Afghanistan go when you capture them...
So, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (weasel, CA) and Vice President Darth Cheney decided to have an idiocy contest. First, the Sith Lord speaks:
"The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people."
Oh! The problems I outlined above are solved. Corporate hegemony, war, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, oil, our complicated relationship with Cuba--not relevant, because Guantanamo is full of bad people, people fundamentally different from good white Americans. Second, Ms. Feinstein:
"I don't know what tree we're barking up," Feinstein said. "It is a terrible mistake."
You don't know what tree we're barking up? Probably an oak. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's relationship is a terrible mistake. The invasion of Iraq and our military base/detention camp complex--a little worse than a mistake--a catastrophically misplaced response to a real problem (militant Islamic fundamentalism.) But Ms. Weaselstein has to keep the dollars flowing even as she appeals to her more progressive constituents.
Cheney: The people are Guantanamo are bad people.
Feinstein: I just don't know--something's not right--
Cheney: Those Guantanamo inmates? Bad, bad people.
Feinstein: I just wonder at, you know, our treament of them. Sometimes I think it's, well, ungood.
Cheney: Have I told you how bad they are? If they could, they'd hurt you bad. Real bad.
Feinstein: I just saw this great story in Time, though. The photos were so glossy, the sidebars so relevant...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Now who's the Dean?

It doesn't matter what Howard Dean says...his job is to raise money.


Financial issues

This article is about interest-only loans, and I have a thought or two about it.
There is something disingenuous about calling these loans "risky"--they are, but only if you're in a certain position. For the first-time home buyer, they're a great way to get into the market--and if that buyer is looking to stay put in a good area for a while, it doesn't really matter if the so-called housing bubble bursts on him.
Assume FTHB Jack gets a loan of $100,000 more because he went the interest-only route. This gets him a single family house in a neighborhood he otherwise would not be able to afford, in which he is planning on staying for 20 or 30 years. The housing bubble bursts and his house is re-appraised downward. Big freaking deal. As long as Jack can make his mortgage payment, he's fine--he wanted to LIVE IN THE HOUSE.
Now let Investment Greg be the owner of 6 houses in California, none of which he lives in. The bubble bursts, and the houses are suddenly too expensive to sell at the price Greg was trying to flip them. Greg loses hundreds of thousands of dollars. Greg still owns 7 houses. Do we feel sorry for Greg making it hard for people like Jack to buy? No, we don't.
The people that bubbles affect the most are the people best equipped to deal with financial crises.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The American dream?

From the NYT:

"What is the American dream?" said Karen Handel, chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission in Alpharetta [Georgia]. "It's to have a house of your own, the biggest house you can afford, on the biggest lot you can afford, with a great school for your kids, a nice park to spend Saturday afternoon with your kids in, and deep in amenities that get into the trade-offs with traffic."

That's certainly what it seems like.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Standards, moral relativists

Now we'll argue about this.

"We've always conceded that the 'old man' handled it badly. But he was not brought down by a band of angels. He was brought down by a band of Nixon-haters ... and whom we now learn used a snake in the FBI," Buchanan said in an interview. "This is basically a battle over history and a battle over truth," Buchanan said.

Clearly, Pat Buchanan is a moral relativist who doesn't believe in objective truth or absolute standards. For Buchanan, there is one set of rules for people in power, like himself and Nixon, and another for everyone else. If a black man is caught with an ounce of drugs, he's done; but if Nixon murders people around the globe in the name of freedom and hatches elaborate conspiracies to get elected, he "handled it badly" and was brought down by snake-wielding haters--haters using FBI snakes--herpetological haters savagely snaking naive Nixon.

Buchanan needs to shut the hell up.