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Text of Obama's Speech Today at West Point

Good morning. Thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction. To General Trainor, General Clarke, and the faculty and staff at West Point – you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution, and excellent mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army. I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership – Secretary McHugh and General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed – a proud graduate of West Point himself. 

The Limits of MSNBC

Michael Arria's new book Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC is a nice summary of how a liberal corporate or liberal partisan television network falls short -- something of an update from Jeff Cohen's Cable News Confidential and the bad old days when MSNBC dumped Cohen and Phil Donahue for being anti-war. It turns out the good new days of MSNBC-gone-liberal are seriously flawed as well.

The flaws do a disservice to a large section of the population, many majority perspectives, and large numbers of people whose opinions would improve if their information did.

Yes, of course, it's nice to have a 24/7 channel that everybody receives making fun of Republicans. But the Comedy Channel (Comedy Central) does that too.  The comedy fake news shows also make fun of Democrats and anyone else they can identify; they build cynicism and disgust without offering any better course of action than a mass Rally-for-Nothing to give people too smart to attend other rallies a chance to rally ironically.

But what does MSNBC offer? Beyond its mocking of Republicans, it gives a significant pass to Democrats, resulting in dishonest presentations of facts and a proposed course of action that's doomed to fail. There are many exceptions, of course, and MSNBC easily soars over the low bar of producing more honest and useful commentary than CNN or Fox. In fact, a book that collected the highlights of MSNBC would be quite interesting as well.  It would feature a good bit of Chris Hayes, of honesty about climate, even a bit of reckoning with Israel.  (In fact, I make no claim to know what all it would include, which is why I'd find it useful.) Such a collection might encourage networks, including MSNBC, to realize what can be done without the sky falling. But the lowlights, and the lines of limitation that are not crossed without corporate penalty are crucial and are the focus of Arria's book.

MSNBC gives voice to one side in a series of narrow debates, the side previously represented by the likes of Alan Colmes.  But the change is basically one to a larger microphone, rather than to a wider range of opinion.  The debate remains framed within the same limitations.  A prime example is war and militarism.  MSNBC is in favor of wars with a different wrapper, rather than of eliminating wars from U.S. foreign policy. 

Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Hayes (not at first, but he came around), and other MSNBC voices were all in favor of bombing Libya, and as far as I know are not particularly focused on the horrendous results.

Maddow declares Iran a dictatorship, and dates that dictatorship to 1979, never 1953. She's lied that Ahmadinejad was known for publicly defending Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons." And she grotesquely distorts the history of Palestine and Israel, claiming that Israel innocently declared independence and was attacked the next day by five nations. As Obama pushed for missile strikes on Syria, Maddow did a story on how many nations she believed a President John McCain would have attacked.

Ezra Klein finally turned against the war on Iraq, years too late, because "the odds were high we couldn't do it right" -- using "we" in the usual way for a media outlet that identifies with the government, and maintaining the important pretense that attacking foreign nations can be done correctly or incorrectly.

Touré defended the drone murder of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki. Martin Bashir insisted that a guest not doubt the integrity of "a senior military officer." Adam Serwer demanded that "service members" all be "supported" "unconditionally."

Are these unfairly handpicked examples of military-worship on MSNBC? I doubt it. When Chris Hayes questioned whether every dead U.S. soldier is necessarily a hero, he was then apparently faced with the choice of taking a stand and losing his job or doing what he did instead: apologize for the outburst of honesty. Cenk Uygur, in contrast, took a stand for critical coverage of the Obama administration and was fired by MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who told him, "We're insiders. We're the establishment."

Was Hayes right to apologize in order to maintain his voice on the air, a voice that's better than some of the other ones? I don't have a strong opinion on that question. My interest here is in pointing out, along with Arria, that a voice willing to question whether every hired killer in every popular and unpopular and illegal war is without question a hero is not permitted on MSNBC.

When I say that the best of MSNBC is its coverage of Republicans, I don't mean to give a blanket endorsement to all such coverage.  The over-obsession with the right wing gives prominence to much that would better be treated with silence -- silence that instead is reserved for the left.

MSNBC follows the lead of the party and politicians it has given its loyalty to.  And it doesn't just follow their lead.  MSNBC has hired Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, among others who can bring the Obama line straight to the viewers of a network that has more than once debated whether Obama should be added to Mount Rushmore. "My President Obama? Is he your President too?" Ed Schultz demanded of a guest while insisting that Libya be bombed as Obama desired.

Schultz even ignorantly claimed that Obama couldn't have been elected if he'd campaigned on increasing troops in Afghanistan -- as of course Obama had very prominently done. But think about Schultz's defense of Obama, rather than his ignorance of basic facts. Schultz is claiming that Obama lied about ending a war in order to get elected, and then escalated the war once in office.  That's the good Obama of Schultz's imagination.  That's Obama on the model of Wilson and Roosevelt.  There's a reason Bill Clinton calls MSNBC "our version of Fox."

I said MSNBC promotes a program of action that Comedy Central does not.  But its program of action is not principled issue-based nonviolent engagement; it's voting for one political party as a path to progress.  Anything else is unrealistic, MSNBC ridiculously maintains. Melissa Harris-Perry claims that supporting Obama despite any failings is "realist." She says that critics of Obama from the left are, in fact, not just unrealistic but racist.  She dismissed the Chicago teachers' strike and proposed that they solve their problems by voting in public elections.  She also insisted that Edward Snowden should have worked within the system. How realistic is that, exactly?

The MSNBC worldview generally pretends that everything was good in 1999 and easily can be again.  Says Rachel Maddow: "I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-Era Republican Party platform." So, maybe a bit earlier than 1999. 

The perspective that MSNBC believes its viewers hold, and which it relentlessly instructs them to hold was exemplified by a recent comment that Chris Hayes made to Glenn Greenwald: "People feel they have to choose between Barack Obama and Glenn Greenwald and there are millions of people in this country who are like if that is a choice I choose Barack Obama." Hayes then gave reasons to choose Obama.  No doubt Hayes believes he was simply articulating the spontaneously generated view of the masses, of which a good organizer must be aware for better or worse.  But he never suggested the slightest critique of the way of thinking that he was in fact modeling on national TV.  He demanded that Greenwald alter his "tone" to accommodate such a idiotic perspective, but he never hinted at the possibility that people might alter their idiocy, that they might stop choosing between personalities and deal with facts, that they might vote for politicians and simultaneously critique their failings, that they might view elected officials as representatives rather than deities.

Of course, Hayes wasn't just referring to the unknown unwashed masses when he claimed that millions of people place loyalty to a president above their duty to know what their government is doing and hold it accountable for its abuses; he was referring to his colleagues and the official policy of his employer.  And that is the limit of a partisan, corporate, insider media outlet of any flavor.

Now, we have alternatives, including Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, Dennis Trainor, the RealNews.com, RT, Youtube, etc., and the written word.  We may manage to replace MSNBC or circumvent it.  We may manage to come up with media outlet(s) that will produce an Occupy movement and sustain it. But I think it's an open question whether improving MSNBC would actually be bad for its profitability.  For years, TV executives seemed to believe that creating a Democratic Fox would not succeed as well as creating a second lesser Fox.  They eventually proved themselves wrong.  Now, they are clearly convinced that creating an independent populist challenge to a government that 80% of the country believes is broken wouldn't succeed outside of Comedy Central.

It's possible they're wrong.  It's possible that going where the majority is on corporate trade pacts and single-payer healthcare and wars would increase viewership.  It's possible that access to such viewers would attract politicians and advertisers as well or nearly as well as softball interviews and corporate friendly views.  We'll never know unless someone gives it a try.

The Hypocrisy Chronicles: Mr. Kerry, Stop Bullying Venezuela

By John Grant

 
I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. Reality is telling us that every day. But if I am told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, then I say, “We part company.”
                           -Hugo Chavez, 2004
 


The hypocrisy of the government of the United States seems to know no limits. The current posture it’s taking toward the elected government of Venezuela is simply shameful.

A hallway dispute that could become a real public debate: Companies and FCC in Net Neutrality Scuffle

By Alfredo Lopez

 

As the FCC hurtles towards what seems like an approval this coming Thursday of new proposed rules that would, effectively, allow establishment of a second high-speed, higher-cost Internet, we've caught a glimpse of an interesting and infrequently noted split in the circles of power.

It's a minor scuffle but, if it continues, it could open up debates that would involve genuine free-Internet forces and that would quickly put the need to protect the Internet on the national agenda.

Look who’s calling voting ‘divisive’ and ‘illegal’: The Blood-soaked US Has No Business Opposing Sovereignty Plebiscites

By Dave Lindorff



The rot at the core of US international relations, domestic politics and the corporate media is evident in the American approach to the Ukraine crisis.


Possibly the Biggest Unknown Known Risks Exposure

A petition to the President and the Attorney General has just been posted by several organizations, including one I work for, asking that the Department of Justice stop threatening New York Times reporter James Risen with prison if he refuses to reveal a confidential source.

This story, among other stunning features, I think, threatens to expose an unknown known of the highest magnitude -- by which I mean, not something lying outside Donald Rumsfeld's imagination, but something that everyone paying attention has known all about for years but which would explode the brains of most consumers of corporate media if they ever heard about it.

Here's a great summary of the matter at the Progressive.  The focus there and in the petition is on the threat to freedom of the press.  But read this offhand bit of the explanation carefully:

"The information concerns a source for a chapter in Risen’s terrific 2006 book, 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.' That chapter dealt with a scheme to give the Iranians faulty blueprints for a nuclear weapon."

Not only is the Justice Department (universally understood to take its orders from the White House) trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source, but it's trying to pressure a reporter to reveal a source who told him that the United States gave Iran plans for building a nuclear bomb.

Imagine if the general public had a clue that this had happened!

Rather than reporter, I should probably be saying author.  And I should stop attaching the insulting modifier "New York Times" in front of "reporter".  Because this was a story published in a book.  The same book included several interesting stories that I don't think ever made it into major media outlets. 

One exception was a story about NSA mass-surveillance.  The New York Times had sat on that story for over a year and explained that failure as a desire not to inform the public of what its government was up to prior to an election (the 2004 election).  When the book came out, the New York Times finally reported the story.  But if the Times or other outlets have informed the public that the CIA gave Iran nuke plans, I've missed it.  This shocker certainly has not been extensively covered.

The genius plan was to give Iran nuclear bomb plans with some little portion altered. But reportedly it was quite clear to scientists -- yes, even in Iran they have scientists -- which bit had been altered. 

The result was not the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb program.  As Gareth Porter's new book documents in detail, Iran has never had a nuclear bomb program, and we've simply been lied to about that fact for 35 years. 

But, here's the point: if your Uncle Homer knew the sort of moron stunts the CIA was engaged in with a nation marketed for 35 years as a force of evil, the result would out-do by far the outrage heard last summer when Obama and Kerry proposed joining a war in Syria on the side of al Qaeda (which everyone had been told was Evil Inc. up to that moment).

Don't Obama and Holder risk bringing more attention to this lunacy by prosecuting James Risen? Can they really trust the Press Corpse (sic) to bury the substance of the story? 

More to the point: Will we let them? Please sign the petition to the President and the Attorney General.

Academic freedom under attack: A Conversation with Prof. Nel about an Attempt to Fire Tenured Faculty for their Private Online

By Dave Lindorff

 

This week's "This Can't Be Happening!" radio program on PRN radio features an interview with Dr. Phil Nel, a distinguished professor of English at Kansas State University, and an outspoken opponent of a current effort by the Kansas Board of Regents to impose a new "social media policy" on all the state's public higher education institutions -- a policy that would allow administrators to fire even tenured faculty for posting statements that "damage" the school or negatively impact "harmony" on campus.

 

A new proposal mocks Net Neutrality: FCC Wants to Give Corporations Their Own Internet

By Alfredo Lopez


When a federal court trashed its "net neutrality" compromise policy in January, the Federal Communications Commission assured us that the Internet we knew and depended on was safe. Most activists didn't believe federal officials and this past week the FCC demonstrated how realistic our cynicism was.

Taking the low road to war: Washington and the Corporate Media are in Full Propaganda Mode on Ukraine

By Dave Lindorff


The lies, propaganda and rank hypocrisy emanating from Washington, and echoed by the US corporate media regarding events in Ukraine are stunning and would be laughable, but for the fact that they appear to be aimed at conditioning the US public for increasing confrontation with Russia – confrontation which could easily tip over the edge into direct military conflict, with consequences that are too dreadful to contemplate.


The bigger threat is the National Security Agency: Despite Heart Bleed, the Internet’s Alive and Well!

By Alfredo Lopez


Some are calling it a "worst nightmare". There have been dire predictions that it represents the end of the Internet or that there is, in fact, no real Internet security or that Free and Open Source Software is dangerous to use.

One thing is sure. The week-old saga of the Heart Bleed flaw (or bug) and its potential exploits has shown more light on the Internet and its security issues than anything else in recent memory.

USAID used fake Twitter to try and oust a government!: The Hummingbird Tweet: An Espionage Tale

By Alfredo Lopez

For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service -- similar to Twitter -- for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to forment popular revolt against the government and de-stabilize the country.

A program to take over human communications?: The Drones of Facebook (and the NSA)

By Alfredo Lopez

 

"Connectivity," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a CNN interview last year, "is a human right."

A program to take over human communications?: The Drones of Facebook (and the NSA)

By Alfredo Lopez

 

"Connectivity," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a CNN interview last year, "is a human right."

Clueless or Callous?: Philly's DA Professes Dubious Expertise on Prejudice

By Linn Washington Jr.


Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Rufus Seth Williams, the first African-American in Pennsylvania to hold a powerful top prosecutor post, persistently projects himself as an expert on racism.

Commendably Williams has acknowledged the corrosive impact of racism within the criminal justice system.

Did the FBI Snuff a Boston Marathon Bombing Witness? Dark Questions About a Deadly FBI Interrogation in Orlando

By Dave Lindorff


(This article was written as an exclusive for Counterpunch magazine, where the full story can be read, along with photos of the crime scene)


If they drop these charges, why not all of them?: Crowd-Sourcing, Crowd Support and Barrett Brown's Partial Victory

By Alfredo Lopez

 

Federal prosecutors last week dropped several of the most significant charges facing Internet activist and journalist Barrett Brown -- charges that could have drawn a jail sentence of 105 years.

The New Crimean War: Balls, Brains and History

By John Grant


Making political sense out of the events in Ukraine and Crimea has become great sport. Does it mean a new Cold War? Is Vladimir Putin a better, more “potent” man than Barack Obama? Who has bigger balls?

Powerful story, but not a true one: Using a Widow's False Memory to Stir Up Hatred for Imprisoned Man and for Obama Nominee

By Dave Lindorff



Maureen Faulkner, widowed as a young wife by the shooting of her husband, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, has spent the over 32 years since his death on a crusade, first to have the man convicted of his death, Mumia Abu-Jamal, executed, and then, since the overturning of his death sentence on Constitutional grounds, trying to ensure that he remains a pariah in prison.

Vote trashes ‘rule of law’: Senate Majority Uses Abu-Jamal to 'Tar' Obama Nominee

By Linn Washington, Jr.



Members of the U.S. Senate, who now of late are blasting Russia for violating "the rule of law' in the Ukraine, trashed that same fundamental legal precept during a vote to reject the man President Obama recently nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

The impact on communications will be disastrous: Comcast and Time-Warner Cable Play Real-Life Monopoly

By Alfredo Lopez


It might seem like a game of Monopoly played by real monopolies and, with a tired groan, one might be tempted to dismiss it as part of an ugly but irreversible trend. But the merger of cable-television mammoth Comcast with its runner-up competitor Time-Warner Cable [1] is a huge piece of news whose outcome, if it goes forward, will be crippling to communications in this country.

ColdType Issue 82 now online http://coldtype/net

INSIDE ISSUE 82: Three big features this month, focussing on: 1. The shifting of wealth and power to the rich - articles by John W. Whitehead, Chris Hedges, Rowan Wolf, Bill Quigley and Sam Pizzigati; 2. The Death of Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut, marked by essays from David Edwards, Uri Avnery, Alan Hart and Ramzy Baroud; and 3. The Growth of Media Propaganda, with articles from David Cromwell, John Pilger and John Kozy.

It’s always darkest before the dawn: The Irrepressible and Irreplaceable Pete Seeger

By Dave Lindorff


I never really knew Pete Seeger, but he taught me how to play the banjo.

The case for harm reduction: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Drug War Sanity

By John Grant


It was to be expected. A famous person’s death by heroin overdose becomes a catalyst for today’s equivalent of the lynch mob. Leading the pack, Bill O’Reilly immediately and aggressively called for heads to roll. Soon, four people were arrested in Manhattan for allegedly selling the drugs to the Academy Award winning actor.

Justice gets the shaft when it involves Mumia: Sen. Toomey and Philly DA Williams Slam Obama Rights Nominee for Seeking Justice

The latest from ThisCantBeHappening!:

 

Justice gets the shaft when it involves Mumia:

Sen. Toomey and Philly DA Williams Slam Obama Rights Nominee for Seeking Justice


By Dave Lindorff


Cop literally a ‘ball-buster’: Sexual Assault and Other Philadelphia Police Scandals

By Linn Washington Jr.

 

Philadelphia -- A January 7, 2014 police assault on Darrin Manning that resulted in the 16-year-old honor student's needing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured testicle, is outrageous but hardly unusual in this city.

Cop literally a ‘ball-buster’: Sexual Assault and Other Philadelphia Police Scandals

By Linn Washington Jr.

 

Philadelphia -- A January 7, 2014 police assault on Darrin Manning that resulted in the 16-year-old honor student's needing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured testicle, is outrageous but hardly unusual in this city.

Speaking Events

2015

April 25 Houston

May 8 New Jersey

May 30 NYC here and here

August 27, Chicago

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