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How Revisionist Reporting Hurts Everyone

By: maxstanley Thursday December 15, 2011 11:22 am

Media lapdogs are marked by stenographic tendencies, sympathetic frames and a reliance on industry jargon. Politico’s latest report about Congressional Republicans working to undo looming defense cuts meets all three criteria.

The piece is accurately headlined “GOP eager to scuttle defense cuts,” and nowhere in the article is any reference to data disputing the Republicans’ assumptions. The cuts on the table only take us back to the huge 2007 levels.

By the second paragraph, the story has begun parroting partisan talking points. The so-called Republican plan will “undo hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts by replacing it with budget savings elsewhere,” the article by Seung Min Kim says. However that’s the last we hear of the plan’s specifics until much later when the savings are pegged at $100 billion.

That’s a far cry from the original bipartisan plan that phases in several billion dollars more in budget savings (or cuts, depending on your point of view). Why the Republicans oppose the military savings they originally agreed to is obliquely mentioned in the sum of multiple paragraphs. A better and simpler way to report this would’ve been in a crisper “nut graf” that supports the article’s genesis: that after agreeing to across the board cuts as a way to force bipartisan agreements, Republicans are using Congressional purse strings to pick winners and losers.

By the third paragraph, there’s not much new information to report and the reporter’s forced into diving right into he-said journalism, which has the effect of elevating Republican senators onto an unchecked authoritative pedestal. There’s no caution that these Republicans senators could be misinformed (one of whom, Jon Kyl, coined the phrase “not intended to be factual statement“), under ideological and grassroots orders to oppose anything the White House favors, or anything that might help military families confront a 26 percent unemployment rate.

The article shifts halfway down and moves away from the issue of military cuts toward a showdown with Congressional Democrats. And voila: the reader is taken from a misleading overview of the story’s core issue to trite optics of hot potato budget knife fights. Favoring conflict more than the educational element inherent in the Fourth Estate is increasingly a systemic issue in journalism and one that threatens to accelerate the industry’s demise.

But that’s not Politico’s game. It sells papers on insiderness– something best thought of a Congress equivalent of Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, but with gridlock, name calling and deception in place of hypocrisy-busting laughs. It’s a drip-by-drip process that institutionalizes corporate jargon and ideological prisms into political factions and discourse.

It’s not about Republicans or politics or Congress or Barack Obama. It’s that revisionist reporting can make the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1940s, as another example, seem palatable to readers of The New York Times.

I invite you to fight back against war profiteering by clicking ‘Like’ on the War Costs page on Facebook.


Will Blackwater Ever Do Right?

By: maxstanley Wednesday December 14, 2011 12:39 pm

It’s was like a meaningless coda, as the war contractors at Blackwater USA changed its name again, two weeks after delivering Katy Helvenston-Wettengel with another insult.

For the last eight years, Helvenston-Wettengel has been fighting for justice and accountability for the preventable death of her son, a Blackwater employee named Scott Helvenston, in Iraq.

“Child prostitution, gun-running, rendition– Blackwater has this history, but to this day, there’s been zero accountability,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I feel like I not only lost my son, but I lost my country.”

She spoke directly to company President and Founder Erik Prince in 2004, having got his number from a reporter. She requested Prince send her son’s contract and an incident report, which documented the mission that sent her son to his death.

“He said he’d send it Fed-Ex in a few weeks,” she said. “Blackwater said I was going to have to sue them to get it.”

She still doesn’t know why her son was sent into a death trap on that awful day in Fallujah. Blackwater has never come clean about why her son was without the proper armaments, maps, protections and manpower or why he was reassigned to this particular mission, she said. They had dispatched four men who had never been to Fallujah before, and if they at least had a map, they wouldn’t have gotten trapped in the fatal ambush, Helvenston-Wettengel said.

Scott Helvenston joined Blackwater because its founder was, like Scott, a Navy SEAL, his mother said. Scott Helvenston believed he could use his years of SEAL experience and training to save American lives in Iraq. Above all, Blackwater offered rare two-month contracts that let him provide for his two children at home.

Helvenston-Wettengel’s 2004 call with Prince sparked a tumultuous journey to try and bring her family a modicum of accountability. Fighting for justice for her son’s brutal death required bringing Blackwater into a courtroom, but the corporation has managed, or arranged, to duck any responsibility.

Despite White House claims that the war in Iraq is ending, Blackwater’s latest namesake is in play to employ some of the 15,000 war contractors slated to stay behind. Taxpayer dollars would also flow into the company’s legal department, which is tailored to dodge responsibility for the deaths of its employees– just ask Helvenston-Wettengel.

“They want to force me into a gag order [and] take away my constitutional rights,” she said. “They just don’t care.”

Blackwater’s moral culpability in the death of Scott Helvenston is a story well documented. But the company, which changed its name from Xe Services to Academi, is attempting to punctuate its legal battle against Helvenston-Wettengel with a dictatorial whimper.

It was Nov. 28 and there was an email from her attorneys introducing a Blackwater proposal that left nothing for Scott’s grandchildren.

“It was an insult,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I wanted a closing statement. I want to know who’s getting what.”

It was neither justice nor accountability. It was cowardice and a departure from the America she grew up in, Helvenston-Wettengel said. She declined to say more, knowing that her words could spark another round of litigation. (She has been sued by Blackwater previously for her attempt to read her son’s employment contract and the incident report.)

She was a few pen strokes away from putting an end to a journey that led her to testify before Congress and take on the most secretive military-industrial complex: the cadre of war contracting companies that took root around the time the U.S. invaded Iraq.

“How dare they,” she said. “I can’t in my conscience sign it.”

Blackwater’s aggressiveness in and out of the courtroom has contributed to Helvenston-Wettengel’s exhaustion. The Florida realtor suffered a stroke last year and said she’s tired of taking on what journalist Jeremy Schaill said was the most powerful mercenary army ever.

“The government is protecting Blackwater” she said. “With all the lawsuits against them, how can that be possible?”

Job Creation at Home Requires Peace Abroad

By: maxstanley Friday December 9, 2011 4:09 pm

As more Americans sour on our 10-year-old national nation-building experiment in Afghanistan, there’s a growing community of policy mandarins, activists and elites uniting to expose the myriad of ways war spending and military contracting have plunged our nation into a jobs crisis.

The existing counter insurgency operation in Afghanistan is hurting the American economy, and there is data to prove it.

Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:
-Military: 11,200
-Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
-Clean Energy: 16,800
-Health Care: 17,200
-Education: 26,700

If we really want a society where people who want to work can enjoy a moderate standard of living, says Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “the best thing to do is to start cutting the military.”

Congressional allies for big war contractors at Lockheed Martin and Boing justify the bloated, corruption-filled war budget on the backs of job creation and security. But, unlike the war industry, people whose livelihoods are not dependent on weapons of mass destruction agree that military spending is the worst performing job creation program. Like Upton Sinclair says, “It is difficult to get a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The Koch brothers lost in North Carolina

By: maxstanley Wednesday November 9, 2011 4:31 pm

Ohio, Mississippi and Maine got a lot of the headlines, but North Carolina voters also struck a heroic blow against the Koch brothers in elections Tuesday night.

Charles and David Koch were obviously not on the ballot, but the election was a referendum on their influence in Raleigh, N.C. Their presence in North Carolina has roots in 2009 when the Kochs supported organizations that worked to elect a new school board majority. Those candidates won and began pushing to overturn a highly successful diversity policy, which was the model framework for scores of school districts across the country.

As Sue Sturgis from Facing South wrote before the election:

The Myth of Military Contracting

By: maxstanley Saturday October 29, 2011 10:29 am

The war industry stood back with glee when it released a shoddy study that produced the sought-after deceptive headlines about defense spending, the magic sauce of job creation. There was no balance to these reports, and the War Industry should know, because they funded it!

A cursory or peer review of its content would’ve demonstrated the leaps in logic and faith taken by the Second To None lobbying front.

Your and your neighbors’ jobs, or lack thereof, are of no concern to Second To None, an association funded by the Aerospace Industries Association. Their bogus “analysis” links job creation to military spending, but it is, like so much of the Pentagon’s hawkishness, detached and devoid of context and reality (.pdf).

On its face, the study totally ignores how many more jobs would be created through just about any other kind of spending compared to military priorities. But to further demonstrate the study’s twistedness, it omits the actual solution to the job crisis: long term economic growth. And surprise, surprise- the road to long term recovery is not through constructing tanks and warships.

Military spending generates an industrial brain drain that consumes engineers and scientists into a black hole of manufactured explosions and destruction. Manufacturing jobs, so sorely needed for economic prosperity, are withering on the vine as war contractors throw money down failed projects, or in Pentagon-speak, research and development initiatives. In the meantime, entire constructive industries are left stagnant or unimagined.

On almost the same day as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office revealed the smoke and mirrors employed in the most recent budget agreement left the Pentagon $440 billion richer, military contractors are renewing their chokehold on Congress.

Koch Industries Confirms Greenpeace Report

By: maxstanley Friday August 26, 2011 3:54 pm

No sooner had Greenpeace busted the Koch brothers and their 57 subsidiary corporations for their fight against safety standards to mitigate fallout from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, the brothers responded by… acknowledging what Greenpeace reported.

The crux of the matter is the Koch brothers’ fierce lobbying effort to preserve the status quo, which benefits their ideology and corporate profits. The brothers favor an existing law that was intended to give Congress time to consider a more comprehensive framework. New legislation would give teeth and legs to the lax system we rely on to protect, in the Koch brothers’ case, 4.4 million people who live near their chemical-reliant businesses. Some of these 4.4 million innocent people are part of our Koch Brothers Exposed investigation.

My father used to say, “Sometimes by saying nothing, you say everything.” The Kochs say nothing about the many indictments against their businesses and their silence is deafening. Obviously, the Kochs did not endorse the Greenpeace report, but they didn’t even try to address it. Truthfully, they’re regurgitating the same tactics they’ve deployed against Koch Brothers Exposed and Brave New Foundation.

Our video linked their wealth to Jim Crow and school resegregation, which they didn’t like. Rather than debating us point for point, they tried retreating and changing the subject. Whether it’s school resegregation or chemical safety, the Kochs fight any fact that gets in the way of their money-making machine. We and our engaged community of activists have been informing others and spreading the word about the brothers influence on democracy, and I invite you to check out our investigation at the Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook.

The Koch brothers, while tacitly confirming the Greenpeace report, tried to downplay its consequences. Much of the brothers’ response hinges on a predisposition for safety. Safety, like oxygen, is good, they say. But Greenpeace rightfully observes that actions speak louder than words:

If Koch truly placed safety before profit, why haven’t they converted their dangerous facilities to safer alternatives? Companies like Clorox are already taking this step to convert all of their high-risk facilities to safer technologies.

The answer is because doing so costs money and would take a bite, however insignificant, out of the brothers’ billions.