“What’s up with you?”

Feb 02, 2011 in News

wpid-puzzled2-2011-02-2-09-39.jpgLast night I watched the Fox News channel for a change. First the O’Reilly Factor and then Hannity. My political views don’t line up very well with this tv-channel but that’s why I like to watch once in a while: to see how the news is presented and interpreted on the other side.

Both shows mostly covered Egypt of course. O’Reilly started off with a diatribe against the Al-Jazeera news channel. He quoted and played several short clips to underscore his opinion that Al-Jazeera is anti-American, anti-semitic and strongly in support of islam extremism. One of his two guest pointed out that all these statements and views were from guests on Al-Jazeera programs not editorial comments. That distinction was lost on Bill O’Reilly.

He then went on to throw in “the far left” who are also anti-American, anti-semitic and either murderers or supporters of murder – that last part was not clear. I never understand the “anti-American”-label. What is anti-American? To me when it gets thrown into a political conversation it seems to stand for “I don’t like your opinion but I don’t know why. I am not able to articulate any rational counter arguments and I am embarrassed about that. Please accept my apology.”

During both shows there were moments when a guest would look with some bewilderment at the host like Tamara Holder on Hannity exclaiming “What’s up with you?”. You don’t see often that interviewees question the wherewithal of the interviewer. The role of guests on the O’Reilly Factor is mystifying. He didn’t let Alan Colmes speak or listen to him. Monica Crowley’s role seemed to be to agree with whatever O’Reilly was saying.

What surprised me was that Bill O’Reilly was quite enamored of Obama with regards to Egypt. Hannity not so.

Which brings me to the second topic of this blog post: American foreign policy. While I found Hannity simplistic in his view on Egypt – Tamara Holder rightly pointing out that’s not about the Muslim Brotherhood – also CNN has been stumbling about. Last Friday Wolf Blitzer asked the Egyptian ambassador to the US if Mubarak should have waited addressing the Egyptian people until after he had spoken with Obama. Really? The head of another sovereign nation should first consult with the US president before speaking to his/her own people!?

An example of where the US often goes wrong in foreign policy: it is not about the US. It is about the Egyptian people determining their destiny. This need to make everything about the US is to me one of the reasons why – especially in the Middle East and Asia – public opinion of the US is low. By inserting yourself into the debate and doing so with a self-centric view you set yourself up to be used as scape goat and bogeyman. And by inserting yourself into the problem, you become part of the problem.

It’s a no-win situation. There was no reason last Friday for the president of the USA to go on live television and make a statement. And there certainly was no reason to do so again last night. But if you do you must pick a side. With Obama’s speech last night, beautiful as the sentences were, he tried to stay in the middle of the road. This makes everyone directly involved in the crisis unhappy and it gives whoever comes out on top ammunition to steer up criticism of the US. If Mubarak manages to hold out he may well lean more towards the islamic extreme in response to the US not publicly supporting him. If the Muslim Brotherhood do win then they’ll use the speech to claim that the US tried to keep Mubarak in power and is against the people.

No other leader (Merkel, Cameron, Medvedev, Sarkozy) went on national television as far as I know. Think about it. Both CNN and Fox News anchors saying something like: “The world is waiting to hear the American position.” No, it isn’t.

There’s a high risk again of coming out at the wrong side of history. If you must insert yourself into a situation you need to pick sides. As here it seems very likely that Mubarak’s time is up then, well, call publicly for his resignation if you do have that urge to go on stage. Otherwise there’s a high risk of repeating history: supporting the losing team for much too long (the Shah of Iran). And if you insert yourself you become responsible for the outcome. At the start of the 2nd Gulf War, George Bush proclaimed that the US is not into nation building. Well, if you tear a country apart then yes you are, you’ll have to be.

How to do it right? Ronald Reagan’s appeal to Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall.”

After his arrest Saddam Hussein said during interrogations that his main worry was Iran; the US wasn’t on his radar very much. Which illustrates the pitfalls of a sell-centric view of the international world.

And that brings me back to Fox News and Al-Jazeera. O’Reilly implied that a network like Al-Jazeera should be banned because of their viewpoints. On the contrary, if that network’s opinions are really anti-American and so on then that is all the more reason to let them broadcast and watch them: to understand how others are viewing the US and acting upon, using whatever the US says or does.

Say what you mean, and mean what you do

Oct 26, 2009 in News

“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver.

This is from today’s NYT article about the US States that allow medical marijuana.

Yesterday I watched with some bemusement CNN’s program on the same topic and then there was this article in the Times. I was at least impressed that CNN dedicated a whole hour to it rather than their typical 20 second carpet bombing even while I still hunker for the quality of approach like BBC Panorama and Jeremy Paxton.

The core of the issue:

  1. several states allow medical use of the drugs;
  2. federal law forbids any and all use;
  3. federal government announced they will not pursue where state law allows this use.

Several things are odd here:

  1. how can state law allow something that federal law forbids?
  2. the above quote indicates that these states consciously allowed something without being prepared to control or manage it
  3. medical use seems a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” approach to allow (tolerate?) broad use of the drug

The CNN program seemed to show that the medical effectiveness of marijuana is contested but let’s assume for the sake of the debate that it is effective at addressing chronic pain, nausea from cancer drug therapy and other such benefits. Then it should be treated as any other medical drug:

  1. tested, approved and controlled by the FDA;
  2. available only on subscription from a medical doctor and available only at a licensed pharmacy, and
  3. labeled with similar warnings against operating machinery etc like subscription pain killers and sleeping pills.

I suspect the FDA aspect is a little tricky as long as federal law forbids its use.

However, that hardly excuses the head in the sand policy that Mr Martin and other local officials in these states seem to prescribe to which to me very much reads as “oh, we can just do this, someone else will clean up the mess.“ Mayor Ed Clark of the same city jumped to the other end of the spectrum in explaining his vote on a proposal to ban dispensaries: ”I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries.“ Which seems equally irresponsible: allow the use but don’t allow a means to get it – in other words send the legitimate user onto the streets. Not sure how that helps address illegal trade and all its effects on society.

I believe the 13 states that currently allow medical use really have done this not necessarily because they are so taken by the struggles of cancer, chronically ill and/or terminally ill patients in their states but rather as a means to get some grip on the use and dealing of marijuana and its drain on local law enforcement resources. But, it is probably not wise for a elected official to be that honest.

The CNN program filmed one medical user in Los Angeles and followed him into one of the dispensaries there. On the shelves and the counter a plethora of choices were laid out before him on how to fulfil his medical need: pills, sprays, chocolate, cookies, brownies and more. That by itself makes the justification to allow marijuana use on medical grounds a little shaky: the drug’s concentration, its potency, its absorption by the body is all going to be different from one piece of cake to the next joint.

In LA County there is no regulation whatsoever, that much was clear. I could understand the frustration of the law enforcement guy on the program even while my belief is that this drug is really not any more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol and I am all for whatever eases the severe suffering of patients from whom nothing will cure their disease. But if it is a medicine then it is a medicine and you need to make it play by the same rules. Or allow general use. Or the federal government needs to get these states’ laws struck down.

Move on already

Mar 20, 2009 in Life

The AIG bonus brouhaha has really had its time in the spotlights.

Yes, it’s annoying that significant bonuses have been paid at a company that has received a very large amount of taxpayer money just to stay afloat. And yes, it is annoying that a good portion of those bonuses were paid in the parts of the company that were most in trouble and creating those questionable financial instruments. And yes, AIG is not the only one.

Sure, $165 million is far more money that the vast majority of us will ever make in our lifetimes. But it is a very small amount compared to the $170 billion that went into AIG.

All the activity in Washington, all the easy outrage from the senator and congress personalities to score easy, quick points through the press and media, bill proposals to try to recoup that money, to regulate how and to whom bonuses can be paid, calling for Geithner’s resignation all is a waste of our time and a distraction.

None of that helps us improving the economy or shorten any duration of a recession or depression. Spending all this effort and time to get back some of those millions does not help. Not having a Treasury Secretary at this moment and force President Obama to find and nominate another does not help.

Let it go, water under the bridge. It happened, tough. Move on.

Instead I much like the collective in Washington DC to focus on the job at hand: improve the economy.

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