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That Cramer/Stewart ‘smackdown’ and ‘moral seriousness’. March 15, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, US Media, US Politics.

Very briefly, not sure how many people saw the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer ‘smackdown’. To fill those who didn’t in, Jon Stewart of the near peerless Daily Show, made the more than fair point that CNBC had completely misinterpreted the financial crisis. More pointedly he criticised Rick Santelli, CNBC editor who had had a rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he derided the government, and Obama, very directly for giving homeowners any level of financial assistance – this latter group he termed ‘losers’.

Now, one might argue that this was chutzpah of the highest order seeing as the financial wizards who applauded Santelli’s outburst were themselves benefiting directly from Federal largesse to the financial industry, and that the amounts going to home owners were a minor element of the financial packages (in fairness to Santelli he has also criticised the bail-out more broadly – but his charges about ‘losers’ were ill-made and inaccurate). Santelli backed out of an appearance on the Daily Show.

Cue a Daily Show offensive against CNBC’s financial coverage which also brought in Jim Cramer, host of “Mad Money”.

Response? A week long clash in the media, entirely overhyped that purported some sort of feud between Stewart and Cramer.

You’ll find the details here.

But look, all that has been gone through at length elsewhere. What really struck me was how the eventual ‘debate’ on the Daily Show between Cramer and Stewart went, because it encapsulated (and this presumably was Stewart’s purpose) so much of the artifice in the media. First up it had to be highly embarrassing to Cramer for footage was shown of him discussing various trading tactics while a hedge fund manager that were… well, let’s put it this way… not entirely best practice. What was interesting was how civil the discussion remained, even as Cramer essentially (and also in fairness with some grace – although he had little choice) capitulated, and how removed all this was from the media hype which surrounded the issue.

Indeed for an example of how the media trivialises critiques of the financial sector, or indeed any supposedly weighty topic, you’d be hard pressed to find a better demonstration than the way they publicised this supposed ‘grudgematch’. No word of their responsibilities as media, merely an artificial ‘dispute’ that obfuscated the reality. This isn’t to suggest that the media presentation alone is the problem. The issues with the US and global financial sector are intrinsic to that sector, but the sort of frothy coverage that surrounds it – particularly in the US media – does everyone a disservice.

You can see the footage here

I found it almost unwatchable, not least because it rips away the facade of the media as ‘entertainment’ and drives home the point that for all the gimmicks and suchlike programmes like Mad Money evade their responsibility to consumers, something that Cramer explicitly admitted. And it was unwatchable too because here was someone willing to call it and directly, not using the usual blustering evasions that characterise what passes for public debate, but actually sitting another individual down with no bombast, no grandstanding, instead an almost forensic dissection of where and how this has gone wrong. This personal, but not personalised, aspect to it was remarkable.

As Matt Miller noted on the latest Left Right and Centre on KCRW (at 22.30 minutes in or so – and if you want to hear Tony Blankley not get it in an heroic fashion, well listen to his response.) :

There is something striking… that Jon Stewart has to step in… that it’s a fake news show… that’s the only one which has the moral seriousness to call this question.

(Press)Man bites… himself: Scott McClellan and the Bush Presidency. May 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Media, US Politics.

Sort of entertaining, isn’t it (if one is willing to put aside the awful grinding reality of the events to which he refers and their very human impacts) to read Scott McClellan opine upon the Bush White House and its ways.

For example, McClellan suggests that

….the White House deliberately mounted a dishonest propaganda campaign to sell the Iraq invasion to the US public…

Well I never.

He also suggested that Bush and his circle…

“…confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candour and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war”.

Good Lord.

He continued that in his work…

“… I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be”.

For shame. And more broadly that the way the Iraq issue was played post 2002…

“almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option”

Almost beyond belieef.

And although apparently ‘…the scathing comments stunned Washington yesterday because the Bush team, until now, has had a reputation for intense loyalty to their boss…’ and have caused ‘sadness and puzzlement’ (why yes, sadness and puzzlement) for the White House, well, who should know better than… erm… Scott McClellan, about ‘propaganda’ for as we all know, he…

…worked for Bush for seven years, including three as White House spokesman…

Regime change. Does it get better than this?

A recession approaches, but can porn save us? May 20, 2008

Posted by franklittle in media, Media and Journalism, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Quirky little story from the US. According to CNN imaginative ways are being considered to deal with California’s budget crisis. Despite roles in Kindergarten Cop and Twins, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself presiding over a budget deficit of $17 billion and growing.

The solution, proposed by one of those notorious tax and spend Democrats, is to target the adult entertainment industry with what can only be described as a vicious 25% tax rate. Adult entertainment, claims Dem Assemblyman Charles Calderon, has a greater revenue than ABC, NBC and CBC combined. Such a tax could bring in upwards of $700 million every year.

The porn industry, calling itself the Free Speech Coalition, has pledged to fight the proposal.

Leaving me with only three questions. If the recession starts to bite here in Ireland, could we see Revenue agents going after the adult shops on Capel Street? How many pictures of scantily clad women can CNN get into a piece on the California budget crisis? And is this the best I can do as first story back after two months away?

The answer to the last question is clear enough.

Don’t do it Obama, a former Python is no guarantee of success… but those polls, oh, those polls… April 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Media, US Politics.

Got to say, for me my heart sank when I read the following.

Monty Python legend John Cleese is to offer his services as a speechwriter to Barack Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination to become US president.

The British comedian, who lives in California, said that his jokes could help the Illinois senator get into the White House.

As I’ve noted before, I’ve no particular horse in the Presidential race, other than being certain that a Democratic President would be a slight improvement on a Republican. But really, do we need this?

‘I am due to come to Europe in November but I may be tied up until then because if Barack Obama gets the nomination I’m going to offer my services to him as a speechwriter because I think he is a brilliant man,’ the 68-year-old told the Western Daily Press newspaper.

My advice, for what nothing it is worth, would be to ignore such blandishments. For as noted in the piece:

In 1987, Cleese recorded a party political broadcast for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, the centre-left third-biggest party in British politics, now known as the Liberal Democrats.

And curiously they have been the third biggest party from then to now.

Celebrity assistance? Avoid.

But that may be easier said than done… because:

…rock star Bruce Springsteen yesterday became the latest public figure to endorse Mr Obama for president, saying he stood “head and shoulders above the rest”.

In a message posted on his website, Springsteen said the Illinois senator had “the depth, the reflectiveness and the resilience” to be the next US president.

Just avoid Born in the USA… Obama. Or read the lyric sheet first…

Meanwhile, for all the furore, and yet again Obama has been forced on the defensive, over the ‘bitter’ remarks, they appear to have done little to impact on his poll ratings.

His current standing in the polls for Pennsylvania (April 22nd for all of us with a vote – which is probably none) according to Slate is weirdly all over the shop…

Pennsylvania polling has become increasingly varied as the Keystone State’s April 22 primary approaches. One poll shows a Clinton landslide by as much as 20 points, while others project a much tighter race. The latest PPP poll (PDF) defies the conventional wisdom that the fallout from Obama’s “bitter” remarks would reverse his recent gains, and shows the Illinois senator leading Hillary Clinton, 45 percent to her 42 percent. Other polls have also shown Obama’s chances haven’t taken a significant hit since he made his “bitter” comments.

And as reported in the Irish Times:

new polls suggest that Mr Obama’s controversial remarks about small-town Americans have yet to alienate many voters.

A Philadelphia Daily News poll showed Mrs Clinton leading Mr Obama by 46 per cent to 40 per cent in Pennsylvania, which votes next Tuesday.

Mrs Clinton’s favourable ratings among registered voters have declined to 58 per cent from 65 per cent in March, while Mr Obama’s favourable rating has risen from 47 per cent to 53 per cent.

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of likely Democratic voters gives Mrs Clinton a 46 per cent to 41 per cent edge in Pennsylvania but puts Mr Obama ahead in Indiana and North Carolina, the next states to vote on May 6th.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, two out of three Democrats now see Mr Obama as better able to win in November, a dramatic change from February, when Mrs Clinton was five points ahead on this measure.

Among all Americans, 58 per cent now say Mrs Clinton is not honest and not trustworthy, 16 points higher than two years ago, before the presidential campaign began.

Most of the polls were conducted last weekend, after news of Mr Obama’s controversial remarks about small-town Americans broke but before the media amplified them and Mrs Clinton accused him of sounding condescending and out of touch.

Now, really, that’s not bad at all, is it, for a man who whose campaign we are told is coming apart. Indeed he has actually broadly cut a double digit lead for Clinton in previous polls. But, whether this is likely to be any help, or whether indeed these polls are accurate is a completely different issue. The next round of polls, and indeed the primary itself will tell us all. Probably.

Could it be that the US electorate is a lot wiser than the chattering classes give it credit and recognise a fumble when they see it, or is it that the polls are skewed wildly? Or is it that the undecideds will go one way or another… erm… well obviously they will, but which?

Rasmussen has Clinton on 50%, Obama on 41% with a disturbing 9% undecided. Even the PPP poll quoted above by Slate has a considerable 13% undecided.

I can’t read this at all, no surprise there. But it makes for gripping stuff.

As regards the debates, well I caught as much as I wanted of the latest one and have to say, if I was trying to make my mind up, I’d still be puzzled. Again, no surprise there either. Both are capable candidates. No doubt minds are wandering to November and which would be most coherent a challenge to McCain. But then, McCain has his own problems. Let’s not forget that. Either way, more months of this lie ahead.


Deja Vu: Fox News and the invasion of Iraq…..or is that Iran? January 19, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iran, media, Media and Journalism, US Media, US Politics.
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Punchy little video from MoveOn.org showing the staggering similarity in languages and message on Fox News ahead of the invasion of Iraq and current coverage of Iran.

Might be of interest to those of you commenting on the Iranian situation.

US casualties in Iraq January 14, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Middle East, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.

In December 2007 15 US troops lost their lives as a result of hostile action in Iraq according to CNN’s tracking of Coalition casualties in Iraq and Afganistan. Another eight died from non-hostile action, amounting to 23 in total. In order to find similarly low figures, it’s necessary to go back to February 2004 when 12 US troops were killed as a result of hostile action and another nine from non-hostile action amounting to total fatalities of 23. Last week six US soldiers were killed in a booby-trap bomb north of Baghdad. It was the first incident involing multiple deaths of of US soldiers since September and the bloodiest attack since May.

Suggesting the decrease US casualties is not a blip, US fatalities have been steadily declining since May 2007, with month on month decreases. Newspaper reports have indicated a growing number of military successes for US forces since the ‘surge’ began almost a year ago. While everything coming from official sources in Iraq needs to be treated with a large dose of salt there have been numerous reports of Sunni tribes who have switched sides having been alienated by Al Qaeda tactics. Last week the US launched the largest air offensive in Iraq since 2006 dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives on almost 50 targets following which US forces claimed they were able to move into previously insurgent held areas.  Bush indicated on his visit to Kuwait in a piece in the LA Times yesterday that the proposed reduction in US troop levels of 30,000 in July remains on track.

This throws up a couple of interesting questions. Are the US actually beating the insurgents or have Iraqi militants calaculated that the better option is to hunker down, hit more vulnerable Iraqi civilian and security targets and wait for the surge to die away knowing the US doesn’t have the ability to sustain it? Is the Bush administration, and the US Republican party, trying to create an image of success in Iraq ahead of the Presidential election that will allow them to bring home 20-30,000 US combat troops weakening the ability of the Democrats to use the war as an issue to attack whomever is the Republican nominee? Or is it possible that the new strategy and new troops are having as sizeable an impact as official sources claim and the insurgency has been delivered multiple hard blows in a short space of time? Could the US military strategy in Iraq be starting to work?

Let slip the dogs: US Presidential attack ads January 13, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Film and Television, United States, US Media, US Politics.

In 1984 Wayne Dummond was put in prison for the rape of a 17 year old girl. Convinced of his innocence, and suspecting that Dummond had been railroaded into prison because the victim was related to the Clintons, then Arkansas Governor Mick Huckabee campaigned for his release, which took place in 1999. A year late, Dummond sexually assaulted and murdered a 39 year old woman named Carol Sue Shields.

With the South Carolina Primary coming up a group called ‘Victims Voice’ has started to air a pretty tough attack ad against Huckabee, starring Shields’ mother who ends the ad by saying ‘If not for Mike Huckabee, Wayne Dummond would be in prison and Carol Sue would be with us.’ Mother Jones has the story and the ad.

They also have a feature piece profiling, and re-showing, some of the attack ads used in recent elections, including the notorious one from 2006 targetting Democrat Senate candidate Harold Ford and the 1988 Willie Horton ad used by the Republicans to target Dukakis. The Horton ad was widely perceived at the time as being very damaging to Dukakis who was crippled by the crime issue right through the campaign culminating in him telling moderators during the Presidential debate that he would not support the Death Penalty for someone convicted of murdering his wife, who was a couple of rows away from him when the question was asked. Worth noting that only ads attacking Democrat candidates are shown.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what impact this ad has on Huckabee, if any. But when the most vicious clash in the last election consisted of Gormley and McDowell swinging handbags at each other in Ranelagh, it’s clear just how much more vicious US elections tend to be.

Oh, it’s on!! November 19, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, Film and Television, media, Media and Journalism, United States, US Media.

In this week’s Heat magazine Ziggy is featured on the frontpage making his position clear in no uncertain terms with a frontpage story headlined: ZIGGY: WHY I DUMPED CHANELLE.

Not much room for doubt there and for many of us a sigh of relief as at last the record is set straight.

But what is this? The frontpage story in this week’s Star magazine says: CHANELLE: WHY I DUMPED ZIGGY. (Yes, word for word.) Well, well, well. The plot thickens.

And yet another new twist. In a statement out tonight Heat magazine revealed that next week’s edition, hitting the newsagents tomorrow, ‘tells Chanelle’s side of the story.’


For the blissfully unaware, Ziggy and Chanelle (pictured looking depressed), were contestants on Big Brother 2007 who fell ‘in love’ during the programme and continued to go out after it ended until their relationship ended earlier this month with allegations by Ziggy that Chanelle was violent towards him. Things have reached such a point that their web domain http://www.ziggyandchanelle.co.uk/  is for sale, which bodes poorly for chances of reconciliation. 

A quick googlenews search finds the story covered on RTE, Sky News, The Scotsman, Daily Star, the Sun, Now Magazine, the Daily Mail and the Athlone Advertiser with Kerry Katona claiming in Now Magazine that the whole relationship was a sham staged to get media attention.

Every indication is that this fight is going to run and run. You better believe, boys and girls, that it’s on. Oh yes.

In a completely unrelated development, Project Censored has released its annual list of the most important stories you didn’t see or hear anything about. Hundreds of stories are submitted to Project Censored every year by journalists and academics, or tracked by the organisation’s media research group to identify stories that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored in the US but that are important and valuable.

Happily, we don’t need such an organisation here. After all, I already know that Ziggy claims Chanelle used to ask to be hit in the face during sex. What more could I need to know?

Tell it to the hand October 8, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Capitalism, US Media, US Politics.

A brief explanation of free market principles.

Pr(yi=1|xi) = 1/(1 + exp(-xi ß)) The formula for a ‘successful’ war October 6, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Iraq, Other Stuff, Pseudo-Science, Science, The War On Terror, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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Some people cherish the fond belief that many of the more confusing problems of this life can be reduced to mathematical forumlae and equations. One of these seems to be Patricia Sullivan, a professor at the University of Georgia in the US, who has devised a mathematical equation to predict the outcome of conflicts based on a detailed analysis of 122 military interventions involving the US, Britain, China, Russia and France since 1945.

She claims that the correct outcome is predicted in 78% of the conflicts run through it. The chances of success for the US in Vietnam for example, come out at 22%. The Soviets had a 7% chance of success in Afghanistan and the invasion and overthrow of Saddam started off with a 68% chance of working.  The forumlae gives the objective of routing the insurgency and the creation of a democratic Iraq a success rate of 26% with an estimated duration of ten years.

While accepting that there is some truth in the accepted wisdom that the relatively poor success rate of the major powers in foreign military interventions is down to a combination of lack of resolve and poor decisionmaking, Sullivan argues that the key determinant in many conflicts has been the attitude of the civilian population. Without ‘target compliance’ the chances of success through the application of overwhelming use of blunt force are pitiful. Decades after Vietnam and the notion that hearts and minds must be won over still seems not to have caught on.
“We can try to use brute force to kill insurgents and terrorists, but what we really need is for the population to be supportive of the government and to stop supporting the insurgents,” she said. Otherwise, every time we kill an insurgent or a terrorist, they’re going to be replaced by others.”

Strangely, despite a level of understanding of mathematics that has floored me in calculating the tip in a restaurant, I’d figured all that out by myself. Also interesting that the notion that foreign powers have a right to intervene isn’t questioned, merely the efficiency with which it is done and whether the target population is compliant enough. Key words there being ‘target’ and ‘compliant’.

More of an oddity I suppose than a newsy story for the blog but easing myself in again after an unavoidable absence. Also, would be curious to know what the chances of a successful armed revolutionary uprising in Ireland would be. If ‘y’ is the number of copies of Socialist Worker sold in the country and ‘xi’ is the number of capitalist running dogs, how many ‘Pr’ (left-wing blog posts) are necessary to push us over the top?

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