Wednesday, August 10, 2011







You really have to wonder why Edward Schumacher-Matos pretends he's an ombudsperson. NPR's latest comatose selection missed it when Steve Inskeep repeatedly and rudely cut off US House Rep Emanuel Cleaver. And he'll no doubt miss what happened today though NPR should be reviewing the Cleaver interview and the one this morning with US House Rep Barney Frank and wondering if Steve Inskeep needs to take an extended break from public broadcasting?
First, here's a thought, if you host a public affairs or news program (Morning Edition bills itself as news), you need to be up on the news. Last week it was reported that the US government and the Iraqi government were officially in negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond this year. It had been reported for weeks prior that this was the goal. And yet somehow Steve Inskeep never heard of it as was obvious when he asked US House Rep Barney Frank how cuts could be made in the spending.
US House Rep Barney Frank: And that's telling the rest of the world that they can no longer count on America to be their military budget, their policemen. I would begin by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan at a cost of $125 billion a year.
Steve Inskeep: You mean withdrawing more quickly and more dramatically than is already happening.
US House Rep Barney Frank: Well, withdrawing from Iraq, definitely the president is unfortunately talking about staying Iraq at a cost of billions of dollars a year, beyond the end of this year, which would put him there longer than George Bush. And I'm hoping he could be persuaded not to do that. But in Afghanistan, while there is a withdrawal - there is a drawdown going on, there is no firm withdrawal date, and they're talking about staying there for several more years.
Repeating, Steve Inskeep should have known that. Now maybe he counts on NPR for news? If so NPR NEVER reported on this. NEVER. Yes, it was mentioned in passing in hourly headlines, but NPR never reported on it. How do you do that? How do you claim to be a news organization and, yes, put down each month that you're spending X (it's a large amount, I'm being kind) for Iraq coverage when you're not providing Iraq coverage? That's one to screw over the donors. And the end result is that people end up as stupid as Steve Inskeep, publicly humiliating himself in a conversation with a Congress member because Steve is so far behind the news. That alone should have NPR (and its ombudsperson) wondering. But let's note another section of the exchange.
Steve Inskeep: Congressman, if I can, we've just got a few seconds. You have mentioned defense spending. You've mentioned tax increases. Those are two areas of disagreement. The biggest part of the federal budget is entitlements.
US House Rep Barney Frank: No, wrong. I'm sorry. The defense budget is bigger than Medicare, and Social Security is, in fact, self-financing, still is.
Steve Inskeep: Let's stipulate for this conversation: a very, very, very, very, very big part of the budget is entitlements. Democrats are seen as resisting cuts. Is your side - in a couple of seconds - going to appoint people to the special committee who are ready to make a deal?
US House Rep Barney Frank: I am not going to tell an 80-year-old woman living on $19,000 a year that she gets no cost-of-living, or that a man who has been doing physical labor all his life and is now at a 67-year-old retirement - which is where Social Security will be soon - that he has to work four or five more years. But I disagree with you that in terms of draining on the budget, Social Security is largely as self-financed --
Steve Inskeep: Okay.
US House Rep Barney Frank: -- and the military budget is larger than Medicare. So demonizing entitlements and saying that - in fact, here's the deal --
Steve Inskeep: Congressman, I really have to cut you off there. But I do --
US House Rep Barney Frank: Well, I wish you wouldn't ask these complicated questions with five seconds to go.
Would NPR explain why Steve is allowed to editorialize? He did the same thing with Cleaver the week before. He wasn't as rude to Barney Frank (proving that, indeed, Inskeep thought he could get away with disrespecting Emanuel Cleaver because Cleaver was Black) but he wasn't doing an interview, he was editorializing. This is why Bob Somerby is dead wrong when he thinks journalists should be calling out this politician or that one. They aren't qualified to and few are even honest and impartial enough that you'd allow them to make that call.
Barney Frank is correct about Social Security and Steve Inskeep is dead wrong. Barney Frank is the Ranking Member (highest Democrat) on the House Financial Service Committee. And Steve Inskeep -- the king of all dabblers -- wants to 'school' Barney on Social Security and federal spending?
Because Steve's former career as a sportscaster taught him the ins and outs of federal budgets, spendings and programs?
As Barney Frank noted, Steve Inskeep was demonizing the safety net programs. Social Security is its own program with its own fund. If that's news to Steve Inskeep, NPR needs to immediately fire him because he repeatedly chooses to raise that issue without ever having even a semi-functional understanding. Then there's the issue of military spending. Click on the second graph to Teresa Tritch's "How the Deficit Got This Big" (New York Times, July 23, 2011). Still on the Times, Harvard professor and economist Linda J. Bilmes' "True Accountability" notes in the very first sentence, "One out of five dollars spent by the federal government goes to the military. Since 2001, the size of the annual military budget has grown by nearly $1 trillion, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." In a column for the Boston Globe ("Costly inheritance," April 27, 2011), Linda J. Bilmes notes that while tax cuts were being made, "At the same time, military spending -- not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has increased by a trillion dollars -- reaching the highest level since World War II." Bilmes and her colleague Joseph Stiglitz were just cited in a Council on Foreign Relations article by James Wright, "After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the costs of these wars ballooned. In 2010, the United States spent $167 billion on 'overseas contingency operations' in these theaters -- a figure that includes expenditures by the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development but excludes spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated in 2008 that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually cost $3 trillion, and they now acknowledge that the number may be even greater. Much of the expense for these wars have been financed by debt or represents future oglibations."
The issue was addresed yesterday on PRI's The World: -- let's hope Steve Inskeep caught a later broadcast. Excerpt:
Lisa Mullins: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the United States between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion and that's not counting another trillion dollars in obligations to veterans during the next 40 years. These figures come from a new research project by the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University. Boston University professor Neta Crawford was the co-author of the study. It's not surprising, she says, that the price tags of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is higher than what's been reported.
Neta Crawford: In nearly every conflict it's common for public officials as well as the media and the general public to underestimate both the duration and the budgetary costs of war.
Lisa Mullins: So what was the most surprising figure or set of figures for you?
Neta Crawford: Most surprising for me were the costs over the long run of caring for veterans' medical and disability. Now the US has already spent on veterans who've come through the pipeline to go into the VA system, over $30 billion dollars. Now if you take that into the future to the veterans who leave the service now, and into the future, the cost will be between $600 billion and a trillion more in their medical and disability expenses over the next 30 - 40 years.
Lisa Mullins: How do you get that figure?
Neta Crawford: Well Linda Bilmes, an economist at Harvard, did the research on that. And she found two interesting things. One is that the soldiers are using medical benefits sooner than in other conflicts and they are using more of them. So this greater draw on resources sooner is going to drive up the costs on veterans care.
Lisa Mullins: The way this was put together, I mean the numbers you have right now for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, those wars, the price tag is $3.6 trillion. The value of that is what? What does that tell us?
Neta Crawford: Well it tells us a couple of things. FIrst, that we've underestimated and not counted important costs of these wars.
Lisa Mullins: What are we told the cost is? How different is this from what we're told by the government?
Neta Crawford: Well the Congressional Research Service has done an analysis of the cost of the war in terms of Pentagon spending. and they tell us it's about 1.2 trillion for the last ten years in post-9-11 war making.
How is this news to Steve Inskeep? He hosts an alleged news program. He's neither aware of negotiations to keep US troops in Iraq nor of the huge costs of war and military spending? Why is he arguing with the guest? Is he really that stupid or is he attempting to practice something other than reporting?
And, again, how can he not know about the ongoing negotiations to extend the US military presence in Iraq. Dale McFeatters (Boston Herald) observed Monday, "Iraq's debate over whether U.S. troops should stay in rising to the level of farce. Of course we're going to stay. We almost always do. President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have authorized the government, meaning themselves, to negotiate the terms of keeping U.S. troops there past the year-end deadline for their departure." Joe Randazzao (Burlington Free Press) argues, "No matter how the American debt crisis is ultimately resolved, the end result will be a winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite simply, we can no longer afford them." While the war costs are destroying the nation, it's equally true that sanity rarely parades at the top. In other words, what's so obvious looking at the fall of the USSR was pretty obvious in real time as well. But no one at the top halted the military operations and the country fell apart as a result. That may or may not happen in the US. But I'm trying to make clear that just because the US can't afford them doesn't mean the government will end them. The refusal to be practical is why empires fail. (And all empires fail.) Pat and Chuck Wemstrom (Journal-Standard) also call for withdrawal, "Just bring the troops home. We are not fighting any of these wars because our country is threatened. The Afghan troops we meet in the field were children during 9/11 and rightly believe that they are defending their country from outside invaders. It must be terrible to live in a country where just in the last 150 years the people have had to fight British, the Russians and now the Americans." And in the latest development in the story of non-withdrawal, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Najm al-Din Kareem, governor of Kirkuk, declared at a press conference today "there is a necessity for an extension of some of the U.S. forces, not only in Kirkuk, but in Iraq as a whole, as allies and helpers."

Meanwhile Al Mada reports that the State of Law's Ihsan al-Awadi is stating that the US military is attempting to create a crisis to sell their continued presence on Iraqi soil. What crisis? By saying they can repel Iranians on the border. (Iran is shelling northern Iraq and possibly entering into northern Iraq as they target Kurdish rebels.) In addition, the Ministry of the Interior has stated that weapons are coming across the border Iraq shares with Iran -- echoing claims by the US military and possibly echoing claims for the US military. Alsumaria TV adds, "Iraq Interior Minister former deputy Adnan Al Assadi told Alsumarianews that smuggling arms from Iran thru Missan Province is ongoing in large quantities in an official and unofficial way and it includes rockets and mortars. He also stressed that arms smugglers are being overlooked."

Negotiations with the US government to extend the US military presence in Iraq takes a back seat in the Iraqi press to Nouri's latest scandal. On Saturday, he sacked the Minister of Electricity (which may or may not require the approval of Parliament -- no approval has been granted thus far). His office has stated that false contracts were signed. But, as the story has continued, it's emerged that Nouri's signature may be on some of the contracts as well. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Wasit province police stops a young man from burning himself protesting against the bogus electricity contracts that the Iraqi government is involved in." Dar Addustour reports Sabah al-Saadi, who serves on Parliament's Integrity Commission, states that the dummy contracts had the signatures of Nouri al-Maliki and his deputy Hussein al-Shahristani. The report also notes grumbles in Parliament about Nouri dismissing the Minister with an MP stressing that is the job of Parliament. Aswat al-Iraq also notes, "A Legislature of al-Iraqiya Coalition, led by Iyad Allawi, has charged Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Deputy for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristany and the sacked Electricity Minister, Raad Shallal, with having their signatures on the so-called 'illusionary' contracts made public recently." And noting real world consequences of the contracts, Ammar Karim (AFP) observes, "Mismanagement and bureaucratic deadlock in Iraq's electricity ministry have short-circuited a quick-fix plan for some 50 power plants to alleviate the country's severe power shortage, officials say."