Month: December 2010

2010 Media Follies!

Welcome to this 15th annual selection of a few of the year’s most over-hyped and underreported local stories. With the news business, especially newspapers, undergoing a not-very-slow collapse, and hard news coverage usually the first victim of tightening budgets, there was more underreported news than ever this year. Fear not, however. America’s addiction to trivial distractions can withstand any assault from economic hardship–or from reality.

2010′s Most Over-Hyped Stories: Local

Dino Rossi. In a year when most Republicans pretty much had to be caught multiple times copulating with sheep in order to lose their elections, Rossi trailed in the polls against incumbent Sen. Patty Murray from the day he announced his challenge. Despite the big Republican wave, and despite receiving huge sums of money (from the US Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, and the various other national corporate interests Rossi promised to faithfully serve), Rossi did no better in 2010 than he did against Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2008. Yet despite this–and despite Murray’s long history of beating better-funded Republican challengers–for endless months local media painted this race as a tossup. It never was.

Mike McGinn is evil incarnate. Local media–particularly the reactionaries running the Seattle Times–can’t quite seem to wrap their collective minds around the idea that someone who’s not part of Seattle’s Old Boys & Gals Network might have legitimate ideas and concerns. Well, to be fair, they’re not really trying to wrap their minds around that–they’re too busy trying to slag McGinn and promote Tim Burgess to replace him in 2013.

In April, local TV and newspapers gave enormous attention to local Tea Party rallies on Tax Day that drew a few hundred people at most. Two weeks later, a pro-immigrant rally in Seattle that drew at least ten times as many people was roundly ignored.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent (and potentially violent) crimes, big (and not-so-big) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic, plucky survivors (preferably kids) overcoming adversity or being reunited with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News.

2010′s Most Over-Hyped Stories: National & International

The End of the Iraq War: Except for, you know, all the US troops still shooting and getting shot at. And the suicide bombers. And the civil war. And the newest wave of Iraqi refugees: exiles who tried to return, only to find the economy collapsed, government services nonexistent, tribalism rampant, and the violence often as bad as ever.

Iran Nukes: The International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN’s nuclear enforcement arm) has no evidence an Iranian nuclear weapons program even exists. If it does exist, it’s still years away from anything operational. Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not in violation of the treaty. (The US is, on numerous fronts.) And Iran has not attacked any other country in hundreds of years (The US, um, has.) Yeah, the Iranian government sucks. That’s no excuse for exaggeration and lies.

“Don’t touch my junk!” Better yet, don’t tap my phones, read my e-mail, or imprison me without trial or due process.

Anything concerning Glenn Beck. The fact that Beck’s pronouncements, which generally range from error-ridden to lunatic, are taken seriously by a large and credulous audience, is as damning an indictment of American ignorance as we’ve seen in generations.

Anything concerning Sarah Palin. Except for that.

Lindsay Lohan is in rehab again this week. Which reminds me; I’ve been meaning to ask. Who is Lindsay Lohan? And why does anyone care?

2010′s Most Underreported Stories: Local

The Seattle City Council and the Mayor passed up a well-qualified African American candidate for Chief of Police and opted for business-as-usual, in spite of a host of complaints about police brutality against minority suspects. And what happened? A subsequent rash of ugly nationally publicized incidents involving non-white victims of SPD abuse–most notoriously, the murder of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams–and predictably milquetoast responses from SPD and city leadership, who apparently don’t see the deep distrust such incidents foster as any serious kind of problem. Nothing a press release and obligatory promise of internal investigations (while the officers involved get, at worst, a nice paid vacation for their troubles) can’t cure, right?

The downtown traffic tunnel/viaduct replacement is already over budget. By making a quiet gift of half the reserve money to the contractor before a bid was even submitted, the state officially put the project over budget, but the local media decided to ignore this. Local media has also chosen to ignore the copious signs from the state legislature that Mayor McGinn’s concerns about Seattle taxpayers beings stuck with the cost overruns are well-grounded. Instead, we’re supposed to think McGinn is being paranoid, because Gov. Christine Gregoire has promised that she won’t let that happen–even though Gregoire will be long out of office before the bill for the overruns comes due.

The FBI investigation of the Port of Seattle’s contracting practices regarding the third runway at SeaTac died a quiet death with nearly no press coverage. With no one looking, it was easy for the feds to shelve the case, in spite of evidence of severe mismanagement and fraud. And we’re still waiting for the state to audit the rest of the Port’s corrupt, sleazy dealings.

The Regional Transit Taskforce recommendation to change the way bus service is allocated in King County got no airplay here. Every bus rider knows that the city needs more service and the outlying county less, but Metro is still relying on a formula that sends half-empty buses out to Issaquah and Auburn while in-city routes are standing-room-only.

A judge’s ruling that the Washington state law banning felons from voting violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act should have set off a concerted effort to extend voting rights to the incarcerated population of this state. We (and they) are still waiting.

It’s no surprise that the state has a huge budget deficit; nearly every state does. But all media coverage of the state’s budget struggles focuses on the “tough cuts” politicians have to make in wake of the voters’ defeat of tax increases in November. No one has even hinted at the possibility of closing any tax loopholes, particularly the $12 billion in B&O tax breaks given to businesses in this state every year.

The worst of these: Even as a special April legislative session wrestled with the gaping budget deficit, Olympia quietly passed a huge new tax break for Microsoft, redefining the state royalty tax in a way that not only saves Microsoft $100 million a year going forward, but retroactively absolved the company of up to $1.2 billion in back taxes, penalties, and interest from a scam involving claiming its software was licensed in the state of Nevada (which has no such tax), even though it was made and sold here. And in December, Gov. Gregoire effectively buried the issue by naming a former Microsoft executive to head the state Department of Revenue.

The corporate corruption of the state initiative process: All but one of the statewide initiatives that made the ballot in 2010 were put there by corporate interests–and corporate interests were instrumental in killing the lone exception (I-1098, the high earners’ income tax). While the corporate-funded initiatives met with mixed success, the real lesson was that a form of lawmaking that was supposed to be the avenue for ordinary citizens when we are shut out by special interests and corrupted lawmakers has itself been hijacked by those same interests. It’s much, much more difficult now for grassroots activists to qualify a measure for the ballot than it is for a big transnational corporation or trade association.

2010′s Most Underreported Stories: National & International

Meanwhile, at the national level, the impact of the January US Supreme Court Citizens United decision was enormous, swinging dozens of federal and and countless state and local elections in favor of whichever side (usually Republican) stood most to benefit from the newly legal corporate largesse. Corporate money swamped the 2010 election, yet pundits insisted on treating the election results as a message from voters–not as brainwashed voters repeating the paid messages they were bombarded with ad nauseam for months.

We’re used to thinking of global warming and global climate change as a slow-moving apocalypse, one that our children or their children will experience. But a myriad of data this year has shown that the drastic effects of climate change are coming sooner than we realized and are already well under way. From massive snow storms in Europe and the East Coast of North America to a drastic drop in phytoplankton in the world’s oceans, we’re seeing the results of our uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s climate right now. And the utter failure of the government of the country that is the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas emitter (namely, the Obama administration) to either pursue its own initiatives or help international agreements move forward is, simply put, a crime against humanity.

So many different aspects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico went unexamined or unreported that it’s difficult to choose just one. At the top of the list is the fact that these type of spills happen frequently elsewhere in the world (Nigeria, for example) with no attention from the Western press–although Western newspapers are quick to condemn Nigerian activists for attacking oil platforms. A close second is the scientific fact that oil doesn’t just disappear when you spray dispersants on it: it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor, where many marine creatures live. Just because we can’t see the devastation doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And, sadly, no one is even attempting to study the long-term impact of the largest deepwater oil spill in US history.

The FBI is using your tax dollars to groom and train domestic terrorists, and then help them realize their half-formed dreams. In a year in which every single one of the nation’s “intelligence” agencies missed catching Faisal Shahzud (the Times Square bomber) until after he tried to set off his defective bomb, it was dispiriting to watch the FBI run major sting operations against troubled teenagers and homeless twenty-somethings. In those sting operations, the FBI brought to life troubled individuals’ fantasies that never, ever would have otherwise posed a threat to anyone.

The Return of the Know-Nothing Party. The main significance of the 2010 rise of the Tea Party and the continuing popularity of figures like Beck and Palin is that facts–scientific or otherwise–not only no longer matter to a large swath of American political culture, but are openly ridiculed as “elitist.” In such an environment, it’s hard to imagine effective responses to any of the myriad urgent crises facing the US or the world. One envisions dinosaurs looking at the large meteor hurtling to Earth, but not being concerned, because Tyrannosaurus Rush told them it was just another harmless chunk of green cheese. If not a damned plot by those irritating new “mammals.”

The nation’s new defense policy, announced with fanfare as a major change from the Bush administration’s Doctrine of Overwhelming Force, is in fact a continuation of American Empire business-as-usual. Obama & Co. have recycled all of the Bush era policies and given them a new, touchy-feely veneer. We call it the Doctrine of Overwhelming Denial.

The national budget deficit has nothing to do with Social Security or Medicare costs. The hard truth is that Bush era tax breaks for the rich plus two extremely expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have bankrupted the country. Good luck trying to find those facts in any major newspaper.

Did we say two wars? The US is now involved in a third major war, in Pakistan–a war that’s as much against the Pakistani military (which supports the Haqqani network of the Taliban) as it is against the Pakistani tribes that support the Taliban. And, of course, to keep the war going indefinitely, we’re arming and funding both sides.

Three wars? What about the fourth? Yes, the US got involved in a fourth major conflict this year: the civil war in Yemen, which has the potential to be as insoluble as the war in Afghanistan. And we’re still regularly bombing various Islamist factions in Somalia, too–or, at least, the hapless civilians who happen to be in whichever neighborhoods we’ve mistakenly targeted.

After nearly a full year without a functioning government, Iraq is on track to become a one-party state. The winners of this year’s election are still waiting to take office–any office of any kind. Meanwhile, the loser of the election has just crowned himself king for a second term. So much for the Bush-era mandate to “bring democracy to the Middle East.” And so much for Obama assurances that Iraq is no longer at war.

Shamefully unreported in the US, even though it took place in New York, is the United Nations report condemning the use of unmanned aerial drones as a war crime. The US continues to be the main deployer of unmanned drones (in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, and probably many other places we don’t know about), causing massive numbers of civilian casualties wherever they drop their bombs. Not so long ago, the US government accused Saddam Hussein of a war crime by building an unmanned drone that looked like a rusty bicycle with wings; now we use sleek, Boeing-made aerial drones on a daily basis to murderous effect.

Anti-globalization protests continue, in spite of the lack of media coverage. And the absence of the major media has allowed police departments and government military units to beat peaceful protestors with impunity at every meeting of the G-20. Meanwhile, the slow collapse of the global financial system is proving that anti-globalization protestors have been right all along.

Finally, an annual installment: Dick Cheney is Not in Jail: Still. And it’s not like he–and most of his closest friends and colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, at the highest levels of corporate and political America–haven’t tried. –Geov Parrish & Maria Tomchick

Top 10 Economic Stories of 2010

1) In 2008 and 2009, the Federal Reserve functioned as the central bank for the entire world. Documents pried from the Federal Reserve in November show that dozens of foreign banks and an astonishing number of foreign governments lined up to get handouts from the Fed, who kept its client list a deeply protected secret. The recipients included most of Europe’s major banks: Barclay’s Bank, Bank of Scotland, RBS, Societe Generale, Dresdner Bank, Bayerische Landesbank, and Dexia. Also on the list are the central banks of Australia, Denmark, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, South Korea, Britain, and Japan.

If it had been publicly known at the time what the true, global extent of the crisis really was, the world’s economy would have completely collapsed. This is the biggest story of the year, perhaps of the entire past decade, but it’s received zero attention from the US press.

2) The Fed’s current policy of “quantitative easing” (QE I and QE II) are an under-the-table bailout of US corporations. By buying up medium- and long-term treasury bonds, the Fed is keeping interest rates near zero so US corporations can refinance a record amount of junk bonds that were set to come due in 2012, 2013, and 2014 (a total of $700 billion). Some corporations have been able to refinance their debt by issuing 50- or 100-year bonds. That’s insane. Most companies don’t stay in business for 10 years, much less 100 years.

3) The IMF rises from the dead…just in time to impose austerity measures on Greece, Ireland, and a host of other European Union countries. Of course, the one country that’s most responsible for the global economic crisis—the United States—doesn’t fall under the IMF’s purview. Instead, we get to do the opposite: extend the Bush tax cuts, extend the war in Afghanistan to at least 2014, and run up a record government deficit.

4) The financial industry is too big. Way too big. In the mid 1990’s it accounted for about 17% of the gross domestic product of the US. Now it accounts for over 60%. How did that change happen? Well, blame it on the worst Bush era tax cut ever devised: the 15% capital gains and dividend tax rate. When you give a tax cut for dividends and capital gains, you’re subsidizing the investment industry, which is now mostly composed of speculation: money in search of profits taxed at only 15%. So we get huge amounts of money invested in non-productive areas of the economy: derivatives, currency trading, speculation in commodities markets, hedge funds, and stupid venture capital investments that will never make a profit or provide a necessary service (i.e., on steroids). Too big to fail? Yes, but it’s also too big to even comprehend.

5) More banks failed in 2010 than in 2009. The FDIC told us that 2009 would be the worst year of the crisis, but this year small and mid-sized banks continued to fail in record numbers. In 2008 the FDIC closed 25 banks; in 2009 the total was 140. As of November, the total for 2010 was above 150 and counting. Clearly, we still haven’t seen the worst of the crisis.

6) Meanwhile, the biggest banks are still misbehaving. From refusing to modify mortgage loans to using robo-signers and filing defective paperwork with bankruptcy courts, to sending a huge posse of lobbyists to Washington DC to gut the financial reform bill, the biggest banks have been operating as if the financial crisis never happened. And they’ve been racking up record profits and paying out enormous bonuses to their top management. Guess who’s really running this country?

7) Low-interest loans + bad banks = new perfect storm on the horizon. I won’t say more, or it will depress you.

8) Flash crashes are the wave of the future in the stock markets. (Yes, you read that right. “Stock markets,” plural. There are more than a dozen in the US alone.) If you don’t know what a “flash crash” is, then you should sell your stock right now and stick your money in your mattress, because you don’t know enough about investing to keep from losing your shirt. If computers have made it possible for everyone, including your grandma, to play the stock market, they’ve also made it possible for a few big sharks to crash the markets within milliseconds. And nothing’s being done to stop them.

9) Microcredit banks, which were heralded as the saviors of the poor in developing nations, are headed for a major collapse. It turns out that the nonprofits that extended small loans to poor people in developing nations from India to Sub-Saharan Africa have been operating just like the big US banks that caused the 2008 economic collapse. They saw a way to make a profit off the poor, and they went for it. Guess who’s going to pay for it all in the end?

10) It’s the end of 2010 and nobody’s been prosecuted for the mortgage meltdown, banking crisis, or the economic collapse. No one’s even been charged with a crime. Obama’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission has turned out to be toothless, powerless, and invisible.

If George Orwell could have seen the real dimensions of our Brave New World, he wouldn’t have been worried about governmental control. In fact, maybe we ought to give Barack Obama a break: there’s only so much you can get away with before your boss gets really pissed off.

The question is: who’s the real boss? Is it Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs? Or is it you and me?

Maybe it’s time to stand up and show ‘em who’s boss.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén