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December 12, 2007

Radio Goes BANANAs

-Patrick S Lasswell

My local radio station decided to freeze the poor this week. KINK radio broadcast their opinion regarding the ongoing plan to build Natural Gas facilities in and around Oregon. They decided that the best benefit to the public was to Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, also known as BANANA. This is a safe opinion because those who risk nothing cannot be blamed for mishaps that don't happen. This attitude is in no small part responsible for our current energy dependence on the Middle East because exactly the same attitude is why no nuclear plants have been built in the US in the last twenty-five years.

In the guise of asking reasonable questions, they denounce the possibility of risk.

“Half-mile exclusion zones would be required around the ships. Why have them if the ships are so safe? Those zones also would negatively impact fisheries and tourism.”

A boatload of explosively formed projectiles travels a half mile in one minute at thirty knots. Because there are terrorists in the world who have the methods and motives to damage us, it is our responsibility to deny them the opportunities. While I doubt that such attacks would be the massive conflagration that terrorists and those who live in fear of them imagine; by making the attacks harder, we make them less frequent.

The inconvenience to the wealthy of building our national infrastructure is a harder sell. Energy costs in the US are exceptionally high for a variety of reasons, including that it is almost impossible to build large commercial energy plants here. The problem is that the wealthy make it more expensive for the poor by supporting bad land use policy. With more energy plants and the energy use flexibility they provide, power can be provided at lower cost. The freezing poor and elderly need this plant more than the tourists and fishermen need an unobstructed Columbia.

Anything worth having comes with costs and risks. I know for a fact from listening to involved parties that the pipelines these plants require will damage the environment. The companies involved are going to settle this in court afterwards because it is so much cheaper than involving the natural resources organizations. Endless retribution is easier than endless delays, and once the plant is built they can afford to repair the damage. This is the only antidote to BANANA that the power companies have found. Is this the result that the environmentalists were looking for?

“Where will the gas come from originally? Some is likely to be imported from overseas. The biggest natural gas reserves in the world are in the Middle East--especially Iran--and Russia. Do we want to hitch Oregon's economy to Iran and Russia?”

The natural gas will come from the market. When Iran and Russia withhold their resources, the market price will rise and we will find alternatives, unless everybody takes KINK's attitude and we lock ourselves off from other power sources. These plants will provide us with opportunities and choices, stopping them will leave us with fewer choices, not more.

“Meanwhile oil companies drilling in Alaska are coming up with huge amounts of natural gas as a byproduct and are pumping it back in the ground. A proposed pipeline from Alaska to the Midwest would indirectly help insure the Northwest's supply of natural gas for many decades.”

Didn't they just say that we were getting our gas from Russia and Iran? I looked at the map and between Alaska and Ohio is an entirely different country. If it is bad to depend on foreigners for our energy, why are we giving control away to a bunch of politicians in Ottawa? A Canadian pipeline is of little benefit to Oregon. Not having a refinery in Oregon costs us extra for gasoline, why would gas going 2,000 miles away improve our energy solutions?

Oregon's industries depend on inexpensive power. Our access to the Bonneville and other Columbia River dams has allowed us to host multi-billion dollar semiconductor factories that provide tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Cutting us off from additional sources of inexpensive power is bad policy and a bad idea. It will hurt the poor and it will hurt our industries. The people at KINK need to stop selling bad BANANAs.

UPDATE: Thanks to Hot Air for the link. Please feel free to check earlier posts where I hold this same radio station's feet to the fire.

December 05, 2007

When Old Media Means Obsolete Media

-Patrick S Lasswell

Can we please stop returning to the thrilling days of yesteryear for our political commentary? I've got a radio station here in Portland trying to turn back the clock and report on last year's war. Don't get me wrong; I'm a history guy and I love for the lessons of the past to inform our choices. The problem is that the decisions of the past cannot continue to be our choices, especially when we are at war with a continuously changing foe. Last week my favorite station took a break from broadcasting a mix of old and new music to put out an obsolete political editorial on the war. Maybe they decided that since they have new music Monday, they should have old politics Friday.

We are winning in Iraq right now, and that has to be a huge threat to the worldview of the media as a class. The disconnect comes because people in the media report primarily on what's wrong. For decades, they have covered war as a series of catastrophic screwups. Since screwups happen in war on a pretty regular basis, they can almost invariably put that spin on a story and be some kind of right. But now something not in their experience is happening. The US hasn't absolutely won a war in over sixty years and the media has no comprehension of how they exist in relation to success. Absent any bias, they simply don't know how to tell this story.

If this was sports, this wouldn't be an issue. In sports reporting, accurate results on the latest information are always given. You never hear a sports reporter passing off last year's games as current, and that is by design. Sports as we know them were designed in the 19th century to sell newspapers, and they've become more closely tied to the media ever since. The statistics and results are designed to make reporters look good because they can make intelligent predictions on the basis of past results. Sports reporters have comprehensible metrics and almost invariably show tremendous knowledge of their various games.

Regrettably, war is not like sports. There are people who make it their business to muddle statistics and results, getting reporters to make fools of themselves drawing the wrong conclusions. If this wasn't enough, we have reporters who are not qualified to cover conflict. There are virtually no veterans in the newsrooms. A Master's from the Columbia School of Journalism is a fine thing, but it doesn't tell you anything about logistics, weapons effectiveness, or the importance of troop morale.

The survivable solution for the media is to adopt the sports reporter methodology. Report the facts, as best you can find them; which probably means watching the game and the practices. Get to know the event you are covering, preferably by having experience with the game. Talk to the players whenever possible and get their interpretation of the experience. When in doubt, root for the home team.

This is how you sell newspapers as well as radio, and TV spots. This is how my business partner Michael Totten is making a living independently reporting from the Middle East, including Iraq. This is how you earn the publics trust. Nobody really believes that there was a guy running around the old west with a mask firing silver bullets shooting guns out of people's hands. We don't pay attention to re-runs of the Lone Ranger anymore, and if the traditional media doesn't update their war narrative, we won't pay any attention to them, either. It is time to get real or get obsolete.

December 01, 2007

Fisking KINK

-Patrick S Lasswell

Woke Up this Morning and I Got Myself a Fisk

Yesterday I got angry, today I decided to get mean and get help. I couldn't sleep this morning thinking about how badly biased, patronizing, and out of touch the KINK-FM commentary about deploying the Oregon Guard was. Since the author of this epistle refuses to discuss his lapses with me, I've decided to discuss them with you and try to get your assistance. Please visit the KINK site and leave your comments about their editorial. Please be respectful and serious, because that is the best way to drive the message home.

Yesterday I had to prod the general manager to get the transcript published on the web site. KINK normally posts its broadcast editorials, but for some reason they were three weeks behind on doing so. This is probably due to a change in web page software, we all know what that's like, but it didn't improve the quality of their expression to have that lapse. Here's what they had to say:

The Oregon National Guard has been alerted that half of its members may be headed to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2009. KINK Considers a wake-up call reminding us that we are fighting two wars.

A lot of us never went to sleep on this. As a Navy Reservist, my unit is scheduled to activate for duty in 2010, so perhaps my alertness is heightened. I am a little bit troubled that news people are getting drowsy because of the recent successes; maybe the problem isn't the government's, though. For instance, CentCom publishes exciting news about their area of operations all the time. “SIX KILLED, 10 DETAINED AS COALITION FORCES TARGET AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP, FOREIGN TERRORIST FACILITATORS” Even when it's not in all capitals, that's a pretty hard to sleep through headline. Maybe it's not the news that's sleepworthy, just the newcasters.

The U.S. is fighting two wars--one that we started, one that we didn't.

So when Saddam invaded Kuwait, did we start that war? Because that's the war we're finishing in Iraq. Dictators need conflict to survive in power, which is why we end up fighting them so much. You may have noticed that we don't go to war with democracies so much. For the last four years we've largely been fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, although we also are crushing the mad bombers of the Mahdi Army and the Baathist holdouts when we needed to. Our biggest battles, like Fallujah 2, were with Al Qaeda though. You remember Al's not hard, just think of two smoking towers about to collapse and keep in mind that they are going to fight us anywhere they can reach. Since most of their financing and recruits are from the Gulf region, fighting them there kind of makes sense.

But these continue to be mostly TV wars.

I suppose that's true, if you don't go there. And don't read blogs. And don't read books by the veterans of the wars. And don't seek out any veterans. And don't do your job as a journalist.

There is little sense of shared sacrifice on the part of most Americans and while most want us out of Iraq, we are passive about it. That's partly because we don't have a draft and partly because the Bush administration has not asked us to make any sacrifices on the home front.

So, you're complaining because you've been given so little to complain about? On September 20th, 2001 President Bush announced that this was going to be a long struggle. This is why we are not treating this as a sprint, this is why we are not making the war hurt the supporting populace a lot. Our economy is so vast and so healthy that we can and are supporting a war without privation. I can't help but wonder if this is a problem because it doesn't match your script for what a war should be.

Now the Pentagon has alerted the Oregon National Guard for possible--and we think probable--deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2009. This may be a wake-up call for Oregonians.

This may instead be an excuse for whining, because that's what it sounds like.

In 2004, Oregon had 16-hundred soldiers from the guard in Iraq and it took a toll, especially in small towns where police officers, firefighters, teachers, and community leaders left their homes and families behind.

So, people who are willing to serve shouldn't be allowed to...serve? Leaders shouldn't be allowed to...lead? People with the skills to rebuild shouldn't be allowed to...rebuild? Or is it just that the valorous shouldn't be allowed the opportunity to shine? If nobody is brave, nobody is a coward?

This time, more than twice as many soldiers will be called up. And when we lose half the Guard and its equipment, who will be there when we have an earthquake, another huge forest fire, or a Columbus Day storm?

The Michigan National Guard? Other National Guards and volunteers?

Oregon isn't Louisiana, Portland isn't New Orleans. No city of the state is below sea level. Although the recent idiocy of the Mayor throwing a tantrum over renaming a street without democratic consideration doesn't give much cause for confidence, our government works pretty well. The biggest disaster in Katrina was the local government response. The police department broke, the executive leadership failed, and decades of corruption caused a collapse that surrounding states didn't suffer. The media published unchecked fantasies in their frenzy to get air time, and that didn't help things very much.

Once in a century storms are a 1% annual risk, and it's one we can manage. Leaving Iraq unprotected is a 100% certainty, why are you stopping the best functioning protection there?

Our soldiers, both guardsmen and regular military, have been making amazing sacrifices. If we feel that more, maybe we will protest more, write more letters, and force our U.S. Senate candidates to take a position: Do they oppose this deployment or not?

Your concern for the guardsmen and regular military would be a lot more convincing if you ever talked to them. Or if you had been to Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Fort Lewis, two hours north of your offices. Or Camp Withycombe, half an hour away and within your broadcast range.

What do you expect from Congress, exactly? We are in the middle of fighting two major conflicts and are deployed to scores of countries around the globe to keep them in control of free people without a budget from this Congress. On January 1, the Department of Defense is laying off 100,000 civilian employees and 100,000 contractors because of this Congress. It would be difficult to imagine what more they could do to oppose this deployment than their current inaction.

Some of us who think it was a mistake to go into Iraq and who think we blundered badly in executing the war, still wonder if there is a middle way between total troop withdrawal and the current situation.

Because half measures are successful in what wars? Because the middle way worked so well in 1991 to contain Saddam? If the people who oppose this war had a coherent plan more effective than the current Surge, I'd be glad to hear it. Based on the results I'm seeing reported by my friends in country, I think you have a lot to match. In the meantime, we're winning and it looks a lot like that result scares you.

Rape Room at the Red Building.jpg
Saddam era rape room in Iraq. One of thousands of reasons why going to war was not a mistake. How can we stay at peace with this kind of institutional depravity in the world?

While we can support a U.S. training mission for Iraqis, we don't support keeping a large deployment in Iraq to fight terrorism. Terrorists and terrorist training camps are highly mobile and there is no reason for a multi-year deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq to fight terrorists

I think this is where I got angry yesterday, because it surely irritates the hell out of me now. Terrorists do not require mobility for success, they require complicity. To a great extent they require complicity on the ground with the local populace. The deployment of friendly units to live amongst the populace, which we're doing, counters that.

The critical complicity that terrorism requires is from their enablers amongst free people. Regrettably, this is where KINK fails profoundly. For a paltry list of annoyances, this radio station is willing to throw the people of Iraq to the wolves. They may think this war is a mistake, but I'm guessing that they never visited the rape rooms where Saddam's goons extracted compliance from his people. I'm pretty sure they aren't looking at the mass graves in Baqubah where Al Qaeda buried their compliance tools.

Iraqi Children.jpg

Why should these children be thrown under the bus? Why should this young man be subjected to a lifetime of abuse by fascist thugs. Why should his baby sister be subjected to a lifetime of rape by terrorists? How many children of Iraq have to die so the anti-war movement can score political points?

What is needed to destroy terrorists and terrorism is the courage of decent people. KINK is trying to deny that courage and divert that decency from a the people who need it most. This is unconscionable complicity with terrorists.

Maybe this newly announced deployment of Oregon soldiers will make us raise our voices for a fast and significant troop withdrawal.

Maybe instead it will make us commit again to the freedom of people around the globe instead of the comfort of people around your house. Troop withdrawal made some kind of sense before the Anbar Awakening and before the Surge showed clearly that we could win against terrorism with the right strategy. To cut support for General Patraeus when he is clearly winning is more than policy disagreement. This is suicidal madness. Freedom of speech implies responsibility in its use that just isn't present in this editorial.

KINK supports withdrawal, fine. Your statement regarding the Oregon Guard is unwise, unwelcome, and unworthy of free people. Withdraw your commentary and support our troops by supporting our troops.

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