No News Is Good News

The three national television networks have dedicated 181 minutes to weekday coverage of the Iraq war so far this year.  (Source: NY Times 6/23)  The total coverage for 2007 was 1,157 minutes.  What’s the problem? 

Terry McCarthy, a news correspondent from ABC, said that journalists are being frustrated about getting war stories onto newscasts.  The decrease in the relative level of violence “is taking the urgency out” of the coverage, he added.  Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS, said on the Daily Show recently that the war seems to hold little interest for many Americans.  Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS, said that coverage of Iraq is extremely expensive, chiefly because of security risks.  Journalists at all three networks expressed fear that their news organizations will withdraw from the Iraq capital after the November election.

The fact is that there is plenty of violence in Iraq, plenty of drama, plenty of interesting footage for cameras (a number of independent films on the war have shown us that)–and I might add, plenty of serious questions for American citizens to consider, including (1) why are we there? (2) when and how should we leave? (3) what’s happening to the billions of dollars flowing in Iraq, and who is being enriched by this wealth? (4) how are the Iraqi people faring, both the ones who are still in the country and the 2,000,000 refugees who have fled? (5) why are we building permanent military bases in Iraq, and how many? (6) how are our Iraq veterans faring, especially those with terrible wounds of body and spirit? (7) how are the bodies of our dead soldiers handled, and why have we not been able to see the caskets and their coming and going? (8) how is the U.S. viewed by the rest of the world, because of our unilateral and illegal attack on Iraq? (9) what infrastructure, both physical and social, in our country has been sadly neglected because of money spent in Iraq? (10) since we’re borrowing heavily in order to finance this war, who is ultimately going to pay for it?  This is not a definitive list, but it’ll do for starters. 

So let me say this to the networks: do you exist only to make money for your stockholders, or do you in fact, because you own the airwaves, have a responsibility to the citizens of this country?  Yes, it’s easy for people to look away.  Who is going to make us see this war and consider its implications, if not you?  Are you willing to do business as usual while our nation loses its integrity and any hope of leadership on the world stage?  Are you comfortable letting the working class families of this country pay the price of failed national policy?

One reason that the Vietnam war was finally brought to a close is that the ugliness of that war was dumped right into our living rooms.  We citizens needs to know the real costs of the Iraq war, because in a democracy, we are ultimately responsible the wars our country wages.  Your part, network companies, is to have the courage to tell it like it is–whether or not everyone likes the story–and that would include your stockholders.


“Lord, Save Us From Your Followers”

I saw the film “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” at the Hollywood Theater this past Monday evening and was surprised to see such a hefty crowd on a week-day night–and all paying the hefty price of $10 to get in.  Judging from conversations I overheard, I concluded that most of the viewers were Christians who were there to learn how to become more effective witnesses to their faith.  I think the film accomplished that goal fairly well.  The problem I have is with the faith itself–that is, the social and theological assumptions of the filmmakers and of the Christian subjects in the film.

Problem #1 is that nowhere do the Christians ever suggest that they do not have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  There is a lot of talk about gays and lesbians–even a confessional booth in which Merchant apologizes for being insensitive to homosexuals–but never does any Christian say that homosexual love is every bit as holy as heterosexual love.  No, what we are given is the old, tired, and santimonious position of “love the sin and hate the sinner.”  Near the end of the film, for example, revivalist Tony Campanelo says, “You don’t have to agree with someone’s lifestyle in order to love them.”

This kind of exclusionary thinking, which in fact does condemn homosexuals as “wrong” and “other,” creates the kind of social context which allowed Matthew Shepherd to be hung on a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming.  Anytime you say to someone, “I love you, but you are a sinner, and I hope you change your ways,” you are placing yourself in judgment of another, and finding the other “less than” yourself.  This is manifestly not an act of love.

Problem #2 was illustrated most vividly by the ministry of Christians to the homeless people living under the bridge.  The Christians washed the feet of the homeless people, gave them food, learned their names, and related to them as human beings.  All well and good.  But consider that these same fundamentalist Christians most likely supported George Bush in the last two Presidential elections, and therefore are responsible for more people than ever before living under bridges and on the street and in shelters, all over this country.  I heard the Christians speak of charity, but no one spoke of justice.  Again, the Christians were”one up” on the people they were helping, reaching down to those in need–perhaps failing to see their own part in the ravaging of social services of all kinds in this country.

When will Christians understand that Jesus is a way, not the way?  When will they show some understanding of the other religious traditions of the world?  When will they “get it” that the Bible is not literally true, but a book of spiritual principles written a long, long time ago by people who were limited by time and place, as we all are, in every age?  When will they have the humility to understand that they do not have all the answers and that revelation is constantly unfolding?  When will they show genuine love by first showing genuine respect for others, though those others may believe differently or love differently?


Too Few Resources, Too Many People

Gas is now over $4 a gallon, and we are promised it will not go lower for a very long time–if ever.  And it may go higher.  For those of us who have good incomes, live close to the heart of the city, are near light rail–well, high gas prices are not going to affect our lives all that much.  So it cost me $48 to fill my car–but I hardly ever have to drive, so I probably won’t have to fill the tank again for a month. 

But if I’m a farm worker driving my old truck to the fields every day, I’m not able to make it–it costs me so much to drive to work that it doesn’t pay me to work.  If I’m a single mom working at a minimum wage job (or two of them) and driving a big old Fairlane Ford to work from my tiny apartment in the suburbs, I know I’m going to have to choose between gas and food, or food and rent.  Nevermind taking the baby to the doctor–can’t afford to drive there, can’t afford to pay the fee, can’t afford the meds.

At the same time, what’s happening to the cost of food?  Pervasive food shortages threaten many parts of the world, and crops this year are getting off to a bad start. Corn and soybeans are drowning in rain in this country, and in Australia drought is devastating the wheat crop.  Farmers are struggling to meet the demand, and millions of acres of land both here and abroad are being brought back into production.  Some of the harvest, of course, will go to power industrial countries, as oil becomes more expensive.  Already there have been food riots in two dozen countries.

As the global food crisis became clear, commodity prices have doubled or tripled.  Speculators are buying up land, fertilizer plants, granaries–continuing to drive up prices for food. 

What we are seeing in these two phenomena is the proverbial tip of the iceberg: too few resources for too many people.  The people who are going to suffer the most and the soonest–as always– are poor people.  The middle class may lose that vacation trip or the pleasure of eating out once a week–poor people will go hungry, will lose their living space, will not get medical care.  And the poorest of the poor abroad will die–they will not have clean water, they will be malnournished and not able to fight off disease, and some will simply starve to death.

Yes, such things have always happened in third-world countries–but more and more countries will become failed states, as they become unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens.  Many more in the U.S. will fall below the poverty line.  The only way to address such massive human suffering, such devastating economic conditions, is through policy change. 

But first we who are at the top of the food chain need to ask ourselves a serious question, “Do we really care?”  If the answer is no, then how do we live with ourselves and what do we tell our children about living an ethical life?  If the answer is yes, then the next question is, “How can we leverage our power to make a difference?”


Iraq Invasion Based on Lies

A Senate committee report that was released yesterday concluded that President Bush and his aides systematically built the case for an invasion in Iraq by exaggerating Iraq’s war-making capability and by purposely conflating the Al Qaeda with Iraq. The administration set out to frighten the American people–and indeed to intimidate Congress–by shouting 9/11 every time someone brought up an alternative to their pre-conceived decision to attack Iraq.

This report has taken 5 years to carry out–way longer than many of us needed to come to the same conclusions.  Where was the Democratic party when the shameful decision was made to unilaterally attack a country that had not attacked us, thus violating international law?  But that is the way of politics.  Perhaps it is surprising that the report came out at all, and was endorsed by all the Democrats on the committee and some of the Republicans, as well.

The NY Times put the article on the report on the front page–the article is continued on p. A11, and ironically enough, it is right next to the Department of Defense announcement of the “Names of the Dead.”  The Department has identified 4,083 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war.  The article also confirmed the deaths of Specialist Quincy Green, 26, of El Paso and Pfc. Joshua E. Waltenbaugh, 19, of Ford City, Pa.

Perhaps President Bush and Vice-President Cheney should be required, as a kind of penance, to go to the homes of each of the fallen, and look the parents in the eye and tell them why their precious child is dead.  And then beg their forgiveness.