Friday, April 29, 2011


By Ivan G. Goldman

“I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?”

--Donald Trump in an Associated Press interview

It’s at that point where the interviewer is supposed to stop the interviewee and ask him, “You hear? Hear from where? What is your source?” News isn’t unsubstantiated rumor and it isn’t gossip. Also, interviewers who know what they’re doing take into account what’s known about the person making the comment.

You don’t treat the statements of a habitual liar the same as those of a source that’s been one hundred percent credible in the past. Trump is, in fact, a habitual liar. When he’s caught he goes on to another lie and stops talking about the last lie.

Here’s something else he said about President Obama in an interview last month: “The reason I have a little doubt, just a little, is because he grew up and nobody knew him. You know? When you interview people, if ever I got the nomination, if I ever decide to run, you can go back and interview people from my kindergarten and they remember me. No one ever comes forward. Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. It’s very strange. The whole thing is very strange.”

How can such comments be taken seriously by a responsible news media? They can’t. At the very least a real interviewer would have to ask Trump the nature of his effort to find people who knew Obama when he was a child because in fact there are hundreds of people who have come forward to share their memories.

If Trump actually looked for them, he’s an awfully bad investigator. If he didn’t look – and very clearly he didn’t – why isn’t he directly challenged on it? Evidently when you don’t grow up in exclusive circles surrounded by fabulous wealth – as was Trump -- then “nobody” knows you, and there's no reason to question the reliability of the conclusion.

News media need to understand their mission, and it's not to treat garbage with the same seriousness as the results of a competent study. When they behave otherwise we need to hold their feet to the fire. Also, it's worth asking why Trump, thanks to a long history of this kind of behavior, leads Republican polls for the presidential nomination. Partly because he’s enabled by an incompetent, unscrupulous news media. Partly because this is the kind of guy so many Republican voters are looking for. Eventually they’ll settle down and find a smoother liar. That may or may not be an improvement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


By Ivan G. Goldman

Eight NATO troops and a contractor, probably all Americans, according to the British press, were shot to death today by an Afghan pilot at the Kabul airport.

These ghastly murders are made even worse by the fact that they won’t be reported properly. They won’t be brought into their rightful context by NATO, the Pentagon, or the “journalists” in charge of delivering our information. Repetitious stories of Afghan police and soldiers turning on our troops are reported as isolated incidents even though they’ve become almost routine, part of a pattern that tells us a great deal about our mission over there.

We've learned to forget about finding stories that place these events alongside questions about why these NATO troops must serve in Afghanistan in the first place. The mission, after all, ended nearly ten years ago, when Osama Bin Laden escaped across the border into Pakistan. The present mission, which is to make Afghanistan into a kind of Asian Nebraska, is so excruciatingly stupid it defies serious analysis.

Meanwhile, here are some events I Googled up in a hurry. I assure you there are more to be found:

*Oct 3, 2009, An Afghan soldier on guard at a joint base with U.S. troops shot dead two U.S. servicemen and wounded two others as they slept.

*July 23, 2010, Two U.S. contractors were killed and one U.S. soldier wounded in a shootout with Afghan soldiers during a training exercise.

*July 25, 2010, an Afghan soldier shot a rocket-propelled grenade into a building, killing three British soldiers.

*August 25, 2010 An Afghan police recruit killed three Spanish soldiers.

*March 23, 2011, an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. soldiers and fled.

*January 20, 2011, An Italian soldier was shot to death earlier in the week by an Afghan soldier, not by insurgents as originally reported, NATO said.

*April 20, 2011, An Afghan policeman shot and killed two Americans soldiers.

If I can find this stuff on my laptop in California, where are The New York Times, Reuters, the AP, CNN, and all those other news organizations with casts of thousands? Why aren’t they adding two and two and asking questions about the total sum?

If you seek fairness, a battle zone is one of the worst places to look, but beyond the elementary unfairness of sending troops to fight in a war because we don't have the gumption to end it, there's a nagging murder factor in Afghanistan, making it astronomically unfair to send troops into this pit of betrayal.

I suppose I could be cruel and suggest that supporters of our perpetual Afghan war consider doing a one-year tour themselves, not out on patrol, just hanging around with Afghan police officers and soldiers back behind the lines to help them with the worthy cause of propping up the regime of our crooked, crazy Pashtun pal Hamid Karzai. They'd find there’s lots to do around a military base in Afghanistan. Growing eyes in the back of your head, for example.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Posted on Apr 13, 2011

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

President Obama has finally decided to take his own side in the philosophical struggle that is the true engine of this nation’s budget debate.

After months of mixed signals about what he was willing to fight for, Obama finally laid out his purposes and his principles. His approach has difficulties of its own, and much will depend on execution. But the president was unequivocal in arguing that the roots of our fiscal problems lie in the tax cuts of the last decade that we could not afford. And he raised the stakes in our politics to something more fundamental than dry numbers on a page or computer screen.

“We are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government,” he declared. “But there has always been another thread running throughout our history—a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

There are at least four things to like about his approach. First, without mentioning Rep. Paul Ryan by name, he called out Ryan’s truly reactionary budget proposal for what it is: an effort to slash government programs, in large part to preserve and expand tax cuts for the wealthy. “That’s not right,” he said, “and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”

Second, he was willing to speak plainly about raising taxes, and he insisted correctly on restoring the Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy. Tax reform, which he also proposed, is a fine idea, though there is ample reason for skepticism as to how much revenue it can produce. It would be far better to return to all of the Clinton tax rates and then build tax reform on that base, in particular through higher taxes on investment income.

Third, he was right to focus on the need to cut security spending. Any serious effort to reduce the deficit cannot exempt defense. It’s laughable for Republicans to criticize defense cuts and then be utterly unwilling to increase taxes to pay for the defense they claim we need.

Finally, he was eloquent in defending Medicare and Medicaid. He proposed saving money by building on last year’s heath reform law. There are two ways to reduce the government’s heath care expenses. One is Ryan’s path, which, Obama said, “lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead.” The alternative, which the president rightly embraced, “lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.”

But a good speech is only a first step. For his allies, the president’s negotiating method has been, well, petrifying: concede, concede and concede again—and then compromise from an already heavily compromised position. That’s why his promised cuts in domestic spending straight out of the box are worrying.

This problem will be even worse if the Obama plan comes to be defined as the “left” pole in the negotiation. It’s not. A truly progressive budget would include more revenue raised in more progressive ways. And contrary to what you might hear on Fox News, the established media wisdom on budget issues is center-right, and Ryan’s extreme budget has pushed the perceived center still further right, aggravating the tendency to locate Obama’s plan far to the left of where it is.

And there is something fundamentally wrong about making the deficit the central issue in our politics. Here’s a little secret: The deficit is actually not a hard problem. Only the taxophobia that Republicans have created and Democrats cower before has made this so complicated. Yes, health care costs are also a big deal. But they are a challenge for the whole economy and too many conservatives demagogue all serious efforts to grapple with them (see “death panels”).

For all that, there was a bigness about Obama’s speech that was a relief after his recent sojourn as a sideline judge. “We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves,” he said. “We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.” Obama is back on the field, and this is where he needs to stay.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)

© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


By Ivan G. Goldman

The civil war in Libya is particularly attractive to the media because thanks to the simple terrain there, the conflict is very much like a football game. The two sides advance and retreat on a level that’s easy to digest. The situation is nothing like the one in Afghanistan, with its tangled zones of control and where Americans are routinely crippled and killed in a war no one wants to think about anymore and no one in power has the guts to end.

With the owners’ lockout threatening the next NFL season, Libyan developments are viewed as a particularly apt filler. The fact that Khadafy is a maniac makes the story that much better.

And speaking of crazy tyrants, Donald Trump has learned that if he occasionally hints he might run for president, he reaps tremendous publicity for his reality TV show, and it’s all free. But now that he’s joined the birther crowd he’s going to have a hard time out-sensationalizing his most recent pronouncements. Maybe he’ll have to publicly consider opting for a sex change. He’ll just have to decide whether he’s more interested in running for president or ratings, although these days the two missions are remarkably similar. Look for Charlie to decide he wants to be somebody’s running mate so he can lead us from chaos.

We’re also being told that Sheen’s traveling one-man tantrum show is somehow improving. But no one asks just who are the people making these pronouncements? If they’re dumb enough to purchase a ticket to one of these hideous events they’re probably about as sensible as snails in heat.

As stupid stories maintain their position at center stage, America quietly returns to Hoover economics, along with the UK and other panicked countries operated by floundering politicians trying to explain why they’re plunging us into deeper mud without admitting that they’re basically just doing what global corporations tell them to do.

At least we’re not stuck with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, following Hoover’s program to a T, is fiercely digging a deep, deep grave for his nation’s economy with the help of the “Liberal” Nick Clegg. The program is to cut government spending wherever it threatens to pull the country out of the morass. So Cameron/Clegg cripple public education as they prop up the immensely wealthy in hopes they’ll buy an apple from the makeshift corner stands set up by desperate citizens that have no serious education to fall back on.

Allow me to mention down here at the bottom of this column that the Republicans in Congress have introduced a measure to kill Medicare. In ten years’ time their program would dole out some small sum to the elderly that they could present as a sort of coupon to private insurance companies. It’s rather an important story, don’t you think? So the news media gatekeepers don’t know what to do with it because Libya, football, and Charlie Sheen beat the hell out of it ratings-wise.