Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fox News Attempts to Distract From Post Controversy

Those clever lads at Fox News (TV arm of the Newscorp hydra) have found yet another way to distract attention from the latest scandal at Newscorp owned New York Post, this time by insisting that civil rights leaders boycott alleged domestic abuser Chris Brown instead of the Post in a recently published opinion piece. Of course, there is no disclaimer accompanying the piece that explains that Fox News and the New York Post share the same parent company, because that would display the type of traditional journalistic ethics for which Newscorp, as a company, has never been known. Even a post-piece disclaimer would have been appropriate. The piece author does not note Fox News' failure to cover domestic violence in any measurable capacity, for that would be to bite the hand that publishes. Sigh.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New York Times Still Refuses To Question Illegal Action

The New York Times continues its running failure to contextualize illegal U.S. military aggression in foreign countries as a violation of international law, in this case referring to a bombing campaign inside Pakistan's borders as a breach of sovereignty. Of course performing covert bombing raids inside a foreign country is a breach of sovereignty, but absent UN Security Council resolutions authorizing such acts, they are also flagrantly illegal under the UN Charter, to which we are a signatory*.

Neglecting to place U.S. military acts within an international law context are only the beginnings of the failure of the Times to report on matters involving U.S. intervention, there is a routine failure to attempt to objectively measure claims regarding anti-American sentiment. In the same article, the Times reports (without attributing a named source) on the presence of an "increasingly powerful anti-American segment of the Pakistani population". The Times also more crucially fails to attempt to substantiate this claim with any objective means of measuring the size of this "segment" or to measure whether its size was actually, in fact, "increasing", say, with polling data, as they would when making any similar claim about sentiments of the U.S. population on any given issue.

It is somewhat of a tradition to report a rise in anti-American sentiment whenever U.S. military or paramilitary (C.I.A., etc) forces engage in actions that kill civilians, but the continuous failure to back such claims with actual statistical evidence or any real evidence at all is a stunning failure in journalism. Can world politics be reported on accurately when U.S. journalists report on the unsubstantiated hunches of unnamed officials about what any given set of untold millions of people in foreign nations may be thinking?

There are numerous polling companies engaging regularly in measuring the attitudes of populations in a variety of countries, including Pakistan. It's a shame that reporters don't dig deeper to find objective data to back their reporting on these sensitive issues.

* Students of history may recall Nixon's illegal "secret bombing campaign" in Cambodia. Although civilian casualties and U.S. military casualties in the Afghanistan/Pakistan military aggression are distinctly lower than the Vietnam/Cambodia military incursion by U.S. forces, several observers are beginning to make parallels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bank Bonuses Unquestioned In Corporate Media

President Obama, following the lead of Senator Claire Maskill of Minnesota (who perhaps introduced the idea to provide political cover for her ally?) recently decided to propose that executives at banks who accept TARP funds should have their compensation capped at $500,000 a year

This corporate media account of course neglects to put much emphasis other than a clause at the end of a 43 word sentence:

Under Obama's plan, any executive of a company accepting federal aid will be able to increase their $500,000 basic pay through the award of shares but they will not be able to cash these in until all taxpayer funds have been paid back.

The fine print at the end of this long-winded piece of prose is that executives can accept stock-based bonuses that they cannot cash in after TARP funds are repaid, i.e. after those stocks are worth much, much more than they are currently, which is not much of a "cap". And it still allows for performance bonuses for people whose "performance" has sunk the world into a global financial crisis.

Bank representatives have wisely been quiet on this issue, but corporate media sources have frequently quoted financial experts about the alleged threat that capping bonuses presents, alleging that capped execs may leave the country in protest to work for foreign banks. Few voices are presented to illustrate the ludicrousness of this claim (as prior attempts to limit executive pay or even generally increase taxation on the wealthy have almost never resulted in any significant exodus). This is customary when an official source is quoted from the corporate elite, as heads of corporations and individuals critical of corporate power are almost never treated equally (or given anything close to equal time) in the corporate media.

Of the few critical voices given room to speak on this issue in the corporate media, former JP Morgan investment banker and author William Cohan discredits the criticism that bonuses will lead to "banker flight" the best:

“There’s this fallacy that everybody will leave” if bonuses are restricted, said William Cohan, a former investment banker at Lazard Ltd. and JPMorgan and author of “The Last Tycoons” about Lazard. “What do they do? They push paper around. Where else can you get paid $500,000 to do that?”

Notably, autoworkers were not given the same amount of airtime and inches of newsprint to question whether their benefits should have been limited under the auto bailout terms that much richer (and much more incompetent) banking executives are given to vent about their bonuses being capped at a "mere" 1000% of the median salary of the average American worker.

Any critic of the banking industry might have been quick to note that (1) beggars can't be choosers and if banks want taxpayer funds, they have to accept pre-conditions just like they would from any other massive equity investor (2) executives whose pay is capped still have the benefit of a wide range of performance bonuses (even though their performance so far has led to a global banking crisis and thereby their performance barely justifies their base salary, let alone a bonus) and (3) due to layoffs throughout the banking industry globally, executives whose pay is capped have nowhere else to go. The third point is key. Arguing that caps on salary will prevent Bank of America from tapping quality banking talent is erroneous on its face because layoffs have resulted in a massive pool of very talented, currently unemployed people in the banking industry.

Ken Lewis, who runs Bank of America, received $20m in 2007. BoA needed federal aid after its takeover of Merrill Lynch.

Considering that B of A bought Merrill Lynch for pennies on the dollars and will write down any bad assets they have, it's hysterical to assert that Bank of America needs financial assistance *and* must pay its top executives millions of dollars. If these top executives had made smart business decisions worthy of earning the bonuses they are taking home, their company's profitability would have been high enough to absorb the underpriced Merrill Lynch purchase without missing a step. As is, B of A is loaded down with its own share of bad debt and absorbing Merrill only exasperates the problem, thanks to poor judgment by the same Bank of America execs asserting their right to earn performance bonuses. Rewarding ineptitude is the *opposite* of how the free market is supposed to operate.