Tuesday, February 16, 2010

PBS & NPR, America’s Pravda and Izvestia

By Tibor R. Machan

It is a feature of American culture that’s most upsetting though hardly anyone makes much of it at all. Indeed, I know several avid defenders of the free society who make regularly and eager appearances on National Public Radio and I have to confess that I myself have appeared on one or two Public Broadcast Service programs when allowed to make a pitch for a society that would have no such things, partly government funded TV or radio network.

When I first left Hungary, in 1953, and came to live in the West, I settled for a while in Munich where my father and stepmother worked for Radio Free Europe. This outfit was partly American government–CIA–funded, beaming programs into Eastern European, Soviet bloc countries and supposedly countering communists propaganda. But at heart the idea of the American government doing this turned out to be a paradox since what is wrong with communist countries is precisely that they place everything in society under state control, including broadcasting the news, educating the young, doing science, entertainment or athletics. That is just what is supposed to be so different between communism and capitalism; yet here was RFE doing just what the communists were doing, entrusting government with broadcasting. (I recall how eager I was at one point shortly after I came West to have the American government give massive funding to Olympic hopefuls so they would defeat Soviet athletes and show how much better American athletes can be than Soviet ones, not realizing for a good while how paradoxical this was–sports should not be the purview of government in a genuine free country.)

Yet, what we have had in America and many Western countries for decades on end is, you guessed it, virtually the same thing as they had in the Soviet Union and its colonies, namely, government run radio and TV, just like the two government published and managed “newspapers” in the USSR, Pravda and Izvestia, not to mention all their other media. Instead of showing a confidence in the institutions that emerge spontaneously in a free country, from the initiative of free men and women, Americans abandoned the principles of their system to mount a counter-offensive. Let’s defeat communism by becoming, well, partly communist! What a self-defeating policy that is.

These days a good example is PBS’s broadcast of Professor Michael Sandel’s lectures on justice from Harvard University. Sandel is smart and erudite but at heart a propagandist for a planned society, only in degrees different from what the most earnest of the Soviets had hoped for (but, of course, couldn’t bring off because of how it contradicts human nature). There is, of course, nothing objectionable about Harvard broadcasting Sandel’s lectures at its own expense but there is decidedly something wrong with Sandel getting even partial government funding for his partisan lectures. He is not a teacher who gives an fair and accurate representation of different ideas of justice but someone who subtly nudges his students and audience in a particular ideological direction.

Am I exaggerating in considering Sandel a propagandist, albeit a subtle one? Well, here is how he handled Aristotle’s political philosophy.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defended a fairly intrusive type of political system in which the government or state–although some dispute this interpretation–aimed at making people good. OK, this is a pretty standard rendition of Aristotle but in laying it out one needs to make note of the fact that it may well miss something vital about justice. This is that very likely no one can really make people good–that task needs to be everyone’s own (other than those crucial impeded). Human goodness is arguably something every individual has to bring about for himself or herself. Otherwise it is nothing but regimentation and what we get is perhaps good behavior but clearly not morally virtuous conduct. Aristotle, probably somewhat influenced by the experience of the extreme tyranny of the city state of Sparta, accepted the idea that people can be forced to be good. This is what the classical liberal ethos has corrected about ancient political philosophy–human beings need to choose and cannot be forced to be good!

Now Sandel gave no mention of this problem with Aristotle. He made it appear (by failing to discuss the point) that whereas Aristotle had a noble concern with human goodness, the more recent tendency in (especially American libertarian) political philosophy to restrict the power of government and leave citizens to their own resources when it comes to living a morally good life was inferior to it. But it isn’t. Classical liberals pay plenty of attention to human goodness but they realize it cannot be engineered! Communitarians and welfare state liberals to the contrary notwithstanding, people cannot be forced to be good! It is a distinctive element of human life that people’s goodness must be their own doing not that of behavior modifiers, brain-washers or the bureaucrats.

To make it appear that this approach to politics fails to promote human goodness is a distortion. That is why I call Sandel’s lectures propaganda. If they were fair-minded, by presenting this kind of critique of Aristotle and others who want to force us to be good, it would be educational. And by being put on PBS, a partly government funded TV network, the lectures come very close to resembling what the citizens of the Soviet Union and its colonies received from Pravda and Izvestia.



Is the Voice of America Pro-Iran?

More Leftist infiltration of the media

An internal struggle within the Voice of America (VOA) over its news coverage of Iran is spewing outside the agency as veteran staffers claim the channel tilts coverage in favor of the Tehran regime.

The divisions erupted in late January when VOA chiefs removed a popular TV anchorman from the flagship U.S. broadcast into Iran, after he and about 30 Persian-speaking broadcasters had a confrontational meeting with VOA Director Danforth Austin, Newsmax has learned.

The broadcasters, who work for VOA’s Persian service in Washington, D.C., challenged the editorial judgment of two senior managers because they banned stories about the violent crackdown on protesters in Tehran in recent months.

“What motivates us to be here is that we have the best interest of [VOA] at heart. . . at this crucial moment in history when Iran is front and center of U.S. foreign policy and the Iranian public are looking to VOA for top-notice journalism,” one of those present at the meeting told Austin.

VOA is a taxpayer-funded multimedia network with a $194 million budget that employs 1,300 people worldwide to “broadcast accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news and information to an international audience,” according to its Web site. The Persian-language version of the VOA got special attention for its ability to do reach Iranians in the period after 9/11.

The broadcasters criticized Alex Belida, acting director of the Persian News Network (PNN), for “poor editorial judgment” and a lack of understanding of Iran and Iranian affairs. Belida does not speak or read Persian.

Much more HERE


Beyond bogus: 'International opinion'

United Nations reflects dictators' worldview

By Daniel Mandel

Last week, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was heckled relentlessly and interrupted vociferously by members of University of California at Irvine's Muslim Student Union. Such negation of civility, discourse and decorum, which was noisily and gleefully celebrated by still other members of this group, is often defended by solemn-sounding references to United Nations' resolutions.

This case was no exception. In a subsequent statement, the Muslim Student Union said it opposed having university departments sponsor a speaker representing a country that "is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined" - which is, in fact, the case.

Those who use this type of argument rely on the halo effect of the United Nations, which is held, implicitly or explicitly, to embody "international opinion," a term that can be invoked with reverential awe to dignify a bad, dishonest argument. So let's tell the truth - the U.N. is not a democratic body. It represents governments, not societies, and it consists mainly of unrepresentative governments. The U.N. Human Rights Council cited by the university's Muslim Student Union is a case in point: Non-democratic African and Asian regimes exercise an unbreakable controlling majority of 26 of its 47 seats.

It is these dictatorships that set the council's agenda and determine its vote - and thus decide what constitutes "international opinion" as cited by the Muslim Student Union. Of what has that opinion consisted? That monstrous human rights abuses by the worst dictatorships need not be investigated or acted upon. This affords little surprise, as many of the worst abusers are themselves council members - Angola, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to name four - and their standard operating procedure is to look out for each other.

Thus, Asian and African autocracies have acted in tandem to minimize scrutiny of nations such as Zimbabwe, a veritable human rights Enron. In its four-year existence, the council's controlling membership has eliminated investigations into the most serious human rights abuses in Belarus, Congo, Cuba, Liberia and Sudan. In that time, about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Sudan's Darfur region alone. Instead, "international opinion" busies itself with vilifying Israel at the behest of Arab and Muslim tyrannies.

In this, the council reflects the U.N. more widely, as the 22-member League of Arab States and the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference determine the Middle East agenda of the so-called Non-Aligned bloc, the largest one within the U.N. system. Non-Middle Eastern tyrannies receive reciprocal favors for their support of this agenda. Russia shields Iran from sanctions over its illegal nuclear weapons program, while China does the same for Sudan.

But none of this is new. Democracies became a minority within the U.N. system in the late 1950s and stayed that way. The democratic wave in Eastern Europe and South America that followed the Cold War proved ephemeral in some places - Vladimir Putin's Russia is one stark example among others - and in any case too small to alter this fact. "International opinion," in short, is whatever a consensus of tyrannies says it is.

It follows that whatever a majority of U.N. member states declare can, at best, only incidentally reflect what their societies think, if it does at all. And what most people think about other countries or foreign policy in any case may bear little relation to the facts.

Accordingly, even in democracies, most people have to do their own research beyond skimming the daily papers and television news to develop an informed opinion on any subject. For this, most lack time or inclination, if not both, though the Internet has somewhat attenuated the problem. As for inquiring minds in repressive states, where the media is government-controlled, the option to become informed about something simply may not exist.

This state of affairs obliges us to be guided by this golden rule: Disbelieve anyone who appeals to "international opinion" or its imagined embodiment in the consensus of this or that United Nations organ to burnish his argument. As for why democratic governments and societies continue the damaging practice of investing moral authority in "international opinion," that is a subject for serious study - and correction.




The TSA animals again: "Security officers at a US airport have come under fire for forcing a disabled boy to remove his leg braces and walk through a checkpoint. Four-year-old Ryan Thomas was flying from Philadelphia to Disney World in Orlando with his parents Bob and Leona when the incident occurred. At the time Ryan, born 16 weeks prematurely with malformed angles and low muscle tone in his legs, had only just begun to walk. His parents wheeled his stroller to the security checkpoint then broke it down and put it on the conveyor belt. They then walked Ryan through the metal detector. The alarm went off and the screener told them to take off the boy’s braces. “I told them he can't walk without them on his own,” Bob Thomas told the Philadelphia News. “I said this is overkill. He's 4 years old. I don't think he's a terrorist.” Security also demanded Ryan walk through on his own. Spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration Ann Davis said the boy should not have been told to remove his braces. Instead he should have been taken to a private screening area to be swabbed for traces of explosive materials. The family have received an apology".

Indonesia: Obama statue removed from park amid outcry: "Authorities removed a statue of Barack Obama from a park in the Indonesian capital due to a public backlash and moved it Monday to a nearby elementary school that the U.S. president attended as a child. The bronze statue, inspired by a childhood photograph of a 10-year-old Obama in shorts with a butterfly perched on an outstretched thumb, had been targeted by critics since it was erected in the Jakarta park last December.”

Troops: Strict war rules slow Afghan offensive: "Some American and Afghan troops say they’re fighting the latest offensive in Afghanistan with a handicap — strict rules that routinely force them to hold their fire. Although details of the new guidelines are classified to keep insurgents from reading them, U.S. troops say the Taliban are keenly aware of the restrictions.”

“Entitled” to a five-bedroom house: "Many of our ‘leaders’ want to make America more like Europe. When President Obama was in Europe, he praised the ’social safety net that exists in almost all of Europe that doesn’t exist in the United States.’ Vice president Joe Biden called paying higher taxes ‘patriotic.’ Europe does have a bigger ’social safety net.’ But the gain comes with pain: Europe’s higher taxes and bigger government lead to slower job growth and higher unemployment. Politicians always claim that the safety-net will be limited to ‘necessities for the truly needy,’ but such government programs always grow. An article in today’s UK Daily Mail illustrates how over time, welfare states begin to offer monstrous entitlements.”

Obama’s fall: "How the mighty have fallen! Only seven or eight months ago, President Obama and congressional Democrats were on their way to remaking America along liberal lines and positioning themselves for decades of political dominance. Their lopsided majorities in the House and Senate, plus the White House, gave them unassailable command of Washington. Today, they still have those majorities and the presidency, but they’re no longer in command. Their hopes of enacting the most ambitious agenda of liberal legislation since the days of FDR and the Depression are over. Now they’re reduced to stunts, tricks, and gambits usually associated with embattled presidents and minority parties.”

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: