Monica Mehta

The worst lesson to learn

This may be my last blog post for awhile on AlterNet, as my summer stint has concluded and I'm off to other ventures.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration continues to saddle the country with many of the same problems it did when I started here. They're still on the verge of instating a Supreme Court that will make abortion illegal. They're still contributing to the erosion of the environment through scientifically unsound, pro-corporate policies. They're still mouthpieces of the religious right, shepharding its presence into our secular government and schools. They're still allowing American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to die. And for the third day in a row, the president is still stubbornly refusing to budge on his shameful premise: that the war in Iraq was justified.

The war on terror is right here, at home: if all this isn't terrifying, then I don't know what is.

Next month, my cousin will go back to Iraq to fight for this illegal war. He already served a year there, the worst of his life, in which he had to drive unguarded humvees through the roads of Baghdad. His family immigrated from India only a few years ago; today, he serves in the U.S. military, placing his life and faith in the leaders of this country. And his mother must wonder how she thought coming to this country would give her son a better life.

This is what I have learned most from my time here: We are Americans, but we are not all served by America. We are no longer "protected" by our leaders; they now purposefully put us in harm's way. And we are not represented by our leaders. They have stopped listening to us, and now doggedly follow only the voices they choose to hear.

This administration does not speak for all of us: I hope the rest of the world remembers that, when the day of reckoning comes.

Pat Robertson unleashed

Pat Robertson has allied himself with Osama bin Laden and other extreme radical religious leaders with his statements on executing the president of Venezuela.

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A New Kind of Celebrity Journalism

Sean Penn is writing a series of foreign dispatches for The San Francisco Chronicle, again.

The first time he served as foreign correspondent for the paper, his three-part series on Iraq -- which included a photo slideshow, mostly of him -- was the source of many annoyed letters from readers, like this one from Merle Divens: "Just want you to know that no one gives a damn what Sean Penn thinks or does. He only makes films filled with violence. Who made him a journalist anyway? What are his credentials to do anything? What is his education?"

This time, he's in Iran, where's he's making such observations as the following:

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The most useless warning sign in the world

Walking into the parking garage of my apartment building this morning, I became aware of a huge sign posted at the entrance:

"Warning: This area contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm."

It turns out this sign is the result of Proposition 65, passed in 1986, which in part prohibits workplaces from knowingly or intentionally exposing individuals to dangerous chemicals without giving advance warning. The thinking goes that businesses are letting individuals know they may be risking their own or their babies' lives by entering a certain area.

But there's no further information as to which chemicals the area contains, in what amount, and how harmful those chemicals are. In other words, is it unsafe to spend a few minutes in that area every day, or do you basically have to lick the wall to get exposed to the chemicals?

So basically, instead of being forced to clean up these areas, businesses got away with placing the burden of safety on people who choose to enter that area. But what's the alternative? Are pregnant women in my building not supposed to use the parking garage? There's no easy overnight street parking nearby, so how are they supposed to avoid the garage if they have a car?

Also, the proposition was originally intended for employees who spent long amounts of times in buildings with these chemicals. But again, what's the alternative? Find another job? There's no addendum that says companies have to help employees find other jobs in non-toxic buildings. So what is the real point of these signs? What good do they really do?

The proposition wasn't completely useless: It required companies to place similar warnings on products, including alcoholic beverages. But products are easily avoidable, and have simple alternatives: Places of residence or work don't. Hey, but there's one benefit to this law: Businesses saved thousands through its passage. All they had to do was have the area tested and then post up a little sign. The larger price is the health and safety of millions of people, including pregnant women and their fetuses, but who cares about that, right?

Framing the corporate debate

There's been a lot of talk among Democrats about "framing" dialogue and language, and not allowing the administration's hacks to dictate the terms of national debate. Here's a new way to eschew the establishment: Avoid corporate buzzwords. You may think you're down with progressive business lingo, but not if you're using any of the terms cited in Anne Fisher's Fortune column on "business buzzwords that make you gag," sent in by readers. Among the culprits:

Keep me posted or I'll keep you posted. Notes one astute reader, "These are usually conversation-enders indicating that no further information will be exchanged."

Radar screen, as in, "I'd like to get on your radar screen for a meeting next week." Asks Oliver, "What are we, air traffic controllers?"

"Isn't this cool?" Heard at "any Microsoft presentation of any new software," one reader notes. "Is it a rhetorical question, or do these people have a very limited vocabulary?"

A challenge or an issue, when what the speaker really means is a problem.

Touch base, as in "Let's touch base on this tomorrow." Says Bill G.: "I don't want to touch anyone's base. It sounds as if it would lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit."

No-brainer. Suggests Mitch, "Maybe we could redefine this to mean a person who says it."

My least favorite: "I'll be out-of-pocket." Thanks for the sentiment, but you were never in my pocket to begin with. Got that straight?

The End of a Media Era

Growing up, I remember tuning in to Peter Jennings every evening with my family.

We looked to him to break down the day's events for us; back then, the world news was actually about the world, and we would watch as he traveled to Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia to describe the scene firsthand.

His word was good as gold: there was no question that his facts and figures were to be trusted. If he said 10,000 Ethiopians a week were dying in the famine, that was indeed the case. If he said the terrorists who took the Israeli Olympic team hostage at the 1972 Summer Olympics were part of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September, then lo and behold, they were. When he said in an interview about his job, "This role is designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public," we believed him.

His death this week from lung cancer was the top story on every channel. Among the glowing praise for the 27-year veteran of the nightly news, some called him "the anchor's anchor," "the ultimate in cool," and "a suave, Cary Grant-style icon."

One viewer wrote in to ABC to say that he hadn't been this affected since the death of J.F.K. Even President Bush noted his death, saying, "He covered many important events, events that helped define the world as we know it today. A lot of Americans relied upon Peter Jennings for their news."

What other news figure, aside from the now-retired Tom Brokaw or the dethroned Dan Rather (whom Bush certainly won't eulogize), would receive so much public praise upon his death?

It turns out, though, that ABC's record was not an exemplary model of fairness in reporting while Jennings was on the throne. ABC was the most aggressive network to pursue Whitewater and Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Clintons, sometimes reporting blatant rumors as fact and not bothering to verify leaks from Starr's office.

President Clinton himself criticized Jennings during a November 2004 interview when Jennings said that some thought Clinton's presidency lacked "moral authority."

"You don't want to go here, Peter," Clinton retorted. "Not after what you people did and the way you, your network, what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way your people repeated every little sleazy thing he leaked. No one has any idea what that's like."

On the other side, conservative groups often lambasted Jennings for being anti-American. During ABC's coverage of the build-up to the Iraq war, they said he was giving too much airtime to anti-war protesters. He was also criticized for being anti-Israeli and pro-Arab.

But the vast majority of Americans who watched Jennings were like my family: We believed that he was trying his damnedest to be fair and impartial. We did not look behind his words to see what corporate bosses or political interests were whispering in his ear.

Today, Americans don't know of any journalists they can trust or relate to on a personal level, the way they did with Jennings. The fact is, there is no similar figurehead still working in journalism. That's part of the reason that Jennings' death represents a broad shift in the relationship between the American public and the media. It is now one of distrust and skepticism.

Nowadays, when Americans get their news, there is always a little voice in the back of their head asking, Is that true? When CNN says thousands of Iraqis have died in the war, we wonder if it's not tens of thousands. When CBS runs a story about the Congress boosting military spending by a few billion, we wonder why they didn't show the accompanying protest that drew a crowd of thousands. When Fox News says, well, anything, we wonder how a station posing as journalistic can be such an open mouthpiece of the administration.

Much of this shift is a result of the broadening of scope of news journalism. When Jennings assumed the foreign desk anchor's chair in 1978, cable news was barely a dream resting on Ted Turner's pillow. The networks and the newspapers held the power in reporting information.

But cable news, the Internet, and blogs acted as sharp, successive blows to the networks' armor. Americans today are now, more than ever, critical about news coverage, in part because we can always find a dissenting opinion. We wonder whether the reporter is being impartial, or whether he or she actually got the full story. We turn to multiple news sources to get our information. We don't take any one anchor or editor's word as "objective." We can't -- not after that other third of the Holy Trinity of broadcast news, Dan Rather, made an "error in judgment" in trusting the authenticity of documents that supported a story about President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard.

And most importantly, we wonder how figureheads like Jennings, so lauded during his career, could have been duped into reporting that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq, and then why he did not cry "foul" when he found out.

Will we suffer from the loss of our trusted figurehead, and our trust in American media? Or will our newfound skepticism about the news and its sources help us in the long run? Tell us what you think.

Jagger backpedals on slamming Bush

Mick Jagger is denying that a song on his upcoming album, called "Sweet Neo Con," refers to George W.

"It is not really aimed at anyone," Jagger said on the entertainment news show "Extra." "It's not aimed, personally aimed, at President Bush. It wouldn't be called 'Sweet Neo Con' if it was."

But what about the lyrics?

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A Fine Fatwa

Over the past two weeks, about 150 muslim organizations have endorsed a fatwa against all acts of terrorism and religious extremism, calling such acts "un-Islamic."

"Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives," says the religious edict, issued by a group of Muslim scholars. "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram -- or forbidden -- and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs.'"

This is a positive step that should be applauded by President Bush and his administration. Such a public statement on the part of the government would send the message that Muslims in America are Americans, not some disassociated group that represents the international face of terrorism. It would also acknowledge that American Muslims are not as segregated as European Muslims. Rather, they are part of the multicultural fabric of our society -- one that holds together despite its many small rips.

Rick Santorum revisited

For those of you left itching for more after Jon Stewart's much-disparaged interview with Senator Rick Santorum last week, George Stephanopoulos may be your salve. Yesterday on ABC's "This Week," he took Santorum to task on a number of issues: abortion, stem-cell research, his reported aspirations for the presidency, and my favorite back-and-forth, radical feminists. As one viewer put it, "George sure made it clear to viewers that Santorum had no clue what he is talking about."

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Bagpipe Dreams

And now, a light in the fog. After almost four decades of carrying out bloody assassinations and bombings, the Irish Republican Army announced that it was permanently abandoning military operations. It ordered all units to cease terrorist activity immediately and pledged to pursue its aims through politics.

Call me naive, but I immediately started dreaming about a future in which, one day, we would hear a similar statement from Al-Qaeda -- ordering all its cells to cease armed activity and pledging to pursue its goals of a Muslim world free of western intervention through political means. I know, it sounds impossible, but twenty years ago, an I.R.A. disarmament would have as well.

One of the reasons for the I.R.A. shift was Irish and Irish-American Catholics' growing distaste of violence in the wake of 9/11. Perhaps moderate and progressive Muslims might also, one day, lead a mindshift in the Muslim world that shunned suicide bombings and no longer viewed them as honorable. Muslim youth would stop being recruited by terrorist organizations, wealthy patrons would cease cash flows, and the bloody era of terrorism would draw to a close.

The sad difference is that the I.R.A. was a gentler terrorist organization than Al-Qaeda. As the Christian Science Monitor points out, though over 3,000 people were killed in their attacks,

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