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An Israeli voice


Kate's choice

Line, hook, and sinker

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About Books and Bear Bags

Date: 8/30/03
Show: Weekend Edition-Saturday (NPR)

Date: 9/2/03
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

It's a lovely story.

Peter Applebome, a reporter and editor for the NY Times living in Chappaqua, New York, spent three years with his son Ben going to the Boy Scouts. The suburban sophisticate that he was, he has a lot to learn, e.g., how to pitch a tent or build a decent camp fire, but he perseveres and seems to genuinely enjoy the experience. Of course, some of his tales are a little bit silly, like when he pretends that a bear bag is a device for catching a bear, rather than storing food outside of a hungry bear's reach.

Scout's Honor   Book cover of "Scout's Honor"

As the interview with NPR's Scott Simon progresses, it becomes clear that Applebome's book "Scout's Honor: A Father's Unlikely Foray into the Woods" is much more than a collection of heart-warming father and son stories — it is also an indictment of the Boy Scouts of America for hanging on to old, outmoded traditions, such as wearing uniforms and, most importantly, excluding gays from becoming scout leaders.

Getting your book promoted on NPR is arguably one of the quickest ways to make the NY Times best seller list. I learned this from a writer whom I had asked for permission to "reprint" one of his articles on NPRsucks. He politely declined, arguing that writing for my site would forever ruin his chances of getting one of his books promoted on public radio.

Naturally, I was curious why Simon picked "Scout's Honor" out of the many books that are published each year about scouting. Was it the bear bag story or the gay rights issue that had tipped the scale?

A search for the phrase "boy scouts" on NPR's home page reveals that NPR is not at all interested in outdoor living or father-and-son experiences: with one exception (a lawsuit brought by an atheist against the boy scouts), all the other hits were about the struggle of gay-rights organizations to force the Boy Scouts of America to admit gays.

Supporting the gay-rights agenda is not the only way to get your book promoted on public radio — it also helps if you work for them. Thus it was no big surprise when, a few days later, Morning Edition commentator Matt Miller was given an opportunity to pitch his new book "The 2% Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love."

Miller argues that it would take a mere 2 cents of each federal tax dollar to do such wonderful things as providing universal health care coverage, putting good teachers into the Nation's class rooms, and paying decent wages for all full-time workers. However, the $220 billion that Miller mentions in his conversation with NPR's Senior Correspondent Juan Williams actually represents 11% of the federal budget — or a whopping 27% of total discretionary spending in 2003. Progressives seem to have troubles with math when it comes to taxes.

Miller also provides us with an interesting insight into what progressives consider the role of the press when he is calling for a "ticker tape" on the front pages of the NY Times and Washington Post — a daily reminder of all the societal problems that still need fixing. Instead of a being forum for "all the news that is fit to print," the newspaper morphs into a propaganda tool in the never-ending struggle for a more perfect world.

 

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Kate's choice

An Israeli Voice

Date: 9/13/03
Show: Weekend Edition-Saturday (NPR)

It happens rarely enough, so I was excited to hear an Israeli voice on NPR. But, of course, Akiva Eldar who joined host Scott Simon by phone from his home near Tel Aviv is not your usual Israeli. Eldar works as columnist and editorial writer for the most leftist of all major Israeli newspapers, the Ha'aretz, and, among its liberal staff, he may well be most extreme. So extreme, in fact, that Nahum Barnea, himself a steadfast liberal, famously denounced Eldar for failing the "lynch test" — for his refusal to fault Palestinians even when they lynched two IDF reservists who took a wrong turn in Ramallah.

Akiva Eldar

Political columnist Akiva Eldar [©2002 Four Corners]

Ostensibly, the interview with Simon was about the decision by the Israeli cabinet to expel Yasser Arafat from his Ramallah compound. The order came after two nearly simultaneous suicide bombings which cost the life of 15 Israelis, eight soldiers waiting at a hitchhiking post outside the Assaf Harofeh hospital and seven civilians visiting a Jerusalem Cafe. Naturally, Eldar believes that "problem is not really Arafat." Instead, according to his twisted logic, the problem lies with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because he is unwilling to meet the minimum expectations of the Palestinians:

ELDAR:
Well, my feeling is that what Sharon wants is the end of the day he wants a kind of a Bantustein, which is, you know, the Palestinian version of Bantustan, the South African Bantustan. He really wants to get rid of the occupation because, you know, the occupation is a burden on Israel. It's not because he cares so much about the Palestinian need for self-determination and so on. The problem is that the maximum concessions that Sharon is willing to offer the Palestinians is very far away from their minimum expectations, so we are really in a deadlock.

And, for good measure, the Bush administration must share the blame:

ELDAR:
And the other thing is that Big Daddy, who presented this road map that people [are] starting to forget, is not willing to take the two wild kids into a closed room and make sure that they make peace.

With views like this, it is not too surprising that Eldar's Ha'aretz columns are widely disseminated on pro-Palestinian web sites; nor is it surprising that NPR hosts often seek him out to comment on events in the Middle East. They know what his opinions are, but representative for Israel they are not.

 

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Line, hook, and sinker

Kate's Choice

Date: 9/24/03
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

NARAL   NARAL emblem [©NARAL]

After 18 years at the helm of the nation's premiere abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Kate Michelman announced that she will step down next April. In an interview with host Bob Edwards, she explained why:

MICHELMAN:
My family needs me more. I need to be there for them in a way that my day-to-day job doesn't allow.
And the second reason is that I want to devote a significant amount of my time to electing a pro-choice president because I think the future for a woman's right to personal privacy and freedom of choice really rests on the outcome of that election.

Of course, the amount of time she wants to spent on the election of a pro-choice president will take away from caring for her seriously ill husband and daughter. In fact, when you listen to the interview in its entirety, you can't help but getting the impression that foremost on her mind is to prevent a second term for President Bush. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the reason has to do with choice:

MICHELMAN:
Also, this president, if he serves until 2008, is poised to have the possibility of nominating to the Supreme Court two, three, possibly even four Supreme Court Justices. Roe vs. Wade could be reversed, or [], certainly, the protections guaranteed by Roe could be eviscerated and women would no longer have a right to chose.

I do not have any trouble with her calling for the election of a pro-choice president on NPR — after all, what else do you expect from the leader of a reproductive rights organization? I do think, though, that Michelman is a little bit over the top when she claims that Roe is going to be reversed or its protections "eviscerated" by four more years of Bush. As long as there are forty pro-choice Senators in Congress, this is not likely to happen.

What bothered me is that Edwards never asked Michelman about her experiences as president of NARAL; the interview was only about how terrible President Bush was and how important it is to prevent his re-election. Nothing about her husband or daughter, nothing about the organization that she was heading for the last 18 years.

But, then, providing the outgoing president of an advocacy group with a last chance for ranting may be the way things are done at NPR News. So I checked the NPR web site for interviews with leaders of conservative organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, NRA, and Judicial Watch. I searched for 12 of the best known conservative organizations and could find only a handful of interviews. In all but one, the leader of the conservative group was paired with someone who was voicing an opposing view. Ralph Reed from the Christian Coalition was the only one who was interviewed alone. Reed was asked about the re-targeting of coalition resources to local elections which was seen at the time, in 1996, as sign of flagging support for the Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. No love fest there.

 

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Elementary! My dear Watson!

Line, Hook, and Sinker

Date: 11/18/03
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)

Peter Overby, NPR's Power, Money and Influence Correspondent, reports about a provision in the energy bill pending before the United States Senate which protects the producers of the gasoline additive MTBE from liability for polluting the nation's drinking water. With a job title like this — I'm not making it up — and as former Senior Editor of Common Cause Magazine, it is not surprising that Overby is taking the Democratic position on this subject — line, hook, and sinker.

MTBE   Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE)

For NPR, the story is irresistible for more than one reason: first, it depicts corporate America as evil (what could be more evil than poisoning your drinking water?); second, there is a strong Bush connection (the first Bush administration encouraged the use of the additive to reduce air pollution and George W. received campaign contributions from the oil industry); third, MTBE is a potential carcinogen (the health scare angle); and fourth, America's trial lawyers are expected to reap billions from law suits (after all, trial lawyers are one of the main underwriters of public radio stations).

The Clean Air Act of 1990 signed by the elder Bush mandated the phasing out of lead tetraethyl as anti-knocking agent in gasoline. Lead from car exhaust was a major air pollutant in the U.S. and efforts to curb its use resulted in an astonishing 97% reduction in air lead concentrations. According to some estimates, the removal of lead from the environment saves 22,000 lives each year and raises the average IQ of American children by 3 points. The Clean Air Act also mandated the use of oxygenated gasoline in population centers to reduce the emissions of carbon monoxide and ozone.

At the time, MTBE seemed to be the ideal substitute for lead: not only is it very effective as an anti-knocking agent, but the molecule also contains oxygen (in red) resulting in much cleaner burning fuel. Alternates, such as toluene or benzene, are less effective as anti-knocking agents and lack oxygen. Moreover, benzene is highly toxic and known to cause cancer. While MTBE was found to be cancerogen in rats, there is not a shred of evidence that it causes cancer in humans (there are thousands of molecules classified as cancerogens in rats, but only a handful of them are causing cancer in humans).

Then, what is the trouble with MTBE?

Well, to borrow a line from Crocodile Dundee, it tastes like shit! In fact, concentrations as low as 15 parts per million produce a noticeable off-taste in drinking water. MTBE gets there from spills at gas stations, leaking storage tanks, improper use of gasoline as a solvent, pouring gasoline on ant hills, etc. Unfortunately, unlike hydrocarbons, MTBE does not evaporate, breaks down only very slowly, and, thus, tends to accumulate in the ground.

Strangely, the lawyers who are filing the lawsuits on behalf of cities and counties are suing the manufacturers of the additive, not the polluters. This is like dumping used motor oil in your backyard and expecting the oil industry to pay for the cleanup. Of course, the explanation is that the manufacturers of MTBE have much deeper pockets than the guy who owns the local gas station. If the courts could be relied on to distinguish between the makers and polluters, the energy bill now pending before the Senate would not have to include an MTBE provision — but what is the chance?

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Revised 12/15/03