Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Newsroom: Counterpoints (8/11/13)

Tonight's episode was something of a bottle episode in the sense that everything took place during a two hour broadcast of News Night With Will McAvoy. No real agenda was being pushed, but there were a few talking points that need to be addressed. And some hypocrisies to be pointed out as well. So let's lead with that.

1. Trayvon Martin is a big deal, and we're going to do our damndest to cover this thing.

Again, no real agenda being pushed. But in the absence of the agenda, we should simply analyze what we watched. Jim and Maggie waited for an interminably long time to download a ~270 second sound file of the 911 call that George Zimmerman made. Given the fact that the show didn't make the story seem insignificant, I guess we're supposed to accept that the killing of Trayvon Martin was a big deal.

Back in season 1, Will McAvoy made a huge fuss about how the Casey Anthony trial was utterly insignificant and non-newsworthy. Young, white single mom allegedly kills her baby and the entire country goes apeshit over something that is, in the grand scheme of things, entirely insignificant. I fail to see how the Trayvon Martin killing is any different. In both instances, somebody is accused of murder. The only significant differences are relationship and skin color.

Nowhere in the episode did anybody in the show remark about how this shouldn't be newsworthy. If there is a racial component, why do we have to make such a big deal out of it? Because people care about race. Mothers have killed their own children before. Why did we make a big deal out of Casey Anthony? Because she was a young, attractive white female. Race and attractive white females are apparently things that move the needle in this country.

There is a certain hypocrisy to this. Both instances involve an event that does not have any material impact to people outside of the parties' immediate families. But it still garners national coverage. If we're supposed to judge News Night as a show whose stated aim is to educate voters on political issues, both issues fail on that merit.

2.  Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

I remember when this story first broke and I was saddened by what happened. Stories like these give face to the immense pressure that we're putting on our men and women in uniform. It is so hard to fight a war. And it's even harder to fight it when you're stationed in a foreign place where much of the indigenous population actively hates and fears you.

The wars we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have had no clear aims beyond the initial objective (destroy al Qaeda and remove Saddam Hussein from power) and we stuck around to keep whatever peace we could. It was much more successful in post-war Europe because the American soldiers were treated as liberators and heroes, not unholy enemies.

Every day, we ask our infantrymen to put their lives and the lives of their comrades on the line for vague reasons that have very little strategic value. Counterinsurgency is exhaustive work, and when you've seen the people closest to you (and there are no people closer than those who have fought and died together) die for no discernible objective, I imagine it takes a toll on even the most hardened of combat veterans. Sometimes people snap, and that is something that the country must consider when it sends its bravest into battle.

3. Sandra Fluke shouldn't matter and the prudes of this country make everybody worse off.

Can we all agree that Rush Limbaugh is a mean spirited shock jock who we should all ignore?

4. The President doesn't have influence over the price of oil. It's set on international markets.

To begin, as a technical matter, Chevron, as McAvoy explicitly mentioned, cannot actually sell all the oil it wants to Australia. By law, any oil that is extracted within the US and its territorial waters cannot be exported. It's outdated, especially given the new supplies and production capacity we've acquired with hydraulic fracturing. But it's still on the books and actively enforced.

While it is, from an economic standpoint, stupid to blame President Obama for gas prices that doubled since he took office, it must be said that sitting Presidents do have the power to affect the price of oil on the margin. The executive branch has large regulatory power over the prospecting and drilling of oil within the country. Given the fact that hydraulic fracturing took off around 2009, had the President instructed Interior, and the EPA to be more lax on drilling permits and land leases, it would have a real impact on oil prices and supply.

Just look at North Dakota:
Source: EIA

In less than five years, North Dakota rocketed all the way to 2nd largest oil producer within the US, with only Texas beating it in production. 1 out of 10 barrels produced in the US is now produced within North Dakota. That's all thanks to hydraulic fracturing. By 2020, the US is projected to overtake Saudi Arabia in oil production due to this incredible technology. If the Obama Administration hadn't put the brakes on exploration and leasing on Federal lands, it might have been sooner.

5. Philosophy degrees are worthless.

Can't argue with Sorkin on this one.

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