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Mike Baker: Same Old Politics

I spent 17 hours in the car the other day to deposit my daughter at the entrance to her summer camp. I haven’t done the math yet, but I think I might have spent more on gas for the trip than for the actual camp fees.

Regardless, it was cheaper and less aggravating than booking a regional airline flight. By the time you factor in the cost of jet fuel, the expense of driving and parking at the airport and the additional charges levied on my kid’s oversized 720-pound suitcase, driving seemed like the right thing to do, although I suppose it increased my carbon footprint slightly. So that’s nice.

I don’t want to stray from the topic at hand (whatever the hell that is) but maybe a side benefit of the rising cost of gas will be the reinvigoration of the once-popular bus companies and railroads.

Soon most airlines will realize they can’t stay in business and continue to service any cities other than perhaps New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and Miami.

We’ll no longer have small regional airports and the idea of flying directly from Cleveland to Des Moines will become a distant memory. If you don’t live in or near a major urban center you’ll be off the airline transportation grid and have little to no chance of getting probed by a TSA employee. Hoorah.

I’m not sure, but I think I view that as a positive. Bring back train travel, I say. Well, what I really say is bring back train travel but make sure you’ve got those excellent bar cars serving cocktails and tasty club sandwiches.

Anyway, standing with my daughter after having checked her in to Camp Run-a-Muck (Camp motto — "Every child is special unless they’re not, in which case they’re probably only average, at best, and likely will never get into an Ivy League school"), I had to say something clever yet not embarrassing to her in case other Run-a-Muckers were within earshot.

It was time for parents to depart and leave their offspring to forage in the woods. They had a busy schedule. On day one the older campers learn how to make fire by rubbing two iPods together. On day two they learn how to catch fish with nothing more than a cell phone and a strong Internet connection.

She’s an early teen, which means we’re probably only a few months away from when the aliens come down and suck out her brains, only to return them after she turns 18 or 19. My older brothers with their own older daughters have explained this process to me. I think it’s known only to parents of daughters in their late teens and Scientologists.

I hope the Scientologists won’t take exception to that last sentence. Who needs that headache? Next thing you know I’ve got celebrities protesting in front of my house saying I’m making lighthearted comments about a religion invented by a science-fiction writer. Allegedly.

Sooo, I stared at her and said: "Know right from wrong … make good decisions."

Now, admittedly that’s a pretty broad set of instructions. It’s like that little green dude that looks like Winston Churchill in Star Wars when he tells that SkyKing kid (whatever) "No try, do or do not."

Or maybe it was "… do or do not, just get busy." It might have been "Just do it" but I think someone else said that.

I think she was expecting something a little more specific, perhaps along the lines of "… don’t forget to brush and floss daily" but I was in more of a 30,000-foot mood. Don’t we all want our kids to have an intuitive sense of right and wrong?

Pair that up with enough self-confidence to consistently choose the right and you’ve probably armed your kid with the ability to survive all the crap they may encounter in their early years.

So with that advice in her pocket, along with a Taser in the event any boy tries to breach her invisible security perimeter, I pointed the car back toward home and hit the open road.

Which reminds me… the First Annual PWB What a Load of Crap Summer Tour Across America still is being planned for late summer. Intern No. 1 has calculated that if we make a stop at all the places we’ve been invited, we’ll put approximately 5,480 miles on the RV.

We gave that information to Intern No. 3, affectionately known as Bobo the Trainable Chimp, and he determined by banging mindlessly on a calculator for several minutes that our fuel costs likely will top $2,000. I think he’s off by a factor of two but the sponsors don’t need to know that.

If you’ve offered up an invite for the PWB RV (christened the USS GasPig) to stop by, share some conversation, a drink, some chow or maybe just a bit of porch-sittin’, you’re not off the hook just because the cost of fuel is skyrocketing.

Some might call it a waste of resources or a reckless disconcern for our carbon footprint. We prefer to think of it as a most excellent road trip. We’ll update you with itinerary and further plans once we come up with some.

If you’re a regular reader of the PWB you’ll know that right about now is when I bother getting around to the topic for the week. Everything prior to that is simply me wasting your time, with your permission, of course.

I suppose I shouldn’t say that, but the older I get the less inclined I am to find the backspace key; however, you and I know that it’s the little crap that happens in our daily lives that completely outranks all the supposedly important stuff of national interest.

As an example, I was going to spend time discussing Gen. Wesley Clark’s wacky comments this week about Sen. John McCain. Clark, a military adviser for Sen. Barack Obama, recently commented in an interview that McCain is "untested and untried."

During a Sunday morning talk show, Clark was asked to explain what he meant with his remarks. Given the opportunity to retreat, he declined and wandered further into the wilderness by attempting to argue that McCain’s military experience is lacking in the sort of experience you need for president. As opposed, I guess, to Obama’s military or private sector experiences.

After reading the full transcripts of the interviews, however, and knowing Clark to be a smart and honorable man of extensive capabilities, I decided this was another one of those non-stories that gets pumped up by surrogates, pundits and others. What he said was ill-advised, unwise and uh, boneheaded, but it hardly deserves the sort of front-page coverage it’s been receiving.

On the other hand, if it was clear that Obama’s strategy is to get these sorts of comments out in the media by using surrogates such as Clark while cleverly denying any involvement and, in fact, being shocked that his advisers would resort to that sort of thing, then I suppose we could get more agitated. But how likely is that?

Looking around at other issues of the day, apparently some folks took exception to my comment in last week’s column about journalism not being objective. I mentioned that journalism has a long, happy tradition of expressing opinions, pursuing agendas and being subjective despite often wrapping itself in the cloak of objectivity.

Well, some questioned my assertion and argued that, by and large, journalists are objective reporters of the news.

OK, I suppose I need to back up my assertions with a couple of examples. Now, I don’t mean to pick on The New York Times, we’d be hard-pressed to argue it's got an agenda, but let’s see what we can find.

Lemme’ see… on Monday The Times printed a front-page, above-the-fold story titled "Amid U.S. Policy Disputes, Qaeda Grows in Pakistan." We’ll be looking at this issue in detail next week, but for now I’m more interested in the paper’s decision to release details about what it referred to as a "highly classified Pentagon order." Well, not so highly classified anymore.

Interestingly, the article basically talks about how U.S. incompetence (meaning the Bush administration) has allowed Al Qaeda to rebuild and become a potent force in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the so-called Frontier Provinces.

Now, it’s not until paragraph 16, off the front page and back in the middle of the section, that you find the following: "Even critics of the White House agree that there was no foolproof solution to gaining control of the tribal areas." Oh. Well, at least they’re objective and presenting both sides.

Another example could be found in a June 27 Times article entitled "For Obama, a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center." This is a fine case study in subtlety and the art of wordsmithing. The focus of the piece is on how the presidential candidates shift or change their views on certain issues.

Here’s the opening paragraph: "Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal political positions, his path toward the political center marked by artful leaps and turns."

Let’s compare that to the following paragraph later in the article: "George W. Bush, too, maneuvered toward the political center in the 2000 presidential campaign, convincing many that he might rule in the moderately conservative tradition of his father. And Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, shifted several positions in the Republican primary, taking conservative lines on taxes and immigration."

The article continued to describe Obama by saying: "Mr. Obama has executed several policy pirouettes in recent weeks, each time landing more toward the center of the political ring."

So, while Obama "strolls" and makes "artful leaps," Bush "maneuvers" and McCain "shifts." Try as I might I can’t spot the objectivity in that series of descriptions. Maneuver sounds too much like manipulate, while shift sounds a lot like shifty and who wants that in a president?

But who doesn’t like a fella who strolls and has the ability to make artful leaps? My God, the guy can even pirouette although I don’t think I’d know a pirouette if one bit me in the butt.

The article spent a fair amount of time describing how Obama seems able to claim all sides of an argument while not pointing out that this is nothing more than pandering and old-style politics. It notes how he’s a consummate politician while not pointing out that he’s trying to run as an outsider, someone who isn’t a creature of politics.

In case you missed it, here’s what Obama said after the Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns: "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures," Obama said. "The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view."

You’ve got to read that a couple times before understanding how conceited that statement appears to be.

Basically, the Supreme Court finally has come around to Obama’s way of thinking. The Times article calls his statement "Delphic."

Really? If I were an objective writer I might call it pompous. Delphic might sound too high-brow… maybe even a tad bit fawning.

Alright, to be fair, every politician panders to some degree, adjusts his or her views and has an ego. I just get irritated when a politician tries to be something he’s not, like a non-political, new kind of outside-the-box candidate. Enough with the new political landscape and the change and the moony-eyed what-a-breath-of-fresh-air crapfest.

Here’s a quote from Obama’s book "The Audacity of Hope": "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."

The Times article on Obama finished with that quote and somehow made it sound like a positive thing. Me, I prefer my candidate to be something more than a reflection of everyone else’s views.

But that’s just my opinion.

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures and two new BBC drama series finishing production in the U.K.