No Peace. No Prosperity. No Pawlenty.

Snake oil dr. vesuviusMany political scientists maintain that peace and prosperity are among the most reliable predictors of presidential electoral success.

At this stage, America in the Obama era has neither. It has the highest unemployment in a quarter century and is embroiled in two bloody, complex and unpopular foreign wars. Bad news, Barack.

So with all of Obama’s current woes, why is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty — a supremely talented politician — trailing Obama by 11 points in his home state?

It’s way too early for presidential polls to be predictive of anything. They are merely a snapshot of the moment, and circumstances will change in a thousand different ways before the next presidential campaign. But at this particular moment, many Minnesotans who know plenty about Pawlenty are pretty grim about Tim.

What do the Minnesota masses know that the national Republican kingmakers don’t? I submit that over the last seven years, many Minnesotans have learned to translate Pawlentese. They now know that Pawlenty’s “no new taxes” pledge translates roughly into “yes new fees,” “yes higher local taxes,” and “yes higher long-term costs.”

Governor Pawlenty makes a darn good first impression. But the Pawlenty era has taught Minnesotans that too often when the initial sales pitch sounds too good to be true, it is.

– Joe Loveland (guest post)

Pentagon no-photo policy holds no water

President Obama said he is considering whether to overturn a Pentagon policy that bans the media from taking pictures of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. troops returning from the battlefield. (Lead lifted word for word from USA Today; it’s not plagiarism if you link, right?)

The argument the Pentagon and Bush administrations (this was started by the first Bush with some expections and was de-exception-ified by the second Bush) lean on is related to privacy concerns. There is another argument, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. Perhaps it’s just a set of circumstances I don’t understand:

“We don’t want families to feel pressure that they have to be at Dover because the media is covering it,” [Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les’] Melnyk said in a January interview. “That’s just adding stress on families.”

Yes, the guy’s name apparently does have an apostrophe in it. 

Privacy seems an awful weak argument in this case. If privacy is concern, ban photos of name plates that might be on the coffins and the like. But those who die in battle not a secret; the Vietnam Memorial is full of their names. More importantly, in the case of anonymous but still moving photos of flag-draped coffins, that soldiers die in battle is no secret. In that sense, this policy has a hint of condescension and, well, Bushiness.

Plus, this policy assumes that, if given the chance to publicly name a dead soldier returning home or shame a family for not being there or commit some other act of tastelessness, reporters will do just that. I don’t believe that to be true for a minute.

In fact, I believe roughly 60 percent of the reason photojournalists want these photos is because they’re told they can’t have them.

Photo courtesy of Randy Son of Robert on Flickr

Participant or observer: Journalism and its impact on the subjects

4-year-old Ali Sattar looks at a photograph that was taken of him on March 25, 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This photo was taken July 5, 2003. (Warren Zinn -- Army Times)This story in the Washington Post cuts to the heart of a central issue in journalism ethics: Do the people who document and retell the stories of people are the world have an impact on those lives? Should they? Are these journalists participants, observers or a combination thereof?

In the story, former photojournalist Warren Zinn tells the tale of his reaction to learning of the death of the subject of Zinn’s famous photo from the Iraq war:

The e-mail was a punch in the gut: “the soldier you made famous — killed himself last Saturday — thought you should know.” […]

I knew at once what the message meant: Joseph Dwyer was dead. I drove home in a daze and walked into my apartment. And there was Joseph, on the wall, looking at me.

Zinn wrestles with whether the photo’s prominence contributed to Dwyer’s inability to “get over the war,” in the soldier’s mother’s words. Several reports after Dwyer returned home claimed he “hated the fame the picture had brought him.”

It might be tough to judge the impact the photo and the fame had on Dwyer, but that’s only part of the discussion. Considering the potential ramifications, when, if at all, should a journalist think twice about publishing a photo, video or article? In this specific case, it’s highly unlikely that Zinn could ever have known the fallout that would ensue, but how does affect those core questions about ethics: Are journalists participants or observers? Which should they be? Regardless of what role they should take, to what extent do they affect subjects’ lives? commercial loans fine

Americans asking Iraqis questions

Leave your preconceptions at the door and check this out…

New York Times videoThe New York Times’ Eric Owles collected several questions from readers and spent a few days filming Iraqis answering those questions. Watch them here.

He plans on doing more of this, thank god. Even if the people here aren’t representative of the entire Iraqi population (not one woman appears in the video), I appreciate the beautiful simplicity of letting these people’s words stand on their own.

Owles asks for more questions for future pieces like this. I’d love to ask Iraqis who they’d vote for in our presidential election, but maybe we should spare trying to explain our primary/caucus process and just wait until September to ask them that.