Friday, December 22, 2006

Why This Editorial and Why Now?

I normally avoid political posts on this blog. But the psychologist in me jumps to attention when things aren't adding up, and this just isn't adding up.

Why is the CIA redacting a routine op-ed piece for the New York Times? From what the Times is saying, even the CIA is acknowledging that state secrets were not the issue in the censoring of the material. The gist of the censored editorial is that the U.S. has not been sincere in pursuing dialogue with Iran. What is unusual is that the authors have written on this topic over the past several years, with no interference from government censors. See, for example, the references linked by the Truthout site, including this one from the Washington Post and this lengthy analysis by the lead author.

Given that no New York Times editorials have been subjected to similar censorship, the question becomes: Why this editorial and why now?

Could it be a misguided effort to not scuttle a tenuous UN agreement regarding sanctions against Iran?

Could it be a PR effort to keep Tehran on the hot seat in the face of a Democratic electoral victory in the U.S. and widespread disenchantment with our involvement in Iraq?

Or could this be a way to minimize dissent ahead of a military build up in the Middle East?

Whatever the motivation, it was deemed important enough by the White House to impose what appears to be a kind of censorship normally associated with strong-arm dictatorships. Let's see if there's another side to this story.

But if this is, indeed, part of an effort to keep public sentiment in favor of a military effort to put Iran on a hot seat, traders in the oil and equity markets might feel some repercussions in 2007.

13 comments:

Glen said...

Your comments remind me of my days spent at the racetrack when I was young and foolish (I'm no longer young). Hardcore horesplayers in general could care less when a horse broke down on the track or when a jockey got hurt, and rather than show a little empathy, they would often boo because their horse couldn't finish. Nice to see that you care about the Middle East situation, and not just for trading reasons.

Apparently the redacted lines were related to positive things the Iranians had done for the US at the time of the Afghan war. And if the US has plans to invade/isolate/sanction Iran then these postitive comments would make those plans difficult to carry out.

Let's hope that it's just a case of secretive White House not wanting to give credit to Iran. After all, they've deemed that country to be part of the Axis of Evil and it wouldn't be right to be seen as flip-floppers, would it now.

yinTrader said...

Hi Brett

This being a festive season, we can touch on topics outside trading for a change because it affects us all globally...

I think

Quote
Whatever the motivation, it was deemed important enough by the White House to impose what appears to be a kind of censorship normally associated with strong-arm dictatorships. Unquote

on this point, I beg to disagree, ie about censorship associated with strong-arm dictatorships.

I hear the CIA is formidable compared with such censorship which is practised quietly by every nation, and such practice should not brand a nation as a dictatorship.

It is just media hype.

Counting down to 2007........

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Glen,

Thanks for the comments. I think you're right about those redacted comments. While there may be no huge fallout from censoring those particular comments, my concern is that it may set a precedent for censoring any view that might contradict the "party line" in Washington, regardless of who is leading the government at the time.

The irony is that the redacting calls more attention to the passages than simply letting them pass. If the administration wanted to promote a negative view of Iran as a candidate for the Axis of Evil, they merely need to quote its President... :-)

The Iraq instability, the radicalization of Lebanon and the Palestinians, and the role of Iran in all of those make the current situation difficult. See the Stratfor analysis: http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=281915

If the U.S. policy is to ratchet up confrontation with Iran (which would help explain the censorship of the editorial), that could pose a challenge to the markets.

Brett

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi,

There is nothing "quiet" about violating freedom of the press by refusing to allow an opinion to be published when that opinion does not compromise national security. It is happening in Russia, in Iran, in China, and in many, many places around the world. But until very recently, the N.Y. Times could get away with disclosing information about our counterterrorism programs, to the expressed dismay of the government (as a reader perceptively pointed out in an email to me).

Censorship of opinion (as opposed to disclosure of facts that would compromise national security) is a hallmark of dictatorship. I cannot think of a dictatorship that has a free press. It can only be done quietly if and when citizens voluntarily cede their freedom--or if strongarm tactics prevent opposition.

Brett

yinTrader said...

Hi Brett

I made this statement because our govt sometimes ban certain magazines for their half truths which could be inflammatory , yet our government is not a dictatorship as the media sometimes make out.

The reason for our government's actions stem from being a Nanny more than to dictate.

If you visit our nation, you will get this feeling as I.

To each his own, nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brett,

Kudos for going out on a limb and bringing attention to this subject.

I doubt the war cry raised by the administration in 2002-2003 would succeed as easily today. There needs to be extreme scrutiny placed on any military actions for the cost is huge and many of the consequences irreversible.

Cheers,
Marc

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Thanks, Marc, I appreciate the feedback. What surprises me is that the mainstream media is not more visible on this issue. There are pros and cons regarding our involvements in the Middle East and intelligent and well-intentioned people can and do disagree on the matter. It's the stifling of that disagreement that strikes me as out of character for the government and not a positive development. But the lack of outcry over the stifling is an even worse development, IMO.

Brett

TraderEyal said...

A comment on the Debka site link. I started reading Giora Shamis's Debka a couple of years ago. The Hebrew version of it. My observation is that it is by and large fictional, with few hits and a lot of misses. From what I gathered most of the journalists in Israel do not take the site seriously.

Anyways, Merry Xmas :)

Eyal

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for that perspective, Eyal. I have followed the site for a while and have noticed that they do not acknowledge their misses, which is not a good sign. I treat the content as editorials, not news, for that reason. I appreciate the input--

Brett

Brandon Wilhite said...

Dr. Brett,

There are many irrational dichotomies in our nation, especially when it comes to politics, and they never cease to amaze me. Although I DO think you make a valid point, I've mostly given up my suspicious leanings from earlier in life. I eventually realized that the fundamental condition of human nature is trust and not suspicion. Not to say we should be naive...far from it! But I believe that many things like this are often blown out of proportion. Hmmmm....maybe this insight would also be helpful in trading?

Brandon

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Brandon,

Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that many things we hear in the media--and the trading media specifically--are blown out of proportion. In our system of government, the government is supposed to possess only those rights and powers granted to it by the people. The government does not grant rights to or withhold rights from the people. That's an important distinction that, I'm afraid, is poorly appreciated by those who most benefit from it.

Brett

Brandon Wilhite said...

Dr. Brett,

I agree completely that government *should be* limited to the rights given to it by the people. At least that is how it was set up. I think that sometimes the issue is exactly what those rights are. From what I can garner about your philosophical views and the way you approach trading, our views on the rights of the government in general are probably similar.

I don't put you into this category at all---but the problem I *perceive* most people to have is an intellectual inconsistency in how they apply their criteria of what a government is or is not allowed to do, and in other social arenas. Personally, I don't see why the government should be so limited when it comes to things like free speech or determining what kinds of things you're reading at the library, but not, evidently, when it comes to property annexing, public smoking, or eating trans-fats! Another dichotomy, in my eyes, that I've noticed lately is the push for stem-cell research vs. concern about cloned poultry. And why do most people consider it so *evil* of Wal-Mart to decide what they put on their shelves? They have the right to stock or not to stock, don't they? Note I'm not taking a stand on any of these :)

What would really cause a lot of people an anurism is the claim that the varying degrees of the political and social spectrum actually *just* have different value sets and there are intelligent people on all *sides* who are just trying to come to the most truthful conclusions they can. Somehow I don't see our various political parties, or their backers, coming out and saying something like that...and this observation is not limited to just one *side*. So really, the debate is over which values are *true* and which are not. Of course, you don't need me to tell you that people are often not rational :) Maybe it's the 'two minds' thing playing itself out in the various arenas of life?

Don't even get me started on the trading media!!! :)

Brandon

p.s. Sorry about the lengthy post...but I appreciate the intelligent, reasoned, discussion.

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Brandon,

I think you raise excellent points. It's one thing to criticize the government because it's not advocating *your* policy preferences. It's another thing to advocate limited government. The two major political parties in the U.S., IMO, differ primarily in how they propose to utilize big government, not in their principled limitation of government.

Brett