Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Jina Moore on Consent and Trauma Journalism

In light of the controversy surrounding Mac McClelland’s coverage of rape in Haiti, freelance journalist and media producer Jina Moore of JinaMoore.com suggests some ethical ground rules for journalists seeking to create longform or feature work about trauma survivors.

In a nutshell, Moore argues that trauma journalists must set higher standards for consent to coverage than journalists who write about public figures or even about private citizens in less extreme circumstances.

In her latest post, Moore makes a compelling case that the ethics of trauma journalism are a unique subset of journalistic ethics. Standard journalistic ethics assumes that the journalist has less power than the person she is interviewing. Trauma journalists must proceed from the opposite assumption: 

That’s what trauma reporting is. And that literally turns journalistic practice on its head. The rules of traditional journalism are written for a game in which the journalist is the disempowered party. Those rules are designed to get as much information as possible from people who, for reasons of self-interest, probably don’t want to give it to us. That’s why we have things like “on the record” – it’s public, no going back. Or “on background” – you can use the information, but you can’t name the source. Or even, “on deep background,” which is “for your edification only, and you can’t print/broadcast any of this.”

These are rules powerful people know. If you interview a State Department official, the first thing they will do is say, ‘This OTR” or “This is on background” or “How will this be used?” And you negotiate the rules. They know how the game works. Indeed, they know that it’s a game.

So we have to rewrite the rules. Trauma journalism requires that journalists acknowledge a major power shift – one that favors the journalists. We have to rewrite our playbook. The premise is still the same – protect the vulnerable – but now, we’re not the vulnerable. Our sources are.

Moore explored and illustrated some of these ideas in her essay, “The Pornography Trap: How Not to Write About Rape,” which appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review in early 2011.

 

Under Pressure, Tobacco Giant Agrees to Meet with Farm Labor Organizing Committee

Everyone knows cigarette are dangerous to smoke, but most people don’t realize how dangerous they are to produce. Nearly a quarter of tobacco pickers suffer from nicotine poisoning every season, according to research by farm worker advocacy groups.

Green Tobacco Syndrome (GTS) occurs when workers absorb nicotine, a psychostimulant drug, through their skin while handling mature tobacco plants. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle weakness, and dizziness. GTS is just on of many hazards faced by North Carolina’s estimated 100,000 migrant tobacco pickers (or “primers” as they are known in the industry). Primers work in remote camps where they may be exposed to improperly handled pesticides, unsanitary living conditions, and other preventable risks.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has scored a preliminary victory in its bid to hold tobacco giant Reynolds American accountable for upholding safety standards for its suppliers. Reynolds maintains that it is not responsible for how third-party suppliers treat their workers. The company has historically refused to meet with FLOC. However, after 3 years of FLOC pressure, including a high profile divestment campaign against a major Reynolds lender, the company announced in May that it would meet with FLOC and other groups to assess safety issues in its supply chain.

Read the whole story at Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies. The post, by Joe Atkins, also appears on Atkins’ Labor South blog.

 

Mac McClelland and the Journalistic Ethics of Tweeting Rape

Human rights journalist and Sidney Award alumna Mac McClelland stirred up considerable controversy with a personal essay in GOOD entitled “How Violent Sex Eased My PTSD.” Therein, she described how she and her ex-boyfriend negotiated a violent simulated rape scene on the advice of her therapist. She says this encounter helped her recover from the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) she had acquired over the course of several gruelling assignments for Mother Jones, including two weeks spent covering sexual violence in Haiti.

In the course of explaining how she got PTSD, McClelland recalls witnessing a rape survivor (“Sybille”) dissolve into paroxysms of terror at the sight of one of her rapists. The eminent Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat took McClelland to task on Essence.com for mentioning Sybille’s story in her GOOD essay after Sybille (a.k.a. “K”) had already requested that McClelland refrain from writing about her:

In her essay, Ms. McClelland writes that K*’s trauma led in part to her own breakdown. Nevertheless, during Ms. McClelland’s ride along with K*, on a visit to a doctor, Ms. McClelland, as has been reported elsewhere,  live-tweeted K*’s horrific experiences. The tweets put K*’s life in danger because they identified the displacement  camp where K* was living–with details of landmarks added–her specific injury, her real name, and suggest that she is a drug user. [LB: only the victim’s real first name was used.]

Blogger Jina Moore was shortlisted for a Mirror Award for her 2010 analysis of the journalistic ethics of live tweeting the original Mother Jones assignment. Moore argued that it was unethical for a journalist to appropriate a trauma victim’s story in this way.

Moore apparently wrote her original post before Sybille and her lawyer contacted Mother Jones to ask that McClelland not write about Sybille.

The details about who consented to what kind of coverage are murky. McClelland told her editors at Mother Jones that she had consent from both Sybille and her lawyer to cover the original ride to the hospital. Sybille’s American lawyer later claimed in a comment at Essence.com that she agreed to McClelland’s request over the phone, relayed by a colleague on the ground. There’s no indication from either the lawyer’s comment, or Mother Jones editors’ comment in the same thread, that these ground rules were ever put in writing. Under the chaotic circumstances, the potential for honest misunderstanding seems huge.

The lawyer writes that she thought that McClelland had agreed to speak with her before publishing anything about Sybille. The lawyer also says she had no idea that McClelland would be live tweeting the trip to the hospital. The Mother Jones editors explain that, in light of the apparent misunderstanding, they agreed to remove all references to Sybille in McClelland’s 6000-word feature, which ran in early 2011.

Mother Jones may not have been obligated to make these changes, but it was clearly the right thing to do under the circumstances. First, the ground rules were disputed. Second, it’s clear from the feature that women who speak out about rape in Haiti may be risking their lives.

Yet, for whatever reason, McClelland decided to discuss Sybille in her GOOD essay, which Mother Jones didn’t know about until after it was published. Unlike the live tweets, the GOOD essay didn’t disclose any details about Sybille (not her real first name) that seem likely to put her at additional risk. (Addendum: McClelland apologized to Sybille in the comments at Essence.com and took full responsibility for the decision to revisit the subject.)

Some critics are angry at McClelland for what they see as an appropriation of Sybille’s story. They argue that she is using the trauma of an unwilling subject as window dressing for her own psychosexual memoir. It seems to me that the major problem here was lack of editorial oversight for sensitive live tweets, not appropriation.

What concerns me is not so much that Mac told a story that “belonged” to someone else, but rather that she might have inadvertently put a victim’s life at risk in 2010 by tweeting identifying details about a crime victim, in real time, while the woman’s assailants remained at armed and at large. Common sense suggests that this is a terrible idea. It’s easy to say that in retrospect, but I can see how McClelland might have gotten caught up in the moment, especially if she thought she had permission from the victim and her lawyer.

Ethical journalists balance public’s need to know against potential harms to innocent people. In this case, there was no compelling need to know the these details of Sybille’s rape instantaneously. There is little journalistic value in covering an event like this in unfiltered 140-character bursts and considerable risk of harm. In fairness, twitter is a relatively new news medium and standards are still evolving. 

There’s a long history of journalists phoning in field reports to rewrite artists back in the newsroom. If something can be tweeted, it can just as easily be privately relayed to an editor or reporting partner for writeup with oversight. Twitter is not the only option for fast-breaking coverage. There are any number of nearly instantaneous ways to publish reports from the field. After Sybille and her lawyer complained, Mother Jones editors had the luxury of time to weigh their options and make a reasoned decision.

The allure of twitter is that it’s instantaneous and unfiltered. That’s all very well for color commentary under controlled conditions, like press conferences and sporting events. Twitter’s great for talking about reporting, when explains why so many journalists love the medium. However, there are situations where you simply don’t want reporters blurting their immediate impressions directly into the public record. Reporters have editors for a reason. This painful episode shows why unedited tweets aren’t suitable for directly covering anything more serious or complicated than a parade.

Life at 81 Bowery

In her New York Times photo essay, “A Bed, and a Key at 81 Bowery,” Annie Ling offers a glimpse at life inside a converted fourth floor loft that is home to thirty-five Chinese immigrants. Residents range in age from infancy to old age. Some have lived here for years, others have only recently arrived.

The rent is under $200 a month, but the living conditions are spartan. Residents get a bed, a key, and very little else. The third image is captioned: “To a visitor, 81 Bowery feels like a scene from a 21st-century version of an exposé by the documentary photographer Jacob Riis. But to the restaurant workers, laborers and retirees who live there, it is home.”

My favorite image in the series shows a dinner party in progress, as seen from above. It’s an easy shot to make because the walls of the cubicles don’t extend all the way to the ceiling. The precisely arranged dishes fill every inch of the tiny dinner table and the three guests practically fill the room. Every inch of the unit is organized for maximum efficiency, like a ship’s galley.

The series captures both the material privation of life at 81 Bowery and the resourcefulness of its residents.

Tim Dickinson on Roger Ailes and Fox News

Over the past few days, Fox News has launched an all-out offensive against the tax-exempt status of the liberal think tank Media Matters, which specializes in tracking and critiquing Fox and other conservative media outlets. Over the past few days, Fox has aired more than 30 segments demanding that Media Matters lose its tax-exempt status. The Fox Nation website even allows visitors to send canned complaints to the IRS with the click of a mouse.

Fox’s central argument is that Media Matters is engaging in prohibited political activity by accusing Fox of being the voice of the Republican Party. The tax code stipulates that tax-exempt organizations must deal only in statements supported by fact. Fox and its allies maintain that Media Matters has no factual basis to claim that Fox is the voice of the Republican Party.

Last month, Rolling Stone published a fascinating and deeply-reported feature on Fox News and its bombastic, crusading chairman, Roger Ailes.

Tim Dickinson tracks Ailes career as GOP media consultant from his stint as Richard Nixon’s television guru to the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Ailes officially retired from politics in 1991. As Dickinson tells it, Ailes’ penchant for race-baiting tactics, including the infamous Willie Horton ads, eventually tarnished his image. Ailes joined forces with Rupert Murdoch to start Fox News in 1996.

Ailes is the father of the political infomercial. As Ailes later said in an interview, he was determined to bypass the media to bring Nixon’s message directly to the public. To that end, he created a traveling televised roadshow that produced prefab “town meetings” with handpicked voters lobbing softball questions at the candidate. The campaign paid to broadcast these programs in local media markets. Ailes swears he got out of politics, but the infomercial model lives on at Fox News.

Dickinson goes on to describe how Ailes has transformed Fox News into an incredibly powerful fundraising and campaign platform for favored GOP candidates:

[…] Ailes has not simply been content to shift the nature of journalism and direct the GOP’s message war. He has also turned Fox News into a political fundraising juggernaut. During her Senate race in Delaware, Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell bragged, “I’ve got Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money.” Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who tried to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, praised Fox for letting her say on-air, “I need $25 from a million people – go to SharronAngle.com and send money.” Completing the Fox-GOP axis, Karl Rove has used his pulpit as a Fox News commentator to promote American Crossroads, a shadowy political group he founded, promising that the money it raised would be put “to good use to defeat Democrats who have supported the president’s agenda.”

But the clearest demonstration of how Ailes has seamlessly merged both money and message lies in the election of John Kasich, a longtime Fox News contributor who eked out a two-point victory over Democrat Ted Strickland last November to become governor of Ohio. While technically a Republican, Kasich might better be understood as the first candidate of the Fox News Party. “The question is no longer whether Fox News is an arm of the GOP,” says Burns, the network’s former media critic, “but whether it’s becoming the torso instead.”

Ailes’ genius, in Dickinson’s view, is that he’s turned propaganda into an incredibly profitable business. In an amazing bit of media alchemy, he makes a fortune by giving away free political advertising.

At a time when news organizations are struggling, Fox News broadcasts its conservative message to 100 million American households while sustaining profit margins greater than 50%.

To claim that any non-party organization is “the voice of” a political party is to speak metaphorically. However, Media Matters’ rhetoric is based on solid facts about the intimate links between Fox News and the GOP. Dickinson’s reporting suggests that the metaphor is apt.

However, given Fox’s role as kingmaker and gatekeeper for Republican electoral politics, it might be even more apt to say that the GOP is the voice of Fox News.

Exciting Changes Ahead

Greetings. I am honored and excited to be the Hillman Foundation’s new blogger. My name is Lindsay Beyerstein and I’m an investigative reporter based in Brooklyn, New York.

Exciting changes are afoot. In the days to come, we will be relaunching the site to make it bigger, better, and more informative–required reading for progressive journalism enthusiasts.

In addition to original media criticism and labor news, watch for in-depth coverage of our monthly Sidney Awards, including interviews with the winners, comments from our distinguished judges, and other exciting extra features.

Must Reads from Mayer and Barry

 

Rick Welts, president of Phoenix Suns, comes out (in The New York Times); Jane Mayer writes a blockbuster about the Obama Administration’s dangerous obsession with leaks

The most important and the most depressing piece of 2011 is by Jane Mayer in the current New Yorker.  When the history of this era is written, Jane’s work about American torture under Bush and “national security” under Obama will stand out as being some of the most courageous and intelligent journalism of our time.

    In stark contrast to many of her national security rivals in the Washington bureau of The New York Times (especially the ones with alliterative names) Mayer never gives the impression that she is merely repeating the official government line.

    Jane’s story this week is a horrifying tale of the persecution through unnecessary federal prosecution of Thomas Drake, a 54-year-old former employee of the National Security Agency, a whistle blower who was disgusted by waste and mismanagement–and the implementation of some of the most intrusive and most illegal surveillance programs in the history of the republic.

    As Yale law professor Jack Balkin told Mayer, “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state”–something which comes much closer to George Orwell’s nightmare vision in 1984 than most people realize.  Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration”–although torture is a notable exception to that statement.

    Among the scariest developments is the perversion of a program called ThinThread, developed by Bill Binney, a now-retired NSA analyst.  “Binney estimated that there were some two and a half billion phones in the world and one and a half billion I.P. addresses. Approximately twenty terabytes of unique information passed around the world every minute. Binney started assembling a system that could trap and map all of it.”

    Binney actually believed that if ThinThread had been deployed before 9/11, it would have detected the plans for the attacks before they occurred.  “Those its of conversation they found too late?” Binney said.  “They would never have happened.” 

    But the NSA bureaucracy focused instead on a rival system called Trailblazer, which was abandoned in 2006 after it had become a $1.2 billion flop.

    When ThinThread was finally put to use by the agency, it was stripped of the controls Binney had built into it which would have prevented it from being used to spy on Americans, in direct violation of Federal Law.  Binney says his program was twisted.  “I should apologize to the American people,” Binney said.  “It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.” Binney added that Thomas Drake had taken  his side against the N.S.A.’s management and, as a result, had become a political target–leading to what appears to be a wholly unjustified Federal prosecution that could send him to jail for thirty-five years.

    The single most horrifying fact in Mayer’s story: Binney believes that the NSA now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later.  Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google.

    Look for 60 Minutes to take up this story next Sunday.

                                                       ~    .     ~    .    ~

    This week’s other must read story is Dan Barry’s superb account in The New York Times of the coming out of Rick Welts,  the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had spent his entire career in the closet because of the neanderthal attitude of professional sports towards every gay man and woman who participates in them.   Barry does a magnificent job of describing Welt’s three-decade long odyssey to honesty, including the extremely supportive role of National Basketball Commissioner David Stern.

    The story notes that when former N.B.A. player John Amaechi announced that he was gay in 2007, that prompted former N.B.A. star Tim Hardaway to say that, as a rule, he hated gay people.  

    Note to Hardaway, and his fellow homophobes everywhere: the only people who ever make statements like that are invariably afraid that they might be gay themselves. 

    People who are certain they are straight are never upset by gay people at all.

                                                             -30-

 

 

 

 

 

Winners & Sinners: from Mary Murphy to Mark Mazzetti

 

Pulitzer winner David Leonhardt, National Magazine Award winner Scott Horton, Filmmaker Mary Murphy, New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti

Winner: Mary Murphy, for her superb documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mocking Bird, which opens today at the Quad Cinema in New York and soon in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Mobile, Long Beach, Palm Springs and Norfolk, Va.  

Murphy, a veteran journalist, fell in love with Scout as a child and has  fashioned a beautiful love letter to her creator and this great American novel.   Watch the trailer here   or listen to Murphy charm her interviewer on NPR here.  And then get yourself to the theatre as soon as possible, for a treat for the whole family.

Sinner: Mark Mazzetti, whose coverage of American torture will forever live in infamy.  His latest contribution to his torture canon, the day after Osama Bin Laden was assassinated, was a story (with Helene Cooper and Peter Baker) which credulously adopted the line of former Bush administration officials (as Mazzetti has done dozens of times before) who  were desperately trying to convince the world that torture was the main reason that Bin Laden had been located.   The offending paragraphs were these:

The raid was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of CIA detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where sometimes what was not said was as useful as what was…

It wasn’t until after 2002, when the agency began rounding up Qaeda operatives  and subjecting them to hours of brutal interrogation sessions in secret overseas prisons  that they finally began filling in the gaps about the foot soldiers, couriers and money men Bin Laden relied on.

Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees  the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi  the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.

This prompted FCP to write the following e-mail to Mazzetti, Times executive editor Bill Keller, managing editor Jill Abramson, and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet:

Everything I’ve read today–from Feinstein’s press conference to Donald Rumsfeld in NewsMax [Rumsfeld reversed himself under neocon pressure the following day] to Jane Mayer to the round-up in Talking Points Memo–suggests that your strong implication on the front page of today’s newspaper that torture played an essential role in developing the information that led to Osama’s killing is flatly false… Judging from what everyone else has said today, once again, for the umpteenth time,  all you are doing is repeating the CIA line to protect the people who tortured their prisoners.
I trust  tomorrow’s newspaper will either
1) retract the implication of those graphs
or
2) provide some substance to support them?

Keller acknowledged receipt of the e-mail but did not respond to it; Abramson and Mazzetti ignored it.  Baquet wrote, “Good to hear from you again. I’m not sure I read those paragraphs the way you did.”

However, in the following day’s paper, there was indeed a new story on the front page by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage which seemed to take back the implication of Mazzetti’s story:

As intelligence officials disclosed the trail of evidence that led to the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding, a chorus of Bush administration officials claimed vindication for their policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding…But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out.

Harper’s contributing editor Scott Horton, whose writing about torture always features all of the skepticism and sophistication which Mazzetti’s–and, frequently Shane’s–so often lack–said this to FCP about the first day story in the Times: 

I’m quite sure that this is precisely the way the folks who provided this info from the agency wanted them to be understood, but there is certainly more than a measure of ambiguity in them, planted with care by the NYT writers or their editors.  This episode shows again how easily the Times can be spun by unnamed government sources, the factual premises of whose statements invariably escape any examination.

Winner: the very same Scott Horton, for winning a National Magazine Award for his blockbuster piece in Harper’s which explored the possibility that what had been described as the suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo may actually have been murders committed by their captors.  FCP first wrote about Horton’s piece in January of last year.

Horton’s reporting directly contradicted an earlier piece in The New York Times magazine and the Times has alternated between ignoring Horton’s story and denigrating it.   Happily, the judges of the National Magazine Awards felt very differently about it.

Sinners: The Pulitzer Board for awarding Joseph Rago a Pulitzer for “for his well-crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Barack Obama.”   As the Nation’s Greg Mitchell pointed out,  the young Rago’s arguments were not only utterly predictable but also frequently “fact-challenged.”

Among the editorials for which Rago was honored was one in which he blasted PolitiFact for identifying the right’s successful branding of Obama’s “government takeover of health care” as its “lie of the year”–which of course, is exactly what it was.

Winner: David Leonhardt, whose Pulitzer Prize for his superb economic analysis in the New York Times was as deserved as Rago’s honor was misguided.   For many years, Leonhardt has done a brilliant job of making the field of economics accessible to his lay readers.   And the fact that FCP has known Leonhardt since birth–and shared the same table at Passover for more than three decades–has absolutely nothing to do with this citation.

Winner: Barack Obama, for his splendid interview with Steve Croft for 60 Minutes in which he explained all of the risks in the operation and all of the very sensible reasons for burying the terrorist at sea–and not releasing any photographs of his corpse afterwards. 

Obama on Osama with Steve Kroft

                                                                       -30-

 

 

Triumph & Tragedy

 

President Obama announcing the Death of Osama Bin Laden; The Terrorist in his prime

 Above the Fold

    There are plenty of reasons to rejoice over the death of Osama Bin Laden, including the sense of closure his killing should bring to the relatives of all the victims of his heinous attacks.

     But one of the most important reasons isn’t being mentioned much at all: the commando raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan is the first truly effective response the United States has managed since the terrorist launched his horrific assault against us almost ten years ago.

    The tragedy of the deaths of thousands of civilians in those four airplanes, and in the three buildings they crashed into, was fearfully compounded by George Bush’s response to it.   

    Instead of staying with a limited operation in Afghanistan–and an all-out effort to hunt down the man responsible for 9/11–the president and his neocons used these events to play perfectly into the hands of the man who perpetrated them.

    George Bush did that by launching a huge, completely unnecessary war in Iraq, where we are still bogged down almost a decade later, a war which killed and maimed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraquis–and has left that country still barely governable today.  It also did as much as anything else to bankrupt the Federal treasury.

    Instead of bringing Bin-Laden to his knees, for a very long time the war in Iraq had exactly the opposite effect.  As the indispensable Juan Cole pointed out today,“aside from the sheer scale of destruction in Iraq set off by Bush’s illegal and ill-considered adventurism,” the worst thing about this war was the way it “clearly gave al-Qaeda an opening to grow and expand and recruit.  I think if Bush had gone after Bin Laden as single-mindedly as Obama has, he would have gotten him, and could have rolled up al-Qaeda in 2002 or 2003. Instead, Bush’s occupation of a major Arab Muslim country kept a hornet’s nest buzzing against the US, Britain and other allies.”

    And as my Hillman colleague Hendrik Hertzberg blogged  today, yesterday’s raid “underlines one of the many weaknesses of the ‘war’ metaphor and mentality that was immediately adopted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks: the simplistic notion that the key to defeating Al Qaeda was the military conquest and occupation of territory. Not for the first time, that notion has been exposed as tragically misleading.” 

    One of Bin Laden’s principal goals was to rid Saudi Arabia of American troops, and less than two years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all but 220 of some 5,000 American soldiers had been withdrawn from the Saudi kingdom.  His other mission was to do everything he could to weaken the United States–and by giving the fools in the Bush Administration the pretext they had been praying for to invade Iraq, Bin Laden succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

    There is something else important that we can all be grateful for today.  By the time Bin Laden was finally hunted down, the extraordinary events of the Arab spring had made it clearer than ever that his ideas have already been relegated to the dustbin of history.    Again, Juan Cole explains:

    Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive. The notorious terrorist turned to techniques of fear-mongering and mass murder to attain his goals in the belief that these methods were the only means by which the Secret Police States of the greater Middle East could be overturned. 

    As Dr. Wahid Abd-al-Majid, an adviser at the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies, explained to al-Arabiya a couple of weeks ago, Bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri “dreamt of being the one who topples President Husni Mubarak, only for the president to be toppled by the youth in a peaceful and democratic revolution that has absolutely no connection to Al-Qa’ida’s long-held claims.”

      Finally, yesterday’s success will give pause to Barack Obama’s critics, who have long berated him for his supposed incompetence in foreign affairs. The splendid outcome of this daring raid fulfilled a specific promise that candidate Obama made during the presidential campaign in 2007.  Because of it,  Obama is probably more powerfu today than he has been at any other time since he entered the White House.   And the notion that any of the Republican dwarfs now toying with a run for the presidency might offer him a serious challenge seems even more farcical than it did before.

 

                                                       -30-
 

 

Extremism In Defense of Idiocy

Quick Takes

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says  the only thing left that is holding up a bill that would prevent a government shutdown is the intransigence of Republican extremists in the House, who are demanding the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood.

    How extreme are those extremists?  As the indispensable Steve Benen has reported, Oklahoma neanderthal Senator Tom Coburn, and Minnesota’s maniacal Michelle Bachman–yes, Michelle Bachman!–have both said they are in favor of a bill without the Planned Parenthood rider.   So the Tea Party members in the House are way to the right of Coburn and Bachman–which means they probably think Glenn Beck is a hopeless moderate.

    Meanwhile, Paul Krugman vivisects the “responsible conservatives”–everyone from David Brooks to The Economist–who have been praising Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget.  (The Economist called it “a brave counterproposal” which “puts fiscal responsibility at the centre of his plan”–although even this Republican-friendly publication admits that “Too much of the gain goes to the rich, and too much of the pain is felt by the poor.”)

    Krugman sees things rather differently in today’s Times.
   
    “…The G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it’s simultaneously ridiculous and heartless. ..Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves. [The Congressional Budget Office] finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts…

    “The point here is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs.

    “The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030 the value of a voucher would cover only a third of the cost of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare as we know it. So the plan would deprive many and probably most seniors of adequate health care…

    “In short, this plan isn’t remotely serious; on the contrary, it’s ludicrous.  And it’s also cruel.”

    Amen.

 

                                                                    -30-

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