Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Winners & Sinners

Winners & Sinners

The Conservative Political Action Conference is the marquee event of the conservative movement, which  this year was sponsored in part by the far-far-right John Birch Society.  The audience seemed to be dominated by the Tea Party Movement.

The way it was covered tells you a lot you might not want to know about the mainstream media in Washington.

Sinners Adam Nagourney and Kate Zernike of The New York Times led their first-day story with Mitt Romney’s “systematic indictment of what he described as the failed presidency of Barack Obama” and mentioned some “coy allusions” to Barack Obama’s youthful experimentation with cocaine, while Sinner Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post thought Romney “sounded every bit the party leader, denouncing the Obama administration as a ‘failure.’”

On the other hand, if you wanted to learn anything about the substance of Romney’s remarks–or anybody else’s at the conference–the person to listen to was Winner Rachel Maddow, who performed that oh-so-out-of-fashion journalistic function of fact-checking the remarks of the principals.  A few examples from the transcript of Maddow’s program the day the conference opened:

Romney: “Let’s ask the Obama folks why they say…no to malpractice reform” and “no to tax cuts that create jobs.” The former Massachusetts governor added, “On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words ‘You have the right to remain silent.’”

The Facts:  Obama is actually in favor of malpractice reform, and the year-old stimulus program included one of the biggest tax cuts ever enacted.  As for the suicide bomber, as Maddow pointed out, “Unless, of course, that would-be suicide bomber is would-be suicide bomber Richard Reid, who was told that he had the right to remain silent roughly five minutes after he was arrested back in 2001 when Republicans were running the show.”

Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCoutter: “When the American people asked for smaller deficits and a reduction of the debt, the Democrats said no.”

The Facts: As this chart reminds us, by far the biggest increases in the national debt took place under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush:

Former Congressman Dick Armey of Texas said Obama was “getting away with peddling” the notion that there is a crisis in health care, “despite the fact that America has the greatest health care in the world.” 

The Facts: As Maddow pointed out, in such a fake crisis, national spending on health care goes from 5 percent of GDP in 1960 to 7 percent in 1970 to 17 percent in 2000, and is expected to reach 20 percent in 2020. Maddow added, That‘s the crisis President Obama has apparently created out of thin air for his own political gain.  He apparently started working on this in 1970 when he was 9 years old.  He was very precocious.

But if the Times reporters had chosen to illuminate even one of these lies, that would have left them with less space for the jokes that were made about Obama’s cocaine use.

Meanwhile, network news reports like two from NBC’s Mike Viqueira on “Nightly” were virtually content-free, although Viqueira did manage to  include a tiny soundbite of Glenn Beck’s speech to CPAC, which at least hinted at the Fox News host’s absolute insanity.

Update: for a good piece in the MSM about the dark side of the Tea Party Movement, see Jonathan Capehart’s post.

Second Update: The only way to feel all of the love at the CPAC confab (including the Glenn Beck out-of-body experience) is to watch Jon Stewart–as usual.

Winner: Newsweek national security correspondent Michael Isikoff for revealing that a crucial CIA memo constantly cited by Dick Cheney as the source of his certainty that torture produced crucial intelligence actually contains “plainly inaccurate information” that undermined its conclusions.  Cheney has frequently demanded the publication of the still-classified document, but Justice Department investigators have now concluded “that it significantly misstated the timing of the capture of one Al Qaeda suspect in order to make a claim that seems to have been patently false,” according to Isikoff.   The reporter continued:

The memo also omitted any references to a notorious incident in which another high level CIA detainee, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi,  provided ‘false information’ about Al Qaeda’s supposed connections to Iraq in order to stop his Egyptian interrogators from abusing him, the Justice report states.  (Al-Libi was transfered by the CIA to Egyptian custody under the agency’s “extraordinary rendition” program.)

Sinner: The normally-reliable Clyde Haberman, for a column in The New York Times about Harold Ford, the former Tennessee Congressman threatening to run for the Senate from New York.  Haberman left the clear impression that Ford’s early claims to having paid New York taxes were true. Haberman wrote:

One question raised about Mr. Ford is how diligent he has been in paying taxes in New York. Several weeks ago, he said in an interview with YNN, a cable news station in Buffalo: ‘I pay taxes there. And once you pay taxes there, you feel like a New Yorker.’  That’s an awfully limited definition. I worked for years in foreign countries, paying their taxes, yet somehow never felt like a Japanese, an Italian or an Israeli.

The trouble is, Haberman’s column appeared exactly seven days after Gawker’s John Cook had done a thorough investigation proving that Ford had actually assiduously avoided paying New York State Income Taxes.  Asked by FCP if he had missed the fact that Ford was a New York tax dodger, Haberman replied, “As you surely could tell, that wasn’t really my focus this time around”–an answer which neither answered my question, nor explained why Haberman had implied that Ford had paid these taxes when he really hadn’t.

Update: A spokesman for Ford telephoned FCP today (Tuesday) to dispute the notion that the former Congressman had ever tried to avoid paying New York State income taxes.
Earlier this year, Congressman Ford told reporters in Buffalo, and his spokeswoman told John Cook of Gawker, that Ford would file a New York State Income Tax Return for the first time in April,  2010, although he began working for Merrill Lynch in New York City in 2007.

    The spokeswoman then contacted Cook again to say that Ford would actually file his first New York State resident tax return in 2010.

    Ford spokesman David Goldin told FCP today that Ford had filed a non-resident New York State tax return for 2007 and 2008.   You can only file as a non-resident if you can prove that you spent at least 182 days outside New York State.  So although Ford was working for Merrill Lynch in New York, he apparently was careful to stay out of the state for more than half the year, to limit his New York tax liability.

Winner: Environmental reporter Margot Roosevelt of The Los Angeles Times for two beautiuflly written and thorougly nuanced stories (here and here) about the continuing destruction of the Amazon Forest–and the chances that developed nations will spend enough quickly enough to end that destruction. The ghastly bottom line:

Slash-and-burn deforestation accounts for about 15% of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions. Despite activists’ efforts, forests have been disappearing at the rate of about 34 million acres a year for the last two decades. Globally, Indonesia and Brazil are the third- and fourth-largest emitters respectively of greenhouse gases, after China and the U.S., because of their breakneck pace of forest destruction.

The stories demonstrate that even though it remains in bankruptcy, The LA Times will sometimes still invest a substantial sum to send a talented correspondent abroad to write about a crucial subject like this one.

Sinners: The editors of the op-ed page of The New York Times for printing, and their contributor, Lara M. Dadkhah, for writing, a fiercely incoherent argument in favor of sharply increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan–by reversing the very wise directive Gen. Stanley McChrystal issued last July, which stipulated that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) would only be authorized under “very limited and prescribed conditions.”

Besides the idiocy of the piece, there was the problem of who it was who had actually written it.  Times editors identified the previously unknown Dadkhah as “an intelligence analyst,” while the author herself slipped in the fact that she was “employed by a defense consulting company.”

Oddly, neither Dadkhah nor the Times recognized the obvious journalistic imperative to name that company.

Update: This afternoon, deputy editorial page editor David Shipley provided FCP with this explanation via e-mail:

We found Ms. Dadkhah from work she did in Small Wars Journal, work that was part of her Ph.D. dissertation at Georgetown.  Ms. Dadkhah only recently took a job at Booz Allen. We tend not to mention the names of companies – as it can run the risk of seeming self-promotional. I thought it was sufficient to have the author say, as she did high up in the piece, that “While I am employed by a defense consulting company, my research and opinions on air support are my own.” It’s worth underscoring that Ms. Dadkhah’s research regarding close air support came entirely from her doctoral research, and that these are issues she has written about over the the last couple years for Small Wars.

Second Update: The estimable Glenn Greenwald, who was one of the very first people to post about this monstrosity, adds these essential details in response to Shipley’s explanation:

Shipley’s answer strongly suggests that Dadkhah did not submit her Op-Ed unsolicited, but rather, the NYT purposely sought out an Op-Ed to urge more civilian deaths in Afghanistan (“We found Ms. Dadkhah from work she did in Small Wars Journal”).  Why would they do that?  Maybe tomorrow the NYT Editors can actively solicit an Op-Ed urging the use of biological agents and chemical weapons on civilian populations in Yemen.  After that, they can search out someone to advocate medical experiments on detainees in Bagram.  Perhaps the day after, they can host a symposium on the tactical advantages of air bombing hospitals and orphanages as a means of keeping local populations in line…Dadkhah’s employer – Booz Allen – has more overlapping ties with the Pentagon than virtually any other corporation on the planet.  The very idea that Dadkhah’s employment with a company that has its hooks in virtually every aspect of war policy need not have been disclosed, when she’s advocating greater use of air power, is absurd on its face.  And Shipley’s claim that the companies which employ Op-Ed writers are not typically mentioned by the NYT is insultingly false; just today, Newt Gingrich’s short Op-Ed contribution is accompanied by this tagline:  “founder of the Center for Health Transformation, a health-care policy consulting firm.”  Yesterday, the NYT published an Op-Ed from the “former general counsel of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses,”  and throughout the month, the NYT had Op-Ed writers identified as “chairman of Convers Group in Moscow,” “a vice president at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004,” and “the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.”  Suffice to say, concealing the employer of the Op-Ed writer is not customary policy.

Read the rest of Glenn’s latest post here.

Third Update: My brother David Kaiser, author of the excellent History Unfolding blog, informs me:

The work Dadkhah did in Small Wars Journal consists of exactly one article, makig the same basic arguent at greater lenght.  That article actually takes a considerably more balanced view of the issue. At the end of the article she is described as follows.
   Lara M. Dadkhah is a graduate student in Security Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She has worked as an open source analyst covering biodefense issues in Iran and Afghanistan, and as a data analyst for current coalition information operations in Afghanistan.
 

Winner: CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper, for leading his network’s superb coverage of the Haiti catastrophe.  Whether he was pointing out the critical shortage of medicine, or the absence of any organized system to take care of the newly orphaned, Cooper and the rest of the CNN team set the standard for coverage which was both detailed and empathetic–and thereby earned Cooper the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award for January.

Winners: Michelle and Barack Obama, for hosting one of the most spectacular musical events in the history of the White House–a Celebration of Music of the Civil Rights Movement.  The evening was pushed up 24 hours because of an impending snow storm, and broadcast nationally by PBS.  Morgan Freeman hosted, and the president offered this eloquent introduction:

The civil rights movement was a movement sustained by music.  It was lifted by spirituals inspired by the Bible.  It was sharpened by protest songs about wrongs that needed righting.  It was broadened by folk artists like a New York-born daughter of immigrants, and a young storyteller from Minnesota, who captured the hardships and hopes of people who were worlds different from them, in ways that only song can do. It was a movement with a soundtrack – diverse strains of music that coalesced when the moment was right.

A brilliant Bob Dylan stole the evening with a haunting The Times They Are A Changin’, accompanied only by piano, bass, and the bard’s own acoustic guitar.  (Dylan refused to tell the concert’s organizers which song he would sing until 20 minutes before his performance; Blowin’ in The Wind was naturally another finalist.)  Dylan was immediately followed by an equally powerful rendition by Smokey Robinson of Dion’s great lament of 1968, Abraham, Martin and John.  Obama thanked Dylan for being “a man who was good enough to take a night off from his never ending tour;” then the president shook the great man’s hand after he sang.

Astonishingly, it was the first time Dylan had ever performed at the White House.

Dylan first recorded The Times They Are A Changin’ in 1963,  four weeks to the day before JFK was assassinated.  On November 13, 1985,  Dylan told me,  it was “definitely a song with a purpose.  I knew exactly what I wanted to say and for whom I wanted to say it to.  I wanted to write a big song in a simple way.”

The evening ended when Obama joined all the other performers (except Dylan, who had exited earlier) in an unbelievably poignant rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing. Chris Richards of The Washington Post called it the “most stirring concert” ever performed at the White House.

Score 1 for the mainstream media.
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To view the entire broadcast of the concert go here.

To read about and watch the original musical triumph of the Obama administration, provided by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, go here.

Winners & Sinners / Health Care Reform Edition

 Overnight is a long time in politics; a week is forever.
FCP’s favorite American Political Proverb

    The Obama administration was spiritually and substantively reborn yesterday when Barack Obama use twenty-two pens to sign the most important piece of legislation into law in four decades.  (why did Stolberg and Pear say “20” in the Times??)

As always, the media did a wildly un-even job of understanding and explaining the significance of this extraordinary moment.

The Biggest Winner: David Leonhardt got right to the heart of matter, with a point I didn’t see made anywhere else: “The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago… Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan…The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.”  Of course, FCP believes it doesn’t do nearly enough to tax the rich–but at least it is a beginning.

The Biggest Sinner: Brian’s Williams’ NBC Nightly News last night devoted 53 seconds to a favorable account of the president’s bill signing–followed by 3 minutes and 7 seconds of Republican soundbites attacking the bill, 1 minute and 50 seconds about the Republican Attorneys General who have filed an almost-certainly doomed suit to overturn the law in Federal Court–and 1 minute and 55 seconds to an utterly clueless small business owner and his wife, who admitted they had no idea whatsoever how the bill would affect them–but still managed to repeat several of the most well-worn Republican sound bites.   And if you actually wanted to know anything about what was in the bill?  “Go to our website”–that was the anchor’s sole contribution to his viewers’ knowledge about that.  One of the shoddiest reports about an historic event FCP has ever seen on a network newscast.

Winner: ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer, which not only managed a much more balanced report, but also was the only network evening newscast to report the most relevant poll result of the day: Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans believed the bill was a good thing, and only 40 percent  did not.   On the other hand, the ABC broadcast reported just one Democratic congressional or party  office had been vandalized; on MSNBC,  the always much-more-thorough Rachel Maddow found five sites of vandalism across the country, as well as the ex-militia man in Alabama who claimed credit for inciting all of the violence.

Winner:  The CBS Evening News (Harry Smith was sitting in for Katie), which actually managed to describe some of the specifics in the bill–including tax savings of up to 4 percent for small businesses.

Sinner: The always-awful Kathleen Parker for repeating the bold-faced lie that the health care bill “expands public funding for abortion” and then attacking Bart Stupak for finally doing the right thing by voting for the bill.  Parker wrote that the Congressman “will forever be remembered as the guy who Stupaked health-care reform and the pro-life movement.”

Winner:  FCP’s  colleague, fellow Hillman Prize Judge Harold Meyerson, for writing the clearest column in The Washington Post about the president’s action:  With the enactment of health-care reform, the often hapless, sometimes hopeless Democrats have transformed themselves into something America has not seen in decades: a governing party. By passing the most significant social legislation since the ’60s, they have ended the policy gridlock dating to the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. They have revalidated the almost quaint notion that – despite the ever greater role of money in politics – elections have consequences, too…Obama and Pelosi became a legislative force that Democrats have not seen since Lyndon Johnson. Pelosi’s contribution, no less than Obama’s, is one for the history books.” 

Then Meyerson laid out the rest of the necessary road to victory in the fall:

“To continue as a governing party beyond November, Democrats must apply the lessons of their health-reform victory to more popular causes. They need to establish a powerful consumer protection agency and rein in bank speculation – causes that some congressional Democrats decline to embrace. They must pressure those Democrats relentlessly, as they did those who wavered over health reform. They need more job legislation, beginning with California Rep. George Miller’s bill to save the teaching and public safety jobs on numerous states’ chopping blocks, and with Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s bill to establish an infrastructure bank to revive our construction sector.

Sinner: Ruth Marcus, also in The Washington Post, for boldly stating the obvious–we don’t know exactly how the one of the most complicated pieces of legislation ever enacted is going to work–and then casting doubt on its effectiveness with this factoid: “A study… by Richard Kronick, a former health-care adviser to President Bill Clinton, found ‘little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the United States.’

Note to Marcus and Kronick:  Nothing will ever have any effect on the “total number of deaths in the United States”–except for the total number of births, and immigrants.

 

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Guest Post: Don’t Ask…Ahh…Too Late.

 

My name is Michael Anthony,  I am an Iraq war veteran and having spent six years in the Army, at the age of twenty-three, I have spent more than a quarter of my life in service to this country.  I have four older brothers and an older sister, all of whom have been in the military: Air Force, Marines and Army.  My father and both my grandfathers were in the military. 

Hailing originally from a small sheltered town just south of Boston, Massachusetts, I say this in all earnestness: the only gay people I know have all been in the military.  This is not a joke or some talking point, it’s literal.  Generals, Commanders and Civilians can talk all they want, but the fact of the matter is, the only gay friends I’ve had have all been in the military; in fact, my only experience of gay people (outside of the military) is when I once watched an episode of the TV show Will and Grace (it was kind of funny).

For the policy known as DADT, there is one thing people often forget.  People forget that the policy doesn’t preclude gay people from entering the military it just precludes them from talking about their homosexuality.  In short, someone can be gay in the military; they just can’t talk about being gay in the military. 

If people are already in the military and gay­–from my former unit alone I know close to a dozen–­what is it that people are afraid will happen with the repeal of DADT?  Are people afraid that the day after DADT is rescinded,  gay soldiers are going to walk in wearing a feather boa and buttless fatigues?  The uniform policy will still be in effect so we can cross that option out.  Are people afraid that it’s going to hurt troop morale?   The Military suicide rate is at a thirty-year high having consistently risen for the past five years, with eighteen veterans killing themselves every day (according to the VA) so it seems like it can’t get any worse.

With all that said, there is a negative aspect to repealing DADT.  Having been in the military all my adult years, my peer group is filled with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.  Several of these war veterans, having done two or three tours, have sworn that they will never go back to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Upon further questioning on how they plan to get out deployment if called, their answer is simple: “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Expounding further, they say that if they’re called up, they will simply kiss a member of the same sex­in front of their commander.  So how is repealing DADT going to affect the military?  The answer is simple…my friends who jokingly suggested using DADT as a way to get out of a deployment are now stuck going to Iraq or Afghanistan.

And please don’t even get me started on the escapades that go on overseas.  But hey, what happens in Iraq stays in Iraq…ahh not quite.

 ——————————

 Michael Anthony is the author of   MASS CASUALTIES: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq The book is drawn from the personal journals of Anthony during the 1st year he spent serving in Iraq. It is a non-partisan look at some of the escapades that go on behind the scenes, from suicides, mail fraud, attempted murder, to gang bangs, orgies, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 
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Gays in the Military: Testosterone v. Facts

Full Court Press

    Whenever the debate about allowing gay people to serve openly in the military bubbles up, someone always grabs for the wreath reserved for whoever offers the most outrageous sound bite.

    After last week’s historic testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen  –“It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do”–that hallowed wreath was seized by Michael O’Hanlon.

    A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a venerable and quasi-liberal think tank whose motto is “Quality, Independence, Impact,” O’Hanlon managed to combine intemperance with pristine ignorance with this memorable declaration on CNN:

    “We can talk about this delicately or we can just be fairly direct.  There are a lot of 18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden men in the military who are tough guys. They’re often politically old-fashioned or conservative; they are not necessarily at the vanguard, in many cases, of accepting alternative forms of lifestyle.”

    Up ‘till now, O’Hanlon’s main contribution on the Times op-ed page and everywhere else has been constant cheerleading for continuous escalation of American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and usually he is a bit more articulate than this. He told me that it was only because of his position in favor of the surge that Frank Rich and Glenn Greenwald had brought attention to this idiotic quote.  According to O’Hanlon, these journalists had considered him “their enemy” ever since O’Hanlon supported that escalation.  To which Greenwald replied, “There’s the little matter of the war itself–y’know, like, starting it.”

    In any case, the big news that Rich, Greenwald and FCP all missed upon reading O’Hanlon’s testosterone-laden quote is a little surprising: besides being ignorant and abusive, O’Hanlon was actually  providing ammunition to those who oppose his point of view! 

    It turns out that O’Hanlon is actually in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

    When I reached O’Hanlon on the phone at Brookings, I began by reading his quote back to him, which led to this exchange:

 O’Hanlon: Maybe I can start by speaking for myself, instead of responding to some pointed questions that you’re putting my way?

FCP: I’m asking you to respond to words that you spoke yourself.

MO: And you’re calling with some presumption that I want to have this conversation.  And that there’s something about this moment that’s good, when I haven’t called you back, even though I already got your message. [It’s true: after he ignored my first message, I had the gall to call him a second time.Let me just put a couple of things out there the way I would like to put them out there.  And we’ll come back to your point in a second, if you want.

FCP: Sure. 

MO: First of all, I am a supporter of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and I have been in print on that point before.  I do not support the policy.  I actually believe that openly gay and lesbian individuals should be allowed to serve in the military.  I’m sure you’re familiar with how the media works.  And when you do a sound bite, you usually do 15 minutes in the interview, and they choose which sound bite to use.

    FCP is, indeed, familiar with the workings of devious reporters.  So after we finished our first conversation, I called O’Hanlon back to make absolutely sure I had understood him correctly:

   FCPIf in fact we’d seen your entire interview with CNN, it would have been clear that you were in favor of repealing the policy?

   MO: Yeah.  I will acknowledge the conversation that you and  I had earlier–kind of thinking through all the nuances in the 18-year-old–20-year-old demographic and how some parts of that group are more, let’s say, progressive than they used to be, and other parts may not be. I didn’t get into all that in great detail in the interview.  But I always speak clearly about the overall policy whenever I have a chance.

    Taken together with “they choose which sound bite to use,” this seemed to suggest that in its on-air report, as well as a story on its website, CNN had knowingly misrepresented O’Hanlon’s position.   So I queried a CNN spokesperson:

    “I am writing you to try to confirm that O’Hanlon did in fact call for repeal of the current law in his full interview with CNN.”

    To which CNN’s Edie Emery replied, “During the CNN interview, Mr. O’Hanlan did not take a position in the interview.  He was not asked.”

    A subsequent e-mail to O’Hanlon asking him to clear up this little discrepancy has  yet to elicit any response.

    Now, for a moment, let us examine the substance of O’Hanlon’s remarkable statement.   I asked,

   “Are you familiar with any of the literature on this subject?  Or is this kind of off the top of your head?”

    To which he replied, “No, I’m familiar with the literature as well.”

    But when I followed up–“Which part of the literature is it that would support what you’ve said here on CNN?”–he suggested that I should “take a step back”; he never got around to answering that quetion.

   Then I tried to point out the fundamental fallacy in his statement:

    “Actually, all of the statistical polling data of both soldiers and non-soldiers would suggest that 18 year-olds, having grown up in a culture in which gay life was very much part of that culture–unlike 50-year-olds and 60-year olds–are in fact, I think, according to most poll data, the ones most likely to be accepting of this change.  And that’s why your quote jumped out at me as not being reflective of the data as we know it.”

    O’Hanlon called that “a fair counterpoint,” but went on to say “there is also a group of very young people who are not the most cosmopolitan in our country…  Not to, again, paint with too broad of a brush but there is a certain over-representation especially in sort of the infantry ranks and the combat ranks of a fairly traditional mind set, mentality, on these kinds of issues…I still stand by what I said.  I think this particular group of people is a little less tolerant than the image you’ve got of the average American eighteen-year-old.”

    To fully understand O’Hanlon’s willful ignorance on this subject, it is necessary to consult Unfriendly Fire, Nathaniel Frank’s brilliant and definitive book on this subject, published last year.  Frank’s theme is that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell long ago became a joke, and having a policy that is unenforced, unenforceable, and widely mocked only undercuts military discipline by keeping on the books policies that are not followed or respected.

    But it is Rear Admiral John Huston (RET.), former JAG of the Navy, and one of the formulators of the current policy, whose testimony is most relevant.  Huston told Frank that even ten years ago, in 2000,

   “Things had changed so considerably, that I think 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds were just laughing at us because we didn’t understand what they were thinking. Young people had so dramatically opened up to the idea of working alongside openly gay people that us crusty old farts protecting them was just a joke.“

    “This is a policy,” Huston continued, that was “devised primarily by men who, like me, were born in the ‘40s and grew up in the ‘50s, but was being imposed on people who were at that time born in the ‘70s and grew up in the ‘80s. Now it’s born in the ‘80s and grew up in the ‘90s or the early 2000s. So there’s this huge gulf, and the changes that have occurred since then…” Hutson trailed off and took silent for a moment of thought. “I mean, I’m an Episcopalian, guess who my bishop is?” He was referring to Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, who was elected to the position in 2003. Hutson went on. “Queer eye for a straight guy,” he said slowly, getting the title of the television show almost right, “Ellen DeGeneres, things are so much different now than they were then.

    Hutson also said that the unit cohesion argument has now been “been completely reversed.” Telling military members that they “can’t deal with” open gays, that they’re not mature enough or well disciplined enough, “is divisive.” Today, stopping discrimination and instituting a policy of equal treatment “will enhance rather than detract from unit cohesion..It will make us a stronger force rather than a less strong force and it’s a good thing for the country.” Hutson’s biggest fear is that the U.S. military, an institution he reveres and is proud to have served, is “falling further and further behind” where the American public is. “This is what’s discouraging to me,” he said. “I don’t want an institution for which I have great affection to be antiquated in its ideas. The military is better than that.”

    If people like O’Hanlon read books like Unfriendly Fire, instead of pontificating without a clue about what they were talking about, we might actually get the rapid change in policy that the country deserves.

  As Nathaniel Frank told me today, “the problem with the debate you’re having with O’Hanlon is that this issue has a history of ungrounded alarmism that is out of proportion to other military policy changes. Operationally, having women in combat is a much tougher change for the military, but politically, it’s the gay thing that has caused all the doomsday scenarios. Any policy change can incur short-term adjustments, but in this case the research strongly suggests that short-term adjustment costs will be far outweighed by the long-term benefits.”

    Aaron Belkin, who is Frank’s colleague at the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where all of the most serious research on this subject has taken place, put it this way:

   “Dr. O’Hanlon is correct in noting that the last thing the military or the country needs now is a polarizing debate. The way to avoid that is for the President to sign a stop-loss order suspending implementation of the ban, or for Senator Levin to include a moratorium in the Chairman’s mark up of the defense budget bill. The current plan to study rather than to act will invite the polarization that Dr. O’Hanlon fears.”

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When Eric Met Jane

 

 Above the Fold

I think the US does itself a favor by showing the world who these people really are in a legal process whose legitimacy is beyond question.”

                                                    –Jane Mayer, in a live chat today at NewYorker.com
                                                       
    The most important and the most depressing piece of the week is Jane Mayer’s brilliant illumination in The New Yorker of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other terrorists in Federal Court in Manhattan.

    Thanks to the abject cowardice of Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and Lindsay Graham–and just about every Republican in Washington–Holder has now been forced to rescind that decision.  Unlike Bloomberg and Schumer, at least the Republicans weren’t basing their position on the idea that the views of the lower-Manhattan real estate establishment should always trump the United States constitution.

    Mayer makes it abundantly clear why this is a terrible outcome for moral, practical and constitutional reasons.   As she said in her live chat at NewYorker.com today,

    Fear was really whipped up, and with it, the estimated costs of the trial. The whole thing required some level-headed counterpoint, but, for some reason, there was very little. As a result, the business community in lower Manhattan, and some residents turned on the plan. The irony is that there is another Al Qaeda trial taking place there as we speak - and no one’s even paying any attention. Clearly, the atmospherics were disproportionate to the threat, but, once scared, it’s hard to calm people.

    Here are the relevant facts from Mayer’s piece, most of which, of course, have played no part at all in the arguments of those opposed to trying the terrorists in Federal Court:

    * The Bush Administration prosecuted many more terror suspects as criminals than as enemy combatants.

    * According to statistics compiled by New York University’s Center on Law and Security, since 2001 the criminal courts have convicted some hundred and fifty suspects on terrorism charges.

    * Only three detainees—all of whom were apprehended abroad—were convicted in military commissions at Guantánamo.

    * The makeshift military-commission system set up by Bush to handle terrorism cases never tried a murder case, let alone one as complex, or notorious, as that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who will face the death penalty for the murder of nearly three thousand people.

    * The Bush Administration obtained life sentences in the criminal courts for two terror suspects arrested inside the U.S.: Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was planning a second wave of plane attacks. (Reid was read his Miranda rights four times.)

    * There is no evidence suggesting that military commissions would be tougher on suspected terrorists than criminal courts. Of the three cases adjudicated at Guantánamo, one defendant received a life sentence after boycotting his own trial; another served only six months, in addition to the time he had already served at the detention camp; the third struck a plea bargain and received just nine months.

    * The latter two defendants—Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as Osama bin Laden’s driver, and David Hicks, an Australian who attended an Al Qaeda training camp—are now at liberty in their home countries, having been released while Bush was still in office.

    * The main reason that Rahm Emmanuel (and the rest of the White House political apparatus) opposed the trial of terrorists in Federal Court in Manhattan was because Rahm wanted to make Lindsay Graham happy.

    * Graham actually favors closing Guantánamo–but he told Mayer he would keep it open, rather than to allow “these guys civilian trials.”

    * Behind Graham’s opposition was an insistence that Obama not treat military commissions as second-class justice.  But given the commissions’ erratic track record, the argument seems dubious.

    * The trouble is, when the Obama administration decided to keep the commissions going to try some terrorists, while sending others to Federal Court, it put itself in an impossible bind–because Obama had forfeited the option of openly criticizing the commissions.

    * David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, said, “They can’t say military commissions are less legitimate, because they’re still using them. But if they tried K.S.M. in a military commission, they’d lose any chance of having a conviction seen as legitimate by the rest of the world.”

    *Holder assigned eight experienced criminal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia to build the best criminal case they could against Mohammed and his co-conspirators. The prosecutors gathered fresh evidence from around the globe, rendering the military’s case comparatively weak.

    * Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney who represents Virginia’s Eastern District, participated in the process, and said, “The prosecutors came together, and produced hundreds of pages of analysis that was granular, and evidence-specific.”

    * Many countries–including France, Germany and Great Britain–which had refused to coöperate with military commissions at Guantánamo, were much more willing to provide evidence and witnesses for court prosecutions.

    * Last May, Obama declared that the Bush Administration’s legal approach had created “a mess.”  Another source put it more bluntly to the New Yorker writer: “We were buried in an avalanche of shit.”

    Despite the determination of Maine Senator Susan Collins and so many others to humiliate themselves by repeating their idiotic criticisms of the way the Obama administration has handled the questioning of the Christmas bomber–“wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again,” as Rachel Maddow characterized the Maine Senator’s remarks–the fact is the civilian system almost certainly elicited more information from him than any military torturer could have.

    As the Justice Department revealed a couple of weeks ago, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is now coöperating with the F.B.I.  A Justice official pointed out to Mayer, “He has an incentive to talk in the criminal-justice system, which the other system doesn’t offer.’  The key to gaining Abdulmutallab’s coöperation was the F.B.I.’s ability to enlist his family in getting him to talk.”

    That’s the kind of common sense observation which almost never makes it into the debate about what is actually most effective: friendly interrogation, or violent torture.

    Holder asked Mayer, “Would that father have gone to American authorities if he knew his son might be whisked away to a black site and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques? You are much more likely to get people coöperating with us if their belief is that we are acting in a way that is consistent with American values.”

    Which brings us to the essential fallacy in all of the arguments in favor of torture from Dick Cheney and his loud-mouthed camp followers: there is no evidence that torture is more likely to produce actionable intelligence than the techniques which are actually allowed by the United States constitution–and the anti-torture treaties which are supposed to bind us to legal behavior.

    During Mayer’s appearance this morning on  Joe Scarborough launched into one of his typically mindless rants about how the Bush administration was much more interested in obtaining information that would prevent another attack on America than it was in trying terrorists in civilian courts. 

   “It’s just a myth that the military is like Jack Bauer,” Mayer retorted.

   Then Scarborough claimed that we couldn’t know what the CIA had learned through torture, because much of it remained classified.

    Mayer replied that Senator Jay Rockefeller had read everything in the CIA’s files, and he had told her that the CIA actually got nothing important through torture.  When Scarborough dismissed Rockefeller as a partisan source, Mayer responded with the coup de grace:

    “What does FBI Director Robert Mueller III say was gained through these techniques?” Mayer asked.

    The answer, of course, is nothing–something which even The New York Times finally managed to report, after FCP repeatedly berated it for ignoring the FBI director’s view that no information was obtained through torture which prevented any new attacks on the US.

    How did Scarborough respond to Mayer when she reported Mueller’s position?

    The TV man  changed the subject.

    Of course.

 

                                                                  -30-

History in the Making

 It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do…For me personally, it comes down to integrity; theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.
                                  –Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

    Admiral Michael Mullen brought honor to his office and to his country today with some of the most courageous testimony Congress has ever heard from a chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

    Declaring, “I have served with homosexuals since 1968…everybody in the military has,” Mullen placed his personal prestige squarely behind Barack Obama’s commitment to repeal the hideous policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which has done so much to weaken America’s national security since it was enacted in 1993.

    “No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” said Admiral Mullen. “I also believe that the great young men of our military, can and would accommodate such a change–I never underestimated their ability to adapt.”

    The contrast between Mullen’s bravery and Colin Powell’s cold cowardice  could not have been more dramatic.   Back when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993, it was an unholy alliance between General Powell and Georgia Senator Sam Nunn which made it impossible for Bill Clinton to keep his campaign promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military.

    Within the last year, both Nunn and Powell have called for a re-examination of the policy–but neither of them has shown anything like the valor of Admiral Mullen, or former Joint Chiefs chairman John M. Shalikashvili, who called for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell three years ago in The New York Times.
   
    Although Powell rose to the pinnacle of the American military because of the courage of President Harry Truman, who ended the segregation of the armed forces, Powell never understood his obligation to do the same thing for gay people that Truman had done for African-Americans.

    Instead, Powell declared,  “Skin color is a benign nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument.”

    Today, Senator Roland Burris shamed Powell by drawing the exact comparison Powell had shunned.  After expressing his “deep admiration” for Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also declared his support for a new policy, Burris recalled:

    You go back to President Truman, who took the audacity to integrate the services.  At one time my uncle couldn’t even serve in the military–and we’ve moved to this point where [African-Americans are] some of the best and brightest that we have.  Generals, and even, now, the commander in chief is of African-American heritage… The policy must be changed and we must have everyone who is capable, willing and able to defend this great tradition of ours to have the opportunity to serve, regardless to their sexual orientation…I hope we will get moving on this issue, and not be wasting the tax payers time on something that is so basic to human rights and individuals in this country.

    Secretary Gates declared, “The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.”

    John McCain was a parody of an out-of-touch old man.  “I’m deeply disappointed in your statement,” the Arizona Senator told the secretary of defense. “Your statement is obviously one that is deeply biased.”

    In an implied rebuke to McCain, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado recalled that it was another Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, who observed, “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.” 

     Udall told Admiral Mullen, “the centerpiece of your statement will long be remembered for its courage and integrity.”

   What makes McCain’s position even more embarrassing? The Washington Post points out tonight that his statement today reverses the honorable position he held three years ago: “The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”  (McCain’s spokesman explained that since Mullen’s position was a “personal” one, the chairman of the joint chiefs no longer counts as a military leader.)

    Even Joe Lieberman, who opposed the current policy back in 1993, remains sane and sensible on this subject. “What matters most is not how a military person lives their private sexual life” but whether “they are prepared to risk their lives for their country,” the Connecticut Senator declared.  “Someone in a tank today is going to care a lot more about the capability and the courage of that soldier than about his sexual orientation… I thank you both for saying the question now is not whether but how.”

    Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is another strong supporter of a repeal of the law, while his counterpart in the House, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, favors a continuation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    In the days before today’s testimony, Elisabeth Bumiller scored a scoop by reporting in The Times  that the Pentagon would ease its enforcement of the current policy, by taking no action “to discharge service members whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners.”

    But Bumiller–as well as Craig Whitlock and Michael D. Shear, writing in the Washington Post –all failed to report the most significant legislative development in the fight to repeal the law: the fact that Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy now has 187 co-sponsors in the House on a bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

   The only news story which mentioned that fact was Yochi J. Dreazen’s article in The Wall Street Journal.       (Although Bumiller omitted Murphy, The Times did mention him and his bill in an excellent editorial on January 28.)

    Congressman Murphy is a two-term Democrat from Pennsylvania, who served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and was the first Iraq veteran elected to Congress.
“The momentum is clearly on our side,” Murphy told the Journal.  “It’s time for Congress to have the guts to stop turning its back on talented and professional soldiers just because they’re gay. I served with great soldiers who were thrown out just because they were gay. I was disheartened that the Constitution that I took an oath to support and defend was really being abused by that policy.”

    Among Murphy’s other reasons for supporting repeal of the law through his own Military Readiness Enhancement Act:

  • Since 1994, over 13,000 servicemembers - the equivalent of 3 ½ combat brigades- have been discharged as a result of DADT.
  • In the last five years, while our country has been engaged in two wars, the military has discharged over 800 mission-critical troops under  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including over 50 Arabic linguists.
  • Up to $1.3 billion in taxpayer money has been wasted discharging otherwise qualified troops under DADT. It costs the military at least $60,000 to recruit and train each new servicemember, and much more to prosecute and pursue separations under DADT.

    Polls show roughly 60 percent of the American public is in favor of allowing gay people to serve openly in the armed forces, and passage of Murphy’s law by the House now seems extremel likely.  Getting a filibuster-proof majority of sixty votes in the Senate would be very difficult indeed, but Senator Levin suggested today that the reform could be enacted by a simple majority, if the law change was made through an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill. 

    If Barack Obama can finally bring this new measure of equality into law, it will go a long way toward diffusing the anger of his gay supporters, who are deeply disappointed by the president’s paltry achievements on behalf of the gay community during his first year in the White House.    It would also give him one of the most important progressive victories of his presidency.

                                                          -30-

 

Update: AFSCME weighs in on the side of justice here.

—————————-

Second Update: On NBC Nightly News, Admiral Mullen’s historic testimony was story #2; on CBS, story #3, and Pentagon correspondents Jim Miklaszewski and David Martin both did pedestrian pieces.  Only ABC’s Martha Raddatz distinguished herself with the novel idea of including someone who could be directly affected by the policy change–Lt. Dan Choi, the gay Arabic-speaking linguist now facing dismissal for publicly announcing his sexual orientation.  Diane Sawyer’s World News was also the only network broadcast to lead with the story.

Kudos to Diane.

—————————-

Third Update: See Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council prove his worthiness to live in Uganda by calling for the recriminalization of gay sex, during a debate with Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on the Chris Matthews Show.

Question: Why do so many of the most virulent opponents of equal rights for gay people seem so…gay?

Answer: People who know they are straight never feel the least bit threatened by those who are not.   This is the experience of gay people everywhere.

—————————-

Fourth Update: From another fine editorial in The New York Times: “The United States has traveled far since 1993 on gay rights. It is ready for a military built on a commitment to equal rights for all.”
Lest we forget–whatever its other failings–this newspaper has done more to promote gay equality in the last twenty years than all the other newspapers in the world put together.
Quite a contrast to a previous New York Times.

—————————-

Fifth Update: Seventeen years too late: Colin Powell finally gets it right

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed.  I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
 

State of the Union

 

Above the Fold

    Now, in the wake of the Massachusetts result, Congressional Democrats seem to be running for the hills instead of making every possible effort to pass a health care reform bill.
                                 –FCP, January 22, 2010

    To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.
                                –Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2010

    There was quite a lot to admire in last night’s State of the Union speech–a combination of plain truths and worthy policy proposals.   These were some of the highlights:

* The lobbyists are trying to kill [the financial reform bill passed by the House.] But we cannot let them win this fight.

* We still need health insurance reform

* From some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument -– that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts including those for the wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped us into this crisis [although that’s what created this crisis would have been stronger–and more accuate.]

* Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

* With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests–including foreign corporations –to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps  to correct some of these problems.

* Let’s tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service to correct some of these problems.

* This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.  It’s the right thing to do.

    These were all admirable declarations–and none more so than the president’s reminder to the Senate Democrats that even after their defeat in Massachusetts, they still have their largest majority in decades. 

    Of course, Obama has never had a problem giving a fine speech.

    The problem, so far, has been follow-up.

    I always thought the fact that Obama was the product of the Chicago Democratic machine was one of the most appealing parts of his resume–because it made it plausible that this freshman Senator could be strong enough to become an effective president.

    Confronted by a Republican minority which is reflexively committed to going for the jugular, what the Democrats have needed for years is a comparable toughness.   If Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can’t provide that, the White House somehow has to find a way to provide that missing backbone.

    As Frank Rich pointed out last Sunday, in one of his most powerful columns, patricians like FDR and JFK never hesitated to battle their own class.  Rich wrote that Obama desperately needed something like JFK’s U.S. Steel moment–the president’s broadside against the steel maker after its chairman decided to “break a White House-brokered labor-management contract agreement and raise the price of steel (but not wages).”  Kennedy’s assault left reporters “literally gasping,” according to Dick Reeves, and U.S. Steel backed down two days later.

    So populist rhetoric against the banks–“We all hated the bank bailout”–is fine as far as it goes.  But what this administration needs more than anything else right now is proof that there will be serious consequences for anyone who derails its agenda.  It needs actual results, on health care, and financial reform, and it needs them well  before Washington’s cherry blossoms reach their peak at the beginning of April. 

    Up until now, the hallmark of Rahm Emanuel’s political management has been a terror of replicating the mistakes of the Clinton administration.   That’s why Obama waited much too long to roll up his sleeves, and involve himself directly in the health care negotiations.  And that is also why Obama’s campaign promise to repeal Clinton’s idiotic don’t ask, don’t tell policy for gays in the military remains unfulfilled twelve months after Obama took office–even though the political climate (and the poll numbers) are dramatically different in 2010 than they were in 1993.

    Instead of reflexively avoiding Clinton’s mistakes, it’s time to emulate Lyndon Johnson’s mastery at manipulating the Congress.   Rahm Emanuel played a big role in creating the large majorities the Democrats enjoy right now in both houses.  Now it’s time to make them produce the kind of legislation we can all be proud of.

    If that doesn’t happen soon, all the predictions of disaster for Democrats in the fall are certain to come true.

                                                               -30-

Coakley, Schilling, Obama and Sawyer

Above the Fold

   It’s a toss up as to which is worse: the news out of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court, or the way some network news broadcasts are covering these disasters.  Call it a pitcher’s choice.

    Let’s start with Massachusetts, where Martha Coakley will be remembered as one of the most incompetent Senate candidates of modern times. Overconfident and out-of-touch: with just six weeks between the primary and the general election, Coakley took a full week off for Christmas, according to Nagourney, Zeleny, Zernkike and Cooper  writing in the Times. 

    The race formally ended two weeks later on January 15th, when Coakley identified legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a Yankee fan.  Is there anything more important to the average Massachusetts voter than the Red Sox?   No, there is not.   And a candidate trying to become the first woman ever elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts really needed to know that.

    The failure of the Democratic establishment to recognize that a disaster was brewing until it was too late to do anything about it is also a severe indictment of White House political guru Rahm Emmanuel, the DNC and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, all of whom seem to have been asleep at the plate.

    Of course, we didn’t lose just because Coakley was a terrible candidate–all those independents who voted for Obama plus a lot more switched eagerly to the Cosmo model because of the gigantic dissatisfaction with everything that is going on in Washington.  Now, in the wake of the Massachusetts result, Congressional Democrats seem to be running for the hills instead of making every possible effort to pass a health care reform bill.

    Having devoted most of 2009 to this effort, is there anything  they could do that would do more to reinforce their reputation for incompetence than a decision to abandon health care right now?

    No, there is not.

    Two days later the Supreme Court weighed in with one of the most radical decisions in its history, wiping away dozens of federal & local laws and decades of precedent, with a 5 to 4 vote to give corporate America even more complete control over the government than it already enjoys.

   Why didn’t the rest of us realize that this was what America needed the most right now?

    And the next time you hear someone repeat the idiotic myth that liberal judges are the real “activists” in the judiciary–well, just slap them.

    Here is part of Rachel Maddow’s excellent  summary of the decision’s effects:

    [This is] one of the most radical Supreme Court actions in years.   Corporations are free to inject unregulated billions, absolutely unlimited money into the political system now.   If you are a regular person who’s ever made a campaign donation before, forget about ever having to do that again.  What’s the point of an individual trying to make a donation if Exxon or some other corporation can quite literally match and therefore cancel out the combined donations of every single individual donor in the nation in one check, in every year, in every state, in every race?…This ruling rolls back decades of protections against corporate interference and control of governance…I personally think it is impossible to overstate the impact of this decision on American politics.

    In a scathing 29,000 word dissent, some of which he read from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens declared that “five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”  Stevens continued,

    At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.   It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense.   While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

    Given the gigantic importance of this decision to American democracy, some of us naively expected that this was the news that would lead each of the network evening news broadcasts that night.

  Forget about it.  Over at ABC, where Diane Sawyer is having the rockiest debut of any new anchor in memory, these were the stories deemed more important than the Supreme Court’s action at the top of the broadcast:

* A recall of Toyota automobiles
* A really, really big mudslide in California
* John Edwards’ belated acknowledgment of paternity of the daughter he had with his mistress
* Obama’s sweeping new proposal to reform the banking system
* A “pillow talk” story which apparently was enchanting the cable news networks.

    For the first nine minutes of her broadcast, Sawyer managed to say nothing at all about the Supreme Court.   But a little later, she did manage thirteen whole seconds to report that Nancy Pelosi had declared there were not enough votes in the House to pass the Senate version of the health care reform bill.

    FCP also loved the way Sawyer and just about everyone else that night seemed to assume that when it came to judging the worthiness of Obama’s announcement that he would push for the broadest reform of the banking system since the Depression, the only thing that really mattered was the reaction of the stock market.  Therefore:

    Market down; proposal, bad!

    This is roughly equivalent to reporting that the government is planning a  new crackdown on child molestation–and then using the reaction of the nation’s most prominent child molesters to gauge the worthiness of the government’s proposal. 

    Except, of course,  that the banks always prefer to molest adults.

    Was this the most disgraceful series of “news judgements” FCP has ever witnessed on a network evening news broadcast?

    Yes, it was.

                                                                               -30-
 

Winners and Sinners

Winners & Sinners / Martin Luther King Jr. Day edition.

Winner:  Scott Horton.  This morning Harper’s Magazine jumped its publication date for the March issue by thirty days to rush out Scott Horton’s blockbuster cover story  about three possible murders at Guantanamo which the government and the mainstream media have always described as suicides.

    The piece also identified a black site on Guantanamo where those who died may have been tortured on the night of their supposed suicide.

    Horton is a law professor, a contributing editor at Harper’s, and one of the finest torture reporters of our time.

    At the heart of the cover-up Horton alleges is the fact that the Pentagon told the press–and convinced most reporters–that the three prisoners who died had hanged themselves.  However, Horton has interviewed five American servicemen who gave this account of what Army Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the Camp America commander, told a meeting of fifty guards at 7am the morning after the prisoners had died.

    The commander said to the guards, “you all know” that the prisoners committed suicide by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death.  “But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells.  It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes.”

    Horton says Bumgarner refused all of his requests for interviews, although Bumgarner did attack the story today to the Associated Press  after it was posted on the Harper’s website.

   The guards interviewed by Horton said the night of the prisoners’ deaths, the guards believed that they had witnessed the prisoners’ removal to the black site away from the prison compound.  They also said that their clear site lines from the guard towers made it possible for them to know that none of the prisoners had been taken from their cells to the medical center on the night of their deaths.

    In a  article entitled “The Battle for Guantánamo” in The New York Times Magazine in 2006, Tim Golden wrote about Col. Bumgarner’s efforts to humanize conditions at Guantanamo.  He also reported the “suicides” of these three prisoners as an established fact.

   Golden never interviewed any of the guards quoted in Horton’s story.  Yesterday, he told FCP that he had read Horton’s story “quickly,” but he refused to make any comment about it.

   Some of the guards interviewed by Horton ridiculed Golden’s piece as “stenography” for Col. Bumgarner.

    Horton’s story also accuses the Obama administration of allowing the Justice Department to conduct an investigation of these deaths which was nothing more than a continuation of the cover-up that started under George Bush.

    He writes that the chief investigator in the case, Teresa McHenry, “has firsthand knowledge of the Justice Department’s role in auditing such techniques, having served at the Justice Department under Bush and having participated in the preparation of at least one of those memos” which authorized the torture conducted at Guantanamo and elsewhere.  McHenry refused to discuss her role in the preparation of that memo with Horton.

    Tune in to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown tonight on MSNBC, where Horton is expected to produce new evidence casting doubt on Col. Bumgarner’s credibility.

Sinners: David Carr and Tim Arango, who wrote a worshipful, 1,943 word profile
 of fox News Chief Roger Ailes
for the front page of The New York Times–which included exactly one paragraph of balance:

         “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to,” said Matthew Freud, who is married to Ms. Murdoch and whom PR Week magazine says is the most influential public relations executive in London.”

    The other 1,878 words were favorable–because Fox is supposedly the most profitable division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  And why would anyone bother to mention that those profits come from constantly stirring up the dumbest 1 percent of the American TV audience with lies, hatred, and the never-ending tears of Glenn Beck?  The sad truth is, readers of The New York Times almost never learn the truth about Fox or Beck or the rest of the serial prevaricators on that network.  For that information, you have to be a regular viewer of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report.

Sinner: Lloyd Grove, for his appalling review of a new biography of Molly Ivins in The New York Times Book Review–one of the worst FCP has ever read.  Who was the genius editor who decided that a failed gossip columnist like Grove would be the best person to evaluate the life of one of the most important progressive journalists of the 20th century?  According to Grove,  “Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life isn’t convincing as the biography of a significant figure in journalism”, mostly because “Ivins never wrote the big, important book about Texas that she’d always wanted to.”

The fact that she was one of the great newspaper columnists of her era, who was right about Iraq, George Bush and oh-so-much else when the geniuses in the Washington press corps were getting it all wrong, well, Grove (an alumnus of that fabulous group) doesn’t mention that.  To understand who Ivins really was, read Paul Krugman’s great column about her or FCP’s own tribute.   Or CJR’s excellent review of the book here.

Winner: The indispensable Hendrik Hertzberg, for his laugh-out-loud review  in this week’s New Yorker of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s new book–the first account of the 2008 campaign to be “told in the style of an airport potboiler.”  Says Hertzberg:

      Game Change is a bit like those tabloid photo features in which celebrities are caught with their cellulite showing. What do we learn from it, apart from the news that the thighs of the famous may be lumpier than they look onscreen? One lesson is that the eagerness of political operatives to trash tends to be inversely proportional to the power, present and future, of the trashee.

Winner: Tony Judt, for one of the most important pieces of 2009: What is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy, published last month in The New York Review of Books. His 6,600 word article is a devastating account of the sharp decline of the Western World over the last three decades–and essential reading for anyone disturbed by the perilous condition of American democracy.  For this, it was also the winner of the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award for December.
                                                                         -30-

The Tower of Dubai

Above the Fold

 Dubai–When the world’s tallest tower was inaugurated last week, the lavish ceremony began with bag pipes and seven precision parachutists, each one jumping from the top of the 2,717 foot tower into the same small spot just in front of the VIP area, which was populated by hundreds of local residents in turbans and flowing white robes, and an equal number of business-casual-attired Westerners.

    What bridged the cultural divide between the suited and the robed?  Everyone from Judy Miller–yes, that Judy Miller–to the Sheikh of Dubai was texting, almost all the time.

   The new building, nearly twice the height of the Empire State, features the world’s
highest swimming pool, (76th floor), the highest observation deck, (124th floor) and the highest–and probably smallest–mosque (158th floor).  It’s a mix of offices and apartments, with an Armani Hotel at the base (the designer’s first).  Some days the temperature is 15 degrees warmer at the base than it is at the top.   When the building went on the market two years ago, it sold out within two days, although Dubai now has a glut of office and residential space all over the city.

   The big news of the inaugural evening was the building’s exact height (a state secret until then) and the name change announced by  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

   What had been known during construction as the Burj Dubai had suddenly become the Burj Khalifa, in honor of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, and the head of oil-rich emirate Abu Dhabi, which so far has provided $25 billion to prop up its over-extended neighbor.   “Abu Dhabi has the oil, Dubai has the chutzpah,” a local expat explained.

    That meant the $1.5 billion glass and steel structure designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill had  set another record–the highest naming fee for any structure in the history of the planet.

    After the bag pipes, the parachutists, and the Sheik’s speech, the tower exploded from top to bottom in a spectacular fireworks display, echoed in the moat in front of it by the world’s largest fountain, whose geysers pulsated and swayed in time to an Arabic Ode to Joy.

    Drowning in bad publicity since last November, when the state-owned Dubai World group succumbed to the worldwide credit crunch and requested a six-month freeze on $26 billion of debt repayments, Dubai saw a chance to use the opening of the spectacular new structure to improve its image.

    “Brand Dubai” is a new government office headed by Mona Al Marri, a dazzlingly attractive former journalist who was previously president of the Dubai Press Club.  Created five months before the crash to coordinate all media affairs, Brand Dubai invited three dozen journalists and architects from around the world to a conference on sustainable architecture, which was thrown together just three weeks before the inaugural ceremony for the stunning new Burj (“tower” in Arabic.)    New York’s Cooper Union was recruited to be the co-sponsor of the all-expenses paid junket, to which FCP was invited.

    Besides Judy Miller, conference members included Marie Brenner of Vanity Fair, and Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker, as well as former Clinton White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis, who carried a personal message of congratulations from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Also present was the architect of the 38-story monstrosity at Broadway and 99th Street, which is twice as tall as its neighbors, and could well be the worst building erected in Manhattan in the last forty years.  Its violation of the scale of the neighborhood was so severe, it inspired a change in the zoning law to prevent any future imitators.  

    That architect’s presence was appropriate, because Dubai is one over-the-top skyscraper after another.   Oddly, the only one which seems understated is the world’s tallest, because its elegant, set-back  design makes it fit perfectly on top of its gigantic base. 

   The city has exploded from a sleepy port just thirty years ago into a center of tourism, commerce and American-style consumerism, featuring 12-lane highways and a brand new (mostly above ground) Metro with wi-fi.   It boasts twenty-eight shopping malls (including the world’s largest, with a gigantic aquarium with sharks and barracudas) and a panoply of man-made islands. Streets filled with hundreds of Mercedes, Bentleys and Rolls Royces, and the presence of Tiffany’s, Cartier, Bloomingdales, Galeries Lafayette, and just about every other major Western brand you can imagine, combine to give the desert city something of the feel of a crowded East Hampton on a July afternoon.

    It’s a strange mix of ultra-modernism, and medieval instincts, the latter leading to zero tolerance for gays and drugs, and the periodic seizure of foreign newspapers, whenever they get a little too harsh towards one of the sheiks. Two years ago a Canadian changing planes at the Dubai airport was caught with .6 of a gram of hash and two poppy bulbs.  The fact that he had been working as a consultant for the U.S. State Department’s Afghan poppy elimination program did not prevent him from receiving a four-year prison sentence.

    There is one under-the-radar gay bar, but half of its patrons are apparently undercover policemen.

    It’s also a place where the “properties” section of the Gulf News features ads for villas, hard by another one offering “Labor Camp For Rent–183 rooms, generator provided; water + electricity extra.”   The labor camps are for the foreign workers who do virtually all of the construction, and are kicked out of the country as soon as their jobs are over.   Last year, 27,550 were arrested for over-staying their welcome.  In 2007, the US State Department estimated that less than 20 percent of the UAE’s population of 4.4 million are citizens–and 93 percent of its workforce is foreign.

    The big question is whether the Burj Khalifa will mark the end of Dubai’s glory days or the beginning of its resurrection after the financial bust.  The betting here is that the oil money of its neighboring emirate and the undaunted ambitions of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed will gradually lead to the city’s financial revival.  But the plan for a massive new seawater canal through the center of the city to create waterside properties in the desert hinterland is probably on hold– forever.
   
                                                                      -30-

 

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