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Monday, May 30, 2005

Let's Go- Moving to: http://billsrants.typepad.com/ 

It’s time to pack up and move.

C’mon. Let’s go. CLICK HERE and let’s get on with it.

Blogger has become too clunky and undependable and we’ve built it again over at http://billsrants.typepad.com/

So let’s go, skedaddle, move it, nothing to see here, keep it mov’in folks.

Come back for the Archives and to re-live the good old days, but pleeze change your Links to the Big Diamond (or create them if, for shame, you haven’t linked yet), change your browser bookmarks, and let’s go.

LET"S GO! See you there!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Training Tomorrow's Terrorists... 

Y’know, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t just a distraction from fighting Al Queda. It actually has helped the other side, in ways that even the Administration now has to come to grips with. In today’s Washington Post, Susan Glasser reports on internal WH discussions about the ‘next steps’ in the Global War on Terrorism (or ‘All War, All the Time’ for short). The talks among the White House Terroristas are described in the following way:

“Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"”

So much for, “I’d rather fight them in Iraq than here in the US,” line that the 2004 pre-election Bush-Cheney team beat up on Senator Kerry with. There seems to be an admission inside the Administration that the war has only helped train jihadis and amp up their volatility. As the Washington Post’s Dana Priest said recently, “I do not think that invading Iraq made the U.S. any safer against terrorism…The war in Iraq diverted U.S.' military and intel resources--and political attention--away from Afghanistan and bin Laden and it has created a huge reservoir of hatred (which was predictable, frankly) against the United States, fueling recruitment of tomorrow's terrorists.”

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Iraqi-ization...Shades of Vietnamization 

The ‘Iraqi-ization’ of the war there is not going so well.

I suppose this is an understatement of monumental proportions, but again we have examples this week of how poorly it goes. A massive attempt to lock down Baghdad is the latest technique that will be employed to quell the raging guerrilla battle there. This effort will be spearheaded by the Iraqi forces, who are often called the “dogs of the Americans” by ordinary Iraqis, not just by the opposition.

Dahr Jamail, an Arab-American journalist, writes yesterday about the Iraqi Defense force, quoting first a doctor he’s friendly with in Baghdad:

“…they (the defense forces) now practice a kind of state
sponsored terrorism.”

He went on to give an example of their not-so-straight behavior…

“Eyewitnesses in Al-Saydia area to the south of Baghdad told me that recently when a car bomb detonated and destroyed the area nearby, people were astonished to see the so-called police looting a destroyed mobile phone store that was nearby! The police now are a bunch of thieves. Many of then are already criminals who were released from Abu Ghraib prison before the war.”

Jamail goes on to note:

“When I was in Baghdad in January, I was shot at by Iraqi Police on two different occasions simply because our car drove too close to them.”

These are the guys who are supposed to get our troops out by taking over and winning the respect of the people? We’re in serious trouble.

Take This Tour 

As someone who spends way too much time with earbuds plugged into my head, listening to NPR or Al Franken podcasts (when Air America gets around to them), or downloading snippets of Brian Lehrer’s interviews with political bloggers, or Leonard Lopate talking with Liz Swados about depression and her plays, I relate to these art lovers, as told in this article by Randy Kennedy in the Times.

John Conyers' Letter to the President 

Here's something you can do for your country on this Memorial Day Weekend.

Rep. John Conyers site has a letter on the Downing Street Memo that is being sent to President Bush. Thanks to Somegirl at the All Spin Zone for the heads up. Read it and if you think the questions he poses about rigged Iraq intelligence need to be answered, sign on.

Here’s the text:

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. President:

We the undersigned write to you because of our concern regarding recent disclosures of a “Downing Street Memo” in the London Times, comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers. These minutes indicate that the United States and Great Britain agreed to by the summer of 2002 to attack Iraq, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action, and that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war.

Among other things, the British government document quotes a high-ranking British official as stating that by July, 2002, “Bush had made up his mind to take military action.” Yet, a month later, the you stated you were still willing to “look at all options” and that there was “no timetable” for war. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, flatly stated that “[t]he president has made no such determination that we should go to war with Iraq.”

In addition, the origins of the false contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction remains a serious and lingering question about the lead up to the war. There is an ongoing debate about whether this was the result of a “massive intelligence failure,” in other words a mistake, or the result of intentional and deliberate manipulation of intelligence to justify the case for war. The memo appears to resolve that debate as well, quoting the head of British intelligence as indicating that in the United States “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

As a result of these concerns, we would ask that you respond to the following questions:
1) Do you or anyone in your administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?
2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization to go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain’’s commitment to invade prior to this time?
3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?
4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?
5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to “fix” the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

These are the same questions 89 Members of Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., submitted to you on May 5, 2005. As citizens and taxpayers, we believe it is imperative that our people be able to trust our government and our commander in chief when you make representations and statements regarding our nation engaging in war. As a result, we would ask that you publicly respond to these questions as promptly as possible.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Go Now to Sign

Friday, May 27, 2005

Why Not Tom? 

What do the following companies have in common?

Philip Morris USA
Bacardi USA
Sears Roebuck and Co.
AT&T Corp.

Yes, they are all national and international in scope.

Yes, they do all rely on the federal government to do business, in terms of regulatory and legislative policies.

No, they wouldn’t appear to have a substantial interest in the Texas legislature, being as big as they are.

And yes, they all made illegal contributions to US House Speaker Tom DeLay’s home state committee— ‘Texans for a Republican Majority’ PAC.

So why is TRPAC's Treasurer, Bill Ceverha, taking the fall when the trail leads back to Washington?

Why not its director, John Colyandro, a veteran of White House political adviser Karl Rove's direct-mail firm?

Why not Jim Ellis, who runs DeLay's federal political action committee and was a decision maker at the PAC?

Why not its chief corporate fundraiser, Warren RoBold, who performed the same function for DeLay's federal PAC?

Why not Tom DeLay?

DeLay, asked by a reporter for CNN if the ruling had implications for him, responded: "Not for me. I'm not part of it."

Some say why.

I say, why not?

More DeLay Cash Ruled Slush 

Thanks to Greg Stroud, the DeLaywatch has an update:

Texas State District Judge Joe Hart ruled yesterday against Tom DeLay’s committee treasurer in the lawsuit filed there by five Democratic candidates. The court held that Texans for a Republican Majority, DeLay’s PAC dedicated to ousting state Democrats, illegally accepted $600,000 in corporate political donations, a practice banned by Texas law. The Democrats, who were successfully ousted with the committee’s help in 2002, received $196,660 in damages.

I’m just wondering, why would the damages be less than the illegal donations?

Another Breath for Bolton Opposition 

The Bolton debate will now go on until at least June 7th, giving the Senate some additional time to consider whether he’s qualified to represent the United States at the UN. Even though Mr. Bolton appears to detest the United Nations, President Bush is determined to back him to the hilt. While the UN appointment is a fallback position for Bolton, who was rejected by two Cabinet members for secondary roles at both the State Department and Defense, Bush seems to be using the same line he’s used with all appointees but the philandering Bernie Kerik—standing by his man. Maybe some additional exposure and time in the limelight will bring the White House to its senses.

Democrats continued to support debate, forcing the issue this evening, with 40 of their 44 members in support, backed by Independent Jim Jeffords and oddly accompanied, for parliamentary reasons, by Majority Leader Bill Frist, who can therefore force a later vote for cloture by posing with the minority.

While the Democratic minority describes the cloture vote as distinct from their filibuster attempts over judicial nominees, it promises more debate over Bolton’s frosty management style and contempt for the world body he would serve. Moreover, in the wake of the Downing Street Memo, Bolton’s willingness to distort intelligence data in order to support the Iraq invasion makes him a legitimate target of continued investigation. Any new revelation regarding his role in the run-up to war will become fodder for the post-holiday debate.

There’s at least some hope that Bolton’s nomination will self-destruct before he’s installed in the General Assembly, pounding his shoe on the table and shouting at everyone.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Amnesty International Report 2005 

The annual Amnesty International Report on the state of human rights across the world is out. Unfortunately, the United States features prominently in it as an abuser rather than as a human rights advocate.

The report says the following in its overview on the Americas:

“The US-led “war on terror” continued to undermine human rights in the name of security, despite growing international outrage at evidence of US war crimes, including torture, against detainees…”

and:

“The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to “disappearance”.”

The US is also described as a significant abuser of domestic prisoners through the arbitrary application of the death penalty.

Remember when we were using the Amnesty International reports to highlight problems abroad, rather than attempting to discredit AI's findings?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

One Senator's Reservations 

“…I feel compelled to share my deep concerns with the nomination of John Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations. I strongly feel that the importance of this nomination to our foreign policy requires us to set aside our partisan agenda and let our consciences and our shared commitment to our nation’s best interests guide us.”

—George V. Voinovich (R)
United States Senate

Segregation in the Present Tense 

At the Policy Link Advancing Regional Equity Conference in Philadephia, Sheryll Cashin, former law clerk to Thurgood Marshall and a Clinton advisor on urban policy, spoke about the failure of integration to take hold in contemporary America. Cashin posited that residential segregation is still a huge obstacle to a truly integrated society. She noted that the costs of segregated housing patterns are distributed to all segments of America, not just to those excluded by the informal apartied.

An excerpt from Cashin’s book expresses her point:

(upper-middle class white suburban segregation)…”like the black ghetto, represents an extreme of American separatism. It also represents the mythic American dream. But there is another dimension to the dream that is America: the shibboleth of all boats rising. Everyone who works hard and plays by the rules is supposed to be able to get ahead in this land of opportunity. American mythology has a powerful hold on us in part because there are real-life rags-to-riches stories. Those who are celebrated in American popular culture mirror this possibility for the masses. Likewise, our separate neighborhoods offer up the promise that one day, we too might be able to trade up to an ideal we wish for, even if we can't live with that ideal today. But this separated system comes with serious costs. The costs of separatism to whites are enormous, yet they are the ones who are likely to be least conscious of separatism's insidious effects. Currently, whites are also the segment of the population that is most apt to live a separated existence. Without an altered consciousness on the part of many more whites, I fear, our nation will never be able to transcend the separate an unequal society we have created.”
***
Also at the conference, the documentary, “Race: The Power of an Illusion” (Episode 3, “The House We Live In”) ties residential segregation and the soaring value of segregated homes to the huge descrepancy between the net worth of black and white families in America today. In the film, a pair of quotes make the point:

“In 1966, the Frisbys moved from Queens to suburban Roosevelt, only a few miles from Levittown. Like the Frisbys, many non-white families would discover the economic value of race in the real estate market. They watched as their homes and neighborhoods in suburbia declined precisely because they had moved into them…”

Sociologist Dalton Conley : “Today, the average Black family has only one-eighth the net worth or assets of the average white family. That difference has seemingly grown since the 1960's, since the Civil Rights triumphs. And is not explained by other factors (than housing), like education, earnings rates, savings rates. It is really the legacy of racial inequality from generations past. No other measure captures the legacy, the sort of cumulative disadvantage of race, or cumulative advantage of race for whites, than net worth or wealth.”

The pernicious effects of segregated housing can be seen in so many areas of American life, yet the problem is largely ignored in our political life. The Policy Link Conference is a breath of fresh air in addressing this elephant in our kitchen.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Fool Me Twice? 

By now, it should be clear to anyone watching the Bush Administration that the when the White House starts firing over the bow of the working press— in fact, singling out a particular foe in the press, it's indicative of one sure thing. There’s something big to hide. Creating a major distraction is of the essence.

This week’s episode of Three Card Monte is no exception. Remember when the Boston Globe blew the National Guard story open? No, probably not, since when it happened, during the height of the national election campaign, the Administration promptly launched a struggle to the death with, no, not the Boston Globe, but with Dan Rather and the 60 Minutes production team for the use of a dubious memo in a story with the same angle, effectively shutting down discussion about the actual subject— er, the President’s National Guard service (or lack of it).

We’re presently faced with a similar bombshell in the form of the Downing Street Memo. It nails the Administration for ‘fixing’ intelligence to a preordained policy of invading Iraq—in July of 2002! Wow. Incredible. Weren’t we still debating whether to go to war even in February of 2003, still checking under Saddam’s hood for WMD? Or was that all for show?

But wait, let’s not discuss this. There’s a story that the White House is really, really worked up over just now. It’s about whether some soldiers in Guantanamo flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet. People DIED over this!

No, Scott McClellan can’t even take time to read the Downing Street Memo. So what if it was written by the head of British Intelligence. No reason to either confirm or deny it directly. No matter about the probably 100,000 people's lives or the 170 billion US dollars spent in Iraq. No, some fundamentalists killed fifteen people in, well, somewhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it’s all because of a Newsweek reporter!

Wake up everyone. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…?

Downtown Marshall Plan 

It’s interesting to see the relationship discussed here on Thursday being drawn between the West Side stadium development and Downtown revitalization echoed in comments by Assembly Speaker Silver yesterday. Silver’s comments to a meeting of the Association for a Better New York called for a Marshall Plan for Downtown, at the expense of the stadium plan.

The Tightening Circle Around Iraq Intelligence Deception..and a program note 

I must digress for a moment before discussing a recent Juan Cole article to make a policy statement for the Big Diamond. Until now, I’ve refrained from linking to paid subscriber sources, hoping that this would help readers get information on the web from free sources. I’m afraid that this policy has become pretty hard to stick to, given the economics of the web. In the future, I’ll try to quote enough of the gist of any paid subscriber links to keep readers from getting lost without them, but I think I’d be leaving out too much of the web world if I don’t link to any pay-to-read sources.

The announcement that the New York Times will be going to a paid subscriber model soon was the kicker for me. I’ve subscribed to Salon.com and to the Wall Street Journal site for a while now and they’re both great, but I could live without them. Salon in particular has been fascinating and the Journal kept me up on business perspectives I might otherwise ignore at my peril. I haven’t linked to stories on these sites from the Big Diamond, however, because readers need a break from the paid media in the blogosphere. But how can a New Yorker (or anyone who reads good journalism) leave the Times out of blog posts about the city and the country? I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the Washington Post and others follow suit; it’s unfortunate to see how much of our information has become ‘pay-to-read.’

Alas, while I spend all my available cash on news, I’ll have to bow to reality and include some links to these sources; readers can decide on whether to click on them. I’ll try not to make them the main staples here. Nonetheless, everyone who writes or photographs or shoots video for a living has had the experience of realizing that the dead tree and location-specific versions of our work are becoming scarcer. If writers are to make a living, most have to include a web model as well. I guess the Times is looking at the same picture in a corporate way and realizing that they’ve got to make the web pay, since the printed version isn’t growing anymore.

So, with apologies, let’s move on to Juan Cole…

***
Professor Cole's excellent Salon article on the Downing Street Memo ties together several threads that have been part of the Bush Administration’s Iraq scheming, clear to many of us, but apparently still murky to the mainstream US press, even now. The coincidental happenings around the Newsweek story about the Koran seem to have drowned it out, along with some important questions surrounding one bug-eyed girl’s cold feet on her wedding eve.

The Downing Street memo, as we’ve mentioned here, is the latest smoking gun to show how the Bushies planned for war even before 9/11. The Brits, the memo shows, realized this and planned for it, as early as July of 2002. Cole points out that probably Blair had been painfully aware even in the direct aftermath of September 11 that Saddam was above Bin Laden on the hit list. Remembering the September 11-15, 2001 accounts of insiders Paul O’Neill and Richard Clarke, Cole postulates that Blair had to convince Bush to focus on Afghanistan and Al Queda first, in return for his later support for a war on Saddam. With London no doubt on Bin Laden’s short list of targets, the Brits felt they needed to convince Bush to focus on the real threat first, even if it came at the expense of hyping Saddam later.

Cole recounts stories from other sources like Arab-American journalist Osama Siblani, who cite Bush’s explicit promises early in the 2000 primary campaign to Arab-American Republicans that his Administration would take out Saddam. This, Cole notes, occurred well before Bush was privy to any intelligence briefings. On the televised hustings, this promise was never repeated to the mainstream American press, since Bush was cast as the humble candidate who wouldn’t follow in Clinton’s interventionist ways.

Later, during the Afghan military campaign following September 11, Bush was already savoring the Oedipal next step he’d been awaiting since his father’s Administration:

“On Nov. 27 Howard Fineman of Newsweek reported a conversation with Bush aboard Air Force One in the wake of the successful Afghanistan campaign. "He wants to avoid the more profound mistakes his dad made.... his failure, at the end of the Gulf War, to stop -- once and for all -- Saddam Hussein in Iraq from threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction."

While none of this is particularly new, the proof of the deception begins to become undeniable with the Downing Street Memo. As should be clear from tightening the various loose ends around the intelligence, it’s time for some serious, hard questions to be asked and answered. They center on when Bush planned the war, why the intelligence was ‘fixed,’ and what information was kept from the American public in an effort to sell the war to the press and the people.

Despite his unwillingness to engage, Scott McClellan should be asked to take his time, read the Downing Street Memo, speak with his superiors at the White House, and start providing detailed answers to honest questions.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Tale of Two Boondogles 

Our politicians need to get together and decide which endangered development enterprise has priority in Manhattan. Will it be Downtown, the redesigned (or de-designed) Freedom Tower, which seems destined to be occupied only by New York State and Port Authority workers when finally built, since practically no one else seems likely to move in? Or perhaps the Barons or New York will want to put the full weight of their development muscle behind the fabulous Jet’s stadium on the West Side, where paralyzing Midtown traffic, while draining the Metropolitan Transit system of hundreds of millions in cash to give the property to a football team that seats only the wealthiest (see Bob Herbert) ticket holders is on tap?

The cinch is they can’t do both without killing one project’s chances at the expense of the other. Mayor Bloomberg seems to have all his chips on the table for the stadium, in the hopes that NYC will attract the Olympics by having a stadium in Midtown. Governor Pataki has dispatched his chief of staff to see that the Freedom Tower is thrown up, whatever the consequences. But no one seems ready to discuss the insane competition between the two for funding and infrastructure support that has been set up by this dynamic.

It's clear that the two development schemes are in trouble and that both of their cornerstone edifices are probably more trouble than they’re worth. But both together are completely insane for New York. Isn’t it time we started asking our leaders to choose between their sandcastles?

At least the plans for downtown have been developed in a pseudo-open process and address the gaping hole that September 11th left in our city. The plans for the West Side seem more motivated by needing a larger scheme that will satisfy the main goal of having a glistening stadium that the Mayor can call his own. While not a fan of the redesigned Freedom Tower, I can at least get behind the rest of the plan to build a memorial, a museum , and an arts center, along with accompanying office space and housing that will make Downtown whole again, not to mention bringing improved subway and rail transit back.

What will happen to the push for attracting tenants and services to the Ground Zero area when the West Side Stadium plan begins to siphon off more and more development money? What will happen to subway rehabilitation and metropolitan rail work when demands for a subway extension to the Stadium in time for the hypothetical 2012 Olympics ramp up (while the West Side sale gives the MTA only a bargain basement price for their land there)? What will give? How much of what has to give will come out the pockets of New Yorkers who will benefit the least?

As for developing the West 40’s, wouldn’t it make sense to let that area remain open for discussion long enough to entertain plans other than a stadium and to get something approaching the value of the property currently owned by the MTA there in return for letting it go? Can no one think of concepts that could benefit the whole city more than putting a sports arena there? Surely an open competition would generate some options to choose from.

But hey, I’m not running for office, so probably I’m missing the big picture. No doubt I’m missing out on some major contributions as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A War Unseen 

What’s the value of a picture? If it’s a picture of war, the value is staggering. The main reason the Vietnam conflict became a millstone around the neck of successive American administrations probably wasn’t that it was so pointlessly misbegotten. It was more likely our most unpopular war because it was easy to see how misbegotten and brutal the war was. Every night.

Sydney Schanberg writes in the Village Voice this week about the way this administration has succeeded in keeping the reality of the conflict in Iraq out of our homes. Yes, the embedded reporters showed the rapid progress of the military into Baghdad and the fall of Saddam’s government (and statue). But the pictures of the now routine daily carnage of the occupation have largely stayed off the front pages of our newspapers and the screens of our televisions.

There’s been pressure to keep reporters inside the military’s perspective of the war and away from the faces of the dead. Even for the pictures that are out there, opportunities to see the true ravages of the war are slim in the American press overall. Early on in 2003, the alarm over whether a picture might be aired in advance of a military casualty notification served to begin a process that kept the focus on the legitimacy of showing the consequences of the conflict, rather than on why the public has been shielded from it.

In a column that includes some of David Leeson's Pulitzer Prize winning (but not widely seen) photographs from Iraq, Schanberg asks:

“If we believe that the present war in Iraq is just and necessary, why do we shrink from looking at the damage it wreaks? Why does the government that ordered the war and hails it as an instrument of good then ask us to respect those who died in the cause by not describing and depicting how they died? And why, in response, have newspapers gone along with Washington and grown timid about showing photos of the killing and maiming? What kind of honor does this bestow on those who are sent to fight in the nation's name?”

It's a question we all ought to be asking.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Indie Media 

New Independent Media. Yes, that’s what they’re calling the movement to take small media to the people. I keep hearing great things about the conference sponsored by Free Press on media reform and I’m excited to know that people are gelling around the idea of promoting and collaborating to support indie media, but I’m also concerned that we may be conceding too much of the good old media to multinational corporations and to the right.

One thing strikes me as problematic in the new media excitement and perhaps in the progressive movement generally. I keep hearing the descriptions of projects revolving around terms like “unfunded.” One description in a generally exciting synopsis of the Free Press confab in St. Louis by Peter Rothberg on the Nation site today describes a new progressive TV news network in the following way:

“Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising.”

A progressive network is a great thing; don’t get me wrong. I’m glad people are doing this. Hey, I’m an unfunded blogger. But I’m concerned that in the effort to go around the big media, there’s a basic verity being missed, “Them that has, have the tools to communicate to the most.”

I hope in the effort to put together new independent media, we keep asking the question, “How can we make this self-sustaining?”

Air America, for example, is not commercial-free, but it operates (so far) on the assumption that there is an audience for progressive points of view on the radio airwaves. The bigger blogs are sustained by Blogads, which also help sell other media products to audiences of like mind. The think tanks, which sustain policy wonks, have worked on funding channels to stay alive.

The entrepreneurial thinking of funded progressives may sometimes be culturally incongruous-looking in the indie media movement, but if indie media is to succeed, we need more of it. The Right has made a long-term commitment to tithing cash out of sympathizers in industries, conservative families, direct mail supporters from the middle-class, and for their efforts, they’ve built a movement that threatens to set back American politics back into the dark ages.

Hopefully, progressives can exercise some of the same kind of long-term strategic thinking to bring us forward into the light.

The Right’s campaign to take the media over hasn’t been an overnight success and it may ultimately backfire. But the role of working from their funding channels, training new entrepreneurs to run their own media and political shops, supporting each other through cross-selling their intellectual capital, and the like is undeniably clear in the success they’re having.

All this is simply to say that I hope progressives don’t forget the work that needs to be done to sustain indie media over the long haul. All hail indie media! Let’s keep thinking about innovations that support more of it.

Right Turn on the Air 

The state of our public airwaves is beginning to get more attention, some of it from the targets of attacks on its liberty to operate free of government interference. Bill Moyers spoke out yesterday in St. Louis about the CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson’s secret snooping, badmouthing, and political labeling of his “NOW with Bill Moyers” guests and their political inclinations:

“The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets," he explained. "That's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

Meanwhile, big media consolidation is back in the FCC’s future if the new chair on that board is one of its boosters. Robert McChesney, John Nichols, and Ben Scott, writing for the Nation Magazine, noted that the frontrunner to succeed Michael Powell is a longtime shill for even bigger media, if not exactly a political or policy powerhouse:

“…something of a bandwagon for the appointment of Becky Klein--a former head of the Texas Public Utility Commission--with whom the industry has already developed a cozy relationship. When Klein challenged Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett last year, the Austin Chronicle described her as "a horrible candidate" who appeared to be less serious about winning a House seat than "auditioning for her next GOP patronage job." Despite that fact, Klein collected more than $800,000 in campaign contributions, with a substantial portion coming from telecommunications and energy companies--more, in fact, from those industries than any other first-time GOP candidate in the country. Klein earned just 31 percent of the vote, but as Gene Kimmelman, a senior director of Consumers Union, explained, "Clearly, the companies are investing in the future."

Those of us who care about maintaining an independent media need to keep track of the multi-pronged assault that is underway against smaller and more independent voices on the public airways. If not, we might wake up too late, only to find that the only voices heard by most Americans on free media are bankrolled by the far right or by corporate multinationals.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Covering for Predators, Good...Discussing Theology, Bad 

We’ve referred recently to the chill coming over Catholicism's more progressive intellectuals with the ascent of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy. One of the Cardinal’s last moves prior to his election was the subject of serious concern.

Fr. Tom Reese’s dismissal as editor of America Magazine came in for a pointed response from Tom Roberts, Editor-in-Chief of the National Catholic Reporter on NPR’s On the Media.

Roberts’ comparison of Reese’s punishment for promoting free discussion of serious church issues, as paired with former Boston Archbishop Cardinal Law’s quiet kick upstairs to Rome for presiding over the biggest sex abuse scandal in the Church, was the coup de grace.

The interview is worth a listen— at the link above. “Order from on High— May 13, 2005 broadcast.

Censor's Chill Spreads to NPR 

The Republican effort to censor public broadcast media continues. Stephen Labaton reports today in the New York Times on CPB chief Tomlinson’s efforts to fight ‘bias’ at NPR. Tomlinson has his minions counting stories with what he considers a ‘pro-Arab’ slant on Middle East coverage by NPR.

If anyone was wondering if his position with US government-run media was really a conflict with his position overseeing public broadcasting, look no further. The same story reports:

“Besides his role at the corporation, Mr. Tomlinson heads the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which supervises most United States government broadcasts overseas, including those of the Voice of America. He has continued the policy of his predecessors on that board of blocking NPR from putting its programs on a Berlin station that the German government gave to the United States in the early 1990's after reunification. NPR, which has a significant presence overseas, has long sought to enter Berlin, the largest radio market in Western Europe.”

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Static at CPB 

CJR Daily and Paul McLeary in particular have covered the recent coup at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with insightful detail. Kenneth Tomlinson, the former Readers Digest executive and longtime Republican Party propaganda expert at VOA, is now the Chairman of CPB. His censoring habits as the head of another board are now coming in for scrutiny.

In his latest piece on Tomlinson and CPB, McLeary writes:

“…it's curious that little of the coverage has mentioned that he is also the chairman of the influential Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all non-military U.S. international broadcasting. The BBG, which shares $1 billion in federal funding with the State Department, controls the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Marti, and the Middle East Television Network (MTN). While reporters who work for VOA and the other government-funded networks have long asserted that they are producing journalism, as opposed to government propaganda, given Tomlinson's performance at CPB, one wonders about the wisdom of putting him in a position to oversee both pro-government foreign broadcasting and non-partisan domestic broadcasting. While the two are certainly separate, this smells of a conflict of interest that might warrant some more press coverage…”

Let’s hope it does.

If the Brits Knew, Why Didn't Most Americans? 

The Washington Post has finally picked up a story from across the pond that shows British Foreign Intelligence briefed PM Tony Blair in July 2002 that the Bush Administration had already decided to go to war with Iraq. Blair would have to decide whether to get on board or break with his American counterparts in the aftermath of September 11.

"The case was thin," summarized the notes taken by a British national security aide at the meeting. "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

The notes were first disclosed last week by the Sunday Times of London, triggering criticism of Blair on the eve of the May 5 British parliamentary elections…”

***
Blair’s Labour Party came out of the recent elections with a government greatly weakened by his lack of candor over Iraq, which most Britons oppose him on.


“The notes of the Blair meeting...disclose for the first time that Britain's intelligence boss believed that Bush had decided to go to war in mid-2002, and that he believed U.S. policymakers were trying to use the limited intelligence they had to make the Iraqi leader appear to be a bigger threat than was supported by known facts.”


****
Readers should thank Juan Cole for following the migration of this story from the Times of London to Knight-Ridder and finally to the Post. Once again, the British know more about what our government is doing than we do.

UPDATE: 'Meet the Press' has taken up the question this morning as well, with the BBC's Katty Kay bringing up the subject of the intel report in response to Russert cheerleading that Blair and Bush have put all this faf about Iraq to rest. Kay mentioned that the "one question" in Britain now is when Blair will step aside for Gordon Brown.

MORE UPDATE: For the entire text of the Downing Street Memo, click on the link.

Link via Richard Cranium.

STILL MORE UPDATE: Paul Krugman writes in Monday'sTimes about the Downing Street memo. It's on.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Molly Bingham's Iraq 

Richard Cranium writes in the All Spin Zone about photojournalist Molly Bingham, who’s brilliant photos take us into places many reporters would rather avoid.

She’s covered the war in Iraq with courage and a willingness to find the real story. Both Richard's post about reportage from Iraq and Bingham’s writing and photos about the war deserve a closer look.

The Freedom Tower 

Ron Rosenbaum writes this week in the New York Observer about the moment New Yorkers have to reassess the proposed Freedom Tower. Security concerns have stopped current design plans and Rosenbaum thinks this is the last moment when the project itself could be scrapped. Rosenbaum points out that the proposed office tower has seemingly supplanted the memorial as tribute to the WTC buildings themselves, as opposed to a tribute to the dead.

Personally, I’m not sure what I think about the Freedom Tower anymore. The tower’s architect moved us when he discussed the ideas he based his design on. Daniel Liebeskind’s thoughts, honoring the US Constitution and the personal freedoms the United States enshrines in the document, seemed to be prodding us to live up to our promise with the building he designed. The original Freedom Tower design itself was inspiring; it looked wounded, but proud.

On the other hand, lofty statements are small comfort to the families of future casualties of an attractive target, who might suffer for having a loved one working in a building that sends the defiant statement that, “We can rebuild, taller, whatever you blow up.” The idealism of Liebeskind’s original design was since changed to be more accommodating to the developer and his priority; including more office space. It seems now as much a tribute to the business of business as to those who perished. Should it go up and will wise people want to work in it? I don’t know. I moved my business downtown after September 11 and I think about whether it was wise, but I'm not leaving because of those doubts.

On the other hand, in New York, we have a target on our back anyway, so something should happen soon down at Ground Zero and it ought to both honor the dead and begin to put downtown back together. The memorial, at least, should go ahead rapidly. The transit center needs to go ahead, the faster, the better. The void left by keeping a huge hole in the ground does nothing for New Yorkers or for those who perished and their families. Perhaps something less grandiose than the tallest tower possible would be a better center for a community rebuilding itself at Manhattan's base. Whatever happens, it shouldn’t be about Governor Pataki's potential run for the Presidency or developer Silverstein's profit margin. We all have a huge stake in the future of Lower Manhattan.

UPDATE: If you were wondering whether there will be any reassessment of the Freedom Tower, wonder no longer.

John Cahill, Pataki’s chief aide and new Ground Zero Czar, made it clear on Sunday Edition with Marcia Kramer that he’s ramming the Freedom Tower forward essentially as is. Cahill said its construction is about “the whole nation.”

Conveniently, no one mentioned Cahill’s boss possibly running for President, with renderings of the Freedom Tower as a backdrop for his patriotic commercials. Nor were there any questions about what's in the best interests of building a 24/7 community downtown.

God's Cocker Spaniel? 

'God's Rottweiller' has appointed a cocker spaniel to succeed him at the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Out with the old boss in with the new boss. More opposition to gay rights, women's rights, and more sweeping abuse by priests under the carpet— now with an improved, more friendly appearance.

Why, exactly, does the Catholic Church need an office dedicated to being an enforcer of doctrine, no matter what level of smooth diplomacy a new hardliner might bring as a spin doctor?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Then and Now 

“…Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things.”

- from a 1954 letter President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to his brother Edgar

While we can assume that Ike would trim his sails to fit the current Republican tide, it is interesting to wonder how we got to a point in history from there when a President feels that much of what Eisenhower thought back then was so, er, antique…

In the same vein, Paul Krugman's column today is also very much then and now— with respect to the difference in today’s sense of responsibility (or lack thereof) of employers and government towards the working person vs. the America of yore.

“…a reminder of how far we have come from the days when hard-working Americans could count on a reasonable degree of economic security.

In 1968, when General Motors was a widely emulated icon of American business, many of its workers were lifetime employees. On average, they earned about $29,000 a year in today's dollars, a solidly middle-class income at the time. They also had generous health and retirement benefits.

Since then, America has grown much richer, but American workers have become far less secure.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.”

Welcome to the ownership society.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Don't Look— 

Apparently, in the Sudan, it’s a crime to photograph a crime.

There’s no Valentine waiting for anyone coming to the country to report on or photograph the genocide in Darfur, in the country’s south.


The Hartford Courant reports today that:

“A Hartford Courant photographer working on a free-lance assignment in Sudan has been released by government authorities after being held in the country since April 26.

Brad Clift, who had been photographing refugees in the war-torn region of Darfur, reached the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Tuesday and was expected to fly out of the country by mid-week. Clift had been detained in the Darfur town of Nyala awaiting charges that he was taking pictures in Darfur without the proper travel and photography permits.”


One hopes we’ll hear more from Brad Clift when he returns to the US. He was courageous to travel there. People in Darfur pray that he’ll keep the faith and speak out after his return to the US.

Maybe his government will be forced to listen.

A Firefighter Speaks Out 

Chief Peter Hayden of the Fire Department of New York did more to point out holes in New York’s (and the US’s) anti-terror efforts in one hearing this week than a lot of more high profile Homeland Security figures have in the last several years. For his efforts, he’ll probably become an isolated figure at the FDNY, or be forced out.

Hayden was the only person to openly question a new Disaster Plan adopted by the City of New York, one that puts the NYPD in charge of any hazardous materials situation (over the objections of the FDNY), whether a patrol officer or the Commissioner of Police is their representative on the scene.

Chief Hayden spoke out at a City Council hearing on the plan, pointing out a tendency that seems to be at the root of most anti-terror effort failures in this country. “Instead of seeking to control each other, agencies must learn how to work together to command these incidents,” Hayden said.

“There is a human behavior element here, where people don’t want to share information because information is viewed as power,” he said. “We see it at every level of government. The CIA does not tell the FBI. The FBI does not tell the NYPD. The NYPD does not tell the FDNY. This is human behavior.”

Hayden’s point strikes at the heart of what needs to happen in order to fight terror effectively. The effort shouldn’t be about creating yet more agencies and powers, as the Bush administration has done. It shouldn’t be about branding every regime we dislike as ‘evildoers’ and invading their countries, overextending our military in the process. It should be about sharing information in order to protect civilian lives and in order to find terror plots out before they happen.

The FBI knew, at a grassroots level, that there was an attempt to learn to fly airplanes without landing them, before September 11, 2001. The government knew there were Al Queda plotters in the US. The CIA knew Al Queda planned to attack the US domestically. The President was briefed on attack plans centered on lower Manhattan, among other places. What was lacking was an ability to share information already known.

Chief Hayden ought to be congratulated for stating the obvious, when so many are looking only to insulate their turf. For more about his testimony, go to 'Tug of War' with Bob Hennelly on the Brian Lehrer Show and to Michelle O'Donnell and Mike McIntyre at the Times.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Perfect Solution 

Paul Krugman’s latest is worth a read; it’s a good wrap-up of the insulting logic of Bush’s Social Security debacle so far, capped by the latest proposal:

“…to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.”

Sunday, May 08, 2005

On the Other Hand... 

After reading this at Paperwight's Fair Shot, I wonder if maybe I'm being a little too tough on the Pope.

'Good' Catholics Should Pray Quietly and Stay in Line? 

An office run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, known now as Pope Benedict XVI, recently showed his power to censor and shut down debate in March, just before the enforcer Cardinal went into campaign mode to succeed Pope John Paul II.

The voice he silenced was that of Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ. Reese used to be the editor of a publication called America, a journal of Catholic thinking published in New York. America is a moderate-to-liberal Catholic publication, one that touched issues that the more right wing Church hierarchy would rather leave alone. Recent America articles featured competing viewpoints on gay rights, dialogue with Islam, punishing legislators who advocate abortion rights, and other hot-button issues. America wouldn’t take a side on these issues, leaving it to readers to see the various arguments in the magazine and decide for themselves.

Apparently, leaving an open door to competing theories was too much for Cardinal Ratzinger and the censors at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an organization he headed. The Congregation, an office Ratzinger was appointed to by Pope John Paul as an enforcer of Church theological conservatism, found Father Reese to be out of theological line, for reasons that were not publicly disclosed when it forced his resignation as editor.

Laurie Goodstein, in Saturday’s NY Times, wrote about the silencing of this well-known Jesuit and the new Pope’s potential preference for removing critics. Today’s Times carries another piece, by Larry Rohter, on the struggle to bring Catholic theology under Rome’s central authority, this time involving both the US and Latin America, where half the world’s Catholics dwell.

In the context of a larger piece on Latin America’s theological divides, Rohter writes about Rev. Gustavo Gutierrrez. Gutierrez is a Peruvian priest who’s seminal advocacy for and leadership of the liberation theology movement has forced his writing and teaching to be done away from his flock (and superiors), largely from the ivory towers of Notre Dame University. Gutierrez recently became a member of the Dominican order, giving up his status under the Peruvian hierarchy in an effort to insulate himself from Church reprisals against his theology of a “preferential option for the poor.”

The signs are in the air that no longer will it be sufficient for critics of the hierarchy to respect Church authority under the new Pope. Now, perhaps the right to merely disagree is too much freedom for an insecure ideological leader to allow beneath him.

This writer’s experience in Central America makes it impossible to see such a development without thinking of the millions of poor who worship in the Church while toiling in the elites’ fields there. Poor Catholics, and the theologians who minister to them, are now being asked to consider their religion separately from their moral understanding of a world where they are kept in poverty, focused solely on a more private, censuring morality, focused on private behavior, not public courage. Whether Pope Benedict can lead for long in this direction without walking alone remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

DeLay, Unplugged 

“…in our great country, among the freedoms we celebrate is the freedom to pray as you wish, or not at all."

- Tom DeLay


Finally, we hear some humility, however forced, from the man who has sought to identify the US government and the Republican Party with his own personal savior and ‘righteousness.’ Enough already.

Tom DeLay appears to have finally hit bottom. Perhaps there’s something he can learn from humility without power. I’m not holding my breath, however.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Investigating Torture 

If there was doubt about the culpability of higher-ups in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, an Army judge’s ruling today should help erase them.

The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, found that PFC. Lynndie R. England, the hapless soul who was caught by photographs taken by her superiors with naked Iraqi prisoners at the end of a leash, was as much in the dark about the rights of the prisoners as she was about standing up for herself.

England, who’s high school guidance counselor testified that she was a "compliant personality" who would generally "listen to authority figures," was found not to have been aware that her actions were criminal at the time she committed them. The finding probably won’t get her off in the end (things might actually go worse for her as a result of the ruling), but it might help ensure that evidence of higher ranking officers participation in the torture scheme can be admitted in court martial proceedings.

If there is a silver lining in all this sordidness, it might be that some greater part of the truth comes to light. When Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and top military brass have made statements implying that the Geneva Convention might be out of date, it could finally be time to follow the resulting prisoner abuse investigation up the chain of command. Let’s hope Judge Pohl means to actually investigate the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, wherever they lead.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Darfur Waits for Our Compassion 

Nicholas Kristof counts the toll; today is Day 113 of President Bush’s silence on the genocide that occurs on his watch in Darfur.

Kristof reminds us of President Kennedy’s observation that, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality."

What will it take for our President, our government, to give up this trenchant opposition to giving voice to the obvious? Will it take thousands more deaths? Tens of thousands more? A million?

Don Cheadle, who visited Darfur recently, has pointed out that, unlike in Rwanda, the world knows exactly what is going on there. Troops of the militia currently surround the refugee camps, awaiting only an order to go in, continuing the killing even as they wait. There is no excuse for turning away from this reality.

President Bush, where is your compassion?

Monday, May 02, 2005

More on the Party Line (Republican) at CPB 

Stephen Labaton, Lorne Manly and Elizabeth Jensen report on CPB's Tomlinson in today’s NYTimes. To add to the post here yesterday, check out the study Tomlinson contracted a White House employee to carry out to ‘prove’ bias in Bill Moyer’s Now.

Mr. Rove, Mr. Tomlinson, Mr. Tomlinson, Mr. Rove. “Fair and Balanced…”

Sunday, May 01, 2005

PBS- "Fair and Balanced" 

Since I’ve mentioned television recently, let’s talk public television. A quiet counterrevolution is under way at public broadcasting. Viewers should not be surprised to see less television challenging the powers-that-be on our public airways in the coming months and years. According to Paul Farhi at the Washington Post, big changes are under way, and they’re happening quietly. Most producers and staffers depending on public television for jobs are quietly hoping for the best for themselves and the institutions are hewing to the invisible lines that will prove they are “fair and balanced.”

Ken Tomlinson is chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Directors and also the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson, who has behind him a stint running the Voice of America during the Reagan administration and was also editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest, oversees lots of public broadcasting money.

Newly under Tomlinson’s Board is Ken Feree. Ferree, a Republican who had been a top adviser to Michael Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, just replaced Kathleen Cox as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Cox, a longtime CPB administrator, was ousted by the recently more Republican CPB Board. The Ferree appointment followed the dismissals or departures in recent months of at least three other senior CPB officials, all of whom had Democratic affiliations.

Paul McCleary at CJR Daily reports today on the existence of research showing no public sentiment to curb PBS’s content, but don’t expect that to slow the starboard turn in what’s available on the dial, where CPB money accounts for 10% of PBS’s funding. A new scrutiny of stories ‘biases,’ one for the left, two for the right, is under way. Perhaps seminars at Fox could help?

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Making of...A Swiftie 

Remember the Swift Boat Vets? I know, the memories… but reading through a fun blog, World O'Crap, I came across a piece on Hollywood winger-producer Harry Kloor, that brought me back to last summer.

Mr. Kloor, who now makes part of his living discussing his political efforts for conservative cruise audiences, ran last spring to the Swifties to offer his ‘B’-series interviewing services. His contribution was to extract bile from former Viet Navy men for their commercials. Courtesy of World O’ Crap, I came across a Knight-Ridder story by Tom Infield and Meg Laughlin that fills out a vet’s actual Swiftie experience vs. the television reality America saw last year on our screens.

Submitted for your approval, the interview experience of one Larry Thurlow, portrayed finally on air as an angry, betrayed Navy Swift Boat veteran. Thurlow later accused Kerry of lying about his battle experience, but appears to have been of a different frame of mind until worked on by the Swifties’ core members and producer:

“In a defining moment, on July 9 and 10, dozens of veterans, the group's top advisers and a film-making crew descended on a Marriott hotel in Rosslyn, Va., to film raw material for later commercials.

Swift boat veteran Larry Thurlow flew in from Bogue, Kan., after the group offered to pay his and his wife's expenses. Thurlow said he was hesitant to become involved but (Adm. Retired) Hoffmann kept asking him to join the group.

"The admiral helped me to see in hindsight what was really going on with Kerry," Thurlow said.

The veterans and a Studio City, Calif., film producer, Harry Kloor, moved to a Washington studio to film interviews for a later commercial that would be put together by LaCivita and another political ad man, Rick Reed, a member of a team that had worked for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in his 2000 campaign for president.

Thurlow said the vets were told some of what to say, with the caveat that they weren't expected to say anything they didn't believe.

"I was told to say, `On the river that day, Kerry fled.' But `fled' connotes fear and I understood why Kerry left, then returned, so I didn't use that word," Thurlow said.

Each of the veterans talked from five to 20 minutes - giving the film crew enough footage for 10 commercials.”

***

I work in the television business and this snippet is enough to tell me that with dozens of veterans being flown, expenses paid, into the DC area, amped-up to imagine Kerry as a traitor after conversations with Admiral Hoffman (and John O'Neill, a professional Kerry-hater) a producer could create ANYTHING.

Extracting statements similar to the one Mr. Thurlow rejected about Kerry ‘fleeing’ battle, there would be enough footage to edit together the vituperative Swiftie commercials, even if most of the vets were guys like Thurlow, in town to enjoy the sights, say a few qualified things, and head home, but meanwhile being led into at least one or two over-the-top statements that would become the thread of the stories portraying Kerry as the monster he became on air.

Remember this the next time we see an attack campaign, perhaps the coming part 2 of the current anti-AARP effort to support the Social Security phaseout effort later this year.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Social Insecurity 

The key detail to remember from last night’s presidential news conference on Social Security is that the plan President Bush advocated would end Social Security as an insurance program.

When President Roosevelt first proposed Social Security, the crucial decision his administration made, a decision that has maintained the program all these years, was not to unveil a welfare program for old people. Roosevelt understood that in order to unify Americans to back a retirement floor for people past their working years, a program had to treat everyone alike and be seen as an insurance program, not a welfare program. A welfare program would be yet another formula that had no permanence in American life. An insurance program would be a social contract made with every American. So he proposed what has become the most popular program in the history of politics and in so doing transformed American life, protecting our aged from poverty in perpetuity.

By untethering the benefits from payments made into the program, President Bush proposed last night that Social Security be transformed into the thing President Roosevelt feared; a welfare program for the aging.

…with private accounts.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Pam Hartman's Son 

A great many people who read the blog have acknowledged their sympathy for the family and friends of Pam Hartman and Jeanne Kerechanin, many especially pointing out the difficult road ahead for their son, Eli, who is 20.

I’m happy to report that a fund has been established for Eli, who is still in college and who’s parents died without a will, meaning that there may be a protracted probate period while their estate is settled.

I’m a little skeptical about posting details of the fund online, because of the one-way openness of this technology. If anyone wishes to contribute, please send an e-mail to billkav@mac.com. I’ll pass on the fund info.

Bless you.

Management Regrets Any Inconvenience You Endured While Being Tortured... 

Picking up the Times this morning (figuratively speaking, via the net), a couple of items catch the eye. The first is an article noting that the Army has now prepared its first revision of the official interrogation manual in 13 years. The new edition will apparently “specifically prohibit practices like stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for a long time, imposing dietary restrictions, employing police dogs to intimidate prisoners and using sleep deprivation as a tool to get them to talk.”

The fact that an Army manual has to specifically prohibit these ‘tools’ speaks pretty loudly of the problems that have become rife in today’s military command. If one wonders why these ‘tools’ need to be specifically prohibited, there’s more in Eric Schmitt’s piece to think about.

"I've been nervous about this whole process," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The existing manual was clear. It was the exceptions that caused problems."

Looking a little further in the paper, Bob Herbert weighs in on the whitewash of the Abu Ghraib torture mess. If one looks past the new manuals and the “we’ll clarify this for the grunts” promises inherent in it’s publication, Herbert’s point is clear: The big guys walk in Bushworld. It’s always going to be left to the grunts to take a beating when the curtain gets pulled on a culture of torture and ‘rendition.’ Don’t look for Donald Rumsfeld to walk the plank for suggesting that the rules of war might not apply in Iraq, then backtracking once rife abuse was uncovered.

No, in Bushworld, the price of management failure is the Medal of Freedom, like the one awarded to George Tenet for toadying the line on WMD. The punishment for grunts is Leavenworth.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Pass the Hat for Your Honor's Court 

Glen at A Brooklyn Bridge wrote yesterday about the latest concept in right-wing constitutional evisceration: court destruction.

While the recent ‘Three Days of the Condor’ tactics of some social right wingers enraged moderate Americans, the new chic in tearing down the courts seems to be starving the beast. Less rhetoric, more effect. Glen points out that for these folks, there’s no tactic too dangerous to the Constitution to employ, if it serves the short-term goal.

Jeff Gannon's CV and Paid Punditry 

Susan Gardner, known on Daily Kos as SusanG, has been working on a brief personal history of Jeff Gannon/James Guckert. The effort, which may seem a bit over the top in the kicking a dead dog department, is worth a look for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, this guy put himself into the mix in a very public way, offering fictionally-based attacks on political figures from the confines of the White House press room itself. It’s somewhat sad to see anyone run headlong into a buzzsaw, as Gannon/Guckert has, but apparently he’s still enjoying the ride through the aftermath.

Secondly, and more importantly, SusanG’s efforts hopefully will offer some insight into the machine the right has built over the years to spin the news at any cost to the truth. Seeing Gannon/Guckert rise almost overnight from work at an auto body repair shop in Pennsylvania (and moonlighting as a male escort) to toiling within a year in the White House raises eyebrows. Spinning softball questions to the President of the United States whenever the mainstream press is too tough on him makes any fair observer want to know how this guy gets the world’s longest WH day pass in post 9-11 America.

Hopefully, SusanG’s efforts will unearth more about the financial support system that feeds the right’s spin machine and into who decided to authorize crossing the line in the White House press room from just bringing in conservative spinners to actually creating them.

Gardner puts it best herself:

“We are a country that's been stretched to the breaking point with lies. With omission of facts. With government-funded fake news reports. With paid pundits. With people who are not who or what they say they are. With motives that are rarely straightforward and with end runs around legal processes, whether they be Florida judicial decisions or the Geneva Conventions.

James Dale Guckert is part of something much bigger than perhaps even he imagined. Getting to the bottom of who he really is, how he got preferential treatment and why in particular he was chosen is vital, we believe, to begin the shearing of the wool that's been pulled over the eyes of our democracy.”

Skylight 

A local production of David Hare’s “Skylight,” a 1995 political/relationship drama that I stumbled upon here at Escape Theatre in Singapore’s Arts at the Old Parliament, was an unexpected pleasure. Director David Waite assembled a strong cast, including journeyman actor Lim Kay Tong and returning local actress Janice Koh, recently back from Boston.

The play is performed in an intimate setting, with the audience surrounding a small and cold East London flat for an overnight journey with Kyra, Tom’s former mistress, who lives there after leaving him. The play tanked in New York some years ago, in a Broadway proscenium stage production that distanced the audience from the setting. Here in Escape’s little home, the relationships are directly in the audience’s faces and hard to distance or dismiss, despite Hare’s occasionally overly articulated monologues and the actors’ sometime slightly uncertain delivery or memory. Koh’s naturally performed underplay of wrenching emotion is especially effective in this production.

The former affair between Koh’s Kyra and Tong’s Tom is dissected and remembered in a ripping postmortem that unearths psychological truths about the characters lives. The story’s presentation also supports a socialist critique of the ownership mentality brought to personal relationships by Tom and illuminates the personal cost of his proprietary approach to his family, his mistress, and himself.

Kyra, with Tom’s son, Edward, played by Daniel Hutchinson, together attempt to balance Tom’s hard-edged dominance with touching bookend scenes that illuminate their need to grow a nascent garden of personal warmth amidst the loss that surrounds them, each mourning their own separate versions of family past.

In a country where one of the questions brought forth in the after-play forum was about whether the ‘vulgarity’ in the script was hard to pass by the censors, this material is a jewel to behold and apparently more of a difficult product to produce than in it’s native London. For an American living in a country where increasingly, monetary value is the measure of all things, it is an oasis.

Election Reform: Still in Park 

This just in from the Washington Post:

“The first chairman of the federal voting agency created after the 2000 election dispute is resigning, saying the government has not shown enough of a commitment to reform.

DeForest Soaries, a Baptist minister, said Friday that his resignation from the commission created by Congress would take effect next week.”

…need we say more?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Casinos for Singapore 

Here in Singapore this week working— and the big news is that gambling, yes gambling, is coming to River City. In the strict and no-nonsense world of Lee Inc., as this rigid but industrious city-state is known, there’s not a lot of painting outside the lines. However, the cabbies are abuzz with the news that not one, but two casinos will soon be built here, in the hopes that the government can attract a more vibrant and creative, not to mention lucrative, future. It’s a major turnabout for a government run by the offspring of it’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, who just recently stated that Singapore would not make such a move.

An informal poll of locals indicates that most people are hopeful, but cautious about whether casinos will help an economy recently challenged by the high cost of doing business in Singapore, compared with other South and east Asian neighbor countries. Singapore’s traditional advantage of being a stable, if strictly run, nation/city is being eroded by expensive housing and the fact that everything is imported to Singapore except the services that sustain local business life.

Whether the move will have the desired effect and attract creative thinking, along with tourism dollars, rupees, yuan, and yen, remains to be seen. Singapore knows that it needs to make dynamic moves to sustain it’s business position in the emerging landscape of dynamic Asian economies, especially under China’s long shadow. Today’s International Herald Tribune features a piece by Andy Mukherjee, comparing Singapore’s challenge with Bangalore and it’s very distinctly different path to becoming a powerhouse, the Silicon Valley of South Asia. It’s worth a look. Certainly in the US, the promise of casino wealth has often eluded all but the casino owners. Hopefully for Singapore, the model will not repeat the experience of areas like Atlantic City, where gambling money stopped flowing just outside the doors of the casinos.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Add MTBE to Your Energy Bill, and Stir... 

Another chunk of pork for polluters in HR 6 (Energy Legislation) is the MTBE bailout. MTBE is a potential carcinogen and has contaminated groundwater systems in at least 29 states. HR 6 includes a provision designed to get MTBE polluters off the hook for it’s cleanup, shifting responsibility to state and local taxpayers instead. More energy for polluters’ shareholders, less energy and clean water for you and your kids.

Democrats in the Senate are framing this as an unfunded mandate imposed on states and local government, something Republicans are supposed to oppose— when it doesn't hurt corporate interests.

Energy Bill Ozone Alert 

One of the less wonderful and less well-known details of proposed energy legislation in Congress now is the gutting of ozone level targets in many cities. The Dallas Morning News points to how the air in North Texas will get more deadly if this rider passes without a fight.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Popapalooza 

Bill in Portland Maine has the best take I’ve seen nyet (do I mean yet?) on the elevation of ‘The Enforcer’ to Pope. I can’t decide whether to laugh it off or object. As a lapsed Catholic, I’m conflicted…besides, I was betting on Duke to go all the way in this Final Four.

UPDATE: alright, enough dark humor. Here's why he's a disgusting choice to lead the Catholic Church- or any church. See Billmon or ABC for way too much more. This guy is personally responsible for helping to sweep the pedophilia epidemic in the American Church under the rug again in 1997. More years went by when victims couldn't get help and children went unprotected. 'Nuff for you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Intellectual Energy Shortage 

Let’s face it… the US has lost it’s place in the energy discussion globally and the Congress is now in the process of enshrining this intellectual demotion in legislation by ignoring the elephant in the kitchen (no pun intended). It’s clear that the future belongs to energy-efficient economies that keep their businesses and populations running at full speed without draining the world’s tank of oil and gas resources. The world's reserves are beginning to empty at a predictable, yet alarming rate, given the want of solutions to the energy deficit. Do our Republican policymakers think that controlling the politics and territory of oil-rich nations makes the US immune to the larger forces of history?

Even most honest brokers among conservatives think the current short sighted energy legislation will do nothing to help the US solve our dependence on outmoded technology and repressive governments. While Washington fiddles, there are lots of good ideas out there that need to be explored and promoted now.

The great stone sculptures on Easter Island pay tribute not just to an elevated culture, but also to it’s demise. The late citizens of that island society hacked down their natural resources in order to build the extravagant stone tributes to the Gods, realizing only too late that their trees and food were all that stood between them and extinction. Will our culture be any more forward-looking? What will we leave behind— lots of metal automobile fossils?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Oww! 

My arm still hurts...and I'm still chortling about Mark Shields description of Senator Frist as "decent, but weak" for speaking at the 'Democrats are atheists because they want to filibuster 10 court nominees' tent revival. (Thanks, Pudentilla)

Crazy people really should sit quietly until the urge to hit or speak passes. Yeah, you Mr. Assailant.

Taking a Beating Out in the Big Diamond-But Unblocked Now 

My apologies in advance…I’m listening to a broadcast on writer’s block on NPR as I write this and because of it, I’m determined to post this piece, no matter how bad it may be. I seem to be unable to produce much lately that seems worth posting, even when non-blog life allows, but perhaps the filter of self criticism is part of the problem, so please suffer with me, reader, while I let this piece pass through.
***

I was assaulted yesterday in a taxicab by a man who thought he’d waited longer than I for a cab in Manhattan. Apparently, my perceived slight was going to make him late for work; therefore, he was entitled to satisfaction. He came down the street as I entered the cab, and then banged his fist on the hood (now angering the cabbie). Instead of ignoring him, I made the mistake of trying to explain through the window that I’d been down the block, walking, as I also waited forever. At this, he whipped the back door open and unleashed a verbal torrent, first of swearing, mixed with assaulting my sexual orientation (I assume, a complement to my attire), then my racial identity (I’ll give him this one, but it was too easy), and finally, my parentage and what he took to be a preference for my mother (really he was guessing now). Then he slammed the door to the cab, as hard as he could, testing Detroit’s hinge handiwork.

Well, that was when I made my biggest mistake, thinking it was my turn (and assuming he was nasty, but sane). I smiled and made a gesture familiar to all New Yorkers from inside the taxi. In a second, the door was open and he was back inside now, pummeling me (really mostly my right arm) with both fists. He’d lost it completely for the moment, but couldn’t really get enough room in the back of the cab to wind up well, so I was able to absorb most of the attack with my arm as a shield. After awhile, he screamed that if I gave him the finger again, he’d f*ck me up, and maybe felt he’d administered enough of a lesson for the moment (or that he'd gone crazy enough).

Then he got stuck. Y’know those little clothes hanger handles above the rear windows of most passenger cars? Yeah, they’re little, but they hold a hanger pretty well. Collars too, as it turns out…so now my assailant was unable to bring his head out of the cab for a while. His expression was suddenly different, because the dynamic of the assault had shifted, and I think he knew he was vulnerable to a counterattack, hanging, as he was, from the clothes hook by his really nice leather jacket.

Luckily for him, I’m a physical coward. The thought had occurred to me that this assault was pretty bad and getting worse, so I resisted the temptation to laugh at him. When he finally freed himself, the cabby, who had gotten out of the vehicle when my assailant (I like calling him that) first hit the hood of the car, had spotted another cab and encouraged the man to stop the insanity (“What you crazy? Look, there’s a taxi for you!”)

And then, as quickly as the paroxysm began, it ended. Two New Yorkers (one sore still), heading uptown, in two cabs. Another day in the Big Apple.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Thanks to DeLay and Frist for Fighting Off Godless Attack on Our Courts 

Non-blog life has been really getting in the way of blog life. I suppose this phenomenon is familiar to many, but irritating to me nonetheless.
****
Thank God Tom DeLay can take some time away from dealing with his ethics problems to straighten America's judicial system out... and shouldn't we all be writing thank you notes to Senator Frist for stepping away from his medical slo-mo analysis of poor Ms. Schiavo's 10-second video clip long enough to diagnose rampant Godlessness in our courtrooms?

But before the tent show really ramps up for these guys and their act, can we all pause for just one moment, reach out to the person next to you, hold hands, and laugh hysterically?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

John Edwards 

Saw John Edwards speak tonight at the New School. He’s the real deal in person— sounds as sparkling as he comes across on the cool screen. His commitment to economic justice is palpable, perhaps too verbose, but comes across as heartfelt.

He’s clearly on a long run for 2008. If he can communicate his ideas in a way that speaks to America as a community and to the aspirations of the middle class as well as he speaks to the problems of the Other America, he’ll give Hillary a run for her money.

He’s focused on fighting Bush concept of treating wealth preferentially to work income and on honoring proceeds of work as being on a par with entrepreneurial gains. It’s a strong and honest pitch. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who's seen him in person to compare notes…. as inspiring as Kerry's 2004 campaign was wonky.

UPDATE: This is what Edwards wrote in apology for his early support of the Bankruptcy Bill. An honest mistake, hopefully.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Martinez and the Memo 

I’m thinking back to the ‘talking points’ memo that was being circulated among Republicans during the Schiavo mess, the one that celebrated the catbird seat Senate Republicans thought they occupied on the issue.

I still can’t help marveling at the level of mendacity and disloyalty involved in Senator Mel Martinez firing his counsel, Brian Darling over authorship of a document that the Senator was using for all it was worth. Darling’s resignation was immediately accepted by Martinez after the press uncovered that Senator Mel himself hadn’t told the truth about the memo. Martinez then pretended to be shocked, shocked that he'd been passing a memo that used Ms. Schiavo's plight as a political cudgel.

It turns out that Darling wrote the memo for Senator Martinez, and Martinez, a Florida Republican freshman, out to score some points on an issue he was geographically more familiar with than most, inadvertently leaked it. Martinez gave the memo to Democratic Senator Tom Harkin in an attempt to bring him on board the Schiavo legislation, a seriously freshman move to begin with.

One can imagine the conversation going something like, “Tom, you know we’re gonna kill you guys on this issue, it’s a loser for Democrats whether you stand in the way or not. Why not get behind the Schiavo bill now, while there’s still time? Look at this, here’s the kind of arguments and upside points we’ll be hitting you with.” (Martinez hands Harkin the memo, which details all the 'upsides' of poor Ms. Schiavo’s situation for the GOP, including the following tidbits:

-…the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate will be debating this important issue.

-This is a great political issue because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats…

-This legislation ensures that individuals like Teri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy.)

Interestingly enough, the language, while politically cynical, doesn’t stray from the social right’s arguments. It accurately portrays the GOP’s position on the Schiavo matter. The thing that strikes me is that when the memo was finally attributed to Martinez’ office, his humiliation was complete enough for him to fire the author, rather than take ownership of the ideas expressed in it.

Guess being totally opportunistic means never having to say you’re sorry.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Tampa Turns on the Big Show 

Since our recent Second Annual Red Sox Spring Training Visit took the Big Diamond south to the Tampa Bay area, we took particular interest in this item, via Talking Points Memo:

The St. Petersburg Times, publishing right in the backyard of the social right, saw fit to point out the difference between a Presidential visit and the sanitized, all-scripted, no dissent allowed, Social Security privatization ‘forum’ brought to the area’s Tampa Convention Center in February—using the public’s money.

The conservative heartland isn’t taking kindly to having it’s pocket picked— and having it picked while their own money’s being used to pay the con’s expenses.

Courage, Leslie. 

Today’s NY Times carries a series of suggestions for Leslie Moonves to pick from in remaking the CBS Evening News. While Lizz Winstead on “The Daily Show” advocates a rolling CBS eyeball that critiques in live time and an analysis of the reporting out there from other sources, Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame wants to emulate Roger and Me, by having a reporter standing outside the White House until he’s let in. Don Hewitt of “60 Minutes” has lined up Jon Stewart, Chris Buckley, Ellen DeGeneres, Andy Rooney, and a player to be named later to spice up the commentary, but Al Primo, the inventor of “happy talk” has the best idea— monitor the blogs. And so it goes…

And the Winner is...? 

It’s good to see Hunter’s comments yesterday at DailyKos on the Dana Milbank story (see post below yesterday here, thanks to Suburban Guerrilla) about the latest winger slugfest with the courts. This gathering needs some attention. Hunter speculates that wingers have a contest going to see who can come the closest to advocating violence against federal judges without actually doing so.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Away Team 

They’re lookin’ good, these guys. Not that I feel a kindred spirit or anything, but they’re on the blogroll. See ya at the stadium, ducking batteries. Hey, it's worth it when you're watching the World Champions take it to the Evil Empire. Away… at home.

April in Iraq 

Occupation Day in Iraq isn’t quite as full of pageantry as the not-so-royal wedding in the UK, or the Papal funeral in Rome. Riverbend writes that April is the cruelest month for Iraqis.

UPDATE: See Juan Cole for detail on the demonstrations marking the anniversary. Not the pretty, pro-American picture we're led to believe, I'm afraid.

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Mad Bomber 

I have to wonder aloud if we’ll hear any screaming from the right about Eric Rudolph being offered a life sentence, instead of going through a series of capital crime trials for his bombings. Will anyone bet on whether his punishment will be greeted with less outrage than those of the juveniles whose lives where spared by the Supreme Court recently?

See Suburban Guerrilla for links to and a synopsis of yesterday’s gathering of wingers attacking Federal judges for taking account of world opinion in arriving at a definition of “cruel and unusual.”…

UPDATE: For a real scare, follow the links to Dana Milbank's Washington Post article and read some of the comments from winger panelists about disposing of Supreme Court Justices and other inconvenient jurists. These folks give heart to the Rudolfs of the world, I'm sure.

On Rolling in the Mud 

I’m going to sound like an old faart here, but anyway…

Two bits and bites from blogdom today converge in my little cruller

1) Michael Rogers from Blog Active harasses Gannon/Gluckert on CSPAN with questions about having sex with White House staffers.

2) Students pie-ing rightwingers in Indiana as they speak to conservative university audiences.

Now don’t get me wrong, the folks on the receiving end of both incidents have practiced the same low, guttersnipe tactics in their discourse and probably deserve worse than the humiliation heaped on them in these incidents. I got a little smirk reading about both stories too.

But the problem is that engaging in exactly the tactics many of us deride isn’t exactly the road to lifting American political discourse out of the gutter. Bringing the sex lives of political appointees (or Presidents, remember?) into the forefront of a discussion about fake news doesn’t exactly make the point that some news isn’t real, does it?

And however amusing, throwing lemon meringue at ideologues isn’t as satisfying as making verbal fun of their arguments. Billmon makes the point succinctly at the Whiskey Bar:

“In a civilized society, you don't physically harass or attack people for exercising their free speech rights, even if they are the vile scumsucking lackeys of crazed right-wing multimillionaires -- or even worse, David Horowitz. You just don't do it. And you particularly don't do it and then spout some fatuous nonsense about how you are protesting the absence of a "productive or meaningful dialog."

I know many in the blogosphere disagree, like Susan at Suburban Guerrilla, who believes, in Gluckert’s case, in fighting fire with fire. I understand the sentiment and the sense that it’s important to stand up to the scorched-earth tactics of the right wing defamation machine. It seems to me, however, that we’re better off fighting back by means more creative than theirs.

UPDATE: Actually, elsewhere in her post, Susan suggests a more intriguing and appropriate response to Gannon/Gluckert...simply laugh in his face, instead of treating his nonsense seriously.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Frist's 'Nuclear' Trigger May be Hard to Pull 

The Washington Times, a better barometer of Republican insider thinking than most sources, indicates that the bar may still be too high for Frist to push through the nuclear option.

"Of the 55 Republicans in the chamber, at least six are undecided or adamantly opposed to the plan of using the rare parliamentary procedure to end the filibusters with a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes normally required"

Nuclear Option Fallout 

Will Senator Frist use the ‘nuclear option?’

It seems less clear now than days ago whether and when Frist plans to go ahead with the move to strip Senate Democrats of the filibuster rule, allowing the Republicans to jam through approval of judicial appointees on a simple majority vote. Via Susan at Suburban Guerrilla, we refer you to this week’s The Hill on the murky subject of the Majority Leader’s goals.

“Conservative alarm surged when the Republican leadership canceled a briefing of Senate staff and activists ... The cancellation of the special meeting…left some with the impression that Frist might be backing away in the face of Democrats’ threat to retaliate by shutting down the Senate."

The same Hill article by Alexander Bolton indicates that K Street consultants have urged Frist to delay moving on the Democrats, concerned that the ‘option’ would trigger a Democratic shutdown of the Senate altogether.

It seems, on the other hand, that any possible delay or compromise in the offing will set off a maelstrom of recriminations from the more confrontational conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh and the Family Research Council.

If the option is to be used, look for it to happen as early as April 15, to force a confirmation vote on circuit court nominee Priscilla Owen. It could be quite an April storm in the Senate if this goes ahead and if not, Frist and Senate Republicans who balk are going to be in for a fratricidal struggle.

Pity.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

File This... 

President Bush yesterday ridiculed the Social Security Trust Fund by visiting the filing cabinet that houses bond certificates backing the trust. He spoke afterwards, saying, “Imagine, the retirement security for future generations is sitting in a filing cabinet.”

In an effort to beef up my own personal retirement fund, I’ve now instructed my financial advisor to take my mutual funds and cash them in. Specifically, I want the money turned into small bills, no bigger than fives. I spoke to the press after giving these instructions, saying, “Imagine, my entire retirement fund fit into one loose-leaf notebook folder. I’m taking steps to insure volume in my retirement. Next year, we’ll be investing in quarters, dimes and nickels.”

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