Category Archives: Journalism

Snowden: Whistleblower or Spy?

The Guardian, home paper of Edward Snowden’s leaks on data mining, publishes an editorial defending him as a whistleblower who should be tried in that context:

Edward Snowden: a whistleblower, not a spy

He has published US government information. And it is for this – not espionage – that he will have to answer to the law

read the full Guardian editorial

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Coming Distractions: The IRS Saga–More Republican Nonsense in a Congress Near You

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

In the knee-jerk fraud that masquerades as a Republican alternative, the latest pseudo-drama inside the Beltway will be the sanctimonious months of Congressional hearings about a non-existent conspiracy at the Internal Revenue Service.  Faced with real issues — immigration, health care, gun reform, electoral reform, among them — the wing-nuts that control the House of Representatives have a new excuse to do worse than nothing.

The real agenda is to attack their Democratic opponents, especially the president, and increasingly the leading presidential candidate for 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Succinctly stated, all of this, in a New York Times editorial:

Inevitably, the stumble by the I.R.S. will now be used by the Republicans as a point of attack. They are gleefully promising months of hearings, and the National Republican Congressional Committee is already trying to tarnish Democratic lawmakers with what it calls “the Obama administration’s use of the I.R.S. as a political tool.”

This will serve as the perfect distraction from issues, like the budget, gun control or immigration reform. And it will probably prevent any real progress on campaign finance reform, which, in turn, will make it vastly more difficult for the I.R.S. to prevent abuse of the tax code.

The I.R.S. stumble, if it is one, comes as a result of a highly partisan flawed and democracy-damaging decision by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. The I.R.S. began to investigate whether right-wing nonprofits claiming tax exemption were really political fronts for the Republicans who placed the Supreme Court majority on the bench so it could make the damaging decision. “Oh no,” meanwhile, cries the Tea Party, “we’re nonpartisan.”

All of this works very well as long as straight-thinking citizens pay little heed, not even the 22 minutes needed to watch The Daily Show, to check out the sad humor of it all.

I don’t know about you — but it becomes increasingly difficult to even read or watch the news from Washington — so predictable as it is. A moderate majority of citizens appears to have given up. We are left with a Senate tilted to low-population states, a House built by a Republican minority that stacked the deck state by state.

Two of the prime deck-stackers, the Koch Brothers, by the way, are now trying to purchase the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the Chicago Tribune’s assets. Then, they’ll even be able to control the message better than they already have.

Failing broader outrage from a gerrymandered public, laughter and mockery is probably the best way to go.

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Filed under 1, Elections, Journalism, Obama, Politics, Republicans

G.W. Bush–The Foolish Rewrite

Bush-Library-3The rehabilitation of G.W. Bush this past week requires participation of very, very gullible people with bad memories. Worst-best ratings, and polls aside, G.W. Bush took the United States to war on fraudulent grounds.

To this hour, too many Americans accept the incessantly repeated phrase about Iraq — “he was acting on the best available intelligence at the time.”

That is not true, mightily disproved, for instance, in my book, The Italian Letter, which I wrote with my colleague Knut Royce. We show, quoting officials by name, that Bush’s 16 words uttered in his 2003 State of the Union message were a lie:  “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” I later summarized the case in the Washington Post.

Bush and his former aides have been on the hustings once more during the period leading up to inauguration of the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. They had the same talking points, praising Bush because he “made decisions…presidential decisions.”  The tautology must be a joke. Of course he made decisions,  indeed, presidential decisions, because he was president.

But the decisions were wrong. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost or changed, one trillion dollars gone, those were the results of presidential decisions. The stupidity of it all and the presidential civility of the week were well-covered  by Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Harsh but apt words for “the decider,” including an assessment in the MSNBC story from Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for then-secretary of state Colin Powell. The retired colonel is one of the sources for The Italian Letter. Wilkerson, along the way, casts as much blame on the American people, for succumbing to apathy. He finds that nothing has changed.

We may be doomed, thinking of George Santayana, not only failing to learn from history, but disinterested and badly informed as others produce a fake rewrite.

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Filed under 1, Bush, Journalism, Obama, Politics, Republicans, State of the Union

Fear and Stupidity: Wrong lesson in government

Contrast the  fear-mongering of elected Republicans  with the abiding words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
fear itself

Lindsey Graham:

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

John McCain in a joint statement with Graham:

“The public safety exception is a domestic criminal law doctrine that allows questioning of a criminal suspect without Miranda warnings for a limited time and purpose.

Prejudgment, no facts, no faith in laws guaranteeing the constitutional rights of an American citizen.

Both are elected by a populace that should think things through. McCain, save us, could have been President of the United States.

The lesson to be taken from Boston is that police know their jobs, and the system does work. If anything, the danger is succumbing to fear. There is this wise analysis by author and journalist, James Bamford, echoing Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago.

If the idea of terrorism is to terrorize, then the hyper-hysterical media coverage of the Boston bombing was made to order and almost guarantees that others, seeking similar attention, will follow. This was not 9/11, far from it. And shutting down an entire city, telling everyone to lock themselves inside, is not a sign of strength. It is also a terrible precedent to set. London and other major cities have seen much, much worse and managed to follow the principle, Keep Calm and Carry On.

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A Vision Test on Iraq and the Media. Choose A or B

Here are two competing visions of the media handling of the war in Iraq

This is the way it works at the eye doctor. He holds letters in front of your eyes and asks you to choose. The answer gets better and better, hopefully vision more and more clear.

Choose A….

This is a piece by Greg Mitchell, substantially published by The Nation, after being spiked by the Washington Post

For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry.  The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll.  Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.

But wait.  Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”?  Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other–and blowing up our soldiers?  And where were those WMDs, bio-chem labs, and nuclear materials?  Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas–it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”

or B

A story by Paul Fahri published on the Opinion Pages

There’s no doubt that many news organizations, including this one, missed important stories, underplayed others that were skeptical of the administration’s case and acted too deferentially to those in power. A few instances — such as the New York Times’ September 2002 report hyping Iraq’s aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted nuclear program — have become infamous. The Times and The Washington Post have publicly examinedand admitted their shortcomings.

But “failure” grossly oversimplifies what the media did and didn’t do before the war, and it ignores important reasons the reporting turned out the way it did. As new threats loom, from Iran to North Korea, better understanding these circumstances can help us assess what happened and whether we’re better positioned today.

Can they both be right? I don’t think so. Somebody will need new glasses.

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Iran and Argentina: Such a (bizarre) deal.

The Argentine government, under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has signed an odd accord with Iran to conduct a so-called “truth commission” that would investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died and hundreds were wounded in the attack.Atentado_AMIA

In 2007, Argentine won Interpol indictments of six suspects in the case. Members of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, and the Iranian government were among the suspects.

The new Argentine-Iranian deal appears to abandon that. As an Argentine journalist, FABIÁN BOSOER, and a New School professor,   FEDERICO FINCHELSTEIN, warn in the New York Times, the truth commission has no teeth:

The problem is that any recommendations by the commission would be nonbinding; moreover, some of the suspects in the attack are now high-ranking Iranian officials — including the sitting defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi — and therefore untouchable. Indeed, Iran has repeatedly refused to cooperate with Argentine investigators and ignored international warrants for the arrest of senior Iranian officials believed to have taken part in planning the bombing.

Two ironies in the story come to mind:

  • Nestor Kirchner, Kirchner’s late husband and former president, became emotional when I asked him about the AMIA investigation shortly after he came to office in 2003. Argentina, he said, would never rest until the culprits were found. He recalled his own past, having been himself a victim of human rights abuses himself during Argentina’s dirty war. 
  • The principal Argentine official responsible for the Iran deal is Hector Timerman, the foreign minister. Timerman, a veteran journalist, is the son of Jacobo Timerman. The elder Timerman, who died in 1999, was also a victim of abuse at the hands of the right-wing Argentine military.

The younger Timerman once said:

“If we don’t solve the problem of the AMIA — who placed the bomb, the
local connection and if there was a political cover-up — people will think
that Argentina is a place where we don’t punish those who commit horrendous
crimes and it will open the door to new attacks.”

Will the new deal with Iran help determine culprits and punishment? Not likely.

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Torture and the Movies: A false impression

A friend saw Zero Dark Thirty, the Katherine Bigelow thriller, the other day and was mightily impressed. He was also surprised when I mentioned the controversy about the film’s implication that torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. There is every indication that this never happened.

Another friend and colleague, Jeff Stein, writes this:

Moviegoers would be well advised to remember what one of the CIA’s most ardent defenders of torture, former clandestine services head José Rodriquez, admitted last April: That agency interrogators couldn’t get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to give up Osama Bin Laden’s courier despite days of water-boarding and sleep deprivation.

Click here for Jeff’s report on the subject.

Starting with the Bush administration, some have tried to sell us on the notion that torture produces real-time intelligence. A great number of intelligence officers say the premise is not true. Virtually all of the time, a tortured prisoner will spill whatever beans necessary to stop the torture. Most, if not all of the time, the beans are so old as not to be useful at all.

My concern is that disseminating an idea of the false value of torture softens people up to thinking: “We don’t like it, but it’s necessary.” The necessity is extremely rare.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Journalism, Obama, Politics