Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
You need read only the first paragraph of this McClatchy story by Rob Hotakainen to know that Gil Kerlikowske is blowing smoke:
Marijuana is the drug most often linked to crime in the United States, the U.S. drug czar said Thursday, dismissing calls for legalization as a “bumper-sticker approach” that should be avoided.
Talk about a “bumper-sticker approach”: the drug most often linked to crime—and particularly violent crime—is alcohol. Is Kerlikowske an idiot? No. He’s a propagandist with a glaringly obvious conflict of interest trying to justify the billions and billions of dollars we’ve wasted trying to remove marijuana from use.
The only idiot here seems to be Rob Htakainen who did not ask the obvious questions and more or less reformatted a press release as a news story. I expect better from McClatchy.
The story lists the next two drugs “linked to crime” as cocaine and meth. And then it turns out that Kerlikowske didn’t mention alcohol because he was careful to discuss only illegal drugs. Well, that problem is easy to solve: make marijuana legal, as alcohol is, and marijuana, too, will vanish from “drugs most linked to crime.” Assuming it’s Kerlikowske driving the research.
This kind of idiocy—including the reporter, who is the most to blame in this—is one reason it’s hard to read the news.
Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon.
UPDATE: Someone in the comment thread draws my attention to these statistics regarding the links between alcohol and crime—apparently statistics of which Mr. Kerlikowske is ignorant.
PBS declined to show “Citizen Koch, a documentary about the Wisconsin public union issue, treating the influence of the dirty energy magnates who are destroying the world through climate change and funding climate change denial, among the various other nefarious things they do. This according to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. It points to the dangers of declining public funding for institutions such as PBS in favor of corporate sponsorships and the donations of the rich. No wonder investigative journalism is an endangered species! [And by all means read that New Yorker article: it shows how much of public discourse the superrich already control. It is truly shocking and helps one understand why the US is declining so rapidly. - LG]
Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films on the other hand is crowd-sourced and can’t be so easily deterred:
Watch it and think about why on earth PBS would refuse to air the documentary.
The Washington Post really doesn’t like the Social Security program for some reason, and they constantly run opinion pieces on how the program should be cut. Dean Baker points out the (abysmal) quality of reasoning displayed in one such column:
How Much Money Do You Need to Get an Op-ed in the Washington Post?
That’s what readers of Jim Roumell’s column on wealth-testing Social Security must be asking. The column, “the rich can save Social Security by giving up their checks,” gets almost all its facts wrong, and suffers from huge problems of logic.
The basic idea is that we have some very rich people who don’t need Social Security, therefore there shouldn’t get it. Of course these people did pay for their Social Security. While Roumell is certainly right that the very rich don’t need the money, they generally wouldn’t need the interest on the government bonds they own. We could also deny them the interest on these bonds, that would make as much sense as Roumell’s proposal on Social Security, but let’s not get bogged down in such moral considerations.
Roumell sees large savings if we deny Social Security to the rich:
“According to the Wall Street Journal, the top 1 percent of the United States’ 115 million households have a net worth of $6.8 million or greater. The top 5 percent have a net worth of $1.9 million or greater. If just the top 1 percent of wealthiest households gave up their Social Security income, assuming two-thirds of these households are of retirement age and will receive benefits averaging $30,000 a year, more than $200 billion would be saved in the first 10 years. That would contribute greatly to resolving the projected funding gap. If Social Security is gradually phased out for the wealthiest 5 percent of households, beginning with just a 10 percent benefit reduction, the savings climbs to nearly $500 billion over 10 years.”
Let’s see, two-thirds of the top 1.0 percent are over age 65? Where exactly did Roumell get this one? Has the Washington Post heard of fact checking?
If we eliminate Social Security for the wealthiest 5 percent, then we would be eliminating benefits for household with incomes of around $80,000 in their retirement. That’s a new definition of “rich.” It was $400,000 a year when we talked about small increases in tax rates.
But the best part of the story is trying to envision what Roumell’s wealth test even would look like. People tend to accumulate wealth during their working lifetime and spend it down as they approach retirement. How do we monitor people’s wealth? Do we do annual assessments of the value of their stock portfolios, their home and vacation properties, personal items like expensive paintings and jewelry? Then if they cross the magic $1.9 million threshold at any point in their lives we put a permanent hold on their Social Security benefits?
The long and short is that Roumell’s proposal is completely unworkable as anyone who has given it a moment’s thought would recognize. But hey, he wants to go after Social Security and he has a lot of money, why not give him a column in the Washington Post?
Obama’s unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers is having its effect: stifling some, sending others to prison, and stimulating technical solutions. Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:
This week has been a disquieting one for journalists concerned about protecting their sources. The revelation that the Justice Department had been spying on AP reporters’ phone records, although it came as no surprise to those attuned to this government’s attitude to First Amendment protections, reinforced the importance of enabling the unsurveilled free-flow of information.
It was the right moment then, for the New Yorker to launch Strongbox, an open-source drop box for leaked documents, co-created by late technologist and open-data activist Aaron Swartz with Wired editor Kevin Poulsen.
“With the risks now so high – not just from the U.S. government but also the Chinese government that is hacking newsrooms in the West – it’s crucial that news outlets find a secure route for sources to come to them,” said Poulsen on Thursday.
The code, designed by Swartz and Poulsen, is called DeadDrop; Stongbox is the name of the New Yorker’s program that uses it. The magazine announced that this means “people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity.” Appropriate to the open-data activism to which Swartz dedicated many of his considerable talents, the DeadDrop code is open for any person or institution to use and develop.
DeadDrop lets users upload documents anonymously through the Tor network (which essentially scrambles IP addresses). With Stongbox, the leaked information is uploaded onto servers that will be kept separate from the New Yorker’s main system. Leakers are then given a unique code name that allows New Yorker journalists to contact them through messages left on Strongbox. Like any system, it is not perfectly unbreakable, but it has already received high praise in reviews.
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington commented on the importance of DeadDrop in the context of the government’s persecution of whistle-blowers and ever-expanding spy dragnet: . . .
Kevin Drum helps me understand the response of the Obama Administration—perhaps not an overreaction, but unfortunately Obama has poisoned the well by his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers so he gets no trust on the subject.
Christian Stork writes at WhoWhatWhy.com:
Several new developments in the Barrett Brown case suggest that the playing field between the cyber-activist/journalist and the government may be starting to even out—at least a bit. But the feds aren’t giving up anytime soon.
On April 28 it was announced that Brown—currently facing upwards of 100 years behind bars for a slew of felonies ostensibly unrelated to his work as a journalist—had retained new defense counsel, including heavyweights certain to draw more attention to his case than ever before.
Brown’s new team will consist of attorneys Ahmed Ghappour and Charles Swift.
Swift’s name should be familiar to legal junkies in the post 9/11-era. A former Lt. Commander in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, he represented Salim Hamdan in his successful bid to gain Supreme Court recognition of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Swift now focuses on national security and military litigation as a partner in his private practice.
For Brown, the change came not a moment too soon. As the target of what feels like an establishment pile-on, Brown will need the best defense money can buy—that is, if they’ll let him buy it.
On April 17, Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney had ordered the seizure of thousands of dollars in defense funds, solicited and held in an outside account with no connection to Brown. Although the funds were apparently listed in a still-sealed financial affidavit provided by Brown’s former court-appointed attorney, it remains unclear how the money could be legally seized.
However, in a hearing on May 1, Judge Stickney essentially reversed himself, denying the government’s motion to transfer the funds to the court for remuneration to Brown’s original public defender. Stickney then accepted that the cash reserves be used to retain Ghappour and Swift.
The prosecution had seemingly hoped to hobble Brown by depleting his war chest and therefore his ability to defend himself. With the new ruling however, which allows him to spend the money on counsel of his choice—one not overburdened by a public defender’s typically heavy caseload—the court has dealt the prosecution a serious setback.
The hearing came about a month after . . .
Continue reading. Totalitarian governments never like journalists.
Congress seems to be outraged (as am I) over the government’s actions against Associated Press, but Congress rejected the legislation that would have prevented that—and now Obama is sending that legislation back to Congress, since they’re so concerned about it. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:
The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.
The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.
The new push comes as the Obama administration has come under fire from both parties amid the disclosure this week that the Justice Department, as part of a leak investigation, secretly used a subpoena earlier this year to obtain a broad swath of calling records involving Associated Press reporters and editors. . .
Ironic, eh? But I’m sure the GOP will calm down once this is pointed out. Jed Lewison writes at Daily Kos:
Darrell Issa is outraged that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records through a subpoena of the AP’s telecommunications provider. He’s right to condemn the action, but as nycsouthpaw points out, it’s worth remembering that Issa voted against legislation that would have protected the AP:
Issa was one of 21 House members who opposed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, a measure that would have forbidden federal investigators from compelling journalists to give evidence without first obtaining a court order. The bill included a section that specifically forbid subpoenaing journalists’ phone records from “communication service providers” to the same extent that the law protected the journalists themselves.
The legislation passed the House, but it was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and opposed by the Bush Administration. Barack Obama, at the time a U.S. Senator, didn’t vote on the bill, but was a co-sponsor. So you have a situation where Issa and Senate Republicans opposed legislation that would have prevented a government action they now decry, and you have a president who supported the legislation but whose administration is now responsible for taking the actions his legislation was supposed to prevent.
Thus far, the president hasn’t addressed the DOJ’s actions. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to take a neutral posture, saying that the White House was unaware of the subpoena until the AP announced it yesterday and referring all questions to the DOJ.
Given the president’s support for the press shield legislation in the Senate, he’s at risk of being as hypocritical on this issue as Issa and most Senate Republicans—without having the added virtue of being right. But if he wasn’t involved in the decision to subpoena the records, he could help make up for the government’s overreach not only by saying it was wrong to subpoena copies of AP phone records, but also by harnessing the GOP’s new civil libertarian streak to push through the legislation that they killed just a few short years ago.
At Salon Joan Walsh asks a question to which I hope the answer will shortly be known—let’s see if the Obama persecution of those who leak information will apply to this incident.
Was ABC News used by someone with an ax to grind against the State Department? It looks possible. A key email in its “scoop” that the administration’s “talking points” on Benghazi had been changed a dozen times came from White House national security communications adviser Ben Rhodes. It seemed to confirm that the White House wanted the talking points changed to protect all agencies’ interests, “including those of the State Department,” in the words of the email allegedly sent by Rhodes.
But CNN’s Jake Tapper reveals that Rhodes’ email didn’t mention the State Department, and doesn’t even seem to implicitly reference it. The email as published by Karl differs significantly from the original obtained by Tapper.
According to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Rhodes weighed in after State Department’s Victoria Nuland, who expressed concerns about the way the talking points might hurt “my building’s leadership.” ABC quotes Rhodes saying:
We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.
The email obtained by Tapper is very different.
Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.
You can read the original here.
Significantly, the Rhodes email doesn’t even mention the controversial Benghazi talking points. Reporting by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard paraphrased Rhodes’ email the same way – to depict him jumping in behind Nuland and protecting the interests of the State Department. Some on the right have suggested Karl and Tapper might be talking about two different emails, but in the ABC and CNN stories, the emails are dated identically, 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. Tapper provides the original; Karl did not.
Presumably, someone changed Rhodes’ email before leaking it to Karl, but ABC News hasn’t replied to the scoop by Tapper (who used to work there). ABC’s story added fuel to the Benghazi fire; we’ll see if CNN’s helps put it out.
I wonder whether Jonathan Karl will issue a correction.
The Justice Department’s Seizing of AP Phone Records: A Continuation of Attacks on Freedom of the Press
The Obama Administration Department of Justice seems to be badly broken: it won’t prosecute banks and other financial institutions for their misdeeds, it continues to persecute medical marijuana users who obey their state laws regarding medical marijuana (thus breaking a promise Obama and Holder made), it viciously persecutes whistleblowers to prevent government wrong-doing from being exposed, it refuses to investigate and bring to trial those guilty of war crimes such as torture, and in general has shown little interest in fulfilling its duties, particularly those that involve work.
The NY Times editorial today takes the Obama Administration to task for its seizure of phone records:
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.
On Friday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had been going through The A.P.’s records for months. The dragnet covered work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at one of the oldest and most reputable news organizations. James Cole, a deputy attorney general, offered no further explanation on Tuesday, saying only that it was part of a “criminal investigation involving highly classified material” from early 2012.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said he could not comment on the details of the phone records seizure, which he said was an open investigation — although he was happy to comment on the open investigation into the tax audits of conservative groups, which he said might have been criminal and were “certainly outrageous and unacceptable.”
Both Mr. Holder and Mr. Cole declared their commitment — and that of President Obama — to press freedoms. Mr. Cole said the administration does not “take lightly” such secretive trolling through media records.
We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, . . .
And this post by Kevin Gosztola at The Dissenter is well worth reading:
The US Justice Department’s secret seizure of phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press is nothing less than a continuation of attacks on freedom of the press that have been ongoing under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Carl Bernstein, famed investigative journalist who broke the story on the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and declared this is a “matter of policy.” It goes right up to the president and the people who surround him, the very officials who have waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and leaks.
He also explained, “The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.”
Over 100 Journalists’ Phone Communications Collected
The AP reported yesterday that the Justice Department had “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of reporters and editors, who worked for the AP. The records “listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
They came from “more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.” There is no way of knowing the “exact number of journalists,” who used the phone lines during this period, however, “100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
The AP only found out that records had been secretly obtained through a letter from US attorney, Ronald Machen, which the AP’s general counsel, Laura Malone, received on the afternoon of May 10.
The records were possibly “obtained from phone companies,” perhaps through the issuing of a national security letter (NSL). Officials chose not to notify AP before collecting information and claim they did not have to provide notice, citing an exemption in federal regulations. . .
The AP is beside itself with indignation that the DoJ got a bunch of their phone records—from a perfectly legal procedure using the Patriot Act. Oddly, they never had a problem with this sort of thing when it was happening to the public. I recall Jane Harman, when she was on the House Intelligence Committee, being furious that the Patriot Act was used to eavesdrop on her, although she had voted in favor the act—presuming, I imagine, that it would only be used on the common people, not on luminaries such as herself. I suppose some of the anger was because she was caught committing a crime.
Kevin Drum has a very good comment on this at Mother Jones:
The government has been obtaining phone records like this for over a decade now, and it’s been keeping their requests secret that entire time. Until now, the press has showed only sporadic interest in this. But not anymore. I expect media interest in terror-related pen register warrants to show a healthy spike this week.
That could be a good thing. It’s just too bad that it took monitoring of journalists to get journalists fired up about this.
Timothy also has a good column in the Washington Post:
On Monday the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.” But here’s what’s really scary: The Justice Department’s actions are likely perfectly legal.
U.S. law allows the government to engage in this type of surveillance—on media organizations or anyone else—without meaningful judicial oversight.The key here is a legal principle known as the “third party doctrine,” which says that users don’t have Fourth Amendment rights protecting information they voluntarily turn over to someone else. Courts have said that when you dial a phone number, you are voluntarily providing information to your phone company, which is then free to share it with the government.
This all dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Police had asked the phone company for information about the numbers dialed from a robbery suspect’s phone. The suspect objected, pointing to a famous 1967 ruling holding that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to record the audio of a phone call. He argued that the same principle ought to apply when the government records information about the numbers a suspect dials.
The Supreme Court rejected this argument. “We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the court. He pointed out that telephone customers are used to seeing numbers they’ve dialed on their monthly telephone bill.
Blackmun’s reasoning may have turned on the fact that automatic dialing was a relatively new development in 1979. Previously, telephone users had to tell a human operator which number they wished to reach, making it plausible to regard the phone company as an active participant in the phone-dialing process, but a mere passive conduit in transmitting the phone call itself.
Technological progress has rendered this distinction increasingly dubious. For example, . . .
Graham Kates reports at The Crime Report:
“It took all of two minutes to print out” sector-by-sector crime statistics the first time Bronx, NY journalist Alex Kratz asked Deputy Inspector James Alles of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for an in-depth readout of his precinct’s crime.
Kratz’s non-profit bi-weekly newspaper, theNorwood News, used the information in February 2008 to publish maps and a series of stories that illustrated crime trends in specific neighborhoods within the paper’s coverage area—the north Bronx’s 52nd Precinct.
Reader response in the roughly 130,000-person precinct was overwhelmingly positive.
Until that point, few locals had seen crime statistics beyond the NYPD’s weekly COMPSTAT reports, which track precinct-wide major crime trends.
“Although I feel safe in my neighborhood, evidently our autos are targets,” one reader commented on the paper’s website.
“Is it possible to receive these reports on a sector basis each month?”
As the free broadsheet hit the streets with the new data, two opposing forces were set in motion: one inside the paper’s newsroom and the other in the NYPD.
Deputy Inspector Alles, the paper would soon find out, was being told by his superiors never to release sector statistics again.
Meanwhile in Norwood, a working-class predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, the editors were realizing just how valuable the information was.
“Every (precinct) is a city-sized place,” said Jordan Moss, founder and then Editor-in-Chief of the Norwood News.
“So hearing that crime is up or down in the precinct does not necessarily tell you about crime in your neighborhood.”
Kratz returned to Alles’ office about six months later to request sector stats again.
This time the answer was “No.”
Alles, who retired in late 2009, told Kratz that from then on, if he wanted sector statistics he needed to file an official Freedom of Information request with the NYPD.
The first time Kratz filed such a request, he waited several months to receive the statistics.
They came the day after the Norwood News published an editorial calling the delay “unacceptable.”
The second request, filed in June 2010, took over two years to fulfill.
It became a fight for transparency that would become the newspaper’s calling card and eventually inspire legislation that will completely transform the way the NYPD reports crime to New Yorkers.
On April 25, the New York City Council voted to pass “Intro 984,” which requires the city to maintain an interactive online map that will display monthly, yearly, and year-to-date totals for each class of crime that is reported to the NYPD—searchable by address, zip code and NYPD patrol precinct.
The bill’s two-year-long journey to passage began with an encounter between Kratz and Greg Faulkner, chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Fernando Cabrera.
When it became clear he was going to have a long wait, Kratz appealed to the local community board—a neighborhood body that makes discretionary allocations and recommendations to the mayor—for support.
The Community Board requested the stats and shared them with Kratz. But after the paper published an article based on them, even the board was cut off.
Kratz kept going to the board meetings, hoping to rally support for the paper’s cause.
Faulkner was at one of the meetings. He was intrigued.
Councilman Cabrera had recently decided to devote nearly $1 million in discretionary funding for new surveillance cameras in his district. Faulkner remembers being told that even though the councilman was providing the funding, he’d get no say in where the cameras would be put.
The reason? Sector stats were a key factor in deciding camera location and only the police had them.
“I got the sense that this was some sort of big secret, and it got me thinking, it makes sense that we should know where the crime is,” Faulkner said during a recent phone interview with The Crime Report.
“So I spoke to the councilman and he said if we can’t get it done administratively, let’s do it legislatively.”
The original proposal called for quarterly reports of sector statistics to be released to local community boards. It never made it out of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
For more than a year, the committee debated with Cabrera about whether or not the NYPD had the resources to file that many reports.
As days turned into months, Cabrera tried to move the legislation forward while Kratz regularly checked up on his Freedom of Information requests.
What had once taken “all of two minutes,” according to Kratz, seemed lost in a bureaucratic black hole.
The first Freedom of Information request had been filled the day after the Norwood News slammed the NYPD in an editorial, but this time around, no amount of opining got the paper the response it wanted.
That’s when the paper turned to its popular and now-defunct Bronx News Network blog.
From the Norwood News’ second floor office in a small stone cottage known as The Keeper’s House, Moss and Kratz ran the News, two local sister papers (also both now-defunct) and the blog, which often served as a sounding board for the borough’s political movers and shakers.
Starting the Countdown
“It had been about a year and they just weren’t responding at all,” Kratz said. “That’s when we started the clock.”
Attached to an editorial on the blog, Kratz and Moss posted a simple counter, marking each second, minute, hour and day since he submitted his request to the NYPD.
“We’ve waited long enough,” the editors wrote at 350 days.
In the following months, the counting clock garnered the paper a lot of attention from other media outlets.
NBC filed a two minute segment on the sector stat fight; another Bronx newspaper, The Riverdale Press issued aneditorial in support of the News; the Village Voice headlined a piece: “Hey Ray Kelly, NYPD Commish, Norwood News Wants to Know Why You Won’t Release Crime Stats.”
But the attention seemed to harden the NYPD. Even NBC was given a boilerplate response when it asked why the sector stats couldn’t be released. . .
Continue reading. The NYPD has turned on the public, as is obvious from their actions and their responses to requests for information—information that should be routinely provided to the public.
A good article by Matthew Buss in The American Prospect. Let me just add that Bill Keller is the worst sort of hack: one with no moral sense and a worshipful attitude toward power. Bill Keller beat the drums fiercely in favor of going to war in Iraq, and he has not learned a thing from our experience there. He also suppressed the news about George W. Bush’s massive wiretapping program until after Bush was successfully re-elected. This is not what actual news reporters do. This is what GOP operatives do. I have enormous contempt for Keller, a man with no moral core, just toadying ambition.
For those advocating greater intervention in Syria by the United States, the memory of Iraq has turned into a real inconvenience.
“Iraq is not Syria,” proclaimed the headline of New York Times editor Bill Keller’s op-ed on Monday, by way of arguing for greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Because of Iraq, Keller wrote, “in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”
Let’s grant that it’s possible to over-learn the lessons of Iraq. The Iraq war, as costly a blunder as it was, should not discredit any and all military interventions, but it should—and has—raised the bar for when such interventions are necessary. What appears to persist, however, is the belief that “bold” U.S. moves—nearly always assumed to be military action—can change the situation for the better, and produce the outcomes that we would like to see.
And of those outcomes aren’t produced? Well, then it will be time for even bolder moves. Writing on Syria back in 2011, The Progressive Realist’s Eric Martin looked back at the run-up to the Iraq war and observed the steadily escalating calls for action—subsequently dubbed “The Regime Change Ratchet” by writer Matt Yglesias—that tend to drive public debate over any given foreign policy crisis. “This pattern of rhetorical escalation in response to the practical limitations of bringing about regime change from afar is a familiar dance,” wrote Martin, “most deftly performed by those inclined to advocate for more and bigger US interventions abroad.”
It seems that we’re now at Martin’s Step 3:
Step 3 (with Regime X still in place): Sanctions? Regime isolation? Is that all the President is going to do in the face of Regime X’s perfidy? Those timid jabs will never work, and the President’s dithering will make us look weak and lacking in resolve. Our enemies will be emboldened. The President must use our military to deal a swift blow. No one is advocating a prolonged occupation, just a decapitation maneuver, and then a rapid hand off to the indigenous forces for democratic change.The past weekend’s airstrikes on Syria by Israel have raised pressure on the Obama administration to take military action, with some claiming that the Israeli strikes undercut claims that Syrian air defenses would pose a genuine threat to a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone. In typical fashion, craps enthusiast Senator John McCain, who will apparently be appearing on every Sunday talk show from now until the end of time, has called for “game-changing action,” as if another roll of the military dice were all that was needed to better our luck.
However, an analysis by military expert Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautioned that the limited strikes carried out by Israel do not offer an appropriate model for the broader effort that a no-fly zone would require.
These details are of little interest to those for whom crises such as Syria are less a test of American capability and leadership than of American honor. It’s a test expressly designed for any non-interventionist to fail. . .
I mentioned that the Usual Suspects were beating the drums for another war, since our recent wars have done so much good. Alex Kane at AlterNet calls out a few:
The news from Syria over the past week has been dizzying. But if you can keep your head on straight you’ll recognize an uptick in strident calls for American intervention in Syria, though it remains unlikely the Obama administration will commit to full-scale war.
Over the weekend, the Israeli air force reportedly bombed Syrian military installations in Damascus , a move that marked the most significant and direct international intervention yet in a civil war that has turned into a proxy battle between regional forces. The Israeli strike over the weekend followed another Israeli attack last week that was reportedly meant to prevent Iranian weapons from being transferred through Syria to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of the Jewish state. The Israeli attacks come over two years into the grinding Syrian conflict, which started as part of the wave of Arab uprisings but has transformed into an armed civil war that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people.
The Israeli strikes have been hailed by war hawks as proof that the U.S. and Western allies can easily pummel the Syrian regime to the ground and pave the way for a rebel victory. Calls for intervention have been ratcheting up since Israel, Britain, France and finally the U.S. concluded that there had been chemical weapons use by the Assad regime–a “red line” the Obama administration has warned Syria not to cross. But the chemical weapons use claims were muddied up yesterday when a UN investigator said  that it may have been the Syrian rebels that used sarin gas–not the Assad regime. If the UN investigator is right–and there’s no guarantee of that–it should complicate the calls for the U.S. to directly arm the rebels. But considering their track record, proponents for more intervention can’t be stopped by much.
Since the news broke of chemical weapons use, war hawks and their allies in the U.S. have taken to the airwaves and Op-Ed pages to push for U.S. intervention. What’s missing from their analysis is recognition that U.S. intervention to depose Assad would lead to a power vacuum with unknown consequences; that the U.S. would become a target for those opposed to the West, including among the rebel groups; that America has a poor track record of intervening in the Middle East; and that the vast majority of Americans have no desire to get embroiled in another war. Also not on the table: a serious attempt to negotiate, with all international powers, an agreement to end the fighting and begin a transition in Syria. While that won’t be easy, the U.S. and allies have stymied chances of that in the past.
Still, the Obama administration has been cautious. While the “red line” remark was ill-advised, the administration has not rushed into fully diving into the Syrian conflict, although they have helped militarize the civil war by facilitating weapons transfers  to Syrian rebels via the CIA.
Here are 4 pundits and politicians calling for more intervention in Syria–consequences be damned.
1. Bill Keller
The New York Times’ former executive editor and current Op-Ed contributor hasn’t learned the lessons from Iraq. Keller was a big-time pusher of the Iraq War, and has since repented. But now he’s calling for more American involvement in Syria.
In an Op-Ed in the Times today,  Keller writes that the U.S. debacle in Iraq should not prevent more action on Syria. “In Syria,” he writes, “I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.” So what’s to be done, according to Keller? “The United States moves to assert control of the arming and training of rebels”– the same rebels that are increasingly radical, as the New York Times itself reported .
Keller adds that if Assad refuses to end his “campaign of terror,” the U.S. should “send missiles against his military installations until he, or more likely those around him, calculate that they should sue for peace.”
Missing from Keller’s take are important points articulated by former State Department official Wayne White writing in LobeLog : U.S. intervention will not stop post-Assad Syria from being riven by continued instability and violence, particularly if Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists continue to play a role in the rebel forces. Additionally, White notes: “Making matters worse, seething sectarian divides — with the very real danger of Sunni vengeance resulting in further bloodletting and possibly the flight from Syria of several million Alawite and Christian refugees — threatens to stain the aftermath quite darkly.”
2. John McCain
Another lead pusher of the Iraq War, the Senator from Arizona has been consistently calling for more U.S. intervention in Syria. The news of chemical weapons use has put McCain’s war calls on overdrive.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” McCain said that the U.S. could disable Syrian air defenses “with cruise missiles; cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.” McCain also thinks a small contingent of U.S. troops could secure  Syria’s chemical weapons. But the Pentagon has estimated that it will take 75,000 American soldiers on the ground to secure the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.
3. . .
Not much. Mark Ames and Max Blumenthal report at AlterNet:
This March was a cruel month for the American press. The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War briefly punctured the country’s cultural amnesia, forcing hacks to sweat out another round of cringing mea culpas.
March was also the anniversary of another less epic media failure, but this one came and went without a whimper: The death of Andrew Breitbart, on March 1, 2012.
In the immediate aftermath of Breitbart’s death last year, at age 43, the Beltway media reflexively whitewashed and glorified his work and legacy, canonizing a reactionary circus barker as some kind of American Icon, a gonzo iconoclast, a conservative punk rocker, or a “Zany, Magnetic Media Hacker,” as Wired’s Noah Shachtman  put it. Publications ranging from Time, the Washington Post and Slate sang Breitbart’s praises; scores of ambitious up-and-coming media figures burned both ends of the candle to compose the seminal Andrew Breitbart funeral tribute.
- The Los Angeles Times : “His genius was rooted in the realization that in the new media universe, being outrageous often gets far more attention than being authoritative…In many ways, Breitbart was a throwback to the subversive media manipulators of the 1960s, especially counterculture provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They courted the media with bizarre antics. Breitbart often did the same.”
- Jack Shafer in Reuters : “I admired the way he ignored journalistic convention and the usual ethical standards to pursue the stories that were important to him. I admired his entrepreneurial approach to journalism and his disdain for the credentialed, self-important press corps.”
- Time : “Breitbart gave hard and must have expected to get it back hard. He came out of the American political tradition that if you cared about things, then you fought about them…Part of Breitbart’s legacy is a rise in the power of openly partisan journalism outlets and contested news. But if another part of his legacy–as exemplified by the first reaction to his death–is a rise in skepticism, alertness and critical reading of the media, that’s not entirely a bad thing.
- The Washington Post ‘s Chris Cillizza: “Andrew Breitbart was complicated. He clearly saw around the corner of where journalism was headed but the ways in which he used that insight rightfully raise questions about his ultimate motives… If you loved him, you really loved him. And if you hated him, well you really hated him. Having met Breitbart on a few occasions and corresponded with him infrequently over the years, I can’t imagine he would want it any other way.”
This is how the mainstream press describes great iconoclasts, not paid hatchet-men and extraction industry tools like Breitbart. It’s uncanny how these major media obits synced with the rebel-washed image of himself that Breitbart pushed on the public, as for example this quote from his book “Righteous Indignation”:
“My mission isn’t to quash debate — it’s to show that the mainstream media aren’t mainstream, that their feigned objectivity isn’t objective, and that open, rigorous debate is a positive good in our society. Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce.”
Slate’s Dave Weigel  quoted that very excerpt in his Breitbart obituary; what’s interesting is Weigel’s smart decision to edit the next sentence in that quote:
“Today, the only people upholding their free-speech legacies are conservatives like Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.”
Weigel’s decision to edit out that sentence from his Breitbart quote changes everything — put that sentence in, and Weigel’s Breitbart is suddenly a lot less interesting and unique and trailblazing. That edit was emblematic of the mainstream media’s love affair with an otherwise garden variety GOP sleaze-peddler.
Breitbart, of course, had nothing in common with the comedians whose anti-establishment spirit he claimed to embody. Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce came up from poverty and overcame anti-Semitism and entrenched, violently enforced racism to wield their wit against powerful forces. Bruce was hounded throughout his career by the FBI, local cops and eventually blacklisted from nearly every comedy club in the United States. Whereas Breitbart collaborated  with the FBI and New York police to spy on Occupy Wall Street protesters. Perhaps the only thing Bruce had in common with Breitbart, who spent his career in a mostly uncritical national limelight, was his untimely death at age 40 while in the throes of paranoia and emotional collapse.
Breitbart, the adopted son of a wealthy West Los Angeles restauranteur, used his privilege to immiserate the most marginalized, impoverished, widely demonized groups of Americans. He was a faithful errand boy for rich, Scrooge McDuck tycoons like Peter Thiel, Foster Friess, and the Koch Brothers, wielding smear journalism against anyone or any interest that threatened their power — usually African-Americans or groups like ACORN, serving impoverished, neglected inner city communities.
There was nothing innovative or new about Breitbart’s smear operation. Indeed, . . .
Unfortunately for the war hawks, the nerve gas (sarin) whose use is suspected in Syria was used by the rebels, not by the government. So as a causus bellus for attacking the Syrian government, it doesn’t work so well—but that hasn’t slowed the demand from war from those who pushed the Iraq War (“Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!!!”). And yet war really hasn’t seemed to solve any of the problems, but rather created more. (Of course, austerity as an economic policy has proved an utter failure, but still there are those who clamor for it—mainly those who will not feel its effects.) Robert Parry reports at ConsortiumNews.com:
Israel’s bombing raids into Syria appear to have shattered whatever restraint remained in Official Washington toward the United States entering the civil war on the side of rebel forces that include radical jihadist elements. On Monday, the Washington Post’s neocon editors weighed in for U.S. intervention as did former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.
Both the Post’s editors and Keller also were key advocates for invading Iraq in 2003 – and their continued influence reflects the danger of not imposing any accountability on prominent journalists who were wrong on Iraq. Those tough-guy pundits now want much the same interventionism toward Syria and Iran, which always were on the neocon hit list as follow-ons to Iraq.
The Post’s lead editorial on Monday urged U.S. intervention in Syria as part of a response to a growing regional crisis that one could argue was touched off – or made far worse – by President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.However, rather than trace the crisis back to Bush’s invasion of Iraq – which the Post eagerly supported – the editors lament the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to intervene in Syria. Noting the renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, the Post’s editors write “it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent.”
Meanwhile, across the top half of Monday’s Op-Ed page in the New York Times, Keller urged any pundit chastened by the disastrous Iraq War to shake off those doubts and get behind U.S. military intervention in Syria. His article, entitled “Syria Is Not Iraq,” is presented in the same “reluctantly hawkish” tone as his influential endorsement of aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.
Keller’s special twist now is that he is citing his misjudgment on Iraq as part of his qualifications for urging President Obama to cast aside doubts about the use of military force in Syria’s chaotic civil war and to jump into the campaign for regime change by helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
“Frankly I’ve shared his [Obama’s] hesitation about Syria, in part because, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy,” Keller wrote. “But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”
For the rest of the lengthy article, Keller baited Obama by presenting him as something of a terrified deer frozen in mindless inaction because of the Iraq experience. Keller quoted hawkish former State Department official Vali Nasr as declaring that “We’re paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war.”
Keller then added: “Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”
No Lessons Learned
But Keller doesn’t seem to have learned anything significant from the Iraq catastrophe. [In fairness, Keller has shown no signs that he's even capable of learning. - LG] Much as he and other pundits did on Iraq, they are putting themselves into the minds of Syria’s leaders and assuming that every dastardly deed is carefully calibrated when the reality is that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, has often behaved in a reactive manner to perceived threats.
Assad and many other Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) – along with many Christian Armenians who remain loyal to Assad – are terrified of what might follow a military victory by the Sunni majority, whose fighting forces are now dominated by Islamic extremists, many with close ties to al-Qaeda.
As the New York Times reported in its news page last month, the black flags of Islamist rule are spreading across “liberated” sectors of Syria. . .
Here’s a more detailed description of Howard Kurtz’s sloppy … well, I hesitate to call it “journalism”. At any rate, Alex Pareene in Salon:
Update, 1:00 pm ET: The Daily Beast announced it is retracting Kurtz’s column.
Howard Kurtz had a bad day yesterday. He wrote this whole column calling out Jason Collins, the NBA player who this week came out as gay, breaking a major American sports barrier and quickly becoming a widely celebrated and admired figure, for not telling readers of his Sports Illustrated piece that he once had a (female) fiancée. Except, one little problem with the entire concept of the piece: Collins explicitly wrote that he’d once been engaged in his Sports Illustrated piece. It took a few minutes for the Internet to point out this titanic error. Then, the the column was altered, without a correction, to say that Collins “downplayed one detail” instead of “left one little part out.” Finally, a proper correction was appended.
But Kurtz was defiant! Despite the central detail underlying the argument of his column being incorrect, Kurtz’s point stands, says Kurtz!
We should all be so grateful to have legendary media critic Howard Kurtz around to police coming-out narratives.
The “Daily Download” video of Kurtz joking about Collins is probably more embarrassing than the Daily Beast column — the phrase “playing both sides of the court” is used — which is likely why it was taken down. You can see it at BuzzFeed orGawker still.
This is, easily, Kurtz’s worst error since the time he accidentally invented a conversation with a member of Congress. But while that one seemed like a truly weird circumstance, involving a massive misunderstanding, this one seems like the natural result of a lazy hack thoughtlessly weighing in on the news without actually thinking (or reading the article he was weighing in on). (Also does the Daily Beast not have editors anymore? They still have Photoshoppers!)
Speaking of people not telling the whole story, Kurtz has a slightly mysterious relationship with the Daily Download, which is apparently a real website and not the name of a fictional blog invented for a “Law & Order” episode. Kurtz is on the “Board of Advisers” for that site and writes (and appears in videos) for them constantly. As Michael Calderone reports, Kurtz plugs the site like crazy, tweeting links to the Daily Download six times more often than he tweets links to the site he actually works for, the Daily Beast. Kurtz says the board position is unpaid, so who knows what’s even going on there. But he is in a lot of bad, dumb videos that no one watches, except when the videos become controversial because Kurtz said stupid things.
Howard Kurtz is a media reporter, though he is often mistakenly referred to — and hired to act as — a media critic. As a media reporter, he is well-sourced. He is also an experiment in how many potential conflicts of interest one highly successful journalism professional can walk around with without ever having to change a single thing. For years he was supposed to cover the media — including, say, CNN — for the Washington Post, while also hosting a show on CNN. (He was also covering the media — including, say, the Washington Post — for CNN.) His wife is a professional flack who once worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kurtz has interviewed his wife’s clients on his show. . . .
Howard Kurtz—”Howie” to his friends, if any—is the worst of hacks, and regularly lies, misreports, slants, and deceives: the epitome of the person without principle. Robert Parry has a profile in farewell—though of course Kurtz will bounce back up: corporations always need shills.
For nearly a quarter century, Howard Kurtz has served as hall monitor for Washington’s conventional wisdom, handing out demerits to independent-minded journalists who don’t abide by the mainstream rules. So, there is some understandable pleasure seeing Kurtz face some accountability in his ouster as bureau chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN’s “Reliable Sources” show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently – and unfairly – punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories.
When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists – like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas – but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay.Kurtz faulted Collins for supposedly not revealing that he had once been engaged to a woman, but Collins had mentioned those marriage plans. Twitter exploded with comments about Kurtz’s sloppy error. On Thursday, The Daily Beast retracted the post, and the Web site’s editor-in-chief Tina Brown announced that Kurtz would be departing.
However, Kurtz has committed far more serious offenses during his years destroying the careers of journalists who dared make life a bit uncomfortable for Official Washington’s powerful elites. For instance, Kurtz played a key role in the destruction of investigative reporter Gary Webb, who had the courage to revive the long-suppressed Contra-cocaine story in the mid-1990s.
Working at the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb produced a multi-part series in 1996 revealing how cocaine that was smuggled into the United States by operatives connected to the Nicaraguan Contra war of the 1980s had contributed to the “crack cocaine” epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities. Webb’s articles put the major U.S. news media on the spot because most mainstream outlets had dismissed the Contra-cocaine allegations when they first surfaced in the mid-1980s.
My Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1985 and our work was met with a mix of condescension and contempt from the New York Times and the Washington Post, where Kurtz worked for many years. Even after an investigation by Sen. John Kerry confirmed – and expanded upon – our work, the big newspapers continued to dismiss and downplay the stories.
It didn’t matter how much evidence was developed on the Contra-cocaine smuggling or on the Reagan administration’s role covering up the crimes; the conventional wisdom was that the scandal must be a “conspiracy theory.” Journalists or government investigators who did their job, looking at the problem objectively, risked losing their job.
Journalistic up-and-comers, such as Michael Isikoff (then at the Washington Post), advanced their careers by focusing on minor flaws in Kerry’s investigation rather than on major disclosures of high-level government complicity with drug trafficking. Newsweek’s “conventional wisdom watch” mocked Kerry as “a randy conspiracy buff.”
So, when Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 by pointing out its real-world impact on the emergence of crack cocaine that ravaged inner cities across the United States in the 1980s, his stories were most unwelcome.
At first, the mainstream news media tried to ignore Webb’s work, but African-American lawmakers demanded investigations into the scandal. That prompted a backlash from the major news organizations. Webb’s articles were dissected looking for tiny flaws that could be exploited to again discredit the whole issue.
On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives indeed did help the cocaine cartels.
The Post’s approach was twofold: first, the Post presented the Contra-cocaine allegations as old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post sniffed — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying that it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.” A Post sidebar dismissed African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”
Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in . . .