An angry, naked man commandeered a school bus full of teenage students Thursday in Atlanta, police said.
The man drove the bus for less than a mile before a student confronted him and the bus crashed into a wall off the road, according to police.
I know what you're thinking punk: Did he use five bullets or six? Do you feel lucky... I'm sorry, but could you put something on? That's just gross.
That's the topic of my Scripps column with Ben Boychuk this week. My take:
If Republicans like Dick Cheney had their way, there would be no law that CIA agents -- or their White House bosses -- couldn't break in the name of national security.
Eric Holder isn't going after officials, such as Cheney, who authorized the "enhanced interrogation methods" that probably broke domestic and international laws against torture. Holder isn't even going after very many agents who participated in the interrogation program. Instead, he's going after the agents who went way too far -- the ones who broke the Bush administration's already-expansive rules about what constituted torture.
The result? We know that some detainees died in custody, and that others suffered mightily. There will be few tears shed, of course; most of these men were terrorists. But our treatment of them is a stain on the national honor.
What Cheney is saying is that even the agents who broke Bush administration rules "deserve our gratitude" and shouldn't be prosecuted. But if CIA agents shouldn't be held accountable for breaking the laws, orders and legal guidance set out by Congress and the White House, how can America possibly put limits on the actions of its agents? And how can we trust our government not to misuse that awful power? We can't.
The truth is that Holder's investigation doesn't go far enough. It risks scapegoating lower-level CIA employees who were carrying out orders, while Cheney and others who gave those orders face no consequences. That's unfair and unfortunate. But Cheney and his fellow Republicans are suggesting that utter lawlessness is acceptable in the name of defeating terrorists. It's not.
Just in case it isn't clear, what I'm saying is this: The criticism by Cheney and other Republicans of the investigation gives lie to their assertion that all the Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying torture were actually efforts to keep the CIA within strict legal limits to avoid torture. If that were really the case, then Cheney et al would agree that agents who crossed the lines laid down by the Bush Administration should face sanction of some sort. Instead, such agents "deserve our gratitude." It's further proof -- if any was needed -- that the OLC memos were an exercise in bureaucratic ass-covering.
I've met and interviewed Lynn Jenkins, the Kansas congresswoman who's achieved a measure of blogospheric fame today with her comments that the GOP needs a "great white hope" to lead it out of the electoral wasteland. Some folks were offended, while others wryly see it as a window into the soul of the Republican Party. Me? I see it as evidence of the stupidity of high-achieving politicians.
Simply put: A great many politicians are very smart people who put the entirety of their intellect to one task and one task only: Getting elected and staying elected. So their knowledge of other parts of life -- culture, books, history -- can suffer a bit. They end up stupid about everything but politics, which sometimes causes the politics side of thing to suffer.
Jenkins isn't alone in this. Her predecessor, Democrat Nancy Boyda, was a bit of a dim bulb. And Boyda's predecessor, Jim Ryun, was just plain dumb. The poor folks of the 2nd District of Kansas haven't had a bright representative for a long, long time.
I'm still making my way through the CIA Inspector General's report on torture which was released (with some redactions) yesterday. I'll have some thoughts, I think, once I've given it a closer look. But for now, I think, publius sums things up nicely:
The highlights include: (1) mock executions; (2) threatened rape of family members; (3) threatened murder of children; (4) kicking and beating a detainee with a metal flashlight to death; (5) threatening naked hooded detainees with power drills; (6) blowing cigar smoke in detainees' faces until they got sick; (7) waterboarding with massive volumes of water far beyond what OLC authorized (to make it "poignant"); (8) stress positions that nearly caused shoulder dislocations; (9) scraping detainees with stiff brushes; (10) choking a detainee with one's bare hands until they nearly pass out; (11) subjecting detainees to extremely cold temperatures and water dousing; (12) "hard takedowns" (sometimes in diapers); and (13) beating detainees with butts of rifles (followed by kicking them).
There will be folks who will say that all of this is justified: We're at war! But it's still torture. Not "enhanced techniques," but torture. Plain and simple -- let me say it again -- torture. Almost certainly in the legal sense, but also (because the law can be an ass) quite certainly in the moral sense.
Go ahead and defend it. But if you try to tell me it's not torture -- that it isn't what it plainly is -- I must conclude you're either delusional or lying.
It's hard to get anybody who doesn't work for Rupert Murdoch to praise the man -- especially if the person doing the praising is a die-hard liberal. Yet the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten says Murdoch will be the "savior" of the newspaper industry by leading the way for papers to charge for online content.
Congress, Rutten writes, needs to exempt newspapers from anti-trust laws so that they can collude to start charging their online audience:
Murdoch's Wall Street Journal already does so, but the Australian-born media magnate understands that what's required for serious -- which is to say expensive-to-produce -- journalism to survive is that all the quality English-language papers and news sites agree to charge for Web access and then mercilessly sue anyone who makes more than fair use of their work without paying a fee. For such a scheme to work, the papers' owners need to agree on when to act and what to charge. (Murdoch and his digital strategist, Jonathan Miller, believe the Journal's existing website model offers a place for what the latter calls "premium" journalism.)
This suggests to me that Rutten and Murdoch -- and Brian Tierney of Philadelphia Newspapers, it should be noted -- fundamentally misunderstand the new media marketplace. These newspaper guys seem to believe that they're competing against themselves, that people are (and will continue to) get their news from newspapers and newspaper-backed websites. And that's not necessarily the case.
Because newspapers' online competition isn't just other newspaper websites. It's websites of news-oriented radio stations. And TV stations. It would be one thing if those websites simply offered archived audio and video, but they don't. They -- like newspaper sites -- offer text, as well.
And I don't think radio stations are going to start charging for access to their websites.
The comeback from newspaper advocates is likely to be that radio and TV stations rip them off. (There's long been griping about the "rip and read" practice of radio broadcasters reading, essentially, news directly from the paper.) But here's a question for them: Do you think your audience is likely to care? If they have a choice between paying for original journalism and getting the ripoff for free, which are they likely to choose?
The newspaper folks will counter, rightly, that they can provide more in-depth coverage than their broadcast competition, even online. But anybody who has spent time above the reporter level in the media industry has seen readership studies showing that most readers get -- at most -- a headline and a few paragraphs of a story before moving onto the next page. (That's one reason why the Philly papers both have the "At A Glance" page summing up the paper.) If that's the case, will most readers notice or care if they're getting the "At A Glance" version from a radio station's website if they can get it for free?
And it's not even necessarily the case that you'll get cut-rate journalism from Radio and TV sites. NPR.org has revamped itself to provide a more complete reading experience -- is anybody going to make the (nonideological) case that National Public Radio doesn't offer good or in-depth reporting? Not convincingly.
Hey, I love newspapers. Spent my adult life working for them. I don't want to see them go away -- and for reasons more complex than the fact that I don't know what else I'd do to earn money. But if newspapers step back and recognize that they're not the only news organizations providing text-based news and information online, they'll realize their job is bigger than getting together with other newspapers to start charging. They're not just competing against themselves.
So last week, Z wrote a blog post mocking the liberal boycott of Whole Foods. Since - you may have noticed - Zaius and I disagree vociferously about, well, everything but music (he's got great taste) I thought I'd weigh in and agree.
That turned into a post on my own blog. And then, for various reasons, into a column for this week's print edition of Philadelphia Weekly. I call the boycott "dumb." And boy, PW's liberal readers are pissed!
Some samples from the comments:
“Based on your logic, we squishy-softhearted liberals should also be watching Fox and eagerly patronizing their sponsors so we won't be "punishing" them for not agreeing with our values. We should be sending money to the Republicans so we're not "punishing" them. Oh yeah, and because they might otherwise fire some of their operatives and clerks."
“Are you seriously equating the wingnut accusations of Nazism, Hitler comparisons, and eugenics with the progressives' corporate boycott?"
“The more these sweaty concern trolls come out swinging in defense of Whole Foods, the more likely it is to go under. It's not just that liberals are the only people who patronize the store, they're the only ones who read. And you're pissing them off.”
“No, fuck you, Joel Mathis. " (It had honestly been two weeks since I'd heard that. I love Philadelphia.)
And so on.
Anyway, I blame Zaius for bating me into becoming a "concern troll" for the right. (And sweaty? Really? Me?)
Actually, I don't. One of the biggest complaints about the town halls from the left -- aside from the "Obama is a Nazi" references -- has simply been the tenor of these meetings. All the yelling, screaming and name-calling might be democracy in action, but it's also tiresome and ugly.
Now I suppose you can beat 'em or you can join 'em, and a lot of liberals apparently want to do both. But dammit, I really believe that there's room in this country for thoughtful and civil debate -- and I'm not going to punish the one guy who tries to give it to me.
And what's more, I believe in health care reform. I believe in making sure that 46 million people who don't have insurance can find a way to be taken care of. You might call the result socialism -- you might even be right -- but I don't care because I believe it's wrong to let people suffer and die premature deaths because of their income. I really do. So where I differ with my critics isn't about the goal; it's about the tactics.
It looks like Ted Nugent has lost his position as an op-ed columnist for the Waco Tribune-Herald. The paper's new owners -- they put "In God We Trust" on the front page every day -- had asked him to tone things down a bit, make the column a little more thoughtful and respectful.
But as everybody knows: You can't tame the Nuge. He wrote a rejected column comparing his new bosses to Nazis and was fired. His editor wrote this column explaining the controversy:
The irony of this disagreement with Nugent is that I have been one of his biggest defenders.
Two years ago, I sustained a strong attack from the left that demanded that I pull his column after a concert he had in which he held up what appeared to be some semi-automatic weapons on stage and unleashed on candidate Barack Obama, “You might want to suck on these, you punk.”
Then he turned his wrath to candidate Hillary Clinton and said, “Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless b——.”
I wrote a column criticizing his antics on stage but steadfastly refusing to pull his column from the Trib because I believe strongly that a diversity of voices is important.
Notwithstanding my love of "Free For All" -- a song I believe is the epitome of '70s-era classic rock -- and my belief that newspapers should have lively and diverse opinion pages, I'm not going to shed too many tears for the Nuge's departure. He can blog and Twitter like all the other celebrities do.
But the whole "diversity of voices" argument is most often made on the op-ed page in service of people who write, well, crap. (Surely you can think of some Philadelphia examples of this phenomenon.) Most people who suggest that a president -- or a presidential candidate -- should "suck" on the end of rifle get visits from the Secret Service. If you're a rock n' roll star, you get a newspaper column. "Diverse voices" are important, but so is credibility. The Nuge has none. But he made a couple of great songs, once upon a time.
I've read, re-read and re-re-read this blog post at National Review and still can't figure out why on earth it was written.
Benjamin Zycher, a fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, starts out by quoting a two-month-old WaPo article...
An article in the Washington Post about two months ago bore this headline: "A First Lady Who Demands Substance."
...proceeds to insult the First Lady's intellect in racial -- let's call it racist -- terms:
Just read her Princeton senior thesis, an intermittently coherent stream-of-consciousness pile of leftist jargon, campus pseudo-seriousness, and racial-identity babble. Can there be any doubt that the Princeton administrators accepted it only because of her skin color?
...and then asks, in insultingly sarcastic terms, why she hasn't weighed in more fully in the health care debate:
But obviously she is capable of giving us more, of moving the debate forward, of using her background in law, public policy, and management to shoot down the spurious arguments of the special interests and the Beltway obstructionists. We need her now. We need her wisdom. We need her analytic rigor.
It's satire, I suppose, but why take health care debate potshots at somebody who -- as Zycher acknowledges -- really isn't participating in the health care debate? Using a months-old article as the peg? It's really perplexing.
The only answer I can come up with is that Michelle Obama hasn't really worked out to be as much of a socialist bogeyman as conservatives -- who spent the 1990s doing the same to Hillary Clinton -- tried so desperately to make her. Maybe Zycher's trying to bait her into the fray.
Or maybe he's just a jerk.
In any case, one wonders if National Review has any editorial standards left. They claim to be upholding the mantle of William F. Buckley, but it seems like all they remember of his legacy is when he called Gore Vidal a "queer" and threatened to punch him in the face. Everything else -- the intelligence (if, to my way of thinking, often wrong), wit and respect for one's ideological opponents -- has been cast aside.
Disney has acquired the rights to film a new version of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The film will be written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet.
Just a guess: There will be a lot more cursing in this version of Anne Frank than there was in the actual diary.
I seem to recall that around here that we find Saul Alinsky's tactics dangerous and disreputable.
The growth of the “Tea Party” movement has seen Alinky morph from a bogeyman to a possible inspiration to conservative activists. In April, Brendan Steinhauser of FreedomWorks, the conservative group that has provided guidance to many “Tea Party” organizers and town hall rowdies, told TWI that the group was “applying Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’” in its approach to anti-tax “Tea Parties.” In June, he told Eric Kleefeld of TPMDC that “Rules” was the first book handed to new employees of the group.
“That first rule, ‘power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have’ — that argument is happening right now,” said Steinhauser, “with both sides arguing about which side represents the majority on health care.” The mockery and laughter at town halls struck Steinhauser as an adoption of the fifth rule, which posits that “Ridicule is a man’s most potent weapon.” The old deference to congressmen, out of respect for the office, has “broken down.”
So what about it, folks? Is Saul Alinsky's influence only malign when put to use by Democrats?
If you were a teen-ager during the 1980s and you hear that news and you didn't feel just a little twinge of sadness, well, you're not human.
Michael Jackson made us dance back then. But John Hughes provided the soul.
UPDATE: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Here is a subject on which Joel and I can agree: Lauding the greatness of John Hughes. I'd forgotten (if I ever realized) that Hughes was also responsible for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," a movie that always makes me laugh — especially this scene (WARNING: LOTS OF F-BOMBS that are essential for this hilarious scene).
Dr. Zaius and I should have a beer sometime.
I was enjoying a nice vacation when the Henry Gates brouhaha went down, and I more or less resisted the temptation to comment. Since I'm back, though, and since the topic still seems reasonably warm, let me throw in my two cents.
I've read the police report in the Gates case. Assuming that the cop presented an accurate picture of the incident -- a mildly huge assumption -- it's still apparent Gates got a raw deal in being arrested. Was Gates loud, arrogant, rude and wrongheaded? If the police report is correct, yes. Should being loud, arrogant, rude and wrongheaded be considered criminal behavior, even if to a cop? I don't think so.
Conservatives have been piping up in defense of the cop in this case, and while I shouldn't be astonished, I am. Conservatives - especially in recent months - talk a lot about government's potential for tyranny. I often think such talk is overblown, but I also think it a useful reminder to be vigilant in defense of freedom.
But these last few days, I've watched the conservative movement mock Gates and largely defend his arrest. If conservatives see creeping tyranny in DMV lines and slightly higher marginal tax rates, why do they not see it in the power of a police officer to arrest a citizen in front of his home for the crime of being loudly disrespectful?
I think Adam Serwer is spot on here:
If Gates had been white, or had he been a conservative, had he been say, Sarah Palin, the right would be using the incident as another example of the ruthlessness of the Obama police state.
The right's paranoia over guns is instructive in this instance. At least some of those rushing to buy weapons and ammo are not concerned simply about the prospect of gun bans, but about their ability to "resist tyranny" from the government. They're talking about armed resistance--who else would they be violently opposing but armed agents of the state such as police?
Right. It undermines conservative claims to the defense of freedom when they celebrate and defend such arrests. They behave similarly when it comes to torture and eavesdropping. If conservatives want to cheer the police but complain about the possibility of a police state, I'm left confused, suspicious and cynical.
You know what? Walter Cronkite wasn't so great.
I know, I know, we're all supposed to be beating our breasts about Cronkite's passing and lamenting how TV news was never the same after he retired and damnit, they just don't make journalists like they used to anymore. And at first, I was tempted to join in the nostalgia: My first memories of news -- such as they are -- are memories of Cronkite, intoning in a baritone staccato how many days had passed since Americans had been taken hostage in Iran.
But you know what? Walter Cronkite really wasn't that great.
To understand why he wasn't so great, though, you've got to understand what lots of folks are lamenting this week: A bygone era of TV journalism that never really existed. Here's a typical -- and typically misguided -- rant from litblogger Edward Champion:
In Cronkite’s time, it was the journalist’s job to question everything, provide dependable veracity, and present vital information for the public to consider. But today’s anchormen and editors are more concerned about money. When there’s a mortgage and a college tuition to pay off, the “journalist” knows damn well where his bread is buttered.
Right. And here's Salon's Glenn Greenwald:
So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite. Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed.
You know what shouldn't be believed? Extravagant claims about how some journalists used to do things the right way. Because you know what? Walter Cronkite wasn't that great.
1. He was crushingly dull. Everybody remembers -- or has seen the old videos -- of Cronkite's coverage of the Kennedy assassination, or the moon landing, the the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. But any monkey can anchor a disaster and come away looking like a gray eminence. Look at what Hurricane Katrina did for Anderson Cooper's career.
The truth is, the assassinations and other calamities spanned just a few days of Cronkite's anchoring career. More often, a day in the news looked something like this in March 1977:
Blah, blah, blah. If you can get five minutes into this 10-minute video without being bored to tears, you're a better human than I am. Lament Uncle Walter all you want, kids: There's no way you'd sit through this stuff long enough to make him the most-trusted man in America these days. To the extent that Cronkite had influence, it's because Americans had only two other TV news options at the time -- ABC and NBC. No CNN, no FOX, nothing like that. People watched Walter Cronkite because there was nothing else to do before the good shows came on.
2. He was a sellout. Never mind the cigarette commercials he did -- and botched. Never mind that he co-hosted the CBS Morning News with a puppet. A lion puppet, to be precise, Named Charlemagne. We will chalk these small embarrassments to the early days of television working its kinks out.
Cast that stuff aside, though, and the truth is that Walter Cronkite -- his op-edding against the Vietnam War notwithstanding -- didn't exactly speak truth to power. He courted it. Check out these excerpts from his first half-hour nightly newscast for CBS:
There's no other way to say it: He's palling around with Kennedy. So, Mr. President, there's this little civil rights problem down in Alabama. How's that going to affect your re-election? It's country-clubby horse-race journalism, the kind of stuff people like Glenn Greenwald say they hate unless it's viewed through the hazy light of 45-year-old memories.
Oh, and check Cronkite's smirk when he quotes Castro accusing the CIA of fomenting instability in Cuba. Because the CIA never would've done that, right? Right?
3. He didn't really make a big difference. This speaks to, as Greenwald says, Cronkite's most celebrated act: Opining against American involvement in Vietnam. The anecdote that LBJ watched the broadcast and despaired: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
Only the war went on seven more years. Most of the Americans who would die in Vietnam died after the Tet Offensive, and after Cronkite's pronouncement. That's not Cronkite's fault, of course, but the telling of his story makes it sound like Walter Cronkite pushed the Vietnam War to its end. It didn't.
Truth is, most of the journalists who dug up the truth about American involvement in Vietnam were newspaper and wire guys. David Halberstam of the New York Times was challenging Army generals in Saigon in 1963 while Cronkite was playing grab-ass with Kennedy in Hyannisport. The Pentagon Papers, which revealed the doubts America's own leadership had about the enterprise, appeared in the Times and the Washington Post. These reporters didn't need to take a trip to Vietnam, come back and make a celebrated speech. They laid out the facts, pointed out the discrepancies between the official story and the truth, and they did it for years and years and years.
Which leads me to the last point.
4. At end of the day he was a TV guy. Cronkite was, in the end, the grandfather of everything that Jon Stewart makes fun of every night. There's no other way to say it.
The truth is, there's never been a golden age of journalism. Oh, maybe for about six months in 1974 when Woodward and Bernstein were on a hot streak. But that's about it. And it never existed for TV journalism. TV is good at wowing us, after all -- good at showing us the Reagan assassination attempt, or the Kennedy assassination, or the space shuttle blowing up. It's not so great at explaining how or why those things occur. Walter Cronkite was ringmaster for many of those memorable moments -- which is why we remember him -- but for the most part, that's all he was. Anybody who says different is peddling ideological malarkey to make their own points about what the media needs to be.
And that's the way it is.
An honor that never went to The Simpsons. I believe South Park expressed my feelings about this:
So last night, I watched this on Netflix Streaming:
Yeah. I know.
Anyway, if you ever listen to our podcasts, you notice that a recurring theme to our discussions is how technology is transforming our consumption of media. Books, news and music are more available to more people than ever before -- and that's kind of a magical thing, but it also makes one wistful for the days when you could really discover something few other people had found. And if you found some of those other people, a deep and wonderful community would often result.
Well, add something to the list: Schlock cinema. Anybody who has the slightest inclination to watch a Japanese schoolgirl amputee commit unspeakable acts of violence now has every opportunity to do so. And if that's not progress, what is?
Because he missed out on a discussion of which this was an integral part:
Editing is underway. It's a fun one this week!
Remember a couple of months ago, when Republicans got very, very angry at Nancy Pelosi's insistence the CIA had misled her and Congress about its actions in the war on terror?
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.
In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose. “This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods,” said the letter, made public late Wednesday by Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the signers.
In an interview, Mr. Holt declined to reveal the nature of the C.I.A.’s alleged deceptions,. But he said, “We wouldn’t be doing this over a trivial matter.”
I'm shocked -- shocked! -- the CIA would lie about its activities. Anyhow, I wonder if any Republicans or conservatives will apologize to Pelosi for being right.
There's been a lot of talk in recent days -- much of it on Andrew Sullivan's blog -- about how invaluable Twitter has been in enabing Iran's protesters to communicate with each other and send news of their situation to the outside word. There's something to it; heck, even the Obama Administration intervened with Twitter to defer some maintenance so the revolution wouldn't end with a "fail whale." Matt Yglesias and Jack Shafer have useful counterarguments to all this: Twitter is a good communications device, but it won't help a revolution succeed if the regime decides to start using guns.
What's interesting to me, though, is the way Twitter has made consuming foreign news a truly interactive affair for the American audience. In the last 24 hours or so, I've seen tons of people "green" their Twitter avatar in support of the demonstrators. Many have used the #iranelection and #cnnfail hashtags to help facilitate -- they think -- communication or call media to account for its failures of coverage. Many Twitterers even changed their location to Tehran in order to try to throw the regime's snoops off the track of real Iranians.
What does all this mean? I have no idea.
But 20 years ago this summer, millions of Americans sat at home on their couches and watched the Tianenmen Square protests and massacre. We felt it deeply. But aside from watching the news and perhaps writing a letter to the editor about our anger, there wasn't much we did or could do.
American Twitterers, meanwhile, have made a personal investment in the Iranian protests. It's not a huge investment -- Americans aren't risking anything with their support of the protests -- but it is real. Perhaps it's a fad that will soon be forgotten; that wouldn't surprise me. But it might also augur a new grassroots American engagement in the world that his simply never been possible until this moment. The possibilities are fascinating.
Rich Lowry at National Review repeats what I think is a common misperception about Obama:
For all the talk of Obama's realism, he is pursuing a policy driven by a fantasy about international affairs—that all disputes can be resolved through negotiations and governments can be talked out of their interests.
Maybe it's not so much a misperception as a cariacature, this idea that the Barack Obama foreign policy can be summed up as: "Let's hug it out, bitch." This might be because the conservatives most prominent in our public discourse have two basic approaches to dealing with America's rivals in the world:
• Giving them the cold shoulder: That is, refusing to talk to them unless they do what we want.
• Punching them in the face. Metaphorically, of course.
We're only a few months into Obama's presidency, so we haven't seen his full range of responses to international crises. But where conservatives suggest that Obama wants to replace America's foreign policy tools -- sanctions, armed force, etc. -- with diplomacy, I think (and hope) the evidence indicates the president sees genuine diplomacy, genuine efforts to talk as one of the tools in the toolbox. Not all disputes can be resolved through negotiations, but some surely can. This attitude isn't a gauzy hope that governments can be talked out of their interests; instead it acknowledges the differences without treating them as automatically illegitimate.
When diplomacy fails though -- and it will, often, because it's hard and time-consuming and not a panacea -- the president will use the other tools. For example: North Korea has (once again) backed out of previous agreements to proceed with work on expanding its nuclear arsenal. There's probably not much the U.S. can do, short of an unthinkable war, to prevent that. But this is what the Obama Administration is doing to prevent North Korea from spreading nuclear technology beyond its borders.
The Obama administration will order the Navy to hail and request permission to inspect North Korean ships at sea suspected of carrying arms or nuclear technology, but will not board them by force, senior administration officials said Monday.
Perhaps that sounds weak to you -- no boarding by force? -- but it's actually tougher and more confrontational than any actions taken by the Bush Administration.
Until now, American interceptions of North Korean ships have been rare. Early in the Bush administration, a shipment of missiles to Yemen was discovered, but the United States permitted the shipment to go through after the Yemenis said they had paid for the missiles and expected delivery.
So what we're seeing from the Obama Administration, so far, is diplomacy backed up with real but not-necessarily war-provoking action. Conservative foreign policy thinkers seem to prefer angry denunciations backed up with A) even more angry denunciations or B) gunplay. I know which approach I prefer.
Something that looks like a revolution -- maybe, maybe not -- has been taking place in Iran this weekend, but you wouldn't have known it by watching cable news. While Iranians were marching in the streets, CNN was re-airing an old Larry King interview with the guys from American Chopper. The result? #cnnfail became one of the top trends on Twitter Saturday night, and deservedly so.
Worse than CNN's lame coverage of Iran has been its lame defense of its coverage. Howard Kurtz -- the Washington Post media critic and host of the network's Reliable Sources show -- has been defending CNN on his Facebook page. And I've found myself so irritated by his defenses that, in a rarity for me, I've been arguing right back.
It started Sunday morning with this post from Kurtz:
Howard Kurtz: On Reliable, Gregg Doyel calls Twitter the "teenybopperification" of news. Guess he doesn't know most users are older and (presumably) wiser.
Joel Mathis at 11:56am June 14: But... Twitter seems to be more on top of the Iran developments than CNN. Have you seen the #cnnfail trends on Twitter? It seems like a bad day for anybody on the network to mock Twitter's approach to news.
Kurtz, a few hours later:
Howard Kurtz: I'm not getting the argument that CNN fell short on Iran. Christiane Amanpour has been there and the net has devoted hours to the story.
Howard Kurtz: In fact, CNN stayed with Ahmadinejad's endless rant this morning long after the other cables broke away.
Other commenters pointed out that the King interview and reruns of Campbell Brown's show dominated CNN's Saturday programming in America, not breaking news in a country critical to U.S. security in the Middle East. Meanwhile, CNN International viewers were getting breaking coverage of the Iran situation. I posted another response to Kurtz:
Joel Mathis at 1:00pm June 14: Due respect, Howard, that's kind of lame. CNN missed most of what was happening in the streets -- but hey, at least they spent extra time broadcasting Iran's "official" version? That actually makes the network look worse, not better.
So, Kurtz started to backtrack.
Howard Kurtz: Maybe CNN should have taken CNNi feed last evening. But it was middle of the night in Iran, and even journalists have to rest sometimes.
Joel Mathis at 4:53pm June 14: Howard: I hope I'm not coming across as one of these people who nag you constantly. Not my aim.
But Iranians were on their rooftops at 4 am - their time - chanting "Allahu Ackbar!" in protest. You're telling me that journalists had to go to bed when the country itself was awake with protest? I'm not a CNN hater. But this might be a good case for CNN to say: "You know what? We kind of fell down on the job of reporting the most important news story of the weekend. Mistakes happen, but we'll work to prevent a repeat." I would respect that. It's difficult to respect the defenses being offered on CNN's behalf.
And I say that with sincere respect
Another commenter challenged me:
Don Jones: Joel, just curious...what kind of "first hand bureau" reporting by the other 24 Hour News Networks have you seen? And by that I mean not showing the same video loops of rioting taken from Iranian TV or Al Arabia (now banned for a week) or video pulled off the internet...but real life first hand (meaning they shot it, did "stand ups" with demonstrators, talked to opposition politicians) Middle East Bureau reporting.
And my final thoughts, for now:
Joel Mathis at 5:52pm June 14: Don: I haven't seen better from the other news networks. They've all failed, frankly, but it's no laurel to CNN if it failed a little bit less than its competitors.
And we're in the 21st century: Aggregation happens. It would be nice to get more bureau reporting from Teheran, but a good fallback is to do what Andrew Sullivan has spent the last 48 hours doing and collecting information and analysis -- including video, TV's lifeblood -- and kept his readers pretty well abreast of developments. CNN makes a big deal about reading blogs on air and using "citizen journalists" through its IReport program. It seems like they could apply those lessons to a big important news story like this.
I'm embarrassed to admit that until I saw this morning's interview in the Washington Post, I kind of just assumed that Bill Withers was dead. He's responsible for some of the greatest songs ever -- "Ain't No Sunshine" standing prominently atop the list. If he was still alive, wouldn't he be out there on the Golden Oldies circuit, getting Baby Boomers to pay top dollar to hear the songs of their youth one more time?
As it turns out, no.
Instead, it turns out that Withers is the Bo Jackson or Jim Brown of music. Those two men walked away from the game while they could still bring it, realizing there was more to life than football. Withers, it seems, has a similar perspective. I loved the Post's Q&A with him, particularly this:
So you have no interest in a comeback?
There's a time for everything. And at certain times in your life, when you're young enough for that kind of vanity, you draw attention to yourself. And some people can do that into their eighties. It depends on your personality and how you've been socialized. I wasn't socialized in the entertainment business. I was in the Navy for nine years, I had a life outside of this well into my thirties [Withers worked in the aeronautics industry even after "Ain't No Sunshine" became a hit]. You know, this whole music thing was something that came into my life after I was formed socially. So it was fun, it served its purpose, I still like it, but it's not my main focus. In fact, it hasn't been for a long time. There are other requirements. You're somebody's father, you're somebody's husband, you're somebody's friend. And for me, it was important that I not neglect those other requirements just to satisfy some personal need that I might have for approval or attention from people that I don't even know.
David Leonhardt attempts to be even-handed by assigning blame to both Democrats and Republicans in his NYT story diagnosing how America's budget surplus became a huge deficit. And it's true: Dems haven't exactly turned their backs on debt since they came to power. But by Leonhardt's own account, most of the blame belongs to ... the very same Republicans who now are weeping and tearing their clothes over fiscal irresponsibility:
The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.
You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.
Leonhardt crunches the numbers and assigns the blame like this: 37 percent of the shortfall is attributable to the 2001 and current recessions. Another 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill, and another 3 percent from President Obama's new programs.
But 53 percent comes from policies initiated by the Bush Administration itself. Some of the costly spending has been extended by Obama, yes, but that doesn't change the fact that it originated with Republicans.
There's lots of reasons to be alarmed about the country's growing indebtedness, and a lot of people who genuinely are concerned about the issue. But Republicans have been working furiously to reclaim the brand of the "fiscally responsible" party ever since Obama took office. Recent history proves such claims to be, well, a lie. Democrats are deficit spenders, yes, but they're not uniquely awful in that regard.
And the thing is: We didn't need Leonhardt to prove that to us. We already knew it.
A couple of months ago I earned some ire from my conservative friends when I suggested "the tea parties were one of the biggest displays of sore loserdom seen in recent U.S. history." I have to stand by that assertion: The government was already spending away our children's future before Obama came to office; the tea partiers only decided to gather in the streets afterward. It's easy enough to draw conclusions.
I know some of the monkeys are big fans of Mark Levin, so I'm curious for their take on this incident:
CALLER: I just wanna say, Obama is a lot smarter than you folks give him credit for. You guys were on a roll, I have to admit, with all those tea parties. Everything was rolling along, the Republicans were gaining momentum. And he managed to change your entire conversational focus. And you let those three hundred thousand people —
HOST: My God. He’s so smart. His own party voted against him on Guantanamo Bay. How stupid was that, Cindy? His own party refused to fund the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
CALLER. Yeah but you know he can just move those people over here anyway. He’s already doing it with the one guy.
HOST: Yeah, sure, he can do whatever he wants. Let me ask you a question. Why do you hate this country?
CALLER: No, I love this country.
HOST: (angrily shouting) I SAID WHY DO YOU HATE MY COUNTRY! WHY DO YOU HATE MY CONSTITUTION? WHY DO YOU HATE MY DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE?
You just said it. He can blow off Congress. He can do whatever he wants, right?
CALLER: Well, he seems to, he just moved (inaudible).
HOST: Answer me this, are you a married woman? Yes or no?
HOST: Well I don’t know why your husband doesn’t put a gun to his temple. Get the hell out of here.
Sexist, violent, out-of-nowhere accusations of America-hating -- and, oh yeah, just plain rude.
So what about it, Monkeys? Is Mark Levin still your guy?
There's a fair amount of snorting amongst conservatives these days that President Obama will pick a woman, or a Hispanic, or both to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court. The concern -- if that's the right word -- is that identity politics will triumph over merit in judicial selections. At National Review, John Derbyshire can be heard expressing both the substance and the tone of the objection:
Judge Sotomayor may indeed be dumb and obnoxious; but she's also female and Hispanic, and those are the things that count nowadays. Get with the program, Pal.
Concerns about identity politics are laughable, of course, from a movement that gave us Clarence Thomas and Sarah Palin. And they reflect a real misunderstanding by conservatives about why liberals aim for diversity in making choices like these: It's not simply that it's awesome to have a black person on the court, or a woman. It's that there are plenty of persons who aren't white dudes who are probably well-qualified for the bench -- and yet seven of the nine sitting justices are white dudes.
Some of that, of course, is a function of what the legal profession looks like: In 2000, 73 percent of American lawyers were men and 88 percent were white: By and large, the profession has been the province of white dudes. But that is changing: In 1980, both those numbers stood at 92 percent. It's only in the last 20 years or so that a relatively large pool of non-white, non-dude lawyers has emerged to be considered for promotion to to judgeships.
That said: Picking a Supreme Court justice isn't like picking a third baseman for the Phillies. With a baseball player, you can look at his fielding percentages, batting averages and RBIs and get a precise idea of where that player ranks against his peers. Judging judges, however, is more subjective: You can bring quantitative analysis to these things -- how many times as he or she been overruled on appeal? -- but at the end of the day, a judge's quality is very much in the eye of the beholder. It's kind of like picking a watermelon: You're don't know what you get until you cut it open -- and even then, the results will vary according to taste.
And, finally, it's worth pointing out that the selection of a judge is very much a political process -- picked by a president, approved by the Senate, there is (and always has been) a host of political calculations that go into the pick.
President Obama's job is to select a nominee who is academically and professionally qualified for the job. After that, if other factors come into play, big deal. There have been only two women in the entire history of the court, and only two black men. The legal profession is slowly but surely looking more like America; it would be startling -- and a disservice to the country -- if the highest court in America didn't follow suit.
Cross-posted, with alterations, from Cup O' Joel.
Here's what I want: I'd like to stop writing about torture. It's exhausting to contemplate, and there's no good way to write about it without being in a perpetual state of umbrage. And I'm tired of my umbrage. I'm even tired of arguing with Zaius -- and I never get tired of arguing with Zaius.
But then I open up my computer -- like I did this morning -- and I read this McClatchy report, which suggests that one reason torture was used against top Al Qaeda officials was to elicit proof of an alliance between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. There was no such alliance.
The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.
Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.
"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."
Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.
"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."
There are moments when I'm tempted to give the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt. It did preside over 9/11, after all, and the urge to prevent anything like that from happening again must have been powerful. That doesn't make torture right; it would make it understandable.
But this information removes that temptation. The evidence has long been that the Bush Administration was determined to present Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a threat no matter what the evidence said or didn't say. The failure of U.N. inspectors to find evidence of WMDs, for example, was presented as proof that Iraq had WMDs. And now we find that the lack of affirmative evidence for that case helped compel torture. And turned up nothing.
This gives lie to the assertion by torture advocates -- repeated often in recent days -- that the purpose of torture wasn't to elicit confessions (which could be false) but to obtain intelligence, which could be verified through other means. I thought it a weird distinction, and I see now it's meaningless. The Bush Administration wanted a pre-selected answer, and it was willing to abuse prisoners to get that answer.
Forgive my umbrage, but it's difficult for me to see that as being anything other than evil.
C'mon. You know you want to see this.
Seems like things have been, uh, extra-spirited around here lately. So I, being my hippy dippy liberal self, want to bring us together in the joy and love of unity.
Which is why I'm putting up the newest Star Trek trailer. Is it possible this movie will suck? Maybe. But the trailer is pretty awesome. And for now, can't we all come together in agreement over that?
I had thought there was only one preferred conservative solution to piracy: Kill all the pirates. But there's a second conservative solution that had, frankly, never occurred to me: Sell the ocean to the highest bidder.
Peter Leeson, a prof at George Mason University, is advocating this approach:
Governments exercise a kind of de facto ownership over the waters off their coasts; states have jurisdiction over, and thus control, what goes on in within so many miles of their shores. But there’s no government in Somalia to control what goes in Somalia’s would-be territorial waters. And in any event, pirates have taken to plying their trade 200-plus miles off the coast — watery territories nobody owns.
Predictably, the absence of ownership of these waters means no one has had much incentive to prevent activities that destroy their value — activities such as piracy. The result is a kind of oceanic “tragedy of the commons” whereby, since no one has an incentive to devote the resources required to prevent piracy, piracy flourishes. In contrast, if these waters were privately owned, the owner would have a strong incentive to maximize the waters’ value since he would profit by doing so. That would mean suppressing and preventing pirates.
Rather than trying its hand at Somali state building, the international community should try auctioning off Somali’s coastal waters. According to some Somali pirates, greedy foreign corporations are exploiting valuable resources in these waters, which is allegedly why they’ve resorted to piracy (the large ransoms earned from pirating are a happy but unexpected byproduct of pursuing social justice, I suppose). If this is right, Somalia’s coastal waters should be able to fetch a handsome price. The international community can use the proceeds of the auction for humanitarian assistance in Somalia, or put it in a trust for Somalia’s future government, if one ever emerges. The “high seas” should be similarly sold. It’s not so important where the proceeds go. The important thing is that the un-owned becomes owned.
Establishing private property rights where they don’t currently exist is the solution to about 90 percent of world’s economic problems. Piracy is no exception.
I don't think Leeson is entirely correct. For one thing, the absence of ownership hasn't kept the U.S. and Chinese navies, among others, from stepping up their patrols in waters off Somalia in order to prevent and interdict piracy. Maritime nations have an interest in relatively unfettered trade and passage through the sea lanes. The problem with piracy isn't that nobody's interested in solving the problem; it's that nobody's figured out how to confront the problem in an effective-but-efficient manner -- which is why we have U.S. destroyers facing down lightly manned lifeboats in the middle of the ocean.
Plus, while it's being sold as an anti-piracy move, it's unlikely anybody would buy, say, the Indian Ocean purely for the altruistic reasons of cleaning up piracy. They'd expect to get a return on the investment. How? Maybe it's fishing rights, maybe it's by charging fees for the passage of shipping through those key lanes, maybe -- probably -- it's something else entirely.
I'm dubious that Leeson's idea will go anywhere. But I can't help but suspect that "piracy" is a convenient hook to attempt something that is completely unrelated to piracy. And until there's a clear idea what the rights and responsibilities of ocean ownership would entail -- and, just as important, what rights and responsibilities would be forfeited by nations and individuals who traffic on the seas -- this is a proposal best deep-sixed.