Saturday, May 15, 2004

Attracting the centrists

Mark D Lew writes in from vacation:
I like the introduction much more than the manifesto itself. The manifesto is way way too long and needs to be edited back by 50 percent or more. If you're serious about this being an issue that should matter to all Americans and not just liberals, and I think you should be, then you need to cut out all of the partisan stuff. Factual examples of misinformation which happen to align with the left are OK, but there's a whole lot of "this is bad because it put an idiot Republican in office" kind of talk. If you want this to have centrist bipartisan legs, then that stuff has got to go.

Find some real centrists -- you know, people who honestly haven't decided whether to vote for or against Bush -- and have them read it and tell you which sentences turn them off. These people are great at spotting snarky partisan sniping which we tend to overlook because it just seems normal to us. I think the thoughtful center, including "grown-up" Republicans, is the natural engine for this movement. A large percentage of liberals would be perfectly happy with misinformation as long as it supports our side instead.

I might have more later, but that's my overwhelming reaction: that this movement be made non-partisan and as currently stated it is not.

The consumer is the problem

Lorne Colmar writes in with a provocative angle:
[The Manifesto] succinctly summarised many of my own feelings regarding the decline in journalistic and editorial standards across the media over the last decade or so. The increasing emphasis placed upon trivia, banality and superficiality substantially contributed to my decision to curtail my journalism career here in the UK several years ago. Though effectively an outsider since then, I have nevertheless continued to note the progressive decline in quality and relevance of both print and broadcast reportage.

As indicated, as a UK resident I am not exposed to the full range of US media so am perhaps not best placed to make authoritative observations on the specific issues you raised. Such impressions as have been gained about the dire straits of contemporary American journalism have come through the likes of the Web and satellite television broadcasting of US news output. In spite of this somewhat arbitrary exposure though, I have discerned considerable similarities between the news environments of the US and UK. Principal amongst these is the discernable shift away from delivering hard news and analysis in favour of the bastard concept "infotainment".

So it was with considerable sympathy that I read your call-to-arms. And yet, for all I may endorse both the sentiment and proposals, I can't but help feel they are doomed to failure. This is not to say one should never try -- quite the contrary. But the pessimism is born of what is to my mind *the* major obstacle in the way of improving the quality of news delivery. It also happens to be an issue that was not touched upon in your piece. It is one that I feel is so important that I felt the need to draw attention to it.

This problem? This blight? This mighty obstacle? This barrier to a Brave New World of journalism?

The Consumer.

Beyond any shadow of a doubt in the US (and to a lesser -- though still noticeable -- extent in the UK) news is a commercial product. It is just another commodity in the product range of media companies. Media companies of any size, shape or form ranging from the News International behemoth right down to the most modest local community newspaper. In order to continue in operation, they must deliver a product that a sufficient number of consumers are willing to pay for.

And that's the crux. It strikes me that the news agendas and policies drive the quality, accuracy and innate newsworthiness of reportage. These agendas and policies are, in turn, driven by the perception of public demand -- encapsulated in that unforgiving beast of the ratings figures. Of course, there's nothing new in ratings or circulation wars -- they were as evident back in the days of Hearst and Rothermere as they are today. The difference now though is that the battlefield has become so much more fragmented. There is now such a plethora of news outlets that the consumer is overwhelmed by choice. In order to attract attention and, consequently, ratings the presentation of news has inevitably strayed into the realm of entertainment rather than analysis. All an effort to differentiate one outlet from another. To my mind, there is no other reason to explain why, for instance, we've witnessed the dramatic rise to prominence of the abjectly terrible Fox "News".

Further to that, the ever-increasing influence of broadcast news as an opinion-former and the commensurate decline in that of the print media does not augur well for the future. At the pinnacle lie the 24-hour news channels. In order to survive commercially, they must deliver a product that is continually attractive to their consumers. They all aspire to be modern-day Nathan Bedford Forrests by being "fastest with the mostest". But therein lies an endemic weakness that will inevitably erode any desire to deliver a quality news product. Since news doesn't arrive on the scene per a predictable timetable, the need to fill broadcast time gives two options -- repeat what you have already shown (something you can only do for so long before viewers get bored and change the channel) or fill the vacuum with op-ed pieces, pundit commentaries or, more often than not, outright speculation. Driven by the ratings, the 24-hour news channels have discerned an appetite amongst viewers for this kind of insubstantial fluff masquerading as pertinent commentary. Conflict makes news, so the philosophy is that it's better to have a raging argument rather than a calmer, reasoned discussion. So the downward spiral starts. To sate the thirst for such vicarious "entertainment", the protagonists become ever more outrageous, the "facts" used ever more questionable and so forth. We have returned to the sphere of entertainment yet again.

But it works. It is commercially successful. And the blame can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of the consumer. This is not to exonerate the purveyors of sloppy or partisan reporting of their transgressions against the main principles of traditional journalism. But it remains the case that they, their sub-editors, editors and producers are all only part-players in the greater drama. So while all of us frustrated and disappointed with the current dire state of journalism may bemoan that fact, I remain convinced that the finger of blame must be pointed where it deserves to be. Rather than advocating a new manifesto to govern the practise of objective journalism I really do think the first step has to be at grass roots. For without a sea change in the apathetic, naive, ignorant, isolationist and trivia-obsessed attitudes of Joe Public the environment will remain too poisonous to allow a reformed journalism to blossom and flourish.

Overlapping interests

Charles Sanson write in:
I have only one major objection: the underlying assumption that the degredation of journalism has something to do with its absorption of a conservative agenda. I'm not conservative, and I'm highly partisan, but it's clear to me that conservatives have no monopoly on bad journalism.

Plus, if the revolt is to be successful, the left AND the right are going to have to put some of their differences aside to confront the big media monoliths. And we all know that some of the most vociferous critiques of the mass media are levelled by right wingers and conservatives. On my blog I've spent a great deal of time attempting to show that the demands and interests of the left and the right (both of which are marginalized in the mainstream press) overlap on some of the most important issues of the day, and media reform is not the least important among them. When the FCC voted last year to ease restrictions on media ownership, Congress acted almost immediately to criticize the ruling because groups across the political spectrum immediately rose up to voice stringent disapproval of the FCC ruling. The NRA and conservative Christian radio groups suddenly found themselves allied with the likes of Pacifica Radio media activists, anti-globalists and left wing anti-corporatists.

I think if you were to substitute references to the two-party system or the political mainstream for what you basically term "conservative influence," your critique would not only be more accurate, it would not automatically alienate conservatives who would otherwise agree with your overall point.

Some Ivan Weissdom

Ivan Weiss writes in from Vashon Island:
I read the entire manifesto. Having spent most of my life in daily newspaper journalism, most of it rang true to me. Since I read your blog every day, I know where you're coming from with this.

Rather than respond to all of it point by point, please let me offer a couple of things to think about. Hopefully these will clarify and refine the message somewhat.

1) In discussing the role and the potential of the blogosphere, you danced all around the central point, but never nailed it. Each mass media outlet is "one-to-many" communication. Blogs are "many-to-many" communication. In mass media, the feedback channels are constricted. In blogs, they are wide open. The "many-to-many" nature of the blogs gives them the "self-correcting" nature you referred to.

There's nothing new about the term "many-to-many," of course. I mention it because of the effect I have seen it have on people who haven't heard it before. I can almost see the light bulb going on over their heads as they begin to comprehend what it means,and where it might go.

2) It means democratization of news gathering and news analysis. It means real and serious competition for the mass media. It is making manifest, in relative warp speed, the full flowering of the process described in Daniel Boorstin's "The Americans: The Democratic Experience," and R. Buckminster Fuller's "Utopia or Oblivion" (both highly recommended).

3) Boorstin also described the process in the volume that preceded "The Democratic Experience," "The Americans: "The National Experience," in which he presented an irrefutable case for the American genius for ad hoc social organization. I do not know if you have read this book, but your call to action is in this grand tradition.

4) Boorstin again. If you haven't already, please read "The Image," in which he rails against made-up shit (he calls it "pseudo-event") which is created as an abstraction, or a derivative, and covered as if it were real news. In this scenario, celebrity becomes its own reason for existence, which you allude to. This book was written in the mid-sixties (!) Thirty years later, I was still getting blank stares from newspaper editors when I told them they were wasting too much time on pseudo-events.

I blog on Daily Kos. I am not interested in being a gatekeeper, even though that's exactly what I was in 30-plus years on the wire desk at the Seattle Times. And I'm not interested in pontificating about events in Iraq or in Washington DC.

I'm here in Seattle, and there's plenty to write about that I see and hear and participate in first-hand. somebody needs to observe. There are enough people out there who just bloviate. I like to think I know where what I see and hear fits in the big picture, and that I know who my audience is.

Scoring lots of points

Bob Snodgrass writes in from Pasadena:
I'm very impressed with your manifesto. It can and should be shortened and improved. Many of the comments were excellent, including Burt Humburg's comments. My experiences as a Dean worker are relevant: The Deanies bogged down in November & December with blogging, mutual admiration and Internet communications, which just don't reach enough people. Quite a few of my college classmates, for example, either have no Internet access at all or their Internet life is limited to checking email once a week.

1) The manifesto is excessively anti-Republican and anti-Conservative. This may indulge our emotions, but we need traction with the general public. I dislike George Will's politics and his attitude, but he uses words carefully, we can learn from him, and he had an column on the disintegrating Bush Iraq policy: Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice ... "I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be" -- quoting Alexander Hamilton, That is the core of conservatism. Yes, we want people to see the world as it is, not as portrayed by advertisers or the media. See The Realities of Iraq. This is a difference between science and any religion: science says let's do an experiment or trial project, whereas many religions say just turn to the Bible, Qu'ran, etc.

2) Fair and balanced is now a garbage term, just like "judicial activism." Also, Humburg is absolutely right that scientific issues should not be treated in an equal manner. There are a small number of scientists who don't accept evolution and others (occasionally the same ones) who a. don’t believe either that global warming is occurring or b. that it has nothing to do with human activities. It's reasonable to start out with the majority point of view, explain how we know that it's the majority point of view, admit that it could be wrong and give a small (less than equal time) to the minority. A non-American commentator often helps enormously to balance some of these issues. Science is not a collection of facts, it is a process and the process does not operate by taking polls or voting. It is most reliable when based upon experiments. There is excellent experimental evidence for evolution but very little that bears closely on the origin of life.

3. Science is very important in many ways. Our country and our world face major problems that can be handled on the basis of ideology, but would be better handled by a science-based approach:

1. We have major water problems in the Western United States now, approaching Dust Bowl proportions. Do we allow developers to add thousands of homes to Arizona, Southern California and other desert states? Do we allow private companies to buy water, hoard it and sell it later at high prices?

2. World grain production has been dropping; world grain reserves are the lowest that they've been in 30 years. While higher grain prices may help ADM, the question is how the country and the UN can best deal with the serious hunger issues now visible coming over the horizon.

3. Oil poses a whole set of problems -- the media would encourage the government to reduce gasoline taxes and pollution controls because high prices are hurting us. We need a long-term view that includes higher taxes on low mileage vehicles. By the way, the idea of hydrogen fuel cells for cars is no slam dunk. Separation of hydrogen and oxygen from water requires energy input. Other kinds of fuel cells may be better because they add fewer easy targets for terrorism and require less energy up front (e.g. methanol fuel cells among others).

4. What about the twin disasters of Social Security and health care? Social security can actually be handled easily by small increases in the payroll tax, if we can insure that all the money collected goes to social security not to the DOD. Medicare and health care in general are much less tractable than social security. I'm 67, but I see no reason to provide better healthcare to the elderly than to children or any other group. The number of uninsured people is rising; many Wal-mart employees fall into this group. You and I pay for Medicaid, which covers some Wal-mart employees (nobody knows how many) so we subsidize Wal-mart's low wage, minimum benefit policy. While we can have a small effect by favoring Costco over Wal-mart (Costco provides decent wages and benefits), none of these problems: water, food, pollution, transportation, retirement and health care can be handled without a long term viewpoint and massive revision of our crooked tax codes. Getting Bush out won't solve any of these problems?

5. We should be against dogmatism, not religion. It's dogmatism when groups of the disabled insist that we must keep touch screen voting in spite of its facilitating gross errors and fraud simply because it permits a blind voter to vote without any hum an assistance. The first priority must be honest and believable elections -- Egypt has elections, but nobody believes the result. It's destructive for every group to putting its needs first. Why did the air traffic controllers' union insist that the 9/11 tapes be destroyed?

6. There must be some fun in life. Blogs are fine, but they aren't fun. Music can provide fun especially if there is a wide range of music -- Monday, Appalachian folk music, Tuesday, Colombian cumbias, etc. I'm talking about a radio station, not NPR and not dogmatic like AirAmerica nor Pacifica which are combat vehicles.

7. We can't reach average people if we use words like blogosphere.

Getting face to face

Jay Taber writes in:
OK, so maybe it's time for a face-to-face group discussion. Personally, I prefer no media, no bosses, no elections, and no representatives, kind of along the Bolivian neighborhood council model, but we can hash out details.

As for providing useful information, accessible to community organizers, you're already doing it. Movement professionals can help those who fight back, but we can't mobilize them in any authentic, lasting fashion. They have to do that for themselves. While we're waiting, we can prepare communication infrastructure and educational materials in anticipation of what we think will be helpful, but ultimately, we'll have to assist in providing what resisting communities themselves determine they need.
Consider me as standing by.

Focus on what's missing

Chris Montgomery writes in:
What we really should be attacking is not the media directly but the government policies behind it. This should be priority No. 1. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 compounded the problem and the FCC is making matters worse. Limits on media ownership must be put back in place. Without these actions we're spinning our wheels.

Propaganda and infotainment "news" must be outed for what it is. Crank up that blogsphere echo chamber and expose the truth. Try to embarass into action whatever real journalists are actually left. The right has done this with the liberal media myth and look how much traction that has.

Try to stay focused on what's missing in mainstream news, objectivity and analysis. This is something I believe the Left, Right and Center can agree on. We have way too many opinions and not enough facts. As much better men have said, "The truth will set you free." Only ideologues would take issue with that (Fox News, are you listening?).

Accuracy, science and the 'digital divide'

Paula (aka Stonerwitch) writes in with three very good points:
-- Accuracy in reporting events and in analysis should, in every single case without exception for the forseeable future, trump "balance" as the highest journalistic value and measure of journalistic integrity.

Accuracy is by its very nature already "fair" and "balanced." The fact of any matter does not need to be "balanced" by the inclusion of opinions based on inaccuracy. It is my personal belief that the press have become so paranoid of being labeled "biased" by conservatives that the actual facts of most issues have been watered down to the point of being meaningless. For example, it is simply a fact that the president gave Americans false reasons for making war on Iraq, whether by accident or by design. The story here is not whether this is a fact, as it has been largely covered. The story here is whether he lied on purpose or whether he is simply a puppet of his neocon masters. The only purpose "balance" serves in this case is to maintain the president's unaccountability to voters.

At this moment in time, "balance" is a code word for the inclusion of conservative propaganda in what should be a watchdog press. It serves no purpose except to maintain confusion, ignorance, and fear among the citizenry. Opinions belong on the op-ed page, NOT mixed in with the reporting of actual facts. It has gotten so bad almost all issues appear to be he-said/he-said situations, which detracts from the importance of real issues and contributes to the polarization of American politics.

Furthermore, it ties journalists' and editors' hands insofaras as time and column inches must be allocated for "balance," when that time and space would be better spent on reporting actual facts and exploring issues in depth.

Until the word "balance" can again be used in its original meaning and intent, it should be abandoned in favor of accuracy.

-- The blogosphere should actively recruit trained scientists of all stripes, especially those trained in the hard sciences, to report and analyze the science-based policy stories that arise.

A vast number of current events are grounded in the sciences, about which the American public is left to make decisions based on whether they "believe" or "disbelieve" the science, as if science were a matter of faith. Stem-cell research, all environmental issues, all health issues, the Mars plan, peak oil, computer technologies, emerging technologies such as nanotech and bioengineering, the fight against science in the classroom, and countless other stories are all grounded in science that the general populace does not understand. Moreover, the ongoing terrorist threat to Americans also involves a great deal of chemistry, physics, engineering and biology about which most people are ignorant. Without genuine scientific information, Americans cannot make informed political choices and are subject to government, corporate, and special-interest propaganda regarding these and other critical science-related issues.

-- The blogosphere may be a great democractizer, but steps need to be taken to insure that the work done in the blogosphere makes it into the hands of those on the far side of the digital divide. IMO, the best way to do this is to reinvigorate the American traditions of the alternative press and pamphleteering. This involves costs; however, printing technology is now immeasurably simpler and more affordable than it was in the past. If those who came before us could pull it off, we certainly should be able to in this age of print-on-demand, laser printers, word processors and the like.

A Manifesto feedback day

I've been getting tons of mail about Media Revolt: A Manifesto, as you might expect. Some of the best of it appears in the comments to the original post. Some of it has been e-mailed.

Today I'm going to publish a pile of the e-mails, at least those that made me think the most. As you'll see, I'm blessed with smart and often erudite readers with a lot of great ideas themselves. You can see why I wanted to make this a kind of open process.

While I'm at it, I should mention again that the post has spurred some excellent discussion on the Web. While my earlier update links to most of these, a latecomer is my friend Jeremy's piece at Fantastic Planet, which is definitely worth a read.

Also, be sure to check out the excellent and insightful analysis at cassandra was right!.

Finally, the lovely and talented Jo Brooks at and thousand yard glare (and a fellow American Streeter) has created another PDF file that you can download right here. The links work on this version.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Sour Krauthammer

We already knew that Charles Krauthammer is an ethically vacuous dissembler prone to fits of bizarre narcissism and projection. So perhaps this latest column should not come as a big surprise.

But still.

Here, check it out:
The Abu Ghraib Panic

Democrats calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation invoke the principle of ministerial responsibility: a Cabinet secretary must take ultimate responsibility for what happens on his watch. Interesting idea. Where was it in 1993 when the attorney general of the United States ordered the attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, which ended in the deaths of 76 people?

Janet Reno went to Capitol Hill and said, "It was my decision, and I take responsibility." This was met with approving swoons and applause. Was she made to resign? No. And remember: This was over an action that did not just happen on her watch but that she ordered -- an action that resulted in the deaths of, among others, more than 20 children.

Well. Where to start, where to start.

How about by first pointing out that unlike Janet Reno, Secretary Rumsfeld has deflected all blame onto lower-ranking military personnel, while even leaving intact such walking disaster areas as Stephen Cambone, Jerry Boykin and Peter Schoomaker. Reno, in contrast, actually offered her resignation, but it was refused by President Clinton. (Her real mistake, it must be said, was in not firing Louis Freeh -- the Bush pere holdover whose poor oversight was at the core of the disaster.)

As for the notion that Reno's response was "met with approving swoons and applause," the rality is that a number of Republicans in Congress in 1993-94 did call for Reno to resign over Waco. These House members were considered part of the "far right" contingent, but their increasing empowerment by the GOP establishment was clear when more than a few of them (e.g., Bob Barr) could be seen parading before the Senate as members of the House impeachment committee in 1999.

It's useful, too, to recall the reaction from the far right, which began referring to Reno as "the baby-burning Witch of Waco" and "Janet Nero." Republicans such as Rep. Helen Chenoweth (who did in fact call for Reno to resign) led congressional hearings into the "abuse of police powers" that provided an official stage for an interesting mix of conspiracy theories, which overwhelmed any serious issues. And within a few years, all of this indeed migrated to the "mainstream" right, where sneering abuse of Reno became a commonplace for right-wing pundits. Of course, in 1999, Sen. Trent Lott, then the Majority Leader, in fact began issuing calls for Reno's resignation over Waco.

But the reeking lie at the heart of this column lies in this sentence:
This was over an action that did not just happen on her watch but that she ordered -- an action that resulted in the deaths of, among others, more than 20 children.

As I've just gotten done recounting, the fact is the assault plan that unfolded on the Waco compound was not the one approved by Reno. Rather, it was a secondary plan that had been placed in the wings as a backup, and was only to have been pulled out in dire circumstances. But it was the plan that the tactical unit preferred. Within minutes of the operation approved by Reno, the agents on the scene pulled the plug and resorted to their preferred plan. (One of the conditions under which they were allowed to do so was if the Branch Davidians fired on FBI agents; when this occurred about seven minutes into the gradual-gassing assault, Plan B went into effect.)

The final irony: The two Delta Force officers whose advice led to the formulation of the ultimately disastrous Plan B that Krauthammer decries here are none other than Jerry Boykin and Peter Schoomaker -- two figures now at the center of the Abu Ghraib fiasco.

So, just for those keeping score of things in Krauthammer Bizarro World:

Abu Ghraib is a fiasco just like Waco. Which is why Rumsfeld shouldn't resign, but Janet Reno should've. Even though Rumsfeld prominently involves at Abu Ghraib the same men who made Waco a fiasco.

Taking terrorism seriously

I've been critical on more than one occasion of the failure of the Bush administration generally and Ashcroft's Justice Department particularly to take domestic terrorism seriously. So it's only appropriate to take note when it's clear that this is not always so.

In Florida, where a right-wing extremist with Ranger training was preparing to launch an Eric Rudolphesque terror rampage, prosecutors are not shying away at all from calling the case one of "domestic terrorism":
Feds ask judge to sentence clinic-bomb plot suspect as terrorist

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence a deeply religious former Army Ranger as a terrorist for planning an abortion clinic bombing spree.

Stephen John Jordi, 35, a father of four who lived in a trailer park in Coconut Creek, pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted arson in February.

But the charge doesn't reflect the nationwide campaign of terror Jordi planned to unleash to force abortion clinics out of business, prosecutors John Schlesinger and Gerald Greenberg said in court papers.

They are asking U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn to send Jordi to prison for more than the mandatory minimum term of five years dictated by federal sentencing guidelines. The prosecutors plan to announce the specific sentence they're seeking at a June 11 hearing in Fort Lauderdale.

It's worth noting that the prosecution is occurring under the aegis of the anti-terrorism law that was passed in 1996 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the mounting attacks on abortion clinics.

Most of all, it's worth noting both the scope of Jordi's plans and the likelihood he was fully capable of carrying them out:
Jordi scouted several potential bombing targets last summer in Fort Lauderdale, the court papers state. Talking about his mission to save the lives of unborn children, Jordi told the informant: "Yep, there's a war going on, with casualties." He said he planned to carry out clinic bombings "for the next 30-40 years, or at least until I get caught."

On the tapes, Jordi spoke of being a disciple of Paul Hill, who was executed in September for the 1994 murder of a Pensacola doctor who performed abortions. Jordi wrote to Hill on Death Row, and Hill wrote back thanking him for his support, according to court records.

The informant accompanied Jordi to Hill's execution in Starke. During a demonstration outside the prison, Jordi was photographed with leaders of the Children of God, described in court papers as an underground group that thinks violence is justified to end abortion.

But unlike Hill, Jordi said he wasn't interested in killing doctors.

"I don't have the means to hunt them down, to do surveillance and shoot them down," he told the informant. "But I do have the means to take out abortion clinics, which is more monetary and still very frightening." A few moments later, he added, "Right now Planned Parenthood has been bombed so much that they cannot have insurance. ... They have to provide their own insurance."

Court records indicate Jordi was motivated by Hill's execution as well as the capture of serial bomber Eric Rudolph a year ago. Rudolph, accused of orchestrating bombings of abortion clinics, gay bars and Atlanta's Olympic Park, disappeared into the Appalachian Mountains for five years before he was apprehended. He is awaiting a federal trial in Alabama.

We're very fortunate this man was caught before he had a chance to carry out those plans. This is mostly due to the man's relatives alerting authorities; but, once alerted, the FBI did a superb job of investigating the man and short-circuiting his planned bloodbath. The Justice Department's prosecution so far is consonant with that work.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Brown Peril: GOP values in action

If anyone wanted a nice, clear example of the way supposedly educated and informed minds can be muddled by propaganda and smear campaigns, they should check out what the Washington Times recently reported happened in Palo Alto:
Stanford University students have voted to stop funding the Chicano group MEChA after a series of articles in the conservative Stanford Review accused the organization of racism.

In what is believed to be the first such vote on any college campus, Stanford students voted 1,357 to 1,329 to withhold MEChA's special fees, which amount to more than $40,000. The students voted about five months after articles in the Review cited anti-white statements in MEChA documents and compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan.

The anti-MEChA campaign bore all the hallmarks of Scaife-funded operations like Stanford Review: divisiveness, overheated hyperbole, and outright smears, all for the sake of scoring a symbolic victory against a multiculturalist institution:
"This was a huge, huge victory for us," said Mr. Cohen, a Stanford junior. "We were the only group calling for students not to fund MEChA, and we've been calling for this for years now. We didn't really expect it to happen, so we were pleasantly surprised."

However, campus MEChA leaders said the vote was based on "misinformation," insisting that the modern club no longer subscribes to all the views in the founding documents, according to the Stanford Daily, the school newspaper.

Indeed, the Times report itself repeats this same misinformation as fact, as in this "factiod":
The plan's motto, "Por la Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada," means, "For the race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing."

In reality, this is a phony translation, as I explained some time back:
A more accurate translation of the slogan would recognize that though "Por" translates to the English "For," it is used in a very specific sense of the word -- namely, "On behalf of" or "In the service of". "Fuera" is not "for those outside" but rather refers to the speaker, and means "Apart from." So what the slogan actually says is this:

In the service of the race, everything
Apart from the race, nothing

There is nothing remotely racist, particularly in the sense of being exclusionist or derogatory, about this, of course. The second line clearly only refers to the need to maintain one's ethnic and cultural identity. It is only racist if you deliberately mistranslate it: "For those outside the race, nothing."

Regular readers will recall that I've discussed MEChA at length several times on this blog, including here, here, here and here(Probably the most thorough post is the one cited above.)

Well, as you can tell from the report in the Times, the embarrassing Stanford vote is being hailed as a bicoastal victory against invading brown hordes everywhere.

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, we discover that Maryland's governor has similarly, er, interesting ideas about the proper behavior of Latino immigrants:
Ehrlich Calls Multiculture Idea 'Bunk'
Radio Show Remarks Offend Latino Leaders

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. thinks that multiculturalism is "bunk" and that immigrants should assimilate to their new surroundings by learning to speak English.

And he said so on Baltimore talk radio this week, wading without hesitation into the controversy triggered by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's earlier public complaint about an awkward encounter he had with a Spanish-speaking fast-food worker.

"I reject the idea of multiculturalism," Ehrlich (R) said on WBAL-AM (1090) radio. "Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem. With respect to this culture, English is the language. Should we encourage young folks here to be assimilated, to learn the culture and values? Of course."

Ehrlich said his views on this topic are "very similar" to those of Schaefer (D), the cantankerous former governor who often uses meetings of the Board of Public Works as a public forum to gripe about the daily indignities of life. In this case, that meant sounding off about not being able to communicate with a Spanish-speaking McDonald's employee as he tried to buy a breakfast sandwich.

"I don't want to adjust to another language," Schaefer, 82, said Wednesday. "This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us."

A few days later, the stench from Ehrlich's remarks still lingered. He of course refused to apologize:
A week into the controversy, Ehrlich said he "didn't mean to offend anyone" and blamed criticism on "the politically correct crowd."

"I really believe the incredible support my statement has received all around the state reflects the view of the state," he added.

Of course, I'd just remind everyone of a small point I made some time back regarding multiculturalism: Castigate it for its many sins if you will, but keep in mind that multiculturalism arose as a direct response to, and repudiation of, white supremacism. It would behoove those who attack it now to explain to us just what they have in mind to replace it with.

Why was Nick Berg detained?

It's already been widely reported that the family of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old Pennsylvania man gruesomely beheaded on videotape, allegedly by one of Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenants, largely blames the Bush administration for their son's death:
The slain man's father, Michael Berg, laid the blame for his son's death Thursday at the feet of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this," Berg said in the interview with radio station KYW-AM of Philadelphia.

... Berg, who put a sign on the front lawn reading "War Is Not The Answer," also attacked Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq and its sponsorship of the USA Patriot Act, which gave increased powers of surveillance to the federal government.

Berg described the Patriot Act as a "coup d'etat." He added: "It's not the same America I grew up in."

The Bergs were notably opposed to the Iraq war, unlike their son, who was a supporter of the invasion and the Bush administration generally. So perhaps some of this can be explained as a matter of emotion.

But the problem is that there's a real mystery around Nick Berg's abduction, and getting answers to it should be important. See what else the family has to say, which is not so easy to dismiss:
Questions about Berg's stay in Iraq remain, including the time and place of his abduction. U.S. and Iraqi officials have offered varying accounts of their contacts with Berg. U.S. officials have said Berg was detained by Iraqi police, but his family says he was in the custody of coalition forces who should have seen to his safety.

To back its claims that Berg was in U.S. custody, the family showed The Associated Press an e-mail message dated April 1 from Beth A. Payne, the U.S. consular officer in Iraq.

"I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you can communicate with directly," the message said.

CBS News reported Thursday that Berg was questioned by FBI agents who discovered that he had been interviewed before because a computer password he used in college had turned up in the possession of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is charged with conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

CBS said the FBI had concluded that there was nothing sinister in that. The FBI had no comment on the report.

Nicholas Berg's brother, David Berg, called on the government to come clean about its contacts with Berg before he died. He is believed to have been kidnapped within days of his release by either Iraqi police or coalition forces.

Dan Senor, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, had insisted Wednesday that Berg was held by Iraqi, not U.S., authorities. He said, however, that the FBI visited Berg three times before he was released April 6.

Other U.S. officials said Wednesday that Iraqi police arrested Berg in Mosul on March 24 because they believed he may have been involved in "suspicious activities." Berg had told friends that he was arrested in Mosul because he had an Israeli stamp in his passport.

In an e-mail message his family gave to The New York Times, Berg wrote to his parents after his April 6 release that federal agents had questioned him about whether he had ever built a pipe bomb or had been in Iran.

The police chief in Mosul, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi, said Thursday that his department never arrested Berg and maintained that he had no knowledge of the case.

Another recent report from CNN raised further questions about who detained Berg and why:
Slain American Nicholas Berg told a friend that he had been arrested by Iraqi police, detained briefly, and then handed over to U.S. troops who held him in a coalition facility for almost two weeks, the friend said.

Chilean freelance journalist Hugo Infante told CNN that weeks before the videotape of Berg's grisly death emerged on the Internet, "Nick told me, 'Iraqi police caught me one night, they saw my passport and my Jewish last name and my Israeli stamp. This guy thought I was a spy so they put me with American soldiers and American soldiers put me in a jail for two weeks.'"

Infante stays at the $30-a-night Al Fanar Hotel, where Berg was staying, and regularly chatted and shared drinks with him.

Infante said Berg told him that Iraqi police were suspicious of the electronics equipment he was carrying for his work on radio communications towers when he was arrested in Mosul.

Infante's comments about Berg's whereabouts during that time period echo those made by Berg's family.

Infante's statements come a day after coalition authorities in Baghdad denied they had held Berg between March 24 and April 6, saying that he was in sole custody of Iraqi police.

Who, of course, deny that he was ever in their custody.

Why was Nick Berg detained in the first place? And just who was detaining him? The answers so far have been murky. The power relationship between Iraqi police and American authorities is underscored by the three visits Berg said he received from FBI agents.

A recent report from Break For News certainly raised some eyebrows in this regard, suggesting that Berg was detained because his family's business had been placed on a Free Republic "enemies list" that included the following entry:
"Michael S. Berg, Teacher, Prometheus Methods Tower Service, Inc."

The Freeper posts are, as always, conspicuously odious. The worst:
"I believe this [Michael S. Berg appears in the "enemies list"] is the father of Nick Berg - I wonder what he thinks about his Muslim buddies now..."

The Break For News report goes on to detail some instances in which Free Republic retaliation may have actually occurred against targets in the real world, but no evidence is given that any of them actually occurred -- a problem, given that so many Freepers are prone to fantasizing.

Then it goes rather completely off the rails by suggesting that the assassins were someone -- perhaps even Karl Rove operatives? -- other than Musab al-Zarqawi, who the article paints as mostly a "propaganda creation." Again, there's no evidence, only supposition.

These are at best interesting possibilities, but the evidence for them is scant. As always, it's best to focus on the serious questions with a factual basis.

What needs explaining now are the issues raised by Berg's family and friends. Was Berg actually held at an American facility, as his journalist friend said? Why did a government official send an e-mail explaining he was in custody of the U.S. military?

And while it may be premature to ask whether a Free Republic list was used by personnel in Iraq to target possible "enemies", it's certainly not a reach to ask why Nick Berg's business was a target of suspicion, and how he came to be detained.

The chest-thumping jingoes who have been so quick to exploit this death, however, may yet be chagrined to discover it does not reflect at all well on their side.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Boykin, Schoomaker and Cambone: A Bushian trifecta

In the comments to my recent post about the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker and his connections both to the Waco fiasco and the Iraqi prison scandal, Praktike (one of my cohorts at American Street) immediately asked: What about Jerry Boykin?

Of course, I had discussed Boykin alongside Schoomaker previously in a post examining their respective roles in Waco, as well as the current situation in al-Najaf, where the Sadrists are behaving like Branch Davidians. And Praktike was right -- Boykin was certain to be involved in the problems at Abu Ghraib.

Indeed, Praktike linked us to a 2003 DoD interview interview with the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, a fellow named Stephen Cambone:
Then there is the office that General Boykin leads and it is there as intelligence and warfighting support and it is an office that is designed to assure that the types of capabilities we have just been talking about here, whether it is people, or it is resources or it is materiel, or it is information, is moved forward to the people who need it at various levels of command and operation in order for them to execute their mission. So it is what it says, it is a support office.

In other words, Boykin's role in facilitating intelligence on the ground put him in prime position to be involved in extracting information from prisoners at Abu Ghraib, who were widely seen as important sources of information regarding the growing insurgency.

Yesterday came the confirmation of this:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by U.S. officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.

A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.

Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to "soften up" detainees before interrogation -- a charge the Pentagon denies.

There are, of course, profound implications for this revelation:
Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the U.S. war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam.

"This will be taken as proof that what happened at Abu Ghraib (prison) is evidence of a broader culture of dehumanizing Arabs and Muslims, based on the American understanding of the innate superiority of Christendom," said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, a U.S.-based quarterly magazine.

Most of the commentary on Boykin's connection to the Abu Ghraib scandal have referenced his previous history regarding his inappropriate remarks about Islam vis-a-vis Christianity, and rightfully so. These include Jack Balkin's spot-on observation (via Atrios).

It is apparent, indeed, that both Boykin and Schoomaker -- the former of whom is involved in military intelligence in Iraq, and the latter in charge of the military policemen at Abu Ghraib -- are significant figures in the prison scandal, and the judgment of both men is in serious question, as it should be.

But the other aspect of both Boykin's and Schoomaker's past records that deserves examination in light of these newest revelations is the fact that, as I detailed previously, both of these men played significant roles in the decision by FBI personnel to resort to a full-out frontal assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco in 1993 -- an unnecessary and forced decision with horrendous consequences.

I cited a piece by religious-studies scholar Jean Rosenfeld that examined the factual record of what happened regarding the use of the military at Waco:
Even before the President's request, Commander Rogers and the FBI had arranged to bring two Army Special Forces officers to Washington. They are referred to in the Justice report as the "current and former commanders of Delta Force" who met with Janet Reno on April 14. They were selected for the meeting "because of their tactical training and experience." Danforth reveals that one of these officers was Brig. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker of the III Army Corps at Ft. Hood. The other was an Army Special Forces colonel from Ft. Bragg who remains unnamed in the government reports. [Note: This colonel was later identified as Boykin.]

On February 28 Gen. Schoomaker advised Texas governor, Ann Richards, about military equipment. On March 1 he drove to Waco, met with HRT commander Rogers, and "discussed the situation in general terms." At Rogers' request, Gen. Schoomaker returned to Waco on April 13 for an aerial tour of Mt. Carmel. Rogers and Schoomaker then flew to Ft. Bragg to pick up a Special Forces colonel and continued on to Washington to answer Janet Reno's questions about the FBI's plan to gradually insert gas into the Davidian residence. On the way to Washington, Commander Rogers asked Gen. Schoomaker to comment on the gassing plan, and Gen. Schoomaker declined. Gen. Schoomaker also told Janet Reno that he could not "grade" the specific tactics of the gassing plan, because that would be illegal. Gen. Schoomaker and the colonel did tell the Attorney General, however, that if the HRT were military troops under their command they would:

-- Recommend that the HRT team "stand down" for rest and retraining

-- Focus on "taking out" the leader (Koresh)

-- Conduct a rapid, total, and violent gassing and demolition of Mt.Carmel

This plan, as Rosenfeld reported, was actually the one enacted by FBI personnel shortly after the assault began on April 19, overriding the less assaultive plan approved by Janet Reno and FBI superiors.

Also of interest, of course, is the apparent likelihood that both Boykin and Schoomaker lied to the congressional subcommittee investigating the Waco disaster, denying that they were ever present at the Mount Carmel site, when in fact the record is clear that at least Schoomaker did in fact visit the scene:
One of the two officers later testified before the Subcommittees that he had never been to the Branch Davidian residence before April 13, and the other testified that he had not ever been to Mt. Carmel, but the Danforth interim and final reports place General Schoomaker at Waco on March 1 and April 13. From the government's own reports, one can piece together a pattern of consultation between Delta Force and the FBI on March 1 and on April 13-14, 1993.

Boykin appears not to have visited the scene, but was actively involved in providing Delta Force advice to the FBI personnel at Waco, so his denials are somewhat misleading.

The thread that weaves both of these men into the highest levels of the Pentagon, however, is the same man interviewed about Boykin last year: Stephen Cambone.

Digby has already pointed out that Cambone, as reported by Time, was also the man in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. (Cambone also appeared at a joint news conference in which he discussed the bad intelligence that gave George W. Bush an excuse to invade Iraq.) This may or may not have affected the regimen at Abu Ghraib; but certainly, given his track record, there is more than ample reason to question his competence.

Michael at Reading A1 (the New York Times Front Page Project) has cottoned to Cambone's significance:
Friday's Senate testimony contains the answer to the question I asked last week, namely, who was responsible for sending Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the Gitmo commandant, to Iraq last summer to make a report on prison interrogation practices?

It was, of course, none other than Cambone. Michael cites the NYT report:
In impromptu testimony before the Senate committee on Friday, Mr. Cambone explained why General Miller had been sent to Iraq.

"We had then in Iraq a large body of people who had been captured on the battlefield that we had to gain intelligence from for force-protection purposes," said Mr. Cambone, who had been summoned from a group of aides sitting behind Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to respond to a senator's question. "He was asked to go over, at my encouragement, to take a look at the situation as it existed there."

And provides even more background:
Cambone is a hard-core neocon, with a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont University (the neocon finishing school), a PNACer, a Rumsfeld protege during the Clinton interregnum (identified as staff director of the PNAC's so-called Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile defense) and since then has pretty much been sitting on the Rumster's right hand at DoD. Here's an excerpt from his profile on the extremely valuable Right Web, which fleshes out the institutional politics of Cambone's current position:

Before taking over as the undersecretary of defense for intelligence in early 2003, Stephen Cambone, considered one of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s key aides, served on a number of influential government and nongovernmental defense review studies. He served on both the National Institute for Public Policy’s Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control study team as well as the Project for the New American Century’s 2001 “Rebuilding America’s Defense” report team. Both studies seem to have served as blueprints for the defense policies initiated by the administration of George W. Bush. Cambone also served on two Rumsfeld-chaired studies commissioned by Congress dealing with space weapons and the missile threat to the United States.

When Cambone was tapped to be the first ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence, some observers saw it as a Rumsfeld power grab. According to veteran defense analyst John Prados (, April 14, 2003), Rumsfeld’s appointment of Cambone "will allow the Defense Department to consolidate its intelligence programs in a way that could undermine CIA head George Tenet’s role."

It's important to remember how Cambone described his office's function in the DoD interview:
Now the entire, my entire organization is a staff organization. It is not a line organization. We don't do intelligence. I think that is an important thing for all of you to understand. The intelligence is done by the intelligence community -- DIA, CIA, NSA and NIMA soon to be NGA -- provide it. The analysts go through it. They provide the finished product. Our job is to communicate to, on the one hand, the intelligence community what the Department's needs are and on the other to make sure that the combatant commanders get their needs met from the community. And so the office that General Boykin heads is designed specifically to support the combatant commands in making certain that they are receiving the kind of support that they need and that their needs are transmitted to the community.

Seymour Hersh described last year how Cambone played a major role in expanding the presence of Special Forces in the DoD and expanding its role in the "war on terror."
Cambone also shares Rumsfeld's views on how to fight terrorism. They both believe that the United States needs to become far more proactive in combatting terrorism, searching for terrorist leaders around the world and eliminating them. And Cambone, like Rumsfeld, has been frustrated by the reluctance of the military leadership to embrace the manhunting mission. Since his confirmation, he has been seeking operational authority over Special Forces. "Rumsfeld’s been looking for somebody to have all the answers, and Steve is the guy," a former high-level Pentagon official told me. "He has more direct access to Rummy than anyone else."

Hersh goes on to detail Cambone's close relationship with Jerry Boykin, a former Delta Force commander, and how Boykin is playing a key role in Iraq. It also points out:
Another former Special Forces commander, Army General Peter Schoomaker, was brought out of retirement in July and named Army Chief of Staff.

The piece also explains why this particular president may find an emphasis on Special Forces so appealing:
At present, there is no legislation that requires the President to notify Congress before authorizing an overseas Special Forces mission. The Special Forces have been expanded enormously in the Bush Administration. The 2004 Pentagon budget provides more than six and a half billion dollars for their activities—a thirty-four-per-cent increase over 2003. A recent congressional study put the number of active and reserve Special Forces troops at forty-seven thousand, and has suggested that the appropriate House and Senate committees needed to debate the “proper overall role” of Special Forces in the global war on terrorism.

The totality of the picture that is beginning to emerge from the Abu Ghraib situation is deeply disturbing: A military leadership culture that seeks to operate with a minimum of accountability, while adhering to an ethos deeply enamored of brutality and force, quick to dispense with such niceties as international law and DoD regulations against torture.

In other words, a leadership that is not only incompetent but morally bankrupt as well. And they may have made the United States an international outlaw.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Another voice

Stories like this one let me know I'm not completely out on a limb with my "Media Revolt Manifesto" -- some respected media folks are feeling the same way:
Esteemed journalist lectures on ethics

The media industry has been infested by the rise of pseudo-journalists who go against journalism's long tradition to serve the public with accurate information, Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll told a packed room in the Gerlinger Lounge on Thursday.
Carroll delivered the annual Ruhl Lecture, titled "The Wolf in Reporter's Clothing: The Rise of Pseudo-Journalism in America." The lecture was sponsored by the School of Journalism and Communication.

"All over the country there are offices that look like newsrooms and there are people in those offices that look for all the world just like journalists, but they are not practicing journalism," he said. "They regard the audience with a cold cynicism. They are practicing something I call a pseudo-journalism, and they view their audience as something to be manipulated."

These feelings aren't simply liberal angst. They've been substantiated by a fact that Carroll discussed: the high numbers of Americans who believed that Iraq was directly connected to 9/11, and similar false "facts" propagated by the media:
Carroll cited a study released last year that showed Americans had three main misconceptions about Iraq: That weapons of mass destruction had been found, a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq had been demonstrated and that the world approved of U.S intervention in Iraq. He said 80 percent of people who primarily got their news from Fox believed at least one of the misconceptions. He said the figure was more than 57 percentage points higher than people who get their news from public news broadcasting.

"How in the world could Fox have left its listeners so deeply in the dark?" Carroll asked.

I think the study Carroll is thinking of can be found here. It's important to note that while Fox is the worst offender, and TV news generally is the bane of accurate reporting, the success of false propagandistic "facts" is pervasive across nearly all media:
A new study based on a series of seven nationwide polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war with Iraq.

The polling, conducted by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks, also reveals that the frequency of these misperceptions varies significantly according to individuals’ primary source of news.

Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely.

As American Assembler observed:
The ramifications of this study are far reaching. For one, it confirms the long held suspicion that corporate controlled television networks are not only failing to provide necessary information to viewers, but are in fact providing false information.

It also confirms that, at least among the news networks, liberal bias is a complete fabrication which, because of this report, is easier to believe since a significant percentage of viewers believe liberal media bias exist because they heard it on TV news.

But a larger issue exist[s] here. The report shows a clear link between misinformation and support for Bush's war. Here's where the Orwellian factor comes in. Not only did Bush & co. mislead the public into war, but they had ready accomplices in the network news organizations.

This forces serious questions about the motives of those who hold the sacred trust of the public airwaves. It also demonstrates how powerful TV news is at affecting public perceptions and consequently, public policy.

As PIPA recently reported [PDF file] these misperceptions actually continue to persist to the present day.

Arrangements fit for a Duke

David Duke, the noted white supremacist and erstwhile Louisiana Republican politico, has been cooling his heels in a federal prison (and lately, a Texas halfway house) as a result of being convicted for bilking his followers and filing phony tax returns. Duke, you see, has just a wee little gambling problem.

But he hasn't been wasting his time in jail. In fact, federal officials let him earn money by getting his fund-raising operation back in business, according to the Associated Press:
NEW ORLEANS -- During his term at a halfway house, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke worked out of his Mandeville home for his own organization, his spokesman said on Sunday.

As a condition of his release from prison to a halfway house, Duke had to get a job. When Duke asked to be allowed to work for his organization -- the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO -- Federal Bureau of Prisons officials did not object, said Duke spokesman Roy Armstrong.

< snip >

Duke, due to be released from the halfway house on May 15, "has been answering telephones" and "doing computer work and reorganizing the way we do data entry," Armstrong said.

During this period, Armstrong said Duke also has organized a "welcome home" event for himself and a conference to take place over Memorial Day weekend. According to EURO's Web site, representatives of white supremacist groups such as Stormfront, the National Alliance and the British National Party will be speakers at the New Orleans conference.

EURO has paid Duke $1,000 for his month of work, Armstrong said. Duke could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

At Duke's Web site, you can see for yourself that he's managed to make his "homecoming" into a major fund-raising event for the extremist right. The list of luminaries rings all the right bells for any white supremacist, conspiracy theorist or Holocaust denier: Willis Carto, Don Black, Erich Gliebe, Kevin Strom, Paul Fromm, Bob Whittaker, John Tyndall, Germar Rudolf and Ingrid Rimland Z√ľndel. A real carnival of cretins.

For which we can thank the federal government's remarkably sensitive and thoughtful policies regarding halfway-house employment. For white supremacists, anyway. At least they didn't let him start up an online casino.

Duke spokesman Roy Armstrong gave the rationale:
Armstrong contended that Duke would have found it difficult to find work elsewhere.

"We considered other options, but there weren't too many options. There wouldn't be many companies that would hire him because they'd be afraid of the negative publicity," Armstrong said.

Oh, I can think of some very well qualified janitorial firms for whom Mr. Duke could have been non-controversially employed.

Monday, May 10, 2004

A Manifesto update

The response to my first draft of the Media Revolt Manifesto has been very rewarding -- largely positive, with a wealth of useful and insightful suggestions, and some pointed criticism as well, though the bulk of that has been constructive as well.

I'm hoping to begin sorting through the responses (there've been several piles' worth) and posting selected offerings tomorrow. If you e-mailed me a private response and don't want your name to appear in the blog, please drop me a note.

A number of other blogs have chimed in. If you have time to read only one, be sure to check out the studied response by Lambert at Corrente, which tries to tackle some of the unaddressed facets of the Revolt.

Cassandra Was Right carries the conversation even further.

And Prometheus 6 has a handy shorter version.

Some other noteworthy responses:

Matt Stoller and Stirling Newberry at The Blogging of the President.




And many thanks to everyone else who gave it a link.

A couple of points of clarification:

-- The Manifesto is intended to be a separate piece from the "Introduction" I wrote for that first post.

-- The purpose of the Manifesto is not to create an organization or impose rules. It's mainly intended as a call to arms with an outline of how to fight back. More later.

-- "Without further adieu" was a joke, son, a joke. Admittedly, an obscure old editor's joke; the "adieu" spelling (as opposed to ado) actually originated with an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Nyaaah, should have known better ...

And for those who want to print out the first draft and read it in hard copy, here's a PDF file. Just keep in mind it's still a work in progress.

Note: If I get a big bandwidth hit on the PDF file, I may need to ask for donations to cover the costs. Of course, anyone who wants to support my larger efforts at independent journalism should feel free pitch in any old time at the ol' "Donate" button on the left ...

[Thanks to Warbaby for the PDF file conversion.]

Unbroken chain

The core question in the Iraqi prison torture scandal continues to be: How high up the chain of command does this reach? Because the questions are clambering up the ladder all the time.

Recent testimony before Congress by both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his underlings should raise some eyebrows, if nothing else. Of particular note was testimony from Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker -- corroborating Rumsfeld's own remarks -- stating that military policemen at Abu Ghraib were not supposed to be "setting conditions for interrogation" at the prison:
Interrogators from military intelligence and other government agencies, believed to include the CIA, actively requested that MPs guarding prisoners at Abu Ghraib set the conditions for interrogations, Taguba reported. This is in violation of Army Regulation 190-8, he said.

That regulation states: "All persons captured, detained, interned or otherwise held in U.S. armed forces custody during the course of conflict will be given humanitarian care and treatment from the moment they fall into the hands of U.S. forces until final release or repatriation."

It also runs counter to the MPs' intended mission of maintaining a safe and orderly prison, he said.

The Army's top officer, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, confirmed that on Wednesday.

"It's a misstatement to say that the military police are trained to soften everybody up," he said. "Their job is to provide a safe and secure environment for those that we detain."

Taguba, however, received sworn statements from MPs who said they were involved in such activities.

Schoomaker's name may be familiar. Regular readers will recall it coming up in the context of a discussion of how the misadventure in Iraq stands as stark testament to the Bush administration's massive failure to address terrorism seriously or competently. Schoomaker, you see, was one of the military advisers who played a key role in the way the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, turned into a nightmarish disaster that wound up inspiring a fatal wave of domestic terrorism.

What's noteworthy in the current context is that Schoomaker appears to have later given false testimony to Congress, during the Danforth Committee hearings about Waco, regarding both his presence at the FBI command and control site at Waco, as well as his input regarding the final gassing plan -- that is, the disastrous one implemented, which was not the one approved by the FBI and Attorney General Janet Reno.

Jean Rosenfeld, the UCLA religious-studies scholar whose work I've cited previously, described the problems with Schoomaker's behavior at the scene in Waco and his later testimony in her piece, "The Use of the Military at Waco: The Danforth Report in Context," published in the scholarly journal Nova Religio:
On February 28 Gen. Schoomaker advised Texas governor, Ann Richards, about military equipment. On March 1 he drove to Waco, met with HRT commander Rogers, and "discussed the situation in general terms." At Rogers' request, Gen. Schoomaker returned to Waco on April 13 for an aerial tour of Mt. Carmel. Rogers and Schoomaker then flew to Ft. Bragg to pick up a Special Forces colonel and continued on to Washington to answer Janet Reno's questions about the FBI's plan to gradually insert gas into the Davidian residence. On the way to Washington, Commander Rogers asked Gen. Schoomaker to comment on the gassing plan, and Gen. Schoomaker declined. Gen. Schoomaker also told Janet Reno that he could not "grade" the specific tactics of the gassing plan, because that would be illegal. Gen. Schoomaker and the colonel did tell the Attorney General, however, that if the HRT were military troops under their command they would:

-- Recommend that the HRT team "stand down" for rest and retraining
-- Focus on "taking out" the leader (Koresh)
-- Conduct a rapid, total, and violent gassing and demolition of Mt.Carmel

One of the two officers later testified before the Subcommittees that he had never been to the Branch Davidian residence before April 13, and the other testified that he had not ever been to Mt. Carmel, but the Danforth interim and final reports place General Schoomaker at Waco on March 1 and April 13. From the government's own reports, one can piece together a pattern of consultation between Delta Force and the FBI on March 1 and on April 13-14, 1993.

Congress, in other words, should be taking a hard look at Schoomaker's current testimony. Clearly, his claims do not jibe with what is known about the situation at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. And the duelling accounts reek of misdirection, perhaps of an effort to intentionally mislead Congress about where the responsibility lies.

Indeed, as the Washington Post reported this morning:
A Senate hearing on the burgeoning Iraq prison abuse scandal will swing the spotlight today from the military police who committed the alleged offenses to the military intelligence community that oversaw them. In making that shift, senators said, they are likely to begin asking about the multiple chains of command that have blurred lines of responsibility in the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Schoomaker, it must be remembered, is a Rumsfeld man, having been brought out of retirement, as Sy Hersh has reported, as part of Rumsfeld's efforts to place Special Forces command in charge of much of the Iraq war. He has a reputation as an extraordinarily macho commander, one who regularly exhorts his men to instill a "warrior" ethos.

Coming to grips with what practices Military Intelligence was systematically deploying, who knew about the program and at what level it was approved are going to be the keys to resolving the issue.

A report in Sunday's Washington Post laid out the rationale:
U.S. officials were under mounting pressure to collect wartime intelligence but were hobbled by a shortage of troops, the failure to build an effective informant network and a surprisingly skilled insurgency. In response, they turned to the prison system. Today, as outrage spreads over images of abused prisoners, the practices inside the prisons have the potential of strengthening the insurgency that they were designed to defeat.

What's clear from this emerging account of why prisoner abuse occurred -- namely, because the insurgency in Iraq required human intelligence on the ground -- is that the abuse was not merely the work of a few rogues. It was -- and still is -- policy.

As the Post's story suggests, the neocon geniuses making policy for the Iraq war have blundered beyond belief by allowing this torture to occur. But then, this grotesque error is of a piece with this administration's entire approach to the "war on terrorism." As Jean Rosenfeld noted in a recent e-mail:
Any good analyst of terrorism knows that terrorism is "propaganda by the deed." Terror incites overreaction, and the dialogue of terror and war escalates -- polarizing, destabilizing, and giving the propaganda an increasing aura of truth.

I ... assert that a war against terror is not about winning territory, but winning populations. A camera, a caption, and a medium to disseminate the image can defeat an army. We can win all the battles in the field and still lose the war.

This is so basic and axiomatic that not to know and employ it in a war against terror constitutes gross incompetence. The war in Iraq fulfilled the US need to fight an enemy we were prepared to fight -- a rogue nation-state -- instead of the enemy who declared war on us -- a clandestine network. After three weeks we ran out of targets in the primitive landscape of Afghanistan. We did not realize that the war against al-Qaida required different weapons and an appropriate strategy. Al Qaida, on the other hand, needs war to foment jihad. We gave them that war.

And now we've given them a whole generation of fresh recruits. All because somewhere in the chain of command, someone approved of these kinds of tactics as a matter of policy. Such decisions are typically not made at the lower levels.

Two missing words

Some good news out of Montana this past week: Indictments were finally handed down from a federal investigation into the anti-government conspiracy based in Kalispell, Montana, calling itself "Project 7" (about whom I've written previously).

Last Thursday, federal agents swooped down on three suspects in the Kalispell area who were accused of taking part in the group, which was believed to be preparing to assassinate local civic and law-enforcement officials:
The group was accused two years ago of plotting to kill local officials. One man connected with the group, David Earl Burgert, was convicted in 2003 of federal weapons charges. He was reportedly indicted on further charges Wednesday, along with the other three.

Arrested without incident at their homes Thursday morning were James Riley Day, 60, of Patrick Creek Road and John William Slater, 54, of Shady Lane. Another man, Steven Neil Morey, 44, of the El Rancho Motel in Evergreen, was arrested outside of Helena.

Day is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and illegal possession of a machine gun. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $260,000 fine. He reportedly has a 1973 conviction for felony possession of marijuana in California.

Slater is charged with illegal possession of machine guns and possession of firearms with obliterated serial numbers. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Morey also is charged with illegal possession of machine guns and possession of firearms with obliterated serial numbers. He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The charges so far are strictly related to the firearms violations uncovered by the investigation, but there's a lot more to this story:
The investigation began when Burgert, now in a Minnesota medical prison, had a confrontation in February 2002 with a teenager west of Kalispell. Burgert was wanted at the time on a bail-jumping charge following a charge of assaulting an officer.

The teen told authorities that Burgert and others had formed a group named Project 7 that was stockpiling weapons and planning to assassinate local judges, police, and prosecutors.

Sheriff Jim Dupont said the informant told officials that the group had a bizarre plan that would lead to a civil war. He said the group planned to kill local police and judges, evoke a National Guard response and battle with the National Guard until a revolution ensued, with militia members from outside Montana coming in to help.

Burgert, who was reported missing and whose wife accused police of killing him, was found with a woman described as a "medic" with the group. The woman, Tracy Brockway, was arrested and later received a 10-year suspended sentence for obstructing justice by harboring a fugitive. Burgert fled into the woods west of Kalispell, where SWAT officers and others pursued him through the night and arrested him the following morning.

Officials then searched Brockway's Smith Lake Road home and a 1977 Travelese 20-foot camp trailer there, a pickup camper mounted on a flatbed trailer parked at Mountain Meadow Road and a Gateway personal computer from Brockway's home.

They reportedly seized weapons, including 25,000 rounds of ammunition, commercial explosives, a gun with an illegal silencer, pipe bombs, shackles and other gear.

Also confiscated were "intel sheets" on law-enforcement officers, including home addresses and phone numbers for officers, physical descriptions and data on their spouses and children. Even bank account numbers reportedly were listed for some officers.

Burgert was eventually convicted of federal weapons charges for possessing an illegal machine gun and for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was arrested with an FN-FAL .308-caliber, fully automatic machine gun. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The initial arrests were just a start. Two more indictments have been handed down, including one set against the chief informant in Burgert's case, Tracy Brockway. The other happened to be against a former candidate for sheriff on the Libertarian ticket:
Larry "Chance" Chezem, ran as a Libertarian and lost in the 2002 general election for Flathead County sheriff.

His ties to Project 7 were an issue then, when Sheriff Jim Dupont, who was re-elected, accused Chezem of contributing to the stockpile of weapons and explosives that officials seized after David Burgert's arrest.

Chezem said the group did not call itself Project 7 and that Dupont created "this bogeyman ... to get everybody scared, to get them in a siege mentality."

Chezem called Burgert a friend. He qualified his own involvement with the group then, saying he "never denied being part of a group of people who meet [for] survival training, first-aid training" and put away stocks of food, clothing, guns and ammunition in preparation for "natural or man-made disaster."

Chezem said he contributed about 6,000 rounds of .22-caliber ammunition to the inventory.

Now, has anyone noticed the two words that are conspicuously missing from these stories, as well as from the federal indictments?

As in "domestic" and "terrorism"?

There's little doubt "Project 7," such as it was, constituted a domestic terrorism conspiracy. However, it appears that the only charges any of them will face involve the weapons violations.

In the meantime, of course, the Justice Department is now one month in on the trial of a University of Idaho student named Sami Al-Hussayen, charged under the Patriot Act on terrorism charges for allegedly maintaining a Web site that had financial ties to Al Qaeda.

At the same time, accused eco-terrorist Tre Arrow is fighting extradition as federal officials seek to bring charges against him for a variety of acts of vandalism and malicious destruction of property. The FBI has now declared such "eco-terrorists" to be the agency's top domestic-terrorism priority.

UPDATE: Here's Bill Morlin's version in the Spokesman-Review, which notes:
It appears prosecutors are prepared to use only federal firearms charges against suspected members of the militia cell.

Court records show that a federal grand jury, monitoring the investigative work of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has not returned an indictment accusing the suspects of conspiracy to kill or harm public officials.

Although investigators said there is little doubt a plot was afoot, their two-year investigation turned up insufficient evidence to bring conspiracy charges.