Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Glenn Beck and Contrived Populism

It is no secret that Glenn Beck is the latest rising star at FoxNews. His ratings have been on a steady climb since he joined the network and began formatting his show to appeal to the populist conservative anger that recently manifested itself in the form of tea parties across the country.

Beck's strategy has coincided with the overall strategy of FoxNews to challenge both the actions and policies set forth by the Obama Administration since the 2008 elections. According to Beck, Chief Executive of the network Roger Ailes, told him that this is "the Alamo" and "if I just had someone to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine."

Since then, Beck has gone on the air and issued "Comrade Updates" in reference to his belief that President Obama is leading this country on a road to Communism and offered up different scenarios about the future that would lead to the end of world as we know it (which Stephen Colbert parodied a few weeks ago). Beck even produced a special that revolved around the phrase "we surround them" in which he randomly broke into tears while professing his love for his country (note the title of the video is not mine):

Kind of interesting that Beck recently mentioned that he identifies with the character of Howard Beale from the 1976 film "Network":

Is it odd that a scripted, fictional film feels more genuine than Beck's supposed "outrage"? It is almost like watching a weird version of Howard Beale from a parallel universe. In a recent "New York Times" piece that discusses Beck's rise in ratings, David Frum is quoted as saying that Beck's success “is a product of the collapse of conservatism as an organized political force, and the rise of conservatism as an alienated cultural sensibility. It’s a show for people who feel they belong to an embattled minority that is disenfranchised and cut off.”

This is an interesting assessment. Conservatives feel abandoned by the Republicans and are now latching onto the anger of being disenfranchised by means of shows like Beck's. What would be an interesting question to assess is whether this conservative populism is rooted mainly in anger or in the facts of our current situation. I understand that there can be overlap, that one can have legitimate anger that is rooted in concrete opposition to policies, but some of this seems to be, much like Beck's tears in the video above, contrived. Stirring up the population with scenarios that have just the right mixture of conspiracy and apocalyptic musings in order to get people angry, doesn't really seem like the best idea to actually create progress.

It even appears that Beck is confused. At one point in the "New York Times" piece I referenced above, Beck says that he believes every word he says. Then later, he says:

“I say on the air all time, ‘if you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.’ ”

Perhaps this is the contradiction you get when a television network thinks that you can create genuine anger and then harness it for ratings...it ends up feeling...again...contrived. After all, as Glenn Beck says:

It's time to stop playing games in this country. It is time to actually believe in something. I do. I know you do as well. Believe in something. Even if it's wrong.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Trivial Obsession with Obama's Use of a Teleprompter

Apparently it has been come the latest fad to criticize President Obama for his reliance on a teleprompter when he gives prepared remarks. I don't get why this is an insult. Many Presidents have relied on a script when giving not only speeches, but remarks prior to taking questions as a press conference. Some Presidents have preferred to have their script on the podium so that they can occasionally look down for reference and some, like Obama, prefer to have the remarks on a screen.

This has led to some on the right to think that this means that Obama is useless and completely inept when you take him off of the teleprompter. Perhaps we are supposed to ignore that during his press conferences he responded at great length to questions...without a teleprompter, that during the campaign he debated John McCain three times...without a teleprompter, and that he has been interviewed a countless number of times...without a teleprompter. Is there any criticism of Obama that is more ridiculous right now?

Here is just a small collection of this latest talking point from:

Glenn Beck:

Is it bothering anybody else about the TelePrompTer? The TelePrompTer is really, really, really bothering me only because I have never seen -- I mean, we're looking for a guy who's real, who's himself, who's just like -- well, I got news for you, gang. I do three hours a day without a TelePrompTer. You know, the president is worried about, you know, well, one word can, you know, trip him up. Well, you don't think people like me or Rush or Sean are worried about that as well? You don't think people in talk radio know that there are people that have been hired to transcribe every word I say to be able to distort it, to take it out of context and use it against me.

Michelle Malkin:

Fun with TOTUS (Teleprompter of the United States)...The Teleprompter of the United States has its own seal! Hey, why not? TOTUS has its own blog and its own Twitter accounts.

Glenn Beck...again:

...it really bothers me, this TelePrompTer thing. Last night I said -- I was watching it and in the middle I said, because I know a little bit about TelePrompTers because on television I do use a TelePrompTer from time to time and I'm watching, I'm watching his eyes. Did anyone notice that he wasn't looking at the camera? And I said, "They put the TelePrompTer down on the ground." And somebody who was with me said, "What are you talking about?" And I said, that TelePrompTer is not a regular TelePrompTer because he's not looking at the camera. I believe -- and this is -- I put it on pause for a second and looked at his eyes. He wasn't even looking at the camera.

Sean Hannity:

“It's sad, the reason he stayed on message throughout the campaign is 'cause he had the teleprompter following him everywhere.”

Ron Fournier of the AP:

It was a carefully modulated statement, and Obama — relying on a familiar crutch — read it off a flat-screen monitor perched at the back of the East Room.

The teleprompter was no help during the question-and-answer session (reporters don't signal their intentions), but Obama was no less careful during that give and take.

Even more Glenn Beck:

...this man is always on prompter. You want to talk about a Manchurian candidate — that’s it! Who’s writing every word for this man? […]

Is it bothering anyone else but me? We have a fraud in office, at least that’s the way it feels to me.

Peter Bronson of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

We can cut him enough yards of slack to raise a circus tent -- tough problems, still early, yada, yada -- and still there's that bothersome impression of someone not ready for prime time without his security prompter.

John Gizzi of Human Events:

From his opening statement (read from the now-famous teleprompter, which I glimpsed for the first time)...

The Right Perspective:

Obama’s over-reliance on teleprompters developed during the last presidential campaign, as it became quite apparent that the then-US Senator had difficulty in putting together coherent sentences together on-the-fly

and Glenn Beck one more time:

I swear, why doesn't he just -- he should have like a belt around him with, like, little bars that come off of his hips with TelePrompTers so he can just walk around. He can be in the kitchen: Well, I'd like a cheese sandwich, please. And then look to the other TelePrompTer: And a glass of milk because you're just like the average American.

With all the substantive items to discuss, this "smear" is just flat-out absurd. Other Presidents have used scripts and Obama has answered questions and given interviews without a teleprompter countless times in the past. Those who have been critical and ignore this point simply show how ridiculous their obsession with trivial talking points can be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Istanbul to Cincinnati: Growing Concerns Over Access to Water

It has been said by many that the wars of the future will be fought over water. Such a statement is often far from our minds as we turn on our tap to wash our hands or flush our toilets to remove waste from our homes. Water, to many of us, is simply a resource that we have ample access to whenever we need it. From time to time we hear statistics from organizations such as the World Health Organization that tell us that over 1 billion people on our planet lack access to safe drinking water and we may not register exactly what this means or the implications that this may have on the rest of the world's population. Pictures of African children gathering jars of filthy water may tug at our heart strings and we may feel blessed that we are the fortunate ones who don't have to worry about detecting diseases from a resource that we must have in order to survive. We may even understand that a water crisis is a realistic possibility as our planet's population continues to increase while our access to drinkable water remains a constant challenge, but it may still seem like an issue that is far removed from our everyday lives.

Every three years, the World Water Council puts on a World Water Forum at which leaders from around the globe meet to have discussions with an end goal of presenting a unified front on the many issues that surround accessibility to this precious resource. This past weekend, the fifth World Water Forum was held in Istanbul, Turkey which led to leaders of various countries signing a traditional ministerial statement at the conclusion of the forum. This year's statement described water as a "basic human need" and called for "new and adequate resources" for the water sector.

Labeling water as a "basic human need" was met with intense backlash from both activists and dissenting countries who took part in the World Water Forum. The major point of contention was the Forum's refusal to distinguish water as a human right versus a human need. What appears to be simply an issue of semantics is actually a point of contention that carries much greater implication. Jeff Conant of Alternet.org explains in his recent piece:

If water is "a human need," it implies no obligation on the part of governments to ensure access to it. If it is "a human right," on the other hand, a series of policy procedures follow suit to make compliance obligatory.
Conant also quotes Juan Carlos Alurralde, an advisor to the Ministry of Environment and Water of Boliva, in his piece as saying that the ministers of Egypt, Brazil, and the United States were strongly opposed to language that would label water as a human right.

As this language was stricken from the final ministerial statement, a large number of countries including Chile, Switzerland, Bolivia, South Africa, and Venezuela filed dissenting statements that supported viewing water as a fundamental human right and their commitment to "all necessary actions for the progressive implementation of this right". Endorsing the dissenting views was the president of the UN General Assembly Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann. He stated:

"Water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a fundamental human right. I am convinced that we must challenge the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market."
Dissenting nations, as well as other members of the UN, also criticized the World Water Council as a group of "water lords" and called for additional discussions on the issue of water under the direction of the United Nations.

Also voicing their opposition were hundreds of activists that took to the streets to protest the World Water Forum as a "corporate driven fraud". Police clashed violently with the protesters, charging the crowd while firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and ironically, water cannons. Many of the activists and representatives of alternative organizations voiced their concern that the World Water Forum was not a forum that encouraged participation from the public. David Boys, a member of the NGO Public Services International, was quoted in an article by the AFP saying that "transparency, accountability, and participation" were absent from the forum.

From Istanbul to Cincinnati, activists who are at the center of this debate are largely concerned with the question of control. As the bottled water industry continues to boom and cities around the United States have experimented in selling off what was once a publicly controlled resource to private corporations, we see the issue of ownership play out again and again. Communities from California, to Illinois, to New York have experienced water privatization first hand and there are some citizens in Cincinnati who are concerned about the future of their water supply.

As has been reported previously at the Cincinnati Beacon, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. has formed an advisory group to study whether to transform the Greater Cincinnati Water Works into the Greater Cincinnati Water District. While very few details have emerged about how this would be done or why this option is even under consideration, a water district would move operational control away from a Director appointed by the City Manager to a regionally appointed board.

As the advisory group is believed to be submitting their recommendation to Dohoney within the next six weeks, a citizens group called "Protect Our Water" has created a website which expresses concern about public accountability of a proposed water district and why such a change needs to take place. Taken from their website:

Today the City of Cincinnati enjoys reasonable and relatively low water prices compared to other cities in our region and throughout the country. If the Water Works is sold to a Water District which we will no longer control, there is no guarantee that water rates will remain low. Water rates could rise.


Today the City of Cincinnati Water Works provides us with water service and quality that is among the best in the nation. If the Water Works is sold to a Water District, we have no guarantee that service and quality will remain the same.

The concerns expressed by "Protect Our Water" echo the concerns of activists and citizens from around the world who view water not as simply a human need, but as a human right. These citizens largely believe in public control of a resource that plays such a fundamental role in promoting life upon this planet.

As this feasibility study is prepared and a recommendation is delivered to City Manager Dohoney, citizens of Cincinnati are going to have some very real questions about this proposed endeavor. These issues are coming to a head in cities all over this country and around the world. When there are simultaneous increases in the scarcity of water, the interests of corporations to profit from water, and concerned citizens who are worried about losing control of their water, something has to give.

As Cincinnati continues to study the feasibility of selling their publicly controlled Water Works to a Water District, the citizens are beginning to take notice. Like the activists in Istanbul during the World Water Forum and like the alternative organizations to the World Water Council, the local citizens are going to want a seat at the table to have their say as this issue continues to develop.

This article is also posted at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com

As Predicted, O'Reilly Airs Segment that Smears and Distorts

Last night, as expected, Bill O'Reilly aired the piece in which his producer ambushed Amanda Terkel of ThinkProgress. In my entry yesterday, I highlighted some excerpts from Terkel's account of the confrontation and mentioned that I expected O'Reilly to heavily spin the ambush, spin his own comments that Terkel criticized, and bring someone on the show to help him smear Terkel. O'Reilly, did not disappoint:

Immediately following this clip, O'Reilly brought on someone who has worked with the Alexa Foundation and with Alexa's family to help denounce Terkel, ThinkProgress, and NBC. O'Reilly's account of this scenario is heavily spun and he leaves out certain details such as:

- The initial audio clip from his radio show that Terkel and ThinkProgress initially criticized. O'Reilly mentions that the clip is on his website, but does not address the content of the clip nor does he defend this comments in that clip. Interesting considering that those comments are at the heart of this issue.

- O'Reilly fails to mention how he obtained comments from Terkel. He does not mention that he never invited her on his program to formally address the situation nor does he mention that he had his producer follow Terkel for two hours while she was vacationing in Virginia to ambush her during a time when she would be least prepared to discuss this issue. Perhaps O'Reilly doesn't mention this fact because he would then be caught in another lie. From the August 24, 2007 airing of The O'Reilly Factor:

As you may know, "The Factor" occasionally sends out producers to confront people who will not answer serious questions about controversial things they do, like judges giving child rapists probation, for example.

Now, some object to displays like these. But we feel they're a vital tool in holding public servants accountable for their actions, and we do not go after people lightly. We always ask them on the program first, or to issue a clear statement explaining their actions.

As Terkel points out in a follow-up post, she is not a public servant and she was never asked on the program first.

It seems as though if you make Bill mad enough by highlighting comments that he has made, he will send his producers to stalk you, ambush you, and then from the comfort of his studio, he will call you a "villain" while distorting the facts.

This kind of hypocrisy was outlined a while ago by Jon Stewart, but it certainly applies to this situation as well:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Bill O'Reilly's Right to Privacy
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor

Monday, March 23, 2009

O'Reilly's Latest Adventure in Ambush Journalism

Brace yourselves, you may think that I am not feeling well after I tell you this:

I want you to watch at least a portion of The O'Reilly Factor tonight. I know, I know...sounds like I've lost my mind, but go with me on this for a moment.

Amanda Terkel over at ThinkProgress, has posted an interesting account of her being ambushed by producers from The O'Reilly Factor. To provide a bit of context to the situation, it is important to know that Terkel recently wrote a piece critical of comments made by Bill O'Reilly. The comments made by O'Reilly back in August, deal with the issue of rape; in particular, the rape and killing of an 18 year-old girl named Jennifer Moore:

Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college. She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She’s walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she’s out of her mind, drunk.

As Terkel points out, O'Reilly's comments were part of a larger discussion on the dangers of drunkenness. O'Reilly also used the example of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade and concluded:

"I think it’s safe to say that if Mel Gibson didn’t get drunk, he wouldn’t be in this terrible situation he finds himself in and if a young woman, 18-year-old Jennifer Moore of Harrington Park, NJ, didn’t get drunk, she’d be alive today.”

The issue in this case, as Terkel wrote about, is that O'Reilly seems to be implying that this young woman bears some responsibility for being raped and murdered because of the way that she dressed and because she had consumed alcohol. Terkel wrote about these comments because O'Reilly was slated to speak on March 19 at the Alexa Foundation, a group committed to supporting rape survivors, and it seemed interesting regarding O'Reilly's past comments outlined above.

Now that you know the background, here is the interesting part. Terkel says that while she was on vacation with a friend this past Saturday, O'Reilly's producer, Jesse Watters, ambushed her and demanded that she apologize for causing "pain and suffering" to rape victims and their families.

Many of you know that Bill O'Reilly has a history of using so-called "ambush journalism" to distort serious issues and then use these pieces to launch attacks on those who are ambushed from the comfort of his studio and without a chance for adequate response from the subjects of his smears. This is what we have come to expect from O'Reilly. What is interesting in this case is the context of the ambush. Here is a clip from Terkel's aforementioned piece:

I expect O’Reilly to air this “interview” at some point this week, possibly as early as tonight. I have no expectation that he will show the entire altercation or give the entire story about what happened, so here is the full account, offering a glimpse inside the O’Reilly harrassment machine:

– The Stalking: Watters and his camera man accosted me at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, in Winchester, VA, which is a two-hour drive from
Washington, DC. My friend and I were in this small town for a short weekend
vacation and had told no one about where we were going. I can only infer that
the two men staked out my apartment and then followed me for two hours. Looking back, my friend and I remember seeing their tan SUV following us for much of the trip.
– The Ambush: Shortly after checking into our lodgings, we emerged and immediately saw two men walking toward us calling out my name. Watters said he was from Fox News, but never said his or his companion’s name, nor did he say he was with The O’Reilly Factor.
– The Surprise Attack: Watters immediately began asking me why I was causing “pain and suffering” to the Alexa Foundation. He never gave me the context for his questions. Confused, I repeatedly asked him what he was talking about and whether he could refresh my memory, but he just continued shouting his question.
– The Evasion: I said that it was inappropriate for O’Reilly to imply that just because a woman may be drunk and/or dressed in a certain way, she should expect to be raped. Watters asked me whether I had listened to the interview (which I had) and claimed that O’Reilly had made the comments in the context of a commentary on Mel Gibson/drunkenness. When I tried to ascertain why he was attacking ThinkProgress in particular — even though other sites had also covered the story — he said that we were part of the “smear pipeline,” which also included the “Soros-funded” Media Matters. He ignored my comments when I asked if Fox News also smears people.
– Setting A Guilt Trap: Watters ended the charade by demanding that I look into the camera and apologize to the Alexa Foundation and rape victims. I told them that I don’t speak through Fox News and if someone from the Alexa Foundation would like to personally call me, I’d be happy to speak with that person.
More Stalking: The camera man then continued to film me as I walked down the block. After a few minutes while I waited at the light to cross the street, Watters called him back and they left.

As Terkel predicted, it now appears that O'Reilly plans to air the segment on tonight's show. So now that you know all of this information, watch The O'Reilly Factor tonight and see how the ambush is spun, how O'Reilly spins his own comments that Terkel criticized, and who O'Reilly may bring on to attack both ThinkProgress and Amanda Terkel. Terkel says that she was never asked for a statement or to appear on O'Reilly's program prior to the ambush and that she has unsuccessfully contacted FoxNews for a response to the incident.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet...

It appears that Twitter has become the latest Facebook, or so people are telling me. Celebrities and even politicians have signed up for the service and "tweet" about all kinds of interesting (or meaningless) topics.

I, for one, have yet to see the value in signing up for a Twitter account. It just seems like something that would consume more of my time than it would really be worth in the end. The concept seems like a hybrid between texting and Facebook and while I enjoy both of these individual means of communicating, I am not sure that I need to have a Twitter feed. Maybe I just don't care enough about what my friends are eating for breakfast or what their latest inside joke is (that I won't understand anyway).

Much to my surprise, I found that there is a little debate about this exact topic that has been taking place on the internets. John Cole somewhat agrees that there may be little value in Twitter, but I hope that I don't come off quite as crotchty as he does in his post. (Damn these kids and their new-fangled technology!)

Jay Ackroyd on the other hand, thinks that those in the beltway media using Twitter is a good thing because it often drills down to their real, unfiltered feelings on issues (Often emphasizing how messed up the beltway media mentality can be).

So perhaps I can begin to see that there may be some value to this after all. Like all of these social media tools, there will always be elements that one may find or not find valuable, but for my own purposes I still think that I may sit on the sidelines and watch for the near future. I am not quite sold as of yet.

After all, Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan both point to how fun just watching can actually be. They both bring up the value of Christopher Walken's Twitter feed. Even if you find zero value in Twitter, you must admit that his feed is highly entertaining and pretty hilarious.

Paul Krugman: Obama's Bank Rescue Plan will not Work

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is slated to give the long anticipated details on the Obama Administration's bank rescue plan today. Details of the plan were leaked over the weekend and economist Paul Krugman has some strong opinions:

Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

Uh-oh! That doesn't sound good. Please tell me that this plan will work to help get us out of this mess:

But the real problem with this plan is that it won’t work. Yes,
troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost. Even more important, however, is the way Mr. Obama is squandering his credibility. If this plan fails — as it almost surely will — it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to persuade Congress to come up with more funds to do what he should have done in the first place.

All is not lost: the public wants Mr. Obama to succeed, which means that he can still rescue his bank rescue plan. But time is running out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jim Cramer Resurfaces on the Today Show

Jim Cramer re-emerged this morning on the Today Show, his first appearance on the program since his now infamous interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Host Meredith Viera asked Cramer about his interview with Stewart and this is how Cramer responded:

Apparently, Cramer is now ready to try and defend his network and despite agreeing with Stewart on many points throughout the Daily Show interview, now feels that the whole thing is "naive" and "misleading". In fact, Cramer dismisses the whole conversation by saying that Stewart didn't really have a point about any of his criticisms of the media. "We weren't behind this," Cramer said. Well, of course not and no one was ever claiming that the media or CNBC were behind this economic crisis...that is ridiculous. Cramer continued, "...are you gonna compare the media to AIG?"

No Jim, no one is comparing CNBC or the media to AIG and I am sad to see that he missed the whole point of Stewart's criticism (or perhaps he is just defending the people who sign his paycheck). It is about journalists acting like journalists. You know, challenging what people tell them, holding leaders to account, and doing additional research to provide greater context and truth. That is the critique of Cramer and CNBC, not creating the economic meltdown. Back to business as usual it appears.

Are you Enraged, but a Little Confused Over This 'AIG' Controversy?

Are you as enraged as Stephen Colbert at AIG?

Or perhaps you are kind of confused. Republicans slamming Democrats, the Obama Administration blaming Chris Dodd, the media trying to react to react to a complex situation by finding bad guys to blame...when will the madness end? Glenn Greenwald breaks things down pretty well today:

The controversy of the AIG bonuses -- which, strictly as a quantitative matter, is rather trivial in the scheme of things -- illustrates how warped our political discourse is. Here is the hierarchy of positions regarding executive compensation limits back in February:

Chris Dodd -- advocated full-scale, no-exceptions limits on executive compensation for bailed-out companies

Obama administration -- supported limits but advocated exceptions for already-existing employment contracts

GOP leaders -- opposed all executive compensation limits as Socialist tyranny

Yet everything is exactly backwards in this controversy. The Obama administration has been trying to blame Dodd for the carve-out that allowed the AIG bonus payments, a carve-out that came into being because Geithner/Summers demanded it and because they opposed the limits Dodd wanted as too onerous. And now, the GOP -- which opposed limits of any kind -- wants to blame the Obama administration and Dodd because the limits weren't stringent enough to stop the AIG bonus payments. And the media is playing along perfectly, having clearly decided that the person who led the way in fighting for absolute compensation limits -- Dodd -- is the real villain responsible for the AIG bonuses.

Wow. It is hard to NOT be confused with a situation as backward as this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Secret ICRC Report on Torture: More Evidence of Criminal Activity

In February of 2007, The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded a secret report into the treatment of Al Qaeda detainees by the Bush Administration. Journalism professor and author Mark Danner, recently received a copy of this report and has posted excerpts and summaries of the findings. Conclusions that were reached in this report indicate that the detainees were subjected to treatment that "constituted torture" and violated international law.

I have written many entries on the subject of torture and many details in this report that pertain to techniques used on detainees is not new information. What is significant, as Danner has noted in an interview with the Washington Post, is that the Red Cross has labeled these practices as both torture and a violation of international laws:

Danner said the organization's use of the word "torture" has important legal implications. "It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words 'torture' and 'cruel and degrading,' " Danner said in a telephone interview. "The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law."

The ICRC conducted various interviews with a number of detainees who have been held by the United States and all of them recounted very similar accounts (down to specific details) of situations that they have experienced. From Danner's account of the report:

In virtually all such cases, the allegations made are echoed by other, named detainees; indeed, since the detainees were kept “in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention” throughout their time in “the black
sites,” and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantánamo,
the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. “The ICRC wishes to underscore,” as the writers tell us in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

What kind of treatment did these detainees recount? Take a look at the Introduction to this report:



1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program

1.1 Arrest and Transfer

1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention

1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment

1.3.1 Suffocation by water

1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing

1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking

1.3.5 Confinement in a box

1.3.6 Prolonged nudity

1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music

1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water

1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles

1.3.10 Threats

1.3.11 Forced shaving

1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food

1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….

This is what this country has become and the type of acceptable treatment that the Bush Administration approved. Can it become any clearer?

After Danner's lengthy analysis of the report he lists definitive conclusions that we are able to draw in the wake of the ICRC report. They include, and I paraphrase:

- Beginning in the Spring of 2002, the Bush Administration began to torture captives with the approval of the Bush Administration and other high ranking government officials in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law.

- President Bush and other high ranking government officials repeatedly lied about these policies to international organizations and to the American public in speeches, press conferences, and interviews.

- The U.S. Congress was aware of and had information pertaining to torture policies that were being implemented by the Administration, yet passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to protect those responsible for such policies from the War Crimes Act.

- Democrats who had an opportunity to filibuster the bill, did not do so due to the mid-term elections. Democrats were worried that they would be labeled as soft of terror and on terrorists.

- The political damage done to the reputation of the United States and to its constitutional ideals and liberties has been vast and enduring.

These are high crimes and though I seem to stress this in the majority of my posts on this topic, the need for criminal investigations cannot be stressed enough. The information of this investigation by the ICRC comes during a moment when former Vice President Dick Cheney continues to go on network television in defense of these policies and claim that any variation of said policies is making this country more susceptible to attack.

Why is there such a disconnect with how we discuss these issues in the media and the verifiable facts of these policies? Perhaps an answer to this is how we continue to battle more over semantics than actually investigating those who worked to implement these policies. Take the Washington Post article that discusses this very ICRC report...their headline puts the word "torture" in quotation marks. It is, at this point, a bit absurd to continue to pretend that there is some ambiguity to the question of whether the techniques used were torture. Andrew Sullivan helps break it down to the basics and Mark Danner says:

DANNER: I think the definitional question is extremely important, and as I mentioned a moment ago, I think it’s extremely important to get by it already.
We’re debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press,
frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth — as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture — the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate.

The evidence that continues to pile up in regard to these matters requires that we get beyond this media mental block of debatable semantics that not only work to misleadingly frame a debate that we shouldn't be engaged in, but gives the whole conversation a creepy Orwellian tone. We should not get caught up in debating whether we should use "torture" or "enhanced interrogation techniques", or another vague term. We should be focused on the reality of the actual policies that were implemented on detainees and how they broke serious laws and resulted in deterioration of who we are as a country.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Connecting Past With Present: Judith LeBlanc and Moving Beyond War

As the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches and the majority of the media coverage is focused on domestic economic woes, it may be tempting for many to let March 19th come and go without much thought. This was not the case this past Saturday on the campus of Xavier University.

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center along with Xavier University's Peace and Justice Programs co-sponsored a program entitled Beyond War: A New Economy is Possible that was open to the public and discussed various issues surrounding the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. In addition to various workshops that were available to the community, Judith LeBlanc, internationally renowned speaker and co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, spoke to those who gathered in the Hailstone's 2 building on Xavier's campus.

LeBlanc spoke following a replaying of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Beyond Vietnam speech from 1967 and discussed familiar themes between his speech and today's movements for peace and justice. She spoke of the need for the three core principles of education, public witness, and collaborative effort to move society forward at this moment of opportunity.

The election of 2008, LeBlanc believes, has opened up the political space for a dialogue on issues that surround war and social justice. She believes that peace and justice activists have a valuable opportunity to move from practicing "no" activism to practicing "yes" activism. In other words, moving away from an activism that focused on opposing and resisting the backward policies of the Bush Administration and seizing upon this opportunity to engage in a dialogue while believing that a new way forward is possible. LeBlanc called for a new kind of social movement that resurrects Dr. King's legacy and accentuates just how connected the problems of racism, poverty, and militarism continue to be today.

While this election has allowed for a new opportunity of dialogue it is still important for peace and justice movements to move forward with a healthy skepticism. As I have written previously, it is absolutely necessary for these movements to not only stay organized, but to join with other movements that share areas of common ground in order to combat the big money influences that put pressure on the Obama Administration. Change is not going to come from within Washington, people must create change and force the existing institutions to adapt to the demands of the people. This is not a new idea, but rather a foundation to which these movements must return in order to achieve lasting progress.

Judith LeBlanc was right to connect the continued struggles of today with the words and lessons of our past. Dr. King's speeches on the connection of racism, poverty, and militarism are just as relevant today as they were when he first gave them voice. As we approach the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and we prepare for an escalation in the occupation of Afghanistan, take a moment and listen to King's words that hold continued relevance.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart Skewers Jim Cramer

Last night was the much anticipated climax to the brewing tension between host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart and host of CNBC's "Mad Money", Jim Cramer. I have written about each stage of this feud as it has progressed and last night's culmination of events did not disappoint.

Just for some brief background (that you can also access through the links above), Jon Stewart initially aired a piece which was critical of CNBC and a wide variety of their hosts who advised viewers to make bad decisions in regard to the stock market. Stewart was also critical of the lack of journalism that was displayed by the network and showed video clips of CNBC hosts lobbing softball questions to CEOs of these corporations. One of these hosts, Jim Cramer, took exception to Stewart's piece and voiced his discontent, claiming that Stewart took the pieces out of context. Stewart returned the next night with a piece that focused solely on Cramer and showed more video clips of Cramer advising viewers to buy and hold onto stock that ended up crashing in value only weeks later.

By this point, Cramer not only inserted himself into a situation that was not initially about him, but was clearly doing all he could to keep his head above water. This is when Cramer went on The Today Show and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to attempt to defend himself. He called Jon Stewart a "comedian" with a "variety show" to attempt to discredit Stewart, but his response only ended up adding fuel to the fire. Stewart ran another piece the same day as Cramer appeared on these programs and expanded his range of criticism from Cramer to the NBC network for "protecting" one of their own.

All of this built up to last night when Jim Cramer was scheduled to be Jon Stewart's guest on The Daily Show. The interview had to be considerably edited down for the program, but Comedy Central posted the full length version of the interview on their website today. Below is the interview in three parts. Part 2 is the longest and if you only have time to view one, view part 2:

It is quite obvious that Jim Cramer looked absolutely defenseless while fielding Stewart's questions and responding to the criticisms. Cramer was confronted with tough questions and his own words, both damning evidence that supported Stewart's case.

I think it is important to take a look at why Jon Stewart had such beef with the network in the first place while also recognizing that this problem is not unique to CNBC. Stewart's initial critique is that the network acted irresponsibly by telling people to hang onto shares of stock when that strategy may not have been the brightest idea. He also articulates that it has become evident that two markets exist, the first is the market that is presented to the public by the journalists and anchors on CNBC. The second market, is the one behind the scenes where these same figures know the system, have powerful connections on Wall Street, and end up manipulating the system by selling the public a different perspective on the market.

Part of the evidence that Stewart confronts Cramer with, is an interview which Cramer did on TheStreet.com in 2007 where he admits spreading rumors about certain stocks, gaming the system, and doing things because the SEC isn't smart enough to catch on. After the first clip, Cramer initially tries to defend himself by saying that he wasn't saying that he himself took part in practices like this, but Stewart quickly rolled another clip which rendered Cramer's defense moot. Stewart rightly points out that it looks like he knows the game and is deliberately feeding the public a different perception.

Cramer then makes the claim that he is trying his best to hold people to account and that the regulators can go after these people if they want to. Stewart jumps in and asks Cramer why the financial networks don't act as a "powerful tool of illumination" instead of making noise about how wrong they are after the fact. The following exchange really sums up the heart of Stewart's argument:

STEWART: This thing was 10 years in the making . . . . The idea that you could have on the guys from Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch and guys that had leveraged 35-1 and then blame mortgage holders, that's insane. . . .

CRAMER: I always wish that people would come in and swear themselves in before they come on the show. I had a lot of CEOs lie to me on the show. It's very painful. I don't have subpoena power. . .
STEWART: You knew what the banks were doing and were touting it for months and months. The entire network was.

CRAMER: But Dick Fuld, who ran Lehman Brothers, called me in - he called me in when the stock was at 40 -- because I was saying: "look, I thought the stock was wrong, thought it was in the wrong place" - he brings me in and lies to me, lies to me, lies to me.

STEWART [feigning shock]: The CEO of a company lied to you?

CRAMER: Shocking.

STEWART: But isn't that financial reporting? What do you think is the role of CNBC? . . . .

CRAMER: I didn't think that Bear Stearns would evaporate overnight. I knew the people who ran it. I thought they were honest. That was my mistake. I really did. I thought they were honest. Did I get taken in because I knew them before? Maybe, to some degree. . . . It's difficult to have a reporter say: "I just came from an interview with Hank Paulson and he lied his darn-fool head off." It's difficult. I think it challenges the boundaries.

STEWART: But what is the responsibility of the people who cover Wall Street? . . . . I'm under the assumption, and maybe this is purely ridiculous, but I'm under the assumption that you don't just take their word at face value. That you actually then go around and try to figure it out (applause).

After I heard this exchange, I couldn't help but think of the coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq War. This morning I was pleased to see Glenn Greenwald draw this same parallel. In both of these cases it is the failure of journalists to critically examine the information that they are told. Then, when the information turns out to be false, they feign surprise that they were not told the truth. There is no greater evidence that the corporate media mainly acts as stenographers to power as opposed to an independent check on the power structure. Too often is it an accepted view that the media simply report what they are told with little examination of the validity of the information. It is interesting to see Jon Stewart, the host of a satirical comedy show, fulfilling the role of a critical journalist by simply holding people to account when they try to feed the public lies. This type of behavior should be the norm, not the exception.

I am in agreement that Stewart's interview should be praised and that it was correct and appropriate to go after CNBC and Jim Cramer, but this will only prove useful if society learns from this encounter. Jim Cramer is shocked that he has been lied to by powerful people that have an interest in feeding the media misleading information. When items like this come as a shock to journalists, it should underscore that the media in this country are in trouble. Critical journalism should not be confined to Comedy Central, but should percolate into every major media network. We have seen uncritical reporting assist in making the case for war and now shielding us from some of the truths about the financial crisis. A critical and independent media is fundamental to a healthy democracy. We can only hope that instances like this can awaken us into demanding a better and more critical media.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming...

To avoid some redundancy, I avoided titling this entry: "Jon Stewart - 3 Jim Cramer and CNBC - 0", but that title would apply just as well.

If you have been following the Jon Stewart on-air battle with Jim Cramer and CNBC over the last few days and enjoyed Stewart's pummeling of the network with...well, truth, then you will equally enjoy this clip from last night's Daily Show:

You can find the first two segments that Stewart references here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. Stay tuned for more because on Thursday, Jim Cramer is slated to be Stewart's guest on the Daily Show. Should be interesting to say the least!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jon Stewart - 2 CNBC and Jim Cramer - 0

You may recall Jon Stewart's recent segment on the Daily Show regarding CNBC and how the hosts of their shows encouraged viewers to hang onto stocks that ended up plummeting. Jim Cramer is host of CNBC's "Mad Money" and apparently took issue with Stewart's segment. Cramer claimed that Stewart took him out of context and so Jon Stewart responded:

Following the segment above, Cramer appeared on the Today Show this morning for a response:

Cramer's defense to put it mildly...is weak. Stewart simply pointed out the contradictions of Cramer and Cramer whines that Stewart is merely a comedian with a "variety show". Call me crazy, but I don't really feel bad for Cramer or CNBC...but that's just me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fox News has Found Their New Strategy for Ratings

I think most would agree that critical journalism that examines issues in detail is not only necessary, but fundamental to a healthy and functioning Democracy. Asking the tough questions and holding our elected officials to account should be a staple for journalists and enabling citizens to have an open and fair discourse on the issues is a responsibility that falls upon the shoulders of those who fall into the important role of host, journalist, and analyst. It is not a shock that we do not have this in what is called the "mainstream" media. What this country has is a corporate media that chases ratings points so that they can sell advertising dollars, even if it means the quality of the content suffers. (Coverage of the Octomom anyone?)

This brings me to Fox News. They have found that criticizing Obama (by calling him a "Communist" and a "Socialist") has boosted their ratings. Glenn Beck has been a prime example of how this formula has led to a ratings boost. Beck had a two year news program over at CNN's "Headline News" and has recently moved over to Fox at 2pm. He believes that this country is on the march to socialism and communism and regularly does things like this:

This is not the ranting and raving of one television host, but rather the way in which the network's chief executive, Roger Ailes, wishes to proceed against the current Administration. Take what Ailes had to say in a recent LA Times piece:

But before Beck could say anything, Ailes shared a message of his own: The country faced tough times, he said, and Fox News was one of the only news
outlets willing to challenge the new administration.

"I see this as the Alamo," Ailes said, according to Beck. "If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine."

Do you think the other hosts on Fox have taken notice? Check out this intro to Sean Hannity's show "Hannity's America" from a February broadcast:

This is what happens when ideology and increased ratings hide behind slogans like "fair and balanced" and "we report, you decide". This is not holding people to account, it is ridiculous segments and video montages that sensationalize and distort as opposed to educate and get to the truth.

Recently Glenn Beck held a special edition of his program (called the "War Room") in which he drew up random future scenarios and their potential dyer consequences. It was as ridiculous as it sounds and Stephen Colbert spoofed it on The Colbert Report recently. Ironically, the spoof gives you a better angle on the truth than Beck's program on a "news" network. Enjoy:

Part One:

Part Two:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Daily Show - 1 CNBC - 0

Last night, The Daily Show showed us that they continue to be informative, relevant, brutal, and absolutely hilarious. Watch Jon Stewart take CNBC to task:

Michael Steele's Revisionist History

I am sure that many of you have heard about the fighting that has been going on between the RNC Chair Michael Steele and the conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh. In case you are late to this story here is an intentionally brief summary:

- Rush Limbaugh made the comment that he hopes President Obama will fail.
- Limbaugh is criticized for saying this but stands by his comments saying that if Obama succeeding means going against the principles that he believes, then of course he hopes Obama fails and he would think that many Republicans want Obama to fail as well.
- RNC Chairman Michael Steele goes on CNN, says that he is the head of the Republican Party and that Limbaugh is an entertainer. He also says that Limbaugh can be "incendiary" and "ugly". Here is the video of this exchange:

After this exchange, Limbaugh retaliated saying that Steele is not the head of the Republican Party. Steele then apologized to Limbaugh by saying:

“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh...I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. …There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

Now, there is some revisionist history taking place as Michael Steele is claiming that he never attacked Limbaugh in the first place. He claims that he said that there were other "people out there" who may think that Limbaugh is incendiary and ugly, but that he never meant that to be his viewpoint. Watch:

In case you want to hear the exact language from Steele's CNN appearance that directly contradicts his most recent claims that he "never attacked" Limbaugh, just go watch it again for yourself. I also enjoy how Steele and others within the Republican Party are now saying that it is the Democrats and the left who are distracting America by bringing attention to all of this. Steele mentions in his final clip that the left are implementing some kind of plan that they have wanted to enact for a while...to distract Americans from the real issues by bringing up this controversy. Sure, that's it.

It's not only Steele either. Check out this exchange between MSNBC's David Schuster and former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher. Fleisher comes out on the offensive with his talking point about Obama acting "childish" and Schuster tries to show Fleisher just how hypocritical this claim is. It takes effort to not go insane when these items get flipped on the head on such a consistent basis and as part of a strategy to falsely revise history:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Yoo Defends His Actions in Interview

John Yoo recently gave an interview to the Orange County Register discussing, in general terms, some of the decisions he made during his tenure with the Bush Administration and providing some thinly layered defenses of some of the legal memos that he crafted. It must be noted that he did not discuss and was not asked about the newly released memos that I have written about in my previous entries and this is presumably because this interview was conducted before these memos were made public.

Yoo does talk about how he came to be a "distinguished visiting professor" at Chapman University School of Law, how he has been received at Berkeley, and the crafting of various memos that gave President Bush vastly expanded executive power. Some samples from the interview:

The thing I am really struck with is that when you are in the government, you have very little time to make very important decisions. You don't have the luxury to research every single thing and that's accelerated in war time. You really have decisions to make, which you could spend years on. Sometimes what we forget as private citizens, or scholars, or students or journalists for sure (he laughs), is that in hindsight, it's easier to say, "Here's what I would have done." But when you're in the government, at the time you make the decision, you don't have that kind of luxury.

Q. Is there anything you would have done differently?
A. These memos I wrote were not for public consumption. They lack a certain polish, I think – would have been better to explain government policy rather than try to give unvarnished, straight-talk legal advice. I certainly would have done that differently, but I don't think I would have made the basic decisions

Q. Is it normal practice to give just the straight opinion?
A. I think the job of a lawyer is to give a straight answer to a client. One thing I sometimes worry about is that lawyers in the future in the government are going to start worrying about, "What are people going to think of me?" Your client the president, or your client the justice on the Supreme Court, or your client this senator, needs to know what's legal and not legal. And sometimes, what's legal and not legal is not the same thing as what you can do or what you should do.

Q. The Department of Justice is looking into the legality of some of the memos you wrote. Is this a possible cost?
A. I wish they weren't doing it, but I understand why they are. It is something one would expect. You have to make these kinds of decisions in an unprecedented kind of war with legal questions we've never had to think about before. We didn't seek out those questions. 9/11 kind of thrust them on us. No matter what you do, there's going to be a lot of people who are upset with your decision. If Bush had done
nothing, there would be a lot of people upset with his decision, too. I understood that while we were doing it, there were going to be people who were critical. I can't go farther into it, because it's still going on right now. I'm not trying to escape responsibility for my decisions. I have to wait and see what they say.

John Balkin observes:

These two disowned claims lie at the heart of the Cheney/Addington/Yoo theory of presidential power-- namely, that when the president acts as commander in chief Congress may not restrict in any way his military decision making, including decisions about detention, interrogation, and surveillance. The President, because he is President, may do whatever he thinks is necessary, even in the domestic context, if he acts for military and national security reasons in his capacity as Commander in Chief. This theory of presidential power argues, in essence, that when the President acts in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, he may make his own rules and cannot be bound by Congressional laws to the contrary. This is a theory of presidential dictatorship.These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush Administration in the days following 9/11.

This is precisely what Yoo and others argued after 9/11, that the President could act as he pleased and could not be bound by laws, treaties, and even the Constitution. Yoo wouldn't have made his legal decisions differently, but would have added more "polish" to better explain that decision. In John Yoo's world, just because he wrote opinions which supposedly gave the Bush Administration these expanded powers, didn't mean that they had to use it. What on Earth would detract them from using these powers (that they were obviously interested in pursuing) if they had the advice that they could do so without being bound by documents like the Constitution? How ridiculous.

More memos and opinions need to be released and see the light of day so that investigations and prosecutions can take place. This type of assault on the rule of law and on the very foundation of this country cannot just be chalked up to "moving forward".

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bush's Assault on the Constitution

It has become clear that in the last eight years, America was run by a group of extremists who did not respect the rule of law or the Constitution of the United States. The recent release of these nine legal opinions by the Department of Justice has only solidified this point.

President Bush and members of his Administration believed that they had the power to suspend Amendments to the Constitution, to detain prisoners without charge, to deploy the military on U.S. soil, to whisk people off to other countries so that they could be tortured, to listen in on the phone conversations of Americans without a warrant, and to find legal opinions that would justify this type of behavior. Those who have been critical of these actions along the way were either painted as "soft" or told they were on some kind of liberal witch-hunt. It cannot be much clearer that this type of assault on the liberties of Americans warrants further investigations and will have long term consequences.

Glenn Greenwald provides some excellent analysis of what this means:

This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our "laws" were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our Government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the President. Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?

Perhaps this is the same country that has a political class that continues to push the importance of "looking forward instead of backward" instead of critically examining these flagrant assaults on our laws and liberties. This is the continued viewpoint of the current Administration, despite indications that these memos are just the "tip of the iceberg".

Meanwhile, we have a group of people on the right that are screaming about President Obama and his supposed failure to adhere to the Constitution and how his policies are going to be the end of America. Could it be any clearer just how backward the discourse has become?

Scott Horton:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.