A shot from the Star Trek trailer. (Credit: Paramount)
The new Star Trek, as you might have heard, is a mess, even, for some people, a travesty. The good people at io9 have done a fair job of exposing—in extreme plot-revealing fashion, so beware—the absurdities of plot and pacing in the latest iteration. What was once a quasi-meditation on the craze for perfection and the burdens of leadership has now become a sort of special-effects soup. The actors are as winning as ever—in truth I’m half in love with Chris Pine, whose Kirk at least lacks the priggishness of the Shatner iteration. But they are mired in a simultaneously pretentious and idiotic plot that can’t be saved by charm alone. You can blame JJ Abrams himself, or you can blame Damon Lindelof (the, uh, “mastermind” behind Lost), but the result is the same: the thing is a dud, Star Trek by way of the screenwriters of the famed art film Transformers 2.
True, you might need the devotion of a fan to get to a place of tragedy here; Hollywood ruining a franchise doesn’t rank too high on the scale of global injustices. And yet, the fans do have a point that goes beyond nerdery. When the first Star Trek remake came out, in 2009, Roger Ebert complained, “The Gene Roddenberry years, when stories might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action. Like so many franchises, it’s more concerned with repeating a successful formula than going boldly where no 'Star Trek' has gone before.” Which again, to those of you who’ve always wondered about the magic of warp cores and the high-handed meditations about something called the “Prime Directive,” may seem like the complaint of a sucker. Except, I think, we all need a little suckerdom sometimes, particularly if we’re going to remain a place that still cares about science, ideals or philosophy.
I speak as a kid who was raised not on this original Star Trek crew but on The Next Generation, who will always prefer Picard to Kirk. (Hollywood, hear me now: there’s no reason to recast Patrick Stewart and try that as a reboot, okay? Don’t do it, man!) For reasons of budget, the show rarely had much by way of special effects, and other than the running joke that was the android Data, almost less humor. (Riker’s, uh, “wisecracks” didn’t count.) The thing that kept us all tuning in week after week though, I think, was the dream of it. The dream of travelling around, exploring “strange new worlds,” all under the auspices of a polity devoted to truth and justice, and one in which the citizens all believed, absolutely, and without question. It was a hokey, ridiculous, impossible dream. But it engaged me all the same, so much so that I still sometimes stream it on Netflix, while I’m cleaning house. It’s like a Buddhist meditation tape starring people in impossibly tight polyester outfits.
That might sound like I’m justifying pablum, though I suppose in a way I am. There is a tendency on the left to behave as though the real, serious matter of politics is entirely separate from culture, and particularly from popular culture. The nitty gritty of politics, either the baseball game atmosphere of elections or the dreary slicing up of policy solutions, is treated as the real stuff of social change. I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t, but it has, for a long time, seemed to me that the left lost its grip on aspiration. That sounds vague, but what I mean is that the articulation of bigger, bolder, better things is no longer as much the priority as getting this bill through the Senate or that idea in front of a committee. Pragmatics have their place, but, they are not everything. Of course, we debate the interaction of vision and politics with respect to Obama, and endlessly argue over whether he’s lived up to the standard he set for himself in those speeches. But there is no larger sense that Americans ought to be articulating that vision to each other. In today’s public conversation, the greatness of the American political structure, or at least its immovability, is taken more or less for granted. There is no need for revision or even flexibility, let alone large-scale change.
There are, of course, many sources for that inertia on the big question. One of them is economics: the question of a more just society recedes into the background when you can’t pay the rent. Another is the corruption that grips political machinery: it’s hard not to be a cynic when you look at all the money in the vote these days. A third is that in this post–”axis of evil” age, there is good reason to suspect high-flown moral vocabulary in public life. But I would certainly add to those that another is that most of our art, such as it is—the art that reaches the vast majority of the country, the stuff that people construct their own dreams out of—is rather afraid of wandering too far afield from “reality.” And I don’t just mean those reality shows, either. I mean that vast aspirations are out of vogue everywhere. I mean that everything has become small and crass and a way to play the “game.”
In this limited case, it’s the box office one. It’s not that the directors and writers don’t know what they do, I think. It seems a deliberate sort of decision that in the new Star Trek, the Prime Directive—which holds that the new cultures the crew comes across should not be subjected to undue interference—is little more than a pretext that allows for the cool special effect of the Enterprise underwater. The rule is an arcane holdover, the kind of thing that bold young men such as occupy the rebooted Enterprise will never listen to, if they want to have true adventures. Who needs world peace and humanitarian values, anyway, when there's stuff to be blown up?
Is the Susan B. Anthony List the NRA of the anti-choice movement? Read Ilyse Hogue's take.
In a recent post, we addressed the issue of definition by example, but this is not the only issue facing us when choosing a definition. Here are some other considerations.
A given entry may be correctly defined in many ways, from the obvious to the more deceptive. We will usually avoid obscure definitions, but even then, there are still many choices. To define CHAIR, for example, we might use "piece of furniture," "seat," "facilitator," "position of authority," "professorship," "preside" and so on. We usually choose the definition that helps us get the best surface reading.
Because a clue also includes wordplay, a definition need not be super-specific. For example, this would be overkill: "A piece of furniture on which one person sits, often with four legs and a back, sometimes part of a dining room set or placed behind a desk." But just how vague can we go? Fairness is in part determined by context: How difficult is the wordplay? How difficult are the clues to the crossing words? How difficult is the puzzle as a whole? What do solvers of this particular puzzle expect? Any notion of a fair definition must acknowledge these questions.
And in fact, the definition part of a clue need not even be a definition, just as long as it points the solver in the direction of the answer. Here are two examples from past Nation puzzles:
UNPROVABLE A burp: novel, miraculous, like the existence of God (10)
QUASIMODO He had a hunch involving somewhat tragic doom (9)
Especially as part of a double definition, a definition can be an attempt at humor, often based on a literal or unexpected reading of the answer. For example:
PANTRY Where they store food, or where they make trousers? (6)
STERNLY With a serious demeanor—like a famed violinist? (7)
Such jokey definitions are usually indicated with a question mark.
There are some definitions that have become cryptic cliches, such as "sing" for SNITCH or RAT, "worker" or "colony member" for ANT and "flower" for any river. Those are hard for a constructor to resist, and entertaining to new solvers, but after a while they lose their novelty. We try to use those sparingly.
Naturally, the definition's part of speech must match the entry's. No defining a noun with an adjective! (Although of course we love using words whose part of speech is ambiguous, as that helps us mislead you.) A good test of the validity and fairness of a definition is "can one substitute the definition for the entry in a sentence?" If not, we must rethink the clue. And from a solver's point of view, if your answer fails that substitution test, then chances are you don't yet have the right answer.
Have you come across some memorably tricky definitions? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers' comments), please click on this post's title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver's blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seen before he presents his 2013-14 Executive Budget (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
You’ve got to hand it to them: Republicans know how to find connections between their issues – even if they’re of the perverse, dishonest variety. Last week, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers, following Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal, to pass a comprehensive women’s agenda. In a true feat of cynicism and obfuscation, the state GOP responded by attacking proposals for public financing of elections: “The height of hypocrisy is for Andrew Cuomo to claim to support women’s rights while asking New York’s women to spend their tax dollars on reelecting serial sex abuser Vito Lopez and his enabler [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver.”
Needless to say, public financing of elections is not about drafting citizens to endorse particular politicians. Rather, devoting tax dollars to funding campaigns is a smart and urgent way to dilute the influence of big money, which warps our politics and makes citizens bystanders as the public coffers are drained to reward private donors. But there’s a larger lesson here.
As we’ve seen since Cuomo reached the Governor’s Mansion, there’s a big difference between what the Governor backs on paper, and what he’s willing to put his considerable political muscle behind (more often than not, it’s “social issues” where Cuomo chooses to champion progressivism). Perhaps the Governor believed all along (incorrectly) that he only had the power to pass one of these landmark pieces of legislation, and chose to put them both out there, thereby creating competition between the movements backing each. But we need campaign finance reform, and we need a Women’s Equality Act that takes on domestic violence, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, pay inequity, and attacks on reproductive choice.
This situation offers a challenge to progressives, who too often allow themselves to be placed into single issue silos, and thus pitted against each other. We should know by now that regressive policies usually hit women the hardest, and single moms are often the most acutely affected of all. When we treat “women’s issues” as distinct from clean elections, or labor, or foreign policy, we endanger women and hold back progress.
Defeat or delay for clean elections means fewer women in office. There is a ton of data that women candidates win at the same rates as men. The problem is they don't run at the same rates. And the #1 issue given by prospective women candidates who consider but then do not run is that they don't think they can raise the necessary money. New York's public financing proposal will, in fact, enable enormous numbers of women to run.
(At the moment, National Conference of State Legislatures data shows that New York State, despite its progressive reputation, is tied with Arkansas for 30th place when it comes to the proportion of its legislature made up of women—New York City is further along. The three states with public financing - Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine – come in 3rd, 9th, and 10th, respectively.)
Just look at Arkansas, where last year the Democratic Party lost the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. Culprits include Koch Brothers cash. Once elected, Republicans quickly passed a twelve-week abortion ban, a frontal assault on the lives and autonomy of women across the state. That blatantly unconstitutional law will also have to be defended in court. In austerity-era Arkansas, that will no doubt sap needed resources from already-hamstrung programs that women and children count on. For progressives, there may be single-issue campaigns, but there are rarely just single-issue defeats.
There is an alternative. Governor Cuomo has the chance to mount a real fight for a bolder agenda now. That includes centralizing women's equality in his agenda, and pairing it with public financing, because they go hand in hand if we care about economic justice and social progress. In the meantime, it falls to the rest of us to build deeper ties, and a less compromised and compromising political movement - demanding a government that respects and reflects women’s dignity and autonomy at the workplace, the doctor’s office, and the ballot box. As history has taught us, an injury to one is an injury to all.
Governor Cuomo wants to get rid of that pesky Working Families Party, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.
America is experiencing a rare and dramatic moment of grassroots advocacy for fundamental reform of our elections.
Unfortunately, the political and media elites that define our discourse are doing their best to ignore it.
So it remains in America as it has ever been; Thomas Jefferson was indeed right when he told George Mason, “More attention should be paid to the general opinion.”
And the general opinion is that the money power, which has come to dominate our politics, must be checked and balanced.
With little in the way of financial resources and frequently dismissed even by pundits and politicians who claim to respect its goals, this movement to amend the Constitution to address the crisis of money in politics has secured official endorsements from thirteen states and close to 500 counties, cities, villages and towns nationwide. And when the boldest proposals of the movement to overturn the US Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC are placed on the ballot, they win by overwhelming margins.
That was confirmed again Tuesday by the voters of the nation’s second-largest city. Los Angeles electors were asked: “Shall the voters adopt a resolution that there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings and instruct Los Angeles elected officials and area legislative representatives to promote that policy through amendments to the United States Constitution?”
The Los Angeles Times, arguably the dominant media outlet in the community, actively opposed the measure, “Proposition C,” with editorials and signed opinion pieces ripping it as “a primal scream about the role of money in politics.”
The voters decided to scream. As loudly as they could.
Seventy-seven percent of them voted “yes”; just 23 percent voted “no.”
That’s a reasonably typical result—similar to the levels of support seen in Colorado and Montana when the those states weighed in on the issue last fall.
The LA resolution is not binding. But it is influential. Organizers for the city’s “Yes on C/Overturn Citizens United” campaign—including the Committee for Common Cause, the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and the Money Out/Voters In Coalition—secured plenty of support from local and national reformers. They also got backing from national groups such as Free Speech for People, which is working with Common Cause to expand the recent discussion of scandals in Washington to include “the other scandal”—the obliteration of rules and regulations governing money in politics that has resulted from the Supreme Court’s interventions.
The LA campaigners may not have gotten the local paper’s support. But they got the backing of LA’s newly elected mayor, Eric Garcetti, and the newly elected city attorney, Michael Feuer. And they worked especially hard to get endorsements from the members of Congress who have the power to advance a constitutional amendment—securing significant support from US Representatives Karen Bass, Tony Cardenas, Janice Hahn, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman.
They also got another California representative to sign on: Nancy Pelosi.
The House Democratic leader has voiced her objections to the Citizens United ruling before. But getting her to sign on as a backer of the “Yes on C” campaign offers a reminder of why these grassroots initiatives matter. They ask something of members of Congress in a way that is hard to ignore.
As Derek Cressman, who directs the Common Cause “Only People Are People” campaign to reverse Citizens United, notes: “Congress members may respect the opinions of the city councils, but councilors are not their ‘boss.’ Having voters directly instruct members of Congress, their ‘employees,’ carries a certain obligation to respect.”
John Nichols is the author (with Robert W. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. Hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a fervent call to action for reformers,” it details how the collapse of journalism and the rise of big-money politics threatens to turn our democracy into a dollarocracy.
The people who brought you the war in Iraq (and the 2008 surge) are trying their best to start one in Syria, too. Not that there isn’t already violence in Syria, where a civil war in raging. So far, however, President Obama has refrained from escalating the conflict by providing arms, especially heavy weapons and missiles, to the rebels. But the hawks, neoconservatives and right-wing military types are demanding war. Unfortunately, a heck of a lot of Democrats are joining the war cries, too.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, two über-hawks—Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute and General Jack Keane—call for outright bombing of Syria, targeting its airfields.
A cleaner and more decisive option is to strike Syrian aircraft and the regime’s key airfields through which Iranian and Russian weapons are flowing to government forces. If American forces use standoff cruise missiles and B-2 stealth bombers for these strikes, they will be out of the enemy’s reach.
The airfields are Assad’s lifeline of support from Iran and Russia, and without them he’s in real trouble. Syria’s air force will be severely degraded if the U.S. pursues this option, but Syrian planes won’t be entirely grounded because airfields can be repaired. As a result, these operations would need to be sustained for a period of time to preclude repairs.
Pletka and Keane also support the idea of giving Manpads, those high-tech, portable and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to “moderate” rebels, though how exactly they propose to make sure that only moderates, and not Al Qaeda, get them is beyond me:
To successfully target Assad’s air power, one option is to outfit moderate rebel units vetted by the CIA with man-portable antiaircraft missiles, otherwise known as Manpads. Providing more moderate rebels with Manpads is a reasonable choice, though unlikely to be decisive because time is on Assad’s side. There is also a risk that the weapons could be diverted to al Qaeda-related groups. Despite that risk, however, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus recommended this strategy last summer.
That’s the suggestion, from Petraeus and Clinton, that the White House overruled.
The hawks, naturally, are up in arms over the proposed peace conference on Syria that is being organized jointly, under United Nations auspices, by the United States and Russia. Secretary of State John Kerry is having a devil of a time corralling the fractious rebels into attending the conference. Meanwhile, as I reported earlier this week, the government of President Bashar al-Assad is making significant military gains on the ground.
Weirdly, Kerry nearly sabotaged his own peace conference efforts by saying that if the conference fails, the United States will step up its aid to the rebels:
“In the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to fight for the freedom of their country.”
By saying that, Kerry nearly provides the rebel opposition with all the reason it needs to boycott the conference, thus guaranteeing its failure. Indeed, the macho general and semi-moderate who heads the military wing of the opposition, General Salim Idriss—who met with Kerry and a rump “Friends of Syria” group in Amman, Jordan, yesterday—is widely pooh-poohing the peace efforts, saying that “Assad, Russia and Iran” can attend the conference by themselves. According to Foreign Policy’s The Cable, Idriss and the rebels are demanding heavy weapons before they’ll commit even to go to Geneva. In a letter obtained by The Cable, Idriss says: “For the negotiations to be of any substance, we must reach a strategic military balance.”
But the rebels will never have the sort of weapons and training that the Syrian armed forces has. Kerry, in Amman, dismissed reports that Syria is making important gains in seizing control of rebel-held territory, sounding like a playground bully: “Yeah, he’s made a few gains in the last days, but this has gone up and down in a seesaw.”
Let’s give Kerry credit for working with the Russians on a diplomatic solution. In his remarks yesterday, he suggested that the talks, when they happen, are likely to be protracted. If so, Obama will have to resist the pressure from the hawks, and their allies in Congress, and it mean that the first order of business must be a ceasefire to halt the killing.
In a very worrying development, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including most of its Democratic members, are trying to pass legislation to force Obama’s hand on Syria. It’s not likely that the legislative strategy will work, but it’s ugly. Key Democrats, such as Senators Robert Menendez and Bob Casey, are yelping about war against Syria.
Remember the phrase “good union job”? In contrast to the contingent fragile world of retail, service and fast food, a good union job is the sort union coal miners have. At least that’s what thousands of veteran union miners thought, until suddenly last summer—when they discovered that, just as if they were Walmart sub-contractees, a boss they’d never worked for was trying to break their contract.
Contracts are the heart of “good union jobs.” The work may not be glamorous, but the contract gives workers a fair shake. Through collective bargaining, they’re able to cut a deal, and in the case of coal miners, that deal is a matter of life and death. Talk to any miner’s partner and they’ll tell you they worry every minute their significant other is underground, but once they hit the surface, and if they make it to retirement, at least their family will have “Cadillac” coverage. That’s what they’ve won, in exchange for spending their lives digging rock out of the underside of a mountain in the dark, so that the rest of us can run our factories, or turn on our lights.
Living wages, basic safety protections and guaranteed quality healthcare for life—that’s the deal the union fought for, and after 120 years in existence, complete with coalfield wars from Colorado to Harlan County, that’s the deal the venerable United Mineworkers of America was able to extract from American coal companies in the second half of the 20th Century.
As union leaders explain in this informational video, the UMWA negotiated decades of those contracts with Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. The companies signed, the miners worked and the contracts and profits piled up, until we hit era of extreme corporate hubris.
At the same time that companies like Apple and Google were figuring out how to avoid paying tax by moving to tiny, exotic islands (or Ireland), and banks and mortgage companies were coming up with derivatives and bundled assets, big corporations like Peabody and Arch found that by spinning off smaller companies they could rearrange their responsibilities and their liabilities. One of those smaller companies was Patriot Coal. In 2007 The Patriot Coal Corporation was created by Peabody, and acquired all the company’s union operations east of the Mississippi. By 2012, Patriot had most of the union mines of Arch Coal, too. Their sort of coal mining was in decline, but they sure had a lot of those retired miners’ contracts—and a lot of liability—for thousands of retirees who’d never worked a day in their life for Patriot.
To no one’s surprise but the miners’ and their families’, in July 2012 Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy and announced its intention to modify its collective bargaining agreements. The company said it was responding to the market and trying to survive. Just like Google and Apple, Peabody and Arch say everything they did was legal. The union accused them of intentionally setting up a shell to dump their union pensions. Now a federal judge in Patriot’s hometown of St. Louis has until May 29 to decide if Patriot’s bankruptcy plan is valid.
Jim Hall is a retired union miner. Twenty-four years ago, when the Pittston Coal company tried to stop paying retiree health benefits, he along with thousands of other UMWA families, went on strike on behalf of their fathers and uncles and the generation before them. “I was working then. The struggle was about the retirees,” said Hall last month. “Now I’m retired and I know what it means to need good healthcare. I’ll do anything the union asks me to.” “And so will I” said Jim's wife Shirley. The couple has already traveled out of state from their home in Castlewood, Virginia, to join a Patriot protest.
“What’s at stake at Patriot is the union,” says Jan Patton, now approaching her 90s, a miner’s widow in Clincho, Virginia. “I know what a difference the union makes because I watched what my father and grandfather went through before they had one.”
In 1989, thousands of miners, miners’ wives, church groups and community supporters lay down in the streets at the entrance to Pittston’s mines to block the coal trucks, and make the media take notice. Reverend Jim Lewis, former rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, was among those arrested then in a struggle which ultimately was mostly victorious.
This spring, their benefits on the chopping block once more, miners and their supporters have been lying down in the streets again, but this time in front of the federal court house in St. Louis. The protests are barely registering in the media.
Cecil Roberts, the president of the UMWA who was a leader in the Pittston strike, was one of a dozen protesters arrested in St. Louis in the latest peaceful protest Monday. Lewis was arrested in a protest late last month.
“In comparison to 1989, I looked over the crowd and saw people much older, weaker, in a weaker environment, economically and in terms of movements,” said Lewis, who was recently part of a fact-finding mission by religious leaders that produced a report, “Schemes from the Board Room.”
If the plan is approved, the report estimates that more than 23,000 retired miners and their families will lose their benefits and that lifetime guarantee. The company’s proposing a trust fund instead, which will start at $15 million and go up to a maximum of $300 million. That, says the United Mineworkers of America, is miserably inadequate. It also sets a dangerous precedent.
What’s happening in St Louis doesn’t look like a coal-field war, but the same things are at stake: reciprocity, respect, fair play. If the companies can walk away from "good union jobs" and the UMWA then heaven help the fast food workers and those contractees at Walmart.
The fight against Citizens United just picked up a big win in LA. Read John Nichols’s take.
Alex Gibney’s much-anticipated film, We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks, starts to hit theaters tomorrow and already it’s a media sensation. Gibney summed up the reaction for me last month: “My view, while biased, is: the response from people who’ve seen the film has been mainly positive and from those who haven’t, mainly negative.”
In the latter camp are Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and several key allies, such as writer/filmmaker John Pilger. They long claimed they’ve seen a (what else?) “leaked” script but Gibney had some doubts about that. Yesterday via the official WikiLeaks Twitter feed they again denounced the film, saying they had seen the actual film and found it strewn with errors and also found it “trashy.”
Gibney long courted Assange for an interview and even flew to the UK for a six-hour chat with Julian—about the request. It broke down over what the director saw as Assange’s demands for some control over excerpts from any interview.
Coverage of the film in the US, after the February screening at Sundance, has been mostly good, Gibney has observed. “The people who don’t necessarily have an axe to grind are liking it,” he asserted. And he again declared strong support for Bradley Manning. (I should note that I wrote the first book about WikiLeaks and later the first book about Bradley Manning.) Here’s the trailer for the Gibney film, and much more below:
When WikiLeaks became a household name three years ago—the release of the “Collateral Murder” video from Iraq came on April 5, 2010—and the material it released caused shock waves around the world, numerous film operatives rushed to buy rights to books and articles. One of them was Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal.
Early this year Assange denounced a Hollywood flick when it started shooting—it focuses on the early days of WikiLeaks and his relationship with Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who left the group in a huff). It just finished shooting and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange. And Assange blasted Gibney’s upcoming doc—right down to its title.
At Sundance, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman interviewed Gibney (who won an Oscar for his Taxi to Dark Side and has directed many other fine docs, from Enron to Mea Maxima Culpa). She also solicited a critical response from Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson. Much of the debate was over how the film treats the Swedish legal case and the seriousness of the threat that Assange could end up extradited to the United States. Gibney told The Daily Beast, “I think a lot of this film is deeply sympathetic to Julian and his initial cause. I just think Julian got corrupted.”
But the debate continued. At the New Statesman in early February, Jemima Khan, who had posted bail money for Assange, and went on to become a producer of the Gibney film, wrote a piece claiming that Assange’s backers had become “blinkered” to his faults, especially the alleged sexual misconduct.
This led Pilger, a week later, to attack her, and Gibney, at The Guardian, accusing the Assange “haters” of suffering from “arrested devleopment.” As for Assange not cooperating with the Gibney film: he “knew that a film featuring axe grinders and turncoats would be neither ‘nuanced’ nor ‘represent the truth,’ as Khan wrote, and that its very title was a gift to the fabricators of a bogus criminal indictment that could doom him to one of America’s hellholes.”
Gibney then responded at the New Statesman, opening with: “How sad. John Pilger, who once had a claim to the role of truth-teller, has become a prisoner of his own unquestioning beliefs.” He said that Pilger had even gotten the title of his film wrong. “In fact, ‘we steal secrets’ is a quote taken from the film, uttered by the former CIA director Michael Hayden,” Gibney revealed. “Thus, the title of the film is intended to be, er… ironic.”
Gibney closed: “There are many people, including me, who admire the original mission of WikiLeaks. But those supporters should not have to stand silently by as WikiLeaks’s original truth-seeking principles are undermined by a man who doesn’t want to be held to account for accusations about his personal behaviour. To paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Julian Assange is not the Messiah; and he may be a very naughty boy.”
Wanting to catch up with his current views on the pre-release controversy, I interviewed Gibney in April. Count me as another who, for now, has not seen the film. Some highlights:
ON THE PILGER DEBATE: “Pilger’s attack was unfair and unvarnished and not buttressed by the facts, especially since he didn’t see film. Like Assange, he may have a transcript or just saying he has. I doubt it.”
THE TITLE OF THE FILM: “It was meant to be provocative. People in Assange’s camp want to take it a certain way. If one sees the film one sees what I’m getting at. We live in a world where everyone thinks they do the right thing, so they are entitled to do the wrong thing. So ends can justify the means. The title is meant to set a context for both leaking and the rather brutal attack on leakers by the Obama administration. They’re trying to try people like Bradley Manning for a capital offense for leaking classified material.”
ON THE MEDIA SHOWING MORE SYMPATHY FOR MANNING LATELY: “The larger story is not a change in views about him but how much he’d been ignored. When you see the film you’ll see—and the thing I’m most gratified about—how much we put him at the center of story. Where he should have been but hasn’t been. Part of it was he was just the ‘alleged’ leaker and now he has pleaded guilty. Finally he’s being noticed, which is a good thing.
“My personal view—he’s the new Pvt. Eddie Slovik [the American soldier our military executed for desertion during World War II]. They picked on Manning because they could. They felt he was weak, he was marginalized. And I think now it’s beginning to surprise the government that public opinion is shifting in his direction [since his statement at his recent hearing].”
ON MEDIA ACCOUNTS ATTRIBUTING MANNING’S LEAKING TO GENDER CONFUSION: “In my film I recognize that Bradley Manning had personal troubles. He made a difference, and I think he thought about trying to make a difference—but he was also different himself.
“The idea of Manning leaking because he wanted to become a woman is a joke. Not at all credible. But I think a reason he turned to [Adrian] Lamo in those chats was he needed someone to talk to. I took some criticism at Sundance for saying Manning was ‘alienated.’ I think it was twisted into me saying he leaked because he was a malcontent. But if he was perfectly in alignment with the military culture he would have never leaked! Sometimes whistleblowers get distanced from the culture and feel they should or must speak out. These issues are important to the story.”
WHAT SURPRISED HIM IN MAKING THE FILM? “The Swedish sex charges surprised me. I assumed from the start, especially after doing Client 9 [his film on Eliot Spitzer], that as Michael Moore says in my new film—it was a put-up job, something so suspicious about it, it seemed like a plot. I don’t believe that now….
“Another surprise: I started out thinking it was a story about a machine, a leaking machine—but WikiLeaks’ contribution was not the ‘drop box’ but an ability to publish on many international sites. The jury is still out on the best way to get secrets from a source—and the best way is probably not a drop box.”
Greg Mitchell has written two books on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning. His latest books are So Wrong for So Long, which probes US media malpractice and Iraq, and Hollywood Bomb, on how Harry Truman and the military censored MGM anti-nuke epic in 1946.
What’s missing in mainstream political discourse? Where do media distortions butt heads with social justice? For one, “I think one of the most important things about a civilized country is respect for women,” says Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “I think we’re seeing in too many of our institutions a lack of respect.” Appearing on ABC’s This Week, vanden Heuvel discusses sexual assault in the military, Anthony Weiner, social media and more.
What sort of “women’s rights” is the Susan B. Anthony List peddling? Read Jessica Valenti’s take.
Every time an American woman walks into her polling place, she ought to give thanks to Susan B. Anthony, who wrote the constitutional amendment that allows her to vote. Anthony herself was arrested and convicted for the right we take for granted—that women are entitled to participate in our democratic process. Her advocacy for women extended to our education and even our right to own property. (She was also an early supporter of the temperance movement. No one’s perfect.)
I’m certain Susan B. Anthony would be aghast if she knew that her name was being used by a group of anti-abortion extremists to drive an anti-women agenda and roll back the rights she fought so hard for. Anthony knew that caring for women’s health was an important part of protecting their rights, which is why she opposed the criminalization of abortion. Since abortion was illegal in the nineteenth century, she knew the stakes. Women still sought abortions back then, but it was like playing Russian roulette with your life. There were horrible complications, infections, and many women ended up sterile. The unlucky ones died of botched abortions.
The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) bears no resemblance to the legacy of the hero whose legacy has made all of our lives better. A new report from NARAL Pro-Choice America and American Bridge details the insidious goals of this so-called women’s organization. They make no bones about their plans: their president, Marjorie Dannenfelser says, “When we started about 20 years ago, you would not put the pro-life movement and the NRA in the same category…. That’s been my goal—to make this issue, which is so fundamental, have the strongest political arm they could possibly have. That’s the direction I see this heading in.”
They’ve got a big agenda: use the upcoming Virginia governor’s race as a “proving ground” to drive their anti-choice fundamentalism in a dozen states and in the thirty-three Senate races in 2014. We’ve seen how they support the most radical candidates running the most out of touch campaigns. When the rest of America—including the vast majority of Republicans—was denouncing Todd Akin for his mystifying comments that a woman couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” the SBA List stood by him. Dannefelser called him “an excellent partner” and reaffirmed her organization’s support for his candidacy.
Richard Mourdock didn’t deny that rape could result in pregnancy, but he did say those pregnancies were “something God intended to happen,” and again SBA List stood by their man. They ran ads attacking his opponent, who now sits in the US Senate. Akin, of course, also lost.
They don’t stop with candidates. When the Virginia legislature proposed a bill in 2012 that would require women who need an abortion to get an unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasound, Dannefelser took to the airwaves to praise the measure. “Really, this is a matter of giving a woman more information that she needs to make a decision that’s fully informed,” Dannefelser told Chris Matthews about the procedure, which involves penetrating a woman with a wand to give her an ultrasound that only confirms what she already knows. (The law eventually passed without the transvaginal ultrasound requirement, although it still forces women to undergo a noninvasive ultrasound that is just as unnecessary.)
While SBA List is a fan of unnecessary ultrasounds, the organization does not like it when women have access to the healthcare they need. The organization asked Republican presidential candidates to sign a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny women access to cancer screenings, prenatal care and even regular check-ups.
SBA List styles itself a feminist organization that works to elect more pro-life women to office. (In fact, they supported some of the most radically anti-choice male candidates in 2012.) But their real agenda is as fiercely anti-woman as Anthony herself was pro-woman.
See thier work in this year’s Virginia governor’s race. They’ve committed a minimum of $1.5 million to help elect Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, an anti-abortion extremist in the mold of Akin and Mourdock. Six years ago, then–state legislator Cuccinelli sponsored the most extreme kind of personhood amendment, one that would ban many forms of birth control (not to mention miscarriages).
The Virginia governor race is a chance for SBA List to test strategies and messaging they can deploy nationwide in 2014, 2016 and beyond. Like most pro-life activists, they have focused their efforts on hiding the most extreme parts of their agenda and pursuing attacks on a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion care piecemeal. They conceal their radical agenda as concern for women’s health and safety. That’s why our report on the record and activities of SBA List is so important; we need to expose them now for who they are, before they help elect more candidates that threaten our rights and our lives.
Defending guys who question rape? Pushing invasive and unnecessary medical procedures on women? Thinking they know better then we do about what works best for our lives? It is difficult to imagine a more insulting attack on Anthony’s proud legacy.
The first couple is peddling black college graduates some seriously worn-out stereotypes on race and opportunity. Read Aura Bogado’s take.
(AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes)
Six months after the shootings in Newtown, and one month after the Manchin-Toomey gun control legislation died in the Senate, we already have a test case of how the gun control might play out with voters. It has emerged this week as a major issue in the the special election for John Kerry’s vacated Massachusetts Senate seat—and the Republican candidate’s somewhat comical inability to effectively defend his position is perhaps a promising sign for reformers.
Last week, Representative Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate, released a fairly standard campaign ad promising to “fight for common sense laws to stop gun violence.” It noted that the Republican candidate, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, “is against banning high-capacity magazines like the ones used in the Newtown school shooting.” Watch:
Gomez and the national Republicans flipped out. “Exploiting a tragedy for political gain is sick,” Gomez said in a statement Friday. “Disgusting, Deplorable and Desperate Attack Ads on Former Navy SEAL Par for the Course for Markey,” tweeted the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Gomez doubled down on this defense today, releasing an ad attacking “dirty Ed Markey,” and making an unusually explosive, and fact-stretching, claim: “Now, Markey actually blames Gomez for the Newtown shooting.” Watch:
It’s fair to say that Gomez is playing loose with the truth here. “Despite what the ad says, Markey has not blamed Gomez for the Newtown shooting,” The Boston Globe had to explain in a straight news story.
Gomez’s over-reaction suggests awareness of serious vulnerability on this issue. And what’s his actual response? He’s not debating a policy point—not attempting to explain why he opposes a ban on high-capacity magazines—but haphazardly trying change the conversation with an inflammatory attempt to play the victim.
His failure to conjure a sensible, post-Newtown argument against better gun laws might be an important tea leaf for the 2014 midterms, as well as the ultimate future of real gun legislation.
It’s useful to recall where the political debate stands. After comprehensive gun-control legislation died in the Senate last month, polls showed that senators who helped kill the bill faced plummeting approval numbers, while those that stood up for the legislation received notable boosts. Since 90 percent of the public favored expanded background checks for gun sales, this dynamic wasn’t very surprising, and it left reformers with two paths forward.
The first was to immediately try to take another bite at the apple: pressure key holdouts like Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake to come back to the table, and try to pass a moderated version of the Manchin-Toomey legislation as soon as it became feasible. There have been some whispers about that possibility, but nothing concrete seems to be happening.
The other (not mutually exclusive) approach is to let the public fury build over the next eighteen months and use it as a weapon in the midterm elections. A vote allowing criminals to have guns is a good wedge to separate Republicans from moderate suburban voters, and if the Manchin-Toomey vote helps cost some members their seats, a humbled 114th Congress could take another swing at gun control legislation
This strategy has the added virtue of potentially tougher legislation: instead of having to modify the already weakened Manchin-Toomey bill (bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were dropped early on, and a large background check exemption for private sales was added at the eleventh hour), reformers could start all over with a much better package.
Markey’s ad is a perfect example of this latter approach: not only is he hitting his opponent for opposing popular gun control legislation, but he’s widening the debate past Manchin-Toomey, and focusing on assault weapons and large clips. (Gomez, to his credit, has repeatedly backed Manchin-Toomey and expanded background checks, leaving assault weapons and high-capacity clips as the major area of distinction.)*
Gomez's response wasn't to defend a position against high-capacity clips, but rather try to change the story. If gun control opponents can’t do any better than Gabriel Gomez at defending their policies, things are looking up for reform.
*This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Gomez supports Manchin-Toomey and closing the gun show loophole.
Walmart helped make the AR-15, which was the weapon used by Adam Lanza, the most popular assault weapon in America, George Zornick writes.