The Nation

A Plea for Humanity at Rikers

Rikers prison

(AP Photo/ Bebeto Matthews, File)

Women imprisoned at Rikers, the notoriously violent and abusive New York prison, have crafted a list of demands for better conditions. Those demands have been ignored by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte. Cecily McMillan, the Occupy protester whose unfair trial resulted in a three-month sentence in that prison, has issued the following statement. Tomorrow, you can join her at Rikers, to press the case of inmates who are regularly assaulted, denied medical care, and abandoned to suffer from mental illness to the point of death.


Dear Commissioner Ponte:

On July 1st, the women of my dorm (4 East A, 800 Building) in Rose M. Singer Center came together in the spirit of democracy—we collectively drafted demands to make our lives livable. When I was released on July 2nd, I read their words at a press conference in front of the gates of Rikers Island—our only opportunity to be heard without a working grievance process at RMSC. We hoped you would hear us.

When those demands went unanswered, I repeated them in a New York Times op-ed that further stressed the need for immediate change, specifically the circumstance of my friend Judith who suffered an untimely death due to the medical neglect and malpractice that is a part of everyday life at RMSC. Still, our experiences did not reach you. Still, we did not hear from you—despite a thoughtful response from former Corrections Commissioner, Martin Horn. Still, I remained hopeful that you would one day listen to our pleas for dignity.

I started a petition. It has been widely endorsed by elected officials and prisoner advocacy groups alike—we have nearly ten thousand signatures. Since you still have not been moved by these voices, we are bringing them to your doorstep. We are members of the public who have loved ones amongst the people labeled prisoners, and we insist that their humanity is equal to our own. We are taking the demands of those incarcerated across the bridge to Rikers Island for you to receive and acknowledge them at 10 a.m. in front of the Samuel Perry Building on the morning of Friday, August 15th.

We respectfully request your presence to recognize the desperate needs of our imprisoned brothers and sisters. We will calmly await your arrival and make every possible preparation to allow you to receive the thousands of signatures calling for basic human rights at Rikers: adequate mental and physical healthcare, and an accountable grievance process. Please take time out of your day on Friday, as we will, to listen to the people being abused in your correctional facility.

I look forward to meeting you there.


Cecily McMillan

Reporter Arrested in Ferguson Rips Joe Scarborough for ‘Running His Mouth’

Joe Scarborough

Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe (Screen grab)

A lot of conservatives think that “class warfare” is motivated by jealousy. Joe Scarborough—who, as you might have noticed, is on TV a lot—thinks the two reporters arrested during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, last night just wanted “to get on TV.”

Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post had been covering the ongoing protests over Saturday’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man. They had dipped into a local McDonald’s yesterday to work and recharge, when police officers entered and demanded they leave immediately. “Officers decided we weren’t leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn’t have been taping them,” Lowery tweeted. He says police slammed him into a soda machine; Lowery and Reilly were both arrested and later released without being charged.

On Morning Joe today, Scarborough characterized Lowery and Reilly as some kind of disobedient fame-seekers. “There is a lot of unanswered questions here, but I do know this,” Scarborough said. “When a police officer asks you to pick up—I’ve been in places where police officers said, ‘All right, you know what? This is cordoned off, you guys need to move along.’ You know what I do? I go, ‘Yes, sir,’ or ‘Yes, ma’am.’ I don’t sit there and have a debate and film the police officer, unless I want to get on TV and have people talk about me the next day.”

Lowery hit back later this morning, telling Kate Bolduan, co-host of CNN’s New Day (which runs opposite Morning Joe):

Well, I would invite Joe Scarborough to come down to Ferguson and get out of 30 Rock where he’s sitting and sipping his Starbucks smugly, I invite him to come and talk to the residents of Ferguson, where I’ve been since Monday afternoon having tear gas shot at me, having rubber bullets shot at me, having mothers and daughters crying, having a 19-year-old boy crying, [pulling] his sister out from a cloud of tear gas thinking she was going to die. I would invite Joe Scarborough down here to do some reporting on the ground, then maybe we can have an educated conversation about what’s happening here.

“I have little patience for talking heads,” Lowery added. “This is too important, this is a community in the United States of America where things are on fire, things are on fire, this community is on edge. There’s so much happening here, and instead of putting more reporters on the ground we have people like Joe Scarborough who are running their mouth and who have no idea what they’re talking about.”

When Scarborough made his comments and claimed there were riots outside the McDonald’s, he got some push back from a guest, Nick Confessore of The New York Times.

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“I didn’t see any evidence, Joe, that there were riots outside that McDonald’s,” Confessore said. “I’m just concerned by what seems to be this common misconception that it’s illegal to video a law enforcement officer or take pictures of them—it’s not.”

Joe went on to ask rhetorically, “Am I a sucker for when the police officer comes in and says, ‘Hey, we need you to move along?’ Am I a sucker for actually listening and moving along, or should I sit there and question him?”

OK, let’s grant that Joe’s a sucker. It’s one thing to be a political talking head cum journalist who reads the news, debates it vehemently and interviews newsmakers from behind a desk for three hours a day, five days a week, on cable television. But to then accuse reporters who are doing their job by videotaping police at the center of an increasingly militarized racial conflagration of just wanting “to get on TV” is something else. What exactly, I don’t know.

Watch Scarborough here and Lowery below:

Read Next: John Nichols addresses Ferguson as a constitutional crisis

How the White House Tapes Sunk Nixon’s Presidency

John Dean

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, we talked with John Dean—he had been counsel to the president, and it was his Senate testimony that led to Nixon’s resignation. His new book is The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.

Jon Wiener: You set out to reconstruct the day-to-day history of Nixon’s actions from the beginning of Watergate to the end, and you had a great source, the White House tapes. We know a lot about the tapes—the racism, the anti-Semitism, the plotting and scheming—but you listened to tapes no one else had heard before. How many tapes did you find–and how long did it take you?

John Dean: When I agreed to do the book, I was trying to figure out how anybody as savvy and intelligent as Nixon could have destroyed his presidency on a bungled burglary. But had I known how long it would take—four years—I might not have undertaken the assignment. I found a thousand conversations that no one had listened to except the archivists; there were partial transcripts for only 400. There isn’t a page in this book that doesn’t have something new to me—and I’ve been pretty close to the story since 1972.

What did you discover about the motivation for the original break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex: what were the burglars looking for? And, most important, did Nixon send them?

There’s not a scintilla of evidence that Nixon had advanced knowledge. Nixon is concerned in the early days that he might have instructed Charles Colson to do this. But Colson tells him “no.” The burglars’ original mission was to break into McGovern’s headquarters. That is traceable back to Nixon. He tells Haldeman to plant a bug in McGovern’s headquarters. But the burglars started out that night with Gordon Liddy’s original plan: to find financial information to embarrass Larry O’Brien, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at his office in the Watergate complex. It’s just as stupid as it sounds.

How bad would it have been if they had succeeded in finding that Larry O’Brien had taken illegal money? Would that have significantly damaged the McGovern campaign?

I really doubt it.

The first big decision was to pay hush money to the burglars. What did you learn about that?

Certainly Nixon knew it from the outset. On June 20, same day as the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap, Nixon suggests they set up a “Cuban committee” to raise money for the Watergate defendants. What’s ironic is that that plan could have been legal.

You were the president’s lawyer. When did he call you? What did you know, and when did you know it?

I don’t see the president until eight months after the arrests.

That’s when you told him “there’s a cancer on the presidency.” What did you learn from the tapes about his reaction to what you told him?

The conversation took an hour and forty minutes. The transcript runs seventy-six pages, single-spaced. You have to remember that, when I tried to convince him to end the coverup, I was a young lawyer in my 30s. I couldn’t shake him by the lapels; I had to try to persuade him with facts. Listening to the tapes for the first time, I could hear my amazed frustration. I would raise points and he would bat them down. I say, “Bud Krough is concerned he committed perjury.” He replied, “Well, John, perjury’s a tough rap to prove.” I tell him there’s no telling how much money these guys will want—and it’s an obstruction of justice to pay them. He says, “How much could they want?” I pulled out of thin air what I thought was a pretty hefty number—I said, “It could cost a million dollars over the next two years.” I waited for him to say, “That’s outrageous!” Instead, he said, “I know where we can get that.” And I now know that after I left the room, he called his secretary Rose Woods in and asked her, “How much do we have in the slush fund that only you and I know about?’”

The burglary at the Watergate was actually the second one conducted by the White House plumbers unit—the first had been at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in Beverly Hills. It was Nixon’s obsession with Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon papers that led him to create the plumbers unit. Did Nixon himself connect the dots between the Ellsberg break-in and the Watergate break in?

He doesn’t connect them until I tell him on March 17, 1973—the Watergate arrests had been on June 17, 1972. One of the amazing things I discovered is that neither Haldeman nor Ehrlichman tell him about the jeopardy the White House has—that the same people now in the DC jail had also been used to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

Nixon’s plan was to blame the whole thing on you, to say you ran the cover-up. It was your word versus the president’s. Fox News still seems to be making this argument. Could that have worked at the time—send you to jail, and leave Nixon in the White House?

I had nothing to do with the break-in or the cover-up. But there’s a good possibility it would have worked to blame it all on me—if the tapes hadn’t come out.

Nixon knew all his conversations were being taped—including planning the cover-up and arranging for the hush money. Why did he keep talking?

Occasionally it’s clear he knows he’s recording himself. But 98 percent of the time he’s oblivious—because he doesn’t think anybody will ever get access to the tapes. In April he instructs Haldeman to remove the system, but Haldeman reminds him that “Henry Kissinger might write a different history than you, so you might want to have a good record of national security matters.” He agrees with that. Then he says, “Let’s destroy everything except the national security material.” Haldeman says, “Sure,” but then never does it—because he gets consumed by Watergate himself.

What did you conclude about the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap?

I concluded that “Who created the eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap?” is the wrong question. It’s a mystery, but what difference does it make? The important question is what they erased. My book has a special appendix on that.

Finally: What was it like for you to spend four years listening to Nixon talking?

I told my wife Maureen, “Men in my family go deaf in their mid-70s, and I’m getting there. God forbid that the last voice I hear is Richard Nixon’s.” Fortunately, Jon, I can hear your voice, so I’ve come out the other side.


Read Next: Leslie Savan asks who’s really to blame for the decline of the newspaper industry.

The Constitutional Crisis in Ferguson, Missouri

Ferguson dog

(AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

The constitutional crisis that has developed in Ferguson, Missouri, begins as is so often the case with a human tragedy. Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager has lost his life, following an incident—now under investigation not just by local authorities but by the US Department of Justice—in which a witness tells CNN, “I saw the police chase him…down the street and shoot him down.”

When circumstances spin out of control, as they clearly have in Ferguson, it is essential always to remember the human element at the heart of the matter. In another time and another place, the singer Peter Gabriel nailed this with the gripping refrain of “Biko,” his anti-apartheid anthem that steadily reminded the world, “A man is dead, a man is dead.”

What has evolved since the death of Michael Brown, however, illustrates the challenges that arise when law-enforcement officials fail to fully recognize and embrace their dual responsibility: to maintain public safety while at the same time guaranteeing the rights of Americans to speak, to practice journalism, to assemble for the purpose of making demands on those in power.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a former state attorney general, seems to recognize that something had gone badly awry. After another turbulent night in Ferguson, the governor finally canceled appearances in other parts of the state on Thursday and announced he was going to the community where heavily armed police have confronted, arrested and detained protesters and journalists.

“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans,” declared Nixon, a Democrat who on Thursday afternoon announced plans for an “operational shift” and a “different tone” in the policing of Ferguson. “While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.”

Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill was blunt : “We need to demilitarize this situation—this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution. I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”

When President Obama spoke about Ferguson on Thursday, he too highlighted constitutional concerns. While the president said there was “never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism and looting,” he emphasized that there is “no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here in the United States of America, police should not be arresting or bullying journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.”

It is getting difficult to keep count of the number of constitutionally defined protections that have been undermined and neglected in Ferguson. Surely, most lists begin with evidence of a disregard for the promise of equal protection under the law. But they do not end there. The reports from each new day, and especially from each new night, point to a disregard for the First Amendment that tells us no law shall be made “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Law enforcement agencies have a duty to maintain public safety, to arrest and prosecute those who commit crimes, and to take reasonable steps to prevent violence, looting or riots that might threaten communities. But there is a parallel duty to protect against abridgments of First Amendment rights. The balance can be difficult to strike, but it is when the difficulty arises that the striking of the balance is most important.

When the balance is not kept, there is, as Demos president Heather McGhee says, “an affront to democracy” that must be addressed by local, state and federal officials.

“There is nothing more American than a community uniting in the face of tragedy, than ordinary people organizing to peacefully protest injustice,” says McGhee. “The police reaction—to protests of their own violence—has been more violence, less transparency, and an active suppression of first amendment freedoms.”

In Ferguson, there have been chaotic moments. But there have also been sincere efforts by religious and community leaders to peacefully protest police actions. What is unsettling is the extent to which these protests have been met with overwhelming force and responses that appear to rescind basic rights during much of the day. For instance, citizens were told by the police that they should assemble only during daylight hours and protest only in a “respectful manner.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri correctly labeled that police statement as “a direct attack on protected expressive liberty.”

“The protests in Ferguson are at the core of the First Amendment’s protection because they deal with matters of public concern,” wrote Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the Missouri ACLU, in a letter to the Ferguson police chief. The letter notes that “the protests in Ferguson are subject to a heightened protection for the additional reason that they are peaceful and conducted on public streets and sidewalks.”

Mittman’s letter pays particular attention to the police demand that protests proceed in a “respectful manner.” That, he explains, “is far beyond the bounds of permissible government activity. Government agencies do not get to demand respect from protesters. Respect is something that government officials earn from citizens, and citizens are entitled to express their lack of respect by protest on public streets and sidewalks. Actions to suppress peaceful expressive activity dilute that respect and, thus, are contrary to your request.”

Evidence of the constitutional crisis is also found in reports that journalists who are attempting to cover the story are being harassed, arrested and told to exit the scene. On Wednesday night, reporters for The Washington Post and the Huffington Post were detained by police in Ferguson, in what Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron described as a “wholly unwarranted…assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news.” Later, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has used his Twitter account and interviews to report on developments in the St. Louis suburb, was jailed for most of the night.

“In an American city, people are being tear-gassed and snipers are pointing rifles at them,” French told the St. Louis Post Dispatch after his release Thursday morning. “Everybody should be upset.… [the] heavy-handed police approach is actually making the situation worse.

In particular, French objected in media interviews to police crackdowns on peaceful protests during the evening.

“We have a right to protest 24 hours a day,” the alderman said. “Our constitutional rights don’t expire at 9 p.m.”

Antonio French is right.

That is a basic premise of the American experiment.

It is, as well, a basic premise of effective policing.

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During the mass protests at the Wisconsin Capitol in 2011, the top local law enforcement officer on the scene was Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney. Protests went on around the clock for weeks with no serious violence or arrests. The situation was tense at times. But police officers and protesters generally got along. As Mahoney explained, “Law enforcement agencies have responsibilities: They have to keep the peace. And they have to assure that citizens are able to exercise their First Amendment rights. There’s something very troubling about the notion that law enforcement agencies should play a role in preventing people from exercising their constitutional rights. That’s not how it is supposed to work.”

The police can strike the proper balance. And the people will respect them when they do so. This week, Mahoney was up for re-election. The sheriff beat his challenger, winning 89 percent of the vote.


Read Next: Michelle Chen asks if the City of New York is partnering with ICE to rip off immigrant communities.

Try It, You'll Like It

A couple of issues back, the Nation puzzle temporarily took on an unfamiliar look. In place of the standard grids that have been the norm for nearly all of our puzzles and those of our predecessor, Frank Lewis—a 15-by-15 diagram with alternating black and white squares—we did something different.

Just for the sake of variety, we ran a puzzle with a bar diagram, in which heavy lines rather than black squares separate the grid entries. And as is traditional with such grids, we included a little extra gimmick in the puzzle—seven of the entries were clued using wordplay only, with the definitions indicated elsewhere in the puzzle. (If that description sounds a little vague, it’s because we’re trying to avoid spoiling the puzzle for anyone who hasn’t solved it yet.)

This wasn’t the first time we’ve varied the shape of things in this way. We used a bar diagram for a puzzle thematically linked to the release of the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, another one to celebrate our 100th contribution to the magazine, and one or two others for no timely reason at all. And each time we do it, we hear a few complaints from solvers who seem put out that the puzzle doesn’t look just like all the others.

Look, we get it. For crossword lovers, solving the puzzle is one of the most comforting routines there is. And it can be disconcerting to encounter something in a different shape or format than what you’ve come to expect.

But the truth is that these variety puzzles using bar diagrams aren’t all that far afield from the usual Nation fare. The clueing techniques are identical, or nearly so (the no-definition gimmick in the most recent puzzle is really only a minor wrinkle in the traditional formula). And although a bar diagram may look daunting at first glance, the mechanics of solving turn out not to be hugely different from a black-square diagram—you’re still writing letters into squares one at a time.

So consider this a plea to solvers who may have been put off by the new format—which, fair warning, is going to keep popping up here from time to time—to give bar diagrams a shot. You might be surprised at how easily they work.

This week’s clueing challenge: NOVELTY. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

How Media Passivity Is Service Journalism for the Powerful


Ferguson, Missouri (AP photo, Jeff Roberson) 

Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.

I would have called this column, “John Dean, John Dean, We know just what you mean,”

Or perhaps

John Dean, John Dean, You said it all so clean.”

Instead it was headlined “Government Whitewashing Didn’t Stop With Watergate” and yes, August 9 should be a national holiday….

And in honor of that imagined holiday, here’s Altercation “friend” Harry Shearer inhabiting Nixon in a verbatim comedic re-creation of Nixon's poignant last 6 minutes before he resigned the Presidency, on August 8th, 1974.’

Gershon Baskin , has initiated a campaign to buy 5,000 tons of Israel farm-surplus potatoes and send them to Gaza. The money must be raised by Sunday. Here is the explanation with a link to the contribution. 


I wanted to give a shout out to the Music Maker Relief Foundation—the non-profit record label which supports traditional southern musicians living in poverty—on their 20th anniversary. They are celebrating with a book coming in September, a 2-CD set also a museum exhibition at the NY Public Library, and a Lincoln Center performance which you already missed. Tim Duffy has been called “a modern-day Alan Lomax” for having founded MMRF as a 501c3 to support artists in their communities and has put out almost 150 albums. He's dispersed grants in the thousands for instruments, heating oil, medications, and CDs for these artists to sell at their shows. Many of the artists have made debut or comeback records in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, many playing for festival crowds or traveling to Europe for the first time in their lives, realizing life-long dreams! The 2CD collection includes Etta Baker, Boo Hanks w/ Dom Flemons, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ironing Board Sam, John Dee Holeman, and Guitar Gabriel, the latter of whom inspired the non-profit. Go here to learn more, please.

I also wanted to give an additional shout out to Liveright Books for its recent publication of Henry Roth’s Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels.

At over 1300 pages this set of novels makes for an enormous commitment on the part of the reader but it more than justifies itself. The Roth story is almost too weird to be believed. If you’ve read Call It Sleep, then I probably don’t need to say any more. If you haven’t, then immediately read Adam Kirsch’s terrific but stupidly titled essay in Tablet, In the meantime, look at these blurbs.

“The Ur-novel at the heart of American literature—Mercy of a Rude Stream is a towering astonishment.” (Junot Diaz)

Mercy is a rare species of literary epic: an autobiography that doubles as a historical novel. The action of Mercy—set primarily between 1914 and 1928 but interlaced with dispatches from the 1980s and '90s, and including intermittent reflections of the years in between—encompasses nearly the entirety of the twentieth century…Mercy is an epic of the outsider, a chronicle of self-survival and self-discovery and the realization of the self.” (Joshua Ferris, from the introduction)

“Mr. Roth's frisson of regret provides a poignant gloss on one of the most moving and unusual of American fiction careers.” (Kenneth Turan - Los Angeles Times)

“Henry Roth has only two peers in American-English Jewish fiction, Nathanael West and Philip Roth.” (Harold Bloom)

“As provocative as anything in the chapters of St. Augustine or Rousseau.” (Stefan Kanfer - Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“The literary comeback of the century.” (Jonathan Rosen - Vanity Fair)

“[Mercy of a Rude Stream] is like hearing that Ralph Ellison is publishing a new novel forty-two years after Invisible Man or J. D. Salinger is preparing a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.” (Leonard Michaels - New York Times Book Review)

“A wondrous, disturbing, and ruthlessly honest chronicle of the complex and often wrenchingly twisted process of assimilation. The sheer dynamism generated by the writer's act of memory and confession is awe-inspiring.” (Hedy Weiss - Chicago Sun-Times)

Sensitive fellow that I am, I also really enjoyed Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel, by Anya Ulnich which I read in one sitting. It’s a little precious Brooklyn, but it’s wonderfully evocative and honest and teaches you things about life that only its author knows. Here is Ayelet Waldman’s review that convinced me to read it.

I am also spending some time with a new, impressively wide-ranging history of the record biz, Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy for Thomas Dunne Books, and a new history of pop music called Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley for Norton, which purports to tell “The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce” but does not begin to do justice to Bruce and so I am suspect….

Speaking of Bruce, here are some books I just noticed together on my shelf: Guess the subject:

Working on a Dream
Runaway Dream
Talk about a Dream
Bruce Springsteen and the Runaway American Dream

And here are a few tweets I don’t feel like rewriting:

The first issue of BOSS (Bi-Annual Online Journal of Springsteen Studies) http://boss.mcgill.ca/issue/view/8

That schmuck, Chris Christie, subsidized this place and attacked Bruce for refusing to play at its opening. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/13/nyregion/revel-atlantic-citys-newest-and-largest-casino-is-closing.html?emc=edit_ur_20140813&nl=nyregion&nlid=46904619 …

An unhappy anniversary, thanks to Stalin's madness http://www.thenation.com/article/171974/putting-stories-world …

You Say You Don't Wike it, I say you’re a wiar… wiar..http://us.yhs4.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hspart=ironsource&hsimp=yhs-

Could this be the end of MoDo's unbearable columnizing? A boy can hope http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2014/08/8550514/maureen-dowd-joins-emnyt-magazineem-ahead-major-redesign …

Ranking US presidents, properly http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25376-us-presidents-reconsidered-by-death-toll …

Contender for most idiotic comment of the century, future decades included: It's like the Beatles all in one person," http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/08/ted-cruz-for-president/375825/ …

The Black Album: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ethanhawke/boyhood-the-black-album …

And now, here (finally) is Reed:

What Ferguson Teaches Us: That Media Passivity is Service Journalism for the Powerful
By Reed Richardson

Boil it down; journalism tells you a story. Better yet, more of a story. Even better yet, more of a story clearly. What happened? Who did it? To whom? When? How? And why? As you move down that list, however, those questions get increasingly tougher. The press isn’t a judge or jury, of course. It can’t—and shouldn’t—presume guilt. Yet it can damn sure list the dramatis personae. Offer background. Give context. Tell you the stakes. There’s a bigger picture here it can—and should—say. Here’s how you can see it too.

Right now, there’s a big picture issue unfolding in Fergusion, Missouri. Lots of them, actually. The rampant militarization of the police, clear racial prejudice between white police and the mostly black citizenry it’s supposed to protect, rampant violations of the First Amendment. All of these. And a few intrepid journalists have put themselves on the front lines, literally, of these issues. Their coverage has been drawn back a curtain. They’ve re-awakened us to how broken our country still is in many places.

But theirs has been a rare bright light in an otherwise dark void. So much of the mainstream media has been treating the police killing of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, and the protests that it has ignited, as a local story. That is, if they’ve covered it at all. And this speaks to a much larger, systemic problem within journalism.

It’s about the default mindset that colors much of the press. How it too often hesitates, vacillates, equivocates in the face of power. How it tells you this important detail in a way that obscures that one. That’s breaking the compact. That’s taking a side. Yes, this sometimes takes the form of a partisan bias. But most of the time, it’s simpler than that. Most of the time, when journalists pull their punches, it’s the status quo that gets the benefit of the doubt. The powerful already enjoy many advantages in this country. Count a too deferential, too credulous press corps among them.

This passivity manifests itself in ways big and small. To simply ignore a story—like the impending 2008 economic collapse—is one way. Routinely burying a story contradicting the conventional wisdom—like the case against WMDs in Iraq—is another. So is a heavy reliance on government sources—who trade their access for the chance to peddle anonymous spin and unverifiable scoops. And then there’s the granular level timidity that pollutes the language journalists use in their writing everyday.

The last of these can sometimes be the hardest to detect. It’s easy to develop a blind spot. Certain stilted turns of phrase, certain establishment-friendly narrative frames are so popular that journalists now employ them almost instinctively.

Case in point: this Fox TV news report on the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, in Ferguson, Missouri last Friday:

“A shooting in Ferguson has tensions riding high between residents and police. Saturday afternoon, a police involved shooting occurred at the Canfield Green apartment complex in the 2900 block of Canfield. A teenager was shot and killed. An officer from the Ferguson Police Departmentwas involved in the shooting.


At the request of the Ferguson Police Department, the St. Louis County Crimes Against Person Unit is taking over the investigation of the shooting. The police officer involved in the shooting has been put on paid administrative leave.” [emphasis mine]


On Twitter, Media Matters’ Jamison Foser made an astute observation about the counterfactual: “Hard to imagine a black guy killing a cop being described simply as ‘involved in the shooting.’ I’m sure it’s happened, but…” I called this ambiguous phrasing a shameless example of “passive voice” that distorts the truth.

Now, grammatically speaking, what I wrote wasn’t really accurate. Most of the highlighted sections above are not in the passive voice. And in my research for this post, I discovered linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum, who routinely corrects these kinds of mistakes on his blog, Language Log. He’s even written a sort of anti-pedantry manifesto: “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” In it, he takes on George Orwell’s classic on clarity in writing “Politics and the English Language.” (In an ironic twist, Pullum calculates Orwell’s essay uses the passive one-and-a-half times more than the average writer.) In addition, Pullum carves up one of journalism holy scriptures, Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style.” Time and again, he cites examples of S&W unfairly maligning the passive voice.

Point taken. The passive voice gets a bad rap in journalism. Indeed, it can serve as a kind of red herring, a superficial standard that distracts the press from what it should really avoid: intellectual and narrative passivity. When reporting intentionally divorces actor from action; the who from the what, it puts distance between the reader and the story. Adopting the formless, gormless language of officialdom, which can deny agency and muddy the narrative, forces the reader to infer rather than be informed. It raises as many, if not more, questions than it answers. It risks misinterpretation. Who shot whom? All we’ll tell you is a police officer was involved.

To be clear, this wasn’t an isolated example. Plenty of news organizations adopted this same affected, procedural language when discussing Mike Brown’s death. One could argue this kind of phrasing is a harmless affectation. I disagree. Over time, this subtle, yet endemic bias toward the voice of authority functions like death by a thousand cuts. It drains stories of their novelty, while at the same time helping to mask a systemic problem, like unarmed black men being accosted and shot dead by white men or police with guns. Search the coverage of the deaths of Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin, or, from just this past Tuesday,Ezell Ford and you this familiar, ambiguous sentence in all three: “A struggle ensued.”

Sadly, this happens all too often across journalism. One of my pet peeves: the media’s preference for using the maladroit phrase “a gun went off” to describe accidental shootings. Absolving human error from the equation imbues these (often deadly) incidents with a natural disaster feel. As if we’re helpless in the face of the epidemic of gun deaths plaguing this country.

Similarly, when the New York Times changes a headline after the fact to be less clear about an Israeli airstrike, it speaks volumes about our national discomfort with challenging the foreign policy status quo. That was the case last month following a deadly attack in Gaza that left four boys dead. Within a few hours after publishing a story with this headline: “Four Young Boys Killed on Gaza Beach” the Times backtracked, and ran this sickeningly mealy-mouthed alternative instead: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.” And while it’s true the Times has a reputation for loving these two-part headline constructions, there’s little doubt some editor felt the first version might provoke the paper’s powerful pro-Israel audience. So, ambiguity to the rescue!

Politicians and their pundit enablers do this all the time, of course. Ronald Reagan pioneered the use of the ne plus ultra of passive, gutless excuses—“mistakes were made”—nearly 30 years ago. As the Iraq war descended into chaos, George W. Bush embraced the phrase too. In fact, it’s become such a well-worn chestnut among the no accountability crowd in Washington that books have been written on it. And this compulsion to shirk blame and weasel out from under the truth is a hard habit to break, apparently. Just this week, Times columnist and war cheerleader David Brooks trotted out this surreal howler about Iraq: “The last four presidents have found themselves drawn into that nation…” That’s right, the most powerful country on the planet simply has no self-control when it comes to the prospect of bombing or invading a Middle East country. So much for American Exceptionalism.

Over in England, the BBC has a news platform, Newsround, aimed at children aged seven to 11. Back in 2006, after a gruesome school shooting here in the U.S.—which, tellingly, is all but forgotten by now—the network offered some editorial guidance on how to cover unsettling news for this audience. The solution? Strive for a kind of antiseptic, watered-down coverage by following these two important precepts: “don’t dwell on the details” and “use passive constructions.” So, as a helpful example, the guidance noted the BBC would report: “Five girls have died.” rather than “The man went in and shot five girls.” Sound familiar?

In other words, what would be considered infantilized news coverage by the BBC is what American news audiences are treated to everyday. This dumbing down and spiffing up of the news takes a toll. Each day, it slowly eats away at the truth and ever so slightly widens the chasm between the powerful and the powerless. Boil it down: journalism tells you a story. But the story’s not worth much if, by telling us more, it ends up saying less.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

The Mail

David Ellis
Northern California

Dear Mr. Richardson—Thank you for your article in The Nation [“High Price of Surveillance…”].

In Chalmers Johnson's book "Nemesis—The Last Days of the American Republic" he states the republic is failing because of the breakdown of constitutional law and militarization. I think government surveillance of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, without a court order, is a sign of the breakdown of constitutional law, a violation of the fourth amendment.

One thing that is totally absent from the great writers of our time, who provide marvelous descriptions of problems with our democracy and also provide well-thought-out solutions, is nobody writes a blow-by-blow, step-by-step, description of how to implement a solution. Since you are such a deep thinker and an articulate writer, perhaps you can change that long-time practice.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form

Tell President Obama: Stop Corporate Deserters

President Obama demands "economic patriotism" from corporations

President Obama demands "economic patriotism" from corporations that seek overseas mergers to avoid US taxes. (AP Photo)

We all pay our taxes. Why shouldn’t multibillion-dollar corporations? Thanks to corporate inversions, many highly profitable companies are stiffing the United States government of billions of dollars that could be used to fund vital social programs. By buying a foreign company and reincorporating overseas, these corporations are able to avoid US taxes even while they enjoy the benefits of keeping much of their operations located here. The practice is getting more popular; currently, more than a dozen countries are plotting to change their address.


Because politicians depend on these same tax dodgers for their campaign funds, Congress isn’t going to do anything about this problem. But President Obama has promised to do so. We need to demand that he take the strongest action possible to stop these corporate deserters. Tell the president to sign an executive order that prevents corporations from deserting America by pretending to be located offshore.


In her column for The Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel explains the politics surrounding corporate inversions and argues that we must address the “underlying disease” that ultimately allows so many powerful corporations to avoid paying their fair share.


On The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert lays out the absurdity of corporate inversions: “It’s like me adopting an African child, then claiming myself as his dependent.”


Is New York City Partnering With ICE to Rip Apart Immigrant Communities?


(Reuters/Eric Thayer)

When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he vowed to end the crisis of inequality that had created what he called New York’s Tale of Two Cities. Yet a new report argues that the city’s immigrant communities continue to be trapped by the social divides wrought by biased policing and oppressive immigration policies. Rights groups say the de Blasio administration is marginalizing immigrants by allowing federal authorities to use people’s past records in the criminal justice system to undercut their constitutional rights.

According to the report by Families for Freedom and New York University Immigrant Rights Clinic, the city’s collusion with immigration authorities has led to the unjust detention and deportation of noncitizens as the police and the feds blur the lines between Homeland Security and Zero Tolerance.

Generally, local authorities do not have to enforce immigration laws on behalf of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but the Secure Communities Program (S-Comm) enables local and federal sharing of immigration and criminal databases. Once data from ICE, the FBI and local precincts are meshed together, federal agents can easily nab someone on an immigration charge and a criminal charge that counts as a “deportable offense.” This can conveniently result in someone being banished from the country without going through the normal criminal process.

So the promise to end the tale of two cities rings hollow to New York immigrants who live in legal limbo under the cloud of their conviction history. In one case of a Dominican Republic–born legal resident, documented in the report, a misdemeanor drug offense from over a decade ago placed him at risk of deportation and made him frightened to come forward to naturalize, or even to travel outside the city. But at the time, “nobody, including his defense attorney, had said anything about immigration consequences when he pleaded guilty.” He eventually managed, with the help of a lawyer, to have his old conviction vacated and changed to a non-deportable offense. But had he had a run-in with ICE earlier on—if his workplace had been raided or he got pulled over by a mean cop—he might have gotten kicked out of the country before getting his second day in court.

The endemic inequities in the city’s criminal justice system are worsening the problem, says Families for Freedom Executive Director Abraham Paulos. “A lot of us came to New York during the 1980s and ’90s, and that was at the height of the war on drugs,” Paulos tells The Nation. “So now you’ve got a whole population of green-card holders here, or even undocumented folks, that have these convictions [and are] essentially in limbo.” Typically, he explains, a green-card holder with prior crimes on her record—perhaps just the result of plea bargaining to avoid the trouble of a trial—may be frozen in a legal no man’s land, he explains, forever subject to deportation and barred from naturalization: “I can’t apply for citizenship, because I have a felony, I won’t get it. But…[at the same time] any contact that I have with the NYPD might get me into the detention and deportation system.”

The report, drawing on field research and government data, outlines various ways that ICE “detainers,” or requests for local authorities to hold immigrant arrestees temporarily on federal authorities’ behalf, erode due process for people with prior convictions. An ICE detainer can block someone from from posting bail, which constrains access to the social support networks and legal counsel that could help build their case. If the detainee seeks a hearing in state court to request post-conviction relief—a key tool for retroactively converting an unfair record—ICE, according to the report, will refuse to bring the person to court, preventing them from appearing before the judge. In addition, ICE can pre-empt post-conviction relief by just deporting someone immediately, often with the help of foreign embassies and consulates that authorize the removals. If removal proceedings are set in motion while a claim is pending, FFF says, “some state courts refuse to hear the post-conviction relief claims of noncitizens after ICE has deported them.”

(While we often hear about deportations of the undocumented, a conviction for many types of crime, including some drug offenses, can lead even to someone with a green card being subjected to a “mandatory deportation” process, though they are legally living in the United States.)

The Obama administration claims ICE authorities focus on “criminal aliens” and not ordinary, otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers. But advocates argue that ICE insidiously uses relatively minor offenses as grounds for deportation, and the cooperation of city police and jails shows that both local and federal systems are less interested in protecting public security than in fueling the machinery of immigrant removal.

According to Syracuse University’s TRAC data project, nationwide, ICE data from the fiscal years 2012 and 2013 show about half of the cases for which ICE requested a hold involved “no record of criminal conviction, not even a minor traffic violation.” Overall, just 14 percent were deemed a “serious” public safety threat.

A previous legal study shows that ICE apprehended more than 34,000 New Yorkers from 2005 to 2010, often through the notorious Rikers Island jail. The vast majority of these detainees were not offered a bond setting.

There has been growing pushback against ICE intervention, however. The New York City Council has placed some restrictions on ICE’s ability to detain undocumented immigrants in local custody. These build on two executive orders issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2003, which curtail sharing of immigration data between city agencies and ICE. Nationwide, three states, more than twenty cities and more than 150 counties have enacted measures to limit local compliance with ICE detainers. Still, New York City has continued to comply with most ICE detainers in recent years.

In a recent civil rights lawsuit in Oregon, a federal court ruled that the detention of an immigrant on the basis of an ICE detainer, without showing probable cause, violated Fourth Amendment protections.

Undoing the sticky bind between ICE and local government comes down to local political will. Activists argue that since ICE detainers are essentially voluntary agreements, New York, by cooperating with ICE holds, is complicit in violating immigrants’ rights, particularly if they were victims of a botched legal proceedings earlier.

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A coalition of rights groups, including FFF, DREAMer youth activists and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, has launched the #ICEFREENYC campaign to demand that the de Blasio administration decisively cut ties with ICE to protect all New Yorkers’ civil rights. Pointing out that past reforms do not explicitly protect people with prior convictions, they want the mayor to “explicitly prohibit the NYPD, DOC, and any City agency from detaining New Yorkers at the request of ICE,” bar all information sharing with ICE, and keep ICE agents away from ”sensitive locations including hospitals, courts, homeless shelters, public demonstrations, community centers, places of worship and schools.”

In response to the campaign, the de Blasio administration has stated that city agencies, as a policy, will “protect the confidentiality” of immigrants while “ensuring that people are not put on the path to deportation for minor violations.”

In written comments to The Nation, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal says: “Deportations create instability in our communities, and revising New York City’s stance on detainer requests was in the Mayor’s platform from the get-go. We are reviewing the current policies.”

Meanwhile, Paulos, who himself got swept into detention a few years ago while stuck with past convictions from his teens, warns that ICE “has been running rogue in New York City, and has been able to use the criminal justice system as a scapegoat and as a pipeline.” And local agencies are “going through all types of problems from law enforcement down to the courts.… The last thing you want to do is voluntarily bind these systems together.”

The insidious complicity between immigration and criminal law enforcement shows that while they claim to embrace the city’s newcomers, local policymakers still display more allegiance to Washington’s border hawks than respect for the rights of New Yorkers.

Editor’s note: Read a response from the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio about the administration’s record on immigration enforcement reform.


Read Next: Who counts as a refugee in US immigration policy

Why Is It So Controversial to Help Poor Mothers Afford Diapers?

Feed the Children

A child waits in line with her mother to receive goods from the Feed the Children relief organization (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Imagine you’re a single mother working a minimum-wage job with a toddler at home. You don’t make enough to cover all of your family’s necessities (a minimum-wage income isn’t enough to even afford rent), so you have the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC to help you afford food. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to get Section 8 vouchers to help cover rent. You’re also fortunate enough to be one of the 26 percent of poor families with children who qualify for welfare assistance, but that runs out by mid-month.

So when your diaper supply also runs out mid-month, where can you turn to help you afford that incredibly basic necessity? Not SNAP, nor WIC, nor most other programs. They won’t let you spend benefits on diapers. Your daycare center won’t take your toddler without some, so you’re forced to stay home with him. You do what Shanique Brown did: she skipped work and constantly asked her son if he needed to go to the bathroom while she “cried and cried.”

A lawmaker in California wants to change that and has penned the first-ever bill to address diaper need, which would give families on welfare with children under two $80 a month to cover diapers. That would mean mothers who can’t afford diapers—30 percent of women across incomes and demographics say they’ve faced this problem at some point—won’t have to resort to stretching dirty diapers, risking infections and rashes, or go hat in hand to friends and family.

Sounds pretty logical, no? But every time the fact that mothers struggle to afford diapers—not just low-income ones, as the survey linked to above indicates—crops up, the same reaction can be counted on: “Why should I subsidize the choices of a woman who had a baby she couldn’t afford?” (Thoughts to this effect have dogged the lawmaker who introduced California’s bill.)

This isn’t an idle question among trolls, however. This idea, that poor women who want to be mothers shouldn’t be subsidized, has driven public policy. Take welfare reform, which implemented work requirements as a condition of getting cash assistance and, while it promised to help mothers with childcare, has dropped the ball. Worse, while benefits are meant to rise for each child in a family—given that the family will need more resources to cover another person—sixteen have capped benefits at a certain number of children in the idea that it will discourage poor women from having more.

Never mind that the caps don’t seem to have that impact, but do end up pushing poor moms further into poverty.

Worse is the fact that these policies and the reactions to diaper assistance are both based on faulty, if not completely incorrect, premises. The welfare queen, the boogeyman held up by President Reagan as a woman who drives a Cadillac and commits extensive welfare fraud, was a myth, but it hasn’t stopped many after him from expanding the caricature to describe women who supposedly have more children to get more benefits. Before welfare reform, just 10 percent of the families who got welfare had three or more children. Today, average family size is the same whether a family gets public assistance or none. Your family probably looks a lot like a family on welfare.

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This is true despite the fact that poor women have a much harder time getting the contraception they need. In 2012, 20 million women needed publicly funded contraception, but just 6.1 million were served by publicly funded clinics, meeting a mere 31 percent of the need. So poor women get it both coming and going: we penalize them when they don’t want to be mothers and then penalize them when they do want to have kids.

While low-income women get punished for having children, however, we still think of ourselves a country with strong family values that upholds the virtue of motherhood. Remember how quickly Democrats had to scramble to reaffirm that Ann Romney’s role as a stay-at-home mother over her husband’s career was the “most important” job during the 2012 campaign? Or the ads for the 2012 Olympics declaring that being a mom is “the best” job? We endlessly defend the choices of the middle- to upper-class women who don’t work and instead parent. We even subsidize higher-income parents through the tax code, giving the middle, second highest and highest income brackets nearly $30 billion through the Child Tax Credit. Republicans want to expand it further so that the wealthy get more.

But when a poor mother or a mother of color wants to have children and needs a small, small thing like help buying a diaper to make it all work, we recoil from her need. We have no right to dictate how many children a poor or a rich woman can have, and we owe it to all mothers to ensure that they have a simple thing like a diaper when they do.


Read Next: The murder of black youth is a reproductive justice issue.