It’s a classic David and Goliath story: one man with a computer against the world’s most powerful nation. Bradley Manning’s trial starts June 4—he’s charged with espionage and aiding the enemy. His crime: releasing to Wikileaks, and to the New York Times and The Guardian (and The Nation), hundreds of thousands of classified files documenting widespread civilian casualties, torture, and corruption in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Now award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney has a new documentary about it: “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.” His other films include “Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room,” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which won the Oscar for best feature documentary. “We Steal Secrets” opens in LA and New York City on Friday May 24.
JON WIENER: Any film about Wikileaks has to make interviewing Julian Assange task number one. You worked hard on that, and finally you met with him to discuss an interview. How did that go?
ALEX GIBNEY: Not so well. I tried over the course of a year and a half to get the interview. He’d already been interviewed by practically everyone on the planet. Finally we had a six hour meeting. He told me that the market rate for an interview was a million dollars. I told him I don’t pay for interviews. He said ‘That’s too bad, in that case you might do something else for me.” He wanted me to spy on our other interview subjects -- which I found a rather odd request from someone concerned about source protection. So I never did get the interview with Julian Assange.
Your meeting with Assange came during the period when he was in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden but before he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This came well after the historic Wikileaks release in 2010 of the Baghdad helicopter gunship video, which showed US pilots gunning down innocent Iraqi civilians, including two children, and two Reuters journalists, and sounding pretty happy about it. It came after the New York Times and the Guardian, along with Der Spiegel, published big page one stories on Wikileaks’ Afghan and Iraq war logs—they had cooperated with Julian Assange in researching and then reporting on the documents. What was the major news there?
The key things the Afghan war logs revealed were civilian casualties much higher than anyone had thought, and that the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, was playing a kind of double game, working with the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. The Iraq war logs revealed more extensive civilian casualties and also something extremely disturbing: the Bush and then the Obama administrations were handing prisoners over to the Iraqi authorities, who they knew to be torturing these individuals. That is in fact a war crime.
The response of the US government was fiendishly brilliant, I thought. They never attacked the New York Times for publishing the documents; instead they focused everything on Julian Assange. They said he had “blood on his hands,” that he was endangering Americans and individuals who had helped America. Several important people said Julian Assange should be killed by the US Government –including Bill O’Reilly.
Yes. We show video of Bill O’Reilly calling for a “drone hit” on Assange. It is true that Assange failed to redact all the names in the Afghan war logs, and that gave the US government an opening to say “you have blood on your hands”--although nobody came to harm as a result of that failure to redact.
Do you have an opinion about who does have blood on their hands?
Obviously the real blood is the blood being shed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US military.
And if Julian Assange was endangering Americans, wasn’t the New York Times guilty of the same thing?
There’s no doubt. Wikileaks in its essence is a publisher, pure and simple. They were very much in the same position as the New York Times and the Guardian. But the New York Times, not to its credit, helped to marginalize Assange, by calling him a “source” rather than a publisher, and this ended up helping the government.
In my opinion too much of the coverage in the mainstream media has focused on the personality and conduct of Julian Assange rather than on the secrets revealed by Wikileaks. But let’s spend a brief minute on the Swedish legal proceedings. A lot of Assange’s supporters think the Swedish incident is a fabrication created perhaps by the CIA in an effort to discredit Assange and distract the public from what Wikileaks revealed.
That was my opinion initially – the sex charges were some way the US had of silencing Julian Assange. I investigated thoroughly. I went to Sweden and spoke with one of the women that he allegedly treated badly. My conclusion is that this was purely a personal matter. I found no evidence of any effort to fake phony sex allegations. Everything boils down to this fact: he was not using a condom in the way two women wanted him to use a condom. They both confronted him afterwards and wanted him to take an HIV test. He refused. Because he refused, the women went to the police to try to get the police to force him to take an HIV test. Had he taken an HIV test, none of this would have happened.
You also interviewed some of the Julian Assange’s top associates and “former comrades” in an effort to understand what happened with him.
One of the key people I talked is a young man names James Ball, a super computer person. While Julian was under arrest, James briefly became the ad hoc press spokesman for Wikileaks. James was concerned about the way that Julian was succumbing to what James called “noble cause corruption” – the idea that, because he was doing something good, he was entitled to do other things that otherwise would not be looked on so well. Like taking money from the till to pay for his own sex defense fund. Like requiring all the people who work for Wikileaks to sign non-disclosure agreements.
This to me is a real betrayal of the ideals of Wikileaks: If you work for Julian Assange, you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That’s a standard corporate practice--
--to silence whistleblowers. The penalty for which was millions of dollars. In my opinion he’s tried to hide his own misbehavior behind the sanctity of the higher ideals of Wikileaks.
The higher ideals of Wikileaks remain, whatever Julian Assange is now doing – there is still too much secrecy in America, and we still regard whistleblowers as heroes. You describe this as a classic David and Goliath story, one man with a computer versus the most powerful nation on earth. Who exactly is the real David here? Is it Julian Assange?
No. The real David in this story is Bradley Manning. Now he’s about to go on trial June 4. He’s the whistleblower. He’s the man who leaked all these key materials – the Baghdad helicopter gunship video, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, the State Department logs. He’s pled guilty to violating an oath. But the government is charging him with “aiding the enemy.” The judge could impose the death penalty. What that says about criminalizing journalism is really terrifying. Putting Bradley Manning at the center of this story is the most important thing we can do.
This interview, originally broadcast in LA on KPFK 90.7FM, has been condensed and edited.
Organizers tell The Nation that four food court outlets in a federal building initially refused to let employees return to work following a Tuesday strike, but relented following protests by supporters.
The four establishments—Subway, Bassett’s Original Turkey, Quick Pita, and Kabuki Sushi—are located in the Ronald Reagan federal building, one of several Washington, DC, workplaces where employees with taxpayer-supported jobs went on strike as part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign, whose backers include the Service Employees International Union. As The Nation reported Tuesday, the strikers are demanding that President Obama take executive action to improve labor standards for workers who are employed by private companies to do jobs backed by public spending. According to organizers, the one-day strike involved hundreds of workers, and forced about half of the Reagan Building’s food court outlets to shut down at some point during the day. (The Reagan Building is owned by the federal government; many of its food outlets are franchisees of restaurant or fast food chains.)
Bassett’s employee Suyapa Moreno told The Nation in Spanish that three of her outlet’s four staff went on strike Tuesday, and that when they showed up to start their shift on Wednesday, “the owner told my co-worker she was fired. So I said, ‘If you’re going to fire her, I’m not coming back to work.’” She said her manager told them that “she didn’t want to see us again.” Moreno said she believes her co-worker was targeted because management saw her as the ringleader who convinced Moreno and a third Bassett’s worker to strike.
Moreno said the workers then waited at the food court until other workers, organizers and community supporters gathered to protest the terminations. According to the Good Jobs Nation campaign, about a hundred total supporters converged in the food court to protest ten total terminations by four outlets. Once there was a big enough group, said Moreno, “We went back to talk to the owner, and she accepted us back.” The Good Jobs Nation campaign told The Nation that managers or owners from Subway, Quick Pita and Kabuki Sushi also agreed to reverse the terminations once confronted by crowds of supporters.
The federal Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon regarding the allegations, or to The Nation’s prior inquiries this week regarding the Good Jobs Nation campaign. An employee who answered the phone at the Reagan Building Bassett’s Original Turkey location early Thursday evening said that no manager was on the property to comment. A call to the building’s Kabuki Sushi location went unanswered. The person who answered the phone at the building’s Subway location said he was too busy to comment; the Subway corporation did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
Reached on the Reagan Building Quick Pita location’s phone line, a person who identified himself as a manager there said that no strikers had been denied the chance to return to work, and charged that the campaign was making workers “victims for a bigger political agenda.” He declined to give his name, and said that he was not authorized to speak for the Quick Pita company or the franchisee’s owner.
The attempted terminations alleged by Good Jobs Nation could be violations of federal labor law. As I’ve noted previously, the law generally prohibits “firing” workers for striking, but often allows “permanently replacing” strikers by filling their positions during the strike and refusing to reinstate them. But strikes that the government finds to be motivated in part by prior labor law violations, as Good Jobs Nation says Tuesday’s was, receive greater legal protection; and striking for only one day may also provide a shield against “permanent replacement.”
However, labor advocates and activists have long charged that the National Labor Relations Board’s slow process and weak penalties do little to discourage companies from firing activists. In order to deter retaliation, organizers of recent fast food strikes have arranged for delegations of supporters, sometimes including local politicians and clergy, to accompany the strikers back to work the next day. As I reported for Salon in November, activists say that an indoor occupation and outdoor picket of a Wendy’s store led management to reverse the termination of one of the participants in New York’s first fast food strike. Organizers say the same approach worked yesterday in Washington.
“Before, when workers were treated badly or fired unjustly, nothing would happen,” said Moreno. “And so the bosses felt like they could keep doing it.” Following the strike and yesterday’s showdown, she said, “Now they treat us with a little more respect, because they’re afraid that if they keep doing what they’re doing, more of this will happen.”
My new “Think Again” column is called “Remembering the ‘Feminine Mystique’” and it’s here.
My new Nation column is called “Ron Fournier, Doomsayer,” but it could have been called “High Fournierism” or perhaps “Fornierification,” but anyway it’s here.
The Cause is out in paperback and it strikes me as not as long (or thick) as I expected it to be. Here are some of the blurbs we decided to use:
"Alterman’s magnum opus . . . All aspects of liberalism are surveyed . . . the definitive work on its subject.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“What a relief it is…to read Eric Alterman’s superb new book, THE CAUSE. [I]f your goal is to learn about, and understand, one of this country’s most potent political forces, this book belongs in your hands.”— Boston Globe
“The most thoughtful critique of contemporary liberalism written from within that worldview.." —The Weekly Standard
“…an intellectual (and actual) history of liberalism that even [Lionel] Trilling would approve of… excellent….” — Daily Beast
“…an illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume.” — Publishers Weekly
Alter-reviews: Big week for live-music
A Tribute to Bobby Short at the Allen Room
Chick Corea with the Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra at Rose Hall
Friends of Chick Corea: Musicans of the Future at the Allen Room
Tom Jones at the Bowery Ballroom
Jane Monheit at Birdland
Last Thursday night I took in the tribute to Bobby Short at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. MC’ed by Michael Feinstein, it featured Barbara Carroll, whose voice remains full and fingers nimble at 88 and who worked with Short for decades at the Café Carlyle and they were close friends (but I’m not even sure she was the oldest of the performers that night). Paula West sang some bluesy Cole Porter lyrics that he probably didn’t write and T. Oliver Reid came across as a genuine torch-bearer. Marti Stevens made a rare appearance making this group even older collectively, than the Rolling Stones. But they were also pretty great. The band was Tedd Firth, Andy Farber Ed Howard and Mark McLean.
The evening certainly gave the impression that Short was just as jovial and entertaining in “real life” as on stage. I did manage to scrounge one performance of his out of the people at the Carlyle, luckily, but in my youth, I was not confident I would be able to. The prices, however, were so high as to be prohibitive and so I figured it was not to be.
One day, in mid afternoon, crossing Park Avenue not far from the Carlyle, I was noticed Bobby Short waiting next to me for the light to change. I introduced myself and said that while I was a great admirer of his work, I could not afford the prices at the Carlyle. He said that was too bad, and wished luck before going on his way. About a half a block later, however, he turned around with an idea: “You know,” Short advised me, “you could always marry a rich a girl…”
Friday night, I went back to Jazz at Lincoln Center for two shows on the same night: Chick Corea with the (complete) Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and then Beka Gochiashvili and Gadi Lehavi at the Allen Room, playing the music of Corea, with Ravi Coltrane and Wallace Rooney joining in.
Did I mention that Gochiashvili (a Georgian) Lehavi (an Israeli) were only 17? They played piano together. I only caught their final songs--a thoughtful meditation on Corea’s “Matrix,” but the poise and patience each one demonstrated was impressive, especially given the big guns with whom they were performing.
I was forced to miss most of their performance because of the generosity of program being played at Rose Hall by Corea, Wynton Marsalis and the complete orchestra--with new arrangements, per usual, by members of the band. Chick Corea may be the most versatile composer alive in any musical form. I have been buying his albums since I was a teenager and I still can’t keep up. It would be impossible to do more than scratch the proverbial surface and that’s just what he and the band did though what a pleasure it was to hear them filled out by this incredible big band. Despite the formality of the hall, and everybody but Chick sartorially sporting Brooks Brothers suits, the evening had a relaxed, rather laid-back atmosphere, with Corea and Marsalis trading the mc role and the members of the band taking turns on a striking set of solos. (Mrs. Corea, Gayle Moran, stopped in the middle of her song to congratulate her husband for being able to surprise her on the keyboards after forty years of accompaniment. She, also, could not possibly have been wearing Brooks Brothers, to put it gently.) The selections moved back and forth over the past fifty years--including a striking recent piece commissioned for the the 50th anniversary of the MIT jazz program. Thankfully, there was none of the awful L. Rod Hubbard stuff, but even that is forgiveable, given everything the man has given us over the past half-century.
Saturday night I saw an amazing show by the sexiest seventy-two year old man on the planet, no contest. Tom Jones sounds as good or better than ever, and like so many of us, is much more handsome than he was before with his gray goatee. Seriously, Tom Jones has a voice that needs to be heard live to be believed and his choice of material in his newest incarnation makes him one of the most compelling and exciting performers I’ve seen in years.
With a tight-knit four-piece band, Jones did a 95-minute set that included songs drawn primarily from 2010’s gospel album Praise & Blame and this year’s terrific “Spirit in the Room.”
Drinking what he explained was “Gray Goose water,” he opened with “Tower of Song,” and ran through “Dimming of the Day,” “Just Dropped In,” Bad as Me,” “Sould of a Man” and some John Lee Hooker.
The only throwbacks to Jones’ past was a lovely encore of "Green, Green Grass of Home,"and in, in tribute to George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Now behold the man’s awesomeness in this video: Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young and Tom Jones in 1969.
Finally, Wednesday night, I caught a shockingly crowded show at Birdland where one of my favorite singers, Jane Monheit, was celebrating the release of her new cd, “The Heart Of The Matter” her eleventh. Highlights include:
“Golden Slumbers/The Long And Winding Road” by The Beatles to Buffy St. Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go” to “Depende de Nos” by Ivan Lins, Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me,” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” along with first song recorded by Monheit on which she has written both the words and the music, “Night Night Stars.” Believe it or not, she actually turns that horrible “Sing, Sing a song” song into something moving and almost beautiful—though few things are as beautiful as her live version—one of eight arrangements—of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Not even loud German tourists who don’t know you’re not supposed to talk during the performance at Birdland could ruin that.
The new album was produced and arranged by Gil Goldstein, with Michael Kanan on piano, Gil Goldstein on electric piano and accordion, Romero Lubambo on acoustic guitar, Neal on bass, Rick Montalbano on drums, Rogerio Boccato on percussion, David Eggar and Richard Locker on cello, Barry Crawford and Kathleen Nester on alto flute and Sheryl Henze on bass flute and c flute.
How the Media Enabled U.S. Drone Policy
by Reed Richardson
For a nation that, by 2009, had grown both physically and politically weary from two interminable wars against ghost-like foes, it’s not surprising that the incoming Obama administration latched onto drone strikes as its favorite counterterrorism weapon. After all, in theory, drones have much to commend them. They’re relatively cheap, more readily deployable, don’t risk the lives of American service members, and, best of all, they dangle the enticing prospect of raining pinpoint, Zeus-like vengeance down upon the heads of specified enemy terrorists. Money saved, world safer, bad guys dead, good guys home for dinner. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Well, as is always true in the fog of battle, a lot, actually. In fact, the remote unbridling of lethal force against hard-to-identify individuals based on sometimes muddy, often chaotic intelligence has proven to be a sure-fire recipe to kill dozens of innocent people for every target hit. What’s more, it’s increasingly apparent the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere have ensnared us in a kind of moral and ethical tar pit—the more we exercise this weapon to fight terrorism, the more we subvert the principles of justice and due process we’re supposedly fighting to uphold.
Thus, the president’s announcement that he’ll be curtailing the use of drone strikes and re-establishing military control over the program is long overdue good news. Following on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s formal acknowledgment this week that the U.S. government killed four of its citizens overseas, three of them accidentally, the administration seems to have finally arrived at some kind of turning point on drones. However, it’s important to note that the new Presidential Policy Guidance on drones Obama signed on Wednesday is classified. Moreover, the administration, as was obvious by the unbowed tone of Holder’s letter to Congress, has by no means abandoned its troubling legal justifications for drone strikes overseas. It has merely deemed the strikes themselves less necessary. This leaves the door open for it, or a subsequent White House administration, to ramp it all back up again. That’s why a heaping helping of skepticism is in order.
Sadly, we’ve gotten anything but skepticism from the press since the drone program’s inception. Instead, the establishment media’s coverage has mostly been of the dutifully credulous variety, when not outright cheerleading. For instance, news organizations have routinely lauded the latest drone “success” or terrorist killed, by citing only “U.S. officials” or their proxies as sources. Little more than government propaganda, this kind of reporting uniformly ignores collateral damage and civilian casualties, and sometimes proves to be grossly inaccurate. (See this erroneous 2009 Fox News report that repeats a U.S. official’s claim about the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Awlawki, who actually survived the attack in question unharmed.)
In addition to this steady drip of positive news briefs, the press has also served up several larger, gushing portraits of the drone program. For example, there was this cinematic, behind-the-scenes dive into the CIA’s role as well as this flattering, White House-insider account. When not chock full of macho posturing— “we are killing these son of bitches faster than they can grow them”—this reporting spins scenes of a steely but sober commander-in-chief—“The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult.” Rarely encountered in the establishment media, though, was any discussion of the growing toll of innocent lives lost or the broadening legal quagmire that accompanied the rapid expansion of drone strikes during Obama’s first term.
Even when the mainstream media’s coverage of the drone program doesn’t resort to supple obeisance, there’s still a festering unwillingness to connect all the dots. For instance, New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage have been rare bright spots on drone coverage. But I scratch my head in wonder at why Mazzetti and the Times don’t pounce on one of the administration’s key drone strike justifications—that it’s not feasible to capture any of these suspected terrorists on the ground. This is particularly true in light of a Times article co-authored by Mazzetti from this past February, which profiled an elite Yemeni counterterrorism unit trained by U.S. forces for just such a task, but who are stuck doing traffic duty instead.
Indeed, head down to the story’s kicker quote, which raises serious questions about the proffered reasoning for drone strikes in Yemen: “‘For sure, we could be going after some of these guys,’” the [Yemeni] officer said. ‘That’s what we’re trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn’t make sense.’” Ah, but perhaps it does, since any suspected Al Qaeda member captured in Pakistan or Yemen— even if they’re a U.S. citizen as Awlawki was—could end up at the prison in Guantanamo, a civil liberties nightmare that Obama has been unable to close down. Again, this is a critical discussion point that, up until Obama’s announcement today, has been missing from the traditional press’s coverage—until Guantanamo is closed down, it’s almost guaranteed that the drone program won’t be.
But while it’s one thing for the press to fall victim to source bias or a hedging its bets about challenging the government directly, it’s quite another for it to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy among the public—that drone strikes are overwhelmingly popular. Now, it is true that during the Obama’s administration’s first term, the few polls conducted on the topic—including 2011 and 2012 surveys from Pew and one from ABC News/Washington Post—seemed to indicate broad, bipartisan majorities supported the drone program. And as these numbers dovetailed nicely with the Beltway conventional wisdom, the DC press corps gladly ate this narrative up, splashing headlines like “The American public loves drones.” Of course, these same news outlets consistently overlooked the fact that they were busy feeding the public a steady diet of upbeat drone stories in the first place. Round and round we go.
Still, the press’s negligence on the drone program’s popularity extends beyond a mere lack of self–awareness. Its failure involves digging deeper into the polling toplines on drones. If it did, it would have found alarming inconsistencies in the questions and presumptions baked into the drone terminology. For example, the 2011 Pew study’s question was incredibly vague, asking about “the use of unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft for aerial attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” Conflating a close air support mission in support of U.S. troops against Taliban in Afghanistan with a CIA-approved strike of a possible Al Qaeda member “elsewhere” in Waziristan makes the data gleaned here almost worthless. Similarly, Pew’s 2012 poll posed a question that said drones “target extremists” in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Notably, Pew’s wording allows for no hint of doubt about the guilt or innocence of these extremists, which is akin to gauging the popularity of sentencing already convicted criminals to jail. Indeed, it’s amazing that only 62 percent of Americans supported drones in this context.
Lately, pollsters seemed to have awakened to this stilted language, and most now identify drone targets as “suspected terrorists.” But even this formulation can present problems because just using the word “terrorist” can trigger a strong psychological response that blots out a single qualifier. (How many parents would say they’re OK with a “suspected child molester” living next door?) What’s more, pollsters never ask follow-up questions about the consequences of these suspicions being wrong or point out how often these drones miss their targets, to see if the potential for killing innocent men, women, and children might cool the zeal for drone strikes. Such nuance can make a huge difference, however. Sadly, it took a grandstanding stunt in the shape of a Senate filibuster by drone-supporting Senator Rand Paul for pollsters and the press to figure this out.
Just days before Paul’s filibuster this past March, Fox News, no slouch when it comes to tapping into the latest oncoming right-wing outrage, added more questions to its own drone policy poll, mirroring the objections of Paul. Lo and behold, it found that as you fleshed out drone use scenarios, like the targeting of suspected terrorists who were also U.S. citizens or who were located on U.S. soil, support for drone strikes fell below majority support. Weeks later, a Gallup Poll using a similar array of questions, found broad disapproval< of drone use in all but the most basic (read: least detailed) case.
Does Paul deserve credit for changing the minds of Americans? I highly doubt it. A more likely explanation is that a latent unease for the use of drone strikes already resided among the public or has been slowly growing for years. But the Beltway press was either uninterested or unwilling to ask the right questions to ferret it out. Paul’s most important contribution was not to eloquently argue the moral and legal case against drones—his superciliousness I already linked to previously. It was to provide the “objective” news outlets a convenient Republican stand-in, so they could finally justify covering the drone issue now that it fell within the confines of a partisan debate. It’s telling that the Obama administration’s reset of drone policy took until now to occur, after all the newly critical press coverage and Congressional hearings took place. Or, as Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio—who has covered this issue tirelessly for years—noted about all the newfound sunshine on drones: “I get the sense that the microscope on the program is leading to greater selectivity in ordering strikes.”
That’s perhaps the most important lesson we should learn about the press’s complicit behavior on drones during the past few years. Public scrutiny can eventually translate into political action. But by going along to get along, the media for far too long provided the Obama administration the cover it needed to freely conduct a counterproductive drone policy that will reverberate for years to come. And the press’s passivity, to this day, enables the president to excuse his actions through a poisoned calculus, one that weighs the largely forgotten civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes against the innocents killed from terrorist attacks by other Muslims. That kind of ugly moral relativity should remind the media that there is still a toll being paid, and a steep one at that, for having failed to hold this president accountable on his drone policy.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. Also, I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Sanford Sklansky, Racine
Regarding Watergate, one of the things the precipitated Watergate was that Nixon wanted files that would show at worst that he had committed treason by trying to stall peace talks while Johnson was still president. Johnson had Walt Rostow take those files before Johnson left the White House. The files later went to the Johnson library in 1974 and where not to be opened for 50 years. They were later opened in 1994. While not specifying exactly the Nixon tapes do indicate that this is what they were looking for. Robert Parry does a lot better job of explaining than I can.
Secondly this has not gotten much reporting in the main stream media. Here is Greenwald explaining it all. He wrote a column about this the other day as well.
Hi- Your article "Worse Than Watergate?" was great. But the PPP results included some related results. One was that fewer (70% vs. 74%) thought that Benghazi was worse than Iran Contra. I tend to think this indicates that a few more people actually remember Iran Contra. Similarly, the same number (74%) thought that Benghazi was worse than Teapot Dome! (I had a lot of fun with this fact at my website, if you are interested.) There is no question that almost no one in the poll even knew what Teapot Dome was. And that makes me think that no one remembers what Watergate was either. Regardless, all the poll really tells us is that Republicans don't like Obama and that the conservative media outlets have been pushing the Benghazi scandal. You are right to be concerned that people don't remember Watergate. But that can't be a surprise when they don't know where Benghazi is. On the other hand, I hope they end the embargo so I can visit Benghazi, Cuba before I die! -Frank
PS: Have you seen the brilliant "The Mitchell and Web Look" bit about Watergate-gate? It would go well with your article.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
For the first time, the Obama administration has admitted to the drone-killing of US citizens overseas. But "Despite that there are these overtures to the anti-targeted killing or assassination crowd, where they're trying to say, well, we're going to do this in a cleaner way," Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill says, "the whole thing has just been one massive dirty operation." Scahill, author of Dirty Wars, joins Democracy Now! to break down what's at play for Congress and the executive branch.
Just how many Guatemalan leaders have genocidal blood on their hands? Read Frank Smyth's analysis.
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’s 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 one another. 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 clichés, 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 Governor 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 show that New York State, despite its progressive reputation, is tied with Arkansas for thirtieth 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 third, ninth and tenth, 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.
Listen in as Nation columnist Katha Pollitt speaks with the Center for Inquiry’s Point of Inquiry about women who are caught between their faith and supporting an institution that is inherently sexist.
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.
A man reacts in front of houses destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
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.
The Editors of The Nation still think that arming the Syrian rebels is a bad idea.