Media, politics and culture.
Yesterday The New York Times launched an ongoing series (at least three years to come) with a major piece and online visuals on one of America’s biggest construction projects—and I can watch it, right from my front yard at the top of the hill overlooking the Hudson River.
It’s the $4 billion replacement for one of longest bridges anywhere, at over three miles, the Tappan Zee, which joins Rockland to Westchester counties just north of New York City. The TZ was built at virtually the widest part of the Hudson and why it was built in the mid-1950s here—well, it’s a long, sordid story but we’ll leave that for now.
What’s not in the rah-rah Times story are several key points, including a promised massive toll hike (doubling the current rate) to pay for the bridge, which was minimized in the steamrolling for the new structure. Plus: while the bridge aims to sharply reduce traffic congestion it actually will offer not a single new lane of rush-hour access. Right now the seven lanes on the bridge are adjusted so you get four lanes at rush hour in either direction. The new bridge will provide eight lanes—always divided in half.
And most of the traffic congestion is caused not by ultra–bridge traffic but the tightening of Thruway lanes on both sides. And the congestion, even so, has been eased, over the past ten years, by several measures, including expansion of EZ-Pass. Take my word for it—I commuted nearly every day from 2000–09.
There are a few benefits (including a bike/walking “lane” and a lane for the relatively few buses that use the span), but commuters will likely be bitching about continued tie-ups—at twice the toll. Love this from the Times’ story: “Bottlenecks may not end entirely.” Ya think?
Early on, when residents questioned why, after all these years, a new bridge would not include rail service from train-poor Rockland to train-rich Westchester, the state dangled the possibility of future tracks attached to the bridge but that’s nearly a pipedream at this point—with staggering costs if ever attempted.
The Times also repeats the (likely) urban legend that when the bridge was built it was expected to last only fifty years. We heard that up here from the press and bridge advocates for years, but when critics pressed for an actual source none could be found. Perhaps they’ve found it since, but I’d like to see it.
Also minimized by officials, and the Times, are the certain disruptions in existing traffic from the many years of construction to come (by the way, they then have to tear down the current three-mile bridge). Already commuters are fuming about the closing—for the duration—of the key access lane to the bridge on the Tarrytown side, which has caused delays of up to half an hour or more for the daily evening commute. And work has barely begun. State officials had pooh-poohed that first major disruption. Our local paper, the Journal News, observed: “Like so many other aspects of the project, the planned impacts didn’t match the reality.”
Well, at least the Times corrected a rather major error in an earlier version of the story—getting the right name for where the bridge starts/ends in Rockland.
Read Next: John Nichols on how the bridge scandal will affect Christie’s chances in 2016.
Last January, in noting the passing of poet/editor Harvey Shapiro, I mentioned that he had assigned for The New York Times Magazine the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.—but it was killed by the Times.
Tim Noah has looked at why at The New Republic, under the title, “How the New York Times Screwed Martin Luther King, Jr.” Noah aptly describes the 1963 essay “one of the preeminent literary-historical documents of the 20th century.”
The Times, S. Jonathan Bass reports in Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Eight White Religious Leaders, and the ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ initially scheduled the letter for publication in late May. But first it wanted (in the recollection of King adviser Stanley Levison) a “little introduction setting forth the circumstances of the piece.” Then it decided, no, what it really wanted was for King to “write a feature article based on the letter.” Or, possibly, it wanted both. Before King had a chance to jump through these hoops, the New York Post (in those distant days a plausible rival to the Times) got a copy of the letter and published unauthorized excerpts, killing the Times’s interest.
Of course, it later appeared in The Atlantic in full.
I wrote a couple of pieces for the magazine in the early 1980s, and I can confirm Noah’s comment: “The Times Magazine was, in those days, a notoriously Politburo-like redoubt of editing-by-committee.” Noah:
The Times Magazine’s Augean stables were eventually cleaned out in the 1990s by editor Adam Moss, who streamlined the editing process, removed the beat-reporter veto option, and greatly improved the magazine. (I was pleasantly surprised to find my second experience with the magazine a much happier one.) Even so, the Times Magazine (today loaded up, alas, with twee concept-heavy short running features) never published anything whose significance even approaches that of “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Give Shapiro, rest his soul, credit at least for trying.
Read Next: Martin Luther King, Jr. "Let Justice Roll Down".
As killings surge in “pacified” Iraq and our war in Afghanistan appears more lost than ever, the question was rising anyway: Were American lives lost in those two wars, particularly in Afghanistan, “in vain”?
Now, more than ever, this debate has been sparked by the new (surprise) hit movie Lone Survivor and comments by that survivor of an ill-fated Afghanistan mission, Marcus Luttrell. He got into a bit of a tiff on TV the other day with CNN’s Jake Tapper (a big supporter of vets groups, by the way) after the news host gently suggested it was at least worthy to wonder about that lives-lost-in-vain question. I’m old enough to remember going through all this re: Vietnam about forty years ago.
That sparked a round of Web shouting at Tapper, or at Luttrell, and then a round of defending each. Glenn Beck, a Luttrell buddy, joined in. Tapper took to Facebook to declare that he did not say or believe that the death “meant nothing” and posted this:
We need to have open, honest, and yes uncomfortable conversations about this war. We can’t do that if any time someone sees things differently they’re accused of hating the troops. Questions HONOR the troops. And our freedom to ask them is what they fight and die for..
Does each of the deaths in Afghanistan make sense to my critics? If so, God bless and give me your number, I know some widows and moms who would love to hear the explanation, the “sense.”
That is not the same however as saying those troops died in vain. They died for whatever brought them there. Their battle buddies. Their faith. Their sense of justice.…
I would hope that my reporting trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, my book about Combat Outpost Keating, my two CNN documentaries about Medal of Honor recipients, and my continued reporting on veterans and troops and their families would belie that accusation.
Now, via Tom Ricks’s site at Foreign Policy, a former intelligence officer, Jim Gourley, has raised provocative questions—under the heading, “Yes, Marcus. They Did Die in Vain”—that are sure to spark more discussion (and probably anger in some quarters). You have to register to read it, so I’ll link here to a lengthy summary and excerpts at AmericaBlog, including:
Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.
We have lost our collective ability to win a war as well as the strength of character to accept defeat. And in the end, it is those who represent the epitome of that character we lack that pay the price. Can there be a death any more in vain than one that secures for us freedoms that we hold in such low regard as to not even use them on behalf of those that protect us? If there is, I cannot think of one.
It is my greatest hope that Luttrell’s response opens a national dialogue on this subject, and that people finally embrace the true, terrible nature of our self-inflicted losses. Let us as a nation finally feel the guilt we ought to for failing our civic duty. And let that be what we remember before we send the next servicemember to battle. For surely, there will be a next war. When it comes, let us be a nation of people who are as faithful to our principles and considerate of our obligations as those who fight for us. Let us be worthy of their sacrifice. That is the only way to prevent them from dying in vain.
Cenk Uygur at Young Turks opined, referring to the “Lone Survivor” mission: “There was no reason that we should’ve been in Afghanistan at that point, let alone today. There was a reason to go into Afghanistan in the first place, but twelve, thirteen years later, there’s no sense in it. It’s not dishonoring them, we’re criticizing the people that sent them in to die, and to get killed, for no reason. That’s senseless.”
There was so much to critique in Bill Keller’s notorious column this week at The New York Times on the proper etiquette of cancer patients that most of us could barely mention in passing that this same Keller, now ripping military/battlefield lingo in medicine, has been an ardent war hawk, from Iraq 2003 to Syria 2013.
So let’s spend a little time on that now. Most recent first, torn from the (Web) pages of The Nation. (We won’t even get into Keller’s WikiLeaks record, but you can revisit it here, or consider when he held James Risen’s NSA scoop for a year.)
Back in May 2013, long before the alleged chemical attack by Assad forces three months later, Keller joined some of his colleagues at the Times, both reporters and columnists, in agitating for US intervention in Syria. He was upset that Obama had let Assad cross that “red line,” and now the dictator had to pay. He even titled a column “Syria Is Not Iraq” and suggested that Congress and the public “get over Iraq,” revealing that he has. I wrote:
He says he was gun-shy after his Iraq flub—but no more! Now he derides Obama for “looking for excuses to stand pat.” He also provides several reasons why Syria is “not Iraq,” and how now his hawkishness is based on reality: This time we really can hurt the terrorists gathered there, really can calm tensions in the region, and so on. Instead of a “mushroom cloud,” he warns of the next chemical “atrocity.” And he claims there’s a broader coaiition of the willing this time. He even revives the good old “domino theory,” endorsing the view that if we don’t do something in Syria it will embolden China, North Korea and Iran….
At least Keller provides some comic relief when he admits, “I don’t mean to make this sound easy.”
Obama didn’t do much then—unlike Bush, he didn’t listen to the pundit-hawks like Keller on illegal war-making—but Bill got another chance a few months later after the late-summer chem attacks in Syria. He again pushed for strong US actions, and when Obama backed off, he virtually cried in print—despite the apparent Obama “victory” in getting Assad to start to destroy his stockpiles without the US bombing civilian areas. Keller wailed that Vladimir Putin, in keeping Obama from bombing, did the following, among other terrible things:
a) He has stalled and possibly ended the threat that his client thug, President Bashar al-Assad, will be struck by American missiles for gassing his own people. As long as the international community is debating the endless complications of finding, verifying and locking down Assad’s chemical arsenal, Congress and the allies have ample excuse to do nothing.
b) He has diminished the already small prospect that the United States will attempt to shift the balance in Syria’s war. That sound you hear is John McCain’s head exploding.
Keller went on to moan that this has “demoralized the Syrian resistance”—you know, those rebels some of us warned at the time were dominated by al-Qaeda types. And he suggested that Obama was “all hat and no cattle” when he came to blowing people away.
To understand Keller on war and peace, however, you need to consider his long record of offering faint apologies (“mini-culpas” in Jack Shafer’s framing long ago) for backing the Iraq invasion in 2003. This continued for years, culminating in his epic September 2011 feature in The New York Times Magazine. Read my detailed review here, but let’s close in one excerpt from my piece:
Keller, in the new piece, admits invading Iraq was a “monumental blunder” but over and over rationalizes his support for it. His key claim is: Sure, in retrospect, it was FUBAR, but “Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call.” In other words: Cut me some (a lot of) slack here.
One of his explanations—“I could not foresee that we would mishandle the war so badly”—makes him look like a fool, since so many others did predict that. His second line of defense, “I could not have known how bad the intelligence was” is equally damning. Note the use of “could not have known” when a humble, honest man might have written, “I should have known.”
Keller, of course, also took years to push Judy Miller out—and compounded his earlier mistakes by backing her fully during the Libby case, when he even failed (he eventually admitted) to ask her for her notes on her chats with him about Valerie Plame. His paper’s probe of the entire affair concluded that Keller had killed stories related to the case for fear of hurting Miller’s case, which “humiliated” Times reporters and caused wide in-house dissension.
It’s’s clear that Tony Judt’s label for Bill Keller and other liberals who backed the war—“useful idiots” for Bush and Cheney—is still apt. Former Bush press spokesman Scott McClellan, in his memoir, called journalists like Keller “enablers” for the war. “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise,” McClellan recalled. “In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
For two years I’ve been chronicling the influence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony around the world in political and social protest—most recently, in Ukraine—so it was gratifying to find NPR’s All Things Considered airing a lengthy and excellent segment on this today, focusing on the “call to action” in the “Ode to Joy.”
The NPR segment focused on the new film I co-produced, Following the Ninth, including excerpts from the documentary and interview with the director Kerry Candaele. You can hear it here, where they’ve also posted the trailer for the movie and a link to the book on all this that I’ve written with Candaele. And here’s Bill Moyers’s recent segment on the film.
Following the Ninth reveals how students in Tiananmen Square and women in Pinochet’s Chile used Beethoven in their protests, and captures Leonard Bernstein playing the symphony to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, Billy Bragg writing new right-on lyrics for the “Ode,” and more.
Here’s the Moyers segment:
Note: My new column on Keller "tough a cancer patients, easy on war promoters."
It all began last Wednesday when Emma Keller, spouse of former New York Times chief editor (and now weekly columnist) BIll Keller, penned a piece for The Guardian. It concerned a woman in New England named Lisa Adams, who is battling cancer and writing about the experience on Twitter, mainly for educational value, drawing a fair amount of notice. She is “dying out loud,” as Emma (whose father died not long ago from cancer far more quietly) puts it.
Emma Keller compares it to a “Reality TV show.” She complains that Adams posted an update on her condition that morning and then had the nerve to post another one just hours later—and wonders if her too-many tweets are “a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.” And she charges: “You can put a ‘no visitors sign’ on the door of your hospital room, but you welcome the world into your orbit and describe every last Fentanyl patch.”
This was the headline on the column: “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?”
Well, the feedback was so negative, including right at The Guardian in the comments section, that she added this update at the bottom:
Since this article was published two days ago, there’s been a lot of negative comment on Twitter and below the line. Lisa Adams herself was upset by it. I had been in communication with her a number of times in recent weeks; given her health, I could have given her advance warning about the article and should have told her that I planned to quote from our conversations. I regret not doing so.
Now you’d think that the Keller family would want to stay away from this subject from now on, but no, Bill (perhaps feeling his wife had been misunderstood) returned to it for today’s column. Oddly, he chose to double-down.
[UPDATE: The Guardian just deleted the offensive Emma Keller piece that kicked this off, saying at first that it is (now judged) “inconsistent” with their “editorial code.” Then, mysteriously, they dropped that explanation and simply said its still “under investigation.” It’s cached here. And the Times' fine public editor Margaret Sullivan critiques his piece and solicits two new, if weak, comments from him.]
B. Keller, not quite overtly but certainly between the lines, suggests that Lisa Adams just die, already. He repeatedly compares her struggle, in a bad light, to a “battlefield” or “military’ campaign—this from the man who was a hawk on Iraq, staunchly defended Judy Miller and recently called for the bombing of Syria and backing the Al Qaeda rebels.
He writes, “What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently. One intriguing lung cancer study even suggests that patients given early palliative care instead of the most aggressive chemotherapy not only have a better quality of life, they actually live a bit longer.”
Later, Bill-Knows-Best admits that Adams had provided a useful service as a research paitent at Sloan-Kettering, but advises, “Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.” He even gets in a dig about what it must cost to provide her with the occasional visit from a therapy dog. If only he’d worried about the trillions of dollars we’d spend on Iraq before calling on Bush to invade in 2003.
It might also be relevant that Keller’s father-in-law was elderly, while Adams has three kids at home.
Keller then closes by quoting Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who declares that Adams should not be “unduly praised.”
As you can imagine, the online response has not been kind. Critics quickly pointed out, for one thing, that Keller claimed that Adams had two children, when she has three, and if he had really been reading her blog or Twitter feed how could he miss that? Dr. Jennifer Gunter tweeted: “So according to @nytkeller and wife there is A) a right way to blog B) a right way to tweet and C) a right way to have cancer.” @KenJennings revealed, “Terrified I might get cancer, because what if Bill and Emma Keller yell at me.” James Patrick Gordon mocks: “Ms. Adams, questions have been raised about how you’re choosing to cope with cancer. How do you respond to the allegations?”
Susan Orlean: “I am appalled on every level by Bill Keller’s oped piece about @adamslisa. Astonishing.” Martha Plimpton: “I need to ask
@nytkeller what this deeply condescending piece is aiming for? On every level, it reeks of shaming.” And from Ruben Bolling: “Bill Keller is against women fighting cancer, unless anonymous Bush administration sources say cancer has WMDs—then: TO WAR!” (More updates coming at my personal blog, Pressing Issues.)
Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, who has tweeted her own struggle with cancer (@Xeni) over the past couple years to wide acclaim, charged that B. Keller had taken something she wrote last year, about wishing she had been a little less “sharey,” out of context. And she replied angrily to much else in the Keller column in a series of tweets, such as:
“It is bizarrely tone-deaf, ghoulish, & lacking in empathy all at once. It mansplains breast cancer, but as if talking about a pork chop…. Don’t kick a woman when she’s down…. She’s not a ‘standard bearer.’ Or a ‘hero.’ Or ‘warrior.’ SHE IS A WOMAN IN THE HOSPITAL WHO HAS METASTATIC BREAST CANCER AND 3 KIDS…Lisa has written extensively about rejecting war, hero, battle, weapon, warrior clichés to describe her experience. His hangup not hers…. I feel rage & disgust at Bill & Emma Kellers’ twinsie opinion pieces about @adamslisa. Shoddy, shitty, heartless, inaccurate grandstanding…. Bill & Emma Keller’s weirdly obsessive, bullying opeds are causing real pain, distress, distraction to Lisa & family at a critical time.”
And Lisa Adams (@adamslisa) herself, appalled, responded on Twitter:
“I don’t know why I, a person dedicated to education and personal choice by cancer patients, have been so mischaracterized as lay in hospital… I’ve written extensively on my hatred of war metaphors and cancer…. Some people teach in a classroom. I try to educate here and in my life every day…. not the same to think about what you would do IF you were diagnosed with incurable cancer as it is to actually be living with it. trust me.”
Addressing Keller directly, she writes, “The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR.”
And: “my dear family should not be subjected to this. Hope some of you can help me get this fixed.”
The latest tweet from Lisa Adam this morning—written while the Kellers were probably enjoying a blissful breakfast—was: “Need to go attend to my cancer treatment, living, health.” And the Kellers might be saying, “Not another tweet!”
Epic presser this morning for the embattled governor, as many, including Jersey boy Jon Stewart last night, claim Chris Christie is finished as GOP candidate for president (and possibly in his current position) because of Bridgegate. Latest report: US attorney now looking into it, amid claim that at least one life may have been lost due to planned traffic gridlock.
One problem: Can he possibly go after his usual whipping posts in the press? And will he quote Springsteen? (Maybe “stalling on the back streets.”) Advice to Bridget Kelly: if Silvio Dante asks you a ride today, run the other way.
The irony: today is Richard Nixon’s birthday. And see Christie’s remark, below, with Nixonian echoes, “I am not a bully.”
11:07 Opens with apology to Fort Lee, motorist and state legislators, claims he is embarrassed and blames underlings. And apologizes for not “understanding true nature” of the problem until now. Fires Bridget Kelly for “lying to me.” Says he’s asked staff now for “any information” on the lane closings and gave them one hour to report, or he would go out at this presser and say no one knew anything beyond what has already come out. And his chief of staff also tells him “no one on my staff involved.” This he says is clearly a “lie,” as the press reported. And no justification for that. So he has fired the one guilty party.
11:10 He’s now doing one-on-one interviews with folks. Announces further exit of political boss/campaign manager Bill Stepien, whom he was pushing for GOP state chief. Blames others but says yes “I am responsible.” But then blames others again. “I was blindsided” after learning stuff yesterday “after my workout.” Will go to Fort Lee today and apologize to folks there.
11:20 Claims this is great departure from past four years, “the exception not the role.” Says has tried to act bipartisan and represent all in Jersey. “The political overtones in documents release not acceptable.” But “human beings are not perfect and mistakes are made.” Closes his remarks by emphasizing he had no idea about any of this at all and he was “stunned” by revelations. Says he has 65,000 people working for him so how could he possibly keep tabs on all of them? Now to questions from press.
11:23 Replying to first question, yes, he will cooperate with probes, even though he has denounced some of people doing them in past. “Heartbreaking that I wasn’t told the truth.”
11:26 Won’t change his style because “politics ain’t beanbag.” But “I am not a bully.” (Will this be his “I am not a crook”?)
11:28 Says he has no evidence that this goes beyond what he knows, but that could change—trying to cover himself for future bombshells. Says he “absolutely” did not authorize the traffic stops. Thought it was just a “traffic study.” Gets a little testy now when reporter interrupts.
11:30 Asked what this tells about him that he allegedly did not know about this, he says it’s been false claim that he is a “micro manager.” And repeats “no way anyone would think” that he knows everything going on. If you find that hard to believe—“I had no knowledge until after it was over.” Thought it was just a “traffic study” until yesterday. Claims he had not reason to punish the Fort Lee mayor, didn’t really care about his endorsement for governor, don’t think he was even asked for it.
11:35 Admits, amazingly, that he hasn’t gotten to “angry stage” yet, but may get there. Revealing. How could he not be angry if what he is claiming is true? Says he’s doing “soul-searching” and that’s it.
11:40 Claims he has “reputation for telling the truth” so apologizes (in this case) to his hated press corps for state not telling truth. And apologizes for joking to press in past about traffic tie-up. Reporters asked if he “fostered” this atmosphere revealed in e-mails. Replies: “I haven’t because I know who I am and I am not that person.” Again says not a bully. Claims he has taken “swift” action since only learning any of this yesterday.
11:55 Questions continue. Pushed out Stepien simply because he didn’t like tone of e-mails and “lost confidence” in him. Says he has no idea how this impacts his race for president. “My job is to be governor of New Jersey.” Nowhere near considering a run. “My focus is on the people of New Jersey.” Race for president just “hysteria” now. “Dominant emotion” he is feeling right now is “sad.” Still not angry.
12:05 Since Kelly and Stepien will testify before state committee (and for US attorney?), he doesn’t think proper to discuss his personal chats with them… “Awful” to hear that woman, 91, may have died because of bridge tie-up, but “what else” can he do now?
12:15 “I have absolutely nothing to hide.” And jokes: He won’t be suggesting any traffic studies in the future. Slips by saying, “I am out of the traffic study business,” quickly adding, “I was never in it.” Then: this cannot have “anything to do with politics” since he had no concerns about Fort Lee mayor at all. If someone had asked him about the mayor he would have answered, “Who he?” Adds: “Not to diminish him in any way.”
12:25 But Christie “happily admits” he was ‘trying to run up the score” in the election. Given his “soul-searching,” any thought at all of quitting? “Oh, God, no, or would I.” Adds: “There are going to be mistakes.” Continues to use terms “sad” and “disappointed” and “embarrased” but not anger.
12:40 Stresses for third time he is not mad or angry. Just sad, very sad. Oh, so sad. This is from low-boiling-point Christie. “It is a sad day for me.”
12:50 Still going! Christie, aping his hero Bruce, will now announce this is the end of his first set and he’ll be back after intermission. Then encores!
12:55 And now we’re on to the cable news analysis. One problem for Christie: Fox doesn’t love him so he won’t get the usual propaganda bump from them. NJ State Sen. Buono, who just lost to him in race: Christie runs “paramilitary org,” so no doubt knew about cover-up of Bridgegate.
If you watched The Daily Show last night, you probably enjoyed Jon Stewart’s two segments on the current pot legalization debate, ending with an epic putdown of New York Times columnist David Brooks.
You’ll recall that just last week Brooks revealed in a popular (and widely lampooned) column that he had been a toker and a smoker as a young man but “outgrew” it and now that opportunity should be denied others—or put ’em in jail.
Stewart read a lengthy quote from an unnamed writer, celebrating excess (including booze) and complaining about the elites who are too uptight to get wasted on one thing or another. Finishing, he revealed that the writer was none other than our Mr. Brooks, to wild cheers from the audience.
You can watch the Stewart clip below, but I’ve gone back and located the full 2005 column and you can read it here. Here’s the key excerpt:
I blame the arbiters of virtue. Sometime over the past generation we became less likely to object to something because it is immoral and more likely to object to something because it is unhealthy or unsafe. So smoking is now a worse evil than six of the Ten Commandments, and the word “sinful” is most commonly associated with chocolate.
Now we lead lives in which everything is a pallid parody of itself: fat-free yogurt, salt-free pretzels, milk-free milk. Gone, at least among the responsible professional class, is the exuberance of the feast. Gone is the grand and pointless gesture.
But at least we have New Orleans. After stumbling out of Antoine’s, some of us headed across the street to a piano bar run by Gennifer Flowers, Bill Clinton’s old flame. And there was Gennifer herself in a black leather miniskirt, belting out a song called “Ya Gotta Have Boobs.”
It was a reminder that no matter how dull and responsible you become, an alternative and much stranger moral universe is always just one slippery step away.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg’s latest on David Brooks.
It’s a mystery I covered from the start and now it has been solved.
A big breaking story this morning features startling revelations about the infamous raid by antiwar activists on the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, (yes, that’s the name) in 1971, on the night of the Ali-Frazier “fight of the century,” who are finally exposing themselves in a new book and film. The book is by the Washington Post reporter who received some of the leak files back then, Betty Medsger. The activists, none of them household names then or now, cleared out all the files there that day and this led to the first big scoops on illegal FBI surveillance and the notorious COINTELPRO program, which we covered so widely at Crawdaddy that decade.
One of the perps even waved to Edward Snowden on the Today show today and said, “Hi, from one whistleblower to another.” And The New York Times has now posted a thirteen-minute video.
Of course, by 1971, there had been rumors and personal reports about undercover FBI snooping, including use of electronic surveillance, for years but with little black-and-white official evidence. Hell, we even had a break-in at the Crawdaddy office that seemed suspicious and, as a longtime (if minor) antiwar activist, I always figured I might have drawn some official attention. But the Media raid proved incredibly valuable, even as it made many of us more paranoid.
Indeed, as NBC reports:
Among the stolen files: plans to enhance “paranoia” among “New Left” groups by instilling fears that “there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.” Another instructed agents in the Philadelphia area to monitor the “clientele” of “Afro-American type bookstores” and recruit informants among the “the Negro militant movement.”
The raid and its results didn’t immediately stop COINTELPRO, then run by good old Deep Throat himself, Mark Felt. In fact, two of my closest friends—innocent but suspected of taking part in the Weather Underground bombing of the US Capitol—and regular Crawdaddy writers were closely monitored. As a frequent visitor to their mountaintop home in the Catskills I surely turned up in case reports.
We learned about the extent of the surveillance when the couple, Stew Albert and Judy “Gumbo” Clavir, pulled a homing device off the underside of the rear bumper of their car—the first one ever seized by a left activist in that period—parked outside Bill Kunstler’s apartment in the Village where they were staying. They called me over quickly to arrange for photographs. We’d gone to an Emmylou Harris concert in New York City the night before. Probably we were followed.
They went on to sue the government, forcing release of files that revealed the extensive monitoring, which included bugs in their home (even the bedrooms) during a time when I visited them, with a girlfriend. They won the suit and a monetary pay out—allowing them to get a new roof on their house.
By then, the Media raid had finally produced some of the aims sought by the burglars. From NBC:
“These documents were explosive,” said Medsger, who was the first reporter to write about them after receiving a batch of the files anonymously in the mail. Her book traces how the stolen files led to a landmark Senate investigation of intelligence and law enforcement agency abuses by the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church, and eventually to new Justice Department guidelines that barred the bureau from conducting investigations based on First Amendment protected political activity.
After the burglary, said Medsger, “The FBI was never the same.”
Glenn Greenwald weighs in on today’s revelations. He is, of course, supportive of the 1971 action.
An interesting angle I hope to pursue: the activists claim they sent the docs to The New York Times and members of Congress--in each case instead of acting the recipients gave the material back to the FBI.
For further updates, go to my Pressing Issues blog.
Yes, it’s the era of the blockbuster movie sequel—but are you ready for a blockbuster war sequel?
On Thursday, The New York Times startled many—and should have outraged and depressed many more—when it reported that Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda were starting a serious uprising in Anbar province in Iraq and threatening to take over Ramadi and Falluja.
You remember those cities—scenes of so much bloodshed in the years after our trumped-up 2003 invasion. In fact, one of three American lives lost in the ten-year war expired in “pacifying” Anbar. Then there are the tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost in that province, and the utter devastation of Falluja (and lingering health defects). What a tragedy, what a waste, even as war criminal Bush draws praise for his paintings of dogs and Cheney earns applause on Leno. The Times reported:
The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar’s borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists they have inspired in Syria—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That fighting, and a deadly bombing in Beirut on Thursday, provided the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was helping breed bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region, further destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq while fueling a resurgence of radical Islamist fighters.
Then yesterday came word that Falluja has fallen to the Al Qaeda rebels and also the key town of Karma (yes, that’s the very apt name). One senior police official in Anbar said Saturday that “Falluja is completely under the control of Al Qaeda.” Helluva job, Bushie.
Then, this morning, Richard Engel of NBC tweeted: “Both US and iran offering to help baghdad fight off al-qaeda in western Iraq. If attack on area comes, could be start of s/t big.” All that's missing is Thomas Friedman predicting it will all be over in...six months.
Secretary of State John Kerry claims: no boots on the ground, this time. But at minimum US activities there are sure sure to surge. And it would make little sense for America to drone-strike alleged Al Qaedas around the world and somehow not get deeply embroiled in a new stronghold. Senator Lindsay Graham and John McCain are already blaming the White House—the Obama White House, not the Bush White House—for contributing to this crisis.
Greg Mitchell’s book on how Bush, and the media, failed on Iraq, is titled So Wrong for So Long.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt on how the US has bombed at least eight wedding parties since 2011.