Politics, media and the politics of media.
Barbara Buono. (Wikimedia Commons)
State Senator Barbara Buono may be the only New Jersey Dem with the cojones to run for governor against the formidably popular Chris Christie, but she gets no respect from the media. And given the electoral chaos Christie’s whipped up with a $24 million special election to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, she’ll probably be getting even less.
Buono, 59, a progressive who was the first woman majority leader in the state senate, is underfunded and thirty points down in the polls. And so for months, the national media have tended to bring up her name only to joke about how little they bring it up. When Politico’s Maggie Haberman said on The Daily Rundown, “Barbara Buono is barely registering in the polls right now against [Christie],” the substitute host Chris Cillizza cackled, “Barbara Buono thanks you for mentioning her on national television.”
The Beltway media have been so enthralled with Christie since he embraced Obama and barked at Fox News after Hurricane Sandy that they seem to wonder why Buono even bothers to challenge him when powerful players, like Newark mayor Cory Booker and state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, backed down. An emblematic interview came in April when Chris Matthews interrupted Buono fourteen times, mostly to ask about Christie, as the chyron at the bottom of the screen read “DAWN QUIXOTE.”
Still, you might think she would have gained some traction after Christie, angering both Republicans and Democrats, called for a special Senate election in October, just twenty days before he and Buono face off in the general on November 5. He could have simply merged the two elections and saved $24 million in taxpayer money—but that would put popular Cory Booker, the likely Democratic nominee, at the top of the November ballot and increase Democratic and African-American turnout, helping Buono and a whole legislature’s worth of down-ballot Democrats. Christie’s calendar so reeks of voter suppression—coming just weeks after he vetoed a bill to allow early voting, complaining of the $25 million price-tag—that you might think it would create a groundswell for a Christie-slayer.
In fact, just the opposite is happening. Right after doing a superb takedown of Christie’s special-election hypocrisy last week, Jon Stewart turned the punch-line on Buono:
The idea was to make Christie seem all the more absurd: You, tough guy, you’re afraid of this little lady? This lady who’s so low on the Jersey totem pole that to get name recognition she has to compare herself to a pop-culture clown like Sonny Bono? Stewart only has to make one of his I-can’t-believe-this-idiocy faces and the audience razzes her on cue. (Shades of Stewart bullying former CNN host Rick Sanchez for being uncool.)
Of course, if you watch Buono’s ad in full, you get a different message:
By equating herself with Cuomo, she suggests (as she details in other ads and her website) that the New York governor and she are in sync, while he and Christie are miles apart—on vital regional issues like climate change and transportation (she supported building the ARC tunnel and the thousands of jobs it would have created, while Christie made it the signature act of his first term to kill the project), as well as abortion rights, gun control, education funding, a minimum wage increase, a millionaire’s tax and marriage equality.
All good liberal issues, in line with the majority of voters in New Jersey, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 700,000—and all good reasons for Christie to lose. But the media know he won’t, so all that disappears in wide-eyed amazement at Christie’s cojones.
He’s a showman who’s always given the media the good YouTube they want: melodrama, blood feuds, unhinged bullying and a sense, as long as they don’t dig too deep, of “bipartisanship.” As Star Ledger columnist Tom Moran writes, “National pundits who have obviously never been to New Jersey proclaim he has created a new heaven on earth where everyone works together under his wise leadership.”
And now, Moran adds, Christie’s timetable ensures that the media will ignore Buono even more. In the Senate primary in August, Democrat Booker and rival candidates Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and US Congressmen Rush Holt and Frank Pallone
will be competing, all scooping up money from liberal donors that might have gone to Buono. They will buy TV ads, argue in debates and shake hands at train stations. And that clatter will make it even harder for Buono to send a clear message through the din.
To be fair, it’s not just the media that heart Christie. Democrats in and out of the Jersey statehouse do, too. Major Democratic donors are “flocking” to him, and, beholden and/or fearful of him, many of Jersey’s establishment Dems have sided with Christie against Buono’s pro-union politics. Others are only nominally supporting her. Today, powerbroker Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo outright endorsed him. (See them literally holding hands here.)
Still, Buono’s not as alone as it may seem. Saying the special election’s October date will suppress voter turnout in November’s gubernatorial election, Somerset County Democratic Party Chairwoman Peg Schaffer’s law firm filed suit to move it to November 5. And as John Nichols details, State Senator Shirley Turner is calling Christie’s bluff by introducing legislation to move the entire November election to October. UPDATE: A coalition of watchdog groups is now also trying to block the October election.
As for Cory Booker, who has campaigned with Buono, he admits he won’t be up in his good friend Chris Christie’s face over his very special election. After formally announcing his Senate run on Saturday, Booker told reporters that as a mayor he “obviously would have preferred” not to spend the money on an extra election, but that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.
Ari Berman writes about John Lewis's long fight for voting rights.
David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
On the eve of our first Neo-Pleistocene summer, right-wing carbon barons David and Charles Koch seem to be everywhere, buying influence and trying to de-pollute their image.
The multibillionaire brothers are the potential new owners of the Tribune Company’s eight newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and Hoy, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language daily. They’re helping to shape what gets on PBS; as Jane Mayer tells it, David Koch barely had to lift a goldfinger to get a public television company to censor itself and drop a documentary critical of him. They’re getting down with BuzzFeed; the Charles Koch Institute–sponsored a BuzzFeed Brews “immigration summit” a few weeks ago, with free beer and Ben Smith.
And, I’m approximating here, but in roughly 400,000 parts per million, the Kochs are all over the coming “climate-change wars,” as fights over EPA greenhouse-gas regulations and the (Koch-enriching) Keystone XL pipeline heat up, and, in Detroit, Koch Carbon’s mountain of “the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth” builds up, three stories high and counting.
That last—an entire city-block of petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining Canadian oil sands—is also the dirtiest public face of the Kochs. But like any savvy corporate sponsor, they’re scrubbing it with philanthropy to present a clean, enlightened face, like the one greeting you at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where large signs tell you you’re standing on “the site of the new David H. Koch Plaza.” Originally the $65 million Dave gave to redo the plaza and fountains wasn’t going to result in naming rights, but somehow it did. And because of a $100 million donation, for the last five years you no longer attend the city ballet or opera at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center but at the David H. Koch Theater.
The Kochs are hardly the only .1 percenters whose wealth can make us hold our tongues and put aside our best-laid plans. But the brothers’ money, coming from the conglomerate Koch Industries, the nation’s second largest privately held company and fifth-largest air polluter (with businesses in oil, gas, chemicals, tar sand, pipelines and paper), casts longer shadows than your average oligarch’s.
Their wealth not only feeds a giant “Kochtopus” whose tentacles in think tanks, foundations, and Congress are strangling climate policy (see these Democracy Now! videos explaining how the Kochs may be the single “biggest force behind the climate stalemate”). But Koch money is even choking dissent from a respected indie-film funder, Independent Television Service (ITVS), that “prides itself on its resistance to outside pressure,” as Mayer puts it.
Her New Yorker story on the Koch Effect on two documentaries in ITVS’s popular Independent Lens series, details how plutocratic wealth deforms the space around it, even when no one wants it to.
The first doc, “Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream,” contrasts the lives of the fabulously wealthy residents at one end of Manhattan’s Park Avenue, most prominently David Koch, with those of working poor families at the other end. When PBS first aired it last November, Koch was on the board of PBS’s New York station WNET and was planning to make a “seven-figure” donation. The Alex Gibney film is critical of Koch (noting, for instance, that his “company had to pay what was then ‘the largest civil penalty in the E.P.A.’s history’ for its role in more than thirty oil spills in 2000,” as Mayer writes). When WNET president Neal Shapiro learned how critical, he tried to placate Koch, in part by letting Koch Industries issue a statement knocking the film immediately after it ran, a move “spokespeople at WNET and PBS conceded…was unprecedented,” Mayer writes. “Indeed, it was like appending Letters to the Editor to a front-page article.” Shapiro was so “livid” at ITVS that he threatened to stop carrying its films.
Although Park Avenue did air, fallout from it killed a second ITVS/Independent Lens project: Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Citizen Koch, on the Wisconsin public-sector unions’ battle with Governor Scott Walker, a recipient of Koch largesse (remember Walker buttering up a fake David Koch during a prank phone call?). ITVS was all on board with Citizen Koch—until Park Avenue aired. “Because of the whole thing with the Koch brothers,” Mayer quotes a source saying, “ITVS knew WNET would never air it. Never.”
Another source said ITVS executives had urged Lessin and Deal to drop the Koch name from the title, de-emphasize their politics, and cut a scene with Sarah Palin at a rally sponsored by the Kochs’ Tea Party-funding, tax-exempt “social welfare” organization, Americans for Prosperity.
At one point an ITVS vice-president spelled it out: “We live in a world where we have to be aware that people with power have power.” ITVS cancelled the project in April.
Kochfacts.com, Koch Industries’ defiant retort to bad press, complains that Mayer portrays Koch as trying to “exert influence over” WNET, even though, the site says, “no such influence ever occurred. On the contrary, Mr. Koch has been a generous benefactor of WNET and programming on other PBS affiliates WGBH and WETA.”
But being a benefactor isn’t contrary to influence, it is influence. That’s how self-censorship—the most enduring form of censorship—works. And in the end, Koch openly did exert influence—he resigned from WNET’s board, on May 16, and took his money with him, thus activating the threat latent in all corporate sponsorship.
Tracing big money’s influence, direct or indirect, isn’t always as clear as it is in the WNET/ITVS case. It’s usually murky.
Take Governor Chris Christie and his stormy relationship to climate change. Unlike most Republican leaders, he’s acknowledged that “climate change is real” and that “human activity plays a role.”
But the question is, what activities will humans, like him, take to fight it? And on that, Christie affects boredom, if not belligerence.
A week before Christie's Tuesday tour of the post-Hurricane Sandy Jersey Shore with President Obama, a reporter from WNYC/ New Jersey Public Radio asked if he’d done enough to prepare state agencies for climate change:
“Well, first of all, I don’t agree with the premise of your question, because I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change,” Christie said [emphasis added], as residents and officials from Lavallette clapped. “But I would absolutely expect that that’s exactly what WNYC would say, because, you know, liberal public radio always has an agenda. And so since I disagree with the premise of your question, I don’t feel like I have to answer the rest of it.”
There’s also no proof that Koch influence—like David Koch having a chummy meeting with Christie and inviting him to be the keynote speaker at a super-exclusive Koch confab near Vail—“caused” climate-change believer Christie to suddenly pull out of a regional pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions in 2011.
Nor is there proof that anyone influenced Christie to hold such a simplistic understanding of climate change (“Of course, this isn’t about whether Sandy was ‘caused’ by climate change,” Rebecca Leber writes in ThinkProgress. “It’s about whether climate change and sea level rise are making such storms more frequent and much more destructive…and that is something we can plan for.”)
But that’s the nature of influence—it’s like climate change itself: You can’t always prove with spreadsheet certainty that it caused any one event—a cancelled documentary, a gubernatorial 180, a filibuster, an election result.
We do know, however, that money in politics and global warming are both man-made disasters that we’ve let get completely out of hand.
And if we stop the former, we might be able to slow the latter.
Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on the new film Koch Brothers Exposed.
Brilliant. The Daily Show’s Jason Jones interviews right-wing radio host Wayne Allyn Root, who says the IRS targeting of conservatives “is one of the biggest scandals in modern American political history, maybe in all-time political history.” But profiling folks for the color of their skin or their religion (i.e., Muslim) is “a completely, 100 percent different situation,” says Root, who has a tendency to exaggerate. That kind of profiling, he says, “has never ruined a human being’s life in the history of the world.”
Jones then brings on three people—a Muslim-American, an African-American and a Dominican-American—to tell how they’ve been profiled, but to Root, their stories are nada. Only when they become millionaires who get audited by the IRS, only then will they know true suffering.
Barack Obama has been rocked by scandals over Benghazi, the IRS and the DOJ. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)
Benghazi, the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, the Department of Justice secretly seizing AP phone records: It’s a “trifecta” of scandals, Chuck Todd said. A “perfect storm,” Ron Fournier of National Journal wrote. “Obama’s Watergate?” Larry Kudlow’s CNBC show asked. And indeed Republicans, the mainstream media and all too many liberals have been getting emotionally swept up in the belief that no matter the merit of any one of these “scandals” (some more deserving of scare quotes than others), together they prove the Obama administration to be fatally scandal-prone, if not Nixonian, and predict flat-out second-term doom.
But let’s take a deep breath.
If they hadn’t converged within seven or so days in May, these scandals might have died of their own accord, as Fast and Furious did, as Solyndra did. Remember when the BP oil spill was deemed “Obama’s Hurricane Katrina,” even his “Iran Hostage Crisis”? As presidency-destroying scandals go, the IRS and AP crises rest on only slightly less flimsy ground than Benghazi: The IRS flap involves incompetence and short-term thinking by mid-level officials for whom Obama bears only the whiffiest responsibility. The DOJ investigation of a national security leak to the AP is a gross overreach, but it’s exactly the sort of leak-plugging that Republicans excoriated Obama for not doing aggressively enough.
So why is the media huffing in a paper bag in between speculating on his demise? Alone, each of these stories may have fizzled, but together their gaseous fumes ignite to reach escape velocity and overcome the gravity of facts altogether. Or as Stephen Colbert said, cracking out the champagne to celebrate the “chilling” IRS scandal, “This proves that everything I ever said about Obama is true.”
The triumphalism on the right may always be premature, but this time they do have an apology from the IRS to swing like a club, not to mention the sudden prostration of scandal-intoxicated Dems. “I’m sorry, Bob Woodward,” Mika Brzezinski said Tuesday. She was apologizing for once mocking Woodward for suggesting that a White House aide had threatened him for not towing the Obama line on sequestration. Back then, in February, Mika said, “Is he really afraid of a little aide that said that to him? Really? Are you kidding me?” But just twenty-four hours of trifecta hysteria had Mika convinced that “Maybe he was right.” (He wasn’t.)
“This is outrageous,” Democratic consultant and one-time John Edwards adviser Chris Kofinis said of the IRS controversy. “The administration and the president need to condemn this and act immediately. This is not a right-left issue.” (By last night, of course, Obama condemned it, again, and fired the IRS acting director.)
Most bitingly, Joe Klein wrote: “Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.”
In fact, so many media liberals were piling on Obama that Morning Joe’s Mike Barnicle declared, “I do not want to hear the phrase ‘liberal bias’ applied to the media when it comes to coverage of the Obama administration after the past couple of days.” (Greg Gutfeld of Fox News obliged, coming up instead with a new phrase: “The media is Obama’s scandal condom.”)
There’s something amusingly Lilliputian about the Republicans using all these slender threads to tie Obama down. But it’s scary, too, like waking up with Mitch McConnell standing on your nose, ranting at you.
So it’s important to separate these threads, and to see how in each case the GOP is framing the stories and encouraging us to jump to conclusions without waiting for buzzkills like facts or context.
Benghazi: Off the Fox/GOP scandal assembly line, this had been pretty much accepted as a “nothingburger.” Every time the right promises a bombshell, it’s defused, like the e-mail leaked to ABC’s Jonathan Karl that was supposed to reveal nefarious editing of Susan Rice’s talking points. Turns out, the leaked e-mail had itself been nefariously edited by Karl’s sources to make it look as if the White House was more focused on the talking points than it was.
And so far, the 100 pages of e-mails the White House released as damage-control yesterday look like a second helping of a nothingburger. That, or a long-form birth certificate.
Of course, there’s always Darryl Issa, though lately he’s been reduced to explaining that Obama covered up the Benghazi attack by calling it an “act of terror.” Obama’s semantics are a dead giveaway, Issa says, because “an ‘act of terror’ is different than a ‘terrorist attack.’ ” Please proceed, congressman.
The IRS: It’s clear now that the Cincinnati office of the IRS targeted conservative groups with words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny before granting them tax-exempt status. While these organizations weren’t rejected, their applications were often delayed by years, and some are still waiting for an answer. Worse, according to reporting in USA Today, the IRS approved liberal groups more quickly.
So it’s bad, sure, but it apparently has nothing to do with Obama. In fact, liberals are beginning to realize that the right has been tying their hair to little pegs to keep them from moving, and they’re starting to yank free. Joe Klein stepped back from the brink the other day, saying, “I may have swung a bit too hard, putting Barack Obama’s Administration in the same league as Franklin Roosevelt’s and Richard Nixon’s when it comes to the Internal Revenue Service.”
The most important difference is that the Roosevelt and Nixon IRS depredations came from the White House. This mess seems to have percolated from the middle–the IRS’s Cincinnati office (a major facility, by the way)—up to the upper-middle. It was an overreaction, to be sure—but, as Ezra Klein explains, it was a response to a very real problem: how do you draw the line between political advocacy, which is a taxable activity, and policy advocacy, which is not, if the advocate organizes itself as a 501(c)4? Here’s Ezra.
The real scandal at the IRS, as my colleague Ari Berman says, “is how the Citizens United decision has unleashed a flood of secret spending in US elections that the IRS and other regulatory agencies in Washington…have been unwilling or unable to stem.”
In fact, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) had planned to hold hearings this June “to go after” such dark money groups, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, that have won tax-exempt status and the right to hide their donors by pretending to be 501c4 “social welfare” organizations. But because of the IRS scandal over the smaller-fish Tea Party groups, the investigation has been indefinitely delayed.
Anyway, misuse of the tax code is a bipartisan sin, as Harry Reid said Tuesday. “It wasn’t long ago that the IRS inappropriately targeted the NAACP, Greenpeace and a California church that was really progressive called the All Saints Church in Pasadena, California,” he told reporters. “At that time, we didn’t hear a single Republican grandstand the issue then. Where was their outrage when groups on the other side of the political spectrum were under attack?”
AP: In order to trace a leak of classified information about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen detailed in an AP story last year, the DOJ secretly seized a broad swath of reporter and editor phone records during two months of 2012. AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll says, “I’ve been in this business more than thirty years” and she and the AP’s lawyers have never “seen anything like this.” Attorney General Eric Holder counters, “I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976 and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. That’s not hyperbole.”
Progressives and journalists hate this kind of dragnet gumshoeing, and rightly so—it freezes out potential sources and whistleblowers, and Obama and his administration have acted, yes, scandalously in pursuing and punishing government leakers.
The Republicans have made a fine art out of demanding Obama do something, then attacking him when he does. During the campaign, Paul Ryan pretended to be outraged that Obama had saved $716 billion in the Medicare program, even though Ryan claimed the same cuts in his own plan. When Obama gave into GOP pressure by proposing the awful “chained CPI” cuts to Social Security benefits, a Republican congressman called it “a shocking betrayal of seniors.”
And now the same Republicans, like Joe Scarborough, who were screaming for Obama to shut down national security leaks like the one in Yemen, are now screaming that he’s trampling on free speech. (See Scarborough and former Obama adviser David Axelrod go at it over this here.)
After attempting damage control on Benghazi by releasing e-mails and the IRS by axing its acting director, the White House is now trying to quell protests over spying on the press by asking Senator Chuck Schumer to reintroduce a 2009 press shield law that could protect journalists from revealing sources. The proposed law is full of loopholes, a Times editorial says, but as a “peace offering,” it’s a start.
It also dares the GOP to act on its supposed outrage, a way of saying, Blazing Saddles–style, “Stop, or press freedom gets it.”
Let’s fix these problems, then let’s come down from our scandal high and move on, as Joe Klein implies he did. “What is more dangerous to our democracy,” he writes, “the Obama Administration’s massaging of its mistakes or the Republicans’ constant campaign to paralyze our government through diversions like these?”
Read Leslie Savan on the Cleveland kidnapping and what it says about violence against women.
A missing person poster for Amanda Berry, one of the three kidnapped women found alive in Cleveland. (Reuters/John Gress.)
In just the last few days, we’ve seen a series of news stories involving violence against women. The violence comes in different forms—physical, psychological, financial—and from different quarters—a former school-bus driver in Cleveland, the NRA convention in Houston, the military, Congress—and so it’s not surprising that the media, as usual, are delivering these stories as unrelated incidents. But arriving almost simultaneously, these tales of misogyny should jolt us all to connect the dots and to shine an unblinking light on the violence against women that’s always there, just below the surface.
The story of the three Cleveland women who were found alive after being held captive (and, by all accounts, raped, beaten and bound) in a neighbor’s house for ten years is the most shocking. The suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, reportedly let them outside only twice in all that time. Michelle Knight was 20 when she disappeared in 2002, Amanda Berry had been reported missing in 2003 when she was 16, and Gina DeJesus vanished at age 14 in 2004 on her way home from school. Berry’s mother died in 2006 of what friends say was “a broken heart” less than two years after a psychic on The Montel Williams Show told her Amanda was dead. DeJesus’s mother believed her daughter had been sold into the sex trade. On Monday, Berry and her 6-year-old daughter (possibly fathered by Castro) escaped with the help of neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. The other women came out shortly after. Berry and DeJesus are now home, while Knight remains in the hospital.
As this story unfolds, it will serve as fascinating cable TV filler: We’ll learn more of the horrific details and get to know the victims, their friends and families, and the suspect; we’ll urge neighbors to keep a closer eye on each other; and hopefully we’ll learn why the police didn’t follow earlier leads. But this shouldn’t be treated as just the latest incredibly sad and sensational crime story, as if it were devoid of social and political context—or unrelated to the other news of anti-women violence that accompanied it this week.
When I first saw the photo of a freed Amanda Berry with her sister and daughter, and tried to imagine the women’s unimaginable captivity, I couldn’t get another set of images out of my mind—that of “The Ex,” a target mannequin that squirts blood when you shoot her. “The Ex” (variously called “The Ex-Girlfriend” and “Alexa”) is a large-breasted white woman, her clothes party ripped off, blood dripping from her mouth down her cleavage, and she was sold with other “bleeding zombie targets” at the NRA convention in Houston last weekend. A target mannequin that looks like Obama painted green (one happy customer calls him “Barry” in a video that has been removed) also made the news. Buzzfeed reported that the NRA asked the vendor, Zombie Industries, to remove it from display, but it continued to be sold, a reminder of the racism that fuels the pro-gun paranoia. But the NRA didn’t object to displaying “The Ex,” and she still appears on the company’s website, where one commenter writes, “This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School.”
Here is “The Ex”:
And here she is after getting shot up:
Up until yesterday Amazon was also selling the $89.99 product. (“Great for a bachelor party!” read the only five-star review. “This was a very original, cool way to kick off a bachelor party for a firearm enthusiast, such as myself.”)
Noting that “‘The Ex’ shooting target turns violence against women into a joke and promotes the idea that men should want to kill their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends,” the activist group Ultra Violet petitioned Amazon to stop selling it. In less than 24 hours, 63,000 people signed and “The Ex” was gone.
A similar, if real-life, ex target was Grimilda Figueroa, the former wife of kidnap suspect Ariel Castro. Castro was accused of beating Figueroa, breaking her nose twice, knocking out a tooth, dislocating her shoulders and threatening to kill her and their children, according to a filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. The filing also said that Castro “frequently abducts [his] daughters and keeps them from mother/petitioner/legal custodian.” [UPDATE re misogynists and mannequins, from AP: Castro kept a life-sized, wigged mannequin around to scare Figueroa and others. He'd sometimes drive around with it, and he once told a young nephew of his: "Act up again, you'll be in that back room with the mannequin."]
Figueroa’s brother, Jose Figueroa, told RadarOnline that in 1996 Grimilda and her children with Castro fled from him to a battered women’s shelter. “If she stayed with Ariel, he would have killed her,” Jose said. “She had gone to the hospital and called the police many times but they never did anything.” (Grimilda remarried and moved out long before Castro allegedly kidnapped the three women; she died of cancer last year.)
If Jose Figueroa’s account is accurate, his sister may have saved her life and her children’s, as so many abused women do, by finding refuge in a women’s shelter. But, as we learned this week, men who abuse women will be able to corner them even more easily: The sequester is cutting some $20 million of funding for women’s shelters and protection programs over the next year.
Like all sequester cuts that don’t involve airplane delays, the cuts to shelters are not making the national news, but they are locally. From KSL.com in Utah:
Julee Smith, the director of Your Community Connection in Ogden, said she works with people every day who are running from violent situations. She said many abuse victims need a place to stay, and due to the lack of funding, she has had to start turning them away,
“We literally had a lady call, she had four children and begged to get in our shelter,” Smith said. “She said, ‘I have 45 minutes to get out.’ And we said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t have any room.’ And then the police call and say that she has been abused again.”
Tim Murphy of Mother Jones cites other shelters and domestic violence programs that are being reduced or completely eliminated in Louisiana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Oregon and other states. “The projections are bleak,” he writes.
Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) office estimates that 70,120 fewer domestic violence victims will have access to recovery programs and shelters; 35,900 fewer people will get help obtaining non-shelter services such as restraining orders and sexual assault treatment. Cuts to programs related to the Victims Against Crime Act will hurt another 310,574 people.
This increased danger to women has been made possible by the same pols, mostly Republicans, who are too scared of the NRA to pass an expansion of background checks, checks that would block sales of guns to anyone convicted of domestic violence, among other crimes.
And you know that big-shock Pentagon report released Tuesday that estimates 26,000 sexual assaults took place in the armed forces in 2012, a 37 percent increase over 2010? The report that also said fewer than 10 percent of the sex-assault cases end with a conviction at court-martial, while 62 percent of victims who dare to report an assault are rewarded with retaliation?
Well, expect those stats to get worse. The sequester is putting on hold Department of Defense plans to hire 829 “sexual assault response coordinators.” Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Ray Odierno told the Senate Armed Forces Committee last month that sequestration will hurt efforts to reduce sexual harassment and assault in the Army in many ways, from “slowing hiring actions to delaying lab results, which hinders our ability to provide resolution for victims.”
Of course, as we also learned this week, the value of some of those sexual assault response coordinators is questionable to begin with. On Sunday, Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, was arrested in a northern Virginia parking lot for sexual assault. A police report says that Krusinski, 41, was drunk and had grabbed a woman’s breast and buttocks. She fought him off, and his mug shot has the cuts to prove it.
While millions of men worldwide and the institutionalized male establishment at large still believe it’s their right to subjugate women, let’s not leave the impression that only women are victims. In the Pentagon report above, an estimated 13,900 of the 1.2 million active duty men said they had experienced some form of sexual assault in the past year (a far smaller portion than the active duty women). About a quarter of the victims of non-family child abductions are boys. And from 1994 to 2010, about four in five victims of intimate partner violence were female, according to the Bureau of Justice stats. But that leaves one in five victims to be men.
As if to prove the exception to the female-victim rule, there’s Jodi Arias. She was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder of her ex, Travis Alexander. It was a particularly gruesome murder, with a heavy sexual backstory. A media circus, led by CNN’s sister channel HLN, has been making ecstatic noises over the trial’s every salacious detail.
When the Cleveland story broke Monday, it was hard to tell if HLN resented it for overshadowing the climax of its Jodi Arias witch-burning or welcomed it as a replacement now that the Arias show is winding down.
But instead of another media circus over the story in Cleveland, let’s see if the media and its audience—that is, all of us—can more seriously address the violence against women that is woven into our culture and that politicians in Washington threaten to make worse.
While the Senate moved quickly to end furloughs that were causing air traffic delays, most of the sequester's effects continue, under-reported and unseen, Leslie Savan writes.
In an inspiring burst of action, congressional committees grilled the heads of federal agencies in charge of Head Start, Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and Medicare, and demanded answers: “Why haven’t you informed us that the automatic sequester cuts we voted for are forcing poor kids out of preschool, starving the elderly, creating more homeless families and denying treatment to cancer patients? One Congressman fulminated, “This was a surprise to the Congress, to the world!”
And so, in a last-minute, bipartisan deal Thursday night, senators voted unanimously for a “fix,” and the House approved it today. While the fix won’t alleviate all the sequester’s damage, it will mend the worst holes in the safety net. These Congress members simply weren’t going to fly home for the weekend without doing their best to assure that not one more child go hungry or one more family homeless.
Okay, that didn’t happen—at least not for poor, homeless, and sick people. But the Senate did scramble late Thursday to unanimously pass a resolution to end the FAA furloughs that were causing air traffic delays. “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key architect of the bill, was cheered by the last-minute agreement struck after most senators fled town on Thursday ahead of a weeklong recess,” Politico writes. “ ’It’s nice to know that when we work together we really can solve problems,’ Collins said on the floor after the bill passed.”
Now, the airport delays, caused largely by furloughing air controllers, are no small matter—the sequester delayed 863 flights on Wednesday alone—and the pain goes far beyond the airline industry and inconvenienced passengers. According to one estimate, prolonged furloughs could have cost billions in lost economic output and tax revenue, and threaten tens of thousands of jobs (effects that, as usual, hit the poor first and worst).
But Congress’s targeted fix—achieved by moving funds from one part of the FAA budget to another—allows lawmakers to ignore the vastly more severe damage to the economy, jobs and people’s lives that they created by voting for the mindless, austerity-driven sequestration in the first place.
Most of the sequester’s devastation goes unseen by the public, because, unlike the brave Beltwayers who can save airports at a moment’s notice, the sequester’s victims are not power players. See, for starters, these two Nation pieces: “A California Town Bleeds From Sequestration’s Cuts,” and “How Sequestration Hurts the Homeless” with “up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving housing vouchers, more children exposed to lead paint, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.” Then add in the estimated 70,000 low-income children who are getting kicked out of Head Start, the 4 million fewer meals delivered to homebound seniors via Meals on Wheels, and the massive cuts to Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) and other food assistance programs.
The FAA fix not only doesn’t help these people, it will hurt them more. As Josh Barro wrote, “[I]f we enact a standalone fix for the FAA, pressure on Congress to pass a broader sequester fix will wane, and issues like the Section 8 backlog will remain. It will be a small repeat of the 2008 crisis, where the rich got the financial system stabilization they needed, and the crisis of long-term unemployment was allowed to continue.”
Barro and others urged Obama to wield leverage by “holding fliers hostage,” and at first Obama seemed willing. He supported Harry Reid’s proposal to pay for the $85 billion in sequester cuts (through September) with savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Republicans were able to block such a sensible plan (in large part because Reid decided not to go for real filibuster reform) and instead screamed about the thin slice of the sequester, the furloughs, that most directly affects their own class.
The White House protested—Jay Carney says the FAA fix is a temporary “Band-Aid” that wouldn’t help children, seniors, or “the 750,000 Americans who have lost a job or won’t find one because of the sequester.” And Democratic senators complained about injustice and piecemeal solutions. “I doubt the most disadvantaged citizens are flying on commercial aircraft,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who called the measure “sequester budget Whack-A-Mole.”
But the Dems caved. The House approved the bill today, 361 to 41, and Obama will sigh but sign it.
“All it took was a few thousand people standing in line at the airport,” Politico writes.
That, and media coverage that hyped airline cuts and largely ignored the rest. A Huffington Post search found that “the top three major cable news outlets have discussed FAA furloughs and flight delays 46 times so far in the month of April,” thirty-one of those since April 22, when the furloughs began. In the same period “cuts to Head Start received 19 mentions, Medicare patients getting turned away from cancer clinics received 21 mentions and reductions to the Meals on Wheels program received just seven.”
Then there was some well-timed demagoguery from Republicans, particularly from Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He complained to FAA administrator Michael Huerta at a Wednesday hearing that the furloughs kicked in too suddenly. (Video here.)
You didn’t forewarn us this was coming. You didn’t ask advice about how we should handle it…. This imperial attitude on the part of this administration—and you’re the most recent example of that imperialism—is disgusting. And then to turn around and try to blame the difficulties in flying on the Congress, having not informed us of what you planned to do, is unacceptable…. All of this is a surprise to the committee, to the subcommittee, the Congress, to the World.
Huerta countered, “Mr. Chairman, we’ve been talking about this since February.”
And indeed, they have. But until this week, Republicans didn’t want hear about it. From February 28:
House Republicans remain skeptical that the sequester poses a major threat to air travel, even after Huerta appeared in person to lay out the reasons the Obama administration says it can’t blunt the impact of the cuts. Sam Graves [R-MO] may have best summed up GOP frustration with the administration’s days of alarms that the automatic cuts will mean canceled flights, long security lines and dozens of control tower shutdowns.…. “The sky isn’t falling,” Graves said.
On Wednesday, when Rogers insisted the sky was falling, Huerta reminded him that the FAA had warned airlines and airports “months ago” to expect 10 percent reductions in controller hours and that “they should expect significant impacts at major hub facilities.”
“Well la-tee-da, everyone knew that,” Rogers said. “That’s what sequester is all about.”
Yes, that—and much worse—is what sequester’s about. At least for most people.
The mainstream media doesn’t know what to do with the Boston bombing suspects, who don’t fit neatly into any stereotype, Leslie Savan writes.
Footage of Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the Boston Marathon. (Courtesy of Wikimedia.)
Jake Tapper had been up all night covering the manhunt in Boston for CNN, so maybe that explains why he seemed to rush to judgment when he said of the bombing suspects: “It certainly seems these two are Islamic terrorists.”
“Yes, but those are two separate words,” Juliette Kayyem, a CNN contributor and former homeland security official, reminded Tapper. Technically, literally, he’s not inaccurate: The two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who died in a shootout with police last night, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who is apparently cornered by police as I post this, are Muslim and allegedly are terrorists. But all morning long, Kayyem had been cautioning viewers and fellow journalists not to jump to conclusions (as CNN’s John King so infamously did two days ago when he wrongly reported that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested in connection with the bombing.) “The fact that they’re from Chechnya,” Kayyem said, “is not a motivation.”
The big question, of course, is what was the motivation. But even before the FBI made the Tsarnaevs’ photos public yesterday, and well before we knew their names or background (they’re from a region in Russia next to Chechnya, actually, and have lived in Boston about 10 years), we all have been trying to answer why by placing the two men somewhere on a racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological spectrum.
Media coverage is fraught with that tension: Were they “self-radicalized” and acting on their own or were they part of a larger network? Were they praying to Allah or praising Jesus? Was their nefariousness domestic- or international-based? (The word international keeps popping up superfluously: Fox & Friends’ Gretchen Carlson remarked that “they saw their photos on international television.” Well, unless they were watching CNN International, they saw themselves on good ol’ American TV, like Fox News.)
In other words, were they the kind of white Christian Americans that society has a hard time calling terrorists, or were they the kind of foreign-looking, “dark-skinned” suspects that we have a hard time not calling terrorists?
Much of the media today have been careful not to assign motivations, at least not yet. As Savannah Guthrie said, “There are facts that cut both ways.”
She, Kayyem, and other reporters, including a few on Fox, have laid out reasons that the two suspects might not be big-time Islamic terrorists: No one claimed responsibility for the carnage, as jihadist groups tend to; if they were part of a politically radical network, they probably wouldn’t have been so stupid as to rob a 7/11; high-school friends describe the younger brother as a normal teenager who partied, drank, and smoked.
The estimable Richard Engle of NBC allowed that while they could have been acting alone, there’s a good chance they’re connected to a militant group, specifically, he said, the Islamic Jihadist Union, which is “an Al Qaeda faction for all the non-Arabic speakers.”
An uncle of the two, Raslan Tsarni, surrounded by a mob of reporters outside his Maryland home, fervently denied any political motivations. “What I think was behind it: Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves,” Tsarni said. “These are the only reasons I can imagine of. Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, is a fake.”
If he’d suspected anything, he’d be first to turn them in, he added. They brought shame on the family and “shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.”
One reporter asked a question that, I thought, brought embarrassment to his profession. Reminiscent of how the political establishment demands that Obama say the magic word “terrorist” or else lose patriotism points, the reporter asked Tsarni point blank: What do you think of America?
“I respect this country. I love this country,” he said. “This country, which gives chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being. That's what I feel about this country.”
Right after the marathon, the right tried to make it seem as if Muslims, preferably the Arab kind, had practically planned the attack on “Obamaphones.” When a Saudi man was mistakenly identified as a person of interest, Glenn Beck and some rightwing blogs spun a conspiracy story in which the U.S. swiftly deported the man because Obama wanted “to cover up Saudi Arabian and Al Qaeda ties to the attack.”
Then, the New York Post stooped to phone-hacking levels by publishing a cover photo of two young men, one of them a Moroccan-American high-school athlete, who were simply watching the marathon, under the headline “BAG MEN.”
It was in hopes of avoiding just this sort of nativist vigilantism that Salon’s David Sirota wrote a piece titled Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” It was still before we had any idea of who they were, when he added:
I hoped (though certainly never assumed) the Boston bomber ends up being a white non-Muslim American because in a country where white people are never collectively profiled, surveilled or targeted by law enforcement, that would best guarantee a measured — rather than a hysterical, civil-liberties-trampling — reaction to the atrocity. For this, I was lambasted by everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Bill O’Reilly to their thousands of followers for being “race obsessed” (O’Reilly, in fact, took a step into straight-up slander by subsequently claiming that I am hoping Americans kill other Americans in terrorist attacks).
I, too, hoped the bomber was a non-Muslim white American. Last night, after the shootout, a taped loop showed a young blond man lying on the street, with his arms splayed out, surrounded by police with drawn weapons. We don’t know who he was, and he may have been an innocent bystander. But for a moment, I actually hoped that the “white cap” guy in the FBI photos was wearing a dark wig and that underneath he was a blond “domestic terrorist” trying to frame Muslims.
Yesterday, after the FBI put out their photos but before we knew the suspects’ names or background, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of them: Were they white, Muslim, Italian, what? Erin Burnett sounded authentically perplexed, saying, “These two kids look like they’re very, very from here.” Most people figured them for college students, which in fact they were.
Now that they’ve been ID’ed, that relatively innocent moment is gone. We know they’re Chechen, and Chechen is not something we’ve processed racially. Or as The Onion put it: “Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens.”
Unfortunately, in the end, what will matter most to our national political narrative is that they’re both Muslim and terrorists. “Islamic terrorists.”
Read Richard Kim on the Boston bombing and the West, Texas explosion, and why we irrationally pay more attention to terrorist deaths.
Joe Biden compliments Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe.
Consider it a weird preview of an unlikely Joe vs. Joe 2016 presidential race: In a blast of blarney, Joe Biden gave Joe Scarborough an ego boost (and a possible campaign ad) that almost made Joe S’s already swelled head pop off.
At the end of a substantive roundtable discussion on gun control on yesterday's Morning Joe, Scarborough was thanking Biden and the other guests, when the ever-effusive vice president broke in:
Biden: Hey, Joe, thank YOU. [Scarborough laughs.] No, no, no, no. You have changed the debate in America. You!
Scarborough: Thank you so much.
Biden: You. The two guys that deserve, if anything gets done, an award here are you and Michael Bloomberg. [Biden plunks down his pen for emphasis.]...
Mika Brzezinski: Thank you.
Was Mika thanking the veep on Scarborough’s behalf, like the good helpmeet she so often plays, or was she trying to take some deserved credit for nudging him to evolve?
Either way, Scarborough didn’t notice. He soaked in the praise, his face beaming, and cracked the obligatory joke: “I don't know if that's going to help me in a future Republican primary, but thank you so much!”
Biden was right to praise Scarborough and Bloomberg. Each has done important work to alter the balance of power on gun control--Scarborough by relentlessly needling his fellow Republicans and the NRA; Bloomberg by funding ads against pols who kowtow to the lobby that protects gun manufacturers from little children.
But in prematurely handing out awards, the ebullient Vice focused too narrowly on the two Big Name guys, to the point that it felt awkward to not mention the rest of the Morning Joe crew, the victims’ families, the lawmakers sweating the details—or himself. (After all, Biden heads up the adminstration’s gun-control effort and has been fighting the good fight for decades in the Senate.) Co-host Mike Barnicle seemed a tad miffed; in the “What Have We Learned Today” segment, he said he learned that “Governor Daniel Malloy should really be commended as well as the Connecticut legislature. The components parts of that [gun control] bill, every state in the union should take a look at what Connecticut has done.”
Maybe Biden recognized in Scarborough—whose “moderation” conservatives occasionally attack--an ego in need of a public pat on the back. For Biden, that’s an irresistible invitation to blarney it up.
But really, he needn’t bother. Scarborough’s ego has been riding extra high since he debated Paul Krugman last month on Charlie Rose; Scarborough seems to really believe that he “won,” and that most economists agree with him (they don’t) that we can cut our way to prosperity. Would that Joe Biden (and Obama!) praise Krugman as one of the two or three or four Big Names who’ve been fighting to turn Washington’s attention from the non-problem of deficits to the actual catastrophe of unemployment.
Now, I could be imagining it, but ever since January, when Scarborough snapped his fingers at Mika to get her to shut up, Morning Joe has had more moments of him snarking and her meeking, him talking over people, her staying quiet but pretty. Lately, co-hosts Barnicle and Willie Geist also seem more cautious if and when they contradict him. I say this as a sometimes fan, but the show is getting hard to watch.
(A Today Show producer dubbed it “the least-watched and most talked-about morning show,” and that’s not far off. MJ’s daily average of 426,000 viewers is, as AP reports, pipsqueak compared to Today’s and Good Morning America’s 5 million to 6 million daily viewers each, and it’s less than half of Fox & Friends’ 1.1 million. And yet it may be true that, as GOP strategist Mark McKinnon says, “Anyone who is anyone in politics, or cares about politics these days, is plugged into the program most mornings.”)
For all their joking that Biden wasn’t doing Scarborough any political favors with his fulsome praise, Biden did nick Scarborough a bit by equating him with “nanny state” Mayor Bloomberg. And by nominating Scarborough for hero status while ignoring his own, vastly more significant role in gun control, Biden was being typically gracious--but it also made some of us think, “Wait, Mr. Vice President, you’re the important guy here.”
I hate all the media masturbation over 2016: Will Hillary run? Will Biden step aside if she does? What’s Hillary’s hair have to say? It’s a great way for the media to avoid today’s problems.
But a Joe vs. Joe race would be delicious. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible. “[W]hile Scarborough said he had no plans to run for president at the moment, he did not rule out the possibility that he might change his mind before 2016,” Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote last fall. Then, quoting Scarborough:
“But you never know what's going to happen,” he said. “Every two years, there's someone suggesting that I run for Senate. Every two years, the national party comes to me. I've always been really flattered.”
And Joe Biden, wilier than he seems, knows how to spread flattery like black ice on a Beltway highway.
Norman Reedus in the role of Daryl Dixon. (Photo by Frank Ockenfels/AMC.)
The number-one show on cable had its Season 3 finale Sunday night—and if you needed a reminder of why this series is a staggering hit, you got it Tuesday on All In With Chris Hayes. Hayes was interviewing Jeff Maryak, a 39-year-old Army reservist whose salary has been axed by sequestration and is thinking of re-enlisting for combat duty in order to pay his bills. Maryak explained his dilemma this way:
In essence, around the corner, there's a zombie apocalypse, potentially, and what that is, is, OK, what happens after the sequestration--after the furlough is over and we still don't have a response? Then I may lose my job, and so, in order for me to prep for that doomsday, if you will, I'm looking at going back for deployment.
Yes, America’s top cable hit is The Walking Dead. On Easter Sunday, the AMC series beat The Bible finale on History Channel, the Game of Thrones season premiere on HBO, and its own ratings records. And TWD is the most popular show on TV, broadcast or cable, in the 18-49 demo that advertisers crave more than zombies do your brains.
Most of us watch because it’s a terrific, suspenseful soap opera. But TWD also comes packed with a central metaphor—the zombie apocalypse—that can be used to explain just about every political point of view, whether right or left, pro-NRA or pro-gun control, small- or big-government, even pro-sequester or pro-stimulus.
Maryak himself seems to reflect this ambiguity. Although the sequester slashed his income from a Ft. Meade desk job by nearly 27 percent, forcing him to take a second job delivering pizza, the combat vet actually favors cutting government spending. He knows he’s one of sequestration’s “casualties,” but he won’t “whine” about it because he apparently buys the conservative argument that without drastic cuts to government spending, we face some kind of real-life version of The Walking Dead—an “economic and social collapse,” as Jim DeMint warned yesterday. And yet, like many of us on the left, Maryak also seems to believe that severe austerity itself could spiral into a nightmare and leave us facing…a Walking Dead–like economic and social collapse.
Either way, most everyone is asking how will we ever come back from the dead-end of unemployment, underemployment—today’s miserable job numbers show the sequester has only begun to bite—and an American landscape dotted with more than 300,000 foreclosed “zombie homes.” How can we ever return to the pre-collapse, lived-in domestic reality we had before 2008? With exceptions like gruesome makeup and geysers of fake blood, the difference is in degree, not in kind, between our newly homeless and the bands of Walking Dead survivors squatting in abandoned homes—until a walker (and we don’t mean Scott) serves the ultimate eviction notice.
Whether you see The Walking Dead as an example of left-wing or right-wing ideology gone mad depends on who you think the undead are.
It’s easy to read the show as conservative. Zombie plots are almost by definition reactionary, because they resemble survivalist fears that the horde of Others is coming to take what’s yours. The horde could be the 47 percent, the millions demanding their entitlements like zombies set loose by FDR. Or they could be the “illegal aliens” snatching up your job, or the unions eating away at your profit. Takers, not makers, are like walkers in that they simply can’t be changed back into productive human beings. As Romney told his donors: “My job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Then there’s the guns. Sometimes TWD feels like a comic book written by Wayne LaPierre. Ammo is currency, and even the gentler characters, like Hershel and Carol, have learned to kill or be killed without a second thought. That, too, is a righty’s dream: Make the libs admit we’re right about the use of force and have been all along. Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic writes:
I've been arguing that The Walking Dead is a conservative show in some obvious ways, and not simply because its position on gun-control, while unstated, is obvious.
Conservatism … means in part that you grapple with the tragic reality in front of you, rather than make believe that the world, and human nature, are things that they are not.
On Free Republic, “manc” makes the classic winger argument for apocalypse more bluntly:
The tree hugging, anti-gun view would be gone in a heartbeat if the world came to sort of an end.
Dog eats dog and you stay with those you trust.
Oh and I think the redneck [Daryl] is brilliant and by far my best character, if TSHTF then he is the kind of guy I want beside me not some pansy, tutu fairy girlie boy/man.
Oh yes, redneck in tooth and claw, mankind is. But for what it’s worth, a 2011 survey found that TWD is one of conservative Republicans’ least favorite TV shows. As for redneck Darryl, he’s turning into a deep-blue dreamboat.
Anyway, if you just redefine the hordes to be not commies or immigrants but Wall Streeters or Kansas state legislators, The Walking Dead can be read as a moderate Democratic morality play. Zombies have been played for comic effect almost as much as for terror—they are, after all, former Everymen. In George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, the undead mob a mall because, as one character says, “This was an important place in their lives.” A trailer further explains that Dawn’s apocalypse is a “vision of the mindless excesses of a society gone mad,” spawning a savagery that will “consume us all.”
And that doesn’t even touch on something no one watching on Easter Sunday could fail to notice: Zombies are a heretical perversion of the Judeo-Christian belief that souls will rise from the dead and rejoin their fleshly bodies.
Besides, liberalism more or less prevailed this season. Good guy leader Rick pointedly renounced his earlier edict that his band of survivors was “not a democracy.” Like the tepid Dems who fell for Bush, Cheney and their wars after 9/11, Rick finally realizes (d’oh!) that you can’t trust the ruthless Governor, head of the upscale, walker-proofed town of Woodbury; the Guv told one lie after another to gin his people into fighting a war they were totally unprepared to carry out. (This subplot unwound right as we were commemorating the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.)
Now, you can certainly argue that TWD sucks on social issues, as Lorraine Berry does at Salon, calling Walking Dead “a white patriarchy” where “African-American men have become interchangeable” and the big decisions are made by the pale menfolk.
And yet you can always make the progressive case that zombies represent what we try to bury but can’t—war crimes and bankster crimes, spent nuclear fuel and carcinogenic chemicals, really anything that went wrong in the Bush years.
If the show’s politics resist sharp definition, that seems entirely in sync with the times, like Grand Bargain-pursuer Barack Obama himself. Is he a socialist or a Republican Lite? Is he betraying us, or is he exercising a necessary political patience?
Will he—will the nation—remain with the living, or become a Walker? And this time, we do mean like Scott.
Meanwhile, film has lost its greatest critic. Read Michelle Dean on Roger Ebert.
Richard Perle, the former chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. (Courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute.)
The war hawks are holding their breath: If they can just get through this week—the tenth anniversary of when they lied us into invading Iraq—without answering any “unreasonable” questions, they’ll be home free. And much of the press, in a small reprise of the obsequiousness that allowed the war in the first place, is proving them right.
We can now add a couple of NPR hosts to the list of journalists reluctant to afflict the comfortable. Renee Montagne’s interview of Richard ("the Prince of Darkness”) Perle on Wednesday’s Morning Edition and Jacki Lyden’s talk with Stephen (“Yellowcake”) Hadley on Sunday’s All Things Considered were not terrible, exactly. They each asked questions that expressed skepticism about the war’s justification. But they also repeated the media’s failings in the run-up to the war, especially an unwillingness to contradict authorities on their “facts” while providing a platform for a pro-war spin-job.
To be fair, Montagne did ask Perle, former chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and one of the war’s most rabid advocates, one direct question that elicited such a twisted answer it made blog headlines.
Montagne: Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. When you think about this, was it worth it?
Perle: I’ve got to say, I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t, a decade later, go back and say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have done that.’
But while Montagne did pose that most obvious of questions, she didn’t follow up by saying, for instance, “Why can’t you go back and say we shouldn’t have done that?” or “Come on, after ten years, that’s the most reasonable question anyone could ask you.” Instead, she used just enough of “that anguished NPR-voice” (as Mike Tomasky put it) to suggest that although she knows the war wasn’t worth it, she’s loathe to make her guest squirm.
Montagne began by asking: “We now know that [Saddam] didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. What did you know at that point that made you so sure?”
Perle: Well, we had intelligence assessments from the CIA, from the Defense Intelligence Agency, from the State Department, from German intelligence, French intelligence, [then with a little laugh at just how many folks agreed with him] British intelligence, and they were all in agreement that Saddam possessed at least chemical and biological weapons, and there was debate about what remnant existed of his one-time nuclear program.
Montagne’s question was fine, but rather than state that no, not all intelligence agencies endorsed the WMD charge and what intelligence did support it was manipulated (as the Downing Street memo put it: “the facts were being fixed around the policy”), she simply let Perle’s assertion linger, and moved on to a new question:
Montagne: But at the same time, the connection to the terrorist attacks on September 11th and Al Qaeda, how to make that connection?
Perle: Well, it isn’t a connection in the sense that I think you’ve asked the question. Let me put it this way. When you wake up on September 11 and discover that you were vulnerable in a way that you never understood before and you ask yourself what could happen next? You do the obvious thing, or at least the administration did the obvious thing. [My italics]
At this point, Montagne might have asked, “You mean you panicked?” It would be impolite, and he would of course obfuscate, but it would cut to the chase: You’re supposed to be a leader, why did you and the rest of them react like a bunch of schoolboys in dark room who’ve been handed grapes and told they’re eyeballs?
Perle went on to spin a web to explain the nuanced sense in which he means “connection”:
Perle: [The administration] made a list of potential threats, and on that list, the single most important potential threat was another attack with a weapon of mass destruction. So then you make a list of who has weapons of mass destruction and who might be motivated either to attack or enable someone else to attack the United States, and Iraq was clearly on that list. It’s easy a decade later to say, well, it turned out that this fact or that presumption was wrong…
Montagne didn’t point out that the Bushies, including Perle, did not resort to nuance to connect Saddam and Al Qaeda—they simply asserted a non-truth, that chief 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met months before the attack with an Iraqi agent in Prague. They connected the two so well, in fact, that in September 2003 nearly 70 percent of all Americans believed Saddam was behind 9/11.
In short, by not following through, Montagne failed to make the real connections.
You can listen to the whole interview here:
Jacki Lyden’s interview of Stephen Hadley, the Bush national security adviser who took the blame for inserting the phony yellowcake charge into Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, treated Hadley less as a perpetrator of the war than as an expert on the region. She let her neocon guest (now a senior adviser at the United States Institute for Peace, by the way) begin the chat with the same well-rehearsed talking point as Perle: While mistakes were made and the human toll was horrible (“clearly the situation got away from us,” said Hadley), no one’s responsible because everyone agreed that Saddam had WMD.
Hadley: Republicans thought he had them, Democrats thought he had them, the Clinton administration thought he had them. The Bush administration thought he had them.
Nope, again, not true. Lyden could have cited, for just one example, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, whose request for more time to find those nonexistent WMD was rebuffed by the Bush administration in its rush to war.
But Hadley goes on to dig a deeper hole:
I think the central judgment that [Saddam] was a man who was a national security threat to the region and to us here at home was true. And if you think about what Iran is doing in terms of pursuing nuclear weapons, you can bet Saddam Hussein would not have been left behind.
Rather than contest those dangerously loony leaps, Lyden moved on to ask whether we met our objectives in Iraq. And so on.
The Hadley interview starts at 7:48.
You can argue that Montagne’s and Lyden’s job isn’t to correct their subjects but simply to ask questions and to let them be hoisted by their own petards. But they weren't hoisted. They got away with it, and they still are, by exploiting the same sins of omission the press committed 10 years ago. (For the many sins of commission—cheerleading the war, putting false intelligence on the front page of The New York Times, etc.—see my colleague Greg Mitchell.)
And that’s the really galling thing about this week. Yes, most supporters of the war now agree, there were no WMD; yes, it cost too much in blood and treasure. But few (with exceptions like Andrew Sullivan) are saying they have blood on their hands—they’re saying they didn’t know, or they couldn’t be expected to know, or But, mom, everybody was doing it!
That’s what happens when the press fails to do something as basic as ask good follow-up questions: It not only encourages war criminals to mumble the same pathetic excuses, it wears further away at fact-based logic itself.
We can only imagine what the neocons will be saying on the twentieth anniversary of the war.
Also read Greg Mitchell on the many excuses that have been made for the unjust war in Iraq.