Forget conservative fantasies of food stamp beneficiaries living high on the public dole and feasting on king crab legs—life on food stamps is anything but luxurious.
The average daily food stamp benefit is $4.44, which as you might imagine is almost unworkable. It’s very difficult for beneficiaries not to go over that amount each day, and data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 90 percent of benefits are redeemed by the twenty-first day of each month. So the last week of the month is particularly rough for people who rely on food stamps:
That’s worth reflecting on during this Thanksgiving week—a holiday known almost exclusively for its food, and one that always falls during the last week of the month. Having anything resembling a proper Thanksgiving meal on $4.44 per person is already basically impossible, and most beneficiaries are over-budget by this point anyhow.
Remember, too, that on November 1 food stamp benefits were reduced thanks to indifference by both Democrats and Republicans towards the already paltry benefit amount. So this Thanksgiving is even tougher than years’ past, and the upcoming winter months will be as well. Nonprofits that serve the hungry are buckling under increased demand.
And a quick look at local news stories around the country shows it:
From Newton, Massachusetts:
The season of feasting has begun. But even as some pore through cookbooks in search of the perfect stuffing, nearly one in eight residents of Massachusetts worry that the food in the cupboard won’t last until the end of the month.
The problem is growing and it’s not just in the poorest urban neighborhoods. Hunger exists in every community, including Newton. According to Tracie Longman, the Newton Food Pantry regularly serves over 450 households in Newton, providing food to over 600 people a month. That represents an increase of approximately 25 percent over two years ago.
Local pantries and soup kitchens throughout New York were stretched thin even before a cut in federal food stamp benefits took effect Friday. Now, their managers don’t know how they’ll meet the increased demand.
“There’s never enough food,” said Jeanne Blum, executive director of the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless. “There is an increased demand, definitely. The cuts are really devastating to families who are in need of food for their children.”
A hot meal. That’s what brings people in need to the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen in Watertown. What makes them stay is the conversation. “Being able to eat a meal with someone else, to be able to talk over a meal,” said Lt. Summer Hough of the Salvation Army.
But lately a rise in demand has made it tough for the soup kitchen to keep up. “Up until about three months ago, we were serving on average about 80 people in our soup kitchen and in the last couple months it’s actually gone up into the hundreds,” said Hough.
The pantry spends $4,000 to $5,000 each week to provide fresh produce, meat, dairy and bread for clients which is supplemented with staples. But there’s less than $20,000 currently in the food pantry account and Scarpaci fears that without major donation dollars coming in soon, the pantry will have to close for at least a few weeks when demand is at its peak.
“There have been times before where we’ve gotten low, but never this low,” says Scarpaci, who notes that a fundraising New Year’s Day polar bear plunge at Main Beach in East Hampton will bring in some money for the town’s four pantries, but not nearly enough.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients saw a 13.6 percent cut in benefits beginning the first of November. For a family of four, on what’s still largely called food stamps, the reduction adds up to $36 per month. And fewer federal dollars is starting to have an impact on area food banks. One organizer summed it up—demand the last few weeks is up and donations haven’t kept pace. Now the concern is whether this is a temporary blip as families adjust to the reductions or whether it’s the “new normal” that food pantries will have to meet in the future.
Many families still face unemployment or underemployment, said Bonnie Inman, executive director of Loudoun Interfaith Relief. Many people seeking help from the food pantry cited the federal government shutdown as an added financial stress, she said. “The demand for our services has really not decreased at all,” Inman said.
That’s just a sampling. And the worst part is the situation isn’t going to get any better—in fact, it’s about to get worse.
House Republicans passed a farm bill earlier this year that cut a nearly $40 billion from the program. Senate Democrats’ “better” plan is a cut of $4 billion. The real amount will no doubt be somewhere between those two numbers. Those bare cupboards this holiday season will almost certainly have even less next year.
On Black Friday, Walmart employees nationwide will be protesting the retail giants’ poor labor standards. Allison Kilkenny reports.
Journofolks are talking a lot about the Heritage Foundation these days. The narrative is that a once-august right-wing research shop has gone all hackish on us since being taken over by former Senator Jim DeMint and his fearsome 31-year-old deputy Michael Needham. “The Fall of the Heritage Foundation and the Death of Republican Ideas,” is how the The Atlantic’s Molly Ball tags it. In The New Republic, a profile of Needham, whom The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank labeled “The Shut-Down’s Enforcer-in-chief,” quotes Republican legislators lambasting him for “his ideological inflexibility and aggressive zero-sum tactics.” A bitter Senator Orrin Hatch is quoted in The New York Times: “Is Heritage going to go so political that it really doesn’t amount to anything anymore? I hope not.”
Of course, for a movement supposedly devoted to conserving the past, conservatives are oh-so-splendid at forgetting their own past. The notion of Hatch as the high-minded conservator of the scholarly temper would have been pretty laughable when he won his Senate seat in 1976 as the first major feather in the cap of the nascent New Right fundraising machine captained by Richard Viguerie. Back then, his campaign served as a pass-through for all sorts of Long Con hanky-panky. But never mind. The notion of Heritage’s fall from some noble intellectual golden age has been so ably debunked by historian Jason Stahl that I have little to add.
But not nothing to add. First, some more historical detail. I’ve written here before about the extraordinary events of 1974–75 in Kanawha County, West Virginia, when the school board encompassing the state’s biggest city, Charleston, voted to adopt textbooks Christian conservatives insisted endorsed miscegenation, “secular humanism,” and other assorted alleged sins, ended up dynamiting the school board building. But not before the brand-spanking-new Heritage Foundation rushed to aid the folks laying the dynamite.
In one of the first forays of this “scholarly” organization into national politics, Heritage sent sent two staffers to West Virginia. James McKenna, a lawyer who had won a string of cases defending the rights of parents to homeschool their children, came to defend the activists under indictment for violence. Connie Marshner was a young University of South Carolina graduate who had accepted a job in 1971 on Capitol Hill as a plain old secretary for Young Americans for Freedom, which was where she quietly transformed herself into an expert on Senator Walter Mondale’s bill to establish a national system of federal childcare centers—the “therapeutic state invading the home,” Marshner said. On her own, she started a letterhead organization to fight the bill. When Nixon vetoed it, calling it a threat to “the family in its rightful position as a keystone of our civilization,” she claimed victory, and was hired as Heritage’s first director of education. Soon she was soon hard at work finding “little clusters of Evangelical, fundamentalist Mom’s groups,” and transforming them into troops for the conservative movement army. She ended up writing a book called Blackboard Tyranny as her lasting contribution to the “parents rights” movement’s scholarly legacy. Based on the ideas of the Christian deconstructionist Rousas J. Rushdoony, the book argues that education professionals began their plot to replace Christianity with the “messianic” religion of secular humanism when they started teaching that education should indoctrinate children into democracy, and that parents’ right to oppose this “came from God by way of the natural law.” Scholarly!
The Heritage Foundation saw the Kanawha incident as an opportunity to build strategic capacity. “If you pick the right fight at the right time,” McKenna explained, “[y]ou can make your political points, you can help the people involved, and you can become a force in the political community.” Conservatives used to call people like this “outsider agitators.” On October 6, 1974, they were among the featured speakers at a rally before 8,000 textbook activists. One preacher cried, “If we don’t protect our children we’ll have to account for it on the day of judgement!” The next day this same preacher was among the twenty militants arrested at a garage for sabotaging school buses; the following day, two elementary schools were firebombed. Scholarly!
And now, some personal anecdotage. I’ve visited the Heritage three times for research purposes. My host was Lee Edwards, who in the service of the Heritage Foundation writes hagiographies of conservative institutions and luminaries; nice work if you can get it. Edwards is a friendly guy, generous with his time and recollections, but for all that, as a conservative-movement lifer, someone also implicated in the Long Con: in 1972 he was one of the principles in a hustle called “Friends of the FBI,” to which gullible folks at the grassroots funneled cash that mostly ended up going back to the hustlers; their front man, TV star Efram Zimbalist, withdrew from the project after saying its three founders, including Edwards, were guilty of “fraud and misrepresentation.”
Anyway, on one of these visits, the foundation was fulsomely hosting some Asian dictator, holding him up as a tribune of freedom. On another, one Heritage fellow, a superannuated former Reagan UN ambassador, told me stories about Barry Goldwater “chasing pussy.” On a third, Edwards led me to Edwin Meese’s office for an interview. We passed through a room dedicated to Amway, with a full complement of their products on display—some think tank! (Regular readers of this blog know what I think of Amway, a seriously scholarly outfit…). Once there, the former attorney general of the United States told me no one had ever complained about racism in the Oakland police when he was the Alameda County DA in the 1960s. I told him I knew of some fellows who would have disagreed. He looked at me like I was nuts.
Yes, it used to be a such high-minded, intellectually serious place. Nowadays: What hath Jim DeMint wrought?
Katrina vanden Heuvel on the irrelevanceof the Heritage Foundation.
It is no secret that Republicans in Washington and the conservative commentators who form their national echo chamber cut Barack Obama no slack—even when it comes to the issuance of Thanksgiving Proclamations.
No sooner had Obama issued this year’s proclamation than he was taking hits for “using the opportunity to bring out his favorite hobby horse, homosexuality.” The complaint was with the opening lines of the proclamation, in which Obama declares:
Thanksgiving offers each of us the chance to count our many blessings—the freedoms we enjoy, the time we spend with loved ones, the brave men and women who defend our Nation at home and abroad. This tradition reminds us that no matter what our background or beliefs, no matter who we are or who we love, at our core we are first and foremost Americans.
But, of course, there is always a complaint. The right’s stance with regard to the current president is one of perpetual offense, even when he is at his most mild. Indeed, by comparison with past presidents—especially Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who used Thanksgiving proclamations to chart and encourage the progress of the nation—the current president has been remarkably restrained in his remarks.
But that hasn’t earned Obama any sympathy from the conservative intelligentsia.
Last year, after the president was re-elected with a 5-million popular vote margin, an Electoral College supermajority and a higher percentage of the popular vote than John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 or 1996 or George Bush in 2000 or 2004, Obama put a modestly enlightened spin on his recognition of the 391st Thanksgiving.
His 2012 proclamation recalls that “the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony…enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe—a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before” and notes “the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country.” He even celebrates community organizers, whose “actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.”
The president’s words did not sit well with our friends on the right.
Conservative commentators grumbled that Obama’s proclamations—not just his holiday statements but, presumably, his proclamations in general—were insufficiently religious in tone.
“Thanksgiving Dumbed Down,” growled the National Review headline.
“God is lucky to get a mention or two,” National Review editor Rich Lowry objected. “What God has lost in prominence in Obama’s statements has been gained by the American Indians, in a bow to multicultural pieties.” Oh those First Americans, always elbowing their way into our history!
Perhaps conservatives are worried that Obama’s modest “multicultural pieties” serve as a holiday manifestation of the demographic turning that handed the president an overwhelming mandate last year, and that provided the underpinning for breakthrough wins by Democrats in 2012 elections that saw the party’s candidates win the mayoralty of New York for the first time in twenty years and secure an apparent sweep of statewide offices in Virginia for the first time in decades.
While right-wing partisans may have reason to worry about their long-term political prospects, they needn’t worry about the president’s seasonal pronouncements. Obama is safely within the bounds of Thanksgiving promulgation. Indeed, it has been the better part of seventy years since a president made serious use of “multicultural pieties” in his Thanksgiving proclamations.
Americans have to look back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a thoroughly multicultural call to “let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.”
FDR’s Thanksgiving proclamations were bold and politically adventurous statements. He constantly flavored his proclamations with advocacy for action and challenges to the economic and political elites with which the nation was wrestling during the Great Depression. “May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors,” read Roosevelt’s first proclamation in 1933. A year later, he declared:
Our sense of social justice has deepened. We have been given vision to make new provisions for human welfare and happiness, and in a spirit of mutual helpfulness we have cooperated to translate vision into reality.
More greatly have we turned our hearts and minds to things spiritual. We can truly say, “What profiteth it a nation if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul.”
By 1935, as Roosevelt’s New Deal was fully engaging, he wrote: “We can well be grateful that more and more of our people understand and seek the greater good of the greater number. We can be grateful that selfish purpose of personal gain, at our neighbor’s loss, less strongly asserts itself.”
After his landslide re-election in 1936, FDR would encourage Americans “to fulfill our obligation to use our national heritage by common effort for the common good.” He found cause for thanksgiving in the fact of laws and labor organizing that guaranteed “the toiler in shop and mill receives a more just return for his labor.”
To a far greater extent than the presidents who succeeded him, including Obama, Roosevelt used his Thanksgiving proclamations to speak, in moral and spiritual terms, about the ills afflicting the republic—and about the radical remedies he had initiated in response to them.
“Our Nation has gone steadily forward in the application of democratic processes to economic and social problems,” wrote Roosevelt in 1939. “We have faced the specters of business depression, of unemployment, and of widespread agricultural distress, and our positive efforts to alleviate these conditions have met with heartening results. We have also been permitted to see the fruition of measures which we have undertaken in the realms of health, social welfare, and the conservation of resources.”
For Roosevelt, every opportunity to speak of a New Deal was taken. Every teachable moment was utilized. Thanksgiving proclamations were not merely pious repetitions of past histories. They were statements of principle, and celebrations of that deepening sense of social justice.
Obama’s critics are inclined, always, to find something unsettling in his official words and deeds. But by comparison with Roosevelt, the current president’s Thanksgiving proclamations are modest, in their moral messaging and in their “multicultural pieties.”
You’ve heard of Black Friday, but what about Black Thursday? A new infographic by Erin Zipper and Von Diaz at Colorlines shows that many big-box retailers are keeping their stores open on Thanksgiving this year, meaning their employees will be working longer hours over the holiday. As Diaz explains, “Those working on Thanksgiving are likely to be working part-time for low wages, and despite their low income, many are also the primary earners in their households.” All so that retailers can kick-start their holiday profits.
Check out Imara Jones’s piece at Colorlines for more on how the Black Friday phenomenon is a consequence of this year’s government shutdown, and read our own Gabriel Thompson on his brief and stressful experience in an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse.
OUR Walmart, the group behind last year’s Black Friday activism, has promised even more actions this year with 1,500 protests scheduled at stores all across the country. Walmart is clearly nervous ahead of this year’s plans because the company has asked judges in Maryland and Florida to bar protesters from entering stores on Black Friday.
“This is yet another move from Walmart to try to bend the law to its liking. Walmart has made it a practice to pursue over-the-top legal maneuvers to try to avoid hearing the real concerns of workers and community members,” said Derrick Plummer, spokesman for the organizer, Making Change at Walmart, in a statement.
OUR Walmart announced that Black Friday protests are scheduled in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Miami, Chicago; Seattle, Washington (DC), Minneapolis and Sacramento, and the group calls it the “largest mobilization of working families in recent history.”
“Workers are calling for an end to illegal retaliation, and for Walmart to publicly commit to improving labor standards, such as providing workers with more full time work and $25,000 a year. As the country’s largest retailer and employer, Walmart makes more than $17 billion in profits, with the wealth of the Walton family totaling over $144.7 billion—equal to that of 42% of Americans,” the group said in a statement.
Anthony Goytia, a part-time worker who stocks shelves during the overnight shift, says he isn’t protesting because he hates Walmart. Al Jazeera America:
“I actually do like my job. It’s fast-paced, and time goes by quick,” he said. “But last year I made $12,000. I’m a husband. I have four kids. It’s not enough. I’m living in poverty.”
Goytia is a member of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), which is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He has taken part in several protests for better wages and working conditions at the store, including one in early November, when fifty-four people were arrested during protests at a new Walmart store in Los Angeles.
But worker actions against Walmart aren’t isolated to Black Friday. On Monday, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) joined Walmart workers in Minnesota who walked off the job, and in Los Angeles, workers went on a two-day strike that culminated in the largest-ever act of civil disobedience against Walmart. Last week, workers in Seattle, Chicago, Ohio and Dallas joined them in walking off their jobs.
Additionally, Walmart workers at three Washington, DC, area stores went on strike Tuesday, calling on the company to end its illegal retaliation against workers, and calling for better wages and full-time work.
“I’m speaking out today because Walmart can afford to do better by its workers,” said striking worker Tiffany Beroid. “We want to work full time, and earn above the poverty level. And we are taking action today because Walmart needs to publicly commit to ending illegal retaliation against workers and better wages.”
In fact, the resistance against Walmart’s low wages never really went away. Workers have continually organized, fought for higher wages, and engaged in creative civil disobedience. For example, these workers led a flashmob back in September at a Raleigh, North Carolina Walmart store:
Since June, Walmart has illegally disciplined more than eighty workers, including firing twenty worker-leaders, and more than 100 Unfair Labor Practice charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the company. Recently, the NLRB regional office announced it found merit to OUR Walmart’s charge, and found Walmart committed eleven violations of national labor law.
At a time when workers are struggling to survive on low wages, activists expressed outrage at the retirement pension of Walmart CEO Mike Duke, which at $113 million, is more than 6,200 times greater than the average worker’s pay.
“Walmart should be ashamed of the vast labor mismanagement under CEO Mike Duke. From the low wages at Walmart stores to dangerous working conditions in warehouses and the inexcusable safety conditions in factories in Bangladesh and other countries, as the world’s largest employer, Walmart can and should do better to create good jobs and safe working conditions,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, said in a statement.
Following the announcement that Doug McMillon will succeed Duke as CEO, Beroid said the change of leadership is “a testament to the pressure the company is feeling that they’re changing leadership at this moment.”
“We’re happy to see Mr. McMillon acknowledge the hard work of associates in his statement this morning, and we hope that this appreciation translates into improving jobs for Walmart workers. Americans nationwide are looking to Walmart to improve jobs and strengthen our economy, and Mr. McMillon has an opportunity to be a leader in moving Walmart in the right direction, not just in offering more empty promises. We sincerely hope that Mr. McMillon will answer the country’s calls for Walmart to publicly commit to paying $25,000 a year, providing full-time work and ending its illegal retaliation against its own employees.”
I will be live-tweeting from Black Friday actions in New Jersey. Follow me on Twitter @allisonkilkenny.
Wages for Walmart workers are so low that one retail outlet in Ohio held a food drive for its own employees.
Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)
Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?
There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”
Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says these scenarios are real possibilities. “What if an employer believes women should be subservient and doesn’t believe in providing the same wage and hours for them as male employees?” She relayed one case where a private school denied health insurance to married women, because school management believed husbands are the “head of the household” and should provide for their wives.
The truth is that this is not about religious freedom, it’s about sexism, and a fear of women’s sexuality. When Sandra Fluke testified in favor for birth control coverage, she wasn’t criticized for trying to curtail religious freedom—she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. When the FDA held up over-the-counter status of emergency contraception for years, it wasn’t because of the medication’s efficacy or potential health risks but because of a fear it would make girls promiscuous. The same thing happened when the HPV vaccine was being reviewed. Just this morning, I came across a conservative political cartoon that really says it all.
Reproductive health needs are just that—health needs. But because we live in a country that has a ridiculous hang-up over women and sex, we’re still debating the morality of birth control and calling women whores instead of giving them the care they need. We know why conservatives want to limit birth control access—they show their true colors every day. So let’s not pretend these cases are about religious freedom or employer’s rights. Call it what it is: misogyny.
Lee Fang shows how former Walmart execs are involved in Black Friday Sabotage.
Finally, this afternoon, CBS suspended Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan after the network’s internal probe found serious problems in their 60 Minutes Benghazi report.
The report hit Logan for not knowing, or knowing and not caring, about key source Dylan Davies telling a different story to his employer and FBI; for not really substantiating her claims that Al Qaeda led the assault; and for her now-famous October 2012 speech that suggested she was far from objective on this issue.
Her boss, Jeffrey Fager, now says he needs to “make adjustments” at the show. But he did not say how long the pair would be suspended.
This added injury to insult as Logan had just been disinvited to host the Committee to Protect Journalists dinner tonight.
Summary of the findings by CBS’s Al Ortiz, courtesy of The Huffington Post, does not add much that we don’t already know, but perhaps those details exist in the full report. And many questions remain. Ace blogger “Digby” hits the mere “slap on the wrist” and points to other examples of Logan’s reporting-with-an-agenda. UPDATE Wednesday: Nancy Youssef, the McClatchy reporter who probed the Benghazi segment two weeks ago and found several key factual issues, now IDs many shortcomings in new CBS review.
• From the start, Lara Logan and her producing team were looking for a different angle to the story of the Benghazi attack. They believed they found it in the story of Dylan Davies, written under the pseudonym, “Morgan Jones.” It purported to be the first western eyewitness account of the attack. But Logan’s report went to air without “60 Minutes” knowing what Davies had told the F.B.I. and the State Department about his own activities and location on the night of the attack.
• The fact that the F.B.I. and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to “60 Minutes” was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside F.B.I. sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.
• Members of the “60 Minutes” reporting team conducted interviews with Davies and other individuals in his book, including the doctor who received and treated Ambassador Stevens at the Benghazi hospital. They went to Davies’ employer Blue Mountain, the State Department, the F.B.I. (which had interviewed Davies), and other government agencies to ask about their investigations into the attack. Logan and producer Max McClellan told me they found no reason to doubt Davies’ account and found no holes in his story. But the team did not sufficiently vet Davies’ account of his own actions and whereabouts that night
• Davies told “60 Minutes” that he had lied to his own employer that night about his location, telling Blue Mountain that he was staying at his villa, as his superior ordered him to do, but telling “60 Minutes” that he then defied that order and went to the compound. This crucial point—his admission that he had not told his employer the truth about his own actions—should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process.
• After the story aired, The Washington Post reported the existence of a so-called “incident report” that had been prepared by Davies for Blue Mountain in which he reportedly said he spent most of the night at his villa, and had not gone to the hospital or the mission compound. Reached by phone, Davies told the “60 Minutes” team that he had not written the incident report, disavowed any knowledge of it, and insisted that the account he gave “60 Minutes” was word for word what he had told the F.B.I. Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press.
• On November 7, The New York Times informed Fager that the F.B.I.’s version of Davies’ story differed from what he had told “60 Minutes.” Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the F.B.I.’s account of their interview, Davies was not at the hospital or the mission compound the night of the attack. “60 Minutes” announced that a correction would be made, that the broadcast had been misled, and that it was a mistake to include Davies in the story. Later a State Department source also told CBS News that Davies had stayed at his villa that night and had not witnessed the attack.
• Questions have been raised about the recent pictures from the compound which were displayed at the end of the report, including a picture of Ambassador Stevens’s schedule for the day after the attack. Video taken by the producer-cameraman whom the “60 Minutes” team sent to the Benghazi compound last month clearly shows that the pictures of the Technical Operations Center were authentic, including the picture of the schedule in the debris.
• Questions have also been raised about the role of Al Qaeda in the attack since Logan declared in the report that Al Qaeda fighters had carried it out. Al Qaeda’s role is the subject of much disagreement and debate. While Logan had multiple sources and good reasons to have confidence in them, her assertions that Al Qaeda carried out the attack and controlled the hospital were not adequately attributed in her report.
• In October of 2012, one month before starting work on the Benghazi story, Logan made a speech in which she took a strong public position arguing that the US Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the US should take in response to the Benghazi attack. From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story.
• The book, written by Davies and a co-author, was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation. “60 Minutes” erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment.
Greg Mitchell points to additional issues with the Benghazi report.
1) Hot Tuna Live X2
2) The Ramones Box Set
3) The Animals Box Set
4) Rock operas (sort of) by The Cowboy Junkies and a collaboration of Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T. Bone Burnett,
Hot Tuna came to town for their annual Thanksgiving concerts last weekend, this year with two new twists; they divided the shows into one acoustic and one electric, and, for the first time, they thew in some Jefferson Airplane songs. Both nights, morevoer, they were joined by musical ..great idea. In recent years, the extra guitarist has been G.E. Smith, and they had some incadescent moments. Campbell, however, plays more instruments and can sing a little bit and is married to someone who can really, really sing. The prettiness of her voice (face too, I might add) gave the band an entirely new dimension. I loved the version of “Sugaree” they did—something that would have been impossible, I think with just Jorma on vocals—and of course, “Somebody to Love” was a real treat—if over too soon. Jack and Jorma have not lost a step in the half-century or so of their fruitful association, but lately I’ve been concerned that nobody gives amazing versitile Barry Mitterhoff the props he deserves. Eric Diaz on drums deserves a mention too, but Mitterhoff is amazing and together with the Campbells, it’s an amazing ensemble. See them if you get the chance.
I’ve got two box sets I want to let you know about in times for Thanksgiving. The first is an appropriately minimalist Ramones six-cd box of their first six records, nothing more, nothing less. The last Ramones box set was just the opposite, with fancy packaging, a comic-book history and a ton of songs on each cd. I had it for years but I never listened to it. When I bought the Ramones first cd on my first day of work at “Record World” in August 1976, I thought it was a rip-off because it was only 28 minutes. Now I see that was part of their genius. This box is how they short be heard; in short, eplosive spurts—like an orgasm... or a punch in the face. It’s called Ramones: The Sire Years, and it’s got no extras and not even a booklet. Just six cds...
The Animals-The Mickie Most Years & More is a five CD set of the earliest years of the band during which time they charted eleven singles in this country in just two years, including "The House of the Rising Sun" "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," etc. Fifty years later, we’ve got their first four American albums—the first three produced by Mickie Most—The Animals, The Animals on Tour, Animal Tracks, and Animalization in their original mono versions, now newly remastered from the original tapes. And tons of bonus tracks, including their first release ever, the I Just Wanna Make Love to You EP that came out on the Graphic Sound label in 1963 (later reissued by Decca in 1965 as In the Beginning There Was Early Animals), four tracks previously unreleased in the U.S., three single versions (including "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life"), four alternate versions (three in stereo) of such tracks as "Talkin' 'Bout You" and "Don't Bring Me Down," and one U.K.-only track ("Roadrunner)." Packaging is okay. Today’s the release date. Be the first on your block. It ain’t cheap, though.
I also want to give a mention to a marvelously ambitous release by one of my favorite bands, The Cowboy Junkies. “The Kennedy Suite” is a rock opera, song cycle, post-modern musical that tells the story of the JFK assassination through the fragmented narratives of a series of characters, each of whom experiences the tragedy from their own intensely personal perspective. The recording is a collaboration that combines the original work of Toronto composer and lyricist Scott Garbe as arranged, recorded and produced by the Cowboys along with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers. It could have been a catastrophe but it’s not at all. The music holds up too. Margo Timmins has one my favorite voice on earth and this rewards repeated listenings.
And while we’re on this topic, I don’t know if I ever recommended the wonderful collaboration between Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T. Bone Burnett, T Bone Burnett for the Southern gothic supernatural musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, featuring performances by Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Neko Case, Taj Mahal, Ryan Bingham, Will Dailey and Kris Kristofferson, along with actors Matthew McConaughey, Samantha Mathis and Meg Ryan. It’s also a digital book, which is, of course, best read with the music on. Read all about it here. It’s a wonderful meeting of many minds.
Fox News: Now the Anti-Obamacare Propaganda Channel
by Reed Richardson
The evolution hasn’t been overnight, but if you spend any time watching Fox News nowadays the endstate is unmistakable. When it comes to the network’s cable and online programming there are now but two overarching rules in place.
1) Take every opportunity to bash Obamacare.
2) When covering anything else, see Rule #1.
Anecdotal evidence of Fox News’s willingness to obsess over Obamacare to the detriment of other big news is aplenty, as I documented after sitting through six hours of Election Night coverage earlier this month. Ironically, the network’s fixation on the President’s healthcare reform law that night caused it to be late to the game in adopting the mainstream media’s McAulliffe-almost-lost-because-of-Obamacare meme. (Which was total bunk.)
But the most damning proof of this now singular devotion to all-Obamacare, all-the-time coverage comes in statistical form. A quick term search on FoxNews.com, for example, offers up a revealing pattern on the number of stories posted there for the past year/month/week/day:
Obamacare 1698 427 88 18
NSA 716 92 12 1
Benghazi 792 60 7 1
IRS 503 46 14 5
Budget deficit 467 18 2 0
As each of these much-touted-by-the-right-wing “scandals” have withered and died on the media vine without bearing fruit, the alleged horrors of Obamacare have been planted by Fox News to take their place. So much so that Fox’s Obamacare coverage now even eclipses cataclysmic worldwide tragedies like Typhoon Haiyan. Just how dramatically out of whack Fox’s news judgment is was quantified by Pew Research study last week. In tracking 20 hours of programming across five days in mid-November, Pew found Fox News devoted nearly eight hours—almost 40% of its entire newshole—to just one issue: Obamacare. As for covering the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in decades, Fox News devoted just six minutes of airtime—the equivalent of two commercial breaks. (Even opinion-heavy MSNBC spent 41 minutes covering Haiyan, and just over three hours on Obamacare.)
To be sure, Obamacare is a big story and some critical media coverage of the botched Healthcare.gov rollout is certainly warranted, as are questions about the president’s “If you like your plan, you can keep” broken promise. But fair-minded accountability journalism is not what Roger Ailes is trying to achieve with his network’s rabid focus on Obamacare. It’s not the quantity of Fox News’s coverage that’s problematic; it’s the quality. Or should I say lack thereof. When taken as whole, Fox’s news products have clearly metastasized into a toxic media mass of one-sided hyperbole, willful misinformation, and outright anti-Obamacare propaganda.
Consider these “fair and balanced” headlines—some “news,” some opinion— from just the past few days:
Or my personal nominee in the could-have-run-on-Free-Republic category:
But buried below the rampant bias evident in these headlines are even more misleading talking points. In the Medicaid story from above, for instance, the writer stokes fears of Obamacare by citing a flawed, oft-debunked study that suggests that Medicaid patients die twice as often as those with private insurance. (Here’s why that’s wrong.) And my favorite wingnut-special column from above throws everything but the socialized communal kitchen sink at the reader, whether it’s tired canards like “Chicago-style corruption” and “replac[ing] free markets” or actual falsehoods like Obamacare is ballooning healthcare costs (nope), and the law has ignited a wave of businesses hiring part-time workers (sorry).
In the past week, however, Fox News’s radically dishonest coverage has moved beyond to surreal to the absurd. Now so blinded by its outrage over the healthcare reform law, the network’s programming can no longer see anything else as but a reflection of Obamacare. Of course, the Iran nuclear deal was the big news over this past weekend, but even above and beyond the network’s standard bellicose blovation [a sample chyron: “Sucker’s Deal”], Fox News is there to remind viewers that it’s all just a transparent attempt at distraction.
There was half-term Gov. Sarah Palin on Fox News Sunday singing this same song to host Chris Wallace about Senator Harry Reid’s exercising of the “nuclear option.” But when, in the midst of his obsequiousness, Wallace actually pointed out to Palin that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says Obamacare will give healthcare to 30-million uninsured Americans while the latest GOP plan would only cover three million, Palin’s misdirection-as-response was the very definition of tinfoil-hat chutzpah. First, she dismissed the CBO’s numbers as unreliable and then had the temerity to call it a “sad state of affairs” that “a normal American” such as herself has to be so cynical about government. And, for that matter, why hasn’t Obama ever proved that his FEMA re-education camps don’t exist? Probably because if he did, it’d all be part of grand scheme to…you guessed it…distract from Obamacare’s failures.
Sure, Fox’s lukewarm embrace of Obama conspiracies is nothing new. But still, it’s a wake-up call to our discourse when former President Bush spokesperson and U.S. foreign policy history buff Dana Perino prefaces a question about the timing of the Iran deal to conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer with the always responsible phrase: “I’m not the biggest conspiracy theorist, but…”
As you’ll no doubt be shocked, shocked to learn, Krauthammer agreed with her implied suggestion that this whole diplomatic initiative with Iran was little more than a panicked put-on by the White House. And who could argue with his logic, particularly since he does such a fine job of it himself: “They clearly were in a hurry, though they probably would have gotten here with or without the collapse of Obamacare, but it sure gave them an extra incentive to get in a hurry because they need any distraction, any distraction possible for a government in collapse.” So, not even credit given for being an efficient appeaser? Tough room.
OK, so what? Fox News long ago—like since its first day on the air—cast aside any pretensions about objectivity to promote its owner's and president’s political preferences. And Obama’s presence in the White House has only turned that latent animosity up to 11. But when a network so fully walls itself off from impartiality and honesty, it really does matter, particularly when one political party is so in thrall to their propaganda that it bases its dogma on it.
Case in point, only minutes after the nuclear deal with Iran was reached on Friday night, Republican Senator John Cornyn was Tweeting this: “Amazing what [White House] will do to distract from [Obama]care.” And as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, Republicans—just like before the 2012 election and during the government shutdown last month—are again cocooning themselves inside a parallel universe where the Obama-is-doomed storylines on Fox are pre-destined to occur and unprecedented obstruction of the government is a winning strategy. In the long run, they’ll be sorely disappointed once again, but thanks to Fox News, our nation will have to suffer through Republicans making the same momentous mistakes once more.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
As activists continue to organize demonstrations at McDonalds, Walmart and other low-wage firms, big protests are planned against retailers for mistreating their workers this Black Friday. In response, union-busting consultants are ramping up efforts to marginalize them.
Last night—Worker Center Watch, a new website dedicated to attacking labor-affiliated activist groups like OUR Walmart, Restaurant Opportunities Center, and Fast Food Forward—began sponsoring advertisements on Twitter to promote smears against the protests planned for Black Friday. In one video sponsored by the group, activists demanding a living wage and better working conditions for workers are portrayed as lazy “professional protesters” who “haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.”
“This Black Friday, just buy your gifts, not their lies,” instructs the Worker Center Watch narrator. Watch it:
Worker Center Watch has no information its website about its sponsors. Yet the group attacks labor activists and community labor groups for lacking transparency. “Hiding behind these non-profits, unions mask their true motivations, circumvent operational requirements and skirt reporting and disclosure obligations,” says Worker Center Watch, referring to labor-supported worker centers like OUR Walmart.
TheNation.com has discovered that Worker Center Watch was registered by the former head lobbyist for Walmart. Parquet Public Affairs, a Florida-based government relations and crisis management firm for retailers and fast food companies, registered the Worker Center Watch website.
The firm is led by Joseph Kefauver, formerly the president of public affairs for Walmart and government relations director for Darden Restaurants. Throughout the year, Parquet executives have toured the country, giving lectures to business groups on how to combat the rise of what has been called “alt-labor.” At a presentation in October for the National Retail Federation, a trade group for companies like Nordstrom and Nike, Kefauver’s presentation listed protections against wage theft, a good minimum wage and mandated paid time off as the type of legislative demands influenced by the worker center protesters.
The presentation offered questions for the group, including: “How Aggressive Can We Be?” and “How do We Challenge the Social Justice Narrative?”
It seems retailers are now experimenting with how aggressive they can be. Today, Parquet’s Worker Center Watch posted a link to a Breitbart News story featuring a video allegedly obtained by someone who infiltrated an Occupy activist group planning to demonstrate against Walmart.
The alarm at how quickly the new organizing model has taken off has sparked anxiety among business executives. Littler Mendelson, a law firm that helps companies defeat labor unions, released a report outlining the challenge for corporate executives. The US Chamber of Commerce, a dark-money group that counts Walmart and McDonalds as members, produced a similar study last week.
Corporations fear that the new wave of activism could have a multiplier effect that goes way beyond better pay and benefits for their workers.
In a webinar hosted this month for business executives seeking a “union-free workplace,” Nancy Jowske explained that the alt-labor model could heavily influence millennials and their perceptions of labor unions. “One of the things to consider about what’s going there with SEIU’s Fight for 15 and all of this is the millennial generation,” said Jowske, a former SEIU organizer turned union-buster, “they are getting a steady diet of pro-union from every possible direction." She added, "this is also a generation that is very class-conscious” and explained that the current alt-labor protests could incite future organizing drives. Jowske also cited a recent In These Times piece to argue that worker centers can be portrayed as “union front groups,” and warned that the alt-labor organizing model could have a long-term impact. For instance, the organizing model appears to help unions and community groups forge close ties that could be later used to deploy activists for political campaigns, workplace NLRB elections and other left-wing causes.
Bryce Covert talks about how women’s eye for the long term makes them valuable workers.
For the first time in three decades, Iran and the United States appear to have established a meaningful diplomatic relationship that disrupts the cycle of escalation towards armed conflict. The interim agreement reached in Geneva on Saturday freezes much of Iran’s nuclear program and exposes the country to extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for modest relief from some economic sanctions. Ultimately, the deal opens the door for a long-term resolution to derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
This may be the last, best shot for a diplomatic alternative to a nuclear Iran. Before the deal, Iran could have produced weapons-grade fuel in as little as a month. If Iran upholds its end of the bargain it will lose its stocks of uranium enriched above 5 percent, setting its capabilities back. The chance that Iran will renege on the agreement is real—but so is the risk that US lawmakers will undermine it by passing new sanctions.
On Monday, majority leader Harry Reid said the Senate would consider new economic penalties after the Thanksgiving recess. Leading the process will be Senator Tim Johnson, who chairs the Banking Committee with jurisdiction over sanctions, and Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. “They will study this, they will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need work on this, if we need stronger sanctions, I am sure we will do that,” Reid told NPR, adding that the agreement was an “important first step.” Johnson said his committee would hold off from writing new sanctions until after a briefing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials.
Likely, the sanctions the Senate will consider would go into effect only after the interim agreement expires, should the negotiating parties fail to reach a long-term resolution. “I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six-month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran,” Menendez said in a statement. That seems consistent with what President Obama has said. “If Iran does not fully meet its commitments during this six-month phase, we will turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure,” he said Sunday.
Sanctions that allow time for diplomatic negotiations to play out are certainly preferable to the immediate punitive measures that lawmakers were calling for last week, and that hawks like Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Kevin McCarthy are still pushing. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessary, or that they won’t hamstring diplomatic negotiations.
First, is Congress’s appetite for a new round of economic punishment really in doubt? Even without new legislation Iranian leaders can easily suppose what Washington’s response will be if a final deal falls through. Meanwhile, most sanctions remain in place and continue to put crippling pressure not only on Iran’s political class but also on its citizens.
On the other hand, new sanctions could ruin the prospects of a long-term accord, even if their practical effects are delayed. There’s a risk that Congress will demand concessions in the short term beyond the scope of the interim agreement, or use new legislation to try to set the terms of a final deal, which could bind negotiators to unobtainable standards. Perceived as belligerence, and a signal that President Obama cannot obtain Congress’s support for dismantling the sanctions regime in a final deal, such moves will likely undermine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s ability to sell a long-term agreement to Iran’s political elites.
Rather than doubting that new sanctions will follow a broken agreement, Iran’s leaders fear that the United States won’t allow meaningful economic relief even if Iran scales back its enrichment program. What Rouhani and other moderates need to secure domestic support is evidence that negotiating with the United States will deliver real benefits. Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, said that new sanctions “will be seen as an indication that actually the US is going to back out of this or is going to attempt to take advantage of the offer of compromise.”
Abdi explained that the perception that the United States is committed to keeping Iran weak, if not to overthrowing the ayatollahs completely, has been the prevailing narrative among Iran’s political elite for decades. In selling a long-term halt to the nuclear program, Rouhani must prove the opposite: “That Iran can negotiate with the West on equitable terms, that compromise can beget reciprocal compromise and that Iran’s isolation is harmful,” said Abdi. Any new sanctions, on the other hand, would be easily “spun by hardliners eager to find ways to undercut this victory.”
Abdi believes new sanctions could not only derail negotiations with Iran but could cause the existing sanctions regime to collapse. The simple reason is that there’s little left to sanction. Tom Cotton, a Republican Representative from Arkansas, made that clear in May when he proposed going after the relatives of sanctions violators. Besides grandmothers and nephews, policymakers can only increase the pressure on other countries who do business with Iran, and it isn’t clear that they can do so without alienating the governments whose cooperation is needed to enforce punishments already in place. “If there’s a perception that it’s the US that is unwilling to negotiate and is committed to piling on sanctions endlessly, the main rationale for imposing sanctions is going to evaporate,” said Abdi.
Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes summed all of these arguments up on Monday. “I have no doubt that Congress could pass these sanctions very quickly, so we don’t see the need to do it now during the length of this agreement, because, frankly, that could cause divisions within our P5+1 coalition,” Rhodes said, referring to the five countries on the UN Security Council, plus Germany, that signed onto the deal. “It could complicate this diplomacy.”
With little economic slack left to ratchet in on the Iranian regime, that leaves two options for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, one being the resolution of current negotiations into a long-term deal. The other option is military action. As Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, told Ezra Klein yesterday, “If you don’t like negotiating with Iran, what you’re really saying is you want to go to war.”
How lawmakers proceed will be an interesting test of the American Isreali Public Affair Committee’s power, which appeared diminished when its aggressive lobbying failed to provoke military action in Syria, which the American public firmly opposed. Now 64 percent of Americans support softening sanctions in exchange for a restriction of Iran’s nuclear program, which the interim agreement achieves. For its part, AIPAC said there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to ram through additional sanctions. If Congress resists these calls, it could pave the way for a monumental shift in the relationship not only between Iran and the West but also between lawmakers and the Israel lobby.
Bob Dreyfuss has more on the nuclear deal with Iran.