Character

September 11, 2010

It was a beautiful, crisp fall day just like this one when my car topped the first span of the Pulaski Skyway and I saw the thick plume of black smoke stretching across New York Bay from the World Trade Center.

Lots of pundits talked about 9/11 as the day everything would change. As it turned out, not everything changed, but enough did. George W. Bush was transformed from an ethically and politically compromised pretend-president, tainted by a contemptible Supreme Court decision and slated for ejection after four years of looting, into a delusional world conqueror who led America into a moral cesspool of torture, lies, and manipulation. The day’s death toll was awful, but the most terrible consequence of  Osama bin Laden’s scheme was to give a free hand to an ugly cohort that never should have been allowed near the levers of power in the first place.

It’s been said that crisis doesn’t shape character, but it does reveal character. Click here to see the character of our mass-market media revealed. Click here to see the character of the political opportunists who still exploit the disaster revealed.

Not everything changed on 9/11, but some things did. America turned into something tainted in the eyes of the world, a nakedly predatory country tolerant of blatant lies and willing to give free rein to its worst impulses. For a lot of evil people, 9/11 was just another political day. They have yet to pay any kind of price for their manipulations and deceit. In fact, some of them are poised to get back into power. Osama bin Laden, wherever he’s hidden away these days, must be having himself a good laugh over that one.

What Taibbi Said

July 30, 2010

David “Babbling” Brooks doesn’t want us to criticize the looters and pillagers over at Goldman Sachs because . . . well, because their fee fees will be hurt and they might just decide to sit on their hard-stolen money and not use it to improve things for the peons — i.e., us — who huddle beneath their banquet tables, waiting for crumbs to trickle down.

Quite a mess, that column. Fortunately, here’s Matt Taibbi with a mop and bucket. Take it away.

The Lessons Not Learned

July 21, 2010

The good news is that Shirley Sherrod is being offered her job back. The bad news is that she never should have been forced out in the first place. The badder news is that Andrew Breitbart, the glowering wingnut troll who got her in trouble by posting that maliciously edited video, will suffer no repercussions from his vending of lies and distortions. The even badder news is that the journo-buffoons covering Breitbart’s clown show are still pretending they aren’t the ones who keep the spotlights trained on his antics. And the baddest news of all . . . well, I’ll get to that.

It’s long been obvious that the Republicans have taken the measure of our mass-market media and learned how to plays its weaknesses like a nasty-sounding fiddle. Take this Daily Beast writeup by Lloyd Grove. Savor the smug insidery tone, the feigned obliviousness to the role Grove himself plays in providing this grubby smear merchant with a national platform, the craven avoidance of anything resembling a direct challenge to Breitbart’s pretzel-twisting and weasel-word evasions. Wouldn’t want to be accused of liberal media bias, after all.

Gutless simp. There are entirely too many like Grove in our national press corps, so I don’t really think anything is going to change. I mean, Breitbart’s sordid habits were well known before this. Nobody can say any of the subsequent revelations about the nature of the video, and the way it was edited to turn a speech about overcoming racism into an example of it, were a surprise. The only principle he recognizes is constant partisan attack, without regard for the facts or the personal damage he does. Despite repeated demonstrations of his unreliability, Breitbart knows he need only lay back a while and throw out another piece of poisoned bait. Our media figures will chase after it like stampeding pigs.

As of today, I will hear no more condescending lectures about how liberals and progressives have no reason to complain about the Obama administration, how we should all just zip up and let the realists and centrists chart the course and content ourselves with the half-loaf, quarter-loaf, or whatever other fraction of a loaf is supposed to leave us breathless with joy.

I held my tongue while the “realists” threw out the public option before negotiations even started, left an insurance-company stooge like Joe Lieberman in a position of influence, watered down the financial reform bill, and generally acted as though the Republicans were legitimately interested in the good faith stewardship of national government. The plain fact of the matter is that these realists got rolled. And they didn’t get rolled by some master tactician, either. They got rolled by a professional snake-in-the-grass whose modus operandi is so  well known that even a Faux News host refused to soil his hands with the story. For such a band of competent, hard-headed realists, that’s a pretty shallow learning curve. Maybe its time to start listening to those wacky, starry-eyed hippies. They could hardy have been more gullible.

It may be the case that the Republicans have gotten so crazy, so hateful in their behavior and so blatant in their moves to hinder economic recovery, that voters will reject them in November.  We can only hope. That’s the baddest news of all — we are reduced to that hope. Our side has the best ideas and the best way forward, and yet we have to cross our fingers and hope Congress will not be overrun by an even bigger bedlam of liars, loons, and looters. What a disgusting situation.

There’s a scene toward the end of Sweet Smell of Success when Sydney Falco confronts the corrupt columnist J.J. Hunsecker and says, “J.J., you have such contempt for people, it’s making you stupid.” Breibart, the wannabe Hunsecker, has been brazenly telling all and sundry that he had no idea who edited the video, and that he simply posted it on his site without regard for even rudimentary fact-checking. That’s pretty stupid on his part. In fact, I’d call that an admission of reckless disregard. I think a judge would call it that, too. I hope Sherrod finds herself a good lawyer and sues Andrew Breitbart into next Sunday. He’s got enough money to buy his way out with a settlement, but a lawsuit might begin the long overdue process of cleansing our hoplessly polluted national discourse.

Gulf of Cuyahoga

July 18, 2010

Via Crooks and Liars, here’s a story about a TV news station that collected samples of water and sand from beaches along the Alabama-Florida panhandle coastline. Not only did the samples register disastrously high concentrations of petroleum, but one of the samples actually exploded during laboratory testing.

Thanks to the negligence of British Petroleum — and the magic of those marketplace fairies that supposedly make strict regulations unnecessary — we may see the Gulf of Mexico become a larger sibling to the Cuyahoga River, that heavily polluted Ohio waterway that actually caught fire in 1969. Image above.

It may be time for Randy Newman to update “Burn On,” his 1972 ode to the Cuyahoga.

Where Was I?

July 8, 2010

Boy, tempus sure has fugited. It’s been a busy year, but I’ll spare you the details.

There’s more to say, but right now I just want to highlight the good folks at Talking Points Memo, who have enrolled in Beck University to check out its demanding course load. The first installment appears to be the usual claptrap about how the Founding Fathers were all Jesus whoopers who would have made full-immersion baptisms a requirement of citizenship if they’d only had the time to stick it into the Constitution. Since the patrons of this online “university” pony up $9.95 a month for this stuff, I can only marvel at the willingness of conservatives to keep paying good money to hear the same nonsense repeated ad infinitum.

Later.

All Guns Blazing

June 26, 2009

Dan Froomkin, whose career with the Washington Post has ended under circumstances that bring considerable disgrace to the newspaper, has filed his final WaPo column. He is not, I’m happy to see, going gently into that good night:

When I look back on the Bush years, I think of the lies. There were so many. Lies about the war and lies to cover up the lies about the war. Lies about torture and surveillance. Lies about Valerie Plame. Vice President Dick Cheney’s lies, criminally prosecutable but for his chief of staff Scooter Libby’s lies. I also think about the extraordinary and fundamentally cancerous expansion of executive power that led to violations of our laws and our principles.

And while this wasn’t as readily apparent until President Obama took office, it’s now very clear that the Bush years were all about kicking the can down the road – either ignoring problems or, even worse, creating them and not solving them. This was true of a huge range of issues including the economy, energy, health care, global warming – and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.

How did the media cover it all? Not well. Reading pretty much everything that was written about Bush on a daily basis, as I did, one could certainly see the major themes emerging. But by and large, mainstream-media journalism missed the real Bush story for way too long. The handful of people who did exceptional investigative reporting during this era really deserve our gratitude: People such as Ron Suskind, Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer, Murray Waas, Michael Massing, Mark Danner, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (better late than never), Dana Priest, Walter Pincus, Charlie Savage and Philippe Sands; there was also some fine investigative blogging over at Talking Points Memo and by Marcy Wheeler. Notably not on this list: The likes of Bob Woodward and Tim Russert. Hopefully, the next time the nation faces a grave national security crisis, we will listen to the people who were right, not the people who were wrong, and heed those who reported the truth, not those who served as stenographers to liars.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that there is so very much about the Bush era that we still don’t know.

Froomkin says he’ll take some time off before unveiling his next project. Best of luck to him.

Librul Media Bias

February 4, 2009

It’s just so insidious, I tell ya.

Twilight of the Clods

February 3, 2009

Far be it from me to stand back and keep a straight face when everyone else in the progressive blogger ranks is chortling about the woes of the wingnut web: Dignity Pants Media is switching from one losing business model to another, losier model (i.e., expecting people to pay for something they didn’t even want when it was free); and Culture 11 has proved to be a bad bet, as should have been expected from any venture launched with the help of Diamond Bill Bennett. Schadenfreude, do you say? Damn right it is.

The problem with right-wing blogs is not so much their crack-brained content or their delusional business plans, but the fact that they simply aren’t necessary. The progressive blogosphere grew directly in proportion to the insanity unleashed by conservatives, starting with the Clinton impeachment farce and the hijacking of the 2000 election  and continuing through the Iraq War fraud, spurred along by  the wingnut  infestation of mass-market punditry, and the cluelessness of respectable columnists like David Broder who mumbled about bipartisanship while the Visigoths ran riot in the halls of government.

 Daily Kos, Eschaton and Crooks and Liars,  as well as the lefty blogs that followed in their train, didn’t spring into being because some daddy wingbucks wrote them  phat checks. They developed and thrived because they trafficked in reality, and in a media realm dominated by the likes of Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and Thomas Friedman, reality was and is  a scarce and valuable commodity.

Wingers have no shortage of propaganda spigots to sup from, and while they are a breed with a seemingly endless capacity for hearing the same nonsense over and over, there are only  so many hours in a day, and one cannot live at one’s computer. When the airwaves and op-ed pages are full of professional ranters, amateurs can’t expect much of a crowd for their flea-circus versions.  

That’s why the smart money is  betting on the amount of time it takesfor  Big Hollywood, the latest methane-pumped conservative ego balloon, to settle to earth with a long, flatulent hiss. No, I’m not going to link to it, but if you scout it out you’ll find a Web site devoted to . . . wait for it . . . complaints about liberal bias in the movie industry – a theme so tired  even Z-list wingers like Michael Medved resort to it only on exceptionally slow news days. The last time I checked, their spotlight post was a long whine about the revamped Battlestar Galactica from Dirk Benedict, a talentless refugee from the original series  who’s been  over-the-hill for so long that the hill itself has eroded away. Oh yeah — that’ll bring the masses in at a gallop.

Keep the Schadenfreude pot brewing, folks.

In the aftermath of the multiple conservative-engineered disasters on the financial, moral, military and electoral fronts that we are now struggling with, there was a great deal of talk about “soul searching” among “thoughtful” conservatives, who would try to find ways to bring right-wingers back to “true” conservatism.

It’s a laudable goal, but from where I stand, most conservatives seem less interested in coming to grips with their failures than in redefining them so that actions undertaken by Dubya with the enthusiastic support of conservatives suddenly become examples of liberalism, the sort of thing the sainted Ronald Reagan would never have dreamed of doing.

On the local front, Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine has been forlornly trying to redefine Bush’s invasion of Iraq as “liberal do-gooder internationalism,” while railing against “the essentially left-wing views of Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz and the Fox News crowd,” thereby giving us a taste of what might have resulted if George Orwell had offered Groucho Marx a chance to rewrite Nineteen Eighty-Four.   

Now I see that one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has decided to see Mulshine on the Iraq War and raise him:

A reflexive abhorrence of violence of all kinds (war, torture, even the death penalty and abortion) is inherently conservative – part of any meaningful definition of conservatism. 

Having spent the last couple of decades hearing conservatives grunt about liberals being a bunch of pacifist hippies, and the last few years being called all kinds of nasty things by drive-by wingers with “Whack Iraq” and “Kick Their Ass, Take Their Gas” bumper stickers, I can only laugh at this attempt to retrofit conservatism with dove’s wings, much less the notion that Bush has somehow degraded the Reagan legacy.

For the overwhelming majority of conservatives, and middle-of-the-roaders who never offered more than token objections, Bush’s invasion of Iraq was going to be Reagan’s invasion of Grenada writ large — a little dodgy in moral terms, sure, but hey it was all going to be over quickly and once the smoke cleared we’d have loads of oil to burn.

When it came to running up huge deficits, undermining public safety through deregulation, packing government positions with cynical operators and using American might to stomp on ninety-pound weaklings, Bush and Reagan were and are more alike than different.

Face it, wingers: When you got Bush, you got everything you’d ever dreamed of having, and the result was poison. Now be a bunch of dears and go play your word while the rest of us try to restore a measure of sanity and stability. Hey, why don’t you check in with Jonah Goldberg? He’s been redefining words in all kinds of interesting ways.

Weekend Bookchat

January 4, 2009

rumsfeld

We begin the new year with an overwhelmingly important piece of old business to address: What should — and can — be done about the Bush torture cabal? This is the subject of three recent books: Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values by Philippe Sands; The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book by Michael Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond by Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh. Writing about them in the New York Review of Books, David Cole reminds us that the Bush torture program has, along with fouling America’s moral standing in the world, created the first great challenge for the Obama administration:

In the long run, the best insurance against cruelty and torture becoming US policy again is a formal recognition that what we did after September 11 was wrong—as a normative, moral, and legal matter, not just as a tactical issue. Such an acknowledgment need not take the form of a criminal prosecution; but it must take some official form. We have been willing to admit wrongdoing in the past. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, officially apologizing for the Japanese internment and paying reparations to the internees and their survivors. That legislation, a formal repudiation of our past acts, provides an important cultural bulwark against something similar happening again. There has been nothing of its kind with respect to torture.

We cannot move forward in reforming the law effectively unless we are willing to account for what we did wrong in the past. The next administration or the next Congress should at a minimum appoint an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the United States’ adoption of coercive interrogation policies. If it is to be effective, it must have subpoena power, sufficient funding, security clearances, access to all the relevant evidence, and, most importantly, a charge to assess responsibility, not just to look forward. We may know many of the facts already, but absent a reckoning for those responsible for torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment — our own federal government — the healing cannot begin.

This is not an issue that can be fobbed off with Broder-level banalities about “national healing” and “putting the past behind us.” Healing cannot take place until the source of the infection has been cleansed. There will probably never be a full reckoning for the crimes committed in America’s name under George W. Bush, but at the very least there should be a full accounting of what was done and who did it.

* * * * *

Marcia Angell reviews three books about the overlooked and ongoing problem of the cozy relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the research physicians whose work certifies and promotes the value and safety of different drugs:

Take the case of Dr. Joseph L. Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. Thanks largely to him, children as young as two years old are now being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with a cocktail of powerful drugs, many of which were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for that purpose and none of which were approved for children below ten years of age.

Legally, physicians may use drugs that have already been approved for a particular purpose for any other purpose they choose, but such use should be based on good published scientific evidence. That seems not to be the case here. Biederman’s own studies of the drugs he advocates to treat childhood bipolar disorder were, as The New York Times summarized the opinions of its expert sources, “so small and loosely designed that they were largely inconclusive.”

In June, Senator Grassley revealed that drug companies, including those that make drugs he advocates for childhood bipolar disorder, had paid Biederman $1.6 million in consulting and speaking fees between 2000 and 2007. Two of his colleagues received similar amounts. After the revelation, the president of the Massachusetts General Hospital and the chairman of its physician organization sent a letter to the hospital’s physicians expressing not shock over the enormity of the conflicts of interest, but sympathy for the beneficiaries: “We know this is an incredibly painful time for these doctors and their families, and our hearts go out to them.”

The potentially disastrous consequences of drug companies influencing and funding research into the safety of their own products should be obvious, but as Angell notes, even many medical schools hold equity stakes in the very companies that help fund their research.

* * * * *

Will the prestigious Man Booker Prize be one of the literary victims of Bernie Madoff’s disastrous Ponzi scheme. The Man Group, a hedge fund that has supported the award since 2002, was heavily invested in funds linked to Madoff, but the word so far is that funding for the award — and its big cash prize — will not be affected. We’ll see.

* * * * *

Upcoming book discussions at the TPM Cafe: Rose George’s The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters (Jan. 5-9); Randall Stross’s Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan To Organize Everything We Know (Jan. 12-16).

* * * * *

Science writer Chris Mooney reviews two new books about climate change and muses on the problem of explaining a long-term tragedy to a country (and journalists) preoccupied with short-term concerns. Axl Rose’s literary influences.  Wanted: Volunteers to help proofread over 30,000 titles in the Project Gutenberg digital library. Karl Rove reveals George W. Bush’s reading lists, which Mark Tran finds unexpectedly revealing. And a master crime novelist is mourned by his fans.

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