David Sirota writes: "When you look past the craziness, chaos and confusion of politics these days, you still find roughly two major schools of thought that aim to explain What's Fundamentally Wrong. The first says America is paralyzed by a political system that is too democratic — too responsive to citizens' whims. This is the religion of almost everyone in the permanent Washington elite, regardless of party. Its canon mixing paeans to noblesse oblige with shrill authoritarianism is most clearly articulated by high priests like The Washington Post's David Broder and The New York Times' Tom Friedman. The former has said democracy threatens to make "official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion"; the latter dreams of Chinese-style dictatorship."
War in a Box
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "The event on the House floor Wednesday afternoon was monumental - the first major Congressional debate about US military operations in Afghanistan since lawmakers authorized the invasion of that country in autumn 2001. But, as Rep. Patrick Kennedy noted with disgust on Wednesday, the House press gallery was nearly empty. He aptly concluded, 'It's despicable, the national press corps right now.'"
What Torture Is and Why It's Illegal and Not "Poor Judgment"
Andy Worthington provides the following analysis for Truthout: "It's now over two weeks since veteran Justice Department (DOJ) lawyer David Margolis dashed the hopes of those seeking accountability for the Bush administration's torturers, but this is a story of such profound importance that it must not be allowed to slip away."
Rachel Corrie Case Stirs Fresh Pain and Hope
Congress Votes for Treason: 356-65 to levy more unlawful war against US soldiers in Afghanistan
Carl Herman writes for the LS County Nonpartisan Examiner: "My headline is legally accurate, and the side of history you want to be on when America finally recognizes our government and corporate media’s fascism. The definitions of political terms, relevant laws, and facts are simple; the problem is American’s cognitive dissonance to recognize the “Big Lie” at home rather than in a history book of some other place in some past time. This article, after the following four paragraphs of context, will explain these simple high school-level definitions of political terms of treason and fascism, relevant laws of war, and relevant facts of war with Afghanistan. I’ll conclude with ~5-minute video clips of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul’s House floor statements on the Resolution to end the war in Afghanistan, and a 5-minute clip of news coverage."
Why Are We Afraid to Tax the Super Rich?
Ask the Chamber of Commerce: Why Is Too Much Not Enough?
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship comment for Truthout: "Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be? How many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?"
Ponzi Nation: How Get-Rich-Quick Crime Came to Define an Era
Andy Kroll writes for TomDispatch.com: "Every great American boom and bust makes and breaks its share of crooks. The past decade - call it the Ponzi Era - has been no different, except for the gargantuan scale of white-collar crime. A vast wave of financial fraud swelled in the first years of the new century. Then, in 2008, with the subprime mortgage collapse, it crashed on the shore as a full-scale global economic meltdown. As that wave receded, it left hundreds of Ponzi and pyramid schemes, as well as other get-rich-quick rackets that helped fuel our recent economic frenzy, flopping on the beach."
The Sham Recovery
Robert Reich writes on RobertReich.com: "Are we finally in a recovery? Who's 'we,' kemosabe? Big global companies, Wall Street, and high-income Americans who hold their savings in financial instruments are clearly doing better. As to the rest of us – small businesses along Main Streets, and middle and lower-income Americans – forget it."
Six Democratic Senators Poised to Kill Student Loan Reform
Chris Kromm reports for Facing South: "Reforming the for-profit student loan system, which allows finance giants like Virginia-based Sallie Mae to make virtually risk-free returns thanks to government subsidies, was a top priority of President Obama. His idea, supported by most Democrats, was to take out the middle man: Instead of subsidizing private lenders, the feds would completely take over origination of student loans."
Health Care Reform: Politics and Prejudice
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "In the wake of last week's summit on health care insurance reform, President Obama demonstrated his willingness to compromise by making some incremental concessions to Republicans in a speech from the White House. President Obama proposed strengthening efforts to limit waste and abuse, extending dependent coverage to age 26, allowing automatic enrollment in health insurance and an exchange for small businesses to pool and purchase affordable insurance. He may also consider a plan to rework the way malpractice claims are adjudicated."
Moving Toward the Limelight
Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Andrea Nill, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald write the Progress Report for Think Progress: "Yesterday, the White House hosted three separate meetings on immigration with President Obama, one with grassroots immigration advocates, another with Latino lawmakers, and a meeting with the two senators who have been crafting an immigration bill for the past year: Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Following the meeting, Schumer indicated that everyone agreed that 'passing comprehensive immigration reform this year is very important to our nation' and announced that Obama would be reviewing the agreed-upon framework in the coming days. Roll Call reports that 'while [Obama] couldn't commit to making it happen, he vowed to work with Senate leaders to bring a bill to the floor in April.' Graham, however, made a 'political squeeze play' when he released a statement indicating 'in no uncertain terms' that "immigration reform could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward." Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal's Jerry Seib predicted that immigration reform could be the 'sleeper issue' that moves "toward the limelight." Given the fact that both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and grassroots advocates maintain an undiminished commitment to pushing for immigration reform in 2010, it's certainly an issue fighting its way up to center stage. However, Graham's remarks added to the growing unlikelihood that the immigration reform saga will play out on the Senate floor, but it has already captured the attention of the White House and two senior Senators and it certainly won't go down without a fight."
The New McCarthyism
Joe Conason writes for Truthdig.com: "The national madness known as McCarthyism began 60 years ago in Wheeling, W.Va., when Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy held up a scrap of paper that supposedly listed the names of 57 State Department officials he said were actually Communists and traitors. Eventually, America learned that the Wisconsin Republican’s famous list was a fabrication, that he was a liar and a demagogue as well as an alcoholic—and that his authoritarian appeals to fear were worse than useless in defending our security. But by then, McCarthyism’s self-serving and fundamentally unpatriotic promoters had inflicted grave damage on the body politic and international prestige of the United States. "
Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change
James C. McKinley Jr. reports for the New York Times: "After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light."
The People's Nuclear Posture Review
(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Pierre J., Vermin Inc)
International Women's Day
Peter Rothberg and Chantal Flores writes for The Nation: "The world has been celebrating International Women's Day since 1911 when it was established largely thanks to the efforts of activist Clara Zetkin. The idea was to create a global forum for celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future."
Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Office of Legal Counsel Nominee Johnsen for Second Time
National Partnership for Women and Familues writes: "The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 12-7 along party lines to approve the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, CQ Today reports. The committee had already approved Johnsen nearly one year ago, but her nomination was never brought to the full Senate. President Obama re-nominated Johnsen in January after the first nomination expired at the end of 2009."
Gay Rights Tops the Bloggers’ News Agenda
New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This is the second time in a month when the topic has been among the most discussed subjects. During the first week of February, gay issues including the military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" were a major subject of discussion. It is also the sixth time the subject finished in the top five since PEJ began its New Media Index in January 2009."
Second Mistrial for Shock Jock Hal Turner
Roy O'Connor writes for The Media Channel: "Internet shock jock and F.B.I. confidential informant Hal Turner beat the rap again when his second federal “Death-Threat Trial,” ended in yet another mistrial. Turner, charged with threatening the life of three federal judges who issued rulings supporting gun control, claims federal agents encouraged his seemingly dangerous rants over the years, and told him to “ratchet up the rhetoric” while asking for help in identifying a white supremacist killer. Government officials admit using him as an informant (beginning in 2004 and culminating in 2007) for intelligence on members of white supremacist groups, among whom he had a devoted following. Turner’s background as a paid F.B.I. informant has now become the main issue in the thus far unsuccessful prosecution."
Turn of Your TV
M.S. comments for The Economist: "KEVIN DRUM reminds us that the outsized influence of cable TV news is bizarre, since its ratings are abysmal. Average Americans simply don't watch it. They watch 'American Idol'. As Matthew Yglesias points out, the only people who do watch cable TV news all the time are political professionals. But what's truly absurd is that those political professionals don't watch it because they think they'll learn something substantive. (It is physically impossible to learn anything substantive by watching cable TV news. It's like trying to grow muscles by drinking Coke.) Rather, they watch it because they think it will keep them in touch with what average Americans are watching."
Mainstream Press Ignores Monumental House Debate on Afghan War
Norman Solomon writes for the Media Channel: The event on the House floor Wednesday afternoon was monumental — the first major congressional debate about U.S. military operations in Afghanistan since lawmakers authorized the invasion of that country in autumn 2001. But, as Rep. Patrick Kennedy noted with disgust on Wednesday, the House press gallery was nearly empty. He aptly concluded: 'It’s despicable, the national press corps right now.' Sure enough, the Thursday edition of the New York Times had no room for the historic debate on its front page, which did have room for a large Starbucks ad across the bottom."
U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy has a withering assessment of news media coverage: ‘despicable.’ The Democrat says reporters are focusing ‘24/7′ on sexual harassment allegations against a New York lawmaker while ignoring the war in Afghanistan.
As conventionally reported in the Times and elsewhere, right-wing activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute and visited several local ACORN offices, where office workers gave the duo advice on setting up a brothel, concealing a child prostitution ring and so forth. But many of the key "facts" surrounding the videos are either in dispute or are demonstrable fabrications.
Though O'Keefe appears in various scenes in the videos wearing a garish and absurd "pimp" costume, he in fact did not wear the outfit when he appeared in the ACORN offices (Washington Independent, 2/19/10); he was dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. This fact undermines one of the key contentions of the ACORN smear--that the group is so hopelessly corrupt that they would dispense advice to an obvious criminal.
What's more, the "advice" that they received, according to the transcripts released by O'Keefe and Giles, does not appear to be as incriminating as it was portrayed in the videos--and echoed in outlets like the New York Times.
A review of the Times coverage:
--In an early piece (9/16/09), readers were told of the "amateur actors, posing as a prostitute and a pimp and recorded on hidden cameras in visits to ACORN offices.... Conservative advocates and broadcasters were gleeful about the success of the tactics in exposing ACORN workers, who appeared to blithely encourage prostitution and tax evasion." The Times explained:
The undercover videos showed a scantily dressed young woman, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute, while a young man, James O'Keefe, played her pimp. They visited ACORN offices in Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Bernardino, Calif., candidly describing their illicit business and asking the advice of ACORN workers. Among other questions, they asked how to buy a house to use as a brothel employing underage girls from El Salvador.
The paper also reported that O'Keefe "was dressed so outlandishly that he might have been playing in a risque high school play. But in the footage made public--initially by a new website, BigGovernment.com--ACORN employees raised no objections to the criminal plans. Instead, they eagerly counseled the couple on how to hide their activities from the authorities, avoid taxes and make the brothel scheme work."
--Three days later (9/19/09): "Their travels in the gaudy guise of pimp and prostitute through various offices of ACORN, the national community organizing group, caught its low-level employees in five cities sounding eager to assist with tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution."
--New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt weighed in (9/27/09), chiding the paper for not being more aggressive in promoting the ACORN videos--lamenting that Times readers weren't as up-to-speed on the story as "followers of Fox News," who already knew "that a video sting had caught ACORN workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes."
--The following week (10/4/09), Hoyt was on the ACORN case again: "To recap: Two conservative activists with a concealed video camera, posing as a prostitute and her pimp, visited offices of ACORN, the community organizing group, and lured employees into bizarre conversations about how to establish a bordello, cheat on taxes and smuggle in underage girls from Central America."
--After O'Keefe was charged in January with attempting to tamper with the phone system in Sen. Mary Landrieu's office, the Times reported under the headline, "After Arrest, Provocateur's Tactics Are Questioned" (1/28/10): "Mr. O'Keefe is a conservative activist who gained fame last year by posing as a pimp and secretly recording members of the community group ACORN giving him advice on how to set up a brothel."
---On January 31, 2010: "Mr. O'Keefe made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group ACORN--eliciting advice on financing a brothel on videos that would threaten to become ACORN's undoing.
--On March 2, 2010, under the headline, "ACORN's Advice to Fake Pimp Was No Crime, Prosecutor Says, "the Times reported: "The ACORN employees in Brooklyn who were captured on a hidden camera seeming to offer conservative activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute creative advice on how to get a mortgage have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Brooklyn district attorney's office."
But the story the Times continues to tell is wildly misleading, as a review of the publicly available transcripts of his visit (BigGovernment.com) makes clear. O'Keefe never dressed as a pimp during his visits to ACORN offices, seems to never actually represent himself as a "pimp," and the advice he solicits is usually about how to file income taxes (which is not "tax evasion"). In at least one encounter (at a Baltimore ACORN office), the pair seemed to first insist that Giles was a dancer, not a prostitute.
In the case recounted in the March 2 Times story, the transcripts show that O'Keefe did not portray himself as a pimp to the ACORN workers in Brooklyn, but told them that he was trying to help his prostitute girlfriend. In part of the exchange, O'Keefe and his accomplice seem to be telling ACORN staffers that they are attempting to buy a house to protect child prostitutes from an abusive pimp.
Throughout the months the Times covered the story, it made a major mistake: believing that Internet videos produced by right-wing activists were to be trusted uncritically, rather than approached with the skepticism due to anything you'd come across on the Web. O'Keefe and the Web publisher Andrew Breitbart refused to make unedited copies of the videotape public, and with good reason: A more complete viewing, as the transcripts show, would produce a much different impression.
While the Times decide to skip the standard rules of journalism, ACORN commissioned an independent investigation led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (12/7/09), which noted that the
So what has the Times done in response? As reported extensively by blogger Brad Friedman (Brad Blog), several Times staffers have been asked to justify the paper's lack of accountability. In the most remarkable exchange, public editor Clark Hoyt--who had criticized the paper for not doing enough reporting on the tapes--wrote that the paper had made no errors that merited a correction (Brad Blog, 2/23/10). He explained that the January 31 story "says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on ACORN counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time."
It is hard to believe that Hoyt actually believes what he's saying here. The obvious implication from the language of the article (and the others documented above) is that ACORN was dispensing advice to someone dressed up in an absurd pimp outfit. The Times chose to believe that O'Keefe's work was journalism that didn't need to be treated skeptically. The videos were in fact a hoax, and the Times was duped. Its readers deserve to know as much--and ACORN, which suffered serious political damage as a result of the false stories, deserves an apology.
In his September column criticizing the paper for being slow to report the ACORN videos, Hoyt wrote: "Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like the Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself." Worse than looking partisan, though, is being wrong.
ACTION: Encourage New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt to recommend that the paper investigate the ACORN videos and produce a report that clarifies the record.
New York Times
Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652