Friday, April 27, 2007

Moyers: Buying the war

Bill Moyers exposed the failure of the American press in Buying the War. As we near the anniversary of the political stagecraft orchestrated on the USS Lincoln and the Commander-in-Codpiece's "Mission Accomplished" moment, don't forget who aided the selling of the war.

Glenn Greenwald sums up:

The fraud that was manufactured by our government officials and endorsed by our media establishment is one of the great political crimes of the last many decades. Yet those who are responsible for it have not been held accountable in the slightest. Quite the contrary, their media prominence -- as Moyers demonstrates -- has only increased, as culpable propagandists and warmongers such as Charles Krauthammer (now of Time and The Washington Post), Bill Kristol (now of Time), Jonah Goldberg (now of The Los Angeles Times, Peter Beinert (now of Time and The Washington Post), and Tom Friedman (revered by media stars everywhere) have all seen their profiles enhanced greatly in our national media.

And while Judy Miller became the scapegoat for the media's failures, most of the media stars responsible for the worst journalistic abuses -- from Michael Gordon to Tim Russert to Fred Hiatt to most of The Washington Post, to say nothing of the Fox stars and cogs of the right-wing noise machine -- continue merrily along as before, with virtually no recognition of fault and no reduction in their platforms.

I certainly don't trust the news media with only a few exceptions, for example, McClatchy. Wise are those who question everything. Triple check reporting before buying what the press says. Always. Look to the blogroll under "Favorites" on the right for more reliable sources than what you will find in the media.

UPDATE: Another example of how the press has transformed into a propaganda outlet. From the Horse's Mouth: Rupert Murdoch's New York Post rewrites an Associated Press story to tilt the story against Democrats. Read and compare.

Naomi Wolf on American Fascism

Naomi Wolf in The Guardian argues that the Bush Administration has moved America toward fascism. I agree with Wolf:

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

John Dean has written extensively about American authoritarianism in his book, Conservatives Without Conscience. The reason Dean didn't include "liberals" in the title is because the incidence of authoritarianism among the Left is insignificant. But conservatives? The Republican Party has morphed into a dangerously powerful organization with plenty of followers of social dominance orientation who idealize its tribe of contrived masculinity.

With its own news organization, Faux News, as its mouthpiece, you can get a glimpse of how conservatives have turned the corner in their march toward American fascism when Sean Hannity began broadcasting a new TV segment, Enemy of the State. He selected anti-war critic of the Bush Administration, Sean Penn, as the "enemy" as if calling for the impeachment of the president was an act of treason. Naomi Wolf describes this tactic under steps Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

In all, Wolf identifies 10 steps [emphasis added]:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy... After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America.... Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag...Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too....

3. Develop a thug caste...When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution.

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system...In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens' groups...The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release...This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can't get off.

7. Target key individuals... Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not "coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that "waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press... Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason... Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy" and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people". National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy "November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law...The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

Indeed, we can. And this is why I paint, write, blog, and closely monitor the political scene. Patriots, beware.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Star wars: Pelosi rises, media empire falls

A long time ago in a world far, far more sane, I gave up trusting what I heard, saw, or read in media without fact-checking the information myself. Today, I am not alone.

One of my favorite Sophia men, Glenn Greenwald at Salon, examined the false coverage of Nancy Pelosi's Syrian trip by media pundits. A sampling of commentary included CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Fox's Brit Hume, NBC's Tim Russert, and Matt Lauer.

The spiel:

Two weeks ago, our nation's greatest and most cherished media stars lamented how "controversial" and irresponsible was Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria (she went even though the President said not to), and they warned how very harmful that would be to Democrats, because it made Democrats -- as always -- look weak and irresponsible and unserious, and proved yet again that they cannot be trusted when it comes to the big, strong, serious, important matters of National Security.

The facts from the Washington Post-ABC News Poll (April 12-15):

Pelosi's approval ratings from before her Syria trip and after are virtually identical (her approval rating increased by 3 points [to 53%], her disapproval rating by 4 points [to 35%]). And Pelosi remains the most popular of the three key Washington political leaders. Compare the +18 gap in her approval ratings to George Bush's -27, and even Harry Reid's +13 gap. And Pelosi's 53% approval ratings are far ahead of Bush's (35%) and also ahead of Reid's (46%).

From a historical perspective, when the last seismic shift occurred from the Republican takeover of the House and Newt Gingrich first banged the gavel as Speaker, Newt's approval ratings never reached above 40% by March 1995. That's 10 points behind Pelosi's lowest rating in February after her first month in action. Have we heard about Pelosi's favorable ratings in media? Not over the snarls. Noooooo.

Glenn zeroed in on how public opinion unplugged from the negative slant media attached to Pelosi's trip to Syria. "Media stars" predicted doom and gloom for the new Democratic majority and fabricated a false story line. However...

...the percentage of Americans who trust Democrats over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq increased after Pelosi's trip -- from 54% to 58%. And the gap between those who trust Democrats more than The Great War Leader George W. Bush with regard to the war is now a startling 25 point gap -- up from 20 points as compared to the period before Pelosi went to Syria....

After Pelosi's Syria trip, there is a 15-point gap in favor of Congressional Democrats over Congressional Republicans. These media stars have absolutely no idea what and how "Americans" think. They take the conventional Beltway wisdom they pass amongst one another -- all generated by their White House confidants and other right-wing sources who have long ruled Washington (and therefore "their world") -- and they mindlessly assume it to be true and then run around repeating it without any effort to determine if it is actually true (or they know it's false and repeat it anyway).

Or, as The Boston Globe's editor, Martin Baron, put it yesterday in explaining what Charlie Savage did to merit a Pulitzer Prize that distinguishes him from other journalists: "he covered what the White House does, not just what it says."

By stark contrast, the Tim Russerts, Matt Lauers and Suzanne Malvaeux's hear what their secret White House and Bush following sources tell them ("Americans don't want negotiations with Syria -- Pelosi is in big trouble on this one -- this feeds the image of Democrats as weak and untrustworthy on national security - this was a major unforced error from Pelosi -- she's really overreaching here -- Karl Rove is chortling over the pictures of Pelosi in Damascus") and then they run around repeating those cliches.

That whole week, the media stars were simply copying the right-wing talking points fed to them about Pelosi's trip, and then making one false claim after the next about how Americans think. For instance, the week of Pelosi's trip, GOP Rep. Eric Cantor in National Review wrote that "the Speaker and many of her Democratic allies have become so drunk with grandiose visions of deposing Bush that they break bread with terrorists and enemies of the United States." That was the premise the media stars adopted -- that Americans see Syria as "the enemy" and therefore will view Pelosi's trip as fueling the image of Democrats as subversive, soft-on-terrorism losers who cannot be "trusted on national security."

But that is how the right-wing fringe thinks (and therefore how our media stars think), not how most Americans think. The vast majority of Americans favor negotiations with the Syrians ("By 64% to 28%, respondents favored the [Baker-Hamilton] group's recommendation to open direct talks with Iran and Syria"). And only a small minority of Americans share Rep. Cantor's view that Syria is even our "enemy" at all.


There is a profound and fundamental shift taking place among the American populace with regard to their views on American foreign policy, this President, and his party. But the only ones who seem not to realize it -- or who realize it but deliberately pretend it does not exist -- are our nation's journalists and media stars. In their world, Republicans are On The Rise Again because Nancy Pelosi did not pick Jane Harman for House Intelligence Chair, or backed John Murtha for House Majority Leader, or went to Syria.

But in the real world, that is just meaningless, deceitful Beltway chatter. America has fundamentally turned against, and continues to turn against, the President, his party, and his policies. And everyone seems to realize that except our nation's Beltway media.

Click the Salon link to view all the polling data Glenn posted. You will also find the evidence supporting my remarks.

Goes without saying that the Madame Speaker commands my highest admiration and respect. In presidential succession, she's behind Dick Cheney. Making her the POTUS after impeaching Bush and Cheney would please me. Greatly.

And the media stars? America tunes them out more and more. From Pew. Survey says:

The increasingly fragmented media landscape has diminished the prominence of the nation's top journalists. Two decades ago, the vast majority of Americans had a "favorite" journalist or news person, and the top picks were representatives of the big three broadcast television networks. Today, only a slim majority can name the journalist they admire most and the preferences are much more scattered...

More bad news for the empire: "For the first time in years, every sector of television news lost audience in 2006." Nugget from the full report: "The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows."

We know.

UPDATE: I deleted a Star Wars image that, on second thought, didn't seem appropriate during our national mourning of the VA Tech massacre.

Scaife attack

Further proof that media attacks women regularly as mentioned in my previous post, on Sunday the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review used a Shakespearean analogy to assault Hillary and her Weird Sisters:

Macbeth reveals the tragedy of a woman's lust for power and betrayal of friends; Lady Macbeth is aided in her purpose by three aged creatures, the Weird Sisters. These three hags -- witches -- call up "snakes, newts and the toes of frogs" to conjure a "hell's broth" of "furies" to plague man as they hobble and prance around a steaming cauldron on a wind-swept heath.

Off we speed to the gender war camp where evil "furies" concoct man's downfall. With Hillary assigned as the Lady Macbeth in this Scaife publication hit job, the anonymous author, Dateline D.C., "a Washington-based British journalist and political observer," continues with--should I say "his"--rambling un-bard by introducing us to Sen. Clinton's sister hags: Geraldine Ferraro, Madeleine Albright, and Billy Jean King. First, Geraldine's bewitchery:

...She says that her backing of Hillary is not "because she's a woman, but isn't it wonderful that she is a woman?"

This former three-term New York congresswoman of Queens remains the mistress of the tart retort. Asked recently if she would want to re-enter national politics, she quipped, "No way. For one, I'm 71 years old -- a full 12 months older than John McCain -- and my health is not the best."

Tart? Does the writer's choice of adjective imply he meant whorish? Attacking Clinton and her "hags" in a Scaife newsprint pimp begs a gaze into the mirror, Mr. Anonymous. Unlike the column, Ferraro scored a valuable point for voters to consider, an issue the Arizona Republic raised about its home-state senator: McCain ain't no spring chicken having overcome one bout with a "potentially fatal form of skin cancer."

My congratulations go to any one who beats cancer. However, at his age and the weight of a close encounter with death, could McCain's drive cause him to urgently lust for power afflicting him with the madness of King George? He hawked the Iraq surge strategy as stubbornly as Bush did in his cushy bubble when the Joint Chiefs warned of an even bigger failure -- with no backup options. How out of touch has McCain grown to claim "proof that Baghdad was getting safer" once he strolled through the Shorja market as if, in the words of his fellow traveler Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), 'twas "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time"? Who knew Indiana markets required the protection of 100+ soldiers in steel-plated Humvees, snipers on rooftops, and attack helicopters hovering above just to shop! Oh, pshaw. McCain's a manly man. He doesn't have to explain his irrational behavior or politically-staged histrionics. "Ms. Ferraro," on the other hand:

...brings to her role as Hillary's champion her own family's male-created problems. These included allegations of financial misdeeds against her husband, John Zaccaro, a real estate magnate when she was running for office, that endangered her campaign.

At the time, Zaccaro was targeted by Rudy Giuliani, then the U.S. federal prosecutor, of whom Geraldine says, "Without 9/11, Giuliani would be an asterisk, a footnote, in New York's history."

Evil witch! How dare she speak the truth! Ms. Ferraro had the audacity to diminish America's mayor to his previous accomplishments, which included ridding the pee smell from NYC subways. This same Rudy capitalized on 9/11 despite his stupid decision to locate the emergency preparedness office in the World Trade Center--the very target that terrorists bombed in 1993 and later toppled in 2001--and who errantly recommended Bernard Kerik to head Homeland Security. What a presidential contender, another Decider in training. Yet, Geraldine rated vilification as a hag. Ha! Methinks the D.C. hack doth protest too much. The rest of the Scaife writer's op/ed:

...Madeleine Albright, another septuagenarian on the response team, is known for her wonderful ability to juggle friends and business interests with politics. Bill Clinton made her secretary of State because she had won power and friends in the Democratic Party by advising losers.

She counseled Ed Muskie, Ferraro, Michael Dukakis and the Carter and Clinton administrations. Her weird decisions at the State Department resulted in thousands of deaths, ranging from Somalia through the deadly Bosnian-Serbian conflict and Kosovo killings to the Rwanda massacres and the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Africa. She fully earned the honorific "Madeleine Halfbright."

The third acknowledged member of the Hillary "truth squad" is the world tennis professional Billie Jean King. She is remembered by many for her wonderful net play and her saying, "Victory is fleeting. Losing is forever!" She also is known for winning the Battle of the Sexes in 1973 against male tennis pro Bobby Riggs, the high point of her (if not his) career.

Putting Shakespeare and his snakes, newts and caldrons aside, Hillary's ladies, unlike Macbeth's witches, have "fear" as a vital ingredient to add to their 2007 mix. By telling her detractors that Hillary, and she alone, can save America from the disasters prophesied hourly on television, they hope to make Bill "the first gentleman."

Finally, over much ado about Bill, herein lies the rub. I'll table the debate over the culpability of Albright's killer "weird decisions," a lot to fact-check, although the author never proves the magic of his "Halfbright" tale en route to the main event. As any male chauvinist can tell you, manly shame depends on never being subservient to a woman or beaten at a sport by a jockette. I can almost smell the misogynistic fear in the realization that the first husband ever...Gasp!--bonus points for having been a POTUS--would assume the First Lady's role if Hillary were elected.

The unusual complaint that Hillary promotes fear (aka female hysteria) as her agenda...

Danger flags have risen to full staff because of climate change, pandemics, cyber attacks and retirements. In turn, these horrors bring floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, tornados and droughts. The threat of war and of losing war is omnipresent as are economic fears generated by job losses, rising prices and immigrants swamping our society.... ...We are becoming a fear-ridden society!

...cemented in my mind the columnist's intellectual dishonesty not that much highway remained ahead. Into the boiling cauldron of the past six years of Bush swirls the specter of nukular mushroom cloud, the ad nauseum mantra of "the attacks of 9/11," election run-up terror alerts, and the president's toadie argument that troop withdrawals from Iraq would lead to a "disaster" (Lead to?! It has been the biggest blunder ever!). Remove the newt from your eye, pilgrim, to see the flecks of Republican froth.

Right-wing politics has preyed on fear and hate. Equality for gays and lesbians will destroy marriage! There's a war on Christmas! The Mexicans are coming! "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Fear-mongering split Americans asunder with a thump from the Divider, "You're either with us or against us," who later donned his CinC codpiece with the axis of evil. The conservative movement has dealt the fear card since the "evil empire" days of Reagan-Bush shenanigans. Try turning on conservative talk radio. Knees shake and pulses race when the screaming banshees of wingnut media warn, as Michael Savage did, that "homosexuals" are "everywhere, anyway, trying to tell me what to say and what not to say and what to think." Oddly, no one including gays and lesbians has yet unearthed a copy of the "agenda." Still, in conservative circles and on media air waves, the urban legend looms as large as a galloping headless horseman.

Oh. But. Hillary. As. President? Oooogly-booogly boo! Babies cry; conservatives shudder. Scribed in wingnut mythology, machismo must rule because women are fearsome creatures. Pffft. Pfffffft. See no evil in the atrocities that male stupidos perpetrate in the world. Even on liberal blogs, Hillary bashing in the comment sections typically bemoan, "She's tooooo divisive." How sad to see liberals sucked into the Republican noise vortex by adopting con-apparatchik propaganda.

To his credit (I love it when men speak with Sophia), the esteemed Glenn Greenwald diagnosed a symptom of why Princess Wingnut Coulter announced that John Edwards was a "faggot." Glenn explained the right-wing cult of contrived masculinity:

...[Michelle] Malkin expressly acknowledged: "[Ann is] very popular among conservatives." The focus of these stories should not be Coulter, but instead, should be the conservative movement in which Ann Coulter -- precisely because of (not "despite") her history of making such comments -- is "very popular."


Coulter plays a vital and irreplaceable role in this movement. The reason I linked to that Bob Somerby post on Maureen Dowd yesterday is because he makes the critical point -- one which Digby, among others, has been making for a long time, including in a great post last night -- concerning how the right-wing movement conducts itself and the rhetorical tool they use not only to keep themselves in power, but more importantly, to keep their needy, confused, and scared base feeling strong and protected. As Digby put it [augmented to add more of the quote than Glenn snipped]:

Here's just a small sampling of how this has played out in just the last six years:

Al Gore needed to be taught how to be an "alpha male." He doesn't "know who he is."
John Kerry "flip-flops" like a flaccid penis.
John Edwards is "the Breck girl."
Howard Dean was "hysterical."
Barack Obama is "Obambi."
Bill Clinton was "a pervert."
Hillary Clinton is a lesbian.

The underlying premise of the modern conservative movement is that the entire Democratic party consists of a bunch of fags and dykes who are both too effeminate and too masculine to properly lead the nation. Coulter says it out loud. [Maureen] Dowd hints at it broadly. And the entire press corps giggles and swoons at this shallow, sophomoric concept like a bunch of junior high pom pom girls.

Coulter insisted last night that she did not intend the remark as an anti-gay slur -- that she did not intend to suggest that John Edwards, husband and father, was gay -- but instead only used the word as a "schoolyard taunt," to call him a sissy. And that is true. Her aim was not to suggest that Edwards is actually gay, but simply to feminize him like they do with all male Democratic or liberal political leaders.


The converse of this is equally true. As critical as it is to them to feminize Democratic and liberal males (and to masculinize the women), even more important is to create false images of masculine power and strength around their authority figures. The reality of this masculine power is almost always non-existent. The imagery is what counts.


...It is a cult of contrived masculinity whereby people dress up as male archtypes like cowboys, ranchers, and tough guys even though they are nothing of the kind -- or prance around as Churchillian warriors because they write from a safe and protected distance about how great war is -- and in the process become triumphant heroes and masculine powerful icons and strong leaders. They and their followers triumph over the weak, effete, humiliated Enemy, and thereby become powerful and exceptional and safe.


John Dean and Bob Altemeyer have both documented this dynamic as clearly and convincingly as can be. People who feel weak and vulnerable crave strong leaders to protect them and to enable them to feel powerful. And those same people crave being part of a political movement that gives them those sensations of power, strength, triumph and bravery -- and they need a strong, powerful, masculine Leader to enable those feelings. And they will devote absolute loyalty to any political movement which can provide them with that.


...The only real complaint from Bush followers about the Commander-in-Chief is that he has not given them enough Guantanamos and wars and aggression and barbaric slaughter and liberty infringement. Their hunger for those things is literally insatiable because they need fresh pretexts for feeling strong.

And that is where Ann Coulter comes in and plays such a vital -- really indispensible -- role. As a woman who purposely exudes the most exaggerated American feminine stereotypes (the long blond hair, the make-up, the emaciated body), her obsession with emasculating Democratic males -- which, at bottom, is really what she does more than anything else -- energizes and stimulates the right-wing "base" like nothing else can....

With rigid gender stereotypes from the 1950s in motion, the needy denigrate Hillary, the potential feminine Leader of the world's super power. They cry for their idealized Manzilla to protect them, to destroy and humiliate the Enemy. They do not hesitate to sacrifice damsels on the altar or their knaves in battle to appease the dragon for his aegis. Confronted with the possibility of a shredded hyper-masculine, hyper-feminine cardboard cutout, the Right compulsively rips the authentic feminine wherever it lurks in women and in men lest their heads explode with terror. Fear propels the character assassination of powerful women as much as it ascribes effeminate quirks to distinguished men. And the authentic masculine? Oh, don't even let a women express an integrated animus or the gnashing of teeth escalates to a dizzying ear-bleed. To please Manzilla and ensure their strength through Him, the Clinton woman must die by a million tongue lashings.

In Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, conservative Tony Blankley recited a passage from Edward Klein's 2005 Hillary gossip book of an alleged Nixon quote about the former First Lady. Why a reader would trust an observation from Tricky Dick Nixon--the Watergate president who did virtually nothing without calculated political advantage--tempts tomfoolery. More egregious, the book has been proven to contain misleading fabrications and poorly sourced material. Nonetheless, the chosen cite by Blankley revealed the pathos of the paranoid Right:

'Hillary inspires fear.' Nixon explained that a few minutes after the meeting started Chelsea Clinton joined the group. The kid ran right to Clinton and never once looked at her mother. I could see that she had a warm relationship with him, but was almost afraid of her mother. Hillary is ice-cold. You can see it in her eyes. She is a piece of work — 'Hillary inspires fear.'

Blankley echoes, "I fear, [Hillary will be] the next president of the United States." The anxiety over female ascendancy--guilt from years of attacking Hillary and Bill plus the threat of Oval Office retribution from a scorned woman who could with executive powers unmask the tribe of "contrived masculinity"--was conjured up in this latest Scaife-produced op/ed from the anonymous D.C. author.

Media Matters exposed Scaife's relationship to the present attack on Hillary with the return of Lady Macbeth. Salon identified Scaife "as a key funder of the $2.4 million Arkansas Project, a four-year effort organized through the American Spectator magazine to discredit [Bill Clinton]." In August 1992, the American Spectator christened Hillary "the Lady Macbeth of Little Rock" in a feature written by Daniel Wattenberg, famous as a speechwriter for Iran-Contra felon Elliott Abrams and notorious for disparaging the Clintons. He's no Brit but Scaife money has succeeded in attracting aspiring drivelers past and present. What's lacking in the Lady Macbeth metaphor fitting Hillary today the author more than compensates with unsubstantiated bombast. He earned his keep and Lord Scaife must have smiled approvingly.

If Shakespeare were alive these days and to depict Richard Mellon Scaife in a play, what character would the bard fashion of the right-wing media financier and "the ultimate patron" of the Clinton haters? So many ruthless choices to consider. One I can easily imagine, a Shakespearean line retrofitted for the role: "A horse's ass! a horse's ass! my kingdom for a horse's ass!"

Answered by the anonymous D.C. observer, Scaife finds a lackey.

(Related links: Digby, Bob Somerby, ThinkProgress.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Imus media disconnect on sexism

Is this painting Artemisia's means of brandishing
symbolic justice for herself and other victims?

I haven't posted in ages but I wanted to step away from painting to note an astute observation from Digby's Hullabaloo on Don Imus and media. Read the whole comment. After examining the media's "feeding of a nasty American Id" --a complicity that enabled Imus to smear the exemplary Rutgers women's basketball team 12 days ago, black journalist Gwen Ifill in 1993, and many others over the years--Digby highlighted an insidious issue that often gets overlooked. And it's a shame:

The blatant racism of Imus's comments was the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone recognized immediately just how wrong that was. But, we have a long way to go with the sexism issue, which was never really dealt with openly in this thing and which is so pervasive in talk radio that it's hard to know where to start.

Listen to any radio talk show discuss Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Rosie O'Donnell and tell me if they can stick to substantive disagreements with what they say for more than 30 seconds before they launch into an attack against their looks, their voice, their sexuality--- whatever. I dare you. When the Republican party's cleverest issue framer comes out with a shocking rhetorical clunker like this, you know that there is a serious problem:

FRANK LUNTZ: I always use the line for Nancy Pelosi, "You get one shot at a facelift. If it doesn't work the first time, let it go."

It's stupid, sexist and ultimately self-defeating. It's a recipe for a political backlash and shows just how out of touch many of our culture's most powerful men are on this issue.

But rightwing male idiocy aside, let me just say this: I would hope that no decent person of either party would ever, ever think it was ok to appear on a show where someone says things like this:

"Ain't gonna be so beautiful when the bitch got a bald head and one titty."

That wasn't some obscure rap lyric (and I'm not sure I've ever heard a rap lyric quite a horrible as that, and some of them are truly horrible.) That comment about an unnamed famous woman who had announced she had breast cancer (I think it might be Sheryl Crow) was made just two years ago by Imus sidekick Sid Rosenberg and it was recounted in Vanity Fair in January of 2006. I'm pretty sure that all his fans in the media knew all about it --- the piece featured all of them, after all. I find it completely stunning that anyone could find that "charming" or funny or entertaining, who doesn't have a real hatred for women in his or her soul. That is the very definition of misogyny. (And you can throw in a despicable loathing toward the sick and disabled too.) I'm not sure it can go any lower than that.

Yes, Digby. That's pretty low. What passes for media opinion and alleged political discourse--I say alleged as if howling qualifies--too often belittles women, especially powerful female politicians. I doubt that a predominantly African-American male Rutgers basketball team would have registered on the Imus radar.

Still more curious: Why didn't the female employees and managers of NBC and CBS rise up to condemn Imus before his racist-sexist combo bash of April 4? Where's the outrage over denigrating women that occurs in media regularly?

If I could speak to the young women of America I'd caution: Don't let the internalized misogyny of Phyllis Schlafly doormats and whining macho boys undermine the force of the U.S. Constitution and your dignity as half of the human race. It's time to stand up and say, cut the "bitch" talk. Now. Advertisers traditionally court female consumers since women account for 81% of household purchases and you can use your purchasing clout, your minds, your influence, and the law, and organize. When advertisers axed Imus out of their schedules, the network pulled the plug on his show. So get a clue, ladies.

Will the Imus incident signal a change for the better? I hope but I doubt that misogyny in America will subside until more generations of gender-blindness have evolved and after the lizard brains--male and female--have finally shut up six feet under. Color me skeptical.

For now, I'll gather my brushes and paint, doing what I can to lift my sisters up with new narratives, new imagery, and hopefully inspire future acts of justice. We've got some catching up to do.

IMAGE: Judith Slaying Holofernes, oil on canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1620. See her Naples version for commentary and source for the quote below the above image. I mentioned Artemisia in my previous post but she deserves the extra attention as one of the world's greatest artists. Art historian Mary D. Garrard expressed in her book that Artemisia "has suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her calibre." Indeed. I wonder why?

UPDATE: It's not just Imus.