Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Intelligence Failure, Memory Loss And The Truth About Bush's War

"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"  -- Groucho Marx
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." -- Karl Rove
We aren't talking ancient history.  We aren't debating the origins of the Peloponnesian War or the War of 1812 or even the Vietnam War.  We are talking about the Iraq War.  We were all there.  Well, we weren't all over there -- we were here, where we experienced first hand the shameful manipulation of our post-9/11 trauma by the Bush Administration, the craven capitulation of the loyal opposition and mainstream media, and the disastrous consequences.

The latest focus on the question to, and remarkably inept responses by, yet another Bush running for president as to whether, knowing what we know now -- presumably, invading a country that was not a threat to us after lying about its head of state's complicity in 9/11 and the possession of weapons of mass destruction; destroying that country infrastructure, destabilizing the region and increasing the influence of that country's neighbors; using torture and committing other human rights abuses; and causing the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis -- he would have invaded Iraq as his brother did, ignores what was known then.  This conveniently lets those complicit in the debacle off the hook, and does little to inform us about the qualifications for presidency of Jeb Bush or his cohorts.

It is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, thanks to the same vapid punditry that was so acquiescent back then, that the Bush Administration was the victim of poor intelligence -- that they were misled into war, not that they misled us into a war they wanted to launch all along.  But we know this is not true.  We can recall how they seized on whatever tiny shred of evidence no matter how unreliable to bolster the answers they wanted about WMDs and a Iraq-9/11 connection and ignored the vast majority of credible evidence that pointed to contrary conclusion?  Remember yellow cake, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds?  Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice manipulated the intelligence to sell a war to the public.

Another revisionist trope is that everyone believed the intelligence about WMD.  First, not everyone had the access to all of the intelligence that the Administration used and twisted for its purposes.  Further, most members of Congress who voted to authorize the war (including Hillary Clinton) failed, as Peter Beinart points out, to read the full classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- a report that convinced, for example, Senators Leahy and Graham to vote against the Iraq War resolution.  21 other Senators and 133 Representatives also just said "no."   And while some who voted "aye" may have done so because they believed the intelligence, most likely succumbed to coercive political pressure skillfully intensified by rhetoric out of the White House (e.g., you are "either with us or against us in the fight against terror.")

There was also some real journalism going on at the time -- from the reporters at Knight Ridder, for example -- who examined with skepticism the Bush Administrations' claims linking Saddam to 9/11 and WMDs.

As Matt Taibbi reminds us:  "It was obvious even back then, to anyone who made the faintest effort to look at the situation honestly, that the invasion was doomed, wrong, and a joke."
First you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration's analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one).  And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.
But now we are having to witness a parade of the same hapless politicians, pundits and experts who told us they were certain that Saddam Hussein was hiding nuclear weapons and was involved with 9/11, that taking him out with shock and awe would be quick and painless -- for us --  that we would be greeted as liberators, and that the consequent reordering of the Middle East would bring peace and freedom.  They were completely wrong about everything but are nevertheless unapologetically back on the airwaves and they are back advising Jeb Bush and the other Republican candidates.  And if any of these candidates actually ascends to the White House, they would be back making and selling policy. 

Instead of being asked about what they would have done in Iraq given what we know now, perhaps candidates could be asked under what circumstances they would use military force to overthrow a sovereign nation or whether they would manipulate intelligence if they believed it would convince the public to support their policy goals or under what conditions they would authorize torture.

What we knew then and what we surely know now is that the Iraq fiasco did not stem from intelligence failures but was a direct result of the reckless pursuit of a discredited neoconservative political theory.  Unfortunately, none of the Republican candidates seems to have learned this or anything else that would allow them to avoid another unmitigated disaster when confronted with a national crisis.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vermont's Finest: The Importance Of Being Bernie

"It's a little-known fact, but we reporters could successfully sell Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or any other populist candidate as a serious contender for the White House if we wanted to. Hell, we told Americans it was okay to vote for George Bush, a man who moves his lips when he reads."  -- Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine
In the spring of 1978, during my freshman year of college at the University of Vermont, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened an ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington.  There was no Chunky Monkey in those days but the ice cream was incredible, and it wasn't long before Ben & Jerry's became a national sensation.  Significantly, Ben & Jerry's not only made great ice cream, but they capitalized, so to speak, on their success to give back to the community and fund many charitable works.

In my senior year, Bernie Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, another progressive, socially conscious local phenomenon that has since gone national.  In 1990, after four successful terms as mayor, Sanders -- a self-described Democratic-Socialist -- won election to the House of Representatives as an independent.  In 2006, he was elected to the Senate and has been a passionate, eloquent -- often singular -- voice for the left ever since.

Bernie Sanders has been a tireless defender of social and economic justice since well before he or Vermont's finest ice cream became household names.  He has relentlessly spoken out against growing inequality (“Our middle class is disappearing. We have more people living in poverty than almost any time in the history of America.”)  But that's not all.  He has pointed to the destructive force that Big Money is having on our electoral politics, has strenuously called for stringent environmental regulations to combat climate change -- including strong opposition to the Keystone XL, has been an ardent advocate for gay rights, has insisted on expansion of not restrictions on Social Security, and has pushed for more effective regulations on Wall Street. 

His politics can be summed up with a question he asks on his website: “Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?” 

Bernie Sanders is prepared to take them on.  He is running for President in order to do so.  This is great news.  Not because I think he can win.  And not because I'm not ready for Hillary Clinton -- (please read Scared Shitless Into Pragmatism for my reasons for supporting Hillary).  It is great news because it is critical for the Democrats to have a contested primary process that includes a candidate who will articulate populist, progressive ideas that might otherwise not make it into the national discourse.  Such a process will also pull Hillary leftward (a direction she appears already to be leaning, I'm happy to say, with her important speech on criminal justice reform and mass incarceration.)

As Robert Reich says, as "a strong voice to the left of Hillary Clinton, [Bernie Sanders will] give her room to be tougher on Wall Street and big corporations than she might otherwise be. More importantly, he’ll allow a national conversation about the savage inequalities that are destroying the fabric of American life, our economy, and our democracy – in contrast to the Republican clown car whose conversation for the next year and a half will be about the virtues of 'trickle-down economics' and the 'free market.'” 

Beyond how Bernie will help Hillary, Matt Taibbi makes a great point when he notes that the failure of the media to take Bernie's candidacy seriously "should really be read as a profound indictment of our political system, which is now so openly an oligarchy that any politician who doesn't have the blessing of the bosses is marginalized before he or she steps into the ring."  Taibbi is right that the mainstream media's "lapdog mentality is deeply ingrained and most Beltway scribes prefer to wait for a signal from above before they agree to take anyone not sitting atop a mountain of cash seriously."

The great irony is that Bernie Sanders could only be a legitimate candidate for president if we already had in place a political system that was not corrupted by Big Money and Big Media -- a system for which he is so passionately fighting.  Hopefully, his candidacy will help expose these flaws.  Hopefully, the power of his message will also force the media to grapple with a wider range of issues and solutions.  And hopefully, his ideas will help shape the Democratic platform. 

In any event, Bernie's candidacy is going to make the election season a whole lot more entertaining.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Supreme Court Demands Its Pound Of Flesh

"The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is deerely bought, 'tis mine, and I will have it."  -- Shylock, The Merchant of Venice
In the 1970s, without any scientific testing, a state medical examiner from Oklahoma concocted a three-drug cocktail for use in executions.  The first drug, a sedative, causes unconsciousness so the inmate would feel no pain.  The second drug induces muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest, while the third drug stops the heart.  Among the many problems with this protocol is that by using a paralytic agent, there is no way to tell if the barbiturate is working effectively.  In other words, if the inmate is paralyzed it can't be discerned whether he (or she) is truly unconscious or is simply unable to scream out in pain.  This became an even more troubling problem when the drug initially used for sedation became unavailable, leaving states to scramble to find other even more unreliable alternatives. 

Today the Supreme Court heard argument in the case of Glossip v. Gross, to determine whether  the sedative, midazolam -- which was used in the so-called “botched” executions that occurred last year (which I wrote about here), could reliably induce a deep enough state of unconsciousness before the other drugs – which cause intense, severe pain – were injected.  Or as Justice Kagan put it, would the drug's ineffectiveness cause the inmate to feel like “burning alive, from the inside.”
What was most ghoulish about today's argument, however, was not the descriptions of executions or the hypothetical questions about burnings at the stake with inadequate anesthesia, but the blood lust of a majority of the Supreme Court.

The conservatives on the Court appeared far less concerned about the excruciating pain caused by the latest untested three-drug cocktail than for those poor state officials who have been forced to devise new methods of execution because death penalty abolitionists have been effective in persuading drug companies that their products shouldn’t be used to kill people.

Justice Alito:  “Is it appropriate for the judiciary to countenance what amounts to a guerilla war against the death penalty which consists of efforts to make it impossible for the states to obtain drugs that could be used to carry out capital punishment with little, if any, pain?”

Justice Scalia:  Other drugs have been made unavailable “by the abolitionists putting pressure on the companies that manufacture them so that the states cannot obtain those other drugs. . . The abolitionists have rendered it impossible to get the 100 percent sure drugs, and you think we should not view that as relevant to the decision that you’re putting before us?”

Justice Roberts: “The case comes to us in a posture where it’s recognized that your client is guilty of a capital offense, it’s recognized that your client is eligible for the death penalty, that that has been duly imposed.  And yet you put us in a position with your argument that he can’t be executed, even though he satisfies all of those requirements.  And you have no suggested alternative that is more humane.”

Justice Kennedy asked counsel for the inmates to answer the question whether the resistance to the death penalty was a factor that the Court should consider in weighing the validity of a given protocol.

 Justice Thomas:  [  ]

 First, Alito and Scalia are wrong that there were ever “100 percent sure drugs” used in the lethal injection process that guaranteed executions were not causing excruciating pain.  Indeed, the problems with the original drug protocol has been the subject of litigation for years and was the basis for the halting of executions in California. 

Second, the notion that the drug shortage is due solely to the pressure put on drug companies by the anti-death penalty movement is not accurate.  It is also in large measure due to the fact that more evolved foreign countries where these drugs are being sought do not sanction the death penalty and have imposed restrictions on exporting drugs for such use. 
But this should all be irrelevant to the question before the Court -- whether the use of a particular method of execution creates a risk of pain sufficient to violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. 

The answer should be obvious.  And it is becoming obvious to more and more Americans who, as an editorial in the New York Times put it, "are finding that there is no form of state-sponsored killing that can be civilized or humane."  According to the Times, "the search for more ways to kill may be losing steam as public views change. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 56 percent of Americans approve of capital punishment — the lowest level in four decades. Among Democrats the number is 40 percent."

Particularly in this light, the frustration – indeed, anger – from the Court's majority that states are being forced to use more painful methods because other alternatives are no longer available -- not stemming from any concern about the torturous effects on human beings -- but because what they perceive as a "guerrilla war" is thwarting states in their efforts to execute people, is deeply troubling, even somewhat creepy. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Time Begins On Opening Day

You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.  -- Jim Bouton
The long-time sportswriter for the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell, wrote a timeless piece collected in a book of the same name, Why Time Begins On Opening Day, published in 1984.  Boswell muses on the "resolute grasp" that baseball maintains for so many of us" and why our "affection for the game has held steady for decades, maybe even grown with age."  He asks what baseball is doing among our other "first-rate passions."  And, indeed, when one looks over the posts on this blog, it could seem incongruous to have baseball up there with such serious and important issues as social justice, civil rights and capital punishment.

Boswell explains that "in contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to human scale.  Its problems and questions are exactly our size.  Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference."  It is not that baseball is an escape from reality, "it's merely one of our many refuges within the real where we try to create a sense of order on our own terms."  And here's the key, I think:  "Born to an age where horror has become commonplace, where tragedy has, by its monotonous repetition, become a parody of sorrow, we need to fence off a few parks where humans try to be fair, where skill has some hope of reward, where absurdity has a harder time than usual getting a ticket."

As Boswell points out, baseball "offers us pleasure and insight at so many levels and in so many forms."  There is history -- an "annual chapter each year since 1869."  At the ballpark itself there is "living theater and physical poetry."  And perhaps, "baseball gives us more pleasure, more gentle unobtrusive sustenance, away from the park than it does inside it," pouring over box scores, crunching statistics, debating players and teams with our cohorts, and watching games and highlights on tv.  "The ways that baseball insinuates itself into the empty corner, cheering up the odd hour, are almost too ingrained to notice."

Opening day is finally here.  Play ball!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evolving Standards Of Decency: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

"Evolving standards of decency" is a phrase used in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence to analyze whether a given practice is cruel and unusual.  While the Supreme Court has so far refused to find that capital punishment offends "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," it feels as if we are getting closer as the death penalty is increasingly seen as too fallible and too costly to remain on the books.

Popular support for the death penalty has fallen significantly.  Six states have repealed it over the last six years, leaving 32 states with the death penalty on their books.  (Nebraska may be next.)  In four other states, most recently Pennsylvania, governors have imposed moratoria on executions, recognizing the inherent problems with their death penalty schemes.  The rate of executions around the country is rapidly declining and imposition of death sentences is at a historic low.  Meanwhile ever more exonerations are uncovering deep flaws in the criminal justice system.  And studies and reports continue to reveal the racist underpinnings of the death penalty.  (Here's the latest on that subject from my friend Marc Bookman.)

Yet some states are going in the other, less evolved, more gruesome direction.  With pharmaceutical companies balking at having their products used in executions, there is a nationwide shortage of the drugs formerly used for lethal injection.  One would hope this would give state officials the plausible excuse to reconsider the efficacy, if not morality, of continuing to kill its citizens.  Alas, some are insisting on finding alternative, even more unsavory solutions (pun intended).  Like diabolical junior chemists, they cobble together their own untested lethal combinations or obtain drugs from unregulated and undisclosed sources and test them on their human subjects.

And so, executions go forward, each one with its own unique set of macabre circumstances that dehumanize executioner and executed alike.  The latest example is Missouri, which just put to death Cecil Clayton, a 74-year old man who suffered from dementia, had an IQ of 71, and was missing a significant part of his brain.  He was the tenth person to be executed this year in the United States (half of whom were people of color, by the way).  In case you're keeping score:  4 in Texas, 2 in Missouri, 2 in Georgia and 1 in Oklahoma.  And for a worldwide perspective, other verifiable executions in 2015 have taken place in Afghanistan, China, Iran, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

Kelly Gissendaner was set to be the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years, after being denied clemency despite a remarkable transformation that included obtaining a theology degree.  Gissendaner endured hours of anticipatory terror while officials concerned with the "cloudiness" of the lethal drug, weighed whether or not to go forward with the execution anyway.  Doubts over the drug's efficacy finally led to postponement. 

Other states, frustrated with the difficulties in securing lethal drugs, are taking a different route to infamy.  Oklahoma's state house has passed a bill to allow use of a gas chamber (officially, death by "nitrogen hypoxia.")  And Utah's governor just signed a bill to bring back the firing squad (which Oklahoma also authorizes).  Electrocution, hanging and firing squads still remain on the books elsewhere.

Electric chairs and gas chambers were developed to be more humane than hanging, which was the most common method of execution in the U.S. until the end of the 19th Century.  These killing machines, however, proved pretty grisly in their own right, and gave way to lethal injection -- which medical science has belatedly shown is not nearly as painless as believed and, in any event, has become impractical.

The "evolving standards of decency" standard implicitly acknowledges that we are inexorably moving forward; that while we may not be there yet, we are evolving towards a point where the death penalty will become morally unacceptable.  Reverting  back to discarded and disreputable methods of killing seems like a last gasp (pun intended) effort to maintain an unsustainable, barbaric system.  It reeks of desperation and blood lust.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Scared Shitless Into Pragmatism: Ready For Hillary -- The Far Lesser Evil

"We're too great a nation to allow the evil-doers to affect our soul and our spirit."  -- G.W. Bush
Progressives (myself included) invariably bemoan the lack of a legitimate presidential candidate that mirrors our values.  We pine for an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders but when the primary smoke clears, we are generally left with the Establishment Candidate.  We are then confronted with the unpalatable choice of abstaining altogether, throwing our vote away on a principled but purely symbolic third-party candidate or voting for the Democratic nominee as the lesser of two evils.  With the exception of my first presidential election in 1980, when I voted for John Anderson instead of Jimmy Carter, I have invariably gone with the third option -- voting for the decidedly lesser evil.  In 2016, this will be the only option. 

The Ralph Nader Debacle of 2000, that ushered in George W. Bush, should have buried once and for all the cynical, self-defeating argument that there is no substantive difference between the two parties.  Think about what the world would be like if Nader had declined to run in battleground states or his supporters woke up to reality and held their noses while voting for Al Gore.  No hanging chads.  Perhaps no 9/11.  Certainly no Iraq War, no Guantanamo and no torture.  An efficient and humane response to Katrina.  A liberal majority on the Supreme Court with no Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alioto. Dick Cheney as a mere footnote to history.  I could go on and on.  But even if this inconvenient truth has not shamed us into having a more pragmatic view of presidential politics, we only need to look at the current crop of increasingly unhinged GOP candidates to realize that the lesser evil doesn't look so bad when the greater evil becomes ever more evil. 

Nevertheless, with the ascension of Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee -- and the candidate who has by far the best chance of defeating any Republican candidate -- there is already a premature disengagement by some progressives who say they are disinclined to support her -- who will no longer resign themselves to voting for the lesser of evils.  This is madness.

Now, I've never been a fan of Hillary Clinton.  As a Senator she not only voted for one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our nation's history she repeatedly went in front of the cameras to cheerlead in the run up to it.  23 Senators voted against the Iraq Resolution.  Clinton was not one of them, and her belated apology was lame.  Her coziness with Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs in particular, is deeply troubling and does not augur well for an aggressive approach to rein in the financial industry.  The Clinton Foundation appears rampant with conflicts of interest.  The incessant scandals -- self-inflicted and manufactured -- are exhausting.  And, finally, her husband, is not the man I would choose to have the ear of the next president.  When I think of the Clinton Presidency (speaking of the lesser of two evils), I am reminded of his war on drugs, so-called habeas reform, so-called welfare reform, DOMA, and deregulation of the financial industry that helped spur the 2008 economic meltdown.  With the singular exception of DOMA, I have never heard Hillary disavow any of these disastrous policies. 

On the other hand, one only has to do another brief thought experiment.  Just hypothesize what the world would look like if the next president is any one of the dim characters that comprises the Republican clown car and you should be scared shitless into becoming an avid Hillary supporter. 

Start with the United States Supreme Court.  Given the advanced ages of the justices (Ginsburg is 82, Scalia is 79, Kennedy is 78 and Breyer is 76), the next president will most likely have the opportunity to appoint more than one new justice, thereby impacting the balance of the Court for at least another generation.  The difference between Obama's appointees ( Kagan and Sotomayor) and Bush's (Roberts and Alioto) couldn't be more stark.  Another Republican appointee would create a rock solid conservative majority that would surely overturn Roe v. Wade, further dismantle Voting Rights, revisit and overturn the Affordable Care Act, dismantle federal regulations on everything from the environment to Wall Street, further limit available remedies for individuals against corporations, allow for greater intrusion of religion into the public sphere, and roll back advances in civil rights and criminal justice.

That alone should be enough to frighten any sentient being into supporting the Democratic nominee.  But there is so much more to be afraid of. 

Even if some Republicans have finally admitted that climate change really exists, not one of them believes that the government should do anything about it.  Imagine four years spent reversing the modest efforts of the Obama Administration in reducing greenhouse gases combined with the dismantling of the EPA, reversal of environmental regulations and encouraging unfettered fossil fuel development. 

As for economic priorities, while House and Senate Republicans can't seem to reach immediate consensus over their respective budget plans, their only area of dispute is over how to overcome caps on military spending.  There seems to be ready agreement among virtually all Republicans with regard to further tax cuts favoring the wealthy, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, deregulating Wall Street, gutting environmental regulations, making drastic cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and other essential aspects of the safety net.  Not even Pell Grants are safe.  Republicans' unstated but irrefutable goal, as Paul Krugman summarized, consists of "huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts."

Foreign policy for Republicans has not evolved since Bush-Cheney invaded Iraq.  Relying on the same blinkered and unrepentant advisors, it seems to consist mostly of jingoistic saber-rattling, disdain for diplomacy, and the belief that putting "boots on the ground" is the sure-fire solution to defeating terrorism. It is worth pointing out that three potential candidates signed the infamous open letter to Iran in an effort to derail nuclear arms talk, and no other Republican candidate has criticized this irresponsible, if not treasonous, lapse of judgment and protocol. 

Terrified yet?

Progressives don't have to sell out.  They can stay pure at the local level.  They can -- and should -- work to elect more liberal candidates in Congress which, more than anything else, will help push a moderate president leftward.  But when it comes to the presidency, there is no alternative but to rally around the Democratic candidate -- whoever she or he is.  It is no longer about choosing the lesser of evils as much as it is defeating the evil-doers. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

President Obama's Exceptional Speech

"What greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?" -- -- President Obama, March 8, 2015
After President Obama got walloped for having the audacity to observe, in the course of cautioning us not to condemn Islam because of the barbaric acts done in its name, that here at home "slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ," I wrote:
The American psyche is not so fragile that it can't stand a bit of reflection and self-criticism.  We really aren't such a simpleminded people that we can't hold two conflicting concepts at the same time -- we can love our country and the many great things about it while recognizing its deep flaws. 
Instead, almost on cue, we had the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani, proclaiming that the President doesn't love America. 

The President's speech on Sunday commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Selma was, among many things, an eloquent retort to the Giulianis and Huckabees and Fox News pundits who have no clue about what patriotism really is.

Obama made the case that "loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America."

The President made an appeal to our exceptionalism, as James Fallows summarized, by "embracing our capacity for renewal, self-criticism, and inclusiveness."
We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.
This is a far cry from how most Republicans would describe our country.  Conservatives seem to cherish a whitewashed nostalgia for an unapologetic Ozzie and Harriet America that only existed on TV.  They remain resentful because they believe that the hippies, the Democrats and, most of all, Barack Hussein Obama took it all away.

As Paul Waldman says, no conservative would have given a speech like this.
Conservatism is about conserving, so of course the story they tell about America isn't one of constant change in order to improve the country. Their story, particularly in the last few years, is one of a kind of immaculate conception, in which the framers issued forth the nation in a state of perfection. The problems we have now can be solved if we would only revert back and be true to their vision. And the way you express that patriotism is precisely with the "stock photos or airbrushed history"—it's about praising America with the strongest voice you can muster and insisting that it is better than every other country, always has been and always will be.  
I'm all for an America that's inclusive.  But do we have to include them?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Republicans Hate America: Sabotaging Our Democracy Since 1968

Republicans used to be far more secretive in sabotaging United States foreign policy. 

 In 1968, while the Johnson Administration was attempting to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War -- an effort that would have upended Richard Nixon's presidential hopes -- Nixon ensured that the war would continue.  He dispatched emissaries to convince South Vietnam's president, Nguyen van Thieu, to refuse to cooperate in the Paris Peace talks, urging him to wait until after Nixon was elected when he would get a better deal.  It worked.  In October 1968, after the North Vietnamese appeared ready to make concessions that would allow Johnson to halt the bombing of North Vietnam, the South Vietnamese pulled out of the talks.  Nixon was elected.  The U.S. did not end its military involvement until 1973, and the war did not end until 1975.

Ronald Reagan feared the next October surprise -- an end to the Iran hostage crisis before the 1980 election-- that would have helped Jimmy Carter keep the presidency.  There is convincing evidence that the Reagan-Bush team undermined hostage negotiations by making a secret deal with Iran to not release the hostages until after Reagan's election in exchange for an agreement to sell military equipment to the regime.  This worked too.  The hostages were released immediately after Reagan's inauguration in January 1981.

And, now, Republicans seek to derail nuclear arms talks between the Obama Administration and Iran.  First, the Republican Speaker of the House invited the Prime Minister of Israel to speak before Congress about the dangers of such a deal.  Even more remarkably, as has just been reported, 47 Republican senators, including a few presidential hopefuls -- Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- have written an open letter to Iran, stating that any nuclear deal it signs is likely to be revoked once Obama leaves office. 
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
Republicans, with their underlying cynicism about governance, their willful ignorance about how the Constitution actually works, and their steadfast refusal to believe in the legitimacy of any Democratic president, are not readily distinguishable from Nixon, Reagan and their co-conspirators.  What is different is that Republicans today understand that -- given the congenital timidity of Democrats and the infuriatingly 'fair and balanced' reporting of the mainstream press -- there will be no adverse political consequences for their actions.  As a result, they are emboldened to undermine their own government in public. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Homeland Security Blanket

It is amusing to watch the Republicans' inability to govern their own lunatic ward d/b/a the House of Representatives.  House Speaker John Boehner's orange hue is starting to pale as he attempts to navigate between the nihilists in his party who welcome shutting down the government in order to make a symbolic point about Obama's immigration policies and those who have at least a tenuous grasp on reality that allow them to understand that the failure to fund the Department of Homeland Security has political perils if not national security ones.

California Senator Barbara Boxer's recent rant against Senate Republicans received a lot of attention.  She trashed them as a "national disgrace" for threatening a shutdown "of the very agency that protects the health, the safety, the lives, of the American people – the Department of Homeland Security."  She noted GOP hypocrisy in arguing for the need to go to war against terrorists while "willing to shut down the department that protects Americans here in the homeland, from a terrorist attack."  Ultimately, she blasted Republicans for pursing an agenda based on their animus towards President Obama and urged them to "grow up" and govern:  "So get over the fact that you don’t like the president. We get it. You couldn’t beat him. Too bad for you. But you’re in charge here, in the Senate. Do your job! Bring an immigration bill to the floor. Let’s let this Homeland Security Bill go. It’s a bipartisan bill. It’s funding for the most important thing we’re doing today. Let it go. Don’t hold it hostage to your hatred of this president, and I use that word because that’s what I think. That’s what I think…. Grow up. Do your job, you know? Do your job! Have respect for the office of the presidency."

This was a powerful speech and no doubt Republicans need to be scolded for their hypocrisy and their pettiness.  But what Sen. Boxer does not seem to question and what is lost in virtually all the discussions about Republican intransigence and irresponsibility is whether we really need to fund DHS in the first place.

The Department of Homeland Security is an incredibly expensive and unwieldy security blanket created by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of 9/11.  Its stated purpose is "to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks."  Having incorporated 22 agencies under its control, DHS has an annual budget of $60 billion, and has been repeatedly criticized for excessive waste and inefficiency.  In 2008, for example, a congressional subcommittee estimated DHS had wasted roughly $15 billion in failed contracts.  It also came under fire for $2 billion of waste and fraud after GAO audits uncovered misuse of government credit cards by DHS employees.

As Trevor Timm writes in the Guardian, DHS is a "behemoth and a bureaucratic nightmare" operating "under one umbrella of dysfunction and secrecy."  Timm points out a few of the myriad of concerns:
  •  DHS “fusion centers" are supposed to be terrorism prevention and response centers but are "little more than spying hubs that vacuum up information from federal and local authorities and store it for indefinite amounts of time. A scathing Senate report on the centers, which have cost the DHS at least $1.4 billion dollars, concluded that they produce 'predominantly useless information'" and "also '[run] afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties' and are 'possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.'”
  • DHS dispenses millions of dollars in military gear to local police "that they can barely account for, along with high-tech spying equipment used for mass surveillance of innocent citizens."
  • DHS has its own Predator drones program "that they fly along the US border" and according to a government report it has been derided as "almost entirely ineffective and a giant waste of money" not to mention "the alarming privacy concerns of having sophisticated spying machines constantly flying over large parts of the country."
It may be beneficial politically in the short term for Democrats to gloat over Republicans apparently putting the nation at risk while they have their temper tantrum over immigration, but it might be more productive to take this as an opportunity to consider whether defunding the agency is really such a bad idea.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Evolution Of The Republican Party Or Why Democrats Need To Tune In And Turn Out

What does it mean that your typical Republican does not believe in global warming or evolution, but does believe that Christianity should be established as this country's national religion? 

According to a recent Public Policy Polling national Republican poll:
  • Only 25% of Republicans believe in global warming (another 10% are not sure) and 66% do not believe that global warming exists.
  • A plurality of Republicans, 49%, do not believe in evolution (13% are unsure) and only 37% believe in the theory of evolution. 
  • 57% of Republicans would support establishing Christianity as our "national religion" (with another 13% unsure), while only 30% oppose it.
(And, according to another recent poll, only 11% of Republicans believe that Obama loves America, a vast majority agreeing with Rudy Giuliani's ridiculous but insidious attack on the President.)

Are we doomed as a democracy, as a nation, when the majority of one of our two political parties has no faith in science or, apparently, in the Constitution (except for the Second Amendment); when that majority is not only more likely to believe in the Biblical prophesy of End Times than man-made climate change but wants to ensure that we all believe likewise?

With less than 60% of eligible voters turning out for the last presidential election, and barely a third voting in the last mid-term election, the key is making sure the rational half of the electorate tunes in and turns out.  

This is admittedly made more difficult in our post-Citizens United world where reasonable voices are drowned out by unlimited corporate spending.  It is also made more difficult because the mainstream media normalizes inane Republican positions on everything from national security and the environment to economics and civil rights by relentlessly seeking an illusory middle ground no matter how off the rails the right wing veers.  As the great Charles Pierce puts it, "the consistent inability to recognize the modern Republican party for the bag of nuts it has become is a true phenomenon in American journalism."

What is critical is for Democrats to rally around a cohesive and comprehensive message of economic inequality, wage stagnation and the decline of the middle class. 

A helpful template has just been provided by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings, who announced in an USA Today op-ed the launching of a "Middle Class Prosperity Project," which will examine how the nation's economic system has been "rigged against the middle class over the past several decades" and promote "policies to ensure that the best days of America's middle class are still ahead."

Such an approach should not only energize Democratic voters but might even appeal to the narrow swath Republicans who are able to find a foothold in reality. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Giuliani's World: A Noun, A Verb and A Crazy GOP Talking Point

Rudy Giuliani is a mean-spirited hack who long ago gave up any right to appear in polite society, much less be the driver of a news cycle.  But there he was, speaking at a fundraiser for a fellow traveler, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, accusing the President of the United States of not loving America:
I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America.  He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.
Our man Rudy later defended himself against charges of racism by doubling down:  "Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people.”  Thanks, Rudy, for clearing that up.  As Laura Clawson at Daily Kos put it, "turning to completely racially based logic is about the least convincing possible way to rebut charges of racism."

Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen appropriately tweeted:  "Rudy Giuliani questioned how much, or even if, President Obama loves America. Maybe he thinks he loves it 3/5 as much as Giuliani & his pals."

The best take down was from Wayne Barrett who, having written a biography of the man, came well equipped, with a Daily News editorial, "What Rudy Giuliani Knows About Love."  After a few unsavory details about Rudy's love life which call into question what Rudy even means by the word "love," Barrett notes that "Rudy may have forgotten the half-dozen deferments he won ducking the Vietnam War, even getting the federal judge he was clerking for to write a letter creating a special exemption for him." 

But before Rudy slithers back under his rock, there are a couple of points worth thinking about.  First, how is it that these odious right wing lunatics get such a disproportionate amount of air time?  Rudy spews and all of a sudden every cable news channel convenes a panel to discuss whether Obama really is a patriot, and the White House as well as the current cast of clowns who hope to replace Obama is asked to comment.   If the media has such a leftward bias, how is it that the right controls the narrative? 

Of perhaps greater concern is that as long as Giuliani and his fire-breathing compatriots on the far right continue to say outrageous things about the President and his policies, they provide what appears on the surface to be a stark contrast with the more civil GOP candidates.  We can already see this dynamic with the way Jeb  ("I am my own man") Bush is being portrayed as a moderate.

So, while it is easy to rebut the unhinged idiocy of Giuliani and Jindal and Carson and Huckabee and Cruz and Paul, it is important to realize that when you pare away the polish and sound bites of the likes of Bush and Christie and Walker, they are fundamentally indistinguishable.     

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

As I wrote last year in Zen and the Misery of Being a Met Fan, since their heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 2006 playoffs, the Mets have experienced historic collapses to miss the playoffs, baffling player moves, an unprecedented number of injuries to star and potential star players, and most insidious, ownership's entanglement with Bernie Madoff, which has caused a shrinking payroll and the inability or unwillingness to make key moves to make the team watchable, much less competitive.  So, for the last several seasons, that familiar feeling comprising equal measure of hopelessness and disgust starts gnawing at me by around the All Star Break, and as the season winds down I become completely disgusted.  Nevertheless, because I am a Met fan, I endure this agony and misery, still hoping for a miracle.  (See The Seven Stages of Being A Met Fan)  And, there have been a couple of miracles, although not since Mookie Wilson's grounder dribbled through Bill Buckner's legs in 1986.

I could dwell on the fact that ownership's goal -- particularly given their financial constraints -- seems to be making the team just a little better than mediocre to keep the fan base from rebelling completely.  I could dwell on the fact that the Mets have an awful manager who is more likely to undermine promising young players than inspire them.  I could dwell on the fact that rather than fill key holes such as shortstop, a lefty reliever and a power-hitting outfielder, the Mets biggest acquisition over the winter was signing a recently-injured 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer, whose primary claim to fame is that he is David Wright's best friend. 

But it is spring training!  A time of renewal and rebirth; a time when even the lowliest team has hope for the season ahead.  Players coming off injury-plagued seasons are returning in the best shape of their careers.  Hitters have corrected the flaws in their swing and pitchers have discovered devastating new pitches.  And, as we say every year at this time, if "everything goes right" we could have a pretty good squad this year -- maybe even make the playoffs.

Indeed, Matt Harvey, who emerged two seasons ago as one of the most dynamic players and one of the very best pitchers in baseball before blowing out his elbow, is back and seemingly healthy.  He will join an exciting young pitching staff which boasts last year's Rookie of the Year Jake DeGrom, fellow phenom Zack Wheeler, and even more great young arms.with more arms-in-waiting in the minors.  If David Wright and Curtis Granderson bounce back, if Lucas Duda, Travis d'Arnaud and Juan Lagares continue to improve (or at least don't digress), if Wilmer Flores hits the way scouts say he can and is able to play even a minimally-adequate shortstop, the Mets might actually be fun to watch.

And if everything goes right .... 

Friday, February 13, 2015

California's Death Penalty, Like Pennsylvania's, Is "Ineffective, Unjust And Expensive" (Only Moreso)

Governor Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania pending review of a task force report, stating that capital punishment “has been proven to be ineffective, unjust, and expensive."  Pennsylvania has 186 inmates on death row, and has executed three men since the death penalty was reinstated.  Former federal judge Timothy K. Lewis, who consulted with the Governor regarding the power to impose a moratorium stated that "at a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity, constant reversals, and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment that hasn't been imposed in our State in 15 years."

California has strikingly similar problems but on a far larger scale. Death sentences are more likely to be imposed not based on the severity of the crime but on race, county and the effectiveness of defense counsel. Approximately 750 men and women languish on death row for decades, costing taxpayers billions of dollars. There have been 13 executions since the reinstatement of our death penalty in 1977, and none since 2006. 

One difference from Pennsylvania is that California's scheme has been extensively studied and its dysfunction conclusively established.  In 2008, the bipartisan California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ) issued its report which found California's death penalty is “plagued with excessive delay.” According to CCFAJ's report, the lapse of time from sentence of death to execution constitutes the longest delay of any death penalty state and “most California death sentences are actually sentences of lifetime incarceration.  The defendant will die in prison before he or she is ever executed.”  At bottom there are just too many cases and not enough qualified lawyers to handle them.

Those findings were made seven years ago and the problems have only worsened.  More recently, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney held in one capital case that the administration of California's death penalty is irrevocably dysfunctional, resulting in systemic delays in which only the "random few" are executed in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  (This ruling is currently under appeal.)  Of the over 900 people that have been sentenced to death, 13 have been executed, 94 have died of other causes.  The process for reviewing their death sentences takes an average of 25 years and is getting longer -- delays, as the court found, that are inherent in the system and not the fault of inmates themselves.

In 2011, an extensive study headed Judge Arthur Alarcon determined that California's death penalty system has cost taxpayers roughly $4 billion "to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system."  But despite these vast expenditures, the current Chief Justice of the State of California
Tani Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged, the death penalty is not effective and fixing its problems would require "structural changes" that the State cannot afford.

Governor Wolf joins the governors of Washington, Oregon and Colorado who, recognizing the inherent flaws in their capital punishment systems, have issued moratoriums in recent years.  Eighteen other states have abolished the death penalty outright.  It is well past time that California follows suit and replaces the death penalty with a more effective, just, less costly -- and more humane -- system.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Obama's Crusade, High Horses And American Exceptionalism

The reaction to President Obama's observation that we shouldn't condemn an entire religion, in this case Islam, because of the barbaric acts done in its name is another reminder of how difficult it is to have a serious conversation about issues that have the potential to undermine our unwavering belief in American exceptionalism.

Obama stated a fairly obvious truth:  "Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

The overheated response from the right, from Christian groups, and even from some mainstream pundits for what Ta-Nehisi Coates described "as relatively mild, and correct, point" should not have come as a surprise.  We don't really like to think about those burning crosses do we?  We don't like to think about slavery or Jim Crow or the institutional racism that continues to have a profound impact on our society.

We don't like to think about the decimation of the native population that succumbed to our Manifest Destiny.  We don't like to think about the internment of Americans of Japanese heritage or the deployment of not one, but two atomic bombs.  We don't like to think about the many popularly-elected governments we have overthrown in the name of freedom.  We don't like to think about our use of torture (we don't even like to use the word, preferring 'enhanced interrogation').

There have been critical moments in our country's history where it was imperative to face up to some of our more malevolent deeds, confront hard truths, point out where we have strayed from what America is supposed to stand for and deal honestly with the fall out.  All too often, we have punted. 

When Richard Nixon resigned, his successor Gerald Ford declared that "our long national nightmare is over."  A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon, apparently deciding that the nightmare was not over.  Ford did not wish to "prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed" and exercised his power "to firmly shut and seal this book."  And so, for the sake of less fitful sleep, we were denied a true reckoning of the many abuses of power committed by the Nixon Administration, all but guaranteeing that future high government officials would feel similarly unconstrained.  (See, e.g., Iran Contra Affair)

Say what you will about the inefficacy of Jimmy Carter's presidency but he did try to get us to be a bit more reflective.  His derisively (and inaccurately) dubbed "Malaise Speech" in July 1979, describing a "crisis of confidence" in America's future, was supposed to be a wake up call for the nation to pull together to ease the energy crisis.  Carter acknowledged the loss of faith in government stemming from "the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.," "the agony of Vietnam," and the "shock of Watergate."  He conceded that "these wounds are still very deep" and "have never been healed." Carter's idea was to reinvigorate Americans through our joint efforts at energy conservation and innovation:  "the solution of our energy crisis can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country. It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future, and give our nation and all of us individually a new sense of purpose.

Americans soon opted instead for Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" and the promised end to our national nightmares.  Reagan disavowed Carter's pessimistic soul-searching for a rosy view of America as a "shining city on the hill."  The cure for Carter's "crisis of confidence" was  an invasion of the little island of Grenada to restore our military glory.  Reagan cloaked our unsavory policies in patriotic rhetoric.  The "contras" we armed and trained to overthrow the Nicaraguan government were "freedom fighters," "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers."  In Reagan's America there were no hungry children, ketchup was a vegetable and welfare queens drove Cadillacs. 

Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, gave the keynote address at the 1984 Republican National Convention, where she portrayed Democrats who criticized U.S. policy as disloyal, repeating the mantra, "they always blame America first." She closed by saying:  "The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause . . . With the election of Ronald Reagan, the American people declared to the world that we have the necessary energy and to defend ourselves, and that we have as well a deep commitment to peace. And now, the American people, proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of ourselves, will reject the San Francisco Democrats and send Ronald Reagan back to the White House."

We did send Reagan back to the White House, and more than 30 years later, the same dynamic remains.  True patriots  are "proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of ourselves."  Then there is the pessimistic "Blame America First" crowd whose relentless questioning of the underpinnings of America's mythic greatness is a threat to that very greatness.

So when President Obama, referring to slavery, acknowledged that "the United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history" or suggested we may have "a moral responsibility to act" on arms control because only the U.S. had "used a nuclear weapon," he was hammered for apologizing for America.  When, after Trayvon Martin's murder, Obama explained that the "African American community is looking at this issue through  a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away," he was accused of fomenting racial divisions.  And, most recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, when he tried to provide some badly needed perspective on religious extremism, his remarks were characterized, for example, by former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore as "the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime" and by Catholic League President Bill Donohue as "insulting" and "pernicious."

The American psyche is not so fragile that it can't stand a bit of reflection and self-criticism.  We really aren't such a simpleminded people that we can't hold two conflicting concepts at the same time -- we can love our country and the many great things about it while recognizing its deep flaws.  It is therefore far past time to rid ourselves of Reagan's literal and figurative amnesia about America, to get off that high horse, and engage in meaningful conversations that raise troubling questions about our history and what it means for the future. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Shame of U.S. Journalism Is The Destruction of Iraq, Not Fake Helicopter Stories

By Christian Christensen

The news that NBC’s Brian Williams was not, in fact, on a helicopter in 2003 that came under fire from an Iraqi Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) should come as a surprise to noone. Williams had repeated the lie on several occasions over the course of a decade until a veteran, who was on the actual helicopter that was attacked, had enough of Williams’ war porn and called the TV host out on Facebook. In a quite pathetic effort to cover his tracks, the anchor—who makes in excess of $10 million per year— claimed that his fairy tale was, in fact, "a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women" who had served in Iraq. Twelve years, it seems, is enough time for Williams to confuse being on a helicopter that came under fire from an RPG with being on a helicopter that did not.
Given that Williams works for NBC, his participation in the construction of a piece of fiction during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is apt. US network news, together with outlets such as CNN, aggressively cheer-led an invasion predicated on a massive falsehood: the Iraqi possession of WMD. What is jarring, however, is the fact that Williams’ sad attempt to inject himself into the fabric of the violence is getting more ink and airplay than the non-existence of WMD did back in the early-to-mid 2000s: a lie that provided the justification for a military action that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
From embedded journalists to ultra-militaristic news logos and music, U.S. television news media were more than willing to throw gas on the invasion fire. "Experts" in the studio were invariably ex-generals looking to pad their pensions, while anti-war activists (who spoke for sizable portions of the US and UK populations back in 2003) were avoided like the plague. After all, what news organization wants to be tarred with the “peace” brush when flag-waiving jingoism sells so incredibly well? The one-sidedness of coverage, particularly in the US, bordered on the morally criminal.
Despite some limited soul-searching by journalists a decade after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq about the abject failure of the U.S. news to engage, in a truly critical fashion, with the falsehoods peddled by the Bush administration, the current focus on an inane untruth told by one celebrity news anchor has overshadowed the bigger picture about the US media and Iraq. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
In the post-9/11, pre-invasion period, U.S. citizens proved to be spectacularly misinformed about the 9/11 attacks, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and WMD. When the invasion began, many in the U.S. simply had no clue about what was going on. Was that all the fault of the US media? No, but it’s fair to say a pretty large chunk of the responsibility lay at their feet. Then, once the bombing and street fighting became banal and lost its attractiveness to audiences and advertisers, most U.S. media outlets simply abandoned an Iraq left to fend for itself in a vortex of violence, political instability and corruption. And, who wants to talk about that when you can write about Williams upping his War Zone Reporter street cred? But, if you do want to hear about violence in Iraq, you can rely on Fox News to suggest that this particular hell might also be a liberal conspiracy…
The number of Iraqi citizens who have died as a direct and indirect by-product of the U.S. invasion is enough to populate a mid-sized U.S. city, and thousands continue to die on a monthly basis in non-imaginary attacks.
Yet, here we are, over a decade later, still discussing celebrity fantasies. That isn’t just bad journalism, it’s an affront to all who lost their lives in a brutal and bloody deception. Williams is just sorry about the wrong thing.
Originally posted at Common Dreams.  Christian Christensen, American in Sweden, is Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrChristensen