Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

American Heroes

Aaron Belkin, Barack Obama, Mike Mullen, Nathaniel Frank

Above the Fold

     Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

                                                                –Martin Luther King Jr., August 16, 1967

    Let us now praise four great Americans: Aaron Belkin, Nathaniel Frank, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Barack Hussein Obama.  They deserve more credit than everyone else for the historic vote of the United States Senate last weekend which will finally make it possible to end discrimination against the most courageous gay men and lesbians in the land.

    It was a long time coming.

    One of the reasons gay Americans were most excited about Bill Clinton when he ran for president was his promise to end the ban on gays in the military as soon as he took office.   But between the time Clinton was elected in November of 1992 and when he was sworn in on January 20th, 1993, the religious right had quietly gotten a majority of both houses to commit themselves to opposing any change in the policy.

    Then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell made an unholy alliance with Georgia Senator Sam Nunn to oppose the change, and the result was the disastrous compromise of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” – a policy that was supposed to permit gays and lesbians to serve as long as they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation, but actually led to the expulsion of more than 13,000 service men and women over the next seventeen years.

    Barack Obama took enormous flak from the gay community for failing to over-turn the policy more quickly, but now his slow and methodical approach has finally paid off.

    One year ago, at an off-the-record lunch with progressives at the White House, Obama was asked when he was finally going to fulfill his campaign promise.

    Wait until early next year, Obama replied: Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is going to say something very interesting about this a couple of months from now.

    Because Colin Powell’s opposition had been so critical to Bill Clinton’s failure to keep his campaign promise in 1993, Obama understood very well that he would need his chairman of the Joint Chiefs on his side if he was going to win the battle this time.  And last February, Mullen came through – with all of the courage and integrity that Colin Powell had failed to muster seventeen years earlier.

    Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen declared,

    It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do…. For me personally, it comes down to integrity; theirs as individuals and ours as an institution…. I have served with homosexuals since 1968…everybody in the military has…. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.  I also believe that the great young men of our military, can and would accommodate such a change – I never underestimated their ability to adapt.

    Without a doubt, it was Mullen’s testimony which eventually made it possible to convince large majorities in both houses to finally vote for equality.

    Like so many of the greatest victories of the gay rights movements, this one is a tribute to how much a handful of determined individuals can achieve. The two people who did the most to make Mullen’s testimony possible were two brilliant academics: Aaron Belkin, Associate Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University and Director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire, the definitive book about gays in the military, which Frank published to rave reviews in the spring of 2009, providing all of us with unlimited ammunition to rebut the arguments of our deeply prejudiced opponents.

    For the last decade, Belkin and Frank have spent most of their waking hours making sure that the public and its political representatives were aware of one very simple fact: There is not, and there never has been, a single piece of hard evidence to support the idea that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces would do anything other than enhance the national security of the United States.

    Together they wrote scores of articles and made hundreds of appearances to drill that idea deeply into the national consciousness.  Here are the bullet points from a typical piece Frank wrote for the CNN website, in response to a Washington Post op-ed by four retired officers, which claimed that lifting the ban would harm unit cohesion, recruitment and retention, and would ultimately “break the All-Volunteer Force.”

*   The [officers’] argument is an old one, and was an effective canard in defeating President Clinton’s move to lift the ban in 1993. But it has never been rooted in fact or evidence, and the effort of these officers to defeat equal treatment this time around will face mountains of opposing data and a dramatically changed cultural landscape.

*  The officers who oppose openly gay service do not base their arguments on any new information.

*  They cite an unscientific survey – it does not draw from a representative sampling but from newspaper subscribers – indicating that 58 percent of the military oppose lifting the ban and that, if it’s lifted, 24 percent claim they will leave or consider leaving after their tour ends.

*   But it’s naïve at best, and disingenuous at worst, to confuse this opinion survey with a sound prediction of actual behavior. When both Britain and Canada proposed lifting their gay bans in the 1990s, similar opinion surveys found much higher numbers – about two-thirds in both cases – claiming they, too, would leave. In each case, no more than three departures were attributed to the policy change. Three.

*  In fact, the evidence showing that openly gay service works is overwhelming. Since 1957, when the U.S. military began doing its own studies on gays in the military, every last bit of research has shown that openly gay service works.

* Studies of foreign militaries include a 1993 Government Accountability Office study of allied nations that found that “the presence of homosexuals in the military is not an issue and has not created problems in the functioning of military units”; a 1994 assessment by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences finding that predicted negative consequences of ending gay exclusion in the Canadian Forces never materialized; the 2000 assessment of the British Ministry of Defense, calling its new policy of equal treatment “a solid achievement” with “no discernible impact” on recruitment or other critical variables; and four academic studies conducted by the Palm Center, where I work, finding that lifting bans in Britain, Israel, Canada and Australia had no negative impact on military readiness, including on recruitment and retention.

    (Very appropriately, Frank wrote his first two pieces on this subject in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New Republic in 1998 – on the fortieth anniversary of President Truman’s executive order integrating the black and white units of the Armed Forces.)

    And here is what Belkin wrote for The Huffington Post after John McCain pretended that the newest study proving that there would be no serious harm from an end to discrimination was somehow inadequate.

*  Senator McCain and other Republicans fabricated phony arguments left and right. The 28 percent response rate to the military’s survey on gays, they said, is too low and renders the results invalid. Forget the fact that that’s about average for web-based as well as military surveys. Forget that any social scientist will tell you that response rates have nothing to do with the validity of a survey’s results as long as the pool of respondents is drawn properly. In this case, the military’s survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

*  Then Republicans said that they just want to be sure not to rush things. Rush!? The Pentagon has been studying the issue for almost a year. There were more than 20 prior studies, all of which found the same thing, that gay troops don’t harm the military. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was supposed to be a temporary compromise when it was enacted 17 years ago. And, the first soldier fired for gay sex was drummed out of the Continental Army more than 230 years ago! How much slower do the Republicans want to go?

*  Then the Republicans repeated the only phony claims about combat effectiveness. Sure, a bunch of combat troops say that repeal would undermine combat effectiveness. But saying something is going to happen is not the same as showing that it is going to happen. Service members in foreign militaries also said that gays would undermine combat effectiveness, but when gay bans were lifted in those countries, there was no impact at all. And get this: of the 69 percent of U.S. troops who serve or suspect they serve with gays, 92 percent said that repealing the ban would not undermine their unit’s ability to work together. If gays undermined combat effectiveness we would have seen that already in Iraq and Afghanistan (and for that matter, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II, all of which included openly serving gay troops).

*  My favorite baloney of the day was the Republican talking point that the Pentagon Working Group failed to listen to the troops or ask them whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed. Huh? The troops offered opinions on this and other topics in an on-line inbox that received 72,384 comments, in 95 face-to-face forums at 51 bases that included more than 24,000 troops, and in 140 smaller focus groups. It is true that the survey did not include a question about whether the troops want repeal. But the troops had a lot of other opportunities to express that point. And we already know from three different polls, (Annenberg, Zogby, and Military Times) that approximately 40 percent of the troops oppose repeal, 30 percent favor it, and 30 percent don’t know or don’t care.

*  Why can’t the Republicans just be honest? They don’t care what is good for the military. They don’t care about what the Secretary of Defense says. They don’t care about what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says. They don’t care about the data. They don’t care about methodology. They don’t care about process. They care about one thing and one thing only: prejudice. And when it comes to prejudice, all they want is more, more more.

     Veteran gay activist Ethan Geto summarized the achievements of Belkin and Frank this way:

     What a historic moment in the great civil rights battles of modern times! You guys deserve more credit than you’ll receive – and you’ll receive plenty – because you crafted the intellectual framework that was the sine qua non to achieve repeal. Your exhaustive research, your compelling presentation of the issues and your relentless logic that left our opposition without a factual leg to stand on have been a marvel and a privilege to watch. If you hadn’t shown that unit cohesion actually would be strengthened by repeal, brought attention to the positive experience of foreign militaries, exposed how the military discharged so many highly-skilled and critically-needed specialists and worked so persistently inside the Pentagon and the service academies, this day would not have happened in my lifetime.

    Belkin is now writing a book about the seventeen-year battle to change the policy, How We Won: Inside Stories from the 17-Year Struggle to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

    Whichever house is lucky enough to publish this book will get the definitive story of the first great American civil rights battle of the 21st century.

    Five others deserve special mention for their efforts to make this tremendous victory possible.

    They are Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, an Iraq war veteran who made the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell his signature issue – and got 187 of his colleagues to co-sponsor the repeal of the current policy, before he was defeated at the polls in the Republican surge of last November.

    Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin was a principled and persistent critic of the current policy.

    Jeh C. Johnson co-authored the latest Pentagon study with Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the United States Army.  As Elisabeth Bumiller reported in the Times today, Johnson’s uncle, “Robert B. Johnson, was not only one of the Tuskegee Airmen, but was also a participant in what is known as the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945, when a group of the airmen were arrested for entering an all-white officers’ club at Freeman Field in Indiana. The airmen were imprisoned for 10 days until the Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, intervened. Three years later, President Harry S. Truman integrated the military by executive order.”

    And although Johnson told the Times that “discrimination based on race and sexual orientation are different — sexual orientation, he maintains, is ‘not a self-identifier’ ” – unlike Colin Powell, Johnson understood that there were more similarities than differences between today’s battle and the one fought for black troops by Harry Truman six decades ago.

    And when he took his current job at the Pentagon, Johnson told friends that a repeal of the current policy would be his first priority.

    Finally, there are two great gay authors who set the stage for this week’s magnificent achievement: Allan Bérubé, who wrote “Coming Out Under Fire,” about gay American troops who served in World War II, and Randy Shilts, whose final book was Conduct Unbecoming.  Together, they proved that gay people had been serving honorably, but secretly, in the armed forces since our republic began.

    Yesterday, FCP asked Belkin how he felt about his great achievement.  This was his reply:

    Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, in 1778, the first gay soldier was kicked out of the Continental Army.   As a community we kept telling the rest of the country to treat us as human beings.  Last weekend, they finally listened.

                                                                       *    *    *

    The passage of this splendid bill should reminds us of one other political reality of our time: Whenever the Washington press corps decides that Barack Obama’s administration is an abject failure, that is a very reliable indicator that he is poised once again to rise from the dead.

    In the last two weeks Obama got a new economic stimulus package passed (at the cost of some outrageously unnecessary tax cuts), he gave the gay community its greatest legislative victory ever, and it looks like he is about to overcome the opposition of know-nothing Republicans to get the START treaty passed by the Senate.

    Last night the Senate even rescued the food safety bill from what looked like almost-certain oblivion.

    Combined with the passage of health care, and a financial regulations bill whose provisions have been consistently underestimated by the mainstream media and the blogosphere alike, this is what is really true about our president: On the domestic front, he has now accomplished many more important things in his first two years in office than any other modern president since Lyndon Baines Johnson

    The hope here is that Obama will still manage to get out of Afghanistan before that catastrophe obliterates his achievements at home, the same way that Vietnam overshadowed so much of what LBJ accomplished with the Great Society.


Ernesto Londono had a superb story in The Washington Post about gay American troops following the Senate’s vote around the world, from Afghanistan to Frankfurt.

Nate Silver finds an interesting correlation between states carried by Obama in 2008 and Republican senators who voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Wednesday update:

    There was an electric atmosphere in the auditorium of the Department of the Interior on Wednesday morning, where five hundred people had gathered to witness the president signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

     Admiral Mike Mullen was the most admired person in the room, and he got two standing ovations which proved it; Congressman Mike Murphy of Pennsylvania, the Iraq veteran who had led the battle to get the bill passed in the house,  got a richly deserved  ovation as well.

    Aaron Belkin sat beaming in the first row in front of the stage, exactly where he belonged.

    The New York Times posted a pedestrian story about this extraordinary event, but at least it managed to record the presence of the most important gay activist in the room, eighty-five year old Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran who is the father of the gay rights movement in the United States.

     Four and a half decades ago, at the height of the black Civil Rights Movement, Kameny had led the first gay picket line outside the White House, protesting federal job discrimination against homosexuals.  Since Obama became president, Kameny has been inside the White House as a guest,  four times.

     Just weeks ago, most gay Americans were still disheartened by Obama’s record on gay rights.   But today, even David Mixner, a long-time gay activist whose criticism of the president had been blistering, was present in Washington  to cheer the movement’s once and future hero. 

            “Yes we can,” the crowd chanted.

            “Yes we did,” the president replied.

    Until today, the two greatest gay rights victories in America had both been decisions by the United States Supreme Court–Romer V. Evans, in 1996, when the court invalidated a Colorado state constitutional initiative that had forbidden protection for gay people from discrimination, and Lawrence v. Texas, which over-turned every remaining state law which had made our kind of lovemaking a crime.

    Not once had the House and the Senate both managed to pass a major gay rights initiative.  And when the Senate initially failed to muster the votes to halt the filibuster against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell earlier this month, there was a collective shudder within the community, over yet another failure by the Senate to corroborate the notion that all men and women are created equal.

    That roller coaster ride was one more reason why today’s climactic victory was so dramatic, and so satisfying.

    The president’s speech was vintage Obama, as good as anything he delivered on the campaign trail.

    He recalled his recent visit to Afghanistan, where a young woman in uniform standing at the rope line “pulled me into a hug and she whispered in my ear, ‘Get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ done.’  And I said to her, “I promise I will.”

    To many of us, keeping that promise was at least as important as anything else he has done as president.  Today, Obama looked as though he felt that way as well.

    Then the president ended with a peroration as moving as any he has ever delivered:

            We are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

            We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one.”

            We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.

            We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal.

            Those are the ideals that generations have fought for.

            Those are the ideals that we uphold today.

     And in that instant, all of the idealism he had originally embodied was instantly restored for millions of his most passionate supporters.


WikiLeaks, Obama and Beck


Hendrik Hertzberg, Julian Assange, Mark Lilla, Barack Obama

Above the Fold

             The document deluge from WikiLeaks is a unique event: vastly larger than any previous security breach in the history of the world.

             Ever since the first batch of secret cables was published, there has been no shortage of “experts” who have proclaimed their certainty about the effects of their publication–and an equally large number of commentators thrilled by the size of this gigantic wrench, aimed at the heart of American diplomacy in every corner of the globe.

            But the truth is, it will be a very long time before we know all the consequences of this act of anarchy.

            Of the hundreds of articles already written about this, one of the calmest and wisest was the op-ed piece in The New York Times,   from Paul W. Schroeder, a retired history professor and the author of “The Transformation of European Politics, 1763 -1848.”

            Schroeder focused on the difference between “targeted leaks”–like the one made by Bismarck in 1870, which led to a war with France which ended in a total Prussian victory–and untargeted ones, like the opening of the floodgates by WikiLeaks.  Schroeder explains:

            Releasing confidential diplomatic correspondence to influence foreign relations…is like using dynamite in a construction zone. Carried out by experts after a careful analysis of the risks involved, it may be effective, like blowing off part of a hillside to build a road.

            But what WikiLeaks has done is entirely different: more like the work of irresponsible amateurs using dynamite to expand a tunnel that also contains…a city’s electrical lines.

            The leaks will probably not cause war or even a serious crisis, but they will badly damage America’s diplomatic machinery, processes and reputation.

            That’s because an essential function of diplomacy is get people tell you things that they shouldn’t, so that you can get a more accurate portrait of the country you are reporting on.  And whatever else WikiLeaks may have accomplished, it has certainly made that task vastly more difficult for American diplomats everywhere.

            The New York Times says it was careful to redact any information which it thought could jeopardize the life of an American source.   But WikiLeaks itself has probably been a lot less assiduous about that than The Times was.   And the truth is, no outsider can be certain which leak points to a particular individual, and which one does not.   Already, Newsweek is reporting (admittedly unconfirmed) rumors that the Taliban is drawing up new lists of Afghani collaborators to target for assassination–lists which may or may not have been assembled with the help of these previously secret documents.

            The other piece about this which is replete with sensible observations is Rick Hertzberg’s comment    in the current New Yorker.

            Hertzberg focuses on what the leaked cables tells us about US efforts to prevent Iran from getting The Bomb, he also includes these broader, wise conclusions:

            *  We have learned that our Foreign Service officers can be vivid writers, though their future prose is bound to be duller and their interlocutors more guarded, at least for a while.

           * There are no grand revelations of epic lying, deceit, or criminality—nothing remotely on the scale of the Tonkin Gulf “incident” that justified the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, in 1964, the C.I.A.’s role in bringing Pinochet to power in Chile, in 1973, or, more recently, the Bush-Cheney embrace of torture.

         *  Perhaps the two biggest secrets that the WikiLeaks leaks leaked are that the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face and that the officials who carry it out do a pretty good job. Both are true with respect to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, to judge from the cables, which add a great deal of textural detail to what was already known.

             One irony here is that the monumental embarrassment suffered by the State Department is yet another victory for the “terrorists”–because the leak apparently stemmed from a government-wide decision to share much more information among all departments, to try to prevent the sort of multiple intelligence failures which may have made 9/11 possible in the first place.

       Somehow, as part of that effort, the Army managed to create a system in which an extremely low-level enlisted man was able to download hundreds of thousands of secret State Department cables, without the knowledge of any of his superiors.   

            The apparent culpability of the Army is the source of another, less-widely noted irony: this  event is also the single greatest fucking the State Department has ever gotten from the Army, since the beginning of the republic.




            The deal with Congressional Republicans which extends the Bush tax cuts for everyone is bad policy, dispiriting politics–and probably the best combination of economic stimulus and obscene waste which Obama could salvage from a terrible situation.

            It’s easy to blame the president for caving–and cave he did–but it was the Congressional Democrats who failed all year to renew the tax cuts without giving them to those making more than $250,000 a year.   The reason they failed was the almost total incapacity of a large Democratic majority in the Senate to prevail over the angry, idiotic Republican minority, which has clung so fiercely to just two disgusting goals: undermining the president, regardless of the worthiness of his proposals, and coddling the richest two percent of the country, which literally invested hundreds of millions of dollars this year to improve the Republicans’ fortunes.

            It is, frankly, beyond the belief, that roughly half of our citizenry is now so dumb or so brainwashed that there is no outrage among them when the Republicans decide to shut down Senate business until millionaires and billionaires are promised the continuation of tax cuts, which will balloon the budget deficit, probably without creating a single new job.    But that is how dumb half the country has become.

            If, by breaking this roadblock, Obama is now able to get the Senate to pass the START Treaty  and to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there will be a much stronger argument for this compromise.  But if he fails to accomplish either of those goals during the balance of the lame duck session, it will be that much harder to defend his decision.





            A review by Mark Lilla   of five books by or about Glenn Beck in The New York Review of Books does a better job of explaining what “the most gifted demagogue America has produced since Father Coughlin” is really about than anything else I have read this year.

            Lilla explains that rather being static like Limbaugh or O’Reilly, “with Glenn Beck you never know what you’ll get.  He is a perpetual work in progress, a billboard offering YOUR MESSAGE HERE.”   Lilla points out

              The truth is, demagogues don’t have cores. They are mediums, channeling currents of public passion and opinion that they anticipate, amplify, and guide, but do not create; the less resistance they offer, the more successful they are. This nonresistance is what distinguishes Beck from his confreres in the conservative media establishment, who have created more sharply etched characters for themselves.

            What makes [Beck] particularly appealing to his audience is not his positions, it is that he appears to feel and fear and admire and instinctively believe what his listeners do, even when their feelings, fears, esteem, and beliefs are changing or self-contradictory. This is the gift of the true demagogue, to successfully identify his own self, rather than his opinions, with the selves of his followers—and to equate both with the “true” nation.

            This is a crucial observation–and about twenty times smarter than anything David von Drehle or Mark Leibovich wrote about Beck, in their respective cover stories about him in Time and The New York Times Magazine.



Correction:  FCP was wrong to assume that WikiLeaks has been less assiduous than the The Times in redacting information which might endanger American sources.  According to this AP story, WikiLeaks “is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material…Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and ‘I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the ones it likes,’ El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno [told the AP] in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.”  (H/T Glenn Greenwald, who wrote about this here.) 


Winners & Sinners: Theatre-Film-TV Edition

Harvard’s John Cambell, Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, Columbia’s Frederic Mishkin; Charles Ferguson


Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; John and Yoko in American Masters’ John Lennon


That Hopey Changey Thing; Christopher Eccleston in “Lennon Naked”

Winner: Inside Job, in theaters now.

    If you only see one movie this fall, buy a ticket to Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s devastating exploration of the $20 trillion meltdown caused by the conscious malfeasance of the wizards of Wall Street.

     A classic piece of investigative journalism, Ferguson traveled the world to interview everyone from French finance minster Christine Lagarde–whose reaction to Lehman’s collapse was “holy cow”–to a Wall Street psychiatrist whose high-rolling patients freely described their symbiotic addictions to prostitutes and cocaine.

    Ferguson has a B.A. in mathematics, a Ph.D in political science, and the very special gift of knowing how to take a hugely complicated subject and breaking it down into small, digestible parts.

    Here is the director’s own synopsis of his film, which is narrated by Matt Damon:

    The progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each crisis has been worse than the last; and yet, due to the industry’s increasing wealth and power, each crisis has seen few people go to prison. In the case of this crisis, nobody has gone to prison, despite fraud that caused trillions of dollars in losses. I hope that the film, in less than two hours, will enable everyone to understand the fundamental nature and causes of this problem. It is also my hope that, whatever political opinions individual viewers may have, that after seeing this film we can all agree on the importance of restoring honesty and stability to our financial system, and of holding accountable those to destroyed it.

    The number of crimes committed by the financial industry and the abject failure of the Obama administration to bring criminal prosecutions against any of the executives responsible for them are two of the most depressing aspects of Ferguson’s story.   Although Ferguson does not make this point explicitly, it’s now obvious that this failure to prosecute by the Obama Justice Department was both bad policy and extremely bad politics.   Because the administration never sent any Wall Street executives to jail, it was easy for the Republicans to attack the administration for coddling the financial industry–even though many Republicans had united with Democrats to enact the bailouts which sparked such primal rage across America.

    One of the more original aspects of the film is its portrayal of the utter corruption of economics professors and business school deans, who  seem to have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the financial industry and/or foreign governments in need of a clean bill of health– usually just before they go bust.

    Columbia Business School dean Glenn Hubbard, Harvard economics chair John Cambell, and Columbia Business School professor and Frederic Mishkin are each shown in the film to be either personally corrupt, absurdly in denial about their own conflicts and those of their colleagues, or both.

    The film begins with a concise description of how bank de-regulation in Iceland quickly brought that country to its knees.   Among Professor Mishkin’s many accomplishments is a report he co-authored for the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to deflect sharp criticism of that country’s economy in 2006.  The report, entitled “Financial Stability in Iceland” asserted that the fundamentals of Iceland’s economy remained strong–and it earned Mkiskin the tidy sum of $124,000.

    A year later Iceland’s economy suffered a spectacular collapse–and a couple of years after that, the title of Mishkin’s report had a small but spectacular transformation: Ferguson discovers “Financial Stablity in Iceland” is now listed on Miskin’s c/v as “Financial Instability in Iceland.”

    Oh, Miskin replies–“just a typo,” I guess.

    As the movie’s own publicity puts it, “This is the film that cost over $20,000,000,000,000 to make.” 

   A.O. Scott noted in his rave review  in The New York Times, the film includes “pervasive obscenity, though not the verbal kind.”

Winner: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre in New York.

     This musical transplant from the Public Theatre to Broadway is a campy history lesson done with  charm and enormous energy. With music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, and a book by its director, Alex Timbers, the musical views the modern preoccupations of the Tea Party through the Lens of Jackson’s early-19th century populism.

    Twenty-something Broadway veteran Benjamin Walker gives an ironic and beguiling performance in the title role.

Sinner: That Hopey Changey Thing at the Public Theatre Lab in New York.

    Written and directed by Richard Nelson, this new political play  opened on the very night it portrays–election night, 2010.  But it isn’t even ripped from the headlines; it just regurgitates them.  This makes for an endlessly didactic evening about one family of mostly liberal Democrats dining in the Hudson Valley and bemoaning the state of the world.   Most of the actors are just fine; unfortunately they  have woefully little to work with.

Winner: Fair Game, in theaters now.

    Directed by Bourne Identity veteran Doug Liman, this is a taut political thriller about the outing  of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent by the Bush administration in retaliation for her husband’s completely accurate op-ed piece, which undermined the Bush administration’s phony WMD rationale for going to war in Iraq. 

    All the cravenness of Karl Rove (who dodged prosecution for the illegal leak) and Scooter Libby (who was convicted for it, only to have his sentence commuted  by Bush) comes flooding back in this strongly-told morality tale.   Sean Penn is splendid as  Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Naomi Watts is superb as Plame, the working mother who tries to balance visits with covert operatives around the world with the demands of her two children–and a husband who is dangerously addicted to the truth.

Winner: John Lennon from American Masters on PBS.

    Written and directed by Michael Epstein and first broadcast earlier this week on PBS, this excellent two-hour documentary focuses on the last year’s of Lennon’s life with Yoko Ono in  New York City, and his long and ultimately successful battle against deportation by the thugs of the Nixon administration.  It also includes his Day of the Locusts period in Los Angeles, when the briefly single Lennon descends into alcoholism and madness.  

     The does a fine job of reminding us of Lennon’s admirable obsession with peace–and how wrong reporters like Gloria Emerson of The New York Times were to denigrate him for it (Emerson’s condescending questions are included here though she is never identified.)

Watch the whole film online here.

Sinner: Lennon Naked, from the BBC via PBS.

    This bio pic directed by Edmund Coulthard and starring Christopher Eccleston, also broadcast earlier this week on PBS, is occasionally compelling but generally much less interesting than its nonfiction counterpart.  Eccleston struggles valiantly to recreate the great troubadour, but ultimately his version is never quite as interesting as the real thing.


Olbermann v. Koppel, Alterman v. Hitchens


 Above the Fold

    Keith Olbermann was wrong to contribute $7,200 to three Democratic candidates.  It was a violation of company rules (whether he knew that or not), it was needlessly provocative, it offended many of his colleagues, and it undermined the credibility of his network.

    So a two-day suspension from the air was perfectly appropriate.

    But the torrent of criticism from everyone from Tom Brokaw (privately, according to Howie Kurtz) to Ted Koppel (very publicly, in The Washington Post) only emphasized the incompetence of Olbermann’s critics.

    Everything in Koppel’s 1,500 word diatribe in The Post reminded FCP of how pompous and shallow Koppel  always was, even in his prime.  

    The first problem was the idiotically false equivalence Koppel found among Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly–“individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship….”

    It is really nothing less than obscene to equate serious people like Maddow and Olbermann with dangerous clowns like Hannity and Beck.   The MSNBC anchors are, indeed, relentlessly liberal.  But they are also extremely intelligent, careful with the facts, and genuinely interested in the truth.

    Hannity and Beck are none of those things.  As Dana Milbank pointed out recently, during the short time Barack Obama has been president, Beck has managed “202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels”–and most of these were directed in some form at Obama.

    Olbermann may have made three small and stupid donations to Democratic candidates, but Hannity has been a full-time money-raising machine for everyone from Sharron Angle to Christine O’Donnell.  Nearly all the rest of Roger Ailes’ boys and girls are Reublican fundraisers, or prospective Republican presidential candidates, or both.

    And as Obama jetted off to Asia, Beck once again displayed his unrivaled capacity for prevarication:  “Have you ever seen the president, ever seen the president go over for a vacation where you needed 34 warships, $2 billion — $2 billion, 34 warships. We are sending — he’s traveling with 3,000 people.”  As Tom Friedman notes today, “In Beck’s rendition, the president’s official state visit to India became ‘a vacation’ accompanied by one-tenth of the U.S. Navy’ ” (all of which was based on the presumably pure invention of a single unnamed provincial official in India).

    Thus, anyone like Koppel who writes that “Fox News and MSNBC “show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be,” either never watches these networks on a regular basis, or simply has no judgment.

    The rest of Koppel’s piece tends to support the latter conclusion.   Besides the flatly false statement that 60 Minutes was the first network news program ever to turn a profit (see Jack Schafer’s excellent dissection of that fantasy), Koppel’s theme–that objectivity used to be the greatest strength of all the news divisions–is equally false.

    Olbermann did a fine job of demonstrating that in a searing  “special comment”  on his program a couple of days after Koppel’s article appeared.  Olbermann reported quite correctly that the only times  the networks have made crucial contributions to the life of the republic have actually been when its anchors explicitly threw off the cloak of objectivity–when Ed Murrow attacked Joe McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite devoted half of the CBS Evening News to Watergate (at a moment when every other news organization except The Washington Post was ignoring it), and–most importantly–when Cronkite went to Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Cronkite courageously declared in a prime time special that nothing better than a stalemate was possible in Vietnam, and called on the United States to negotiate its way out, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

    Olbermann continued, “the great change about which Mr. Koppel wrings his hands is not partisanship nor tone nor analysis. The great change was the creation of the sanitized image of what men like Cronkite and Murrow and [others, including Koppel] did.  These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did in their day what the best of journalists still try to do in this one. Evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess — put together a coherent picture, or a challenging question — using only the facts as they can best be discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.”

    Meanwhile, we have people like Tom Brokaw–who never used his anchor seat to do anything remotely as important as what Cronkite did–attacking Olbermann for compromising his network’s credibility.   And yet, almost simultaneously, Brokaw was going on NBC’s Nightly News this month to parrot Republican talking points, including the crucial need to redefine the rich in America  as anyone who makes at least $1 million, instead of a paltry $250,000.   Because editorializing from the right is always allowed on every network–and only a multimillionaire like Brokaw would consider someone earning $250,000 “poor.”

    There is one more problem with the idea that Keith Olbermann is, or ever could be, the biggest threat to the reputation of NBC News.  The people most responsible for diminishing it are the executives who are in charge of it.

    Two and a half years ago, David Barstow of The New York Times wrote a brilliant piece revealing that all of the major networks had been victims of a Pentagon propaganda scheme, which used legions of retired military officers to push the Bush administration’s line about Iraq and Afghanistan.   As Barstow wrote, “Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.”

    That piece won the Pulitzer Prize.  And it was followed, six months after it was published, by another Barstow article  that focused on NBC’s favorite military analyst, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.  Entitled “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” it described how McCaffrey’s ties to defense contractors made him the direct beneficiary of any on-air commentary which supported either war.

    And what did NBC News executives  decide was the appropriate on-air response to Barstow’s accusations? 

    Absolute silence, which continues to this day – and was mimicked by all the other evening news shows.  With that decision, all the network news divisions gave up their claims to being serious news gathering organizations.


                                                 *           *          *


    Christopher Hitchens is now fighting a gallant fight for his life against cancer.   He is one of the best-loved and most-despised writers of our time.   For the finest explanation ever written of those dueling points of view, don’t miss Eric Alterman’s brilliant review of Hitchens’ memoirs in the current issue of Dissent.   It begins this way:

    Has there ever been anyone quite like Christopher Hitchens? As a writer and a thinker, Hitchens may be the greatest performance artist the profession has ever produced. He is Oscar Wilde without the plays; Gore Vidal without the novels; Edmund Wilson without the ideas; George Orwell without the integrity; and Richard Burton without the movies (and Elizabeth Taylor). What he is not, however, is the author of lasting works of reportage, criticism, philosophy, or, dare I say it, literature.

    Despite his myriad (and on occasion, damn-near miraculous) talents as literary critic, columnist, and long-form journalist, Hitchens’s genius undoubtedly lies in the art of the argument. “The world I live in is one where I have five quarrels a day, each with someone who really takes me on over something; and if I can’t get into an argument, I go looking for one, to make sure I trust my own arguments, to hone them,” he has explained, adding, “I would often rather have an argument or a quarrel than be bored, and because I hate to lose an argument, I am often willing to protract one for its own sake rather than concede even a small point.”

    For the rest of Alterman’s piece, go here.

   (H/T to Hal Davis for bringing it to FCP’s attention.)







That "Tsunami" Was Actually a Split Decision


Above the Fold

     It could have been worse–a great deal worse.

     Tuesday was a difficult night for the Democratic party, but with an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck above nine percent, the loss of the House of Representatives had been a foregone conclusion for some time.   And while it is true the Republicans won six more House seats in 2010 than they did in the genuine blow-out of 1994, this time they failed to capture the Senate, despite a stream of stories suggesting that  unlimited campaign spending by American corporations would put the Grand Old Party over the top in both houses of Congress.

    Especially on the two coasts (where Fox news may be somewhat less influential), it was a terrible night for right-wing women millionaires–and Democratic Senate candidates won by huge margins.   In Connecticut, former wrestling magnate Linda McMahon spent $50 million of her own money and still lost by twelve points to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the Senate Race.   In California, Carly Fiorina spent $5 million from her own pocket and got walloped 51. 9 to 42.6 percent by veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer–and Meg Whitman spent a staggering $140 million so that she could be humiliated by Jerry Brown in the Governor’s race.

    In another piece of good news, David Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, R.I., will become the fourth openly gay member of the House of Representatives, joining Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin , Barney Frank of Massachusetts, and Jared Polis of Colorado in the 112th Congress.

    This year was supposed to be all about the energy generated by the Tea Party, but that movement’s most important contribution to the election was to guarantee the Democrats control of the Senate, by nominating Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.  O’Donnell was crushed 56 to 40 percent by Christopher Coons, while Harry Reid beat back Angle by almost 6 percentage points.   Senate Democratic candidates also prevailed narrowly in Colorado and Washington, and by ten points in West Virginia.

     Despite the very best efforts of Roger Ailes and his minions, millions of Americans still won’t elect lunatics to the Upper House.

    But the split decision that was this  year’s  election did not fit the narrative the Beltway boys and girls had been pushing for three months.   All they could wonder about on Wednesday was why Obama wasn’t abandoning all of his policies in response to what Washington reporters thought could only be seen as a rejection of everything he has accomplished in his first two years in office.

    The president actually gave an extremely reasonable, and characteristically intelligent performance at his press conference the day after the election.  While acknowledging a “shellacking,” he correctly attributed the results to the deep frustration of voters “with the pace of our economic recovery and the opportunities that they hope for, for their children and their grandchildren.  They want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further, and they want the ability to give their children the same chances and opportunities as they’ve had in life.”

    The president added, “I do believe there is hope for civility.  I do believe there’s hope for progress.  And that’s because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that’s bounced back from much worse than what we’re going through right now.”

    And when Fox’s Mike Emanuel pointed out that exit polls showed that one in two voters favor a repeal of health care reform,  Obama quite sensibly pointed out: “It also means one out of two voters think it was the right thing to do.”

    Naturally these sentiments were judged wholly inadequate by a furious White House press corps.  NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, another TV reporter whose attractiveness is perfectly matched by her shallowness, told the president, “You don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions you’ve made, instead saying the message the voters were sending was about frustration with the economy or maybe even chalking it up to a failure on your part to communicate effectively.  If you’re not reflecting on your policy agenda, is it possible voters can conclude you’re still not getting it?”

    On Washington Week in Review last night, Gwen Ifill declared that there were just two possible interpretations of the president’s performance at his press conference, “and neither of them are flattering to the president.  He’s in the rock and the hard place.  Which is, one is, he didn’t really hear what the people really said, and the other is, he just is kind  of stubborn.  There’s not a good interpretation of his reaction at least his initial reaction to this drubbing.” 

    That statement was nearly as dumb as the one she made at the top of her show: “What happened on Tuesday,” Ifill declared, “was a wave so forceful that even political tsunami warnings didn’t prepare Democrats for what it would actually feel like.”  That was so far from the truth that even one of Ifill’s own panelists, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, felt compelled to correct her:

    “I got the sense from calling around to Democratic leaders that they weren’t quite as shell-shocked as they were after the 1994 election,” Tumulty said.  “They did see this one coming.  But also, unlike a lot of these big wave elections, in this case the Democrats did pull it out for some very high-profile governor races and very high-profile senate races.”

    The same night, over on NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw managed to sound as out-of-it as he looked, pompously forecasting  “a 21st century version of a Shakespearian drama” because of the newly divided government.

    The former $10-million-a-year man castigated Obama for calling families that make $250,000 a year “rich” ($1 million should be the cut-off, according to Brokaw).  He also said “influential Democrats” believe that the president should shake up his cabinet, go outside of his Chicago circle, and “move to the center.”

    Move to the center, of course, is Washington talk for returning to the extreme right positions which prevailed during the previous administration.   The truth is, Obama has never been anywhere except the center, accepting countless compromises to get a health care plan passed (including his abandonment of the public option) as well dozens of changes on the way to signing the first serious financial reform act since the depression.

    What this election really proved is that America remains split right down the middle, and victory always goes to the side that manages the best turnout among its supporters.   In 2008, that was the Democrats; in 2010, it was the Republicans.   If the economy finally manages a robust recovery by 2012, Obama will be re-elected by a wide margin.  If it doesn’t, he will almost certainly be defeated.  

    Just one thing is certain: just about everything you’ve heard on television during the last four days will have no relevance to the ultimate success or failure of his administration.


Jon Stewart summarized the questions at the President’s press conference this way: “Do you suck? And a quick follow up: Do you suck so bad, you don’t even know how sucky you are?”   For the rest of his roundup, go here.

The Three Billion Dollar Election


Campaign spending graphic courtesy of NBC News


     Above the Fold

    If corporate control of the state is a pillar of fascism–and it is–it’s hard to imagine what could have pushed us faster in that direction than last January’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission

    That decision made it possible for every corporation and fat cat from Boeing to David Koch to spend without limit to destroy any candidate they wish to destroy.  If that strikes you as hyperbole, listen to what Rob Collins, the president of American Action Network, one of the leading Republican groups in this campaign season, said to Jim Rutenberg a couple of days ago in a great  story in The New York Times:

    “We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it’s sniper time.  You’re looking at the battle field and saying, ‘Where can we marginally push — where can we close a few places out?’”

    Sniper time indeed.  Together with Karl Rove’s two “carpet-bombing” organizations, the American Action Network has spent $45 million on television ads.   Bob Perry, the man behind the Swfit Boat Veterans, has contributed $7 million this year to Collins’ group.  All by himself.

    The day the Supreme Court’s decision was announced in Citizens United, Barack Obama called it “a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics” and “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”  

    Nothing he has said as president has proved to be more prescient.

    Last night on NBC’s Nightly News Chuck Todd said that the newest estimate of spending on television ads by all sides by the time the election is held is now $3 billion.

    Three Billion Dollars.  That obscene figure–unlike anything allowed in any other “advanced” democracy in the world–is $300 million more than was spent two years ago (a presidential election year) and $600 million more than was spent in the last mid-term election, according to Todd’s report.

    As Justice John Paul Stevens predicted in a blistering 90-page dissent to the majority’s god awful opinion

     The court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve.”  He pointed out that the majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marked  “a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907…The Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding…Few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

    Of course, the Republicans prevented the passage of any law this year that would have made more disclosure necessary, much less imposing any limits on campaign expenditures by corporations which do business with the federal government, which might be one way to temper the impact of this appalling decision.   

    So corporate America can now spend as many billions as it wants to distort democracy through television ads–and the biggest winners of all are General Electric, the Walt Disney Company, Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch–the owners of NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, which will collect more of this flood of money than anyone else.

    Besides having bottomless pockets to promote their agenda, the Republicans also have an enviable unity, which includes the decision by the Republican establishment to support some of the most extreme and incompetent candidates ever to present themselves for public office in our lifetimes.

      That includes no less than five Senate candidates who oppose abortion in all circumstances, including rape and incest.    Joe Miller, the Republican primary winner in Alaska, has been exposed for having so many ethical lapses in his background, his pitch to the voters, according to  the indispensable Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly, now goes something like this:

   “Never mind my background, never mind my qualifications, never mind my record, never mind my inexperience, never mind my record of professional misconduct, and never mind my scandalous campaign tactics. Vote for me anyway, because I’m really right-wing.” 

    As Benen says,  “That this guy, largely unknown to voters up until very recently, is poised to win a U.S. Senate seat is more than a little bizarre.”

    Add to the Republican advantage the 24-hour a day, seven day a week support of the Fox network, whose parent company has donated millions to the Republican governors’ campaigns and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and you have a juggernut poised to oust dozens of Democrats from the House and Senate.

    Whether or not this Tsunami of money will be enough to switch control of both houses remains to be seen.   The guess here is that the Senate, at least, will remain in Democratic hands, while Republican gains in the House may be a good deal smaller than the most extravagant Republican predictions.   But what makes a Republican triumph all the more likely is the shocking attitude of the left towards this election.

    As it has so many times before in the last four decades, the left is once again far more eager to eat its own young than it is to vanquish the appalling candidates the Republicans are running for office.

    Now it is certainly true that Barack Obama’s administration has made some terrible mistakes.   The biggest ones on FCP’s list are the surge in Afghanistan, the failure to prosecute any of the bankers who created the financial catastrophe which brought the nation to its knees, and the continuation of some of the previous administration’s most heinous “anti-terrorist” policies.

    But this is also a president who enacted health care and financial reform against the united opposition of the Republicans.  And whatever the deficiencies of those bills may be–and there are many–they are still two of the most impressive achievements of any president in the last fifty years.   

    The fact that thousands or millions of Americans may  sit home next Tuesday instead of voting is just the latest proof of the incredible political immaturity of my fellow progressives.   This is an attitude the right wing has been able to rely upon, all the way back to 1968, when just enough Democrats stayed home to elect Richard Nixon, because Hubert Humphrey had not opposed the Vietnam War loudly enough or quickly enough to suit them.

    The truth is, Barack Obama is probably the best president we will elect for a very long time to come.   Can you really imagine any Republican president recording a video for a campaign to prevent gay teenagers from comitting suicide?

     So while it is certainly necessary to hold the president’s  feet to the fire on everything from Afghanistan to the banking industry, it is even more important to make sure we do everything we can to prevent a frightful group of extremists from seizing control of the House and Senate. 

     This president is our president.  And he needs us now more than he has ever needed us before.

    As Frank Rich wrote in another brilliant column last Sunday,

     Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it’s pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid — the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn’t remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.

    That is an outcome that should be repellant to all of us.




Winners & Sinners: From (bloggers) Quinn and Meacham to (Congressman) Grayson




Winners Joseph Huff-Hannon, Oakleigh Marshall, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

 Sinners:  Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham, for posting one of the most repellent pieces ever to appear on the blog of a mainstream newspaper–their On Faith blog at

Quinn and Meacham displayed their usual excellent judgment by posting this classic piece of anti-gay propaganda (homosexuality is “a behavior that is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large”) on the anniversary of the death of  Matthew Shepard.   It was written by Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, who makes a fine living by spewing precisely the kind of hatred which creates the climate which encourages gay teenagers to kill themselves.

Perkins wrote, “Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who “come out of the closet” at an earlier age.”

The truth, from Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation, who actually knows what he’s talking about:

While queer folk of all ages experience mental health issues (particularly depression, anxiety and substance abuse) at hugely disproportional rates, there is no evidence to suggest that coming out younger makes matters worse. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that young people out of the closet are LESS likely to be depressed or anxious.  And while as yet unproven, I am convinced that the less time a human being spends in the closet, the fewer bad things (health issues, behaviors, choices) will happen downstream.

Among Tony Perkins’ many splendid achievements is the address he gave before the Council of Conservative Citizens,   a lovely organization which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has routinely denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called homosexuals “perverted sodomites,” accused immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop,” and named Lester Maddox, the baseball bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

FCP pointed out to Quinn that her blog was no longer “an embarrassment; it’s a humiliation–for you, for Jon and for The Washington Post.”  Quinn responded by offering to print FCP’s view on her blog: “We are always happy to present diverse views. That’s what we do on “On Faith.”

FCP responded, “I’m all for diversity, but what you did was the equivalent of offering [Public Safety Commissioner] Bull Connor a bullhorn–after he used dogs against the demonstrators in Birmingham in 1963.  Is that something you would have done too?”  

Quinn did not reply.

For Quinn’s second greatest embarrassment of 2010, don’t miss her column  about how not to schedule a family wedding.   That one ended her career as a regular columnist for the Style section.  Unfortunately, her blog lives on.

Winner: Rachel Maddow, for two in-shadow interviews with two active-duty, in-the-closet Air Force Majors about how America’s idiotic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy detracts from unit cohesion and harms our national security.    Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered an immediate end to the policy because it is clearly unconstitutional.  Bowing once again to bad advice from the Department of Defense, the Obama administration is appealing the judge’s ruling, partly because DOD says straight troops need time to learn how to live in the same barracks as gay troops. 
Note to Secretary Gates: that’s actually been going on in America since 1776.

Winner:  J. Kane Latta for a fine piece   at Truthout about the importance of passing the Equal Employment for All Act, which would make it illegal for employers to use the private credit reports of American job applicants when making hiring decisions for most positions. Latta writes:

Bad credit means no job and no job means bad credit. Second chances in Hollywood and professional sports occur every day, but the rest of America is locked down in a modern-day debtors’ prison run by credit bureaus and ruled by corporate greed. A two-class America of the elite and the poor is becoming more and more a reality, thanks in part to the continuing practice of pre-employment credit checks.

Winner: Joseph Huff-Hannon for an excellent feature    for the Indypendent about the quest of Evie Lou Hunt to find out exactly what happened to her brother Billy Lee, one of 30,000 activists, artists, and musicians who were “disappeared” in Argentina after a  fascist dictatorship that seized power there in the spring of 1976.

Sinner: NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell for one of her typically content-free pieces, this one two minutes and 31 seconds about the race between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons for the Senate seat from Delaware.  The closest the NBCer got to talking about an actual issue: quoting Tea Partyer O’Donnell as saying “my opponent has a history of promising not to raise taxes on the campaign trial and then breaking those promises as soon as he takes office.” 

The piece should be used in journalism schools everywhere–to highlight everything that is wrong about the network news broadcasts.

No on-air  word from Kelly  about whether she might be related to her namesake.

Winners:  The Los Angeles Times, and its reporters, Tiffany Hsu, Alana Semuels Don Lee for a comprehensive (and heartbreaking) series   about the causes and effects of the unemployment crisis in California

Winner: Ira Schor, for a useful corrective   to Waiting for Superman, the documentary which extols the virtues of charter schools.  Schor writes:

[The film maker] conveniently ignores the policies which enforce decline on public education. Instead, he glamorizes charter schools but wisely does so through irresistible stories of adorable, deserving kids and their desperate parents who pin their hopes on lotteries for admission to charter schools. 

Winner:  Wellesley College professor Susan M. Reverby, who uncovered one of the most ghastly government-sponsored experiments ever: American public health doctors who deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans with venereal diseases in an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.  As Donald McNeil wrote in his comprehensive report in The New York Times:

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture. If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.

However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear,” said Professor Reverby.

Winner:   Jean Friedman-Rudovsky for a harrowing account  of the effects of the drug war in Juarez,  Mexico, the “murder capital of the world.”  Rudovsky reports:

Over the past two and a half years, more than 5,000 people (an average of more than five a day) have been killed in an intensifying drug war that has reached deep into children’s lives — kids gather at crime scenes, stumble onto recently slain bodies, are forced to witness relatives’ assassinations, or are killed themselves…Ten thousand of Juárez’s 500,000 children under the age of 14 have been orphaned, according to El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Juárez-based university and research institution. Of those murdered, 43 were between the ages of 12 and 15. More than 200 were between 16 and 18.

Winner:  Ken Kolker of WOOD8, the NBC-tv affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for his portrait of Oakleigh Reed, a transgender high school senior whose campaign for homecoming king was blocked by school administrators.  After Kolker’s piece was picked up by CNN and NBC, it sparked a movement among teens from around the world, who came out in support of Reed, whose “Oak is My King” Facebook page grew from 100 members to more than 10,000 in less than a week (now up to 12,535.)

Winner:  Congressman Alan Grayson of  Florida, for the a concise and brilliant explanation of the latest chapter in the mortgage foreclosures scandal, which ought to lead the imprisonment of scores of bank executives–but almost certainly will not.

Winner:  Scott Pelley for a calm, thorough and sensible assessment on 60 Minutes  of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center (and mosque) in downtown Manhattan.


Scott Pelley speaks to Sharif El-Gamal, Congressman Alan Grayson



Winners & Sinners: From Leibovich to Moylan


Jessica Bennett, Mark Leibovich, Glenn Beck


Sinner: Mark Leibovich, who managed to write 8,000 words about Glenn Beck  for the cover of next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine–without telling us anything new, original or important about the Fox “news” man. 

 Leibovich does, however, offer the following penetrating insights:

*  “I stand with the Tea Party as long as they stand for certain principles and values,” Beck told me.  He is a principles-and-values guy.

*  Beck and his friends emphasize that he is driven by principles, not politics. He has been critical of Republicans as well as of Democrats, of George W. Bush as well as of Obama. He says that American citizens who are terrorist suspects should be read their Miranda rights, and he opposes a Constitutional amendment that would ban flag-burning.  His friends object to any hint that Beck has merely fashioned his worldview according to a marketplace that rewards shock, chutzpah and discord.

* He is more agonized than mad.   He is post-angry.

* Fans approach Beck and give him hugs.  Do people feel they can hug Limbaugh?

* His characteristic chalkboard lends his show an air of retro-professorial authority…

It’s not that Leibovich doesn’t include any criticism of Beck.  It’s just that when he does, he feels compelled to show that he’s way too post-modern and hip to take any of it very seriously.

Thus, when Leibovich writes:

Or if you prefer: ‘Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra,’ wrote The Buffalo Beast, in naming Beck one of the 50 most loathsome people in America in 2006. (No. 24 then, but in January he made it to No. 1.) ‘It’s like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show.’

 That is inevitably followed by this :

O.K.,  the dude’s polarizing.  Got it.”

Or  then there’s  this:

President Obama is not a Muslim, Beck has said, correctly. But Beck can’t help wondering aloud on his show: ‘He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the ground-zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up — his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

This of course is  nothing more or less than the cheapest, oldest, and vilest form of McCarthyism–but it would be oh-so-unhip for Leibovich to make that judgment.

Finally, there is this remarkable sentence:

[Roger] Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

All of which prompted FCP to send the following query to Leibovich:

I have a couple of questions about your Beck profile.

You report: “And as of Sept. 21, 296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck’s show (up from 26 in August 2009).”
Why didn’t you mention this was the product of an organized boycott sparked by Beck’s remarks saying that Obama was a racist?

Did you ask Beck if it’s true that he he’s going blind, as he has recently implied?

You write: “Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

How can you write sentence like that about a network whose parent company gave $1 million to elect Republican governors this year, and another $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce?
Isn’t it obvious that Ailes is running the network to promote a political agenda, as well as the bottom line?

So far, no response from Mr. Leibovich.

Yesterday, Times executive editor Bill Keller announced that Hugo Lindgren would succeed Gerry Mazaroti.  Keller wrote,

This Sunday’s issue, with the cover on Glenn Beck, is a reminder that Gerry will be a hard act to follow.

Actually, it proves just the opposite.

Saturday Morning Update (it gets worse.)  You won’t know how just how hard-hitting Leibovich’s magaziner is (for Leibovich)–unless you begin by reading his gauzy interview with Christine O’Donnell in the national pages of this morning’s Times.   Presumably, as soon as her handlers read Leibovich’s piece about Beck online, they realized, “he’s our boy”–and granted him a “rare interview” on Thursday with the Republican nominee for the Senate from Delaware.

Score one for O’Donnell’s handlers.

Suddenly, the woman who has said that distributing condoms to teenagers reduces “them to the level of a dog,” calls gay bashing “kids being kids” and believes a woman must “submit” to her husband is magically transformed by Leibovich into a candidate merely trying to avoid “the media carnival that has arisen over her success as well as her apparent résumé exaggerations, past legal woes and old video clips showing her holding forth on issues such as chastity (good), masturbation (bad) and witchcraft (a teenage dalliance).” 

After her very unfair trashing at the hands of Karl Rove, thank God O’Donnell found the gentle touch of Leibovich to rehabilitate her.

Sunday Update: As usual, Frank Rich is the only person at the Times to get to the heart of the matter, which the Times “news” reporter avoided so assiduously.

Rich explains:

Christine O’Donnell, Tea Party everywoman… just may be the final ingredient needed to camouflage a billionaires’ coup as a populist surge. By the time her fans discover that any post-election cuts in government spending will be billed to them, and not the Tea Party’s shadowy backers, she’ll surely be settling her own debts with fat paychecks from “Fox & Friends.”

Winner: Brian Moylan, for a moving and important piece in Gawker (of all places)  about the most horrifying story of the week, the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the college student who took his own life after his roomate used the internet to broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.  Moylan writes:

 What seems most befuddling about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the gay teen whose roommate broadcast him having sex, is how this one incident lead to his death. It’s because being a gay teen can be akin to prolonged torture… [Teenagers are] just like normal people, but amped up on a combination of hormones and self-doubt that makes them particularly awful. And mean! Teens are cruel, especially to other teens and especially to other teens who are perceived as different.

Imagine your worst high school memory and multiply it by ten and that is how bad it is for many gay teenagers every day. The ones that have it the worst are those that are bullied repeatedly by their peers until they become suicidal, drop out of school, or are robbed of their education because they can’t focus on learning the Pythagorean theorem or the amendments to the Constitution because they’re thinking about how they’re going to physically survive the day. In many cases, parents, teachers, principals and other grown-ups don’t care about about the gay student’s problems and condone the bullying behavior, either explicitly or with their own inaction.

Sinner: Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett, for a perfectly repellent piece  at on the same subject, which reported that bullying really isn’t anything new, so why is the media making so much out of four gay teenagers killing themselves right in a row? 

Bennett writes that “The hype around bullying has lead to demands for ever-more drastic punishments for those labeled bully”–including a possible five year sentence for Clementi’s roomate, Dharun Ravi, and his alleged accomplice, Molly Wei, for this despicable prank.

FCP believes five years in jail  for each of them would actually send exactly the right message to their peers about this kind of disgusting behavior.

Winner: Lisa Miller, for a splendid cover story in this week’s Newsweek about the “mama girrlies”  emulating Sarah Palin and running for office acorss America, pretending that they are determined to save America’s children–by repealing health care rform, opposing CHIP, which helps low-income kids get health insurance, opposing kindergarten programs at risk–and of course, prohibiting abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. 

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s moving position on that subject: “asked by a radio interviewer in June what she’d tell a young girl who’d been raped by her father, Angle responded, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’  and that the girl should turn ‘a lemon situation into lemonade.’”

Winner: Human Rights First, for reminding us that a terrorist is on trial right now in Federal Court in Manhattan–and hardly anyone has even noticed 
The indispensable human rights organization reported:

Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantánamo detainee, is charged with plotting with Al Qaeda in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people. Not a nice guy.

Former Mayor Giuliani says these trials will make New York unsafe, even though as Mayor he supported the federal court trial of the blind sheik who bombed the World Trade Center. Karl Rove said, “we will see that this was an utter unmitigated disaster for the security of the United States.”

Yet, our federal courts have convicted 400 terrorists since 9/11, while Guantánamo has convicted only 4. Politics based on fear rather then national security do not serve the public.
Here was the scene around the federal court house for the Ghailani trial: The streets were not blocked off. There were no legions of helicopters. Those who live and work near the court did not stay away. The police didn’t need an extra dime for added security.”

And yet, Charles Schumer and Michael Bloomberg both joined the idiotic chorus opposing the trial of  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan.





Winners & Sinners


Left to right: Derek Leebaert, Jonathan Karl, Lisa Meyers




Winner, Derek Leebaert, author of Magic And Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan.

        Forget about Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, full of pettiness (and petty scooplets) and devoid, as always, of any meaningful analysis whatsoever.  By far the most interesting book this month from Alice Mayhew (and Simon and Schuster) is Magic and Mayhem, a superb account of the “magical thinking” responsible for America’s capacity to repeat the same foreign policy disaster over and over again since the end of World War II.

        Written by Derek Leebaert, a management consultant who has taught foreign policy at Georgetown since 1996, the book describes America’s interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as “surrounded by a host of dangerous self-deceptions” that he sums up as “magical thinking.”

        I call it ‘magical’ because shrewd, levelheaded people are so frequently bewitched into substituting passion, sloganeering and haste for reflect on, homework, and reasonable objectives…When we think magically, we expect to  astounding outcomes of our own design…Magical thinking entails seductive, familiarizing rituals.  In the excitements of global policy, we court some truly grim entities as imginary friends, such as venal client states that eventually implode and splatter us in their collapse…We resort to bad analogies and inferior quanitative techniques while stilling our doubts with mantras of ‘stabiility’ and ‘democratcy’ accompanied by the usual creepy euphemisms like ‘collateral damage,” “enhanced interrorogation,’ or percentage of ‘DOE,” meaning ‘Death on Earth.  When the outcomes do not match expectations, as has been to often the case, it is magically assumed that it was the particulars that were gotten wrong, not that the overall objective was misconceived.”

        Barack Obama should make this book required reading for everyone participating in the Afghanistan review due to be completed this December.

Sinner: ABC’s Jonathan Karl, for a World News piece about Christine O’Donnell which was devoted exclusively to the irrelevance of attacks on the Delaware Republican Senate nominee for her admitted dalliance with Satanism.    By focusing exclusively on that charge, Karl’s piece made O’Donnell look like a victim of elitists–instead of the dangerous fool who promised  George Stephanpoulos   that when elected, she would fight “to defend the homeland of our security.”  Among O’Donnell’s other greatest hits, none of which is getting the attention it deserves from the MSM:

* O’Donnell excused gay bashing as ‘kids being kids’; asked if she could “understand why gays might be upset?” by someone calling homosexuality a “deviant sexual orientation,” O’Donnell replied, “Absolutely not. I cannot understand.”

* She believes the proper role of a woman is to “submit” to her husband. ”This is not about merely a Baptist doctrine. This is a biblical doctrine.”

* She thinks that spouses who have been cheated on possess compromised ‘purity.’

* She once told Joe Scarborough that she wants to stop “the whole country from having sex.”

 * She thinks that distributing condoms to teenagers ‘reduc[es]them to the level of a dog.’ and that condom distribution is “‘just going to further the spread of AIDS.”
* She warned that allowing women to attend military academies “cripples the readiness of our defense.”

And finally, FCP’s personal favorite (Satanism, anyone?):

*  O’Donnell thinks The Sopranos are a model family. “The thing that attracts people to The Sopranos is the family element. It shows that America still has a longing for that traditional upbringing.”

For the complete list, see this excellent compilation from ThinkProgress.

Sinners:  Ariana Eunjung Cha and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post  and the always-ordinary Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times for two woefully inadequate accounts of the president’s interview by John Harwood of CNBC. (The account on NBC’s Nightly News was just as bad.)  All three focused almost exclusively on the unhappiness of some of the president’s questioners, while ignoring the real lead of the story, which was only available from
Michael A. Memoli in The Los Angeles Times: “President Obama sought to challenge critics who say his administration has been hostile to businesses, arguing in a televised forum Monday that measures he has taken to stabilize the economy have boosted the private sector….While some have accused him of being hostile to Wall Street, Obama said a “big chunk” of the nation “feels like I’ve been too soft on Wall Street.”

Another quote from the president you didn’t see in The New York Times or Washington Post stories:

A big source of frustration – this quote that you just said, this was me acting like Hitler going into Poland, had to do with a proposal to change a rule called “carried interest,” which basically allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15 percent on their income. Now, everybody else is getting taxed at a lot more. (Laughter.) The secretary of the hedge fund is probably being taxed at 25, 28 – right? And these folks are making – getting taxed at 15….The notion that somehow me saying maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary, when you’re pulling home a billion dollars or a hundred million dollars a year, I don’t think is me being extremist or being anti-business. (Applause.) And that’s the confusion we get into.

Sinners: Anne Thompson and Lisa Myers, both of whom took turns on NBC’s Nightly News this week, attacking Ken Feinberg for making payouts too slowly to victims of the Gulf Spill from the BP relief fund.  Thompson said Feinberg’s record was no better than BP’s, and Myers followed up a couple of days later with multiple complaints against Feinberg’s performance.   What neither of them reported: according to a Reuters story earlier this week, from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3 Feinberg was paying out roughly $3.5 million a day, about the same daily amount as BP had been paying when it operated the fund. But since September 3, Feinberg has been paying out an average of $12.5 million–an increase of much more than 300 percent.

Reached by FCP, Myers said: “I have no doubt that the numbers reflect that more checks are going out,” and she acknowledged that her main sources for the story were lawyers for people seeking payouts.  She added.  “I would be surprised if Mr. Feinberg thought that we were unfair.”

Anne Thompson acknowledged receipt of FCP’s inquiry, but did not respond to it.



Remembering Paul Conrad

An FCP guest post

By Harold Meyerson

    In bestowing our awards on trenchant, progressive journalism here at Hillman, there’s one category of TPJ we have generally overlooked: editorial cartooning. But if ever there was a journalist with a trenchant, progressive body of work, it was Paul Conrad, the great editorial cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times, who died earlier this month at age 86. Conrad was surely the nation’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonist from the mid-Sixties through the early Nineties, as the Washington Post’s Herbert Block (Herblock) was in the decades before.
   Conrad cartoons didn’t speak to the reader; they shrieked. He drew from a well of Swiftian savage indignation, and splashed his ire over racists, militarists, and right-wingers in general, and Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (both as governor and president), and Sam Yorty (the demagogic mayor of Los Angeles in the Sixties and early Seventies) in particular.
    Like his fellow Angeleno Raymond Chandler, Conrad was at home in noir. There was often a lot of black in Conrad cartoons – in particular, shading or surrounding that most noir-ish of politicos, Nixon. For an Angeleno such as I, steeped in lore and power of the Times, Conrad’s war on Nixon (who, in turn, put Conrad on his enemies list) was the happiest of turn-abouts. The pre-Otis-Chandler Times had virtually created Nixon, with political editor Kyle Palmer making sure that the news pages sung his praises from his first congressional campaign in 1946 through his first presidential campaign in 1960. But that was the year that Otis took over the paper from his father and, to the dismay of the rest of the Chandler family, began remaking the Times into a great paper. Nothing sped that conversion more than his hiring of Conrad (from the Denver Post) in 1964. 

    For the next 22 years, as publisher and then as chairman of the company, Otis protected Conrad from the rage of L.A.’s conservative elites, prominent among whom were other members of the Chandler family, which owned the paper.  But in 1986, the Chandler cousins – a collection of paleo-Birchers and kindred yahoos – ousted Otis. In 1990, Cardinal Roger Mahony and other local conservatives successfully prodded the paper to oust liberal (and pro-choice) editorial page editor Anthony Day.
   Most of Conrad’s obituaries simply noted that he stepped down from the Times in 1993, but that’s not really a true picture of what happened. Times management, inhabiting a conservative cocoon and increasingly isolated from their increasingly liberal city, had clearly come to believe Conrad was more trouble than he was worth to them – a judgment they made known by deed if not by explicit word to Conrad himself. When he left, they hired a conservative non-entity to take his place, pledging, however, to continue running Conrad with some regularity. As the paper’s former longtime city editor Bill Boyarsky has documented, though, that meant they ran him no more than sporadically.

            Conrad kept cartooning, but without a steady platform for his work. His attacks on George W. Bush were brilliant and fierce – when and if you could find them. Nonetheless, they added to a body of work that had already established Conrad as a peer of Thomas Nast and Herblock, as one of America’s great editorial cartoonists.


Harold Meyerson is a longtime judge for The Hillman Prizes, the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, and a weekly columnist for The Washington Post.  Currently he is also a guest columnist for The Los Angeles Times.  Last year The Atlantic named him one of America’s fifty most influential columnists.    He is the author of Who Put The Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz, a biography of Broadway lyricist Yip Harburg.