Monday, March 30, 2015

Iran, The Times and Motherfudge

Yesterday, under the headline “Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal;” the New York Times published the latest word-game  by David Sanger and Michael Gordon as if it were real news, rather than what former Times editor Max Frankel used to call “a thinly-disguised Q-head.”

There’s a fine line — only Frankel knew exactly where to draw it — between a thinly disguised Q-head, or news analysis, and sheer propaganda.

The Sanger-Gordon piece, by whatever name, was part of a recently intensified media campaign to sabotage the talks  in Switzerland  between Iran and the P5+1 nations seeking an agreement on what Iran can and cannot do within the nuclear program first given to it by the United States half a century ago.

They “key detail” was Iran’s supposed “agreement” that as part of the deal it would allow most of its stockpile of nuclear fuel to be shipped to Russia to be converted into a form that could not be used for weapons.

The Times based its “backs away” report entirely on a single off-the-cuff remark made by an Iranian negotiator in a briefing of Iranian reporters.

Today — in what might have been (but wasn’t) headlined “Sanger and Gordon back Away from Key Point in Sabotage of Nuclear Deal” — the Times published a sort-of “oops!” The negotiator’s remark was only an “apparent change of position,” Sanger/Gordon wrote. 

“Contrary to the report in The New York Times,” they wrote, “the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” a senior State Department official said in a statement that was emailed to reporters.

Even though the lede was buried in the seventh paragraph, today’s story amounted to a rare concession to truth by the Times reporters.

Typically, their Sunday story was loaded with hedges, a clumsy effort to disguise its bias: “. . . that could make . . .”;  “nonetheless . . .could raise a potential obstacle. . .”; “‘ ‘ ‘ is bound to intensify . . .opposition . . .”; “If . . .particularly if . . .could give . . . if . . .questions about suspected nuclear design. . .; . . .not clear . . .”; “If . . .”; “. . .if . . .”If . . . even if . . .”; “ . . . leaked estimates. . .”.; “ . . . competing estimates could pose. . .”; “. . .could provide fodder. . .”

Oh my.  Maybe the sky is falling, Chicken Little!

When the legendary news editor, Ted Bernstein, created an internal Times house organ called Winners and Sinners, it quickly achieved Biblical status, what one Times staffer called “the force of law.”  In the late 60s and early 70s, a debate raged over whether Times style should allow direct quotation of some of the most colorful street slang of the era.  Resist the temptation, Bernstein ruled; “be a motherfudger.” Thus the act of motherfudging came to be enshrined at The Times with the force of law.

But that law was anchored in the era when journalists used typewriters.  Not even Bernstein could have predicted how much motherfudge could be concocted in the computer era by the likes of Sanger and Gordon.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Globe, Warren and a Glimmer of Hope

An editorial in the Boston Globe forcefully urges Sen. Elizabeth Warren to seek the Democratic nomination for president, a prospect that will surely rouse what remains of the party’s left.

Warren, an anti-politician whose trope has been the wealth gap and the subjugation of the masses by the wealthiest one percent of us, has won particular applause for demanding that banksters go to jail for their crimes — or at least be put on trial for them.

But where she stands on other big issues is not clear.  One could presume, reading between the lines of her public stances, that she would favor ending the policy of endless war that enriches the oligarchs at the expense of the common man.  This is closely intertwined with the issues on which she has so infuriated Wall Street.

But is she bold enough and savvy enough to plot an independent foreign policy, unblinded by the lies that have steered us into so many blunders and follies?  Would she step into the Oval Office and immediately announce that Victoria Nuland had been dismissed from the State Department?  Would she tell Bibi Netanyahu that he must stop the expansion of settlements and expropriation  of Palestinian land or face the loss of United States support?  Would she by executive order halt the militarization of domestic police forces and order the CIA to stop fomenting the overthrow of legitimately elected regimes abroad?  Would she shape and send to Congress legislation repealing the so-called Patriot Act?  Would she tell our nervous toadies in Europe that the United States no longer endorses a policy of eastward expansion of NATO to challenge the Russian bear?  Would she embrace and push forward Dennis Kucinich’s fine idea of a cabinet-level Department of Peace? Would she turn her economic populism into a new New Deal of social activism, expanding Social Security and putting jobless Americans to work on programs to repair our broken infrastructure and improve people’s lives?  Would she stand up to the NRA and demand meaningful gun control, kick the right-wing’s ignorant anti-science arses on climate change and restore the Bill of Rights to our Constitution? Would she be the liberal savior we thought Obama would be, but wasn’t?

The Globe editorial acknowledges Hillary Clinton’s enormous head start advantage in the presidential nomination derby.  But it says:

“The Democratic Party finds itself with some serious divides that ought to be settled by the electorate. Some are clear-cut policy differences, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an enormous free-trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations that Warren opposes and Clinton backs. Even in areas where the candidates agree, there are bound to be different priorities: It’s hard to imagine a President Clinton defending and enforcing the Dodd-Frank legislation with as much vigor as a President Warren, for instance.

“Indeed, the big-picture debate on financial regulation and income inequality is what’s most at peril if the Democratic primaries come and go without top-notch opponents for Clinton. While she has a great many strengths, Clinton seems far more likely to hew to a cautious approach on economics. Her financial backing from Wall Street, her vote in the Senate to reduce bankruptcy protections, and her past reluctance to reduce capital gains taxes are no secret. Nothing about her record suggests much gumption for financial reform or tackling the deeply entrenched economic problems that increasingly threaten the American dream.

“Warren’s dedication is obvious to anyone who watched her raise funds by rallying thousands of grass-roots supporters in her 2012 Senate campaign. She should not shrink from the chance to set the course for the Democratic Party or cede that task to Hillary Clinton without a fight. The gap between the Facebooks and Googles of America and the rest of the economy has grown too large, and it deserves the kind of public debate and scrutiny that a national political campaign can spark. If she puts her causes and goals front and center, as Democrats gather their forces for the crucial 2016 campaign, Warren could enrich the political process for years to come.”

We don’t really know what all those causes and goals are, but IF she chooses to run, and IF she articulates an entire platform as clearly and forcefully as she has articulated her economic populism, there might be a glimmer of hope of saving this sorry country.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ah, The Joys of a Long Life

I read years ago about a study wherein people were asked, “How old is OLD?” and not surprisingly the answer depended upon the age of the respondent.  The older the respondent, the older the age he answered.

I now have the definitive answer: 80.

Walter Cronkite was in his 80s when he cooked up his rules for old men: ”Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never waste an erection." 

The eighties is when it all happens.  And it’s all bad, or, at the very least, damned annoying.

One day you’re on the tennis court, kicking butt with the other geezers.  The next day you can’t get out of bed.  You don’t want to get out of bed.  Ever.

On your computer, the Top Ten on the “favorites” list are medical sites.  You’ve got a private “book” on your cause of death:  Cancer 5-1; heart attack, 7-5; gout . . . . and so forth. 

You can’t remember all the names of everyone in yesterday’s foursome, but you can remember a telephone number from your childhood — Jefferson four, two six nine two — and you cannot get it out of your head.  Whose number was it?  Er. . . . .

Of course you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning!  If you get out of bed you have to put yourself together.  You have to find all the damned spare parts.  Eyeglasses.  Store-bought teeth.  Hearing aids.  Heel lifts.  Walking cane. Back brace. Support hose.  Knee brace.   Any day now add diapers.  You’ve got to remember to take your medicine, your vitamins and your constitutional. Especially your constitutional or else today will be the day you need diapers.  When you finally get around to getting dressed the pants you intended to wear will be at the cleaners, the shirt you intended to wear will have gone to the Goodwill months ago and someone will have moved the sock drawer while you were sleeping.  When you finally totter out to face the world your wife looks up from the newspaper, gives you one glance and asks, “Why are you wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe?”  You thought you’d put on sneakers.

When you were a kid of, say, 70, you’d never have dreamt how many things can ache at once.  Back then you’d wake up bright and early to take the dog for a brisk walk but suddenly be reminded that you had a sore knee from yesterday’s walk.  Gulp down a couple of ibuprofen and everything’s OK. Now you wake up bright and early, put off getting up as long as you can, and when you finally face the inevitable, each thing you try to move hurts. Neck.  Shoulders. Knees.  Feet. You name it.

You ask your wife, “How many ibuprofen did the doctor say it’s safe to take at one time?”  “You asked me that yesterday,” she says.  “I did? Well, tell me again.”

Naps.  Once you've put yourself together, dressed, gone out to face the day, you immediately start thinking about nap time. Other than cocktail hour, nap time is the best time of day.  Before it became politically incorrect, cartoonists used to draw images of Mexicans under big sombreros taking their siestas.  WE thought it was funny then. Now it's the mental image that sustains you through lunch.

One of the reasons you need naps is because you spend so much time looking for things. Once I vowed never again to spend 45 minutes looking for keys.  I made five duplicates of every key and put the spares in places where I was likelyn to need them.  From then on, whenever I needed reading glasses, all I could find were keys.

Slogans help, too, when you're in your 80s.  Take cocktail hour.  Used to be, it never began  before 5.  Hence the slogan of the old man:  "Hell, it's five o'clock somewhere." Winston Churchill is a good role model.  In his 80s, he'd sip brandy morning till night.  And he was still working.

Acid reflux.  I think that’s what we used to call “indigestion.”  Whatever it is, you only get it from eating your favorite foods.  Turnips?  You could gorge all day on turnips and you wouldn’t get acid reflux.  Walk past a simmering bowl of pasta with scallops and green chili alfredo — you don’t even have to taste it — and you’re doubled over with acid reflux. As Dick Cheney will say, when he turns 80, “Go reflux yourself.”

Or, as someone else — I forget who — once said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

It begins at 80.  Trust me. I’m there.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Seditious Act of Contumely

Forty-seven Republican members of the United States Senate have gone to the very brink of treason.

Their letter to Iran concerning the so called P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Geneva is an overt act of sabotage that cannot be tolerated.

This goes beyond politics.  This is a brazen effort by members of Congress to destroy the power of diplomacy vested by the Constitution solely in the executive branch and its Secretary of State. Never has a more profane extra-constitutional act been committed by one branch of this government against another.

The 47 senators sent an open letter to the government of Iran, warning  that any deal they strike with the United States and its international partners at the nuclear  negotiations in Geneva will not last past the Obama administration. The negotiations are between the so-called P5+1 — the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China — and Iran concerning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.  Iran wants to end western economic sanctions and the west seeks to assure that Iran could not build a nuclear weapon.

Word of the Republican letter comes one week after Israel’s warmongering prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a lie-laden, bellicose speech to Congress at the invitation of the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.  Boehner arranged the speech secretly without consulting the White House, a breech  of protocol that some officials called treasonous.

The letter to Iran was written and circulated among colleagues by Sen. Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican from Arkansas. He is a former member of the House, where he voted against federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy and was investigated for violations of ethics rules regarding campaign donations.  He urged Congress to provide money for bunker-buster bombs to Israel to launch what he hoped would be war against Iran. He opposes health care choice for women, marriage equality and voted repeatedly against laws to protect women from spousal violence. He opposes food stamps for the poor whom he calls “addicts.”

And who are the 46 others who signed this hate-filled fool’s letter?  Here are their names:

David Perdue, Joni Ernst, James Inhofe, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Roger Wicker, John Hoeven, Richard Shelby, Thom Tillis, Richard Burr, Steve Daines, Jeff Sessions, John Boozman, Cory Gardner, Shelley Moore Capito, Ron Johnson, Mark Kirk, James Lankford, Chuck Grassley, Roy Blunt, John Thune’ Mike Enzi, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, John Barrasso,Ted Cruz, Jim Risch, Mike Crapo, Deb Fischer, Ben Sasse, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Pat Roberts, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, Lindsey Graham and Mike Rounds.

If there is a citizen in any of their constituencies who has a modicum of intelligence, an iota of respect for the Constitution of the United States, a soupcon of love for the country, an ort of respect for American values, a preference for peace over the merciless carnage of war, and a desire for a better world for our children and their children, then I urge that citizen to begin immediately to work for the recall of these treacherous idiots.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Two Cops, Post-Racism and Selma

Nearly 20 years ago, my wife and I were driving south on Interstate 65 in Alabama when we decided to stop for breakfast in Montgomery.  The exit we took happened to be just north of the intersection with U.S. 80, the “Selma road” to locals.  

A state police cruiser stopped outside the restaurant. Its occupants entered the restaurant and took a booth near ours.  One of the officers was white, the other, black. Their interaction was pleasant,  comradely.

We could not help but take notice.  We of course talked about “how far we’ve come” since civil rights advocates marched that Selma road toward “bloody Sunday” and into history in 1965.

Today is the 50th anniversary of “bloody Sunday.”  Selma is celebrating the Jubilee with ceremonies and speeches. Yesterday, Barack Obama, the finest presidential orator since Lincoln, delivered one of his best speeches there. The march is not finished, he said, but we have made progress. We need to make still more.

Much more.

When Obama was elected in 2008 many people who get paid to pontificate in print and on the air declared it was the beginning of a post-racial America.  They were wrong.  Latent racism actually emerged from hiding when he entered the White House and has seeped back into the fabric of our lives.

Fear feeds racism.  The Ku Klux Klan recruited members by kindling fear of white women being raped by “niggers,” of black men taking our jobs because they were willing to work cheap, of blacks “moving in next door” to us. When brown people struck unprecedented terror into our hearts on 9/11, our elected representatives began the still ongoing process of repealing the Bill of Rights,  and our politicians kindled new fears of all people of color.  Black, brown, yellow, whatever tint, people of color once again became “them” to the white-skinned “us.”

We began to militarize our police,  equipping them ever more with the tools of war.  We are seeing a rebirth in our police forces of the same racism that motivated a cop nicknamed “Snake” to murder innocent blacks in Detroit in 1967 in what came to be known as “the Algiers Motel incident.” Only the names have changed.  Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice.Tony Robinson.  Young, unarmed, black — and dead.

So much for post-racist America.

We have to recognize,” Mr. Obama said yesterday in Selma, “that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.”

He mentioned the recent Department of Justice report on the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. “The report’s narrative was woefully familiar,” he said. “It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

“If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better. . .

“We were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it. . .

“ . . the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. . . . we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”

A century before Selma, an American president’s words and the way he spoke them saw this country safely through a great civil war, freed the slaves and guided the United States to “a new birth of freedom.” Words a biographer called “Lincoln’s sword.”

Has the century and a half since then warped us so as a people; has greed and cynicism so gripped the political processes here; have we dismissed our better angels and become inherently so evil that “We” don’t give a damn about this country’s sacred promise?  Is Obama just a good talker and Selma just another dirty little now mostly black southern town? Do enough of us even care?

I wonder what ever became of those two state policemen in the cafe in Montgomery.  I wonder what they would say today.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Journalism: The Dying Craft

I first became aware of Bill O’Reilly in the year 2000.  I was ranting to a friend about the many shortcomings of television news, a rant triggered, as I recall, by one or more networks’ flawed coverage of the round of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in autumn of that year.

“Do you ever watch Bill O’Reilly?” my friend asked.  Since I had long since determined that any news operation owned by Rupert Murdock wasn’t worth paying attention to, I told my friend I wasn’t familiar with O’Reilly’s work.

“You should watch him,” my friend said.  “He tells it like it is.”

I buried my misgivings and watched Fox’s rising star several times over the next week.  I was appalled that my friend lent credence to such tripe. The next time my friend mentioned O’Reilly, I remarked that “he isn’t a journalist, he’s an entertainer.”  I’m not sure my friend grasped what I was saying, but the subject never came up between us again.

I am wryly amused by the current flap about O’Reilly’s veracity in describing on the air his attempts to be a newsman for CBS years ago. He “saw” nuns “shot in the back of the head” in El Salvador.  He’d have to have had mystic powers to have done that, since the four American nuns were slain in El Salvador long before he arrived in that country.

Well, O’Reilly said, he meant that he had seen “horrific images” of the dead nuns when he was attempting to report for CBS from that country.

Earlier, he had clearly misrepresented what he had seen and done while he was in Argentina for CBS during the Falklands war.  The magazine Mother Jones  called him on that, and several former colleagues who really are reporters disputed what he said about his own exploits.

The guy is a sham and so are the gaggle of Fox foster children he has spawned.

Real journalists have come to be errant enough in this era of corporate news outlets.  It’s a pity that so many people, like my old friend, have come to rely on whatever it is that Fox peddles as if it were, in fact, news.

I think with particular sadness of my old paper, the New York Times, whose transgressions against truth in the last dozen years or more have been too numerous on too many stories of enormous importance.  Jayson Blair
was the author of more than 70 articles that not merely contained errors; some of them were made up out of whole cloth with datelines from places he had never been.  Judy Miller and Michael Gordon did the nation a far greater disservice with their irresponsible reporting during the run-up to the U.S.invasion of Iraq, reporting as fact unchecked leaks from the likes of Dick Cheney.  Now, David Sanger is on the same path with regard to Iran, and the Times team covering Ukraine is ever more looking equally irresponsible.  At this very moment, the Times continues to “stand by” a story that wrongly reported that Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account while Secretary of State “violated the law.”  It did not and the source of the story maintains that he clearly told that to the Times reporter. For all of these sins, however, the Times is the closest thing to a reliable source of information that can be found among the mainstream media of this country.

What a sorry situation! 

Hang down your heads, journalists; hang down your heads and cry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Truth vs. What Bibi Said Today

Don’t hold your breath for the mainstream media to point out  the array of fabrications, misstatements, misleading interpretations and glaring obfuscations in Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to the United States Congress.

He began at the very beginning: My speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention. He accepted a secret invitation from one of the most outspoken right-wing Republicans in the United States, who deliberately avoided any consultation with the head of state. Netanyahu knows very well that this defies all the norms of diplomatic protocol.  That’s not “political?”

“The alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics.”  Check out the list of politicians who receive big money from AIPAC, and their political actions on behalf of Israel.

“I’ve come here today because, as prime minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.” This is the most repeated and most blatant canard in the international conversations about Iran. Netanyahu offered no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons because there is none. “Over 10 years with more than 7,000 man-day inspections, the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed no evidence of diversion,” says Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a senior research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. “The number of inspections is unprecedented in the history of the IAEA.” By comparison, there has never been an IAEA inspection in Israel.  Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel refuses to do so. Yet Bibi, the pot calling the kettle black, contended again before Congress that it’s Iran “that won’t come clean.”

“We must stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror”  Bibi said. Conquest of what?  Bibi didn’t say.  Subjugation of whom? Bibi didn’t say. But Peter Jenkins, a senior diplomat for the United Kingdom, points out that it is Israel, not Iran,  which occupies territory outside its borders.  It is Israel, not Iran, that stands accused in the international court of war crimes committed in occupied territory outside its borders.  

“In the Middle East,” Netanyahu asserted today, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.”

In fact, the only capital where Iran has significant influence today is Baghdad, and that’s because of the disaster the United States created by its invasion of Iraq, and its capture and killing of Saddam Hussein. As for Damascus, Charles D. Smith, Middle East history expert from the University of Arizona, says, ““The irony is that Assad’s support relies largely on the non-Muslim Christian communities of various denominations who fear a radical Sunni takeover.” No Iranian influence there. The presumption of Iran’s “domination” of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq is, according to another Middle East expert, William O. Beeman of the University of Minnesota, “beyond ridiculous.” Beeman adds  that if Iran did dominate those nations, “there would be a lot more stability” in the region.

Netanyahu slipped into his remarks a reference to “Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program” as if it, too, were an established fact. The truth is, the missiles Iran is building today are short- and medium-range weapons with up to 1,500 miles range. Netanyahu said Iran’s non-existent ICBMs would be capable of delivering its non-existent “nuclear arsenal” to the “far corners of the earth including to every part of the United States.”  That would require missiles capable of flying 8-10,000 miles.  That’s a massive technological step, one most defense experts think Iran is not capable of achieving and does not need.  Under the stringent economic sanctions the United States and its allies have imposed on Iran, it simply couldn’t scrape up the money for IBMs even if it wanted them.

All of this merely scratches the surface of Bibi’s assault on truth before congress today. The nuclear agreement the United States and five European partners are trying to forge with Iran, which Netanyahu desperately wants to sabotage, would be a major step toward peace in the Middle East.  Bibi says he’s all for peace.  He’s like the character in the old comic strip Pogo, who declared: “If I had The Bomb, I’d force peace down their throats.”

Bibi has The Bomb. He and his pals in congress want only an excuse to use it to force peace down Iran’s throat.