Friday, August 25, 2006

Survivor: Atlantic Yards

Well, on the same day that CBS unveiled its brilliant new Survivor format, Bruce Ratner and friends also decided to showcase just how good a marketing strategy it is to play the race card.

By buying-off construction workers with phony claims about jobs, and housing advocates with phony claims about affordable housing (and by simply buying Rev. Herbert Daughtry), Forest City Ratner has managed to paint a portrait of a passionate and predominantly African-American pro-AY team facing off against a rather bloodless group of Anglo anti-Yarders.

It’s a powerful picture, and one that has made many a local elected official a tad antsy about weighing in against the development (Letitia James, to her credit, is a notable exception). No one in Borough or City politics wants to be against minority jobs or affordable housing, and few would want to be seen as anti-African American. I’m sure Ratner and his consultants had some idea all along that they might get so lucky.

Yes, I said “lucky,” for fanning the fires of racial animosity has served several well in New York City politics before. Most notably in the rises and reigns of Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani—both of who saw the advantages of conservative divide and conquer, play one community off another tactics.

But it’s a shame that groups like the Carpenters Union and ACORN took the FCR bait because it is so easily spit back. Two simple examples:

Ratner claims 15,000 construction jobs will be created—but that number is attained by multiplying the estimated 1,500 jobs the project will actually create by the ten years it will take to complete (and it is hard to say how many of those jobs will go to minorities).

Ratnerites make claims that up to half the new housing will be “affordable,” but counting the units set aside reveals a percentage closer to one-third. Of those called affordable, only 30% of the units—roughly 10% over all—will be for families that make below Brooklyn’s median income, and most of those are slated to built toward the end of the ten-year construction schedule. It should also be noted that these affordable units are only promised and in no way guaranteed.

But with these bad numbers and false promises—and 1,500 catered sandwiches—Ratner and his stooges at the ESDC managed to give Wednesday's hearings the flavor of the upcoming season’s White versus non-White Survivor. And just like with CBS and its hit show, the big corporation will make the real money, while most of the players just get voted off the island.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who’s Ashamed of Their Pulitzer?

What must it be like in the break room over at the New York Times?

First there was the original story, by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, which revealed that “Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.” That piece won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

Problem is, it should have won a 2005 Pulitzer.

You see, as has recently been better explained, NYT executive editor Bill Keller sat on the 12/16/05 story for “a year” over 14 months. . . which means—for those who love math—that the revelation of Bush wrongdoing should have been published prior to the November 2, 2004 presidential election.

Why did Keller push the Risen/Lichtblau piece past the election? To put it quite simply—more simply than Keller seems capable—because Bush officials asked him to. (The Times probably let the article finally see the light of day only because Risen had a book coming out—you don’t want to be scooped by your own reporter.)

When it was first revealed that Keller had suppressed the story, he was asked for how long. Bill Keller’s answer was the obviously purposefully fuzzy “a year.” We know that it was an obfuscatory answer—and an inaccurate one—because earlier this month, New York Times public editor Byron Calame wrote of his increasing discomfort with the official explanations on the timeline.

After pressing Keller for previous PE columns—to no avail—Calame finally got an answer this time around. Using the vague timeframe, said Keller, “was probably inelegant wording.” When asked by Calame whether the timing of the election affected the decision to kowtow to Bush Administration desires to bury the story, Keller’s risible response was “I don’t remember.”

Judging from the dressing-down Keller received in the letters to the editor published last Sunday in response to the Calame’s “exposé,” Bill can’t be happy to see Byron around the coffee machine.

Which brings us to last week’s smack-down by Federal Judge Anna Taylor Diggs. In case you’ve been too obsessed with the latest “developments” in the JonBenet Ramsey case to have noticed (which would put you in the good company of every national nightly news broadcast), Judge Taylor ruled that the NSA program was a) unconstitutional—violating the First and Fourth Amendments—and b) illegal—violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

At the Times, the original article on the decision appeared last Friday; it was written by Lichtblau and Adam Liptak. The piece is a fairly typical, if cursory, Times story, picking out some high-impact quotes from the decision and playing the ping-pong match that fills in for impartiality—allocating alternating paragraphs to plaintiffs and administration apologists. I was actually a little surprised by the lack of a more detailed sidebar that spelled-out the case and the decision. I was also surprised that, at least in the late edition, this story appeared on the left side of the front page. (Call me an alarmist, but I think it’s really big, above the fold, right-side, bold type headline news when a federal court finds that a sitting president knowingly broke the law and violated the Constitution.)

This one story on Friday has been followed by three stories with these headlines:

Bush Predicts Appeals Court Will Lift Ban on Wiretaps
(8/19 by Lichtblau)

Experts Fault Reasoning in Surveillance Decision
(8/19 by Liptak)

Conflict of Interest is Raised in NSA Ruling
(8/23 by Lichtblau)

While none of these stories is quite as one-sided as their headlines and opening paragraphs imply, all are remarkable in their focus on the spinning of the decision and/or the attacks on Judge Taylor. The articles quote ACLU representatives, Department of Justice mouthpieces, purported legal experts, and even a couple of blogs (or “Web logs,” as the Times insists on calling them) on whether the decision was well written, or scholarly, or whether Taylor is or isn’t a reputable judge. But the articles are light on (to the point of being almost completely devoid of) actual reportage on the merits of the case.

And there are many merits to report on. As Glenn Greenwald points out in several posts that are the mirror opposite of the Times’ last three stories, as far as factual details about the case are concerned, several of the “experts” being quoted throughout the establishment media are not experts at all (many are either completely unfamiliar with civil proceedings or haven’t followed this case—or both). Further, as Greenwald details, most of those “experts” don’t disagree with the main finding in the decision—that the warrantless spying expressly violates the FISA law.

(Greenwald also makes the important point that a basis for much of the criticism—that the decision doesn’t specifically address the government’s defense of the program—fails to acknowledge that the DoJ refused the judge’s orders—twice—to argue the case on the merits, choosing instead to argue “state secrets” invalidated the ACLU’s suit. The decision doesn’t address DoJ arguments because Justice didn’t make them. Greenwald, by the way, was not one of the “Web logs” the Times consulted.)

So, back to the newsroom. While I realize some might spend their workdays in DC, while others are closer to Times Square, I wonder what the room temperature is when Keller, Calame, Risen, Lichtblau, and Liptak—or any combination therein—gather to talk shop. Or, to put it another way, why is the New York Times so ashamed of the excellent reporting originally done to uncover the illegal eavesdropping?

What happened to the days where a paper would race to publish a scoop and then doggedly follow the story and repeatedly remind everyone that it was the work of that very paper that started the ball rolling? Shouldn’t the Times be proud of their reporters and now feel vindicated by the federal court decision?

And what’s up with Eric Lichtblau? He was one of the original reporters on the NSA story, but now his articles seem to avoid the meat and instead mimic most of the rest of the establishment media’s tangential, almost gossipy, approach. Is he involved in some sort of one-upmanship with Liptak—who can be more “impartial?”

And what of Keller? Is the news staff tired of the distraction; are they upset with his persistent need to finesse the timing of the original Bush-requested delay? Aren’t they peeved that instead of giving them all a pat on the back for a job well done and a hearty “go get ‘em,” Keller continues to make himself part of the story? Does anyone dare express it?

And who sees Byron Calame as a friend or an advocate, and who sees him as a pain in the ass? Do the likes of Risen and Lichtblau think that the public editor pushed or pussyfooted? Does Keller even say hello to Calame in the hallway (since he rarely answers his e-mails)?

But, most importantly, why isn’t the front page of the New York Times graced, on a daily basis, really, with follow-up on a story of such monumental proportions? A story of a President who openly violated a federal law, and who now has been found to have violated the United States Constitution. A story originally uncovered by the reporters of the New York Times.

(cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My Psyche Hurts

Washington (AP) President Bush said Monday that the Iraq war is “straining the psyche of our country” but leaving now would be a disaster.

You know, I spent half the day (and half the night) listening to and reading the transcript from the latest Bush presser looking for something new to say. . . or at least some new way to say it. I mean, I continue to be outraged by so much of what dribbles out of the mouth of the Boy King, but that’s not news now, is it?

Oh, sure, there was the bit where Georgie got all excited and tried to link Iraq directly to American deaths on 9/11. . . not, that’s not news either, but the part where a member of the press corps actually called him on it, yes, that was a novel approach. . . and there was the bit where he said that as long as he was president, Americans wouldn’t leave Iraq. . . but we already knew that, too, since he said back in March that it was up to some future administration to clean up his mess.

And there was the oft-repeated phrase “The Freedom Agenda,” which sounds like some second-rate early-‘70’s clone of the Mike Curb Congregation—you should hear The Freedom Agenda’s cover of “Burning Bridges”—and makes me think that maybe the vaunted Rove neologicon is running on fumes. . . but I checked, and Bush has been saying TFA for a few months now.

(I also checked to see if Joe Lieberman had used the term. . . not yet, to the best of my knowledge, but keep googling, I feel it can’t be long.)

No, after making my brain hurt. . . again. . . my biggest takeaway from Monday is just how fucking inarticulate this guy is. Wait, you say, President Bush is inarticulate? OK, I know it’s still not news. . . but it is amazing that he gets to do this, talk like this, in the role of leader of the free world, and nobody just stands up and shouts, “Do you have any idea what you’re saying?”

I am left with a strong urge to say, “Why try to analyze this at all?” I mean, can you read the tealeaves in a container of Crystal Light? Most of what this guy says is such utter rubbish that pretending the President is a newsmaker almost seems like a distraction—a diversionary tactic meant to steer us away from the real, new newsy news.

Oh, gosh, that is exactly the point, isn’t it?


Monday, August 21, 2006

Does George Bush Dream in Color?

Take up the White Man's burden —
Send forth the best ye breed —
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild —
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

While reading the piece by Seymour Hersh in last week’s New Yorker magazine, I was struck by an absurd contradiction in the thinking of White House “strategists.” It seems like those responsible for planning military action against Iran are still harboring this idea that if and when the US attacks—theoretically with “targeted” air strikes against Iranian government nuclear facilities—the Iranian people will somehow realize that they were put in an untoward situation by President Ahmadinejad, and then rise up to topple their elected leader.

Now, first off, everyone might recognize this thinking as something much like the “Iraqi people will welcome us with flowers” prediction made in the run up to the Bush-Iraq war three-and-a-half years ago. We all know how that one turned out, and it is hard to imagine that a few of America’s war planners don’t share this knowledge.

Second, according to Hersh, the recent Israeli strategy in Lebanon was similar: already tired of Hezbollah, the Lebanese people will abandon them once and for all when they see the damage caused after Nasrallah picked a fight with Israel. Bush Administration officials were—again, if we are to believe Hersh—apparently looking at Lebanon as a test case, a practice run, for the US raid on Iran. A month later, all but the most unhinged see the prophecy of popular revolt to, again, be a ridiculous construct.

But neither of those is the absurd contradiction I refer to up top. No, rather, what hit me is that the Bush/Cheney/Rove strategy at home relies on the very opposite reaction from the American people than that which is constantly being predicted abroad.

The domestic assumption is that in the face of an attack, or threatened attack, from a foreign entity, people will come together and defend their President. Even many who had their doubts, the strategy goes, will put those doubts aside to present a strong and unified front to the enemy.

On many past occasions, that thinking has served the Bush Administration well, and they continue to act accordingly. They tie everything to 9/11, conflate disparate events under the banner of the “war on terror,” go to orange and red alert at will, manipulate intelligence, and even undermine criminal investigations in an effort to stage-manage public discourse. The recent behavior by the likes of Cheney and Bush following the Lamont victory in Connecticut and the arrests in the London bomb plot show that administration political strategists still think this is the best plan of attack.

So, why is it that they don’t apply their domestic model to the peoples of other lands? Why is it that they think Iranians, Iraqis, or Lebanese are so different from Americans? Is it a convenient compartmentalization in the service of more sinister goals? The obdurate stupidity of spoiled children? Magical thinking hatched at some American madrasa? Or is it the arrogance that comes from power and privilege?

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, of course, so “all of the above” is not out of the question. Nor should we ignore naked greed and ambition, I suppose.

But, I also wonder: when President Bush talks of “Islamic fascists,” or “jihadists,” or “suiciders,” for that matter, what images run through his hollow head? Does he see a pale-skinned Persian in business attire (or a kid from the Midlands in a track suit, for that matter)? Somehow, I doubt it.

Rather, as he has made clear since just after 9/11, George’s world is an “us” vs. “them” world. And the “us” that stands for—and by—God and country when attacked look and act remarkably like Bush, himself, while the “them” that would turn on their own leaders flesh out like the supporting cast from a Kipling poem.

The difference being that Rudyard Kipling knew something about the costs of war.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Out of the Sewer and into the Mainstream

I have a strong aversion to fashionable cynicism, and I have little tolerance for the types who get all hopped-up every time they smell a conspiracy.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of inquiry. I believe in asking things like “Why am I hearing this now? and “Who benefits from my hearing it?” And I like connecting the dots—synthesizing a new piece of information out of many old ones.

But I find it hard to believe in “The Great Whatsits,” as the film noir Kiss Me Deadly called it—it feels too much like those on another side and of another era who saw everything as a “Communist plot”—and I think that productive political discourse is ill-served by wild and baseless conspiracy mongering. I believe the world has enough real devils without inventing a brand new hell.

So, you’ll forgive me my sloth-inducing trepidation when I confess that I was going to say this last week, but I didn’t want to traffic in rumor—no less be the start of one.

One of my first thoughts upon hearing that the UK had foiled a plot to blow up US-bound passenger flights was “how convenient.” Not that I didn’t believe that the good old-fashioned police work of British security agents had uncovered a group of criminals intent on executing such a plan, just that I wondered seriously how the timing of these arrests managed to come so close to the defeat of Bush-lover Joe in the Connecticut primary (by Ned Lamont, a man very good at articulating the failures of the Lieberman-supported Bush “war on terror” and the broad domestic costs of spending $250 million a day in Iraq).

Had Blair co-opted the whole operation to serve his soul mate in Washington? No, I didn’t quite think that. More likely, I thought, after Bush/Cheney et al. had been briefed at some earlier point about the on-going investigation, they saw an opportunity to spin the national dialogue away from Lamont’s success, and made some noise to the Brits about how the safety of Americans was paramount and they felt it absolutely necessary to inform the citizenry (they couldn’t be asked to keep the truth from the American people, after all)—right now—and that if the Brits didn’t come out with the whole shebang, they would.

And so, British authorities had to act when they did.

I felt more sure of my feelings as the day progressed. As I observed, all of the “details” of the case seemed to be leaking out of the mouths of US officials—some on the record, some off. But, still, I didn’t want to post anything. Sure the blogs were full of wide-eyed conspiracy theories (or so they always seem at the time), but I wanted something more to back me up.

Well, imagine my surprise (or lack thereof) to read this in Paul Krugman’s Monday column (behind the greed wall, but “reprinted” on the blog Quasi-Coherent Ruminations):

NBC reports that there was a dispute between the British and the Americans over when to make arrests in the latest plot. Since the alleged plotters weren’t ready to go — they hadn’t purchased airline tickets, and some didn’t even have passports yet — British officials wanted to watch and wait, hoping to gather more evidence. But according to NBC, the Americans insisted on early arrests.

Googling around directed me to the NBC piece, which also says that the US hastened the arrest of the plot’s supposed ringleader in Pakistan by threatening that if the Brits didn’t take him in, the US would “render” him.

That was enough to force some action on the part of British authorities, who, as James Galbraith points out (in a very interesting and amusing piece) in the Guardian, are trying first, to build a credible criminal case against those arrested, and second, are trying to understand (yes actually “understand”—novel approach, don’t you think?) their sudden bumper crop of homegrown suicide bombers.

But, as is now wildly obvious (OK, it was wildly obvious last Thursday, but it is now mainstream wildly obvious), the White House has no time for understanding, civil courts, or even solid police work. As William Greider asks in The Nation (OK, The Nation's blog, The Notion):

The early claim that a massive takedown of a dozen airliners was set for August 16 is "rubbish," according to London authorities. So who decided this case was ripe for its public rollout? Blair consulted Cheney: What did they decide?

What did they? Whether Blair, in the end, got much say in the matter, can be debated, but what was decided seems clear from Cheney’s pre-Thursday conference call and Bush’s post-Thursday politicking.

The thing is, I—indeed, we all—should have seen it coming (OK, I saw it, but I should have shared my insight). It’s not like it hasn’t all happened before. Krugman and Greider both allude to previous incidents, most specifically, the elevated terror alert of the week of the Democratic National Convention, almost exactly two years ago. I could try to summarize, but I’d rather direct you to Juan Cole’s detailed report of the time.

It’s all there: real criminal investigations undercut by cynical political motivations. While Bush and friends have done almost nothing on their own initiative to make the world more safe from any terrorist threat, they will even go so far as to derail other’s efforts at practically every turn.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s clearly seen as in their self-interest (Greider, again):

Bush desperately needs the terrorists. They are his last frail hope for political survival. They divert public attention, at least momentarily, from his disastrous war in Iraq and his shameful abuses of the Constitution. The "news" of terror--whether real or fantasized--reduces American politics to its most primitive impulses, the realm of fear-and-smear where George Bush is at his best.

Which is why we (myself included) should stop playing along every time Michael Chertoff sees red. It is why we should insist—as some in the press and in the Democratic leadership are finally starting to do—that Cheney and Bush stop using the possibility of human suffering for political gain. It is why we should realize that, as William Greider put it two years ago:

Bush's ‘war on terrorism' is a political slogan--not a coherent strategy for national defense--and it succeeds brilliantly only as politics. For everything else, it is quite illogical.

And it is why we should allow our skepticism the pride of place it has earned after five hard years in the Bush.

(Hat tip to Paul Rosenberg’s diary on the timing of the UK arrests—and to the comments below the post, which contain much more grist for the mill.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Joe lies. . . .

(Cross-posted from my other blog, guy2k)

First, Joe lies bleeding. For an 18-year incumbent with his party’s backing to blow a 45-point lead in four months is stunning. Forget the spin about the race tightening in the last week because one poll had Lamont up by double digits last week. Joe Lieberman lost a giant lead to a political unknown—bottom line.

Second, Joe lies like a rug. To actually reiterate the stupid “my website was hacked” accusation during his “concession” speech last night—a speech carried on national news networks—just shows that nothing comes before Joe. Not party. Not country. Not state. Not even the truth.

That this hacking story has even been allowed to run for 24 hours is a testament both to Lieberman’s vindictive nature and his campaign’s utter incompetence.

It’s also, sadly, a testament to the establishment media’s incompetence. Surely, most of these news organizations have a tech geek working somewhere in the building—why not go ask him or her how these things work instead of just repeating the Lieberman camp’s baseless whining? Or, just go check out the serious work done by some interested parties in the blogosphere. Or maybe publicly note that the Lamont camp posted a cached version of Lieberman’s site on the challenger’s website as a goodwill gesture, and also offered one of their techies to help get Joe’s site back up.

(There are too many stories on this to choose one. I recommend going over to Daily Kos, and clicking back in time to about 6pm EDT, Tuesday, 8/8, and work down from there. You will find how bloggers found the source of all of Lieberman’s technical woes. . . basically, Lieberman’s campaign bought the cheapest hosting service they could find. . . . Like many a lobbyist has said about Joe, you get what you pay for.)

Oh, but, Joe, to repeat the hacking lie for a national audience after you had lost your party’s super-heavy turnout primary—god, Fox News (your future employer, Joe) and the rightwing blogs are going to run this thing into the ground! Surely you knew that. But what do you care, it’s Joe first, party second. . . probably not even, it’s just Joe first.

But, lest we forget, Tuesday night in Connecticut was also a testament to a really well run campaign by Ned Lamont. A campaign that was not just about Iraq, but was not afraid to talk about it, either. To talk about how truly bad Iraq is—as a war, as a strategy in the “war on terror, and as a drain on domestic priorities. It is a testament to the voters of Connecticut, who came out in record numbers to say enough already to making nice with Bush and his rubberstamp Republicans.

And, finally, it is a testament to a strategy that I have been espousing for nearly twenty years (maybe more). Don’t try to outflank the Republicans on he right to re-capture “Reagan Democrats.” Instead, find issues that inspire all those voters that have stopped voting or have never registered. The ones who feel left out or cast aside by the right. The ones who would be traditional Democratic voters if they just had something to vote for. The ones whose bounteous numbers make those lost Reaganites look like a few grains of sand on the vast electoral landscape.

I think the Lamont campaign did that. I think the rest of the Democratic Party should do the same.

Go team!

(And there’s no Joe in TEAM.)

(Hat tip to Lili Taylor)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nightline Cribs from Vanity Fair, Still Misses the Story

I don’t always watch Nightline anymore. It is an irrelevant show at best, a disgusting excuse to pay Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran, and an embarrassment to the ABC news division. But on Tuesday, they were airing a piece about the 9/11 NORAD tapes, so I thought I’d watch.

What I saw was a pre-recorded (or “tape”) piece, as is usual these days, edited like some prime time magazine show. It had zero original reporting in it, and just piggybacked on the hard work of another—in this case, Vanity Fair writer Michael Bronner—also hallmarks of the new Nightline. The piece played sizeable excerpts from the tapes, recorded at NORAD’s Northeast HQ (NEADS), relaying the panic and confusion of that September morning, with a few of the day’s players narrating. The story seemed to bend over backwards not to assign responsibility for any of the day’s actions, and even went so far as to re-assert the lie that no one could have predicted an attack such as this one. It ended with the crash of United 93 and a military man saying “those passengers were our air defense that morning.” (Now that’s a feel-good spin on a horrible story. . . makes you want to stand up and salute, don’t it?)

Fascinating in a “fly on the wall” kind of way, but not really that interesting. Where was the “who,” the “where,” the “why,” the “how?” Who was in charge? Where were our leaders? Where were our air defenses? Why wasn’t anything done with earlier warnings about just such a hijack scenario? Why didn’t the 9/11 Commission publish transcripts of these tapes? How have things changed since 9/11 to protect against the chaos at NEADS that morning? It made me wonder if the Vanity Fair piece was really that devoid of perspective.

Thank god for the Internet, huh? Click on over to the Vanity Fair site, and you will find a plethora of stories within the story, any number of which would have piqued the interest of a real news program. Let me note two (as summarized by Atrios):

  • There was no command given to shoot down United Flight 93, despite implications to the contrary made by Vice President Cheney. Cheney was not notified about the possibility that United 93 had been hijacked until 10:02 a.m.—only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. And United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked. President Bush did not grant commanders the authority to give a shoot-down order until 10:18 a.m., which—though no one knew it at the time—was 15 minutes after the attack was over.
  • Parts of Major General Larry Arnold and Colonel Alan Scott’s testimony to the 9/11 commission were misleading, and others simply false. The men testified that they had begun their tracking of United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but tapes reveal that the plane had not yet been hijacked, and that NEADS did not get word of the hijacking for another 51 minutes. According to Bronner, when confronted with evidence from the tapes that contradicted his original testimony, a NORAD general admitted, “The real story is actually better than the one we told.”

Use of the word “impacted” aside (I think “hit” would have worked just fine), those sound like two fairly important points, don’t they? Wouldn’t some investigative reporter want to get Cheney or one of his henchmen on the phone and ask why he lied, and continues to lie, about the timeline there? Wouldn’t a real journalist want to book Maj. Gen. Arnold or Col. Scott, or maybe some 9/11 Commission members for an on-air interview?

Hell, just talk a bit with Bronner, after all, he did the real work. He’s pretty excited about what he uncovered—I’m sure it would make pretty good television.

I know, I should give it up. Nightline does not endeavor to be good television any more than it pretends to be a news program. It is viewed as a stepping stone (to god knows what) by its new producers, and a showcase (or maybe just a paycheck) by its new anchors. The network brass can’t wait till they can remove it from the airwaves and have former fans like me thank them for it.

Still, there is so little hard news on broadcast television these days, that I worry for the small percentage of the viewing public that might care to be informed. Just how much work are most people willing to do to get real news? You certainly can’t expect the “talk radio with pictures” shows on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to pick up the slack. . . and yet that, along with the first three minutes of the nightly network news, faux news magazine shows (with their focus on true crime and celebrity gossip), and, sadly, the new Nightline are all we have.

And it was Nightline that made the Vanity Fair 9/11 piece seem so empty I almost didn’t read it. . . .

But ABC had already sold the commercial time while kindling the desire for more news as little as possible, so maybe that was their intention.

(If you were wondering why I did not provide a link to the Nightline piece, it’s because there is none. Inexplicably, if you go to the Nightline page at, you will find a link to Wednesday’s story—as well as the hard-hitting piece on “man-purses”—but nothing about the 9/11 tapes. Could they make my point for me any more clearly?)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Caring About Cuba’s Future Means Caring About Fidel’s

Fidel Castro has had to (perhaps temporarily, perhaps not) hand over the reigns of the Cuban government to his brother, Raul, and the resident’s of Miami’s “Little Havana” are singin’ and swingin’ and getting’ merry like Christmas. Castro may or may not die in the very near future, but any person who loves Cuba—any smart person, anyway—should send Fidel a get well card and sign it with sincerest wishes for a full recovery.

That’s because the current political climate in Cuba’s great big neighbor would make sure to manage any political instability in the island nation in the worst way possible. Just imagine what the good folks who brought you “de-Baathification,” and the dual nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran would do with a Cuba in transition.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. The Council on Foreign Relations has taken a look at the Bush Administration’s post-Castro policy and found it. . . uh, actually, they didn’t find it. Citing their refusal to deal with Syria and Iran during the current Mideast crisis as a prime example of the administration’s failed isolationist strategy, Julia Sweig, Senior Fellow and Director of Latin American Studies at CFR (speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show), sees White House Cuba policy this way: “I don’t expect them to do anything particularly intelligent. I don’t think they’re prepared.”

Even though Fidel Castro is about to turn 80, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. This, of course, is the Presidency that doesn’t do policy—just PR—so attention and money are being spent on appeasing a few thousand rabid Cuban Americans in Florida rather than looking for ways to stimulate a friendly and productive relationship with an evolving Cuba. Bush endorsed a call by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (yes, this is a US government organ—chaired by Bloody Condi, by the way) to spend $80 Million to promote democratic succession, a move the Council on Foreign Relations compared to current administration efforts to spur democratic change in Iran—and neither gets a favorable review. In fact, the Lexington Institute says that, tough talk aside, the Bush Administration’s Cuba policies “seem to have no prospect of being politically decisive.”

I’ll go a bit further: the Free Cuba Commission’s recommendations are a prescription for disaster. In language that sounds unpleasantly familiar, the report (in keeping with the requirements of the Helms-Burton Act) stipulates that in order to meet the requirements of what Bush calls “true democracy,” Cuba would have to turn out practically all of its political elite and its experienced bureaucrats. Is this good policy? If you are interested in a peaceful transition to a relatively prosperous and free Cuba, hell no. Is this good politics? If you owe your election (and that of your brother’s) to the anti-Castro vote, well, I suppose it is.

Which brings me back to those dancing in Miami’s streets. I am fascinated by 60-year-olds who have spent their entire adult lives here claiming that they are Cubans and not Americans, and by their 16-year-old grandchildren, who have never set foot on Cuban soil, insisting that they look forward to the day when they can walk the streets of their “home.” And that would be Havana. In a year where the better part of the Republican majority has resisted creating a legal path to citizenship for Central American immigrants while calling for all of them to rounded up and shipped south, and at a time when English as a Second Language programs are under attack, I wonder, how is it that Republicans can justify allowing three generations of Cuban immigrants and Cuban Americans to flourish while angrily refusing to assimilate?

These nominal Cubans aside, I would advise the rest of us, regardless of how we feel about Fidel’s legacy, to pray this time that he pull through. And I think we should all wish Castro a happy 80th birthday. . . and many more. . . or at least three more. . . so that he might outlive his ninth US administration, and that Cuba might thrive during a tenth.

(Cross-posted on Daily Kos)