2011 - %3, April

Civility and Lying

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 10:34 AM EDT

Politicians have always lied, says Rick Perlstein. So why does it seem like there's so much more lying than there used to be? The difference, he says, isn't with the politicians, it's with the right's successful attack on the liberal media in the post-Nixon era:

There evolved a new media definition of civility that privileged "balance" over truth-telling — even when one side was lying. It's a real and profound change — one stunningly obvious when you review a 1973 PBS news panel hosted by Bill Moyers and featuring National Review editor George Will, both excoriating the administration's "Watergate morality." Such a panel today on, say, global warming would not be complete without a complement of conservatives, one of them probably George Will, lambasting the "liberal" contention that scientific facts are facts — and anyone daring to call them out for lying would be instantly censured. It's happened to me more than once — on public radio, no less.

....The protective bubble of the "civility" mandate also seems to extend to the propagandists whose absurdly doctored stories and videos continue to fool the mainstream media. From blogger Pamela Geller, originator of the "Ground Zero mosque" falsehood, to Andrew Breitbart's video attack on Shirley Sherrod — who lost her job after her anti-discrimination speech was deceptively edited to make her sound like a racist — to James O'Keefe's fraudulent sting against National Public Radio, right-wing ideologues "lie without consequence," as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by "balanced" outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said "controversy."

I guess I'll need to think about this. Rick might be right. But then again, many thoughtful conservatives would place the blame elsewhere. I recommend that the New York Times public editor assemble a panel of media analysts from across the political spectrum and hold a round table discussion on this topic. That should clear things up.

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Would You Like a Keepsake Photo With That Abortion?

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 10:12 AM EDT

If there was a clear takeaway from the 2010 elections, it was this: No government bureaucrat should ever come between you and your doctor—unless you're a woman. Two identical bills in front of the Michigan state legislature would add more obstacles to women seeking abortions in the state; under the proposed legislation, doctors would be required to perform an ultrasound, ask the woman if she'd like to listen to the heartbeat, and—in a new twist—"offer to provide the patient with a physical picture of the ultrasound image of the fetus." Reports the Michigan Messenger:

All of this is to be done at least two hours before the abortion procedure and women would be required to sign a statement acknowledging that these offers had been made...

"We are all for maximum information being given to any woman seeking an abortion, or any other major operation, for that matter," said James Muffett, president of Citizens for Traditional Values which supports the legislation. "It seems quite suspect that abortion providers do not already do this. Maybe they know that there really is a living baby in the womb and if the mother saw that, she might change her mind."

As currently written there are no exemptions, which means that doctors would be required to offer a photograph of the ultrasound, even to women who have been the victims of rape or incest.

As we've previously reported, in recent months conservative lawmakers have unleashed a flood of anti-choice legislation—often with potentially radical consequences. In Nebraska, a law enforcement official testified that a proposed bill to legalize "justifiable homicide" in defense of the unborn could lead to violence. A similar bill in South Dakota would have permitted the use of lethal force to protect a fetus could have allowed the killing of abortion providers. In Texas, a proposed bill would have outlawed all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. And at the national level, a Republican effort to redefine rape (part of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act") ultimately fizzled after a public outcry.

Outwitted by the Taliban Again

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 9:54 AM EDT

If it weren't for the fact that they're a gang of murderous 13th-century religious fanatics, you could almost admire the Taliban's latest prison break. Sort of embarrassing for the putative good guys, though.

Trump: Karl Rove Is a "Loser" Who Should Retire

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 5:01 AM EDT

Donald Trump clearly has no intention of buddying up with the Republican establishment. With his popularity ranking the highest among Republican presidential hopefuls in a recent Gallup poll, the New York real estate tycoon on Friday took a big swipe at GOP political mastermind Karl Rove, calling Rove "a loser" and suggesting he "go into retirement where he belongs."

Trump's jabs at Rove were part of a longer statement to conservative news site NewsMax.com. Here's the statement in full:

"Karl Rove is a loser. He is doing the Republican Party a great disservice by trying to stop the discussion about the president not being able to present his birth certificate to the American people—or to assure the American people as to his place of birth. This is a great issue for Republicans, and I can tell you that the president is spending millions of dollars fighting this issue and he doesn't like it at all.

I also have great respect for the states considering legislation that would require a birth certificate, not a certificate of live birth, be mandatory in order for a candidate to appear on a presidential ballot in their state.

Karl Rove should go into retirement where he belongs. The old machinery is broken, and new and much smarter blood is needed."

Trump's remarks come in response to a recent comment of Rove's dismissing Trump's 2012 candidacy. "His full embrace of the birther issue means that he's off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate," Rove recently said. For those who haven't followed Trump lately, he has made the non-issue of President Barack Obama's citizenship a centerpiece of his would-be campaign, going so far as to send private investigators to Hawaii to find the "truth."

By doing so, Trump's strategy has become plain as day: He's tossing red meat to the hard-right, Iowa-conservative crowd who still voice doubts over whether the current president is an American citizen. (For a full dissembling of that argument, read this.) Now, by ripping into the GOP's political guru, Trump is pushing himself ever farther to the right.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

| Mon Apr. 25, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Morgan Spurlock downed a month of McDonald's for our fast-food sins in his notorious 2004 film Super Size Me. Now he's aiming to show us how ad-soaked our lives have become by financing an entire doc about the ubiquity of product placement using—what else?—product placement. The title is no joke; Spurlock pitches POM the naming rights on camera. From then on, he is shown imbibing only the pomegranate beverage, while other drink brands are visibly blurred out. He flies exclusively on JetBlue, wears Merrell shoes (giving a pair to Ralph Nader), and drives Mini Coopers. His contracts obligate him to interview anti-commercialization advocate Susan Linn at a Sheetz gas station, and to stay at a Hyatt when he travels to São Paolo to cover the city's outdoor ad ban.

While amusing as a meta-commercial packaged as an inquiry into artistic integrity, the film inevitably feels like a stunt. The slyest touch may be that amid the hawking and well-worn revelations about advertising, the biggest sell is for the amiable Spurlock as the genre's reigning goofball tour guide. All that's missing is the obligatory survey question: Are you more or less likely to purchase this brand in the future?

This review appeared in the May/June 2011 issue of Mother Jones.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 25, 2011

Mon Apr. 25, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Spc. Ahren Blake, a combat medic from Clinton, Iowa, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, holds two puppies he found at an observation post in the Aziz Khan Kats Mountain Valley range near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 15. The puppies have been living with the Afghan National Army Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 201st Infantry Corps, which man the Ops that 3rd Platoon visited. Photo via US Army

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Terrorism and the ISI

| Sun Apr. 24, 2011 11:59 PM EDT

Here's an interesting tidbit from today's WikiLeaks release of the military's assessment of every prisoner ever held at Guantánamo Bay. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times bothered to mention it, so this passage is from the Guardian:

US authorities listed the main Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), as a terrorist organisation alongside groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence. Interrogators were told to regard links to any of these as an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity.

....The inclusion of association with the ISI as a "threat indicator" in this document is likely to pour fuel on the flames of Washington's already strained relationship with its key regional ally. A number of the detainee files also contain references, apparently based on intelligence reporting, to the ISI supporting, co-ordinating and protecting insurgents fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, or even assisting al-Qaida.

As with so many documents released by WikiLeaks, this is hardly a surprise in one sense. Still, it's one thing to "know" something and quite another to see it officially documented in a classified file.

Bonus Easter Catblogging

| Sun Apr. 24, 2011 1:29 PM EDT

Easter is the excuse for today's bonus catblogging, but really, who needs an excuse? Yesterday Marian brought home a couple of new catnip plants, and as you can see, Inkblot got blissfully stoned out of his little feline gourd on one of them. Happy Easter, everyone!

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [12]

| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 6:09 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Vancouver’s Bold War on Drugs

| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 5:46 PM EDT

Guest blogger Mark Follman writes frequently about current affairs and culture at markfollman.com.

For many years Vancouver has had a serious heroin addiction. So it's heartening to see that one of the city's boldest strategies for confronting the problem, launched eight years ago, is continuing to meet with serious success: Vancouver's government-backed "supervised injection site"—the first of its kind in North America—has helped reduce the number of fatal drug overdoses in the city by 35 percent, according to a new scientific report detailed in the Vancouver Sun.

The news is gratifying for me personally, having invested deeply in the issue with a reporting project I did for Salon beginning in 2003. (My initial story from Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside—a neighborhood much changed these days, particularly since the 2010 Winter Games—is linked above.) Reporting another piece in 2006, one of the most striking things I found was that early results from Insite, as it's called, had already converted some hardcore conservatives. Then city councilor George Chow—who had campaigned vigorously against the injection site when running for office—told me in fall 2006 that conservatives' ideological fears had been misguided. They had declared that a government-sponsored facility for helping drug users shoot up would only breed more chaos.