Mojo - June 2006

Reporters invited to Guantanamo, then sent home by Rumsfeld

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 8:59 PM EDT

The admiral in charge of the prison at Guantanamo Bay invited the news media to come to the base on Saturday to cover the suicides of three of the prisoners. Reporters responded, but on Tuesday night, the Pentagon sent an email citing a directive from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

Media currently on the island will depart on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Please be prepared to depart the CBQ [quarters] at 8:00 a.m.

A flight had already been arranged to expedite the reporters' exit from the base, and though they protested the change of plans, they had to leave.

Editors of the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer said called the reversal "bad public policy" and "a panicked move."

A Pentagon spokesman, J.D. Gordon, said that the reporters were sent home because other media outlets were threatening to sue to get equal access.

In the meantime, George W. Bush as stated that he would like to close the Guantanamo Bay facility as soon as he has a plan to deal with the "darn dangerous" prisoners there.

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Making Iraq Boring

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 7:41 PM EDT

John Dickerson thinks Bush's new Iraq strategy is to try to make it appear as "boring" as possible, so that the media stops paying attention. That means no more dramatic photo-ops aboard aircraft carriers or sweeping statements about freedom and the like. Instead it's all talk of reconciliation committees and public finance systems from here on out.

I'm not sure this is really the "strategy" here, but if Dickerson were right, it's be nice to say with confidence that the media would never fall for this. Who knows, though? Already the so-very-well-trained Washington press corps is swooning over the fact that yet another top Bush advisor wasn't indicted this week. Our hero. Meanwhile, I missed it when it came out earlier this week—too "boring," perhaps—but Anthony Shadid reported that foreign veterans of the Iraqi insurgency are now returning to places like Lebanon, waiting to start up what "Abu Haritha" calls "a more expansive war beyond Iraq, a struggle he casts in the most cataclysmic of terms." But we'd hate to rain on this week's magical "Bush bounce," so never mind.

UPDATE: Well, I was curious about this, and here's evidence that newspapers really are slowly pushing Iraq off the front page: "In the first five months of this year, the [Chicago] Tribune placed Iraq on the front page 41 times in 151 days. But in the same period last year, there were 74 Iraq articles on Page 1, and 138 stories in 2004." The same holds true for the New York Times, USA Today (which runs astonishingly few front page stories on Iraq in any case) , the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Private Internet Spies

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 6:36 PM EDT

Creepy. Via Feministe, apparently there's a group called Netvocates out on the internet that offers its services to businesses. And what sort of services might those be? Well, if a blog sullies the honor of the business in question, Netvocates will send out a swarm of right-wingers to troll the offending post with propaganda in the comments section. Meanwhile, the Rendon Group—about which more here—may be doing monitoring lefty blogs, for what purpose who knows. It all sounds conspiratorial, but seriously, check out the links.

Why Proxy Season Matters

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 3:53 PM EDT

Kevin Kelleher of CorpWatch has a great article about how activists are increasingly submitting shareholder resolutions during proxy season in order to demand accountability from large corporations. Coca-Cola alone was the target of three such resolutions this past fall: one to demand an investigation into the company's complicity with paramilitaries in Colombia; one to force the company to develop a plan for recycling; and one to clarify the environmental impact of Coke's water-extraction plants in India. All three resolutions failed, but that's not the point:

For shareholder activists, bringing a proxy to other shareholders is less about winning the vote: Most institutional investors don't vote or blindly go with the management's recommendation. And even if a resolution passes, it's not legally binding. What's more encouraging is when a proxy wins the attention and the approval of a large number of investors.

"More and more, shareholders are voting in favor of resolutions," says Schueth. "Five to seven years ago, we'd win 3 percent or 4 percent of the vote and we'd be thrilled. "But we're seeing an uptick every year, so that now they win maybe 15 percent to 20 percent of the vote. That's a lot of investors, and it's often enough to lead the management to change."Indeed, many corporations worry enough about the optics of these resolutions to try to reform themselves before the issue gets brought to the attention of investors. (Apple promised to offer free recycling to users discarding their old Macs in response to a threatened shareholder resolution by activists complaining about the company's ever-growing e-waste.)

This looks like a trend to follow closely, especially as public pension funds start getting into the game. The New York City Employees Retirement System, for instance, sponsored the paramilitary resolution submitted to Coca-Cola shareholders. It's possible that with conservatives controlling the majority of statehouses across the country and likely to hold onto at least one branch of Congress this fall, the main impetus for progressive reform in this country could increasingly come from the treasurers, comptrollers, and pension-fund trustees that help manage large blue-state public funds such as CalPERS in California. (The potential for state pension funds to throw their weight around is staggering—nationwide, public funds hold $2.7 trillion in stocks and union-managed funds another $400 billion.)

California Treasurer Phil Angelides, the current Democratic candidate for governor, was big on a variation of this strategy while sitting on the boards of both CalPERS and CalSTRS (the teachers' pension fund). As William Greider reported last year, he helped initiate a host of activist moves: "dumping tobacco stocks, blacklisting ten 'emerging markets' that ignore international labor standards, redeploying capital to neglected sectors like inner-city redevelopment and innovative environmental technologies, and, above all, peppering scores of corporations, banks, brokerages, financial markets and federal regulators with critiques and demands for change." The strategy was slowed somewhat when Schwarzenegger helped force out Andrew Harrigan, the labor-backed CalPERS board president, in 2004, but it was quite effective.

The "Fair and Balanced" Obsession

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 2:41 PM EDT

Pam Spaulding spots a great example of one of journalism's most annoying tics: the need to put fake "balance" into stories. The other day the Houston Chronicle ran a profile of Sgt. Jack Oliver, the first officer in the Houston Police Department to undergo a sex change while on active duty. Interesting stuff. But the reporter then feels compelled to gin up controversy where none exists and quotes some pastor or other who gets all squirmy at the thought of transsexuals: "That would raise issues of competency in the line of duty in my mind."

"Issues of competency?" Who cares what "David Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council" thinks about police competency? There might be "competency" issues involved in this story, but a pastor has neither the authority nor the expertise to discuss them. Unless, of course, the reporter's purpose here is to give voice to bible-thumpers who think transsexuals are "icky" without appearing like she's wantonly turning the microphone over to bigots just for the fun of it. Which, of course, is exactly what's going on. But creating fake controversies just for the sake of seeming "balanced" doesn't count as objective reporting in any sense I'm familiar with.

Congress Gets a Raise

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

The House quickly voted to give itself a $3,300 pay raise yesterday, so that congressional salaries could keep up with the rising cost of living. No word on whether a new minimum wage bill—which would slowly raise the wage floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour (which is still far, far below living wage levels) by 2009—will also pass. No sense in rushing that, after all.

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Hillary meets the anti-war left: booing at progressive conference

| Wed Jun. 14, 2006 12:12 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is supposed to have some of the most dedicated factions of the Democratic Party in her corner, but there's a new interest group competing for power in addition to minorities, the teachers' unions and feminist activists: the anti-war left.

And by the often tepid and sometimes hostile response she received at the "Take Back America" conference Tuesday -- including booing -- she has a long ways to go to win over liberals outraged over the war. ( Some lefties even speculated that she welcomed the outrage as her "Sister Souljah" moment to build up her credibility with the general public.) The line that drew that strongest negative response was this effort to create the appearance of centrism in her position on Iraq: "I do not think it is a smart strategy either for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government, nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interesets of our troops or our country."

That spurred either mostly silence or booing, some of it led by members of the direct action group Code Pink.

In contrast, Senator John Kerry, offering yet another apology for supporting the war and offering a fiery attack on Bush's failed war policies, won strong applause and some favorable online commentary.

But no new politician-hero of the left has emerged at the conference, even as some progressives hungered for the return of the supposedly new and improved Al Gore, riding a crest of (perhaps deluded) hope in his candidacy from a left that is, as Neil Young sings, "Looking for a Leader." On the final day of the conference, Senators Barack Obama and Russ Feingold, one of the left's favorite candidates, address the crowd.

See and hear for yourself what some of the politicians and activists had to offer by going to this complete list of speakers (scroll down to Tuesday for Clinton, Kerry, Pelosi and others), with some videos and transcripts provided.

Faster, Pussycat! Drill! Drill!

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:54 PM EDT

A while back, Mother Jones' Osha Gray Davidson exposed the environmental m.o. of the Bush administration in a piece focusing on the under-the-radar nature of policymaking in the age of Rove:

"What makes this administration different is the fact that it is filled with anti-regulatory zealots deep into its rank and file...The result is an administration uniquely effective at implementing its ambitious pro-industry agenda-with a minimum of public notice."

Now comes the LA Times with a terrific story illustrating just how this works. In a nutshell, way back when, the Clinton administration came up with a rule that would have forced oil drillers to do more to keep gunk out of the groundwater. The drillers were not happy, and in 2002--when the EPA was still working on implementing the restrictions--a Texas oilman who happens to have been the mayor of Midland and also happened to have once run Reagan's Texas campaign, wrote to his friend Karl Rove to "openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity."

You know the rest; the rule is history, thanks in part to the folks over at the Office of Management and Budget, who made sure those EPA bureaucrats toed the line. Write the LAT's Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten,

Environmentalists pointed to the Rove correspondence as evidence that the Bush White House, more than others, has mixed politics with policy decisions that are traditionally left to scientists and career regulators.

Ya think?

No to Murtha

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:53 PM EDT

What? Kos wants John Murtha to knock Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker spot should the Democrats retake the House this fall (or, at the very least, Steny Hoyer from the whip position). Now I think all this certainty about the Democrats winning sounds terribly premature, and I'm no fan of either Pelosi or Hoyer, but come on.

A quick glance at Murtha's history reveals that he has the most conservative voting record of any Democrat representing a district won by John Kerry in 2004. So he can't cite his constituents as an excuse for his pro-life and anti-environment positions. Murtha's outspoken against the war in Iraq, to be sure, but I can't imagine it's tough to find other, actually liberal Democrats with similar views that could be put up on a pedestal, if that's what the "netroots" wants. Nor, I think, is the longstanding Democratic fetishization of military vets a terribly good thing on the merits, and getting behind a Murtha insurgent campaign would only further that trend. The netroots: our great "progressive" hope? Really, now.

Next villain, please

| Tue Jun. 13, 2006 6:13 PM EDT

Riverbend, the girl blogger on the Tigris, has a bitter (how would you not be bitter in Baghdad?) take on Zarqawi:

"To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation -- he came along with them -- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now?"

Indeed, whom, or what, will we blame now? Killing Zarqawi was probably the only thing the administration could have done in Iraq that was guaranteed to generate positive spin--and the spin won't last. Someone, somewhere, must be thinking about how to follow this act between now and November.