Political MoJo

Media Coverage of Voting Shenanigans Needs to Improve

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 4:02 PM EDT

CJR has a good editorial on press coverage of voting snafus, mishaps, and foul play. Journalists, it points out, "not only seek to publicize truths but also help determine which truths count. A story's tone, its placement, and whether it gets followed up all have something to do with whether it is perceived by the public as a big deal. Sometimes the press seems leery of making that determination." For which, see the possibility of vote manipulation in national elections -- particularly the case of Ohio in 2004, where Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell doubled as co-chair of Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio and where numerous irregularities-- barriers to registration; purges of voting rolls; the use of an illegal mailing tactic called "caging" to strike voters from the rolls if they failed to respond in time to a letter to their address of record; extremely poor distribution of voting machines in heavily Democratic urban areas--were alleged, many (though not all) with good cause.

But it didn't get too much mileage. For one thing, unlike Florida's razor-thin 537-vote margin in 2000, Bush officially carried Ohio by some 136,000 votes. Tales of vote manipulation were generally covered either as small potatoes or as squawks from the loony left (which some were). [...] When the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr., issued a measured but blistering report that found "numerous serious election irregularities . . . which affected hundreds of thousands of votes," Ohio got another few minutes in the spotlight.

Ohio popped up again in a June 15 piece in Rolling Stone by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The headline asked, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" Kennedy thought so. But most of the media yawned. The New York Times, typically strong on voting controversy, dealt with the Rolling Stone story in its abysmal Sunday Styles section with a profile of Kennedy that managed to mention the drug problem he had some twenty years ago, but not to fairly present his argument. One outlet that did not ignore the piece was Salon, where the staff writer Farhad Manjoo asserts that he takes Kennedy's argument apart, but, upon close inspection, much of the Rolling Stone analysis survives. And Manjoo does not address a lot of what went wrong in Ohio. ...

I should point out that Mark Hertsgaard took a look at the Ohio brouhaha for Mother Jones and found that yes, there were major problems but they didn't justify the claim that Bush "stole" the election. CJR similarly concludes:

We're not making the case that the election of 2004 was stolen, and we'd rather look ahead than back. But we are arguing that intolerable things happened in Ohio that merited more sustained attention from the national press. And that targeting particular groups for vote suppression is reprehensible, yet effective, and will continue unless challenged. (In late August, Salon named six states that appear ripe for trouble.) [And, ahem, this month Mother Jones examines the 11 worst places to vote in the U.S.] Guarding the democratic process is part of the journalistic mission, and with another election approaching, now is the time to think about that. Suppressing democracy is, yes, a big deal.

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The Company They Keep

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 4:01 PM EDT

James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, is well known for his extreme anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-child- (and dog-) beating, "pro-family" philosophy. Bill Bennet, self-appointed "values" czar, is known for his compulsive gambling problems. Sen. George Allen, who recently came under fire for making racist comments, is also known to have a history of violence. Ann Coulter is known for desiring the death and destruction of a number of non-conservative ("non-conservative" is actually a stretch when desribing the New York Times, but you get my point) citizens. Jerry Falwell blamed gays, feminists and the ACLU for the attacks of September 11, 2001. And Sean Hannity's nightly broadcasts speak for themselves.

These people are all part of the Values Voter Summit that will be held September 22-24 in Washington, D.C. to help mobilize conservative Christian voters.

But they are not alone. Joining them will be White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The ersatz president's official spokesman and the highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice will gather together to discuss how to "take back" the country from people who believe in free speech, separation of church and state, and equal rights. This is compassionate conservatism at its most flagrant.

Halliburton Tried to Shaft Its Own War Heroes

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 3:56 PM EDT

A Senate panel investigating U.S. military contractors Monday unveiled a letter sent from Halliburton subsidiary KBR to a former employee that sought, under the guise of awarding a medal, to waive the company of any liability for the infamous Good Friday Massacre, in which six Halliburton truck drivers were killed and others injured while delivering fuel in Iraq.

The letter notified former truck driver Ray Stannard that he would "most certainly qualify" for the Pentagon's Defense of Freedom medal, an award created in the wake of 9/11 to recognize citizens injured while aiding the military. But as a condition of releasing Stannard's medical records to the military, the letter asked him to sign a form that would absolve KBR and the military "from any and all claims and any and all cause of action of any kind or character, whether known or unknown, I may have against them."

"That is almost unbelievable to me that a company would do that," said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Democrats held the hearing on their own, arguing Republicans who control the Senate have shown little interest in pursuing the matter, the Houston Chronicle reported.

So much for Republicans supporting our boys in Iraq.

The Other 98 Percent of Iraq

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 2:25 PM EDT

This morning's Column One feature in the Los Angeles Times is a terrific first-person account of life in Baghdad. It is written by an unnamed Iraqi reporter for the paper, and reading almost any random paragraph shows why he had to go unbylined.

I see my neighbors less and less. When I go out, I say hello and that's it. I fear someone will ask questions about my job working for Americans, which could put me in danger. Even if he had no ill will toward me, he might talk and reveal an identifying detail. We're afraid of an enemy among us. Someone we don't know. It's a cancer.

It's a revealing look at the unspoken, and unreported, reality behind the news we do get from Iraq. Dexter Filkins, who has done terrific reporting for the New York Times from Iraq, recently said that 98 percent of Iraq, including most of Baghdad, is now off-limits to Western journalists, a startling figure that begs the question of why reports from Iraq don't include such a disclaimer

Filkin's talk at Manhattan offices of the Committee to Protect Journalists offered a revealing look behind the scenes of Iraq reporting. Editor & Publisher noted that the Times, employs "45 full-time Kalashnikov-toting security guards to patrol its two blast-wall-enclosed houses—and oversee belt-fed machine-guns on the roofs of the buildings."

American journalists, [Filkins] said, spend their days piecing together scraps of information from the Iraqi reporters to construct a picture, albeit incomplete, of what life is like these days in the war-torn country. But he says that the work is slow and difficult, and it is hard in such an atmosphere for reporters to nail down specifics. "Five people doing a run-of-the-mill story takes forever," he said.

Filkins' reading of the situation overall raises the question of where to Bush administration is getting its optimistic assessments of progress in Iraq:

Most troubling was Filkins' assessment that the U.S. military may not know much more than the Times does about what life is like on the ground in Iraq. Soldiers barely leave their bases and they don't interact very much with average Iraqis, he said, so it is hard to say who, if anyone, has an accurate picture of the current situation.

Opposing Torture Hurts McCain in 2008? (That's Sick.)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 9:04 PM EDT

One thing that changed after 9/11 is this: we now live in a twilight zone where it's possible that a senator, John McCain, in expressing qualms at the Bush administration's determination to interpret the Geneva conventions at whim, can be seen as hurting his own presidential prospects. See this Washington Post piece, titled, "McCain's Stand On Detainees May Pose Risk For 2008 Bid."

The Geneva Conventions say wartime detainees must be "treated humanely." Bush says the United States complies so long as CIA interrogators abide by a 2005 law barring "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of captives. McCain and his allies say that the requirement is too narrow, and that they are concerned Bush's approach would invite other nations to interpret the conventions in lax ways that could lead to abusive treatment of captive U.S. troops.

A Republican strategist tells the Post, "The politics of this for [McCain] are pretty dangerous. This is an issue that's the most important issue to the Republican base overall, and they're strongly with the president on this."

All of which goes to show that whatever changed after 9/11, very little has changed--at least not for the better--since Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

When Even Kerry Gets Religion It's Time to Start Praying

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

Liberals are falling over each other these days to show how deeply religious (make that Christian) they are, from the "Faithful Democrats" to the "Red Letter Christians." Even Howard Dean's DNC has gotten itself a "faith advisory committe."

This is all well and good (and possibly even--who knows?--sincere in some cases). But here's cause for concern: John Kerry is starting to sound like Jim Wallis, which can mean only one thing--and not a good thing. Kerry gave a speech yesterday in Malibu, California, in which he said he'd "wandered in the wilderness" after the Vietnam War but, as the Washington Post puts it, came back to the Roman Catholic Church after a sudden and moving revelation in the late 1980s. He also said he wishes he'd given the speech before the 2004 presidential election.

"For 12 years I wandered in the wilderness, went through a divorce and struggled with questions about my direction. Then suddenly and movingly, I had a revelation about the connection between the work I was doing as a public servant and my formative teachings."

Well, let's take his word for that. He also said, of his 2004 run:

"I learned that if I didn't fill in the picture myself, others would draw the caricature for me. I will never let that happen again."

"Again"?! Please, God, no!

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Gore Speech on Global Warming: "An opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence"

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 4:09 PM EDT

Al Gore's speech at NYU on global warming (which called for, among other things, an "immediate freeze" of greenhouse gas emissions) was superb: urgent, substantive, refreshingly optimistic. (As the excellent Amanda Griscom Little observes over at Grist, "Having seen Gore's lecture on climate no less than seven times, I can vouch for the fact that this effulgent optimism is a new theme for the Veep. The whole lecture, in fact, seemed a response to criticisms I've heard repeatedly about Gore's stump speech and the movie that chronicles it, An Inconvenient Truth -- that they are too heavily clouded in doom and gloom, giving inadequate attention to solutions (despite his repeated insistence that the climate crisis presents equal parts danger and opportunity).

Well worth reading in (almost) full below. (Transcript here.)

(And may I recommend our own recent special report on global warming?)

Al Gore
Sep. 18, 2006
NYU Law School

Ladies and Gentlemen: [...]

A few days ago, scientists announced alarming new evidence of the rapid melting of the perennial ice of the north polar cap, continuing a trend of the past several years that now confronts us with the prospect that human activities, if unchecked in the next decade, could destroy one of the earth's principle mechanisms for cooling itself. Another group of scientists presented evidence that human activities are responsible for the dramatic warming of sea surface temperatures in the areas of the ocean where hurricanes form. A few weeks earlier, new information from yet another team showed dramatic increases in the burning of forests throughout the American West, a trend that has increased decade by decade, as warmer temperatures have dried out soils and vegetation. All these findings come at the end of a summer with record breaking temperatures and the hottest twelve month period ever measured in the U.S., with persistent drought in vast areas of our country. Scientific American introduces the lead article in its special issue this month with the following sentence: "The debate on global warming is over."

Many scientists are now warning that we are moving closer to several "tipping points" that could -- within as little as 10 years -- make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization. In this regard, just a few weeks ago, another group of scientists reported on the unexpectedly rapid increases in the release of carbon and methane emissions from frozen tundra in Siberia, now beginning to thaw because of human caused increases in global temperature. The scientists tell us that the tundra in danger of thawing contains an amount of additional global warming pollution that is equal to the total amount that is already in the earth's atmosphere. Similarly, earlier this year, yet another team of scientists reported that the previous twelve months saw 32 glacial earthquakes on Greenland between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale -- a disturbing sign that a massive destabilization may now be underway deep within the second largest accumulation of ice on the planet, enough ice to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea. Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a planetary emergency -- a climate crisis that demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth's thermostat and avert catastrophe.

The serious debate over the climate crisis has now moved on to the question of how we can craft emergency solutions in order to avoid this catastrophic damage.

Get Out the Ammo--the Katricians Are Coming

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 3:24 PM EDT

Houstonian Jim Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett's Guns & Ammo, or--as he prefers to call it--your anti-terrorist headquarters--has a radio ad that warns Houston's citizens to arm themselves because the "Katricians"--Katrina evacuees from New Orleans--are going to attack if they do not get more free rent.

"When the 'Katricians' themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is gonna go up if they don't get more free rent, then it's time to get your concealed-handgun license," Pruett says in his ad. The recent surge in the Houston homicide rate has been attributed by the Houston police to Katrina evacuees. And while there is no doubt they are responsible for some of it, the increase in Houston's violent crime rate had already begun before Katrina came along. To make matters worse, many evacuees wound up in poor, unsafe Houston neighborhoods.

Pruett is no newcomer to stirring things up. He co-hosts a morning radio show, "Pruett & Shannon," and hosts a second show, "Back Talk," in the afternoon. His biography states: "To Jim, happiness is his family, his faith and his membership in the NRA."

Texas officials say that applications for concealed weapons permits were up statewide: 60,328 from January to September 1, as compared with 46,298 for the same period in 2005.

New York Times Appoints a Futurist-in-Residence (A Sure Sign the Future is Now Pass&eacute)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 3:07 PM EDT

From Editor & Publisher: New York Times "apparently seeking to boost its image as a forward-looking paper [sic]," has appointed its first ever "futurist-in-residence." The position will rotate yearly like the public editor job. First up is Michael Rogers, a former Washington Post Company executive and Newsweek.com general manager credited with being ahead of the curve on web innovations. His role is to "expand the paper's push toward more Web and other interactive operations" (which, admittedly, are already kick-ass.)

Military Coup in Thailand

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 2:20 PM EDT

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok amid reports of a coup attempt. (Tanks were seen surrounding Government House in Bangkok.) His problem--or perhaps his good fortune--is that he's at the UN right now. Details are murky but Reuters is reporting that the armed forces and police has set up a commission to decide on political reforms. Thaksin has been accused of undermining democracy. Word is that elections would be called soon and Thaksin will be allowed to take part. No doubt the Council on Foreign Relations will put up something helpful soon to make sense of the background to all this...

One early upshot of the reported coup: emerging sovereign bonds (Thailand has $2.1 billion in debt) "eased slightly" on the news.