The Voice of the White House
Washington,D.C. April 29, 2013: “One factor of the Boston bombing is that the FBI, who are charged with counter-intelligence, knew all about the older brother, interviewed him in the presence of his family as the result of a request from Russian law enforcement and yet allowed him to continue on his way without any further surveillance. Another factor is the utter uselessness of the media who published all manner of false stories, eagerly printed one-sided official press releases and generally messed their trousers. The determintion on the part of the FBI to question the surviving suspect, a badly injured 19 year old college student, without reading him his Miranda rights was thwarted, and rightly so, by a Federal judge who went to the hospital with her staff and read the rights to the suspect. This infuriated the Justice Department who, along with top leadership, wanted to ship the suspect to Guantanimo to keep him away from making any unwelcome revelations. The surviving brother is an American citizen, as the judge knew, and as such was entitled to all the legal rights of any other citizen. The guilt or innocence of the suspect is not the issue but the law of the country certainly is. The government has moved the injured suspect to a medical facility under their control and it is hoped that he does not suddenly hang himself before he could possibly say something that might cause embarassment. And with the passage of time, it is becoming more and more evident that the enormous amounts of taxpayer’s money that is being given to agencies like the FBI and the DHS might as well be used to light fires in your barbecue for all the good it does. The Boston business has clearly shown up the fact that our “protectors’, can’t. They can snoop on your computer or phone and grope nine year olds girls at the airport but they cannot stop a determined activist no matter how hard they try. The chief suspect in the Marathon bombings was known the the FBI as a latent terrorist. That agency had been duly informed by Russian intelligence and had actually interviewed him, and his family, three years before the attack and yet nothing was done and, according to the media, the FBI had dropped the entire matter. Yes, the actual and major blame for the attack lies with those who actually perpetrated it but a secondary blame certainly lies against those who ‘dropped the ball’ in the matter.”
King blasts FBI
April 21, 2013
by Donovan Black
Rep. Peter King blasted the FBI on Sunday for failing to prevent the Tsarnaev brothers from carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings when the agency had already been told about the older brother’s extremist potential.
“This is at least the fifth case I’m aware of where the FBI has failed to stop someone,” the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence said on “Fox News Sunday.”
King, a Republican from New York, ticked off cases such as Anwar al-Awlaki, who planned terrorist attacks as part of al Qaeda; Carlos Bledsoe, who opened fire in in front of a military recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark., in 2009; and Nidal Malik Hasan, who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
“This is the latest in a series of cases like this…where the FBI is given information about someone as being a potential terrorist,” King said. “They look at them, and then they don’t take action, and then they go out and commit murders.”
The FBI questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev about two years ago on the request of the Russian government, but concluded he was not a threat.
King said Tsarnaev should have been flagged and monitored at the least.
“He has statements up on his web site, he’s talking about radical imams,” he said.
King said law enforcement needs to focus more intently on the Muslim community, where the terror threat is emanating from, even though 99 percent of Muslims are law-abiding, good people.
“If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, you have to go after that,” he said.
After Attack, Suspects Returned to Routines, Raising No Suspicions
April 26, 2013
by Katharine Q. Seelye and Ian Lovett
New York Times
BOSTON — Just five hours after the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon last week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was back at his computer, doing what he did almost every day, posting a message on Twitter.
“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people,” he wrote.
His brother, Tamerlan, 26, returned to his home in Cambridge, which he shared with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, and went about his normal activities, including a trip to the supermarket.
The bombings that turned America’s oldest and most prestigious road race into a scene of blood and horror had killed three people and wounded more than 260 others, many of them grievously. President Obama called the episode an “act of terror.” The heart of the city, Copley Square and much of Boylston Street, was paralyzed for days as hundreds of city, state and federal law enforcement personnel scoured the area for evidence and later cast a huge dragnet across the metropolitan region for the suspects, who would soon be identified as the Tsarnaev brothers.
During that time, the brothers picked up their daily routines and blended back into the area that had become enmeshed in trauma. For the most part, they appeared calm, according to people who saw them, raising no suspicions that anything was amiss, let alone that they might have had anything to do with the attack.
For more than three days — from the time of the explosions at 2:50 p.m. on Monday, April 15, until the F.B.I. released their photographs to the world at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 18 — the very ordinariness of their activities let the brothers hide in plain sight.
“It’s scary to think that he was around here, listening to everyone talking about the bombers and stuff like that,” Bobby Kedski, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said of Dzhokhar, a fellow student there, whom he saw working out in a campus gym on Tuesday night. “He was just amongst us, taking it all in. It’s scary to think about that.”
Slipping back into a routine after committing a crime, even an atrocity, is fairly typical behavior, said Dr. Stuart W. Twemlow, a retired professor of psychology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He works on threat assessment with the F.B.I. and helped on the Columbine shootings, among other cases.
A return to business as usual helps a criminal “blot out the horror with which he was associated,” Dr. Twemlow said.
“That is a normal, dissociative response,” he said, adding that the younger brother, whose movements were more public, had most likely “denied and compartmentalized what he had just done.”
Dzhokhar may have spent Monday night with his brother in Cambridge, which he often did, because the university had no record of his return to campus on Monday. Wherever he was, he continued to send out Twitter messages.
After his first post-bombing message, at 8:04 p.m. on Monday, he picked up a conversation at 12:11 a.m. Tuesday with a friend on Twitter who has since deleted his account. Dzhokhar’s end of the conversation is all that is visible, leaving the context unclear.
What’s new with them? Dzhokhar asked. His next post to the friend, a couple of minutes later said: and they what “god hates dead people?” Or victims of tragedies? Lol those people are cooked.
At 12:34 a.m., the next Twitter message was sent from an iPhone: There are people that know the truth but stay silent & there are people that speak the truth but we don’t hear them cuz they’re the minority.
He “favorited,” or bookmarked, a post on Twitter that had appeared at 1:20 a.m.: The sad part about the events in Boston today, is that some bs Hollywood director is gonna try n make a movie n profit from tragic events.
He was back on Twitter later Tuesday, when he favorited a 11:21 a.m. post from a classmate: Thanks UMD, a freezing shower is exactly what I needed right now.
Between 12:30 and 1 that afternoon, Dzhokhar picked up a car that he had dropped off at a repair shop in Somerville, next to Cambridge, a couple of weeks before to fix a damaged bumper, suddenly saying he needed it immediately.
This was one of the few times during that week when someone described Dzhokhar as appearing anxious and out of character. Gilberto Junior, who owns the shop, thought Dzhokhar was either nervous or on drugs.
“He was biting his fingernails, and I noticed he was shaking his legs,” Mr. Junior said.
Mr. Junior explained that to fix the car’s bumper, he had had to remove it, as well as the taillights, so it would be illegal to drive. But Mr. Tsarnaev insisted on taking it anyway, Mr. Junior recalled.
“He said, ‘I don’t care. I need the car right now,’ so I gave him the keys,” Mr. Junior said.
He said he was picking it up for a friend, and explained, “ ‘I need the car now because my friend, she’s upset,’ ” Mr. Junior quoted him as saying. “ ‘She wants the car, she wants the car, she wants the car.’ So I said, ‘O.K.’ ”
By 1:14 p.m. Dzhokhar was back on Twitter. In an exchange with another fellow student, he dispensed some medical advice: you need to get Claritin clear.
The other student has since deleted his account so the reply is no longer visible. Within three minutes, Dzhokhar added: #heavy I’ve been looking for those, there is a shortage on the black market if you wanna make a quick buck, nuff said.
At 5:09 p.m., he called out what he believed was a fake story circulating on the Internet about a man who was going to propose to a woman at the marathon only to discover she was among the victims. “Fake” he wrote to the Twitter account that had shared that post.
At 5:22 p.m., he posted a tweet using an iPhone: So then I says to him, I says, relax bro my beard is not loaded.
The university’s first indication of his return to campus was from a swipe of his identification card about 8:55 Tuesday night at his residence hall. Ten minutes after that, he swiped his card into the gym, where many students on campus said they often saw him working out.
“He was running some cardio on treadmill,” said Mr. Kedski, who said he often saw Dzhokhar smoking cigarettes and marijuana outside his dormitory. “He just seemed like a normal kid,” Mr. Kedski added. “He blended in very well.”
A university official said that card swipes indicated that Dzhokhar was on campus Tuesday night, Wednesday and Thursday. It is not clear if he attended classes, but many students said they saw him around.
Derek Juozaitis, a sophomore, said he said hello to Dzhokhar on the way to class after the bombings, though he could not remember whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday.
“I stopped by his room a couple times,” Mr. Juozaitis said. “He was just playing FIFA on Xbox. It wasn’t, like, weird. He was just doing what I do.”
Dzhokhar spoke to his classmates about the bombing, calling it sad and a tragedy, his classmates said. He seemed to have resumed his habits of staying up late and sleeping in late, and of smoking marijuana, which he did frequently, they said.
At 10:29 p.m. Tuesday, his Twitter account posted rap lyrics from Eminem: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somethin to say but nothin comes out when they move their lips; just a bunch of gibberish.
As Tuesday turned into early Wednesday, he was still up, returning to Twitter at 1:43 a.m.: I’m a stress free kind of guy.
There is little indication of his activities on Wednesday, when his tweets slowed down.
Though he may have been quiet, Dzhokhar was hardly a loner — he was quite sociable.
Sonja Bergeron, 19, said she would often see him at parties at dorms where he would be drinking and smoking marijuana. (She advised reporters to “look for the potheads” to find people who would have known him better.)
“He was a kind of a party animal,” she said.
On Thursday, President Obama spoke at an interfaith service in Boston for the victims of the bombings. Afterward, as President and Mrs. Obama visited victims at various hospitals, Dzhokhar’s account shared a message from a man named Mufti Ismail Menk. “Attitude can take away your beauty no matter how good looking you are or it could enhance your beauty, making you adorable.”
While Dzhokhar had returned to college and the trappings of his life, his brother, Tamerlan, was more elusive. Several neighbors said they did not see him after the marathon, but then again, many had not seen him before it. It was not unusual, they said, for him to stay inside his apartment, watching his 3-year-old daughter while his wife, Katherine Russell, worked as a home health aide.
At home, he often played video games and posted videos on YouTube. The daughter was learning how to ride a tricycle, which still sat in the front yard of the house.
“She was his first kid, so I would give him advice, tell him to take her to the playground and make sure she got to spend time with other kids,” said Joanna Herlihy, the owner of the three-story apartment building where they all lived.
Another neighbor, who refused to give his name for fear of how people might react to him speaking positively about a terrorist suspect, said he had not seen Tamerlan since the Saturday before the bombing. But he described him as friendly and outgoing.
Another person said that Tamerlan returned to the normal tasks of daily life that week: he went to Whole Foods at one point, and to a park with his daughter at another. He even commented on the bombing, “Did you see what happened?”
On Thursday at 5 p.m., the F.B.I. released photographs of the brothers and said they were the bombing suspects. At 9:06 p.m., an acquaintance sent Dzhokhar a picture that had emerged from many of the photos of the suspects taken at the scene of the marathon. It showed Dzhokhar with his white baseball cap on backward.
“Lol…” the friend wrote. “Is this you? I didn’t know you went to the marathon!!!!”
John Eligon and Richard Oppel Jr. contributed writing from Boston and Jennifer Preston from New York
APNewsBreak: Russia caught bomb suspect on wiretap
April 28, 2013
by Eileen Sullivan and Matt Apuzzo
WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian authorities secretly recorded a telephone conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, officials said Saturday, days after the U.S. government finally received details about the call.
In another conversation, the mother of now-dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, officials said.
The conversations are significant because, had they been revealed earlier, they might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.
As it was, Russian authorities told the FBI only that they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists. With no additional information, the FBI conducted a limited inquiry and closed the case in June 2011.
Two years later, authorities say Tamerlan and his brother, Dzhohkar, detonated two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout and Dzhohkar is under arrest.
In the past week, Russian authorities turned over to the United States information it had on Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. The Tsarnaevs are ethnic Chechens who emigrated from southern Russia to the Boston area over the past 11 years.
Even had the FBI received the information from the Russian wiretaps earlier, it’s not clear that the government could have prevented the attack.
In early 2011, the Russian FSB internal security service intercepted a conversation between Tamerlan and his mother vaguely discussing jihad, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation with reporters.
The two discussed the possibility of Tamerlan going to Palestine, but he told his mother he didn’t speak the language there, according to the officials, who reviewed the information Russia shared with the U.S.
In a second call, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva spoke with a man in the Caucasus region of Russia who was under FBI investigation. Jacqueline Maguire, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington Field Office, where that investigation was based, declined to comment.
There was no information in the conversation that suggested a plot inside the United States, officials said.
It was not immediately clear why Russian authorities didn’t share more information at the time. It is not unusual for countries, including the U.S., to be cagey with foreign authorities about what intelligence is being collected.
Nobody was available to discuss the matter early Sunday at FSB offices in Moscow.
Jim Treacy, the FBI’s legal attache in Moscow between 2007 and 2009, said the Russians long asked for U.S. assistance regarding Chechen activity in the United States that might be related to terrorism.
“On any given day, you can get some very good cooperation,” Treacy said. “The next you might find yourself totally shut out.”
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva has denied that she or her sons were involved in terrorism. She has said she believed her sons have been framed by U.S. authorities.
But Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers and Zubeidat’s former brother-in-law, said Saturday he believes the mother had a “big-time influence” as her older son increasingly embraced his Muslim faith and decided to quit boxing and school.
After receiving the narrow tip from Russia in March 2011, the FBI opened a preliminary investigation into Tamerlan and his mother. But the scope was extremely limited under the FBI’s internal procedures.
After a few months, they found no evidence Tamerlan or his mother were involved in terrorism.
The FBI asked Russia for more information. After hearing nothing, it closed the case in June 2011.
In the fall of 2011, the FSB contacted the CIA with the same information. Again the FBI asked Russia for more details and never heard back.
At that time, however, the CIA asked that Tamerlan’s and his mother’s name be entered into a massive U.S. terrorism database.
The CIA declined to comment Saturday.
Authorities have said they’ve seen no connection between the brothers and a foreign terrorist group. Dzhohkar told FBI interrogators that he and his brother were angry over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the deaths of Muslim civilians there.
Family members have said Tamerlan was religiously apathetic until 2008 or 2009, when he met a conservative Muslim convert known only to the family as Misha. Misha, they said, steered Tamerlan toward a stricter version of Islam.
Two U.S. officials say investigators believe they have identified Misha. While it was not clear whether the FBI had spoken to him, the officials said they have not found a connection between Misha and the Boston attack or terrorism in general.
Associated Press writer Adam Goldman in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in Boston contributed to this report.
April 27, 2013
Good government obtains when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted.
— Confucious, The Confucian Analects
It doesn’t seem fair. The Italians have a lot more fun doing nothing than do we. And, in addition, they have the Pope and former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. We have no one like the Pope to take pride in and it’s hard to match Berlusconi. This all came to mind while watching the Italian Parliament try to elect a president and undertake other legislative tasks. Comparisons to the U.S. Congress invited themselves to the viewing.
Like the U.S. Congress, the Italian parliament has proved itself incapable of governing. The most recent election in the United States was in November 2012 whereas the Italian parliament was elected in February 2013. In both countries all legislative parties (like Gaul) are divided into three parts. In the United States the three parts are the Republicans who control the House of Representatives, the Democrats who control the Senate and the Tea Party who more or less control themselves as well as those Republicans with whom they disagree. In Italy the three parts are the center left Democratic Party, the center right People of Liberty party and the Five Star Movement that is led by a comedian, Beppe Grillo.
Some of the leaders of the Italian parties remind one of some of the leaders in Congress. The leader of the center-left party (until a few days ago) was Pier Luigi Bersani whose party has the majority in the lower house but not in the Senate and, is, therefore, unable to do anything without the help of one of the other two parties. He is described in the New York Times as being a “somewhat gloomy” individual, a description that could apply equally well to Senator Mitch McConnell, the dour minority leader in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Grillo, leader of the Five Star Party, is an acknowledged comedian, not unlike any number of the members of the U.S. Congress. The Five Star party received 25 per cent of the February vote entitling its members to 163 of the 945 seats in the parliament. Mr. Grillo showed his sense of humor by causing his party to express its disapproval of the parliament’s failure to appoint committees by conducting a sit in. The only problem was they sat in the very chairs in parliament that they were elected to sit in. At the end of the day’s session they declined to go home and stayed in their seats until midnight reading assorted legal texts. No one much cared.
The U.S. Congress has its share of clowns. One of the biggest is Georgia’s Paul Broun, a physician who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. His words belie his education and make a mockery of the committee on which he sits. In a speech at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga. he reported that: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior” He may not be funny but he’s definitely a clown.
Last, but not least, among elected characters, is Sylvia Berlusconi whose closest Congressional counterpart might be former New York Congressman, Anthony Weiner. Mr. Weiner sent pictures of his crotch to assorted women he found on the internet. It cost him his seat but not his ambition. He hopes to be New York City’s next mayor. By Italian standards Mr. Weiner’s conduct is fairly tame. By contrast, while Mr. Berlusconi was premier the world’s newspapers were filled with pictures of comely young women who graced the parties hosted by Mr. Berlusconi and expressed their gratitude by giving him party favors of the sexual kind. He, too, ultimately lost his job as a result.
Both the U.S. Congress and the Italian Parliament are incapable of governing. Congress takes advantage of procedural tricks to block legislation, the appointment of judges, cabinet officers, heads of regulatory commissions and virtually all legislation. Defining majority to mean 60% enables Congress to avoid its constitutionally imposed duties. The Italians model themselves after the U.S. Congress.
In February 2012 they held an election for Parliament in which no party got a clear majority. Thereafter the three parties refused to form alliances with the result that no parliamentary committees were set up and it took more than two months and six ballots for the parliamentarians to agree on a new president. (On April 20, 2012 the deadlock was broken and the 87-year old Girogio Napolitano was elected to a second term, the first Italian president to ever be elected to two terms.)
Commenting on Mr. Napolitano’s re-election, Antonio Polito, a political commentator said, “Our system is no longer able to produce a stable government. The parliamentary system is broken, and it has not been able to fix itself.” An Italian woman commented: “I am sick and tired of Parliament ignoring the will of the people because of economic reasoning.” Neither of those commentators was speaking of the U.S. Congress. They could have been. As I said at the outset, the Italians are lucky. They have the Pope and Berlusconi. We have no consolation prizes.
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 40
April 22, 2013
INTELLIGENCE SATELLITE IMAGERY DECLASSIFIED FOR RELEASE
An enormous volume of photographic imagery from the KH-9 HEXAGON intelligence satellites was quietly declassified in January and will be transferred to the National Archives later this year for subsequent public release.
The KH-9 satellites operated between 1971 and 1984. The imagery they generated should be of historical interest with respect to a wide range of late Cold War intelligence targets but is also expected to support current scientific research on climate change and related fields of inquiry.
The film-based KH-9 satellites were officially declared “obsolete” by the Director of National Intelligence in 2011. The KH-9 imagery was nominally approved for declassification in February 2012, and then it was finally declassified in fact this year.
ODNI spokesman Michael Birmingham said that approximately 97 percent of the satellite imagery that was collected from the 19 successful KH-9 missions was formally declassified by DNI James R. Clapper on January 11, 2013.
“The small amount of imagery exempted from this declassification decision will be removed prior to its accession to the National Archives (NARA) and will remain classified pursuant to statute and national security interests, and reviewed periodically to determine if additional declassification is warranted,” Mr. Birmingham said last week.
The imagery is being transferred to NARA in stages, with final delivery scheduled for September 2013, he said.
The transfer is being implemented pursuant to a November 2012 Memorandum of Agreement between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Archives, under which the Archives is “responsible for providing public access to the declassified imagery.”
Reishia R. Kelsey of NGA public affairs confirmed that the imagery “will be made available to the public following its accession to NARA” later this year.
The National Archives was not prepared last week to set a precise date for public release. But an Archives official said that “NARA intends to make these records available to the public at our research room in College Park, MD as soon as possible following transfer.”
If successfully executed, the release of the KH-9 imagery will constitute a breakthrough in the declassification and disclosure of national security information. It will be one of several discrete but momentous shifts in secrecy policy during the Obama Administration that have often gone unrecognized or unappreciated. Though these declassification actions took years or decades to accomplish, they have been downplayed by the White House itself, which has seemed curiously ambivalent about them. They include the public disclosure of the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, the routine publication of the annual intelligence budget request, the release of the Office of Legal Counsel “torture memos,” the declassification of the KH-9 satellite itself, and others.
The KH-9 imagery is being processed for public release pursuant to the 1995 Executive Order 12951 on “Release of Imagery Acquired by Space-based National Intelligence Reconnaissance Systems.” That order had been effectively dormant since the Clinton Administration, when the last major release of intelligence satellite imagery (from the CORONA, ARGON and LANYARD missions) took place.
The declassification of the KH-9 imagery is a massive undertaking, Mr. Birmingham of ODNI said last year.
“For context, and to grasp the scope of the project, the KH-9/HEXAGON system provided coverage over hundreds of millions of square miles of territory during its 19 successful missions spanning 1971-1984,” he said. “It is a daunting issue to address declassification of the program specifics associated with an obsolete system such as the KH-9, which involves the declassification of huge volumes of intelligence information gathered on thousands of targets worldwide during a 13 year time period.”
MILITARY PHOTOGRAPHERS READY TO DEPLOY AROUND THE GLOBE
Just as law enforcement relied upon surveillance cameras and personal photography to enable the prompt identification of the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, U.S. armed forces increasingly look to the collection of still and motion imagery to support military operations.
Combat camera (COMCAM) capabilities support “operational planning, public affairs, information operations, mission assessment, forensic, legal, intelligence and other requirements during crises, contingencies, and exercises around the globe,” according to newly updated military doctrine.
COMCAM personnel are “highly trained visual information professionals prepared to deploy to the most austere operational environments at a moment’s notice.”
COMCAM units “are adaptive and provide fully qualified and equipped personnel to support sustained day or night operations” in-flight, on the ground or undersea, as needed.
“Effectively employed COMCAM assets at the tactical level can potentially achieve national, theater strategic, and operational level objectives in a manner that lessens the requirement for combat in many situations,” the new doctrine says. “Their products can counter adversary misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda and help commanders gain situational awareness on operations in a way written or verbal reports cannot.”
“The products can also provide historical documentation, public information, or an evidentiary foundation… for forensic documentation of evidence and legal proceedings. They can provide intelligence documentation to include imagery for facial recognition and key leader engagements, and support special reconnaissance.”
The newly issued COMCAM doctrine supersedes previous guidance from 2007. See Combat Camera: Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Combat Camera (COMCAM) Operations, April 2013.
Bradley Manning is off limits at SF Gay Pride parade, but corporate sleaze is embraced
A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values
April 27, 2013
by Glenn Greenwald
PFC Bradley Manning is escorted by military police as he departs the courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland in this April 25, 2012 file photo. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.
Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.
I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.
First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn’t want, and is now being sued by the US government for “allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web.”
The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”
Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”
Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.
So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.
Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.
But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).
What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.
Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.
While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:
As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”
But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.
Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.
It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.
Corporate corruption and sleaze
For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner”, to be held this weekend.
Defense Department blocks Baptist website, calls content ‘hostile’
April 25, 2013
by Cheryl K. Chumley
The Washington Times
Chaplains with the Southern Baptist Convention said the U.S. military has blocked access to its website on bases around the nation, calling the content “hostile” and inappropriate.
The blocking comes just weeks after Army personnel cited Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians as possible examples of extremists. The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant group and stands steadfast in its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Chaplains told Fox News that SBC.net had been censored, and those trying to access the site at various military bases were greeted with a warning: “The site you have requested has been blocked by Team CONUS … due to hostile content,” Fox News reported. Team CONUS is in charge of the computer network for the Defense Department, Fox News said.
The “hostile content” wasn’t explained, chaplains said, but military spokespeople said the blockage was by accident.
“The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said on Fox News. “We are working diligently to investigate what might be causing access issues for some of our service members and to correct the situation as quickly as possible.”
Access to the site wasn’t blocked at the Pentagon, Fox News reported. Meanwhile, SBC spokespeople find the censorship — even if it was unintentional, as the military claims — of utmost concern.
“This is deeply disturbing,” said Sing Oldham, SBC spokesman, to Fox News. “While the deputy chief of operations of the U.S. Army has assured us this is a random event with no malicious intent, the Army must run this to the ground to assure that this is the case.”
If the government in fact did intentionally block access, he continued to Fox News, “that would be an unconscionable breach of trust with the American public. The First Amendment exists to protect the church from governmental censorship of, or infringement upon, religious speech and the free exercise of religion.”
Is the Press Too Big to Fail? It’s Dumb Journalism, Stupid
by Todd Gitlin
Everyone knows this story, though fewer and fewer read it on paper. There are barely enough pages left to wrap fish. The second paper in town has shut down. Sometimes the daily delivers only three days a week. Advertising long ago started fleeing to Craigslist and Internet points south. Subscriptions are dwindling. Online versions don’t bring in much ad revenue. Who can avoid the obvious, if little covered question: Is the press too big to fail? Or was it failing long before it began to falter financially?
In the previous century, there was a brief Golden Age of American journalism, though what glittered like gold leaf sometimes turned out to be tinsel. Then came regression to the mean. Since 2000, we have seen the titans of the news presuming that Bush was the victor over Gore, hustling us into war with Iraq, obscuring climate change, and turning blind eyes to derivatives, mortgage-based securities, collateralized debt obligations, and the other flimsy creations with which a vast, showy, ramshackle international financial house of cards was built. When you think about the crisis of journalism, including the loss of advertising and the shriveled newsrooms — there were fewer newsroom employees in 2010 than in 1978, when records were first kept — also think of anesthetized watchdogs snoring on Wall Street while the Arctic ice cap melts.
Deserting readers mean broken business models. Per household circulation of daily American newspapers has been declining steadily for 60 years, since long before the Internet arrived. It’s gone from 1.24 papers per household in 1950 to 0.37 per household in 2010. To get the sports scores, your horoscope, or the crossword puzzle, the casual reader no longer needs even to glance at a whole paper, and so is less likely to brush up against actual — even superficial — news. Never mind that the small-r republican model on which the United States was founded presupposed that some critical mass of citizens would spend a critical mass of their time figuring out what’s what and forming judgments accordingly.
Don’t be fooled, though, by any inflated talk about the early days of American journalism. In the beginning, there was no Golden Age. To be sure, a remark Thomas Jefferson made in 1787 is often quoted admiringly (especially in newspapers): “If it were left to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”
Protected by the First Amendment, however, the press of the early republic was unbridled, scurrilous, vicious, and flagrantly partisan. In 1807, then-President Jefferson, with much more experience under his belt, wrote, “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
Two Golden Decades
If there was a Golden Age for the American press, it came in a two-decade period during the Cold War, when total per capita daily newspaper circulation kept rising, even as television scooped up eyeballs and eardrums. Admittedly, most of the time, even then, elites in Washington or elsewhere enjoyed the journalistic glad hand. Still, from 1954 to 1974, some watchdogs did bark. Civil rights coverage, for example, did help bring down white supremacy, while Vietnam and Watergate reportage helped topple two sitting presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Of course, press watchdogs also licked the hands of the perpetrators when Washington overthrew democratic governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and when it helped out in Chile in 1973. As for Vietnam, it wasn’t as simple a tale of journalistic triumph as we now imagine. For years, in manifold ways, reporters deferred to official positions on the war’s “progress,” so much so that today their reports read like sheaves of Pentagon press releases. Typically, all but one source quoted in New York Times coverage of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incidents, which precipitated a major U.S. escalation of the war, were White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials (and they were lying). In the war’s early years, at least one network, NBC, even asked the Pentagon to institute censorship.
Nonetheless, the sense that the war was an unjustifiable grind grew, especially after the Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive of January-February 1968, startling the U.S. military, Washington officials, and journalists alike. When, in 1969, Seymour Hersh reported for the tiny Dispatch News Service that a unit from the Americal Division had slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in a village named My Lai, his story went mainstream.
Still, the long bombing campaign that President Nixon ordered in Cambodia and Laos did not feature on television, and barely made the newspapers. And even when, in a remarkable feat of reporting, it finally did in a major way, there was no journalistic sequel. The “secret” bombing of Cambodia — secret from Americans, that is — was reported on page one of the New York Times on May 9, 1969, and 37 years later, the reporter, William Beecher, said this about his story: “We’re not talking of some small covert operation here, but a massive saturation bombing campaign, with a false set of coordinates to mislead the Congress and the public… You would have thought that such a story would have caused a firestorm. It did not.”
After Watergate, whatever hard-won, truth-bound independence the mainstream press had wrested from its own history failed to hold. In the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example, most Washington journalism once again collapsed into deference, and so, too, did the financial press on its own front. Washington’s war-making might and Wall Street’s financial maneuvers were both deemed too mighty, too smart, too hypermodern to fail.
Although the New York Times and the Washington Post later acknowledged flaws in their Iraq reporting, neither paper nor other major outlets have owned up to the negligence that led up to the great global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. We are far from grasping how fully business journalism played cheerleader and pedestal-builder for the titans of finance as they erected a fantastical Tower of Derivatives, which grew way too tall to fail without wrecking the global economy.
Start to finish, financial journalism was breathless about the market thrills that led to the 2007-2008 crash: the financialization of the global economy, the metastasis of derivatives, and especially the deregulation underway since the late 1970s that culminated in the 1999 congressional repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (with President Bill Clinton blithely signing off on it). That repeal paved the way for commercial and investment banks, as well as insurance companies, to merge into “too-big-to-fail” corporations, unleashed with low capital requirements and soon enough piled high with the potential for collapse.
A Proquest database search of all American newspapers during the calendar year 1999 reveals a grand total of two pieces warning that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake. The first appeared in the Bangor Daily News of Maine, the second in the St. Petersburg Times of Florida. Count ‘em: two.
On February 24, 2002, as the scandal of the derivative-soaked Enron Corporation unfolded, the New York Times’s Daniel Altman did distinguish himself with a page-one business section report headlined “Contracts So Complex They Imperil The System.” He wrote: “The veil of complexity, whose weave is tightening as sophisticated derivatives evolve and proliferate, poses subtle risks to the financial system — risks that are impossible to quantify, sometimes even to identify.” He stood almost alone in those years in such coverage. Most financial journalists preferred then to cite the grand Yoda of American quotables, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. And he was just the first and foremost among a range of giddy authorities on whom those reporters repeatedly relied for reassurance that derivatives were the great stabilizers of the economy.
On March 23, 2008, as the bubble was finally bursting, Times reporters Nelson Schwartz and Julie Creswell noted that “during the late 1990s, Wall Street fought bitterly against any attempt to regulate the emerging derivatives market.” They went on:
“A milestone in the deregulation effort came in the fall of 2000, when a lame-duck session of Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The bill effectively kept much of the market for derivatives and other exotic instruments off-limits to agencies that regulate more conventional assets like stocks, bonds and futures contracts.”
“Little-noticed” indeed. According to Lexis-Nexis, not a single substantive mention of this law appeared in the Times that year. On October 1, 2000, Washington Post writer Jerry Knight did note ruefully, “What’s fascinating about the policy debate is the agreement on the guiding principle: The government should not stand in the way of financial innovation.”
In a syndicated column on Christmas Eve, way-out-of-the-mainstream columnist Molly Ivins was not so poker-faced. She called the new law “a little horror.” And in that she stood alone. That was it outside of financial journals like the American Banker and HedgeWorld Daily News, which, of course, were thrilled by the act. That magic word “modernization” in its title evidently froze the collective journalistic brain.
Or in those years consider how the New York Times covered the exotic derivatives called “collateralized debt obligations,” among the principal cards of which the era’s entire international financial house was built. These tricky arcana, marketed as little miracles of risk management, multiplied from an estimated $20 billion in 2004 to more than $180 billion by 2007. The Times’s Floyd Norris drily mentioned them in a 2001 front-page business section article about American Express headlined “They Sold the Derivative, but They Didn’t Understand It.” He quoted the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank this way: “There are all kinds of transactions going on out there where one party doesn’t understand it.” From then on, no substantial Times front-page business section article so much as mentioned collateralized debt obligations for almost four years.
In 2009, in an enlightening article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman, a former staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, looked at the nine most influential business press outlets from January 1, 2000, through June 30, 2007 — that is, for the entire period of the housing bubble. A total of 730 articles contained what Starkman judged to be significant warnings that the bubble could burst. That’s 730 out of more than one million articles these journals published.
The formula was simple and straightforward: the business press served the market movers and shakers. It was a reputation-making machine, a publicity apparatus for the industry. In other words, the job of financial reporters in those years was to remain fast asleep as the most flagrantly abusive part of the mortgage industry, subprime mortgages, was integrated into routine banking.
Meanwhile, thanks to that same financial press, a culture of celebrity enveloped the big names of finance: CEOs of major banks, Wall Street investors, operators of hedge funds. They were repeatedly portrayed not just as fabulously successful tycoons doing their best for the society, but as fabulously giving philanthropists, their names engraved into the walls of university buildings, museums, symphony halls, and opera houses. They weren’t just bringers of liquidity to markets, but wise men, too. In an all-enveloping media atmosphere in which the press indulged without a blink, they were held to be not only creators of wealth but moral exemplars. Indeed, the two were essentially interchangeable: they were moral exemplars because they were creators of wealth.
The Desertification of the News
Oh, and in case you think that the coverage from hell of the events leading up to the financial meltdown was uniquely poor, think again. On an even greater meltdown that lies ahead, the press is barely, finally, still haphazardly coming around to addressing convulsive climate change with the seriousness it deserves. At least it is now an intermittent story, though rarely linked to endemic drought and starvation. Still, as Wen Stephenson, formerly editor of the Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section and TheAtlantic.com and senior producer of National Public Radio’s “On Point,” summed up the situation in a striking online piece in the alternative Boston Phoenix: the subject is seldom treated as urgent and is frequently covered as a topic for special interests, a “problem,” not an “existential threat.” (Another note on vanishing news: Since publishing Stephenson’s article, the Phoenix has ceased to exist.)
Even now, when it comes to climate change, our gasping journalism does not “flood the zone.” It also has a remarkable record of bending over backward to prove its “objectivity” by turning piece after piece into a debate between a vast majority of scientists knowledgeable on the subject and a fringe of climate-change deniers and doubters.
When it came to our financial titans, in all those years the press rarely felt the need for a dissenting voice. Now, on the great subject of our moment, the press repeatedly clutches for the rituals of detachment. Two British scholars studying climate coverage surveyed 636 articles from four top United States newspapers between 1988 and 2002 and found that most of them gave as much attention to the tiny group of climate-change doubters as to the consensus of scientists.
And if the press has, until very recently, largely failed us on the subject, the TV news is a disgrace. Despite the record temperatures of 2012, the intensifying storms, droughts, wildfires and other wild weather events, the disappearing Arctic ice cap, and the greatest meltdown of the Greenland ice shield in recorded history, their news divisions went dumb and mute. The Sunday talk shows, which supposedly offer long chews and not just sound bites — those high-minded talking-head episodes that set a lot of the agenda in Washington and for the attuned public — were otherwise occupied.
All last year, according to the liberal research group Media Matters,
“The Sunday shows spent less than 8 minutes on climate change… ABC’s This Week covered it the most, at just over 5 minutes… NBC’s Meet the Press covered it the least, in just one 6 second mention… Most of the politicians quoted were Republican presidential candidates, including Rick Santorum, who went unchallenged when he called global warming ‘junk science’ on ABC’s This Week. More than half of climate mentions on the Sunday shows were Republicans criticizing those who support efforts to address climate change… In four years, Sunday shows have not quoted a single scientist on climate change.”
The mounting financial troubles of journalism only tighten the muzzle on a somnolent watchdog. It’s unlikely that serious business coverage will be beefed up by media companies counting their pennies on their way down the slippery circulation slope. Why invest in scrutiny of government regulators when the cost is lower for celebrity-spotting and the circulation benefits so much greater? Meanwhile, the nation’s best daily environmental coverage takes a big hit. In January, the New York Times’s management decided to close down its environmental desk, scratching two environmental editor positions and reassigning five reporters. How could such a move not discourage young journalists from aiming to make careers on the environmental beat?
The rolling default in climate-change coverage cries out for the most serious professional self-scrutiny. Will it do for journalists and editors to remain thoroughly tangled up in their own remarkably unquestioned assumptions about what constitutes news? It’s long past time to reconsider some journalistic conventions: that to be newsworthy, events must be singular and dramatic (melting glaciers are held to be boring), must feature newsworthy figures (Al Gore is old news), and must be treated with balance (as in: some say the earth is spherical, others say it’s flat).
But don’t let anyone off the hook. Norms can be bent. Consider this apt headline on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek after Hurricane Sandy drowned large sections of New York City and the surrounding area: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” Come on, people: Can you really find no way to dramatize the extinction of species, the spread of starvation, the accelerating droughts, desertification, floods, and violent storms? With all the dots you already report, even with shrunken staffs, can you really find no way to connect them?
If it is held unfair, or naïve, or both, to ask faltering news organizations to take up the slack left by our corrupt, self-dealing, shortsighted institutions, then it remains for start-up efforts to embarrass the established journals.
Online efforts matter. It’s a good sign that the dot-connecting site InsideClimateNews.org was just honored with a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
But tens of millions of readers still rely on the old media, either directly or via the snippets that stream through Google, Yahoo, and other aggregator sites. Given the stakes, we dare not settle for nostalgia or restoration, or pray that the remedy is new technology. Polishing up the old medals will not avail. Reruns of His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men, and Broadcast News may be entertaining, but it’s more important to keep in mind that the good old days were not so good after all. The press was never too great to fail. Missing the story is a tradition. So now the question is: Who is going to bring us the news of all the institutions, from City Hall to Congress, from Wall Street to the White House, that fail us?
Todd Gitlin, who teaches journalism and communications at Columbia University, is the author of The Whole World Is Watching, Media Unlimited, and many other books including, most recently, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.
Austerity blamed as unemployment soars in Spain and France
More than 6 million without jobs in Mariano Rajoy’s Spain while figure in François Hollande’s France is 3.2 million
April 25, 2013
by Phillip Inman and Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Unemployment has soared to records in both France and Spain as the impact of government spending cuts and a collapse in consumer confidence forced employers to shed thousands of workers.
Spain’s persistent rise in unemployment reached new heights over the first three month of this year, leaving a record 27% of the workforce jobless.
Spain now has 6.2 million unemployed after a 23-month run of falling employment figures, with the young and those living in the south of the country particularly hard hit as the economy continues to shrink.
Almost six out of every 10 people under the age of 25 who are not studying are now jobless, with the rate at 57%.
In France, the number of people out of work reached a record 3.2 million in March in a blow to socialist president François Hollande, who has struggled to stabilise the economy in the face of declining exports and a fall in domestic demand.
The figures triggered a heated debate about Europe’s austerity drive with leading IMF and European Central Bank officials sharply at odds.
Some eurozone officials believe now is the time to ease back on debt-cutting drives because calmer financial markets are less easily panicked.
The IMF is also calling for a relaxation in austerity drives – for both the eurozone and Britain – but Germany and the ECB are opposed.
“There is … a risk that Europe could fall into stagnation, which would have very serious implications for households, companies [and] banks,” IMF first deputy managing director David Lipton told a conference in London.
“To decisively avoid that dangerous downside, policymakers must act now to strengthen the prospects for growth,” he said.
But ECB executive board member Jörg Asmussen urged governments to push on with budget consolidation and reforms.
“Delaying fiscal consolidation is not an easy way out. If it were, we would have taken it,” Asmussen said.
“Delaying fiscal consolidation is no free lunch. It means higher debt levels. And this has real costs in the euro area where public debts are already very high.”
The ECB is expected by many to cut interest rates next week, although a quarter-point reduction is unlikely to lift the eurozone economy out of recession.
“It will probably require additional unconventional measures from the ECB,” Lipton said, while Asmussen said monetary policy was not an “all-purpose weapon”.
But German chancellor Angela Merkel intervened in the debate yesterday saying the ECB was “in a difficult position,”
“For Germany it would actually have to raise rates slightly at the moment, but for other countries it would have to do even more for more liquidity to be made available.”
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy plans to announce measures on Friday designed to promote growth while keeping public spending cuts in place.
The economy shrank 1.9% over the last year and is not expected to return to growth until the end of this year or 2014.
Analysts agree new jobs will not be created until growth rises above 1%, which seems unlikely until well into next year – by which time 2 million people are likely to have been unemployed for more than three years.
Spain posted Europe’s worst budget deficit last year and, although part of that was a one-off €41bn (£35bn) payment to rescue the country’s banks, it will still struggle to meet the deficit targets set by Brussels without pushing even more people into unemployment.
This year’s deficit target is currently 4.5% of GDP, though that looks likely to be relaxed amid the Europe-wide recession.
Household spending power has fallen to 2001 levels, thanks to a combination of unemployment, falling salaries and increased income and sales taxes, with almost one in three Spanish households now struggling to pay monthly bills.
“This has grown brutally in recent years,” said Carlos Susías of the Network against Poverty and Social Exclusion.
In France, a wave of industrial layoffs sent unemployment soaring further over the 3 million level hit last August and the previous all-time record of 3,195,500 set in January 1997.
Hollande reaffirmed his goal to reverse the rising trend, calling on his government to combine with industry and other players to use all means possible to create jobs.
“Everything the government does, in every ministry, must be to continue to strengthen the battle for jobs,” he said. “I want all the French people to unite behind this one national priority.”
Carmakers headed a list of businesses laying off workers. PSA Peugeot Citroen is scrapping more than 10,000 domestic jobs and rival Renault aims to cut 7,500 posts in France by 2016.
FBI court documents recount ‘gray side’ of Pilot
April 28 2013
by Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When federal agents descended on the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J on April 15, it was the first inkling the public and company executives had of an FBI and Internal Revenue Service investigation that began nearly two years ago.
After the country’s largest diesel retailer sought to downplay the probe, federal officials took the unusual step of unsealing an affidavit that helped authorize the raid before any charges have been filed. The sworn statement recounts internal Pilot conversations that led investigators to conclude there was a widespread scheme to defraud trucking company customers in order to boost company profits and pad sales commissions.
The privately held company with $31 billion in annual revenues is run by CEO Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The Haslam family, including brother Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, holds a majority stake.
The investigation started May 4, 2011, when the FBI was contacted by someone who said he had been told by a Pilot regional sales manager that customers were being cheated out of contractually set price rebates.
The affidavit gave no details about whether the person, identified in the document only as confidential source No. 1, was a colleague, customer or how they were connected to Pilot.
The source agreed to cooperate with the FBI, and the next month began secretly recording conversations with the sales manager, who outlined how two top sales officials at Pilot would withhold portions of money due to customers in a process most often referred to as “manual rebates.”
The recorded conversations also pointed agents to a former regional sales manager, Cathy Giesick.
Federal agents contacted both the sales manager and Giesick in the first week of October 2012. Both agreed to cooperate and confirmed that their supervisors reduced rebates due to customers.
Giesick and the current sales manager, identified as source No. 2, were granted immunity for their cooperation.
Giesick told agents she left Pilot in part because of her discomfort with the rebate-lowering scheme. She provided an example, saying if a customer was due a $10,000 rebate, her supervisor, national sales director Brian Mosher, would cut that payment to about $7,500.
No charges have been filed in the case. While Jimmy Haslam has denied any wrongdoing, he has suspended several members of the sales team, but has declined to identify exactly who has been suspended. The company has not made any of its other workers available and Haslam has made statements, but not taken questions from the media.
Haslam has called for the review of all 3,330 trucking customer contracts and making all billing and payments electronic.
Giesick said the fraud “was typically directed at smaller accounts where the customer would not have the capability to catch the reduction,” according to the affidavit.
If a customer complained, Giesick said Mosher told her “blame the error on a computer glitch.”
Meanwhile, source No. 2 began secretly recording conversations with other colleagues on Pilot’s sales team. On Oct. 17, Omro, Wis.-based sales manager Rob Yurnovich was recorded as saying the rebate reductions can become difficult to manage.
“I wouldn’t say it’s unethical. I’m just uncomfortable with it,” Yurnovich said on the recording. “And the fact that when you get caught you have to do so much back peddling, you lose a ton of credibility whether you can cover it with a story or not.”
Later that month, source No. 2 recorded a regional sales directors meeting at the Rockwood, Tenn., lake house of John “Stick” Freeman, Pilot’s vice president of sales.
Freeman told younger colleagues that they should carefully target customers.
“Some of ’em don’t know what a spreadsheet is. I’m not kiddin’,” Freeman said. “So, again, my point is this: Know your customer.
“If the guy’s sophisticated and he truly has gone out and gotten deals from the other competitors and he’s gettin’ daily prices from us, don’t jack with his discounts, ’cause he’s gonna know, okay?”
Freeman regaled his colleagues with a story of being caught withholding $1 million in rebates due to client Western Express. Freeman said Pilot had to pay up that amount but laughed because the company still came out $6 million ahead.
Source No. 2 later asked Freeman what Jimmy Haslam’s reaction had been.
“He knew it all along. Loved it,” Freeman said. “We were makin’ $450,000 a month on him – why wouldn’t he love it?”
“Did it for five years, cost us a million bucks,” he said. “I mean, we made $6 million on the guy, cost us a million bucks.”
Although the affidavit doesn’t include any recordings of conversations with Haslam, Special Agent Robert H. Root said the transcripts don’t cover every recording.
At the training session, Mosher cautioned his colleagues to be careful about how they described what was happening with rebates.
“It’s only manual rebate amongst, in this room, amongst our folks,” he said. “To the customer it’s just a rebate, okay?”
The instructions from the senior sales staff drew differing reactions from more junior staff.
“Welcome to the gray side,” Holly Radford, a regional account representative based at Pilot headquarters, said to laughter from her colleagues.
Jason Holland, a sales manager based in Nashville, followed up with, “I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with the gray part.”
Mosher responded that keeping the rebate steady will avoid confusion among customers when prices – and margins – spike or fall. A customer accustomed to receiving a $25,000 rebate will raise questions when it suddenly surges to $75,000 and then back to $15,000, he said.
“So my answer is, why put him in that situation, where he needs to even ask?” Mosher said with a laugh. “Don’t ever pay him the 75!”
In a Nov. 28 conversation, regional sales manager Kevin Clark of Lee’s Summit, Mo., recounted how managers of Omaha, Neb.-based Morehouse Trucking had failed to keep track of how much money was due in rebates.
“The dumb (expletive) never checked, I guess,” Clark was recorded as saying. “I felt like sayin’, ‘Well you’re the moron that didn’t check it!'”
At a Dec. 8 overnight meeting at the posh Blackberry Farm resort in the Smoky Mountains, source No. 2 recorded a conversation between Mosher and northeastern sales director Arnie Ralenkotter about contracts for the U.S. Postal Service.
Ralenkotter described that rebate deal as “legitimate.”
“You know why?” he said. “I do not want to get thrown in jail.”
“That’s a pretty good point,” Mosher said.
After source No. 2 returned from a two-week vacation on April 1, he found Pilot had launched an internal audit about manual rebate practices, stirring concern among the sales staff.
By April 9, source No. 2 had told the FBI that the Pilot Flying J general counsel, Kristen Seabrook, was requiring all information needed to approve rebates be submitted by April 12, with the next round of payments scheduled to be sent April 15.
That’s the day the FBI and IRS agents raided Pilot’s corporate headquarters, the building housing its computer servers and the homes of sales team members Mosher in Bettendorf, Iowa, Ralenkotter in Hebron, Ky., and Nashville-based sales director Kevin Hanscomb.
The three men did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press.