In a move that’s stirred much criticism, New York Rep. Peter King on Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, will hold a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee examining radicalization among American Muslims.
Not since the Bush administration has public debate erupted so sharply over whether a particular congressional hearing should even be held.
King says the hearing is “absolutely necessary.” Radicalization exists in the Muslim community in America, and it’s his job as committee chairman to fully investigate it, King has said.
“I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I’m doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country who are willing to take up arms against their government. I believe that the leadership, too many leaders in the Muslim community do not face up to that reality,” King recently told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say if only I had done what I should have done as homeland security chairman, this wouldn’t have happened,” said King, who represents a district on Long Island.
Others don’t see it that way: Many have raised questions about whether King is wrong to single out a particular religious group. Comparisons to McCarthyism have being raised.
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, spoke this morning at the controversial hearings led by Long Island Republican congressman Peter King, and broke down in tears while telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an American citizen from Pakistan, who died in the Septemper 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Ellison first warned of the dangers of “ascribing evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community,” before sobbing through the story of Hamdani, who was slandered when he went missing on 9/11, accused of being complicit in the attack. “His life should not be indentified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion,” Ellison said, “but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”
King, meanwhile, announced today that he has had around-the-clock security since late last year, when he announced plans to hold hearings that examine recruitment for Al Qaeda and the threat of “radicalization.”
More important is Ellison’s moving plea. If this country has any sense, his impassioned testimony will be the lasting image from this detrimental sham masquerading as government action.
Much of the liberal opposition to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Muslim radicalism today has focused on King himself — his past support of the IRA, his treasure trove of heated comments about terrorism.
That came to the fore just now, after Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member, asked about the implications of a member of Congress saying there were “too many mosques.” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., took umbrage at that.
“I haven’t heard any member of our committee say there’s too many mosques,” he said. The implication was shameful.
King briefly took the microphone. It was him, he said: “I’d said there are too many mosques.”
Indeed, he sort of did. It’s complicated. In 2007, he said those exact words in a Politico interview, but immediately pointed out that they were taken out of context — he meant to say* that there are “too many mosques not cooperating with law enforcement.”
I’m of two minds about the hearings on domestic terrorism that Rep. Peter King is holding today. I’ve been a staunch defender of Muslims–of their patriotic record as American citizens, of their right to build houses of worship anywhere they want, including near Ground Zero. But let’s face it: there have been a skein of attacks over the past year–starting with the Fort Hood massacre and running through the aborted Times Square bombing–that have been attempted by U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslims. This is something new and, I think, it is a phenomenon that needs to be (a) acknowledged and (b) investigated as calmly and fairly as possible.
I’m not sure that King, an excitable bloviator, is the right person to conduct the hearings–but we need to know whether there is a pattern here, whether there are specific mosques that have been incubators, and how much an influence the American-born terrorist Anwar Awlaki, who is now living somewhere in Yemen, has been. We should do this with the assumption that American muslim terrorists are about as common as American Christian anti-abortion terrorists. We should do it as sensitively as possible, with the strong assertion that Islamophobia is unacceptable in America. But we should do it.
This is such a no-brainer issue that the only possible reason to oppose King’s hearings is to score political points. There is no earthly reason that Muslims should oppose rooting out radicals in their midst – especially since law enforcement says that either out of fear or anti-Americanism, many ordinary Muslims do not cooperate with the police or FBI.
I have a feeling this hearing is going to be an eye opener. And that might be why some Muslims are so opposed to having it.
The notion that we should ignore the obvious in an attempt to curry favor with “moderate” Muslims here in the U.S. and to avoid offending those overseas is badly misguided. For starters, it assumes that those audiences are infantile in their inability to distinguish, as the rest of us do, the difference between radicalized, murderous Islamic fundamentalists and those who pose no threat whatsoever. In doing so, we only serve to undermine the efforts of those non-radicalized Muslims abroad who could use some assistance, even if it is only rhetorical in pushing back against extremists.
Moreover, it glosses over a real issue in the U.S.: a number of groups who offer themselves as “moderate” and with whom the administration consults are not helping matters, as evidence by the fit thrown over the prospect of examining how their fellow Muslims turn to murder and mayhem. Let’s take CAIR, for example. This ostensibly anti-discrimination group has refused to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. As I wrote last year:
CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.)
It’s not hard to figure out why public discussion of all this strikes fear in the hearts of those who would rather not see a public accounting of their actions. But even the administration has to acknowledge that failure to identify, understand and combat the role of Islamic fundamentalists’ recruitment of Americans is foolhardy in the extreme. And, so, lo and behold, we learn, “While the thrust of McDonough’s remarks seemed aimed at declaring common cause with the Muslim community, the White House official was also careful not to minimize the dangers posed by efforts to radicalize Muslims inside the United States. He also managed to announce, in advance of King’s hearings, that the administration will soon roll out a comprehensive plan aimed at combating the radicalization effort.” Well, I suppose CAIR won’t like that either.
If King’s hearings have spurred the administration to get off the stick and begin work on this issue, they are already a success. And if nothing else they have exposed just how unhelpful some Muslim American groups are in the war against Islamic jihadists.
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up. Fisher:
Lebanon’s government is on the verge of collapse as Hezbollah, the paramilitary group and national political party, threatens to withdraw from the shaky government coalition. At the heart of the political dispute is Hezbollah’s objection to an ongoing United Nations investigation that is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri’s son, current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, met today with President Obama to discuss the political crisis. Obama is getting involved after negotiations, sponsored by Syria and Saudi Arabia, failed to resolve the dispute. As is so often the case with Lebanon, the situation is tenuous and the dangers of escalation are high
Even as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday for urgent talks over the future of his government, Hizballah decided to pull the plug on that government and leave Hariri’s status uncertain. Eleven ministers from the Shi’ite Islamist party and its allies resigned from the Cabinet and demanded the formation of a new government, leaving Hariri unable to govern. The collapse of yet another fragile consensus government once again raises the specter of Lebanon’s descending into a new cycle of sectarian violence — but it could also simply be a hardball negotiating tactic by Hizballah to cement its position and highlight the limited power of its enemies, including the U.S., to manage events in Lebanon.
The Hizballah walkout was prompted by the collapse of a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia and Syria under which the Lebanese government would distance itself from the U.N. tribunal investigating the murder of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, in February 2005. Although Syria was initially widely blamed for the killing, it has been reported that the U.N. tribunal will in fact indict members of Hizballah, the Iran-backed movement whose militia remains the single most powerful military force in Lebanon, and whose electoral support in the Shi’ite community gives it a central role in government. Hizballah had warned for months that it would not allow the arrest of any of its members, and branded the U.N. tribunal a Western-Israeli plot to undermine the movement. The U.S. has insisted throughout the crisis that the interests of political stability cannot be allowed to impede the pursuit of justice in the Hariri murder.
Lebanon is becoming the Berlin Wall of the new Cold War: the frightening, potentially nuclear proxy struggle between allies of the West and Iran.
The West came to West Berlin’s short-term rescue with the 1948 airlift, but then could do little but stand and watch as the Soviet Union boxed Germany’s former capital into a corner for four decades.
Now Lebanon’s democratically elected government has had its legs taken away from under it by Hizbollah, Iran’s local front organisation. The country faces its own division, stand-off and stagnation, if not worse.
Like Berlin after the Second World War, Lebanon is a fractured place, with the major world powers – in this case, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran/Syria – having their own local front men.
Saad Hariri, the prime minister, inherited the country’s largest fortune when his father, Rafiq, was murdered in 2005. His enemies were Syria and Hizbollah: both have been blamed. Hariri, a Sunni, made his fortune in Saudi Arabia which has backed him and then his son ever since. The Saudis, of course, loathe Iran.
Hariri’s not without support. He won the last election – though, rather like Northern Ireland, that only has the effect of rearranging the seats around the power-sharing cabinet table. He has majority support from Middle Eastern governments, including the big Gulf oil players. And, of course, he has America behind him.
Hizbollah made itself extremely popular after taking on Israel in 2006. But that popularity may have peaked – many Lebanese and others can see the danger of having a separate armed militia pursuing its own agenda. No-one wants a civil war, while if starts a conflict with Israel, it won’t exactly be taking a vote from the people who will be on the receiving end of Israeli air force strikes.
Scaremongers say that war would bring in Syria on its side – but does Syria, which has good self-preservatory instincts these days, really think that is a good idea?
The current crisis has its roots in Hizbullah and AMAL’s cabinet walkout of late 2006, which led to over a year and a half of government paralysis, a huge downtown sit-in and protest, escalating street violence, the May 7 clashes, and, eventually, the Doha Agreement. The opposition’s principal demand at that stage was greater representation in cabinet — the so-called “blocking third” — so as to be able to meaningfully block legislation proposed by Hariri’s majority March 14 coalition. More fundamentally, the opposition was seeking a “nuclear option”: the ability to bring down the government in precisely this kind of situation, whereby Saad al-Hariri and his allies would remain committed to supporting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon all the way until the release of indictments.
If the opposition resigns later today, they will have finally exercised the option that they fought to gain between 2006 and 2008.
Many questions come to mind:
Why now? What prompted the breakdown of the Saudi-Syrian initiative that was supposedly drawing close to some kind of temporary solution in Lebanon? Did the negotiations fall apart as a result of US pressure (as some are suggesting) or was the whole thing a charade from the beginning?
Where do the local parties go from here? Will the opposition call for protests and strikes in an effort to display popular support for their call to end Lebanon’s cooperation with the STL? How will March 14th respond?
When will the STL release its indictments? Rumors suggest that this could be imminent, but we are unlikely to learn the content of the indictments for weeks, given that the pre-trial judge will probably review them privately.
Finally, and more crassly, who will come out on top in this confrontation between March 14 (and its allies in Washington and Riyadh on one hand) and March 8 (and its allies in Damascus and Tehran)? Are we headed for a “Doha 2″ agreement?
Let’s not jump the gun. The opposition still needs to make good on its threat. Until then, the floor is open for discussion.
President Barack Obama said the collapse of Lebanon’s unity government today shows Hezbollah’s fear of a united country acting for all Lebanese people.
“The efforts by the Hezbollah-led coalition to collapse the Lebanese government only demonstrate their own fear and determination to block the government’s ability to conduct its business and advance the aspirations of all of the Lebanese people,” Obama said in a statement issued after he held a private meeting at the White House with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”
Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
Obama’s coordinated character assassination campaign against anyone who disagrees with him strikes of Soviet style politics. Saul Allinsky would be proud.
For perspective, the Koch brothers have been funding right-of-center and largely libertarian causes since the 1970’s. David Koch was the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 1980. That’s right — against Reagan. This is nothing new for the Koch family. Through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Koch’s have been politically engaged, sometimes even against Republican Presidents.
But Barack Obama is so used to demagoguing and is the first Democratic President to really believe the rich are evil, and not just preach it for the base, he needs an enemy. The Koch family will be that enemy.
The New Yorker has an eleven page, 6,000 word article on David and Charles Koch, who own Koch Industries. The article, “Covert Operations,” appears in the August 30, 2010 copy of the magazine. In other words, this article was being manufactured well before Mr. Obama launched the opening salvo on August 9, 2010.
Writing in yesterday’s Playbook, Mike Allen referenced the article, highlighting a passage that David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s advisor, is concerned about the Koch brothers. Mike Allen has more today.
Most troubling, the New Yorker cites as objective sources both the Center for American Progress and Media Matters without ever bothering to mention they are left-wing sources with biases and competing interests against those of the Koch brothers.
This is a coordinated character assassination against Koch Industries and the Koch brothers for daring to use their money to prevent the destruction of the American economy at the hand of a bunch of effete socialists in the White House.
I’m not sure about Erickson’s speculation, but it’s hard not to notice that Mayer’s article paints an grim portrait of the Koch brothers without actually reporting anything objectionable that they might have done. For instance, here is how the article (headline: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama”) describes the Kochs’ efforts to promote libertarianism:
In Washington, [David H.] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.
If that is how you describe peaceful, lawful activism, then what words are left to describe, for instance, the actions of al Qaeda, which funded an actual stealth attack on the federal government?
Later in the article, Mayer writes that “the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program ‘a slush fund…'”
Mayer is referring to Veronique de Rugy’s working paper. It is not accurate to claim that de Rugy was “forced to correct” the paper. A better description would be that she “voluntarily, in the spirit of transparency, improved the paper and found that her initial results still obtained.” You can read a less tendentious account of that episode here or de Rugy’s own explanation here.
I am a big admirer of Jane Mayer, and her article is worth reading for anyone who’s interested in the topic, but is seems a clear case of describing two apples with different adjectives because one smells funny (the George Soros paragraph in the article is a classic of the form). Whether the piece amounts to a kind of opening White House legal salvo against some of its biggest critics is something worth monitoring closely over the next two-plus months (and two-plus years). Given President Obama’s increasingly hysterical (and hypocritical) attacks against “the influence wielded by corporations and foreign entities,” it’s clear that the campaign will have rhetorical legs at the least.
Exactly how are the Koch brothers under the radar or underground? They show up every year in the Forbes super-rich lists. Charles Koch wrote a best-selling business book a year or two ago and makes no secret of his belief in free markets and limited government. David Koch ran for vice president of these United States on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 (where he helped Ed Clark pull over 900,000 votes, by far the highest total gained by the LP). Both are known for a wide range of philanthropic giving, whether to arts and medical outfits or think tanks or political action groups.
Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week. While I have never had more than brief interaction with either brother, I am perhaps overdue in thanking them on this blog for supporting my career at Reason, where I have argued in favor of gay marriage, drug legalization, non-interventionist foreign policy, open borders, sales in human organs, an end to corporate welfare, and a wide variety of other shamelessly libertarian policies.
While the Kochs are not publicity hounds, they certainly don’t hide their giving or their political agenda under a bushel basket. They are consistently in favor of smaller government (even if Koch Industries gave 15 percent of its political donations to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle). They may in fact be “out to destroy progessivism” but they are hardly using secret means to combat the growth and reach of government.You can argue whether The New Yorker story is “shameful,” but there’s no question that it is a great example of the demonization of opposing points of view (this happens on the right, too, where way too many liberals are labeled socialists or communists or whatever). It’s not enough that opponents believe different things, they must be cast as underhanded and duplicitous, acting out of only the most vulgar or awful of motives.
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.
All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.
Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.
Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”
First of all most of what Rich wrote was but rehashed words from Jane Mayer’s slam against the Koch Brothers of New York. Three quarters of what Rich penned really came from Mayer’s New Yorker piece on the philanthropists. So, big demerits for Frank Rich for simply appropriating Mayer’s piece.
But the real point of Rich’s piece was to pile onto Mayer’s slanted attack piece with some echoed slams against the Tea Party movement in order to discredit it all. Rich is desperate to make the movement seem like a marionette show with rich “sugar daddies” funding it and controlling it from the top.
“There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising,” Rich says of the Tea Party events, “the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the ‘death panel’ warm-up acts of last summer.”
Rich then rehashes Mayer’s examples of where the Koch brothers put their money in the form of Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works, two nationwide, very active, and successful conservative advocacy groups.
Now, it is absolutely true that both AFP and Freedom Works have had the cash to put on large events in Washington D.C. and other cities. But it is not true that either of these groups controls and runs “the Tea Party” movement from above.
In fact, both AFP and Freedom Works were sort of caught unawares when the Tea Parties started forming spontaneously all across the nation in early 2009. Both had to rush to try and tap into that passion. Neither was initially prepared for the amazing energy that the Tea Party has unleashed.
Yes, these two organizations have held many events. But the number of evens that they have held, funded and had a hand in operating are but a small number compared to the hundreds if not thousands of Tea Party groups that started up all on their own, all with their own funding and members, all without the bankrolling of a “sugar daddy” named Koch.
To say that the Koch brothers, or Dick Armey, or Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips control the Tea Party movement is simply a lie. In fact, these advocacy groups are like the 80-pound child taking his 200-pound dog for a walk. The kid may seem like the owner, but it is the big dog in control of where the walk ends up heading! The Tea Party is the 200-pound dog that neither AFP, nor Freedom Woks can control. These groups are the 80-pound kid holding on for dear life, trying to stay relevant in the minds of the Tea Party movement.
And Rich makes a second mistake — or calculation — in addressing the Tea Party movement. He keeps saying “the Tea Party” as if it is a single entity. It is not. I have been interacting with, writing about, and attending rallies with various Tea Party groups since the first days of the movement. There is one thing that holds true throughout. They are not connected one to the other in any meaningful way.
But you see, if Rich and his anti-traditional American ideologues can make it appear as if “the Tea Party” is run from the back pocket of the Koch brothers, it is easier to discredit as a false front set up by secretive, shadowy forces. If it were all a Koch enterprise, now that is a strawman that Frank Rich could knock down. But if the Tea Party is understood as millions of individual Americans following their patriotic hearts, that is an impossible image to discredit.
So you can see why Rich and his cohorts are desperate to make it “the Tea Party” instead of revealing the truth.
Here’s more on the story I published this morning — a letter that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is sending around arguing that Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile treated the Kochs unfairly.
“The New Yorker article, and those pieces that have echoed it, rely heavily on innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions,” writes foundation president Richard Fink, who is the public face of the brothers’ ideological work. “Unnamed sources and those with a strong philosophical opposition to the Kochs – many of whom have no current or first-hand knowledge of Koch Industries, Koch Family Foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch – go unchallenged. Supporters of the Kochs are largely ignored (as evidenced by the fact that the reporter chose not to include the vast majority of supportive comments made by a number of people familiar with the Kochs and the organizations they support). On the other hand, those who reinforce the reporter’s preconceptions are given a free pass.”
Fink argues that Mayer treated the Kochs unfairly despite the access she received, but Mayer reports that she didn’t get face time with David or Charles. That’s the point I’m making — these attempts to keep the brothers out of the political fray just don’t work anymore.
All this is to say that I’m very comfortable with critiques of the rise of the right, including left-of-center critiques. Let’s just say I don’t think Rich is an authority on this subject. That said, I would never question his knowledge of the history of Broadway, Vaudeville, or theater more broadly.
I don’t doubt that a talented reporter could illuminate the worldview of the Kochs and the extent of their reach. But Mayer might be the most talented reporter writing today, and she’s written a piece that relies heavily on Gus diZerega, incendiary quotes from a wide range of scrupulously non-partisan but decidedly left-of-center think tanks, a credulous statement from a Soros spokesperson, a conversation with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, references to Andrew Goldman’s article in New York and Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, and something else I’m sure I’m missing. One possibility is that Mayer’s editors pressed for early publication of the Koch story, spurred by the fact that New York had published its piece in late July and the prospect of more articles on the Kochs in other magazines. If that is indeed the case, I think Mayer’s editors have done her a disservice.
As someone who has benefited from left-of-center and right-of-center foundations, I definitely have a bias here: I don’t think it’s a bad thing for rich people to devote some of their money to spreading ideas, including bad ideas. The U.S. economy is vast enough that I can’t imagine even the largest fortunes holding undue sway over our national political life, which could be Pollyannaish on my part. I’m not even all that threatened by the influence of the Ford Foundation, which, as David Bernstein observes, is considerable:
According to Mayer, the Kochs have spent “more than a hundred million dollars” on “right-wing” foundations since 1980. Let’s be aggressive, and assume arguendo the figure, adjusted for inflation, is four hundred million dollars. That’s a whole $13 million or so a year since 1980. By contrast, the Ford Foundation, one of many well-endowed “mainstream” liberal foundations, spends over $500 million a year, a decent fraction of which goes to left-wing organizations and causes. Any given major American university employs far more liberal academics in the social sciences annually than can possibly be employed on a $13 million budget. Soros’ Open Society Institute annually spends over $150 million to “support individuals and organizations advancing a more open, just, and equal society in the United States.”
I am definitely open to strong arguments that suggest the Ford Foundation or the Kochs are a danger to our democratic freedoms. I’m still waiting for them.
The New York Times is really taken with Jonathan Franzen’s “galvanic new novel, ‘Freedom.'” Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review last week. Two bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, are mad. They think The New York Times has a soft spot for white males. As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Picoult and Weiner have had a field day on Twitter, Weiner tweeting that the “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs.”
But is The New York Times (among other publications) really playing favorites? And if so, how so? Do influential outlets disdain female authors, or disdain popular fiction of any variety? Here are a variety of perspectives on the growing debate.
Picoult, whose popular novels of everyday people facing awful dilemmas have sold more than 12m copies worldwide but are largely overlooked by the literary establishment, was quick to respond. “NYT raved about Franzen’s new book. Is anyone shocked?” she wrote on Twitter. “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” For every review of authors such as Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat or the Dominican-American Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, “there are 10 Lethems and Franzens,” she added later.
Picoult also criticised Kakutani’s use of the word “lapidary”. “Did you know what [it] meant when you read it in Kakutani’s review? I think reviewers just like to look smart,” she tweeted.
Contacted by blog the NYT Picker, Picoult reaffirmed her view that “the Times favours white male authors. That isn’t to say someone else might get a good review – only that if you are white and male and living in Brooklyn you have better odds, or so it seems”.
“The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction – and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author,” said the author. “I’m not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction). How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors are ROUTINELY assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves) while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”
But she rejected the blog’s claim that her disgruntlement stemmed from poor reviews of her own work in the paper: in 2008 a reviewer said she had written her novel Change of Heart “on authorial autopilot”. Posting her email response to the blog online “in the effort of truth in journalism”, Picoult insisted that “nowhere in here do I criticise Ms Kakutani, rant, or suggest that my comment (which really was just that – a COMMENT) was precipitated by the fact that I don’t get rave reviews from the NYT. Just stating an opinion, as I see it, about those to whom the NYT chooses to devote inches of print”.
Her feelings were backed up by bestselling chick-lit writer Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes. “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts,” she wrote on Twitter. “Books read by men – mysteries, thrillers, horror – at least maybe they’ll be noticed, whether author male or female. Books read by women – romance, chick lit, commercial fic, whatever – rarely get noticed. When they do, reviews often ignorant.”
Later, she added: “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs … In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”
Why do you feel that commercial fiction, or more specifically popular fiction written by women, tends to be critically overlooked?
Jennifer Weiner: I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.
Jodi Picoult: I think you only have to really look at the facts. I don’t think it’s overlooked in all venues. I think the New York Times reviews overall tend to overlook popular fiction, whether you’re a man, woman, white, black, purple or pink. I think there are a lot of readers who would like to see reviews that belong in the range of commercial fiction rather than making the blanket assumption that all commercial fiction is unworthy. But it’s not universal. The Washington Post for example, back when they had their book review section, used to do the widest reviews, because there were so many kinds of fiction reviewed, not just literary fiction. That’s where my gripe comes from. When in today’s market you only have a limited review space for books, I wonder what the rationale is for the New York Times to review the same book twice, sometimes in the same week. I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Jonathan Franzen. I hope I read (“Freedom”) and love it. None of this was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone the Times has chosen to review twice in seven days.
Have you had experiences where you’ve felt, due to either the content of your books or your gender, your books have been misrepresented or dismissed?
Weiner: The only mention my books have ever gotten from the Times have been the occasional single sentence and, if I’m lucky, a dependent clause in a Janet Maslin flyover piece: “Look! Here’s a bunch of books that have nothing in common but spring release dates and lady authors!” I don’t write literary fiction – I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.
Picoult: Oh yeah, sure. But you know what? That’s your trade off. I think Jen Weiner was the one who tweeted the very comment that, “I’m going to weep into my royalty check”. She’s funny and honest and that’s what makes her great. There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commericals writers get all the success. I don’t begrudge the label of ‘commercial writer’, because I wanted to reach as many readers as I could. I read a lot of commercial fiction and a lot of the same themes and wisdoms I find in commercial fiction are the same themes and wisdoms as what i see lauded in literary fiction.
Weiner: The examples you cite reinforce my argument that women are still getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or horror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list. I think I remember seeing one review of Nora Roberts once, whereas Lee Child can count on all of his books getting reviewed. This strikes me as fundamentally unfair.
Picoult: In my personal opinion I think those are anomalies more than the norm. But again it is one person’s opinion.
Both Picoult and Weiner are the kind of writers who, to use Saul Bellow’s phrase, are free to stuff their ears with money if they don’t like what they’re hearing about their own books. And while I hadn’t time to look up every interview they’ve ever given, I have a hard time believing that in their heart of hearts, they envision themselves as even writing literary fiction, or at least that they aim their work at the same critical audience Franzen does. (Would Franzen’s website have as a title “Novels About Family, Relationships, and Love”?) So I think it’s overbroad to claim that they are themselves being treated differently solely as women, in this instance.
And yet, they do have a point. And it’s a point that brings us right up to the edge of the precipice of having to re-evaluate what it is we think is worthwhile about literature, and why it might not be what current standards say it is.
There are a number of levels on which one can analyze this problem of literary merit. Only the first and most superficial is markets. From that perspective, this entire discussion is little more than wankery. First of all, not a day goes by where we’re not being reminded by publishers that the collapse in transaction costs related to publishing writing (thanks in no small part to websites like this here fine publication) is absolutely destroying traditional publishing. Whatever the former gatekeepers to literary fame think, in short, is becoming more irrelevant by the day, because if they don’t like what you’re writing, you’re perfectly welcome to self-publish (or to work with a progressive change publisher) and potentially earn a higher income, proportionate to sales anyway, than you would have if you’d signed with a major publishing house, by cutting out the middleman.
Weiner, who wrote the terrific and unexpected novel Good In Bed (which dares to suggest, among other things, that not all of a contemporary woman’s personal problems can be solved with a makeover and a diet, try to contain your shock) all the way back in 2001 and has been writing fiction about women ever since, is blown off as a “chick-lit author” here and here, and in The Atlantic, while her books aren’t exactly called “chick lit,” it has to be pointed out that they (and Picoult’s books) are “often referred to as ‘chick lit.'” (We’re not saying it’s chick lit or anything … we’re just saying SOME HAVE SAID it is chick lit, y’know.)
It’s a category we just don’t even need anymore.
I’ve written before about how much I dislike it when people don’t distinguish between popular women’s fiction and the much narrower category of shoe fiction (by which I mean fiction disproportionately focused on the acquisition of designer shoes and bags and other yabba-dabba-doo that is inevitably described in nearly pornographic detail). But at this point, I think the only solution is to stay away from the term “chick lit” as much as humanly possible, because it’s become a term that means “by and about women, and not something you need to take seriously, although we’re not necessarily saying those things are connected, so it might be a giant coincidence.”
Jennifer Weiner writes primarily about relationships between and among women. She writes about families, she writes about loss, she writes about loneliness, and she writes about a wide variety of other human emotions. The fact that she wrote a book called In Her Shoes doesn’t mean she writes primarily about shoes. (Seriously, is that where this started?) That book is about family — just like, for instance, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (a great book, by the way), which may or may not be a book written with greater skill, but which does not find itself assigned to a special genre as a result of being about a man, written by a man, and concerned with a man’s thoughts and feelings and complicated family and romantic relationships.
Once we’re calling Jennifer Weiner “chick lit,” I don’t know what “chick lit” is, and I don’t think I’d like the answer if I did. Most of the definitions I’ve ever known are apparently too narrow. If “chick lit” means it’s about young, independent single women looking for love (which was what I understood to be the earliest definition, when I first heard it back in the Bridget Jones era), Jennifer Weiner doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about finding a guy in general, she doesn’t qualify. If it means the book isn’t serious, she doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about the centrality of men to the lives of women, she doesn’t qualify, since most of the most important relationships she’s written about in her career are relationships between women (sisters, friends, mothers and daughters).
The term “chick lit,” as I mentioned today on Twitter as I was composing this entry, increasingly makes me feel like I’m being compared to a marshmallow peep just for reading books by and about women. I know what romance novels are — I read some of them, I dislike many of them. I know what shoe fiction is, in my own experience — it’s fine, but it’s not very nourishing. There are subgenres within commercial women’s fiction that are real and identifiable.
But I don’t know what “chick lit” is anymore, except books that are understood to be aimed at women, written by women, and not important. And I can’t get behind that.
Various people have chimed in agreeing with Piccoult or arguing that the Times coverage is more balanced than she claims. Ironically, Kakutani has previously been accused of taking special relish in pillorying white male authors. (Norman Mailer called her, in his typically subdued, politically correct style, a “one-woman kamikazee. She disdains white male authors…she’s a token. And deep down, she probably knows it.” I feel dirty retyping that.) And she recently sliced up the prototypical white male literary darling from Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem.
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor. I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman? And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes. It was a pretty shameful moment, in part, because I started wondering about early onset memory loss (I eventually remembered that I’d recently read the luminous and terribly titled Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele), but also because I’ve spent a lot of time advocating the reading of books outside of the reader’s direct experience as a way of understanding the world (through the Ringshout organization, for instance) and apparently I’ve been ignoring the literary output of half the human population. I can’t speak to the specifics of the Piccoult/Times disputebut I can say that the frustration Piccoult expressed is shared by a lot of women (and men) who write or work in the literary world. In my experience with by son’s namesake bookstore, it’s clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women. And while I’ve never seen it quantified in any way, there’s definitely a feeling out there that men–even when writing about frivolous subjects–are taken more seriously as literary writers and are more likely to be presented to serious readers by the various literary gatekeepers.
So I’ve been trying to balance my own reading–consciously trying to read at least one piece of fiction by a woman for every one I read by a man. This sounds stupid, I know. But what are the results of this small and recent experiment?
It’s been sort of fascinating. After reading the well-reviewed-but-somewhat-disappointing (but still worth reading) Next by James Hynes, I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, which was, like the Hynes, formally inventive, but also creepy and funny and knee-wobblingly suspenseful. After reading Gary Shteyngart, I just turned to a book that’s been on my queue for a while: Chimamanda Adichie’s achingly beautiful The Thing Around Your Neck, both books about immigrants and police states and love affairs, but from two vastly different, whiplash-inducing, perspectives (BTW, check out Adichie’s fascinating TED talk, “The Danger of the Single Story” if you’re interested in the art of storytelling). Between chapters of The Book in the Renaissance, I’ve been dipping in and out of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is an incredible evocation of a young woman’s unruly interior, even if she was once picked up by Allen Ginsburg because he thought she was a boy.
Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers–maybe without realizing it, we’ve only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction). To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities. How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?
Two men taken off a Chicago-to-Amsterdam United Airlines flight in the Netherlands have been charged by Dutch police with “preparation of a terrorist attack,” U.S. law enforcement officials tell ABC News.
U.S. officials said the two appeared to be travelling with what were termed “mock bombs” in their luggage. “This was almost certainly a dry run, a test,” said one senior law enforcement official.
A spokesman for the Dutch public prosecutor, Ernst Koelman, confirmed the two men were arrested this morning and said “the investigation is ongoing.” He said the arrests were made “at the request of American authorities.”
NPR’s Carrie Johnson has a bit more information from law enforcement officials on the detention of the two men in Amsterdam from a United Airlines flight from Chicago:
“One of the men is from Yemen. Another man who joined him lives in the Detroit area.
Officials say the Yemeni man taped cell phones, watches and other items together in his suitcase. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he had a dangerous intent.
Under Dutch law, the men can be detained while the investigation continues.
She also passes along the following statement from U.S. law enforcement:
“Suspicious items were located in checked luggage associated with two passengers on United Flight 908 from Chicago O’Hare to Amsterdam last night. The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items. This matter continues to be under investigation.”
The test involved traveling separately to Chicago’s O’Hare airport with a fake bomb or two in a suitcase (not to mention a box cutter and three large knives). The suitcase was then checked onto a flight to Dulles, with connecting flights to Dubai, and finally Yemen. The two suspects having met up at O’Hare, boarded a flight to Amsterdam instead. The luggage with the fake bombs was recovered at Dulles when it was realized that the suspect who checked it had not actually boarded the flight from Chicago to Dulles. The Chicago to Amsterdam flight being rather long, there was at least time to notify the Dutch who were happy to arrest the men upon landing. I assume the fly team has already been dispatched to Schiphol to collect these gentlemen and return them to the USA. The fake bombs were first discovered at the airport in Birmingham, where al-Soofi boarded his flight to O’Hare. He was allowed to proceed, suggesting either incompetence or brilliance on the part of federal officials – I’m not sure which. In addition to the objects in his luggage he was carrying $7,000 in cash and arrived at the airport wearing bulky clothing out of season…
What’s shocking about this is that before he even got to Chicago he was stopped in Alabama for “further screening” because of “bulky clothing” and then upon further investigation of his checked baggage, they found all sorts of shady things including 7 grand in cash, a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three cell phones taped together, several watches taped together, a box cutter and three large knives.
When they saw the cell phone taped to the Pepto Bismol bottle, did they … run a test to make sure it was Pepto in there or did they just wave it through? And if they were so concerned about the contents that him checking his luggage on one flight and boarding another in Chicago triggered a panic response, why on earth did they let him fly with that bag at all? It’s not like a jihadi would refuse to remotely detonate a suitcase in the cargo hold just because he’s aboard the same plane.
Basically, it sounds like this guy wanted to see just how many red flags he could send up and still be allowed to board an intercontinental flight. Answer: Quite a few, as it turns out. Which was also true of Flight 253, of course, another attempted terror attack that involved a bomber trained in … Yemen, the new number-one hot spot of international terrorism. Stay tuned.
The movie […] succeeds where the book fails. Instead of telling the story about one woman’s very specific path to spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery, it imparts a more universal tale about the search for love.
So, basically, you’re going to love it or hate it. You’ll either cry because you’re moved or completely bored. Good to know!
In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) eats, prays and loves, while gliding through some of the world’s most beautiful settings. Populated with gorgeous people, vivid scenic vistas and picturesque multicultural happenings, the film would make an ideal promotional spot for its primary locations of Rome, India and Bali.
Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling, autobiographical self-help book (his directorial debut) gets the surface details right. Seen on a big enough screen, the pictures of Rome’s ornamental city streets, India’s sweat soaked ashrams and Bali’s lushly vegetated countryside provoke the sort of all-encompassing awe that in many respects defines the cinema.
But when it comes to the narrative woven around the scenery, the movie starts flat, stays flat and never recovers. Cast wrong and structured lazily, Eat Pray Love lacks the strong dramatic pull needed to sustain a 133-minute production. Mired in a milquetoast aesthetic obsessed with trendy “healing” tropes (meditation, close-ups on delicious looking pasta, Javier Bardem etc.) the movie rarely deviates from the genre’s standard path.
Among Julia Roberts‘ many talents is the ability to be likable even when she’s playing a character who isn’t. She’ll star in something dreadful like Runaway Bride or Mona Lisa Smile, and despite what a shrill stereotype the character is, Roberts herself will be infectiously pleasant.
This skill is taxed to its limits in Eat Pray Love, in which Roberts plays a privileged, self-absorbed narcissist who takes a year-long vacation to “find herself.” (You’re always in the last place you look, amirite?) This lady, Elizabeth Gilbert (also the name of the author from whose memoir the film was adapted), isn’t happy married, isn’t happy single, isn’t happy ever. She figures she needs to spend some time with no one but herself. Speaking as one who has spent 140 minutes with her, I would advise against that.
Few actresses can telegraph pleasure as well as Roberts, which is why the “eat” portion of the film, in which her character packs away so much Roman pasta that her jean size soars from 0 to 1, is the most enjoyable of the three. But for those who haven’t read the book, it won’t be easy to grasp how and why Liz gets to Rome in the first place. A rushed and cursory setup has her breaking up with her husband (Billy Crudup) and embarking on a doomed affair with a young actor (James Franco) with little apparent motivation; both men, and in fact every male character in the movie, seem handsome, charming, and besotted with her. We know Liz has hit rock bottom because she tells her publisher, Delia (Viola Davis), “I’ve hit rock bottom,” not because we’ve accompanied her on the way down.
Prozac would be considerably less overprescribed if more writers had publishers like Delia, who lets herself be convinced that a book advance large enough to finance a year of world travel will be just the thing for what ails Liz. (It’s a flaw of both the book and the film that the negotiation of this contract is glossed over so hastily. There’s no shame in having landed a sweet book deal, and having the financial underpinnings of Gilbert’s trip made plain would help to mitigate the audience’s resentment at her barely acknowledged privilege.) Once in Italy, Liz takes language classes, wanders around in cute outfits gandering at fountains, and orders marvelous meals with an assortment of international friends, while Martha Stewart’s food stylist hovers just off-screen with a spray bottle of liquid glycerin. This part of the movie is my favorite because it’s an unabashed glossy travelogue; as viewers, we’re not asked to do anything more than acknowledge the irrefutable fact that il dolce far niente looks like a lot of fun.
The “pray” section, in which Liz seeks spiritual solace in an Indian ashram, is a tougher sell. Watching a person meditate makes for less than dynamic cinema, and the ooglety-booglety inner journeys that Gilbert describes in the book are hard to bring to life on the page, let alone on-screen. The dramatic interest of the India chapter comes from Richard (Richard Jenkins), a fellow spiritual seeker and recovering alcoholic from Texas who befriends Liz with mystifying alacrity—minutes into their first conversation, he’s already bestowed on her an affectionate nickname. Jenkins, a fine character actor, invests Richard with an easygoing gravitas, but I never got around the essential phoniness of the Liz/Richard relationship. His character seems to exist for the sole purpose of dispensing folksy epigrams about acceptance and faith. The one scene in which Richard does get a chance to tell his own story is a nakedly manipulative play on the viewer’s emotions. This scene is meant to show that Liz and Richard have reached a new level of trust with one another, but it marked the moment when I stopped trusting the movie.
Once Liz has checked spiritual seeking off her travel to-do list, she heads to Bali, where an old medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) takes her on as a student and amanuensis. Amid the island’s lush jungles and libidinous expat parties, she meets a crinkly-eyed Brazilian businessman, Felipe (Javier Bardem), whose bossa-nova mix tapes might as well be titled “Have Sex With Me Right Now.” But Liz, still damaged by the wreckage of her past two relationships, takes a while to respond to Felipe’s advances.
“Pray,” based on the real exploits of author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends plenty of screen time on the main character’s soul search. Audiences may need to stretch during the film’s bloated running time, but despite the relaxed pace we still don’t adequately feel Liz’s pain.
The movie can’t be bothered to paint her marriage in anything but comically fleeting terms, using its dissolution for some quick laughs. And Crudup is left looking wounded and silly in the process. Who wouldn’t leave this sap? Better yet, who would begrudge herself for fleeing?
Roberts shapes Liz in a way lesser actresses simply couldn’t. She buries her “Pretty Woman” smile long enough to make us care about Liz’s plight, even if we can’t point to any particulars regarding her grieving process.
The film’s romantic angle comes so late in the story it’s a wonder it’s able to resonate at all. Credit Bardem for making the moments matter. He’s instantly relatable, a divorced man eager to resume his romantic life and not shy about showing his affection for his grown child.
Yes, the two kiss on the mouth – platonically, of course – and it’s as sweet a screen moment as you’ll see in the entire film.
What’s missing in “Love” is a sense of surprise. Yes, the Italian city scapes are beautiful, and yes, the food looks so delicious you’ll want to stop the movie and run to the nearest, best Trattoria.
But who couldn’t write such scenes?
The India sequences are equally predictable, down to the cute and cuddly old dude who allegedly possesses all the wisdom in the world – but has very few teeth.
“Eat Pray Love” deserves credit for its storytelling patience and having the smarts to install Roberts in the lead role. But those unfamiliar with the famous book will likely wonder what the fuss is all about.
I’m not particularly interested in Eat Pray Love, I have to tell you. I own the book; I have not brought myself to read it. I might see the movie. I might not.
But I am rooting for it to become a giant smash hit, because maybe that would mean I would never have to read another “Is Julia Roberts Dead Yet?” piece as long as I live. (Or, for that matter, a piece like “Why Does Everyone Hate Julia Roberts?”, which claims that you can tell from Roberts’ smile that she’s a bad person, and that having had three — THREE! — well-known boyfriends before her husband raises the reasonable suspicion that she is “a bit of a man-eater.”)
I want to keep this reasonably short, because we covered this when Duplicity came out, but it’s worth noting a few issues with, for instance, this effort to evaluate her prospects.
The entire idea that Julia Roberts built her career as a rom-com queen is a questionable one. During her original period of popularity, she also made Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, and The Pelican Brief. Chuckle at Mary Reilly all you like — The Pelican Brief made 100 million bucks. Erin Brockovich made about $125 million. Audiences have never showed any unwillingness to see Roberts in anything except romantic comedies. She may or may not want to return to them. She may or may not need to.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made reducing and redirecting the Pentagon’s huge budget a priority.
On Monday, he pushed forward his initiative on that front. Included among the ideas he laid out is a recommendation to eliminate one of the military’s nine commands, the Joint Forces Command which is called Jiffycom by some. That command employs employs about 5,000 people, both uniformed military and private sector.
As NPR’s Tom Bowman reported for the network’s radio newscast.
TOM: What Gates wants to cut is called the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., that employs 3,000 private contractors.
The command was created a decade ago to get the military services to work more closely together, but Gates says that’s now largely been achieved.
Gates also wants to reduce the Pentagon’s dependency on those outside contractors.
GATES: To accelerate this process and achieve additional savings, I have directed that we reduce funding for service supported contractors by 10 percent per year for each of the next three years.
Gates told reporters that 200 Pentagon contractors work full-time just writing reports ordered by Congress.
Any money saved in these cutbacks, says Gates, will be used to help modernize the military.
The American Forces Press Service has a fairly comprehensive report on the briefing Gates gave reporters Monday. It contained this background on why the cuts are needed:
Money saved with these efficiencies will go back into funding needed military capabilities. “To be clear, the task before us is not to reduce the department’s top-line budget,” Gates said. “Rather, it is to significantly reduce its excess overhead costs and apply the savings to force structure and modernization.”
President Barack Obama has programmed in real growth of between 1 and 2 percent into future years’ defense budgets, but that is not enough to maintain today’s warfighting capabilities and modernize, which requires roughly 2 to 3 percent real growth. The savings in overhead are crucial to making up that difference, Gates said.
Gates continues to target political sacred cows for extinction, both weapons programs and bases that are so spread out across the county as to impact many congressional districts. He realizes he doesn’t have the political wind at his back on this one, just the opposite.
Winners: Troops in uniform, ship programs, weapons systems that are needed to fight current and future wars. Losers: Bloated defense and intelligence agencies, redundant bureaucracies, four-star generals and admirals guilty of “brass creep,” report writers, white-collar contractors.
That pretty much sums up the casualty report from the efficiency-campaign bombshells dropped today by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He is looking for $100 billion in savings from cuts in overhead costs over the next five years.
The Pentagon needs the savings to “sustain a military at war and prepare for future threats,” Gates said. There are no plans yet to cut the defense budget top line, but these measures are necessary for the Defense Department to preserve its current force structure and fund modernization programs within the flat budgets projected for the foreseeable future, he said.
“I concluded that our headquarters and support bureaucracies — military and civilian alike — have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, grown over reliant on contractors, and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost,” Gates said at a news conference. His office alone has added 1,000 employees during the past decade, with little evidence that the expansion has added any real value, Gates said.
The bureaucratic ballooning and the excessive hiring of white-collar contractors must end, said Gates.
In Washington, you know a decision is controversial when the pushback comes before the announcement. Such is the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates‘s Monday bombshell that he wants to close Joint Forces Command.
The AP broke the news this morning that Gates would announce at a press conference his idea to shutter JFCOM’s gigantic base in southern Virginia as part of his drive to cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget. He also announced a 10 percent cutback in the Defense Department’s use of contractors each year for the next three years and pledged to cut the size of his own staff and that of the larger Pentagon bureaucracy.
“The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint,” Gates said. “This agenda is not about butting the department’s budget. It’s about reforming and reshaping priorities to ensure that in tough budgetary and economic times, we can focus defense resources where they belong.”
But even before Gates spoke, a team of Virginia lawmakers sent out an advisory that they will hold “an urgent press conference” on the announcement Monday at 4 p.m. at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, near where the base is located. Reps. Glenn Nye, J. Randy Forces, Bobby Scott, and Rob Wittman were all scheduled to speak.
“The proposal by the Defense Department to close JFCOM is short-sighted and without merit,” Nye said following Gates’s announcement. “I appreciate the department’s attempt to rein in spending, but I have yet to see any substantive analysis to support the assertion that closing JFCOM will yield large savings.”
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner released a statement Monday protesting the announcement before it was made.
“I can see no rational basis for dismantling JFCOM since its sole mission is to look for efficiencies and greater cost-savings by forcing more cooperation among sometimes competing military services,” Warner said. “In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money.”
Gates said he would work with JFCOM employees to ease their transition as the base closes and speculated that Virginia could benefit if the savings are reinvested in other local military efforts, such as shipbuilding.
I have to say, I admire Gates for taking the hardline on this budget, whether it’s pulling back on Navy war machines or getting the President to back a veto on an extra jet engine. Today’s announcement shows he’s serious about backing off the hose of spending attributed to the Department of Defense, an act that is doubly hard as we’re finishing up one conflict and continuing on with another. Besides which, the first place you’d look at to offset the deficit would be the defense budget, and this is the administration taking a proactive stance towards that budget.
Still, this will make some people pretty unhappy. JFCOM is tasked with co-ordinating the various branches of the military in training, future mission development, and organizational structure, and while those roles can be folded into other entities, it will take some time to transition. Furthermore, reducing contractor support by 10% annually for the next four years is no small potato either. But if anyone can push this through, it’s Gates.
Defense and security take up approximately a fifth of the federal budget. Twenty cents out of every dollar that you send to the government goes towards that slice of the pie. The nominal cost is somewhere north of $700bn per year. With the large budget deficits in our future, defense deserves a large amount of scrutiny.
Gates and the White House seem to realize this. Congress, however, doesn’t seem to share the appetite for budget cuts. This has led to some fierce battles over specific programs. The problem is that there are defense industries in every state and congressional district in the country. No congressman wants to give up the jobs that come with, for example, a second engine for the F-35, even if the Pentagon doesn’t even want it.
Congress will likely fight these budget cuts tooth-and-nail, but if we’re going to get deficits under control, the DoD can NOT be exempted from the pain. Off the top of my head, other programs that probably should fear the budget axe include the Marines’ V-22 Osprey and F-35B (with STOVL capability), the navy in general, and contractors.
Paul Krugman’s column today focused on the pain being felt in communities as essential services are cut back. His column talked mostly about the tax cuts that are set to expire this year. But don’t we need more and better teachers more than a special version of the F-35 that the Marine Corps admits it doesn’t really need? Wouldn’t we rather invest in our crumbling infrastructure than build another aircraft carrier when we already have an order of magnitude more carrier battle groups than any other nation? We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. We can still have a conventional military that dwarfs any other nation, while making tough choices to weed out bad or only marginally useful programs. Our communities could really use the money.
I honestly don’t know whether the Pentagon’s decision yesterday to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is wise or ill-advised. That’s a programmatic and bureaucratic decision that, candidly, I lack the expertise right now to make.
But what I do know is this: In the absence of budgetary pressure from the White House, the Pentagon most likely would not be seeking now to close down JFCOM while reducing its spending by some $100 billion over the next five years.
I also know that since Obama was elected president, the only government agency asked to make significant budget cuts has been the Department of Defense; and this is wrong. It is wrong because it is unfair, unreasonable and dangerous.
It is unfair because the U.S. military is really the only governmental entity that is being forced to scale back. Domestic social-welfare spending, by contrast, has skyrocketed. Yet where’s the hue and cry? It doesn’t exist.
But you can be sure that if it were the Department of Education or the Environmental Protection Agency that were being forced to make cuts, the bureaucracies there would be vociferously protesting — and ditto their allied outside liberal lobby groups.
The U.S. military, of course, can’t protest and it doesn’t protest. This because of the principle of civilian control of the military. Military officials instead simply salute and say, “Yes, Sir.”
Meanwhile, the defense contractors and parochial elected officials make ill-conceived and unpersuasive appeals based on “jobs” and pork-barrel spending.
I say ill-conceived because defense spending should be explained and justified as a matter of military necessity, not as a “jobs program” for congressional constituents. And I say unpersuasive because everyone knows that these pork-barrel spending appeals are politically self-serving and economically dubious.
To be sure, there is an economic case to be made for defense spending. I’ve made that case myself here at FrumForum, and it is this: Just as defense spending helped to lift America out of a prolonged depression in the 1930s, so too, can defense spending help to lift America out of its current economic malaise.
But defense spending can be economically beneficial only if it plays to the central strength of America’s economy in the 21st Century. And that strength involves our ability to harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals, even individual soldiers.
The politicians, however, don’t get this. Their defense spending schemes aren’t aimed at creating new 21st Century economic opportunities. They’re aimed instead at preserving old and ossified 20th Century “jobs programs.” Their efforts aren’t part and parcel of any overarching national defense strategy; they’re the economically wasteful byproduct of domestic political indulgence. And that is why they ultimately fail, both politically and economically.
In any case, it is extremely unfair to force the Department of Defense alone to bear the burden of Washington’s phony newfound fiscal rectitude.
Gates is canny to play off one set of interests against another (drop the Joint Forces Command, pick up another ship; give up a dozen generals, win a few more of those armored vehicles you’ve been eyeing). Maybe it will work. But by notching up his victories in this manner, he forgoes a path that would have yielded much greater savings.
The big money and the real savings lie precisely in the “force structure” and “force modernization” that Gates is aiming—and genuinely wants—to protect. In the question-and-answer period, he said that about half of the weapons-procurement budget goes for modernization—that is, for building new weapons, most of which have little or nothing to do with the wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the current budget ($549 billion, not counting the costs of our two wars) contains $137.5 billion for procurement, that amounts to roughly $70 billion.
Gates wants the Pentagon and the military branches to conduct a “clean-sheet review” and to “start setting priorities, making real tradeoffs, and separating appetites from real requirements” when it comes to things like contractors, headquarters, overhead, and so forth. And that’s all to the good. But he’s not launching any similar campaign when it comes to deployments and weapons systems. (In fairness, last year, he did cut about 20 weapons programs, including the F-22—more than any defense secretary in 40 years. But budget officials estimate that the bag of goodies is still bursting way beyond our ability to pay for them.)
The steps Gates took today have far-reaching implications; I don’t mean to minimize them. But there are other issues and questions that tap more deeply into the foundations of what he himself calls our “cumbersome and top-heavy” military, which has “grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.”
For instance: How many submarines and aircraft carriers does the Navy really need? And do all those carriers need the same number of aircraft and escort ships? How many fighter planes does the Air Force really need? How many brigades does the Army really need?
Gates’ new reforms are based on two premises: First, that the nation can’t afford unceasing growth in the defense budget; second, that the nation can afford moderate growth in the defense budget, as long as the Pentagon shows good faith by slashing what any objective observer would label “waste.”
The first premise is unassailable, the second probably too optimistic. The fact is, we can’t afford growth in the defense budget, period. To get the cuts he’s after, Gates—as a matter of political realism—has to leave the rest of the budget alone. But at some point, some secretary of defense is going to have to open it all up to scrutiny.
The actual numbers are pretty impressive, particularly when you consider that a mere 10 years ago China was quite a bit behind the U.S.
China consumed some 2,252 millions tons of the oil equivalent of sources such as coal, nuclear power, natural gas, and hydropower. The U.S. consumed 4 percent less. These are numbers from last year, by the way.
But that’s where energy efficiency comes into play. Since the year 2000, the U.S. has increased its energy efficiency by about 2.5 percent annually. China? 1.8 percent. So not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Does this really mean anything to you? Eh, maybe. Certainly it’ll have implications for the world at large though. Now that China is the biggest consumer of energy, it alone is in the position to tell energy providers, “Look, we’re willing to pay X for Y units of energy.” If China’s X is bigger than the U.S.’s X, then we may be looking at a situation where energy prices will go up simply because “someone else” is willing to pay more.
Which could mean that all the factories that produce all the lovely electronic gizmos we talk about day in, day out, could see their costs of doing business go up. And who would make up the difference? Yes, you!
Then again, it could have the very opposite effect, and end up lowering prices.
A different metric? Three years ago, China was the world’s biggest exporter of coal. Now it’s the leading importer. And last year, for the first time ever, Saudi Arabia sold more oil to China than the US.
Given that China’s consumption will give them more negotiation power in the world’s power market, it may be a good time to buck our trend of a mere 2.5% energy efficiency increase per year.
While most, if not all, had predicted China would become the world’s largest energy user, many didn’t think it was going to happen for another five years. China’s rise to the top can largely be attributed to a decline in energy usage in the U.S. China’s 2009 energy usage was below that of the U.S. from 2004-2008, before the financial crisis.
In fact, just ten years ago China’s energy consumption was less than half that of the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. remains the biggest energy consumer on a per capita basis, the IEA economist said, consuming three times more per citizen than China. The U.S. also consumes more than twice the amount of oil that China does in a day.
But like most things with China, that statistic won’t last long. The IEA reported in last year’s World Energy Outlook that China and India will represent more than half of all incremental demand increases by 2030.
Well aware of the global politics of energy, the Chinese government was quick to dismiss the story as an overestimation by the IEA. Probably not the last time we’ll see modesty from Beijing as the country continues to put “world’s largest” in front of more and more resources.
This is why the Chinese government has chosen to invest in developing new green energy technology.
The country is very fortunate in that most of the discovered deposits of rare earths used in the development of new technologies are found in China. While these deposits are very valuable, up until recently, the industry has not been regulated much by the Chinese central government. But now that Beijing is aware of their importance and value, it has come under much closer scrutiny. For one, Beijing wants to consolidate the industry and lower energy waste and environmental damage. (Ironically, the rare earth mining business is one of the most energy-wasteful and highly polluting industries around. Think Chinese coal mining with acid.)
At the same time, Beijing wants to cut back rare earth exports to the rest of the world, instead encouraging domestic production into wind and solar products for export around the world. With patents on the new technology used in manufacturing, China would control the intellectual property and licensing on the products that would be used all over the world. If Beijing is able to do this, it would control the next generation of energy products used by the world for the next century.
Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.
Schorr, who once described himself as a “living history book,” passed away Friday morning at a Washington hospital. His family did not provide a cause of death.
As a journalist, Schorr was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront.
“He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things,” said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps. “He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match.”
Schorr’s 20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from Western Europe for the Christian Science Monitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.
Schorr joined CBS News in 1953 as one of “Murrow’s boys,” the celebrated news team put together by Edward R. Murrow. He reopened the network’s Moscow bureau, which had been shuttered by Joseph Stalin in 1947. Ten years later, Schorr scored an exclusive broadcast interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. Communist Party chief — the first-ever with a Soviet leader. Schorr was barred from the U.S.S.R. later that year after repeatedly defying Soviet censors.
Schorr comes from a time and culture, CBS News in the 1950s, when putting news on television was considered such a civic trust and responsibility that the news division didn’t even have to make a profit. He worked for Edward R. Murrow, and he reopened CBS’ Moscow bureau after it had been shuttered by Stalin in 1947. He covered the building of the Berlin Wall. I read his memoir when it came out a few years ago, and i remember that it was chock-a-block full of Iron Curtain stories of the sort one saw in spy-spoof movies of that era, the kind of just-speak-clearly-into-this-carnation tales that you didn’t think could have happened in real life.
Schorr gained his greatest notoreity, and was proudest, of being included on the infamous “enemies list” compiled by the Nixon White House of liberals of various stripe. If I’m not mistaken, he read the list on the air at CBS, including his own name. He won Emmy awards for his reporting in each of the Watergate years of 1972, 1973 and 1974.
He risked going to jail in 1976 to protect a source who’d fed him a congressional intelligence report that the panel had voted to keep secret – which is to say, these employees of the American people had conducted a thorough review of intelligence in their behalf and then voted to keep it from them. Schorr had leaked it to The Village Voice. He wouldn’t reveal his source, but the congressional panel voted 6-5 not to hold him in contempt. CBS got rid of him though.
He did a stint at CNN as it was starting up, and then in 1985 moved to National Public Radio doing reporting and commentaries. His most regular slot in recent years was right after the news in the 9:00 am hour (east coast time) of Scott Simon’s Saturday morning show, spending about four minutes commenting on the past week’s events around 9:07 am. I listened most weeks and am pretty sure he was on just this past Saturday, the trademark drollery conveying the unmissably caustic point with a friendly little ribbon on it.
I met him once, but just briefly, at an event at the Brookings Institution. The only other time I encountered him in person was about three years ago when I was in a Senate office building doing something or other. There on the sidewalk, getting out his press pass and readying himself to walk through the metal detector, was Schorr. Not bad at all, thought I – 90 years old and still pounding the pavement like that.
He remained active through the very last months of his life, gamely joining Twitter (dropping commentary and the occasional joke: “Would you call a summit over beer a ‘brew-haha’?”), and six months ago switched to composing his commentary for “All Things Considered” on a computer, rather than a typewriter. He was a fan favorite of any regular NPR listener, and clearly the staff as well.
Much the same can be said for Schorr, 93, who I heard just a few weeks ago discussing the latest Russian spy case on NPR. His journalistic accomplishments over a 70-year career dwarf those of entire publications. He earned himself a spot on Richard Nixon’s so-called “enemies list,” got banned from Russia after interviewing Nikita Khrushchev and became CNN’s first employee in 1979, but only after forcing Ted Turner to sign a document stating that “no demand will be made upon him that would compromise his professional ethics and responsibilities.”
Daniel Schorr wrote his first article as a reporter for the Monitor in 1948, when he was hired to cover the Netherlands, after having worked at news agencies and contributed to other news outlets. This article from the International Court of Justice was a fulfillment of his ambition to be a foreign correspondent at the beginning of his journalism career.
United Europe Congress Opens
May 7, 1948
Two years ago a union of European countries seemed just a dream of a few visionaries. Today some 800 delegates are gathering for the first United Europe Congress – and the matter-of-fact forecast is heard that a super-national structure will emerge in the course of 1949.
For some time it is not likely to be the all-embracing union from the British Isles to the Caucasus which has stirred the imagination of pan-Europeans for generations. Russia is busy “welding together an eastern European union of its own. But this very consolidation in east Europe has given the new impetus to the West to sing age-old rivalries and national divergencies.
Almost every major postwar development has had the effect of pushing western European countries towards some form of unity – the deepening shadow of Russia, the pooling of resources under the Marshall Plan and the Brussels “Western Union.”
Even a year ago, when the idea of a “United Europe Congress’* was envisaged, the organizers hardly expected that such strides would have been made before the delegates gathered.
I was in The Netherlands last July when the idea of this Congress was broached. Senator Pieter A. Kerstens, head of the organizing committee, hoped it would marshal the hitherto divided forces seeking European unity. It hardly was expected that May, 1948, would find half of Europe already ripe for such unity.
In the words of Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who is here representing the European Parliamentary Union: “The tremendous boom of this idea in the past 18 months is due primarily to the policies of four statesmen – Churchill, Marshall, Bevin, and Stalin. Churchill gave Europe a common hope, Marshall a common interest, Bevin a common organization, and Stalin a common danger.”
If you’re a police officer, how do you handle an angry confrontation with a 17-year-old girl who you’ve stopped for jaywalking? One thing you maybe shouldn’t do is punch her in the head. Which is what one Seattle cop did.
On Monday, a police officer patrolling south Seattle caught a group of young women committing the serious offense of jaywalking. He asked them over to his patrol car, at which point they became “verbally antagonistic.” One girl tried to walk away, and the officer grabbed her to escort her back to his patrol car; the other girl then attempted to separate the office and the girl. So the officer punched her.
Sounds like a totally normal, everyday interaction with the police, right?
Both women are overreacting here. Obviously the cop is as well. Make up your own mind about whether the punch was warranted. I think you could make a case that by the time the punch was thrown, the cop justifiably felt he was losing control of the situation. (And hey, at least he didn’t use his Taser.) Seems to me that the mistake came earlier: This started as a jaywalking citation. Was it it really so important that the woman get a jaywalking fine that she needed to be chased down and thrown against the patrol car? Even if she was trying to avoid the fine, seems like at some point you realize what’s at stake here (a single incident of someone undermining your authority to get away with a petty crime), and just let it go.
The problems here for Seattle’s police (no matter what emerges in the police’s investigations findings) are twofold.
One is that there have already been two major controversies in Seattle involving police and videos recently. One is over another incident involving police and a video — specifically a video that showed a 15-year-old African American girl being roughed up in a cell in November by a policeman who later pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault in March. The other, which broke last month, involved an April incident when a video showed a Seattle Police officer kicking a Latino man and vowing to beat “the Mexican piss” out of him. Both sparked lots of news stories online and You Tube videos.
Confronted by another incident caught on videotape, Seattle police have ordered a sweeping review into a jaywalking stop in which an officer punched a 17-year-old girl in the face after she shoved him.
Interim Police Chief John Diaz ordered the review of the department’s training procedures after a videotape of the incident was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites.
On the video, Officer Ian P. Walsh is seen punching the girl in the face after she tries to intervene in the arrest of a 19-year-old friend near Franklin High School on Monday afternoon. Police arrested the girl, Angel L. Rosenthal, and her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, both of whom have criminal records.
The department’s response to the incident in Rainier Valley came as Mayor Mike McGinn is nearing a decision on a new permanent chief: either Diaz or East Palo Alto, Calif., Police Chief Ron Davis.
It also comes as the department is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of two other officers who were caught on videotape April 17 kicking a prone Latino man, with one using ethnically inflammatory language.
Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz, speaking at a hastily called news conference Tuesday morning, expressed concerns about Walsh’s conduct, saying the department was “withholding judgment” pending a separate internal investigation into the officer’s action by the department’s civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability.
His comments represented a stark reversal of the department’s preliminary statement Monday night, when a spokesman said Walsh had acted appropriately.
As we’ve increasingly seen in the political world, it’s now a reality that if there is a cellphone, videos capturing bad behavior or language will be out there for all to see — online within minutes, viewed by potentially millions and in many cases viewed unedited so viewers can make up their own minds on what they see.
For differing reasons people will see it differently. In the case of the Seattle police, the cumulative imagery of three controversies involving force will not help its image or attitudes towards it in parts of the city.
The other problem is the issue of how a video that at first glance seems clear in its meaning can actually seem clear in its meaning in two or three ways, depending on who is viewing it and what beliefs, perceptions, experiences and preferences or biases they bring to the table before they view it. This is being seen now in political videos that become controversial and in other videos. Perhaps the most famous instance is the 1991 Rodney King case.