Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, July 31, 2009

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

(Photo from Abu Ghraib.)

The title of Harlan Ellison's horror sci-fi story came to mind when I read about this story from Iran:

Mowj Camp reports that a deaf and mute man was tortured in Evin prison for several days before he was released. “A detainee, who was suspected of pretending to be deaf and mute, was severely tortured for several days to make him speak until finally he was released after a doctor confirmed that he was really deaf and mute.”

It's a short item, but stop to imagine the horrible reality behind it and what this man must have endured. This comes via Eric Martin's post "Mute Witness," which deserves a full read. In it, he quotes from an older post reviewing a book by A.J. Rosmiller of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which includes a portrait of American mistreatment of Iraqi civilians in custody:

It actually gets worse. Throughout the grueling and time consuming processing, as several of the detainees try in vain to ascertain the charges against them, some begin to ask, out of concern, about another detainee (the brother of some, cousin of others) who is mentally handicapped and/or deaf and mute. Later in the evening, Rossmiller sees some soldiers attempting to interrogate a detainee who stands mute, confused and otherwise fits the description of the mentally challenged detainee. Rossmiller tries to intervene and explain the situation, to no avail. "Naw, he's fuckin' faking. I'm sending him to Abu G," is the only response he gets. Perfect.

Toward the end of the night, one of the detainees asked for permission to speak, and was eventually granted that right. What he said left an indelible mark on Rossmiller:

"When you came to our country, we hoped law would return. We still have that hope."

From a USA Today article quoted by Digby:

Police in Mobile, Ala., used pepper spray and a Taser on a deaf, mentally disabled man who they said wouldn't leave a store's bathroom.

The family of 37-year-old Antonio Love has filed a formal complaint over the incident on Friday.

Police tell the Press-Register of Mobile that officers shot pepper spray under the bathroom door after knocking several times. After forcing the door open, they used the stun gun on Love.

Police spokesman Christopher Levy says police didn't realize Love had a hearing impairment until after he was out of the bathroom. The officers' conduct is under investigation.

The newspaper says the officers attempted to book Love on charges including disorderly conduct, but a magistrate on duty wouldn't accept the charges.

There are different levels of abuse in these three accounts, of course, but they are all abuse. And in each case, the abusers are convinced they are correct, justified and perhaps even righteous. And they are all completely wrong.

John McCain's told a story of explaining Easter to one of his captors in Vietnam, that the man finds the idea of resurrection incredible, and eventually becomes angry and accuses McCain of lying. I don't know how true or accurate McCain's tale is, but especially given the power dynamics, there's a big difference between calling someone's religious beliefs wrong or silly and calling the person a liar. Former SERE instructor Malcolm Nance describes meeting a Cambodian torture victim who explains how, "in torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia." In Orwell's 1984, O'Brien doesn't even want Winston to say this or that, despite Winston's desperate attempts to say the right thing; O'Brien wants Winston to submit completely to his will (see the last video here). There are many, many more stories like this throughout the history of torture. A May post, "Torture Versus Freedom" (and its many links) goes through the dynamics of torture, how torturers sometimes force the victims to confess things the torturers know are not true, how they sometimes get carried away and forget to ask questions, and how they often can't look their victims in the eye afterwards. Most of all, it covers what should be common knowledge - how torture is cruel, one of the greatest violations of a human being imaginable, and that "telling the truth" - or even being innocent - often doesn't matter. It will not save the prisoner. What matters is what the torturer thinks is true, and/or what he or she wants to hear.

As decorated interrogator Matthew Alexander's explained, in interrogation lingo "breaking" a prisoner means getting accurate information and establishing a rapport. Meanwhile, for authoritarians (and 24 fanatics), "breaking" means getting a prisoner to submit to their power. Some torture apologists disingenuously conflate the two, but I think some of them honestly mistake one for the other. They think "learned helplessness" produces the truth, as opposed to the dynamics of Winston with O'Brien, or the Cambodian torture victim, and many others throughout history. But as Alexander and others have repeatedly explained, rapport-building techniques are much more effective than anything abusive. If an interrogator enters into the power dynamic over a prisoner with any vengeance, bigotry or need to assert dominance or humiliate, it's counterproductive, but also dangerous. Entering in with certainty about the truth – say, an non-existent Iraq-9/11 connection – can be even more lethal. As John Kerry said of Bush in one of their debates, it's possible to be certain - and wrong.

Movement conservatives' public support for torture has contradicted even their own cherished mythology. The only constant has been their unyielding conviction in their own righteousness. Consider – they love to invoke WWII, if simplistically and inaccurately, yelling that every new threat is a new Hitler and anything less than belligerence is "appeasement." Yet they ignore that during WWII, we prosecuted the same torture and abuses they've defended under Bush. The Cult of Saint Ronnie still worships the poor policy and cartoonish morality of Reagan denouncing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." (In his recent Reagan book, Will Bunch relates that Reagan himself regretted using the phrase, and later the far right accused Reagan of being Chamberlain for dealing with the Soviets.) Yet the torture program instituted under Bush borrowed directly from the hated Soviets. The key reason given for invading Iraq was that it had WMD and was an imminent threat, but Saddam Hussein was also depicted (fantastically) as the next Hitler and (accurately) as a dictator and torturer. The Hussein regime's victims were invoked more often after the invasion as a way to browbeat Iraq critics. So how is it that what made Hussein evil became good when done by the United States? When Iraqi Muntadar al-Zaidi threw a shoe at Bush, several far-right conservatives approved of the broken hand and ribs he received in prison. As Roy Edroso quipped, “I always suspected that when they were denouncing Saddam’s torture chambers, they were just angry that they didn’t get to say who got tortured.”

The disconnect from professed Christians on the torture "debate" is particularly astounding. Given how central the crucifixion story is to Christianity, and that it depicts Jesus tortured and then executed in one of the most cruel methods ever devised, it's mind-boggling to see anyone claim that supporting torture and Christianity are compatible - or that Jesus would support waterboarding. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus' suffering redeemed him and the world - but it's not the Romans who Christians are supposed to emulate in the story! "Turn the other cheek," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "As you have done to the least of my brethren, so have you done unto me" are hardly pro-torture slogans. But in the hearts and minds of movement conservatives, not even Churchill, Saint Ronnie or Jesus himself can compete with the comforting violence of Jack Bauer.

As it is, all of this is being charitable, assuming that the torturers know not what they do, and aren't deliberately seeking the false confessions torture has always been infamous for producing, or that they're not so callous and evil they simply don't care if a confession is true or not if it serves their purposes. Waterboarding, also known as "the water cure" and "water torture" throughout the ages, will eventually make anyone "break" – in terms of submitting to power. But it's notoriously unreliable for producing accurate intel. In addition to a commitment to human dignity, the strong laws against torture were in put in place because the dynamics and "efficacy" of torture have been known for millennia. The law is in place to protect us all from people in power whose certainty, vengeance or political need drives them to abuse others.

Whatever one's feelings about how to treat actual terrorists, we have imprisoned, tortured and murdered innocent people. Prisoners were tortured when there was no ticking time bomb. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo were not the result of "bad apples" but instead deliberate policies of abuse dictated from the very top. And the Bush administration received plenty of warnings before, during and after those decisions that they ignored, squelched or even punished.

We can debate the motivations of the torture proponents in the Bush administration, and the precise dynamics of panic, authoritarianism, callousness, ignorance, zealotry and evil. Some of that's come out, although plenty more can. As I've written before, it was impossible for them to arrive at that dark place without monumental arrogance, dehumanization of all potential victims, and a deep and utter contempt for democracy. The Cheney plan to violate Posse Comitatus and deploy military personnel domestically, the warrantless surveillance systems, indefinite detention, torture and abuse – all of these radical measures are all on a continuum. (And seriously, if you haven't read Angler by Barton Gellman yet, do so.)

However, the crucial thing is to keep nailing down the facts, and bringing up what is known in public. Bush defenders almost always try to change the subject, ignore major reports and the timeline, or make unsubstantiated claims about how they saved the nation from sure destruction. The evidence known already forms an utterly damning narrative, and obliterates a "good faith" defense, no matter how much torture apologists - and blissfully uninformed commentators such as Chuck Todd - assert otherwise. However, plenty of details remain to be revealed. Legally, credible allegations of torture must be investigated. Logically, such an investigation would exonerate the torturers if they were telling the truth. Realistically, such unchecked power will be abused again if there are no consequences this time. Morally, the truth must come out and justice must be done.

Like the abused Iraqi Rossmiller describes, we still have hope the law will return – but as Americans, we have much greater ability and responsibility to make that a reality.

There's a great line in Arthur Miller's The Crucible from Justice Danforth, who's in Salem to preside over the witch trials. John Proctor has brought his servant Mary Warren to confess that she, Abigail and the other girls have been faking their demonic torments. Danforth, who has sentenced people to prison and death, is flabbergasted at this challenge to everything he's believed. How could anyone doubt that dangerous witches have been working to topple the land, and that these girls acting so tormented are telling the truth? Certain in his righteousness, clear perception and fair judgment, he tells Proctor that "the pure in heart need no lawyers." The line often draws sardonic chuckles and head shakes from audiences. It's a very tense scene as Danforth questions Mary. And under the threats and powerful weight of authority unjustly wielded by Danforth, and the social pressure of Abby and the other girls' relentless lies, Mary forsakes her conscience and succumbs once again to a madness spun of fear, ambition and intimidation.

Almost every argument from Dick Cheney, John Yoo and the Jack Bauer Junior Wannabes boils down to, "investigate us, dare to prosecute us, and you'll all die horribly in a terrorist attack." Contrary to their dissembling and claims of super-powers and secret decoder rings, justice cannot be used "against" us, and due process should be absolutely non-negotiable (something the Obama administration also must be made to remember). The entire modern conservative movement really amounts to little more than a massive protection racket, with some parties played against each other. This gang has little left to offer other than threats and lies, and little to protect themselves except omertà and a compliant media. There's great irony in the torture crew calling any investigation into their very real wrongdoing a "witch hunt" when they bullied Bush critics as unpatriotic, and effectively ordered that heretics be put on the rack to confess – all for their unnecessary war, and monarchial powers. But then, they're not a reflective lot, and those that do have self-awareness have never been known for feeling the twinges of conscience, let alone shame. In their own minds, torturers and their apologists may not be Orwellian villains or ancient Romans; like many a crusader, they are Certain and they are Righteous - and like Jesus, they can make the mute speak.

(A snap from an Amnesty International video on torture.)

Update: I reworked the Matthew Alexander paragraph for clarity.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heart of Darkness

I had no job training. All I know how to do is kill people.

- Kenneth Eastridge

I know the Army would like to say it is not responsible for this, that it didn’t train them to do this. But that is bullshit. They trained them to kill, then when they didn’t have enough men for the surge, they pushed these guys until they broke, then threw them away.

- Michael Needham

The Colorado Springs Gazette has run a harrowing series on military personnel returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and committing violent crimes at an astounding rate. It centers on one unit in particular, based out of local Fort Carson. These particular soldiers become destructive and dangerous to those around them, and of course themselves. Meanwhile, the stigma and hazing about seeking PTSD treatment adds a tremendous obstacle, and PTSD treatment itself remains too scant. Even if you've heard quite a few PTSD and war stories, this series will likely hit you. This is not pretty stuff, but it's very important, and I'd recommend reading the whole thing.

"Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home"

"Casualties of War, Part II: Warning signs"

Eric Martin posts on the series in "Losing Hearts While Losing Your Mind," on what all this means for COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine and warfare in general. Gary Farber covers it in "What Our Wars Do to Our Soldiers," and has been spreading the word on the series, so thanks to him.

The Editor's Note for the series gives a good overview:

For as long as wars have been waged, soldiers have been sent to kill or be killed. The lucky ones survive. Some return home unscathed; others are shell-shocked and emotionally scarred for life.

That’s been true forever. But something changed in Iraq. Thanks to modern medicine, transportation and gear, soldiers survived injuries that would have killed yesterday’s troops. They patrolled streets without battle lines, where smiling civilians waved one day and silently watched ambushes the next. Multiple deployments moved soldiers from war to home and back, again and again.

Most found a way to cope. But in one Fort Carson unit that took heavy casualties, men began to break. Some recall war crimes. Some came home, to Colorado Springs, and kept killing.

Those killings have prompted Fort Carson to re-examine how it treats soldiers. For the first time, the Army is demanding that commanders look for signs that a soldier is in trouble. This issue is of particular concern to the Pikes Peak region. When soldiers come home, they bring the baggage of intense, prolonged brutality.

Today, following months of interviews with soldiers and their families and the examination of medical and military records, court documents and photographs, The Gazette presents the first of a two-day report that retraces the steps of the soldiers who ended up behind bars.

A word of caution: The details of battle are graphic, and the language of soldiers is, at times, profane.

Even supposedly "good" or "necessary" wars involve death and destruction, and exact a high cost on at least some of the troopers that fight them. As the Gazette's editors note, it has been ever thus. It's reprehensible to ignore any of that. It's one of many reasons why going to war should never be considered lightly, and why every idiot or scoundrel such as Bill Kristol who blathers about the 'glories of war' should be forced to spend time with some combat veterans. Better yet, the Kristols can "debate" them on the air, or better still, be kept off the air altogether when they don't know what they're talking about or don't care about the costs. The warmongers should be challenged - and at the very least, as a nation we should be providing good mental health care and training for anyone we do send into a combat zone.

I don't want to diminish the impact of the Gazette series at all, because there's not enough being done to help prevent and treat PTSD, but there is hope. Via Balloon Juice, here's a piece from the Wall Street Journal :

It's a touching story, although Luis Carlos Montalvan's marriage broke up before he got to this point. Even with treatment, it's generally not an easy road to recovery. Regardless, best wishes to him and to everyone in his situation.

His story does point to the importance of connection and friendship (whether human or animal). However, in the Gazette series, and in the PTSD stories we covered at Blue Herald, a few trends emerged. When military personnel return home suffering from PTSD, their friends and family often don't know what's going on. More importantly, even if when they do, they just aren't equipped to help on their own, and when they seek aid for their loved one, they can't get it. The military does assist some troopers on this front, but too frequently has not been helpful or just isn't set up to respond to the pressing concerns of a trooper's family member or spouse. It's also dismaying to see that, almost 100 years since WWI, many of the same attitudes toward "shell shock" or PTSD – viewing it as a lack of courage and character – are still oppressively prevalent in military culture. Some of that is to be expected, but the brass should know better, and that attitude just has to change.

There have been studies on combat stress (featured in the book On Killing, among other places) that show that, without sufficient R&R and recuperative time, almost everyone will eventually break. The stop-loss programs and the accelerated rotations of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan don't help at all. PTSD, and an increase in it, is an natural and predictable response to that – a natural response to a highly unnatural situation. In a combat zone, many troopers (as in the Gazette series) cope by hardening. That may work in the short term and may even be necessary for sheer survival. There may be a small percentage, adrenaline junkies and lifers, for whom that approach also works in the long haul (The Hurt Locker is the latest film to delve into that). But the Gazette series follows some adrenaline junkies who still break or become dangerous to themselves, their unit, the civilian population abroad, and their community at home. Long-term, it seems that the only "cure" for prolonged exposure to such inhumane, unnatural, extreme situations is a steady dose of humanity, or doggie love, or art, or something else positive, connecting and centering. Most troopers with PTSD can't handle it on their own, and their family and friends can only do so much without greater assistance. More of the Pentagon's roughly half-trillion yearly budget needs to go to this. It's unconscionable to send anyone into a war zone without proper preparation and gear, and without a commitment to pick up the pieces afterward, as best as can be done.

The PBS special Coming Home, which featured muppets, Queen Latifah and John Mayer, did a good job of explaining the difficult situations of PTSD and war wounds to young kids (I've linked it earlier, although unfortunately only clips seem to be online). There's one section in the aired program interviewing a young girl whose PTSD father is distant, more than he himself would like – but he's still pretty numb. His daughter explains, with some anxiety, how she wants to give him something really special for his birthday - so that he'll understand that she loves him. I dare anyone to watch that section without being hit in the gut. There are human costs to warfare that go far beyond yellow ribbons, chest-thumping bravado and the more soulless types of pundit blather. Inhumanity and dehumanization are simply too easy to choose, and there is a moral obligation as a society and nation to heal those wounds where we can. We have to do better.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gates, Tasers, and Busting Heads

We've gone over the Gates incident already, but a few more recent pieces deserve attention. As predicted, Roy Edroso's Village Voice column this week covered it. His summary (see the originals for the links):

NEW VOICE COLUMN UP about the Gates controversy, which in the Bizarro universe that is my beat is all about the racism of Henry Louis Gates and Barack Obama, and the necessity of absolute deference to authority unless you're Tea Partying, in which case it's all groovy revolution. Since I wrote it I see that the 911 caller in the case has denied making a racial classification of the suspect, which leads Legal Insurrection to suspect intimidation: "Whalen has been pilloried by the blogosphere as being a white racist neighbor (actually passer-by)... So it is natural, but unfortunate, that Whalen falls into the trap of playing the skin-tone game." Thus do our liberal racists thwart conservative attempts to get beyond race. Jack Dunphy does his bit by explaining to Obama and his "Ivy League pals" that if "you're running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you" to a cop, you're likely to get shot. Somehow I think they already knew that.

From the column itself, "Rightbloggers Will Tell You Who The Real Racists Are in the Henry Louis Gates Case":

One of the great themes of the current conservative movement is Liberal Fascism -- the idea, promoted by Jonah Goldberg's book of that name, that liberals are the true heirs of Hitler and Mussolini, and that they effect fascist outrages in the present day via their "speech police," "thought police," "eco-police," etc.

You may be tempted by this to imagine that conservatives would also be concerned with the actions of actual police when they make questionable arrests. But when Henry Louis Gates had his now-famous run-in with the Cambridge Police in and in front of his own home, rightbloggers were generally disinclined to argue that the officers overstepped their authority by hauling Gates in for disturbing the peace.

In fact, they in the main they saw in the affair a justification of aggressive policing -- provided it is used on black history professors, not in the interests of environmentalism or anything like that -- and proof of the racism and treachery of Professor Gates and President Obama.

As usual, read the whole thing. Two items really stood out for me, though. Here's number one:

Tasers were also on the mind Wizbang, who was reminded of a woman who was tasered by an officer in Texas earlier this year. She claimed to have been cooperative at her traffic stop, but a video showed she was not. "In both cases the punishment may be excessive," said Wizbang, "but all indications are that they both brought there subsequent arrests upon themselves by their actions." (The video of the tasering of the woman, who is 72 years old, is a fascinating choice of example.)

Here's that video:

As I wrote over at Roy's, I had heard about this incident, but I hadn't seen the video. Sadly, it's not the worst tasering video I've seen. But even without factoring in age, the cop has a foot in height and about 100 pounds on this woman. It's not as if he's ever in danger, and he could probably restrain and handcuff her pretty easily if he needed to. Watch that push. He was just annoyed, and wanted to show this woman who's boss. He tasers her, then yells at her for not being able to move to his liking. She probably can't after being tasered. There's no doubt she's argumentative, and without knowing the laws of the state, I'll assume the cop has legal cause to arrest her. That's fine. But this guy has completely lost his cool and he's shot a 72-year-old woman full of electricity strong enough to knock her to the ground. We truly live in different worlds, if Kevin at Wizbang can see that and say, essentially, 'She had it coming.' As we discussed with Gates, consider the competing stakes and the power dynamics. We have the horrible transgression of someone mouthing off to a cop versus a cop knocking someone to the ground with electricity. How is "transgression" #1 possibly worse? Go ahead, arrest her, but the cop has the power and responsibility here. Claiming the tasering was "necessary" is a hard sell. What would he have done without a taser? Smacked her with a billy club? Shot her? I swear, sometimes I think these guys watch Cool Hand Luke and Shawshank Redemption and root for the wardens.

Digby's got a Colbert segment that features the same incident. She also relates the story of a deaf, mentally handicapped man the police tasered. Tasering is not a "no harm" option. People have died as a result of being tasered, it is a physical assault, and an attack on someone's dignity. It's not to be done lightly. Cops obviously have the right to defend themselves, and given a legitimate threat, tasering or even lethal force is justifiable. However, the reality is that cops are using tasers cavalierly and abusively, when they're annoyed, to force compliance, instead of only when they or someone else is in real danger. Digby's followed this stuff diligently, and the high use of tasers on children is particularly appalling. The shock first-ask questions later attitude is very, very dangerous and should not be legal. Here's another incident, featuring a 14-year old girl, from an earlier Digby post, "It's Just Too Easy"

He had no choice?!? Has this cop never dealt with young teens? Again, what are the stakes, here? An upset 14-year old girl doesn't comply with a cop and runs away? Most likely, she cools down and comes back eventually. Instead, she suffers pretty severe injuries, apparently. Good cops help de-escalate a situation. That's confrontation training 101. Instead, this ego-driven cop needs to assert his dominance. Look, anyone who's dealt with teens extensively understands some of them can be extremely frustrating at times. However, there are responsibilities that come with being an adult, especially in a position of power. This isn't an escaping robber we're talking about. Where is the concern for the girl in all this? What are the lessons taught? The ideal lesson should be, calm down and talk things though with your mother and other trustworthy adults. The cop's intended lesson is, do what you're told, obey authority, don't mess with cops, or we'll hurt you. And the lesson the kid probably actually learned is something close to that – don't trust authority – they will hurt you if you disobey.

Taserings like this should not be legal. The police deserve support when they do a good job, but this attitude is extremely dangerous, and has to be fought. (I'm also not fond of that microwave crowd-dispersing weapon. These things should not be accepted without question.)

I've wandered far a field, but item number two, from Roy's summary, is tough talk from a man at the National Review who claims to be an L.A. cop:

So, since the president is keen on offering instruction, here is what I would advise he teach his Ivy League pals, and anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer: You may be as pure as the driven snow itself, but you have no idea what horrible crime that police officer might suspect you of committing. You may be tooling along on a Sunday drive in your 1932 Hupmobile when, quite unknown to you, someone else in a 1932 Hupmobile knocks off the nearby Piggly Wiggly. A passing police officer sees you and, asking himself how many 1932 Hupmobiles can there be around here, pulls you over. At that moment I can assure you the officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.

When the officer has satisfied himself that it was not you and your Hupmobile that were involved in the Piggly Wiggly heist, he owes you an explanation for the stop and an apology for the inconvenience, but if you’re running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you, you’re likely to get neither.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author's nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.

I'll assume this guy actually is a cop, since this attitude is sadly still not uncommon on the LAPD. It remind me of the police misconduct on May Day 2007 here in Los Angeles, where one cop summed up the attitude when he said, "I don't care if they're not throwing stuff at us now, we get to roll." (The subsequent police report was a huge step forward in candor, though.)

I imagine Dunphy's writing partially for shock effect, but he's offering both a straw man and a threat. No one's saying cops don't have a right to defend themselves, but there's a big gap between that and saying, "Dare to defend your civil liberties and I'll shoot you." A good police captain would suspend a cop like this and review all noteworthy incidents in his past, because such a cop is a public menace. Seriously – stop and think about what this tough guy's written. An officer of the law says he doesn't give a damn about the law, and is threatening to shoot anyone who cites it. And National Review, true to the chickenhawk braggadocio that makes it obnoxious and dangerous and not merely obtuse, callous and sleazy, posts it. It sure does put that "liberal" fascism in perspective, doesn't it?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blogiversary IV: A New Hope

(The full strip is here (backup here), and is about Gingrich. It's funny 'cause it's true and all that.)

Another year, another round-up. Thanks to all who've checked out my sporadic, eclectic, (mostly) long-form blogging. I remain a part-time blogger and this remains a small blog, but I've received some very generous links since the last blogiversary, so thanks again for that - and to everyone who strives to honor the spirit of Blogroll Anniversary Day.

Since last July, I've spent a fair amount of time on the human rights/ torture beat. The most notable (and passionate) post of that group is "Torture Versus Freedom." Meanwhile, "The Torture Apologia Chart" and "The Torture Flowchart" attempt to visualize the insanity. "Rivkin's Protean Logic on Torture" is a long dissection of one of the most slippery of torture apologists. Finally, "Tortured" attempts a more artistic approach. Whew.

The satire category has been thinner this round, but there is "Anti-Terrorist Fantasy Dream Team on the Case," plus "Hall of Fame Material," a semi-satirical look at sports lover Bush and his, um, stunning legacy.

Apart from the cheery torture stuff, the most substantial essay is "The Persistence of Ideology."

"Diagrams on Conservatism" and "Diagram Madness" continue my efforts to visualize issues.

I wrote several posts on the iconography of the Republican National Convention, from the disappearing of Bush to "The Passion of Saint McCain" to "With Thy Father's Permission" (on Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain). I followed the unfolding story of Palin's unsuccessful attempts to ban books pretty closely, but the core post was "Just Another Concerned Parent Firing Librarians." (Meanwhile, I'll confess a fondness for the post "Concern Trolls for Nixon.")

My International Holocaust Remembrance Day post this year focused on music by those killed or persecuted by the Nazis. ("Not Like Us" dealt with present day bigotry, and then there's a post on the uses and limitations of Godwin's Law.)

Moving on the arts, in film, there's the annual film roundup, a post on a local Kurosawa exhibit and a dissection of National Review's best "conservative" films.

I haven't covered poetry that much this round, but I did squeeze in the arts on the holidays. My 11/11 Armistice Day post centered on the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon. MLK Day looked at OyamO's great, little-known play I Am a Man, and St Patrick's Day focused on one of the prettiest Celtic tunes you've likely ever heard. I wrote a few posts for Banned Books Week, including one on my pick for 2008, Fahrenheit 451.

I did a fair amount of sittin' in with other bands since last July. I think the best of the first Hullabaloo stint are "The Sporting Life" and "Cokie's World." (I cross-posted the second stint stuff here at VS.) The best of the Campaign for America's Future set is "Using Justice Against Us," examining John Yoo's dissembling.

Meanwhile, there's the dearly departed series Right-Wing Cartoon Watch over at Blue Herald - both the series and the blog are currently on hiatus. Near the end of this incarnation of RWCW, the installments were epic in length (even by my standards) and not for all tastes, and I don't miss how much time they took to assemble. However, I learned a great deal researching for the series, and it was a neat way for me to comment on stories I couldn't cover in real time and to link some fine debunking work by other bloggers. It also allowed me to track most right-wing talking points for over two and half years. Plus, I just love the fine American tradition of political cartooning. I still might revisit it, but we'll have to see how a cartoon-less series plays (unless other arrangements can be made).

In any case, thanks again, and Ray will play us out:

The Gates Incident

The Gates incident, where Professor Henry Gates was arrested at his own home, has been well covered by now, but it remains troubling. President Obama held a follow-up press conference and Gates, Police Sergeant Crowley and Obama will be meeting for a beer. Obama wasn't inaccurate saying "stupidly," but it was impolitic and kicked up another furor rather than damping things down. Here's hoping Gates, Crowley and Obama at least can come to some settlement.

Obama's response on Gates also derailed discussion of health care. We have a press corps that will say: "Honest question: Is there a point when the president knows too much about an issue?" Most of them hate policy, and they will frame things from a conservative or at least establishmentarian perspective. Given their shallowness, it's dangerous to give them any opening to veer off substance (The Daily Show captures this very well).

You can read the police report on Gates here, and Gates' lawyer, Charles Ogletree, has given his account:

The basic narrative is fairly clear, but there are some discrepancies. Crooked Timber had a police captain offer his perspective on the incident and the broader principles, but his timeline appears to be off on a crucial point or two. Lowry Heussler provides a careful analysis of the police report and concludes "Sgt. Crowley's report almost certainly contains intentional falsehoods, but even accepting his account at face value, the report tells us all we need to conclude that Crowley was in the wrong here, and by a large factor." If the charges were dropped, how can the police department insist that it was right to arrest Gates in the first place? I can fully believe it's standard operating procedure for a cop to arrest someone who annoys him, but that doesn't make it legal or right. The police were doing their job responding, and asking Gates for ID, but after his identity was established and it was clear he was in his own house, everything should have ended. Whether Gates got heated or not, it seems pretty clear that Crowley took things personally and abused his power. It's not that Gates was a danger – except to Crowley's pride.

Roy Edroso covers conservative reaction in "Why Libertarianism is Basically a White Thing," and I'd be surprised if his wingnut roundup tomorrow doesn't cover more of this. I shouldn't be surprised by conservative inconsistency/ hypocrisy/ authoritarianism on the incident, but I'm still disappointed. In the comment thread, Aimai, who lives in the area, makes some good observations about class dynamics of the region, although she still thinks race and civil liberties are key.

Bob Somerby covers class issues in the coverage, and Phantom Negro and Pam Spaulding cover class in relation to Gates' reaction. While these three pieces offer some good observations, I do think they miss the bigger picture. While race and gender are important issues (although often discussed obtusely by the mainstream media), class and power are frequently more important, but not as often discussed in America. I'm glad to see any pieces discussing class. But in this case, Gates may have belonged to a higher "class," but Crowley had the power. And apparently he abused it.

There are good cops (even here in Los Angeles), and it can be a dangerous job. But you have to be pretty cloistered to believe that cops never abuse their power. Sure, the wisest course of action for Gates was to be as polite as possible. However, none of that changes that Crowley abused his position. And it doesn't change that, given a worse cop in the same situation, Gates being polite in the same situation wouldn't have made a difference. As it is, apparently Crowley didn't follow the law. More importantly, the stakes aren't remotely equivalent. The cop in this situation, after Gates' identity and residency are established, risks a bruised ego. With a really bad cop, Gates could have wound up tasered, beaten or dead.

I remain troubled by acceptance of authoritarianism in some reactions to the Gates incident. I'm glad some others see it the same way. Matt Yglesias put it well:

Meanwhile, note that racial motivations or there absence have really nothing to do with the nature of Officer Crowley’s misconduct. What happened basically is that Crowley accused Gates, whether for good reason or not, of breaking into his own home. Gates, pissed off, offended Crowley. At which point Crowley, even though he was now perfectly aware that Gates was not guilty of anything, decided to exact revenge by manipulating the situation to create a trumped-up disorderly conduct charge. That’s not professional policing, and it’s not a good use of the City of Cambridge’s law enforcement resources. That’s why the charges were dropped, and that’s why it’s fair to say that Crowley was acting stupidly racial issues aside.*

Meanwhile, we see here yet another instance of one of my favorite themes on this blog. The conservative movement, which never ever ever dedicates any time or energy to the problem of racial discrimination suffered by non-whites, thinks it’s very important to draw attention to the social crisis of white people burdened by accusations of racism.

* To consider a race-free instance, I was actually treated extremely rudely by an MPDC officer yesterday. I, wisely, just decided to not worry about it and move on. But suppose I’d decided to respond to him being rude by overreacting and blowing up at him. And then he decided to respond to me being rude by finding some pretext on which to arrest me. Neither the fact that the cop’s not a racist nor the fact that I had overreacted would make retaliating with a trumped-up charge the right way for the cop to respond.


The cop baited the guy into leaving the house so he could arrest him for making a cop feel bad.

I appreciate the work of law enforcement. But regardless of race, too many cops have the belief that if they get insulted, they have the right to turn that into an arresting offense. That's not the law whatsoever, nor should it be. It creates a chilling effect among the public not to call out bad behavior in law enforcement or raise your voice in any way. I know we're all supposed to believe that cops are saintly, but I live in LA. Police misconduct happens all the time, and we should be vigilant when it does.

Instead, the media takes the soccer ball and chases it into the corner, without any semblance of factual records or perspective. It becomes an emotional argument instead of a factual record of misconduct. We pay cops with tax money. We should not risk arrest when arguing with them.

A Talking Points Memo reader who's a lawyer writes:

We all know (maybe not Prof. Gates) not to anger a police officer. I had so many cases in which someone cursed at an officer or made a gesture to an officer and ended up spending the night in jail. Prof. Gates spent four hours in jail. Even though his charge was dropped, I'm sure that time in jail for a law-abiding citizen was utterly horrendous. There simply is no reason to arrest someone for hurting your feelings or making an ugly gesture at you. It is not against the law in most contexts. In addition, I can assure you that most people who walk into a court room in a case in which it is the officer's word against him or her (a law-abiding citizen) is at a superior disadvantage. An overwhelming majority of judges simply will not believe the law-abiding citizen over the police officer. So, along with the rightful adoration we reserve for our police officers, our society needs to acknowledge that their power is awesome and must be wielded in a cautious and prudent manner. Not only can a police officer throw you in jail or hold a judge's trust on the witness stand, he or she can use deadly force. It is an awesome power that is almost unparalleled in our society. It is important that this kind of power have a check and balance. This discussion is important. As for Obama digging in on his statement, he worded it better the second time. Cooler heads should've prevailed indeed.

Josh Marshall comments:

Race can't be separated from what happened in Cambridge. But even taking race out of the equation, there are cops out there, and I fear sometimes that it's crept into the culture of policing in some jurisdictions, who think that a citizen treating them in a disrespectful way amounts to a crime.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, after Obama's follow-up:

It's worth watching Obama's statement. I really can't begrudge him--his priority is health-care. Me, on the other hand, I'm pretty exhausted. What follows is the raw. Not much logic. Just some thoughts on how it feels...

The rest of us are left with a country where, by all appearances, officers are well within their rights to arrest you for sassing them. Which is where we started. I can't explain why, but this is the sort of thing that makes you reflect on your own precarious citizenship. I mean, the end of all of this scares the hell out of me...

When we think about the cops, it's scary, on one level, to conclude that a cop can basically arrest you on a whim. It's scarier still to think that this is what Americans want, that this country is as we've made it. And then finally it's even scarier to understand that no president can change that. It's not why he's there. He is there to pass health-reform--not make us post-racist, or post-police power, or post-whatever. Only the people can do that. And they don't seem particularly inclined. Here is what the election of Barack Obama says about race--white people, in general, are willing to hire a black guy for the ultimate job. That's a big step. But it isn't any more than what it says.


...This situation actually has far broader implications about all citizens' relationship to the police and the way we are expected to respond to authority, regardless of race. I've watched too many taser videos over the past few years featuring people of all races and both genders being put to the ground screaming in pain, not because they were dangerous or threatening and not because they were so out of control there was no other way to deal with them, but because they were arguing with police and the officer perceived a lack of respect for the badge.

I have discovered that my hackles automatically going up at such authoritarian behavior is not necessarily the common reaction among my fellow Americans, not even my fellow liberals...

The police are supposed to be the good guys who follow the rules and the law and don't expect innocent citizens to bow to their brute power the same way that a street gang would do. The police are not supposed wield what is essentially brute force on the entire population.

And yet, that's what we are told we are supposed to accept. Not only can they arrest us merely for being argumentative as they did with Gates, they are now allowed to shoot us full of electricity to make us comply with their demands to submit...

It is very rude of citizens to do that, to be sure. But it is not a crime. The idea that people should not get angry, should not pull rank, should be rude to others is an issue for sociologists and Miss Manners, not the cops. Humans often behave badly, but that doesn't make it illegal. For people with such tremendous power as police officers to be coddled into thinking that these are behaviors that allow them to arrest people (or worse) seems to be to far more dangerous than allowing a foolish person or two to set a bad example in the public square...

At this point we are seeing a tipping in the other direction. Police are emboldened when they repeatedly get away with using bullying, abusive tactics against average citizens who have not been convicted of any crimes...

And I would suggest that it is just that attitude that led to people in this country recently endorsing unilateral illegal invasions, torture of prisoners and the rest. You remember the line --- "the constitution isn't a suicide pact." To which many of us replied with the old Benjamin Franklin quote: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The principles here are the same. Sure, we should treat the cops with respect and society shouldn't encourage people to be reflexively hostile to police. They have a tough job, and we should all be properly respectful of people who are doing a dangerous and necessary job for the community. But when a citizen doesn't behave well, if not illegally, as will happen in a free society, it is incumbent upon the police, the ones with the tasers and the handcuffs and the guns, to exercise discretion wisely and professionally. And when they don't, we shouldn't make excuses for them. It's far more corrosive to society to allow authority figures to abuse their power than the other way around.

As usual, read the whole thing, especially for Digby's examples.

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald connects these attitudes with the Cheney gang's efforts to deploy military personnel domestically, in clear violation of the law. I'll try to get to those stories sometime later this week, but I agree it's on a continuum, and if you've read Angler or were paying attention during the Bush administration, it won't be a surprise. One can argue about the best term for these people - authoritarians, monarchists, para-fascists or something else - but they have been, and remain, extremely dangerous.

Gates and Crowley may both be decent people who had bad days and made bad calls. I hope that's the case, and that their meeting will be helpful. However, I'm still troubled by widespread acceptance of authoritarianism. There have to be checks on those forces. In addition to the law itself as a warning, we need enforcement of it: systems of oversight and accountability, investigations where warranted, and prosecutions where necessary. However, the most important check may remain societal attitudes toward the abuse of power – and I think there's room for plenty of more soul-searching and reflection there.

Update 7/28/09: I have a followup post, of sorts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


At the beginning of last week, Hilzoy announced she'd be retiring from blogging, and the end of last week marked her last post. She's promised to comment at Obsidian Wings now and then, but it's still quite a loss. I've left my comments over there at ObWi, which has long been one of my favorite blogs, and one I've linked and promoted frequently. Anyone familiar with Hilzoy's work knows she's been one of the best out there. She was a master of the polite and thorough debunk. Her posts were genuinely thoughtful, she used great analogies, had a sly sense of humor, and wrote in a very clear style, even when her subject matter was complex. I'm sure her philosophy students benefit from those same qualities in the classroom and prize her as much as the ObWi community has. I hope she comes back to posting at some point, however intermittently, but best wishes to her.

Of the farewells, I found the one from the Poor Man Institute the funniest and the one from Publius the most poignant. Meanwhile, Obsidian Wings remains a good blog, with Publius and Eric Martin contributing consistently valuable work.

Purcell/Baker - "When I Am Laid in Earth"

Also known as "Dido's Lament," this aria comes from English composer Henry Purcell's short opera Dido and Aeneas (1689). Unfortunately, Purcell died when only 36 (so, as some have observed, the English had to keep importing Germans). This is Janet Baker in a 1966 performance – she was known for this song. I greatly appreciate her commitment to the role as an actress as well as a singer. This comes near the end of the opera. Dido's true love Aeneas is leaving, and though he vows to return, Dido knows it shall never be. Naturally, there's nothing to do but to sing a heart-wrenching song, and die.

Eclectic Jukebox

Carnival of the Liberals #95

Leo of Neural Gourmet has Carnival of the Liberals #95 up. He was kind enough to link one of my posts, and a few other bloggers on my blogroll. COTL has moved to a monthly schedule, but Leo can always use new hosts.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chuck Todd and Torture

Last week, Glenn Greenwald took apart Chuck Todd for his stance on torture investigations. Todd contacted Greenwald, and they had a half-hour conversation. It's worth checking out if you haven't already.

I give credit to Todd for showing up, and being mostly honest about his views (sometimes he needs to be pressed or makes pretty unconvincing explanations). However, he is also shockingly uninformed on the timeline and the major issues of this story. It's especially troubling because Todd is the Political Director for NBC News. Todd's seeming ignorance of major reports and facts is bad enough, but it's his general attitude opposing investigations and accountability that remains the most disconcerting.

Here's three reactions. First up, Digby:

Todd is a perfect example of a village reporter. He sees the world entirely through the lens of beltway conventional wisdom and obviously hasn't taken even five minutes to consider whether or not it's right, much less what the implications of blindly following its edicts might be. From this interview, I'm not sure he would even know how to do it. He's so ill-informed, even about basic facts about the US Attorney firings, that I don't think he has the tools…

I would just write him off as another fluffy spokesmodel except he's got a real job as political director at NBC news. As shocking as it seems, he's really quite powerful. His shallow understanding of the issues at stake --- the reduction of absolutely everything, (even torture and murder) to the insider political parlor game are the most important requirement for advancement in the beltway press and he has that function totally mastered.

After quoting Todd's key claims, Guardian of the Timeline Emptywheel observes:

That is, we can't hold Dick Cheney accountable for his crimes because the media--including Todd himself--is incapable of reporting the story as anything but a partisan story (in spite of the fact that--Glenn points out--there is bipartisan support for a torture prosecution), which guarantees that any investigation would turn into a show trial.

But it's even stupider than that. Todd says we shouldn't investigate the past administration becaues if we do the rest of the world might think we're a banana republic (as if decorum and not rule of law is the example the US wants to set for the rest of the world). For Todd, it's enough that we punish Administrations through the ballot box--but of course, we didn't punish Bush in 2004 after he started an illegal war, and by the time 2008 rolled around, Bush was term-limited and Cheney was not on the ballot, so we have not, in fact, punished the criminals at the ballot box.

In addition, Todd repeatedly says this is an ideological question, because it is not black and white whether Cheney and his torturers broke the law, in spite of:

• The psychologist/interrogator/contractor quoted in the OLC opinion admitting he exceeded John Yoo's guidelines
• The OLC memo's descrption of CIA HQ ordering up another round of waterboarding for Abu Zubayah when that violated the OLC memo's clear prohibition on waterboarding when the detainee was compliant
• The near-daily White House authorization of torture before John Yoo crafted a memo saying it was legal

These guys broke even the perversion of law they themselves instituted, so there's no question of ideology. To say nothing of the fact that St. Reagan's DOJ found waterboarding to be illegal and Republicans like Phillip Zelikow are among those demanding an investigation.

Which is Chuck Todd, noted journalist's, real problem: he's not aware of the facts. At a time when (as Glenn points out) Nora Dannehy continues to investigate the US Attorney firings, Chuck Todd declares that firing those US Attorneys was "perfectly legal." He apparently doesn't know--or won't report--the many pieces of evidence that show the Bushies violated the law, and so can conclude that any investigation would be "cable catnip," and so can claim that because the media won't do its homework we can't ask DOJ to investigate either.

In other words, we can't hold Dick Cheney accountable for his crimes because the beltway media can't help themselves but turn any investigation of crimes into a political trial.

Finally, here's Hilzoy:

First, the idea that we should not prosecute government officials who break the law whenever it would cause some sort of political fight amounts to the view that we should never prosecute government officials who break the law at all. And this idea is incredibly dangerous. We are supposed to have a government that is bound by law. If no member of the government is ever prosecuted when there's evidence that s/he broke the law, then the only reason why government officials would obey the law is their own conscience and sense of duty. Sometimes that's sufficient, but we'd be fools to rely on it.

Second, the idea that we should not prosecute politicians who break the law is just one more example of the idea that people with power should be able to live by different rules. When someone borrows an ordinary person's car and, unbeknownst to her, uses it to sell drugs, sending her to jail is "being tough on crime"; when a government official abuses his office, even hinting at prosecution is just "cable catnip" and a sign that you're a member of "the hard left".

This idea is odious, and it's antithetical to everything this country is supposed to stand for. People with power and privilege have a lot of advantages already. In particular, they will probably always do better in the legal system than the rest of us, since they can afford to hire very good lawyers. For that very reason, we should resist with all our might the idea that they should be given even more privileges.

Third: the reason why Chuck Todd seems to think that it would be "dangerous" to prosecute government officials when there is evidence that they have broken the law is that it might turn into what he calls "a political trial", and might even become "political footballs". I do not believe that this is a good reason not to investigate crimes. (Lots of trials become "political footballs": the trial of the officers who beat Rodney King, for instance, or Marion Barry's trial for crack cocaine. Does anyone think that we should simply have given those officers or Marion Barry a pass?) But politicized trials do do damage, and so it's worth asking: how might we minimize the chances that some trial might be unduly politicized?

The best answer I can think of is: the media might really try to do a good job of explaining the issues. When someone tried to say something misleading, they could call that person out. When prosecution of a government official was unwarranted, they could make that clear. And when there really was a plausible case that a government official had committed a crime, they could make that clear as well.

Which is to say: if Chuck Todd were really worried about trials being politicized, he would be in a wonderful position to prevent that from happening.

But I don't see much evidence that he is interested in that. In the podcast with Glenn, Chuck Todd makes (by my count) plain errors on five important factual questions. He is wrong about the kind of prosecutor under consideration, he is wrong to think that what Holder is proposing to investigate is interrogations that conform to Yoo's legal opinions, he is wrong about the duties of Justice Department lawyers, he was wrong about the legal status of firing the US Attorneys, and he was wrong about the state of American public opinion. And those are just the plain, obvious errors: I'm not counting things like his claim that prosecutions would harm our image abroad, or that there's a serious debate about whether Yoo's memos were defensible.

That's a lot of factual mistakes for one short podcast -- enough to make me think that Chuck Todd is not as concerned as he ought to be about getting it right. If he were, and if he could bring some of his colleagues along, we might not have to worry nearly as much about politicization.

Todd's ridiculous claim that prosecutions would harm our image abroad, and his suggestion that anyone seriously thinks Yoo's memos were sound legal opinions written in good faith, were actually the two assertions I found the most astounding. Accountability would be hailed overseas – Todd would be hard-pressed to find a foreign editorial arguing against it. Meanwhile, the memos were shoddy, cover-your-ass measures written after torture had started, that ignored existing law, and which were not even followed – even the supposedly "legal" torture guidelines the memos set were violated. At the very least, surely a full investigation is warranted, as is required by U.S. law where there are credible allegations of torture.

Chuck Todd isn't a dumb guy. However, he's more a trend man and a political commenter than an investigative reporter. I continue to think that the Beltway gang probably make the most sense when viewed in anthropological/ sociological terms. In his discussion with Greenwald, Todd reflects the Beltway consensus – a set of general attitudes opposing disclosure and accountability, along with an ignorance of key facts. Todd isn't informed because there is no social expectation that he be informed. (The same dynamic holds true for most policy matters.) If a pundit works from the conclusion backwards, that nothing should be done, ignoring facts and substance is hardly surprising - even if it is appalling.

If Attorney General Eric Holder or Congress initiated an investigation, the scope of acceptable opinions among the chattering class might eventually broaden. A full investigation needs to happen. Meanwhile, in order to reform the corporate media, somehow it needs to become the social norm and commercially appealing for talking heads to be well-informed on substance and committed to accountability journalism.

Seeing the Forest

Blog Seeing the Forest recently celebrated its seventh blogiversary. Dave Johnson has a good post on Reagan's fearmongering about "socialized medicine," as well as some good posts on economics, taxes and California politics.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

Walter Cronkite was a giant in the field of TV journalism. I remember him on the news, but not well – he belongs to a slightly older generation. Still, if one merely watches films and news docs, it's hard to miss some of his seminal moments. He tried to exercise his power responsibly, call things fairly and inform the citizenry. Later on, executives decided that TV news should be expected to turn a profit rather than being a public service that also earned prestige for the network. Nostalgia can blind us to the many flaws of past eras, but most of the TV journalists today don't come close to measuring up to Cronkite, most of all because they don't share his view of the news as a public service and trust. Cronkite approached his job the way it should be done, and we're the poorer for his passing.

The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times all have coverage on Cronkite, including obituaries, appreciations, photo galleries and some video.

A LA Times blog also features about a dozen pieces of print work by or on Walter Cronkite (h/t Roy Edroso). Some of it's pretty fascinating. Here's his account of accompanying a bombing run over Germany in 1943 and being attacked by German planes. His piece on Rommel's ordered suicide is also striking. In one of the video segments below, he describes covering the Nuremberg Trials. In 1962, he described the inherent challenges of TV news:

"A major problem is that TV is a pictorial medium and we must find what we can to illustrate hard news," Cronkite said. "We are trying to use the remote interview technique that Ed Murrow developed in 'Small World' -- when it's called for. Do an interview filming the subject and talking to him via telephone."

That's very perceptive. In one of the segments below, he talks about how being a wire reporter taught him to be clear, quick, and as objective as possible. The sheer magnitude and seriousness of what he covered during WWII surely must have shaped his approach as well.

CBS will be running a special on Cronkite on Sunday night, but plenty of video is already available.

The Kennedy Assassination (h/t Questiongirl):

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination:

One of his Vietnam segments:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Currently, I can't find full, uncut footage of his February 27th, 1968 editorial on Vietnam, and that's quite frustrating. This segment and some further down do feature clips, though:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Here's the full text:

Walter Cronkite - Feb 27, 1968, the beginning of the end

Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure.

The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff.

On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.

We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms.

For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations.

But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.

In this segment, Cronkite reflects on the editorial. I've already seen some pretty ugly attacks on Cronkite, irrationally blaming him for "losing" Vietnam – as if opinion could change the realities of the actual war, and even though Nixon kept America there, and it wasn't until Ford that we left. Meanwhile, as polling data show, public sentiment had significantly turned against the war before Cronkite spoke. Cronkite didn't personally change public opinion, although he might have validated one view and made it more respectable. It's not as if Lyndon Baines Johnson wasn't hearing something similar from at least some of his advisors.

Here's Cronkite and Neil Armstrong looking back on the moon landing:

Watch CBS Videos Online

The entire program The Epic Journey, roughly 50 minutes long, is online. It's hosted by Cronkite and looks back on the whole moon landing. Some of the original broadcast can be seen here. It's mostly footage on the moon, with Cronkite occasionally heard narrating. It was recently the 40th anniversary of that event, and it remains a truly astounding feat.

Here's CBS initial piece on Cronkite:

Watch CBS Videos Online

They have a section for him, and their main story links other print pieces, video segments and a photo gallery.

Here's MSNBC's piece:

I found this discussion with Daniel Schorr interesting:

The Newseum has a short clip of Cronkite that can't be embedded, it seems, but is worth watching (via Greenwald). In it, he says:

What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.

And that's the way it is.

Pieces on Cronkite are still coming in, so I'll update this post later. But here's a first round:

Brilliant at Breakfast
Brad Blog
They Gave Us a Republic
Crooks and Liars
Glenn Greenwald

Update 7/21/09: The CBS special was mainly their Cronkite 90th birthday program with some new segments. Some of it was neat, but I found other parts hard to stomach. Morley Safer, Andy Rooney and George Clooney were good, but I found Diane Sawyer insipid and Brian Williams insufferable. The first three focused on how Cronkite approached his job and why he was good, while the latter two were doing more of a celebrity fluff piece.

With Williams, it was especially galling given his network's enabling of a Pentagon propaganda campaign and his numerous attempts to dismiss or outright ignore the story - even when coverage of it won a Pulitzer. Then there's his love of Rush Limbaugh – okay, the guy's got some talent as a talk radio host. However, he's also a chronic liar, a racist and a hyper-partisan, cruel, virulent demagogue. How exactly can a real journalist like that? Edward R. Murrow took on Joseph McCarthy, he didn't take him out to lunch. Oh well, at least Jon Stewart smacked Williams around a bit, and Colbert had a funny tribute.

Meanwhile, Democracy Now had a good segment on Cronkite, and Fresh Air ran two good pieces, including an interview with Cronkite where he criticized his own tag line. They offer a better portrait of the man.

Update 7/22/09: Media Bloodhound examines the virtual blackout on Cronkite's views on Iraq.