Archive for November, 2008

Index of Posts for November 2008

November 30, 2008

NYT McCaffrey Expose: No Credit to Other Journalists

November 30, 2008

Photo illustration by the NYT.

November 29, New York Times reporter David Barstow’s front page expose, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex” about retired four-star General Barry R. McCaffrey, continues the coverage started in his April 20, 2008 article, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.” That first piece resulted in over 1400 reader comments and Congressional demands that the DoD stop its propaganda program.

Barstow starts his article,

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

As I noted in my review over at NewsTrust, this article is not as enterprising as it would appear. What disturbs me is that Barstow, like other reporters at the NYT often pretend to a scoop that builds on uncredited info from previous articles in supposedly “lesser” sources. For instance, in “Disclosures on Palin Raise Questions on Vetting Process,” Elisabeth Bumiller, on 9/2/08, fails to acknowledge that Anchorage Daily News reporters Sean Cockerham and Wesley Loy published interviews with many of the same folks on August 29 in “Choice stuns state politicians.” (For details and links, see my blog post of September 1, Sarah, Who?. In the current case, as Glenn Greenwald notes in “The ongoing disgrace of NBC News and Brian Williams” (see link), “Some of the key facts which Barstow reports concerning the improper behavior of McCaffrey and NBC News were documented all the way back in April, 2003, in this excellent article from The Nation, which Barstow probably should have credited today. ” I’ve linked to the Nation article, “TV’s Conflicted Experts” by Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy and Vishesh Kumar (two former interns and a free-lancer.) Although Greenwald doesn’t say so, Barstow also failed to credit Grennwald’s own April 2008 coverage, “Brian Williams’ ‘response’ to the military analyst story”. (see link)

The corporate ownership of news media is rife with potential conflicts of interest, which in turn, affects the quality of our democracy. NBC News, of course, is owned by GE, which has been awarded $8,761,071,362 in defense contracts during the period 2000 to 2007, according to informatioin pulled from ublic records by (see link) This, despite, GE being fined for fraud in such contracts during the previous decade, according to the corporate entry at Crocodyl, a collaboration between nonprofit organizations such as Center for Corporate Policy, CorpWatch, Corporate Research Project and others (see link.) Although NBC News is not alone in its hiring of supposedly unbiased military commentators, as Matt Iglesias notes in his post, “war Machine,” “again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn’t sorry. They’re not apologizing. They’re not ashamed. Because they’re beyond shame. They never had a reputation for honor, so they don’t even see this sort of thing as damaging.” (see link)

BTW, Check out

Eleventh Hour Regs on Toxins

November 29, 2008

The NYT’s Robert Pear today, “Bush Aides Rush to Enact a Rule Obama Opposes,”

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job. The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health. Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses. With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations. The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment. One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species. Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush. A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said.

Sydney Schanberg: John McCain Blocked Info on Fellow POW’s

November 28, 2008

Photo from Google Earth from Ocean Park, CA.

“Americans…whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”

So says the dedication stone of the MIA/POW gardens in the National Cemetary of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The remains of four marines who disappeared in Vietnam when their helicopter was shot down have now been located, according to the POW/Missing Personnel Office of the DOD on November 5. Lance Cpl. Kurt E. La Plant, of Lenexa, KS, and Lance Cpl. Luis F. Palacios, of Los Angeles, CA were individually identified. Two others, were recovered only as “group remains”–Lance Cpl. Ralph L. Harper, of Indianapolis, IN and Pfc. Jose R. Sanchez, of Brooklyn, NY. That means, according to the National Leage of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, that there have been

837 US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. 90+% of the 1,746 still missing from the Vietnam War were lost in Vietnam itself or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control.

Democracy Now interviewed journalist Sydney Schanberg today about his October 6 article in The Nation, “Why Has John McCain Blocked Info on MIAs?” (longer version here at The Nation Institute.

Schanberg wrote,

John McCain, who has risen to political prominence on his image as a Vietnam POW war hero, has, inexplicably, worked very hard to hide from the public stunning information about American prisoners in Vietnam who, unlike him, didn’t return home. Throughout his Senate career, McCain has quietly sponsored and pushed into federal law a set of prohibitions that keep the most revealing information about these men buried as classified documents. Thus the war hero people would logically imagine to be a determined crusader for the interests of POWs and their families became instead the strange champion of hiding the evidence and closing the books.

The Nation, in an editor’s note, lets us know it has published pieces with a conflicting vision by H. Bruce Franklin, a Rutgers American studies prof (email, web page) and author of MIA or Mythmaking in America. His article, “Who’s Behind the M.I.A. Scam – & Why ($ archive) in the December 7, 1992 issue, argued that the “devastating economic and political warfare” on Vietnam has been justified from 1969 through 1992 by the

The POW/MIA myth…kept alive by politicians such as Richard Nixon, Ross Perot and Jesse Helms since 1969. However, there has never been any credible evidence that US prisoners are being held in Vietnam, and Vietnam has taken unprecedented steps to account for all missing in action.

Then in “M.I.A.sama” ($ archive) in the May 10, 1993 issue, he adds that

Pres George Bush made two attempts to normalize relations with Vietnam, and each time sudden new ‘evidence’ of American prisoners was released to the media. The same thing has now happened to the Clinton administration, although the media release is filled with obvious flaws.

Whenever normalization of relations with Vietnam seems imminent, a media blitz suddenly features brand-new “evidence” about P.O.W.s in Indochina. Eventually the evidence turns out to be fraudulent, but few Americans ever learn about the expose.

I wish that some donor to The Nation would have made these articles available free of charge for comparison. And Goodman could have done us a solid by having both gentlemen on her program to discuss their alternative views. Readers here know I’m a fan of Goodman, but, as is often the case with advocacy journalism, I’m not sure her point is solely light, but also heat, in the time leading up to the election.

As it is, we’re left to read Franklin’s October 15 letter to the editor and Schanberg’s response . Both are exhibits in name-calling. Franklin describes Schanberg’s article as a

recycled and thoroughly discredited right-wing fantasy about Vietnam holding US POWs after the war…

and decries

Schanberg’s disgraceful role in promulgating [the POW myth] for decades?

Schanberg, in turn, calls Franklin a “desperate” ” ideologue” whose has in the past made “fact-starved claims” and now write a “pompous letter” which is a “foolish way” to deal with their disagreements. He ends,

It’s obvious that the best way to get to the bottom of the POW story is to press our government to release all the POW files that have been suppressed for thirty-five years.

That statement appeals to me, even despite another insult he hurls to the effect that his critics have not campaigned for such because they are afraid to find out what’s in the records. What’s most interesting to me, however, is another piece I discoverd by Schanberg, when I was looking for his emaill address. In a commentary for Neiman Watchdog on October 15, “The silent treatment regarding Vietnam POWs,” he writes,

Before The Nation accepted it, I tested the mainstream waters to see if the boycott had possibly been eased. The piece was rejected by everyone from The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times magazine to prominent Web sites like Salon and Talking Points Memo. One magazine editor said that because I had written on the subject before, it was “a retelling”and thus unsuitable. Others said they were too stacked up with McCain stories for the campaign season. None of the brush-offs were any more convincing than that. I appealed to them to tackle the story with their own reporters to set the historical record straight. Silence again.

Once the piece appeared, Schanberg writes that one the piece appeared, he began e-mailing again.

I wrote personal notes to the editors of The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. No response. I did the same with other editors and reporters and columnists and ombudsmen at those papers and many more. Also to television news and commentator shows and to press-beat reporters like Howard Kurtz. The list has grown now to more than 100.

He only got four responses that he can recall, one of which was from a reporter at a major paper who

was seized by the story, immersed himself in the issue and pitched it to his editors, who blew him off saying there wasn’t enough time to research the story and, besides, they said, they had questions about its credibility.

He offers any “any reader – editor, reporter, layman” “links to my earlier writings on this issue” and “guidance on where to go for more information.” For, as he notes,

Election Day isn’t the cutoff point. Even if John McCain doesn’t make the White House, he’ll still be in the Senate, suppressing POW files.

The public information is available through the Library of Congress at its Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action Database. The information at the National Archives can be found through its Finding Aid to Records Relating to American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War Era, 1960-1994. See also the resolution to esetablish a Congressional committee, H. Res. 111 (2007)

Studs, We Miss You

November 27, 2008

Photograph from the archive of interviews, “Talking to Myself” at his website.

The oral historian Studs Terkel, born in 1912, died last month, but today Democracy Now spent the whole hour in a tribute.” You can also watch the documentary, Studs on a Soapbox, at YouTube.

Paula Sinclair set Stafford to Songs

November 26, 2008

If you’re interested in hearing the music of Paula Sinclair who has set the words of some of her favorite writers (including Bill Stafford, , Joseph Millar, Dorianne Laux, Debbie West, and Jarold Ramsey) to music, you can check out the album, The Good Horse at CD Baby.

She says her next project is A Story That Could Be True based on 11 Stafford poems and that she also has plans to turn the poem/song “The Animal Who Drank Up Sound” into an animated film.

West Virginia: Wind or MTR Coal?

November 25, 2008

Photo of Coal River Wind organizers Loreli Scarbro and Rory McIlmoil making a presentation which accompanied an August post on the project at WVBlue.

Just received this news release from Rory McIlmoil over at Coal River Wind. The West Virginia DEP has approved Massey’s MTR permit revision. Could you circulate this action alert and press release widely. They need our help from all over the country to once again ask Governor Manchin to do the right thing for the state and for local residents by preventing the wind potential and the opportunity to stabilize and diversify the local economy from being permanently destroyed by Massey’s Mountaintop Removal operation on Coal River Mountain.

Call the Governor’s office at 1-888-438-2731 and letting him know that you support Clean Wind Power, not Mountaintop Removal coal mining for Coal River Mountain. Visit visit to learn more and sign the petition, and when you’re done, get your friends to do the same. And if, like my friend Denise Clendening in California, you can’t get through on the toll-free number, you can also call Governor Manchin’s regular number:

(304) 558-2000

After you’ve called, why not follow up with an email to
or for more weight, you can fax a letter to (304) 342-7025.

for more information, contact Rory McIlmoil at the Coal River Mountain Wind Project
(w): (304) 854-2182
(h): (304) 854-1937

By the way, Denise also sent me a link to Devilstower’s blog over at Kos. He writes eloquently:

Feeling a post election letdown? Looking for another dragon to slay? Buddy, have I got a mean, scaly, ugly one for you.

Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is a beautiful forested area surrounded by communities with long experience with coal mining as been practiced for decades. How long have these folks been settled around the mountain? Many are descendants of those who moved to the area on land grants given soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Now the mountain itself is threatened by coal mining as it’s been practiced under the Bush administration — mountaintop removal.

Just yesterday, a permit to start blasting the top off the mountain was awarded to Massey Energy, headed by Don Blankenship. Who is Don Blankenship? He’s the guy who spent millions putting his own man on the West Virginia Supreme Court so he could get out of a lawsuit. Then, when he was caught vacationing in Monaco with that judge, he bought himself another. And another. He spent millions on smear campaigns so he could get his own brand of justice. He’s the guy who was named the scariest person in America when it comes to the environment. This is the guy behind the death of miners in the Aracoma mine after hundreds of safety violations.

This is a guy who makes $15 million a year, and spends as much as $9 million of it reshaping West Virginia into a deep red state that supports his strong arm tactics. You think West Virginia has an “Appalachian problem?” No. It has a Don Blankenship problem.

Now Blankenship has Coal River Mountain in his grip, and if he has his way, it will soon join more than a million acres of ancient mountains, towering forests, and free-flowing streams that are turned into the acidic rubble left behind after mountaintop removal mining. And perhaps worst of all, Coal River Mountain has already been studied as a site for a wind farm. This wind farm would produce more energy than the coal that Blankenship will get from blasting down the mountain. It will employ more people. And it will do it cleanly, preserving both the mountain and the surrounding communities.

You can sign the petition in support of the Coal River Wind project, but today that’s not enough.

There’s only one man that can put the brakes on Blankenship before he starts knocking down Coal River Mountain forever. That man is West Virginia Governor, Joe Manchin. Manchin is a Democrat, and he has good reason to dislike Blankenship. The Massey CEO sued the governor after for violation of his first amendment rights when Manchin said he was going to look more closely at serial-violator Blankenship’s operations. Apparently Don Blankenship believes that the first amendment includes not just speech and religion, but also bribery and evasion.

Despite all that, it’s not expected that Manchin will step in to stop Massey from taking down Coal River Mountain. Not unless you help. Call Governor Manchin at 1-888-438-2731 and ask him to put a hold on this permit. Now. Like pronto.

The fight didn’t end on election day. Get on the phone and let people know that change is coming to West Virginia, and it starts at Coal River Mountain.

Okay, here’s the news release:
Governor Manchin sides with Massey Energy Coal Company to allow blasting on Coal River Mountain

Skirting their responsibilities to the public, the West Virginia state government has approved the Bee Tree surface mining permit revision on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, thereby authorizing the destruction of a portion of the available wind resource that local residents would like to see developed as an alternative. Coal River Mountain Watch and community residents learned yesterday that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had approved Massey Energy’s revision of the Bee Tree mining permit for Coal River Mountain, meaning that Massey may begin blasting whenever they are prepared to move forward. Repeated attempts at obtaining public hearings related to the proposed mining have been denied by the DEP, and so community members are again asking Governor Joe Manchin to halt the mountaintop removal operation and act on his commitment to renewable energy and to the citizens of West Virginia. Extensive research has shown that Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide electricity for between 100,000 and 150,000 homes, forever, while creating approximately 50 well-paying, permanent jobs in an area long dependent upon sparse, temporary coal mining jobs. The wind farm would also generate as over ten times more county revenue than the Mountaintop Removal operations would, and in a county with a poverty rate of 18.5%, this additional income would help to stimulate new economic development projects and the creation of new and lasting jobs for the county. Overall, a wind farm stands as a more beneficial land use for Coal River Mountain, but this opportunity depends upon the mountain being left intact. Despite the fact that both the Governor and the DEP have been presented with solid evidence supporting the wind farm option, neither have acted to place a hold on the proposed mining. While Governor Manchin has ignored public opinion in support of a Coal River Mountain wind farm, the DEP has continued to exclude public comment on the mining permits, and now Massey Energy is now set to begin blasting.

Philip Levine: Our Valley

November 24, 2008

Still from PBS Video of poet Philip Levin, one of my favorites, reading “Belle Isle 1949” for the PBS project, Poetry Everywhere.

We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

Here’s Levine’s page from the Academy of American Poets and a poem from the November 2008 Poetry:

Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Philip Levine


November 23, 2008

Photo by Loney Sebastion at Warner Bros. accompanied A. O. Scott’s NYT review of Appaloosa, directed (and written in part) by Ed Harris.

Based on Robert Parker’s 2005 novel of the same name, this film is at it’s heart a sly (offscreen) sex farce with the real love between Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) and Virgil Cole (Ed Harris.) Also starring Jeremy Irons as the villian Bragg and Rene Zellweger as the Widow French.
Peter Travers’s review and Roger Ebert‘s are worth reading.

Was Terry Gross Playing Gotcha with William Ayers

November 22, 2008

Lest anyone doubt the Williams Ayers has a respected place in the field of education despite the right’s reckoning him an “unrepentent terrorist,” this photo is from his 2006 keynoting of staid Roanoke College’s Covenhaven Insitute for teachers.

Dave Winer has a thoughtful piece at his site on Terry Gross. He writes,

In the end she asked Ayers if he wanted to apologize for what he did, if he would be willing to take the “unrepentent” part off the label “unrepentent terrorist,” and he refused, and I’m glad he did.

These are complicated issues, and to deal with it in a balanced way would require probably a few books, written from different perspectives. We don’t today have a balanced view of the struggle in the US over Vietnam. Not when one person is singled out this way, when so many others are responsible for so much more death and destruction.

Since the Ayers interview she’s returned to her original style….But I can’t help but wonder if each of these people has something to answer for too, and she’s not asking about any of that.

I definitely sympathize with Ayers, I probably wouldn’t have minded if she probed John McCain this way about his involvement in Vietnam. I’m sure he killed a lot more people than Ayers did. And that led me to the other, larger reason I’m unhappy with the interview — she might not want someday to have someone say she “palled around” with an unrepentent terrorist who attacked his own country. In other words, she may be using us to protect herself. If that’s the reason she drove Ayers so hard, I would much rather she had skipped the interview altogether.

…. Either she adopts the gotcha style and goes after everyone, from clowns to reporters, and I’ll tune out for the same reasons I don’t listen to other reporters who use that style; or she stays with the softball style I like, but I’ll never be able to stop thinking of her as a hypocrite for being so gutless with Ayers.

Unlike Winer, I’ve tripped over Gross’s clay feet before. Although it was a fluff, do you remember Gene Simmons? (Audio from Erim Foster.) Or in the political realm, Bill O’Reilly?