Monday, August 31, 2009

Who lives at Julia Child's house now?

The Globe checks in on the newest residents at 103 Irving St, and... is unimpressed.
Yes, the matriarch of Child’s former kitchen is an animal-rights activist and a vegetarian. “It’s a bit ironic,’’ Landsverk said, in an understatement.

What’s more, Landsverk is not what you would call a foodie. She likes to make simple things for dinner: pasta, burritos, reservations.

NYT maintaining New Orleans bureau

Campbell Robertson had his first story out of New Orleans for the NYT today, a sort of 4th anniversary overview (strange that they published this after the anniversary, though maybe it was a tight weekend with Kennedy coverage). The New Orleans spot had been vacant since Adam Nossiter switched to West Africa in April.

It's a very good thing that they're staying there. Robertson and USA Today's Rick Jervis are the only out-of-town full-time newspaper correspondents in the city (the AP of course also has a bureau). Editor & Publisher has more on Robertson and New Orleans.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Post fronts Facebook for 14th time

The Washington Post's obsession with Facebook continued Sunday with the 14th Facebook-focused story on the front page in under three years.

Here's the list:
Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008, March 2009, April 2009, Aug 2009, Aug 2009.

The new piece, by religion reporter William Wan, is "Soul-Searching on Facebook; For Many Users, Religion Question Is Not Easy to Answer." It says people often aren't sure what to write and/or are worried what others will think. The Post got Facebook to compile a list of the top ten religions; Christian, Islam and Atheist are 1-2-3 and Jedi is 10. But that's not all the Post found:
The complete catalogue of entries easily numbers in the thousands, Chin said. But even offbeat answers like "Seguidor del Wiccanismo" and "Heavy Metal" garner more than 2,000 users each. There is also, Chin noted with a laugh, a surprising number of people online who identify themselves as Amish.

All this is more than the company has ever revealed on the matter.

Alright, that's kind of interesting, but, you know, not the most important scoop ever.

The story is alright for what it is, but as usual with the Facebook stories, it simply does not belong on the front page. There's more important news going on. Here are a few ideas: Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, Mexico, global warming, health care, homicides in DC, the 4th anniversary of Katrina, and the whole economy thing.

Please, WaPo. Do report on Facebook. Don't put it on A1 unless it's really really important, though.

For Slate's New Aggregator, a Rough First Week

When Slate introduced its news aggregator on Monday (a week ago), it promised that the system would be better and faster. "We saw a need for a new kind of aggregator, one that was intelligent, witty, entertaining, fast, comprehensive, and responsive to the new news cycle," wrote editor David Plotz. In it's first week, though, "The Slatest" has struggled, linking to the same stories multiple times -- and sometimes well after the news cycle has moved on. In one case, the Slatest linked to the same article three times.

As a devotee of Slate's former news aggregator, "Today's Papers" (and to a lesser extent, "In Other Magazines"), I was and am worried about change. What made TP so good was that it compared and contrasted the coverage between different sources; it pointed out when, say, one of the majors was publishing a story the LAT had weeks earlier; it questioned the strength of stories. It allowed the writers (notably Daniel Politi and Eric Umansky before him) to use their expertise as news junkies to explain to readers what mattered and why.

Slate's email to TP readers on Monday promised that TP was being replaced with something better. "Rather than publish just one daily news summary in the morning, we will now provide three updates a day, tracking the news as it develops."

And Plotz's column specifically laid out what the new service would deliver:
"At 7 a.m. ET, we publish our morning edition of the Slate Dozen, which, like "Today's Papers," will highlight the most important stories breaking overnight in the big newspapers. (It's even being written by our longtime "Today's Papers" columnist, Daniel Politi.) The second, noontime edition of the Slate Dozen will capture how those overnight stories are being reframed by opinion makers. The afternoon Slate Dozen, which publishes at 5 p.m. ET, will analyze the events of the day and preview the next day's news."

In the first week, the Slatest has not done that.


The Slatest's most striking problem so far is that it often links to the same article multiple times, most often in the morning and afternoon editions. Here are a few examples (I don't claim to have caught them all):

Tuesday morning and afternoon editions both had the WSJ on the Bernanke appointment, LAT on the MJ coroner report, NYT on Giuliani and the governor's race and David Ignatius on Iraq. Tuesday afternoon and evening had the same Reuters piece on violence in Afghanistan.

Wednesday morning and afternoon had NYT on interrogations directed from Washington, NYT on MJ series on A&E and NYT op-ed on the CBO, while Wednesday afternoon and evening had a Politico piece on Kennedy's possible successors.

Thursday's morning and afternoon editions had the Boston Globe on plans for Kennedy's burial and the LAT on MJ. Thursday afternoon and evening linked to the New Yorker on NYC teachers.

Friday's morning and afternoon editions carried the LAT on Iran and AP on Nixon digging for dirt on Ted Kennedy. Friday's morning, afternoon and evening editions (hat trick!) all carried the NYT on tension between the CIA and Justice Department.


Whether linked to once or twice, the articles have often been a news cycle or few old.

A much-talked-about Guardian exclusive about Obama and mideast negotiations, posted Tuesday evening British time, didn't make it into Slatest until the Wednesday afternoon edition. Wednesday evening's Slatest linked to a CQ article on Charlie Rangel's un-reported assets; that story says it was originally posted at 1:02pm on Tuesday, and updated at 5:28pm Tuesday.

On Wednesday evening, Slatest linked to that morning's NYT articles on how lawyers can't get jobs. We had all seen that article by then; while it wasn't on the front page of the print edition, it sat atop or near the top of the Top 10 most emailed for much of the day. The article itself was unimpressive; it was almost entirely many-months-old news. ("That's 'olds' not news!" as a former boss of mine would say).

Thursday's afternoon and evening editions linked to Politico's story from 7:58am that morning updating the news on possible successors to Kennedy. Thursday afternoon's edition linked to the WSJ's article from that morning on Gaddafi and his tent. It was a thorough article, but it was a story that had been flagged days earlier: by the New York Post Monday morning, the AP on Monday evening, and AFP and a host of others Tuesday.


This post isn't meant to bash Slate; it's meant to be a friendly critique. Slate's TP set a high standard. If they could do TP three times a day, perhaps that'd be ideal. The new system is attempting to do more, but so far it hasn't succeeded. It has not done well with what it's supposed to do - provide news updates quickly.

I'm not sure that giving up the narrative form of TP for a series of 12 separate summaries of articles is ever going to work as well. But maybe. It will need to be much sharper and faster, at least.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Katrina anniversary news roundup

The Times Picayune website has this roundup of the coverage today from out-of-town press on the 4th anniversary, which is tomorrow.

Kennedy's 2002 speech against war in Iraq

Who remembers it?

I can't blame you if you don't. It received extremely little media attention -- this from a media that said no big name Democrats were speaking out against the war. The speech is here.

Jason Linkins of HuffPost had a write up on Wednesday about the speech, with key excerpts. And here's Eric Boehlert's piece from last year about how little media attention the speech got at the time.

The speech has received extremely little attention in the traditional media this week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Post puts Colombian human rights abuses into murkyness territory

The Post finally ran an extensive article Thursday looking at the matter of a plan to allow U.S. military forces on several Colombian military bases ("U.S.-Colombia Deal Prompts Questions"). But reporters Juan Forero and Mary Beth Sheridan drop this line:
In Washington, Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Patrick J. Leahy, senior Democrats who help shape policy on Latin America, asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a letter why they had not been consulted about the plan and wondered why the Obama administration was deepening its ties with a military they accuse of human rights abuses.

Human rights abuses by the Colombian military are now not a fact, but just something that Senators Dodd and Leahy allege?

Just a couple of months ago, the Post's formulation on this was different (Forero, 06/29/09):
On Monday, Uribe again arrives at the White House. But this time he will encounter an administration pushing to expand its alliances in Latin America and increasingly worried about Colombia's dismal human rights record, Colombia experts say.

There was no caveat there, no "what they call Colombia's dismal human rights record." And that's the way this should be reported.

What's particularly ironic here is that the Post has done some good reporting over the years on abuses by the Colombian military. One particularly notable piece was Forero's "Colombian Troops Kill Farmers, Pass Off Bodies as Rebels'" in March 2008.

For an update on where things stand with the Colombian military, see what Human Rights Watch said in June:
In recent years there has been a substantial rise in the number of extrajudicial killings of civilians attributed to the Colombian Army. As documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, many human rights organizations, and most recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, army members, under pressure to show results, take civilians from their homes or workplaces, kill them, and then dress them up as combatants killed in action to increase their body count.


The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions visited Colombia in June. In preliminary findings, he noted that "[t]he sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military." He pointed out that the Colombian military justice system contributes to the problem by obstructing the transfer of human rights cases to the ordinary justice system. His final report will address these and other issues, including possible incentives to members of the military that contribute to the killings.

The executions, which the Special Rapporteur described as "cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit," stand out as one of the most serious abusive practices by state agents we have documented in Latin America in recent years.

I hope the Post's terminology in Thursday's article was just a one-time misstep, and will not be repeated again as long as the Colombian military continues to be a clear human rights abuser.

Pizzeria Paradiso to move to new Dupont Location this weekend

Pizzeria Paradiso's Dupont location is moving up the block, east on P street almost to the corner of 20th. Several folks were working inside the new location this evening; signs announced a Saturday opening. The new space looks somewhat bigger than the old, but not huge.

Politico's Kraushaar a bit off in trying to capture Michael Capuano's district

Here's the article Politico has up this morning on Massachusetts pols who may run for Kennedy's seat. The piece, by Josh Kraushaar, who tracks congressional races around the country, is mostly straightforward. But in assessing Rep. Michael Capuano, of the 8th congressional district, he serves up this:
Capuano, who represents a district that contains the affluent Boston suburbs of Cambridge and Somerville, would be an attractive candidate to the state’s academic and high-tech communities.

What he doesn't mention is that the district includes huge swaths of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, Boston neighborhoods that have significant poor populations. Oh, and the city of Chelsea, too. As for Cambridge and Somerville, the former, and to a lesser extent the latter, have many affluent people. But describing the cities as "affluent"? That's a stretch, particularly for Somerville.

Here are the stats, based on 2000 census data:


The median household income in the community at the time of the last survey was $46,315. The median household income in the U.S. was $41,994.

In the last complete census survey, the median family income in the community was $51,243. Median family income in the U.S. was 50,046.

Per capita income in Somerville in the last full census was 23,628. Per capita income in the U.S. was 21,587.

According to the most recent survey, families living below the poverty line in Somerville numbered 1,254, or 8.4 percent of the population. The percentage of families in America living below the poverty line was 9.20%.

Individuals living below the poverty line in the community was 9,395, or 12.5 percent. The percentage of individuals living beneath the poverty level in the country was 12.40%.


The median household income in the community at the time of the last survey was $47,979. The median household income in the U.S. was $41,994.

In the last complete census survey, the median family income in the community was $59,423. Median family income in the U.S. was 50,046.

Per capita income in Cambridge in the last full census was 31,156. Per capita income in the U.S. was 21,587.

According to the most recent survey, families living below the poverty line in Cambridge numbered 1,562, or 8.7 percent of the population. The percentage of families in America living below the poverty line was 9.20%.

Individuals living below the poverty line in the community was 11,295, or 12.9 percent . The percentage of individuals living beneath the poverty level in the country was 12.40%.


I should mention that in the last decade Cambridge and Somerville have probably gotten more affluent. But still, we're talking cities that are not that far above the national medians, especially for Somerville.

The notion that affluent voters in Massachusetts are more likely to support, say, Capuano than Lynch is probably correct. But it's not because Capuano has a particularly affluent district; he doesn't. And it's also important to remember that while many affluent people in Massachusetts are liberal, many aren't.

One last point: going back to the 1998 primary election, Capuano was hardly the candidate of the affluent. Perhaps the opposite, in fact. For a bit of the history of that race, see Stuart Rothernberg's piece from the time.

Politico should be a bit more careful in categorizing a district too much based on spotting the People's Republic on the map.

Update 8/30: I forgot one more point. Cambridge and Somerville are not "suburbs."

Kennedy, assorted

In no particular order:

-An old friend, who is probably left of myself, posts: "During a contract battle at UMass Teddy's refusal to cross the GEO picket line to go to the inauguration of the university president led to the resolution of the battle and a more or less win for GEO. We have lost a true friend. My heart is in the Commonwealth with you all today."

-From TPM, video of Kennedy going after Republicans on the Senate floor in 2007 for refusing to allow a vote on raising the minimum wage. This makes me think of how Kennedy's legacy is being defined right now. There's a fair amount of talk about how he "worked across party lines" (sure, that's true in plenty of cases, and makes for the kind of story a lot of columnists like). He needs to be remembered too for doing what was right, as in that video, even if it meant excoriating the other side. The classic example to me of a hero's story changed would be MLK - where his advocacy against the Vietnam war, among other things, is left out of the story. Let's make sure Kennedy's legacy includes the more radical parts.

-Successor: the field looks pretty good. I'm not sure about either of these Kennedy's running; I think they probably won't. They'd probably be alright if they did. As for the others, Capuano, Coakley and Meehan would all be pretty darn good. Stephen Lynch is the one possibility who's bad; he's the most conservative of the ten U.S. Representatives in MA. The danger, of course, is that some combination of the above folks split the liberal vote and Lynch wins. It's early yet to be worried about that, but it's something to watch for.

-I can only think of seeing Kennedy in person once. Maybe there were others I'm forgetting. It was at Logan Airport, at least 8 years ago if not a while before that. I was walking toward the back of the USAir gates at Terminal B and he had gotten off a plane and was walking toward the front. Wait, that's really him, I thought.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yuengling and the union

People keep mentioning something about Yunegling and forcing out the union, and it has worried me. Here's the long AP article from the time (May 2007). Hard to know just from this what to believe. Any other sources on this?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stephen Walt on Afghanistan

Ahh, sometime there's nothing like a relatively mainstream realist to make a good argument. Here is Stephen Walt's recent blog post on Afghanistan, and his Democracy Now appearance on it today (take your pick).

Writes Walt:
At an appearance before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Obama defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, calling it a "war of necessity." He claimed that "our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies," and he declared that “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

This is a significant statement. In effect, the president was acknowledging that the only strategic rationale for an increased commitment in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself there, which would then enable it to mount increasingly threatening attacks on the United States.

Walt goes on to argue why that's just not correct -- why even if you're 100% focused on stopping Al Qaeda from being able to attack the United States, this isn't a good, or certainly not very cost effective route.

He says that there is of course a separate humanitarian argument for U.S. involvement, but that Obama is not making that because it would be nearly impossible to sell a huge war to Congress and the public based solely on that. walt doesn't really get into the humanitarian part, but talks about how there are some things we can do well (like building roads and bridges) and lots of things we can't.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Slate announced the elimination this morning of "Today's Papers", a feature that summarized and linked to news each morning from the NYT, WSJ, WP, LAT and USAT. The feature had run since 1997. It was how this blogger started his day.

In a post this morning, editor David Plotz announced that Slate felt it was time for change.
Over the next 12 years, journalism changed astonishingly, but "Today's Papers" didn't change at all. The column continues to be a brilliant condensation of one important aspect of the news, but it hasn't kept pace with Web news as a whole: It doesn't track the news as the day progresses, and it doesn't encompass all the ways people get their news besides newspapers (blogs, Twitter, TV …). We've come to realize that we haven't been doing the kind of aggregation most of our readers want.

The new format, the Slatest, will feature summaries and links to 12 articles -- or videos, or whatever -- published three times a day, at 7am, noon and 5pm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I suppose that's one way to make iced coffee

From this weekend's coupons:

The continued relevance of midsize newspapers on national stories

Today's case study: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its reporting on BPA (you know, the stuff in some plastic bottles). The paper's Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust have been the national leaders on this story. They've done a lot of work on the science, and more recently have turned to the industry's efforts to lobby the FDA and the public. They won a Polk award in February. Today's story gets inside the industry's PR effort.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The lessons of the Tom Ridge story for the traditional media

So Tom Ridge says the White House pressured him to issue terror alerts as a political tool. My reaction was "that's newsworthy, but, duh, we on the left were correct saying this years ago."

On the traditional media side, though, what would the reaction be? Here the left had long argued that the terror alerts were politicized, while nearly all traditional media treated that as a crazy claim (the most notable episode was in 2004, when Howard Dean made the assertion that the warnings were politicized, and was attacked in the media).

Rather than use this as a learning moment, some journos have actually dug in their heels and said they were right to be wrong -- that they were right to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt, and distrust those crazy left-wingers who just hated Bush. (This reminds me of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius's argument, in a 2004 column, that he and others were right to be wrong about Iraq's weapons. "In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own." As Bob Sommerby commented in response, "We wonder if Woodward and Bernstein had heard of these rules—if they knew that journalists can’t report facts until the two parties have sent them a leaflet?")

Glenn Greenwald has a useful post expanding this matter beyond just the Tom Ridge case and the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder's sorry writing on it. Says Greenwald:
Throughout the Bush years, those who said demonstrably true things were continuously dismissed as fringe, conspiracy-driven leftist-losers: those who questioned whether Saddam really had WMDs; those who argued that the invasion of Iraq would lead to long-term military bases in that country; those who worried that warrantless eavesdropping and Patriot Act powers would lead to abuses; those who opposed the war in Afghanistan on the ground that it would be drag on for years with no resolution, etc. etc.

Having been proven right about all of those things hasn't changed perceptions any at all. As Ambinder's comments today reflect, the paramount unchangeable Beltway Truth is that those who distrust government claims are unSerious Fringe Leftist Losers. Even when they turn out to be right, they're still that. And no matter how many times journalists like Ambinder are proven wrong in "giv[ing] the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit," they still continue to do it and believe it is the right and responsible thing to do.

Good golly

The boat above is Earthrace. It's owned by some dude from New Zealand. It went around the world in under 60 days, on biodiesel. It can go up to 40 knots.

And the owner dude says his boat will be joining Sea Shepherd in their next campaign, which begins in December. Animal Planet will be filming again.

(I hadn't been reading any news on them because the Whale Wars 2nd season was still going, but the season finale was last night).

Still unclear: what's going to happen with their boat registration with the Dutch, now that they broke the rules the Dutch had given them. And as for what trouble they're getting into for ramming one of the Japanese boats, it still remains to be seen.

Climate change is a national security threat! Wait, do we want to make that argument?

Bryan Bender has a fairly sophisticated article in today's Boston Globe about the matter of global warming as a "national security" issue. Senator Kerry, among others, has been pushing this, in part as an argument to try to get more senators on board with the climate bill. And the Pentagon itself has been paying more and more attention to the issue.

But, um, we shouldn't be all imperialist about it.

Here's how Matt Yglesias articulates it in the blog post Bender refers to:
This talk of climate change as a national security threat has a bit of a whiff of hubristic imperialism about it as I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to look at every possible instance of drought, famine, mass migration, civil conflict, and human tragedy abroad as a “threat” to the United States per se. That said, human tragedy is still pretty tragic and anything to help draw attention to the fact that “climate change” means honest-to-god major problems and not just somewhat warmer weather is useful.

So where does that leave us? Global warming is leading to or is going to lead to a wide variety of problems, including international conflicts. That's a bad thing. Those conflicts may or may not have an effect on you, but either way, not good. And while it's good to think about planning for that reality, it's much better and more important at this very moment to focus on stopping the problem in the first place.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NYT and Leahy reactions to State's Mexico report

In Wednesday's NYT, Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey step back for the big picture, leading with:
Mexico’s fight against drug traffickers generated a sixfold increase in human rights complaints against the Mexican military between 2006 and 2008, and it is unclear that any of those complaints resulted in prosecutions, according to a State Department report on the effort.

They get in to the issue of the military's very limited, and flawed, prosecutions. But they don't get to the matter of civilian prosecutions, and how the Merida Initiative language from the U.S. Congres last year required them, yet they are nowhere on the horizon.

Leahy issued his statement on the report on Tuesday. He's fairly critical of the situation, but in the end he must be deciding he can't win this battle right now, and goes with nice words for Obama. From the statement:
"The report issued by the State Department mentions several positive steps taken by the Mexican government in furtherance of the requirements. But it is most notable for how little it says about the key issue - impunity within the Mexican military. It is well known that the military justice system is manifestly ineffective, and it is apparent that neither the Mexican government nor the State Department has treated human rights abuses by the military, which is engaging in an internal police function it is ill-suited for, as a priority since the law was enacted over a year ago.

"Reform of Mexico's dysfunctional judicial system is a process that will take years. But it is critical to the success of the Merida Initiative and to addressing the culture of lawlessness that pervades Mexican society.

"While I am deeply disappointed that the State Department issued its report prematurely when there is so little progress to report, I know President Obama recognizes the importance of these issues and I expect that when the next report is submitted it will document that the Mexican government is meeting the requirements in the law, consistent with the intent of Congress."

Hmm. I don't know what situation Leahy is in, and this isn't an issue where I'd second guess him. But it is frustrating.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

U.S. Certifies Merida Initiative Aid to Mexico Despite Lack of Civilian Court Prosecutions; Report to Congress Now Available

During Monday's State Department press briefing, Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley mentioned that the agency had sent its report on Mexico's human rights progress to Congress on Thursday of last week.

Senator Leahy had questioned State's planned report, but State managed to patch things up, or so it claimed. Tuesday's Post reports:
State Department officials withdrew and then announced that the often secretive Mexican military had provided additional information on cases that it had prosecuted against abuse.
Aha, additional information on cases the military had prosecuted. But wait, that doesn't satisfy the requirement. The point is that the Merida Initative requires prosecutions in civilian courts. The language in what Congress authorized specifically said that the Mexican government must be:
"ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights, and the federal police and military forces are fully cooperating with the investigations."
So saying that the military had prosecuted cases of torture -- even if it's 100% true -- doesn't satisfy the legal requirement. (For more background on Mexico's allegations recently that it has, in fact, prosecuted torture cases successfully in military courts, see this very useful HRW document from last week. But again, that's a side point).

State's report to Congress has been posted today by JURIST. "Section 4: Investigation/Prosecution of Allegations of Human Rights Violations by Police/Military" is on pages 9-11 of the PDF. It's very interesting stuff. It says that the laws still on the books almost always require military and not civilian prosecution (despite that being in contravention of international human rights law, and, many human rihgts groups argue, Mexico's own constitution -- though others disagree on that later point). Apparently Mexico's Supreme Court ruled on a case over the legality of that law earlier this month, on August 910, and ruled on technical grounds, not answering the question.

The report says that given that law, unsurprisingly, there have been few cases of military abusing civilians handed over to civilian courts -- just two cases since December 2006.

The State Department, it would seem, is in a pickle. Congress stipulated that Mexico had to deliver civilian prosecutions. But that isn't happening much -- and, it would seem from State's report, not going to be happening any time soon, because either Mexico's congress would have to change the law on who prosecutes, or Mexico's top court would have to strike down the current law, something it declined to do just nine days ago.

This gets back to the paternalism question, which has been raised by various folks on the left in Mexico, including some of the left wing members of the congress last year. Who is the U.S. to be telling them what to do? This mess would have been less of a mess if the Bush Administration hadn't botched the roll-out of the Merida Initiative in the first place -- doing it in secret Bush-Calderon negotiations, leaving out both congresses.

So where does this leave us?

Having military prosecutors investigate cases of military abuse of civilians is not okay. That's the starting point. It's not something that should be negotiated away. It doesn't work in theory and it doesn't work in practice, anywhere, let alone in Mexico, of all places. I think this is pretty clear, and the U.S. would be mistaken to approach this as "let's repair Mexico's military court prosecutions", because it's not something that can be fixed. That there are facts on the ground -- as in, a law in place in Mexico saying the cases should be handled by primarily by the military -- should not be treated as particularly important in the debate over what should happen from here. Sorry if that sounds paternalistic.

The U.S. Congress was absolutely right to demand civilian prosecutions as a condition for the aid. But this was a demand that the Mexican administration may well have had no intention whatsoever to implement.

Now Obama's State Department faces a tricky situation, and it appears that it is addressing it by simply not addressing it. They're going to give the last 15% of the aid, nevermind that Mexico hasn't met one (and possibly more) of the conditions. This sets a horrible precedent, not just for human rights policy but for the Obama administration's view of its power in relation to the legislative branch. If the Bush administration ignored Congress's mandate so blatantly, there'd be plenty of uproar.

Obama should be following what Congress stipulated, and deny the last 15% of aid until there are civilian prosecutions. Yes, that would create a diplomatic mess. And it's not like Mexico's legislature would necessarily suddenly accede to the demand and change the law. But it is the right thing to do. Remember, this 15% of the aid is mostly symbolic; we're talking in the ballpark of $200 million. This is where the line in the sand should be drawn.

Grocery store relief

Give Me One Reason was playing. Cruc. ("KROOSH")

Friday, August 14, 2009

On Mexico, Obama shows little interest in stopping military's torture

In his remarks in Mexico on Monday, Obama only mustered this on human rights:
"As I've said on many occasions, I heartily commend President Calderón and his government for their determination and courage in taking on these cartels. And the President reaffirmed his government's commitment to transparency, accountability and human rights as they wage this difficult but necessary fight."
But a Mexican reporter asked a question on the subject, and Obama came back with:
"Now, with respect to the conduct of this battle against the cartels, I have great confidence in President Calderón's administration applying the law enforcement techniques that are necessary to curb the power of the cartels, but doing so in a way that's consistent with human rights. And we discussed this in our bilateral meeting and I am confident that as the national police are trained, as the coordination between the military and local police officials is improved, there is going to be increased transparency and accountability and that human rights will be observed.

The biggest, by far, violators of human rights right now are the cartels themselves that are kidnapping people and extorting people and encouraging corruption in these regions. That's what needs to be stopped. That's what President Calderón is committed to doing, and that's what I'm committed to helping President Calderón accomplish as long as he is President of Mexico."
There you have it. Party A is worse, so let's not worry about Party B. (Note: certainly the cartels are indeed worse; they are murdering people at the rate of several hundred per month; the Mexican military is doing no such thing. That's presumably little comfort to those individuals who have been tortured by the Mexican military, with no one brought to justice).

Now, Obama probably wasn't supposed to quite officially endorse that logic, as he did. In fact, I bet his use of the sentence "That's what needs to be stopped" was really an attempt at a segue -- from Messaging 101.

But regardless, the message to the Mexican government and all of the country is clear: carry on.

Remember, the Obama administration is seven months in. They could have said to Calderon back in February: "Look, your military guys are still torturing people, and that's not acceptable to us. We're going to give you a few months to do something serious about it -- including initiating prosecutions in civilian courts -- and in that time, we won't publicly criticize you. But if you don't shape up, then we will." There could have been, you know, carrots and sticks, or whatever the cliche is.

This is, you know, a U.S. ally and aid recipient we are talking about. Not a Myanmar or a Belarus. The U.S.'s power over Mexico is pretty significant. The Obama/Clinton team won't be able to credibly throw their hands up down the line and say "hey, look, we tried back-channel negotiations to pressure Calderon to fix this torture thing, but it didn't work."

The Administration is signalling that it will sign-off on a report that says that Mexico has met the conditions in the Merida Initiative, and that therefore the last 15% of the funds can be released (this is what Senator Leahy rightly opposed). Our ambassador to Mexico says that they are making "progress" on human rights, and that could very well be true. But the strings attached to the Merida Initiative rightly weren't just about "progress" -- there were specific targets to be met, such as having civilian-court prosecutions of military torturers. That hasn't happened.

HRW: Israeli soldiers killed civilians who waved white flags

Human Rights Watch announced on Thursday:

During Israel's recent Gaza offensive, Israeli soldiers unlawfully shot and killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including five women and four children, who were in groups waving white flags to convey their civilian status...


In the 11 killings documented in this report, Human Rights Watch found no evidence that the civilian victims were used by Palestinian fighters as human shields or were shot in the crossfire between opposing forces. The civilian victims were in plain view and posed no apparent security threat.

In each of the incidents, the evidence strongly indicates that, at the least, Israeli soldiers failed to take all feasible precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants before opening fire, as required by the laws of war. At worst, the soldiers deliberately shot at persons known to be civilians.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NYT: forced euthanasia in health bill? It's "questionable"

Todd Gitlin caught this.

Here's the lede to a story this morning by Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes:
WASHINGTON -- The White House on Monday started a new Web site to fight questionable but potentially damaging charges that President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system would inevitably lead to "socialized medicine," "rationed care" and even forced euthanasia for the elderly.
Yes, I suppose you could question such charges. Oh dear.

Friday, August 07, 2009

TWO FOR ONE: Post fronts Twitter & Facebook crashes

Twitter and Facebook were both hit with denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on Thursday, shutting them down for a few hours. Sure enough, for the Washington Post, it was front page news on Friday.

In the piece, Style section scribe Monica Hesse went for snark:
For several hours, millions of users were catapulted back to the dark, informationless days of 2003, before such pertinent information as what Ashton Kutcher had for a snack became readily available, before it was possible for people to take a simple quiz to learn which "Twilight" character or dog breed they were most like.
Well, that's sure meta: A front-page article making the case for its own irrelevance. What will be next?!

This was the Post's thirteenth front-page article significantly focused on Facebook in just under three years. Here's the list:
Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008, March 2009, April 2009, Aug 2009.

(note: There was another one back in March that ran on the front page only in one edition. Nexis says the article, which ran inside on a Saturday, was on Sunday's front page in the Bulldog edition -- the first edition).

How about for Twitter? Just the second.
Aug 2009, Aug 2009.
(Those were five days apart).

On environmental songs

This piece by David Roberts is classic Grist.

Image from Grist.

The Alessandra Stanley story is important because it's not about Alessandra Stanley

For quite a few years now, the blogerati have enjoyed writing about NYT tv writer Alessandra Stanley, who makes a shit ton of factual errors. Her correction rate went down somewhat in recent years (she was assigned a special editor) but now it's gone back up, and her error-filled story on Walter Cronkite has made the issue big again (see the public editor's mediocre column from Sunday).

Jaimes Rainey in the LAT and Craig Silverman in CJR have captured the point of this situation well. Writes Silverman:
The Times can let her twist in the wind with errors like these, or realize this situation is hurting the organization and come up with a training program that helps her stop making simple factual errors at such an alarming rate.

There’s a problem here, and it’s as much about the organization as it is about Alessandra Stanley.

Exactly. It's good times to make fun of Stanley, but the story here is about the paper, not about the writer. In the fallout from Jayson Blair, NYT bosses said repeatedly that they were going to be more careful (to a much lesser extent, some NYT folks also have said these kinds of things in the wake of the paper's fall-2002 hyping of Iraq's nuclear weapons threat -- a far more serious issue than Blair -- but others have their heals dug in on that one, to this day). They were going to try to get it right, to ask more questions, to look out for reporters with recurring problems.

And so every day that Alessandra Stanley continues to write for the Times, it's another FU to the readers. It says, loud and clear, that actually they're not going to take some of the basic steps that they could to make the paper more accurate.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

About that Post Style article on Target/Hipsters

Sommer Matthis responds to Monica Hesse.


Huh? Gail Collins' column today is particularly awkward. It's a random jumble of news summary, with barely-humorous lines and analysis that is neither new nor insightful.

Sometimes Collins does have nifty things to say, but so often it's a disappointment -- too clever for it's (err, its) own good.

At U.S. State Department, Mexican Military's Torture Still Above the Law

The Washington Post had an important exclusive on Wednesday: "Leahy Blocks Positive Report on Mexico's Rights Record."

William Booth and Steve Fainaru report:
A key senator rejected a State Department plan to issue a report this week affirming that Mexico is respecting human rights in its war against drug traffickers, delaying the release of millions of dollars in U.S. anti-narcotics assistance, according to U.S. officials and congressional sources.

The State Department intended to send the favorable report on Mexico's human rights record to Congress in advance of President Obama's visit to Guadalajara for a summit of North American leaders this weekend, U.S. officials familiar with the report said.

That plan was scrapped after aides to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, told State Department officials that the findings contradicted reports of human rights violations in Mexico, including torture and forced disappearances, in connection with the drug war.

That the State Department was going to say Mexico was somehow meeting the human rights conditions is a disturbing development (See my previous "Why the U.S. should withhold 15% of Merida Initiative aid to Mexico" and "The Mexican Military's Torture"). This is sort of what the Bush Administration used to do with certifying Colombia's human rights progress once or twice a year (it became a non-news event after a while, perhaps understandably).

The Post article notes that in recent weeks several human rights groups had laid out the case that Mexico was not meeting the conditions. The State Department went ahead anyway. Did they really think that no one would stand up and object? (Leahy being the obvious suspect, but also even Dodd, Feingold, Kerry, etc).

The LAT follows up:
On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina said the report was still in its draft stages but that it would be submitted to Congress shortly.

We'll be waiting.

In the meantime, here's what you can do:
Thank Leahy (202-224-4242).
Ask Kerry (foreign relations chair, 202-224-2742) and Dodd (chairs subcommittee covering Americas, 202-224-2823) to join Leahy and urge the Administration to issue an accurate assessment of Mexico's compliance with the human rights conditions.

If you have senators and any of them are Democrats, urge them to join Leahy. He is, I would imagine, facing a significant punishment from the White House for publicly shaming the Administration like this, and deserves and needs all the support we can give.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Grass, Astroturf, etc

Chris Hayes: How the Tea-Baggers are Like ACT-UP.

(Just one tweak: many people in ACT-UP didn't have AIDS, to be sure.)

BYOB in NY state

I never knew this. Apparently in New York state, BYOB at restaurants that are waiting for a liquor license is not legal.

In which the majors try to catch up to DN

A civilian Army employee at Fort Lewis, WA, was caught infiltrating a local anti-war organization. The story was in Sunday's NYT.

But Democracy Now had the story back on Tuesday of last week (the 28th), the same morning as the Olympian.

A few other media outlets have worked on the story, too.

The moral of the story is that DN is often fast and right, while the traditionals aren't as in tune to progressive issues as they should and could be.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

WaPo fronts Twitter in Sunday edition

Trends to watch out for... the Washington Post puts Twitter on A1 today. The story, "With Twitter's Arrival, NFL Loses Control of Image Game," is enjoyable, though hardly front-page news. It has nuggets like this:
On Friday, San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman punched into his Blackberry: "Coach said we cant tweet in the blding so i called my lawyer and found a lupo [loophole] in that contract...tweeting outside yeaaaaa."

At least it's better than their article about couples who fight over at what temperature to set the air conditioner.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Herbert on Sgt. James Crowley

As usual, Herbert has some very useful things to say. And he ends up sounding pretty radical -- "do whatever is necessary" --
We’re never going to have a serious national conversation about race. So that leaves it up to ordinary black Americans to rant and to rave, to demonstrate and to lobby, to march and confront and to sue and generally do whatever is necessary to stop a continuing and deeply racist criminal justice outrage.