Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Northwest 253

Glenn Greenwald, on the attempted bombing of Northwest 253, and on US bombings in Yemen:
For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent: motive. Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself up on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so? When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification -- as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable.
Read more in: Cause and effect in the "Terror War"

Times of London correspondent shows he can re-write Politico article

In "Democrats pose threat to President Obama’s cap-and-trade climate Bill," Giles Whittell, a Washington correspondent for the Times of London, showed that he can all but copy a U.S. publication's article and pass it right on to his readers across the pond.

Whittell's story neatly mirrors Politico's "Senate Democrats to W.H.: Drop cap and trade" by Lisa Lerer. The Times story mentions Politico in the 5th paragraph, but doesn't explain that they were the source for the whole premise of the article.

The twist to this whole matter is that Politico's story was nonsense in the first place -- see Joe Romm's detailed response.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Healthcare today and the 2007-2008 Democratic primary

In his column Friday, Krugman writes re healthcare:
Many people deserve credit for this moment. What really made it possible was the remarkable emergence of universal health care as a core principle during the Democratic primaries of 2007-2008 — an emergence that, in turn, owed a lot to progressive activism. (For what it’s worth, the reform that’s being passed is closer to Hillary Clinton’s plan than to President Obama’s). This made health reform a must-win for the next president. And it’s actually happening.
Yeah, let's not forget that. I mean, we could also point out the promises Obama broke on this and other issues. But let's not miss the history of what the grassroots did.

It was a darn good thing that the Democratic candidates were in a contested primary, battling it out for the party base's support. As Krugman wrote at the time, he considered Edwards' plan the best, followed closely by Clinton, with Obama somewhat further back. And he argued that the plans were only as good as they were because Edwards had set a high bar.

It makes me think back to something Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill wrote in March 2008:
There is no question that the Bush administration has proven impervious to public pressure. That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.

Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: We'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices--from MoveOn.org to the magazine we write for, The Nation--have gone this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.

This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway U. S. policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.
In the case of healthcare, had it simply been Clinton or Obama in control of the primary from the beginning with no challenge, and with no Edwards, we'd probably be in a much worse situation today than where we are.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ranking the Dems against their districts

Nate Silver has a great post comparing the voting records of House democrats against the political leanings of their districts. He gives a list of the 25 'most valuable' and the 25 'least valuable' Dems -- the ones who vote better than you'd expect given the electorate in their district and the ones who vote worse than you'd expect given their district.

The Blue Dogs are a mix, he finds -- some vote way more conservative than you'd expect, and ought to be challenged in primaries, while others represent districts that you'd certainly think would elect solid republicans.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Welcome, Glenn Reynolds readers

Never thought I'd be saying that. Interesting.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Two new pieces from Washington City Paper on snowball/gun fallout

City Paper editor Erik Wemple, who's served up many delicious critiques of the Post over the years, writes a comprehensive piece on the Post's coverage of snowball gate ("Washington Post Sits on Eyewitness Account"). He writes on how the Post won't link to City Paper or blogs -- or will only do so only in a disparaging way. And he talks about how they won't even name in an article the source that beat them. Writes Wemple:
"Posted on the Internet" would be acceptable if this were 1997.
Meanwhile, in "Yes, Virginia, Police Outside D.C. Pull Out Their Guns, Too" Dave McKenna talks about what police misconduct cases in the DC metro region are falling off the radar.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Will Post and Others Learn to be More Skeptical of Police Claims in Wake of MPD's Initial Denials That Officer Wielded Gun?

I'll start with how the WSJ put it:
“Don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight.” Indeed. But perhaps “Don’t pull a gun at a snowball fight when everyone there is tweeting it or taping it for their Facebook page.”
I'm afraid that sadly captures how it works. The question I'll explore here is, what happens when there is police misconduct but there is no one there to photograph it, and/or the participants aren't twitter fiends? How often is there justice? And my particular area of interest, how do the media try to report it?

I got into this whole thing because the Washington Post's coverage was just being stupid ("WashPost Bit DC Police Claims That Plain-Clothes Officer Never Brandished Gun at Snowfight -- Despite Photos And Admission to Contrary"). In this weekend's case, DC police initially said the plainclothes and/or off-duty officer never held his gun. And the Washington Post, the most dominant media outlet here, reported it that way. Eventually the Post came around.

So even in a case where there's photo, video, and lots of twitter-tastic participants, it was still a struggle to get the media to get the story right.

Does the Post care that MPD told it a story that wasn't true? Will this affect how the Post sees allegations from MPD in the future when there arern't cameras there?

I read stories all the time about various kinds of interactions between police and civilians. And I have to wonder, are the basic facts even being reported correctly? When reporters have few sources on an incident, should they really give dominant weight to a police department that has said untrue things time and again? Or maybe they should add "allege" or "claim" or other less-certain words before anything and everything the MPD tells them. No?

This isn't really supposed to be a post about the MPD or the Post, because really this is a question more generally about how the media and the public should or shouldn't accept police allegations. The point is, media shouldn't always assume the police are telling the truth just because no one has the video to show otherwise.

The police misconduct stories in the past few years that have gone national have mostly, but not all, been ones caught on video. Here are a few of the big ones that pop to mind:
  • Duanna Johnson, Memphis. Transgender woman beaten by police officers in a station. On camera. Got some national attention, but not that much.
  • Oscar Grant, Oakland. Shot by BART police officer. Recorded on multiple cellphone cameras. Got extensive national attention, especially following demonstrations in subsequent days.
  • Sean Bell, NYC. Not on video, but went national -- perhaps given historical scrutiny of NYPD.
  • Andrew Meyer (don't tase me bro) -- multiple videos, and overwhelming national attention. The attention wasn't great, though; much of it was just saying that this was a funny story, not that the officers had done wrong. (it turned out the officers were acting within their policy guidelines -- a reminder of the need for stricter guidelines).
  • LA immigrant rally, may day 2007 -- Lots of the police attack was caught on video, and it did get some national attention. Nothing like Meyer or Grant, I don't think.
  • Danziger Bridge, New Orleans -- shooting of unarmed civilians after Katrina. No video of shooting itself. Got a lot of attention at the time and some follow-up over the years, I believe.
It's hard for a story to gain traction and challenge the police storyline when there isn't videotape. It's been done (i.e. Bob Herbert's extensive series on an NYPD attack on a group of young adults walking to a funeral), but not as often. Even if the media believe a story that doesn't have a video, it's hard for the story to catch on without a video that adds that extra something.

And what we're left with is not enough police accountability (of course, there are many other reasons that police accountability is lacking).

I'll end on this: allegations of police misconduct get a lot more attention if there is video of the incident, and/or if those involved include the Twitter fiends, who will promote their story, doing an end-run around media reports that get it wrong.

That you need a videocamera and/or a lot of Twitter followers leaves most of our country effectively defenseless against police misconduct in the war of the story, and often in seeking justice. A lot of people right in our own city just won't be given the same credence as an un-confirmed tweeter in Tehran will, sadly. That ought to change.

Update: Thanks to City Paper for the link.

DC Police Chief Lanier Slams Officer; MPD Dramatically Changes Tune In Face of 3rd Day of Media

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has issued a statement saying in no uncertain terms that Detective Michael Baylor's actions at the snowball fight were inappropriate:
Let me be very clear in stating that I believe the actions of the officer were totally inappropriate! In no way, should he have handled the situation in this manner. We have taken swift action by placing him on non-contact status until all the facts are gathered and discipline is handed down.
See AP, WashPost, and WashPost has posted Lanier's statement itself. Lanier's statement was first posted on the 3rd district listserve, shortly after 11am this morning. Even Fenty is quoted in the stories this afternoon.

MPD would have done itself good PR-wise if it had figured out this plan a day earlier. Instead, it has let the story go on a day further.


City Paper Identifies Detective at Snowball Fight

City Paper's Jason Cherkis has just confirmed from two MPD officials the name of the plainclothes/or/off-duty officer who held his gun: Detective Mike Baylor.

Previously, multiple comments on news sites and blogs had suggested the officer was an Elmer Baylor, and DCist used that name once. Not correct, apparently.

Update: In Tuesday's Post, Metro columnist Petula Dvorak reports that the wrong guy, sure enough, was soon targeted:
"This has been awful for me. I've been getting calls all day. Mean calls. And my family has been getting them, too," said Detective Elmer "Buddy" Baylor, who works in the bank robbery division and was not at the snowball scene that day, though he has been harassed by callers who are yelling at the wrong Baylor.

Do we Know Detective Baylor's First Name? Unclear.

Update: We know the officers name now. See subsequent post.

Several comments on articles, blog posts, and videos have identified a first name for Detective Baylor. I'm having trouble finding the original source.

Beyond comments, DCist's Josh Novikoff mentioned the name off-hand in a post Sunday afternoon. Where did he get it?

I'm not sure the name necessarily matters that much at this point. I don't know the complexities of DC (or other cities) policies on releasing the name of someone under investigation. Maybe there are good arguments that at this stage in an investigation of this level of wrongdoing, that the name should not be released. I don't know.

But I'm curious about the name, and if the one floating around is correct or not, and where it originally came from.

WaPo Goes A1 with Gun Story -- And An Editor Boasts of the Coverage

The Washington Post went front-page Monday with a story on the plainclothes officer with a gun: "Snowball fight 'fun and games' until gun appears" by Matt Zapotosky.

The story is pretty good, and the Post deserves credit here for righting many of its earlier wrongs.

The Post story gets from MPD two bits of information that were not in MPD's Sunday press release. First, that the off duty or plainclothes officer has been placed on desk duty. And second, the MPD moves beyond its "[we're not certain if he pulled a gun]" story to basically admitting that he did, but saying the question that needs to be investigated is what the exact circumstances were. And that's fair, I think. From the article:
If the final investigation shows the officer pulled his weapon after being pelted with snowballs, D.C. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, head of the investigative services bureau, said that "would not be a situation in which a member [of the force] would be justified."

"We have to see what the entire circumstance was," Newsham said Sunday. "But just a snowball fight, not in my mind. That doesn't seem a situation where we would pull out a service weapon."
Now here comes the twist on it all. The Post's website has a 'Story Lab' piece on this, posted 8:34 Monday morning (thanks to Miscelena, in comments to my previous, pointing this out). Long-time Postie Marc Fisher, who became Enterprise Editor earlier this year, writes the Story Lab piece, saying how great Monday's article is, and how it relied on so much true reporting (in contrast to those blogs or whatever! One of the pieces Fisher links to is Jason Cherkis' City Paper report from Saturday afternoon -- which interviewed two witnesses from the scene, in addition to the various photos, videos and links).

Fisher boasts: "..we learn that the snowball fight wasn't quite as spontaneous as it had first appeared, but rather was another little triumph of social media organizing." Huh? Yes, Monday's story does include an interview with Yousef Ali, who organized it all, who told the Post that he spent 11 hours publicizing it. Props to the Post for reporting that nugget. But did anyone who was paying the least bit of attention actually think the snowball fight was 'spontaneous' at all?

Then Fisher goes over the edge:
There are still a few missing pieces--we need to know at some point exactly who this detective is and what his record is and what was in his head as he scared the bejesus out of a big crowd of the people he's supposed to be protecting. But as a first draft of what happened, this is a story that adds value through reporting, and that's what it's all about.
First draft? Are you trying to insult our intelligence? The whole point is that the Post's earlier drafts basically got the story wrong, falling for MPD's assertions that the plainclothes officer didn't hold his gun, and later that they weren't sure if the officer had held his gun.

Update: Story was covered on this morning's Today Show (h/t @dan_hayes)


CNN Now Not Quite Sure Plainclothes Officer Drew His Gun -- Despite Photos

At 8:58pm Sunday evening, CNN.com posted "Police check whether officer drew gun during snowball fight" -- a story where CNN just wasn't sure if the plainclothes officer drew his gun. Here's how it opens:
Washington police were investigating on Sunday whether an off-duty officer drew his gun in the midst of a snowball fight involving a couple hundred people.

The Metropolitan Police Department said video from a local media outlet at the scene Saturday did not show the officer with his weapon drawn. However, authorities have since received "additional images and statements that would seem to support the allegation that the off-duty member did pull a gun," a police statement said.
"Would seem to support the allegation?" Oy.

The CNN story comes more than 29 hours after the images of the detective holding his gun -- and video of him saying he had drawn his gun -- were posted by Washington City Paper. For CNN, it seems, reality isn't reality until the MPD says exactly what reality is.

Oddly enough, the article includes a link to an accompanying CNN video report -- which aired on "CNN Newsroom" during the 10pm hour Saturday evening -- where WJLA's John Gonzalez reported for them in no uncertain terms that the plainclothes officer had drawn his gun ("he jumped out of his truck, with his gun drawn").

By Sunday morning, things got muddled a bit at CNN. From the 6am hour, transcript via Nexis:

MARCIANO: Here's how it went down: Word of the snowball battle spread online. So 200 people gathered. Some carried antiwar signs and were dressed in black with masks, spreading a bit of a message there.

But things took a turn when snowballs starting hitting cars. One hit an SUV with a plainclothes detective inside who reportedly got out of the car and the gun was in his jacket and some of the people saw that. So the crowd -- well, they -- they -- they got a little bit worried.

NGUYEN: Yes, but see, they didn't realize who he was because the police report says there was an armed man at the scene, and that's what that officer was responding to.

Well, a uniformed officer showed up with his gun drawn. But the whole thing was resolved without any shots fired. And despite the panic, police say they did respond in the right way. They didn't arrest anyone.

From a PR standpoint, I have to wonder about MPD's strategy here. Their press release Sunday (still not on their website; available via City Paper) really tries to downplay any wrongdoing. And by doing that, they might be drawing out the story further, rather than putting it to rest by saying clearly that the detective did wrong.

And they're trying to use a straw man: "at this time there is no evidence that they pointed any weapons in the direction of the crowd or at any individuals." Well, but that's not what anyone's saying. But nice try.

More media outlets got on the story by Sunday night (Daily News, WAMU).

Previously: "WashPost Relents on Plainclothes Officer Holding Gun. Turns Out a Post Staffer Had Seen it With Own Eyes." and "WashPost Bit DC Police Claims That Plain-Clothes Officer Never Brandished Gun at Snowfight -- Despite Photos And Admission to Contrary"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowball Fight in Times Square last night. (no guns drawn)

See this photo.

WashPost Relents on Plainclothes Officer Holding Gun. Turns Out a Post Staffer Had Seen it With Own Eyes.

As I noted yesterday, the WashPost bit DC police claims that the plainclothes officer at the snowball fight never drew his gun -- despite photos published a couple hours earlier to the contrary. And when the Post updated its story last night, they still weren't ready to call a spade a spade.

Today, at 10:50am, Matt Zopotsky posted a new story that rights many of the wrongs. Its headline is "Snowball fight takes dangerous turn when police officer draws gun." It includes this:
Videos and photos show a D.C. police detective unholstering his gun (and admitting to it) during a confrontation with a group of snowball fighters. The video is making the rounds on the Internet and national TV stations. The detective, who authorities have not identified, on one such video says: "Yes I did," apparently referring to the fact that he drew his gun, "because I got hit with snowballs."

D.C. police have said they are investigating the incident. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, who leads the department's investigative services bureau, has said the detective in question "was armed but never pulls his weapon." Photos and videos posted online appear to contradict that, though none show the detective pointing his gun at anyone.
This language basically meets what I said was necessary:
  • saying that the photos showed a gun
  • that the video showed him saying "yes I did"
  • reporting that the police had claimed he did not hold his gun
  • including links to the photos and video
The story notes that a Post editorial aide, Stephen Lowman, was there at the scene, and saw the plainclothes officer hold the gun.

And that's troubling. Someone from the Post was there (whether on assignment or there for fun, who knows), and yet they still put up a story hours later buying the police claims that their own employee saw were not true? And they didn't update the story until 10:20 last night, and even then wouldn't outright say he had held his gun.

As for today's print edition, it doesn't have a dedicated article on the incident; just a paragraph in the main snowstorm story (the Post's coverage of the storm was relatively light: a main story, a story on shopping, and a brief item on Senators traveling through the storm to get to the capitol).

The Post used at least two different versions of language in different editions of the print story. I'm looking at an edition I picked up at a store in DC today, edition "MD DC VA S V1".

The main story in this V1 edition, which noted that "it was still snowing in the District at 9 p.m." (final version, which is online currently, says "at 10 p.m."), says this about the snowball fight:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a plainclothes police officer who briefly unholstered his gun. Police were investigating.
"Apparently" isn't the weakest word, but still.

The version of the main story in the 'final edition' (via Factiva), is a touch different:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a police officer in street clothes who briefly unholstered his gun, based on images that were posted online. Police said they were investigating.
What we're left with is a mess. A Post staffer was at the incident, we learn today, yet they still didn't use the information he saw with his eyes until mid-morning today. And the Post was slow on a story that was getting an awful lot of attention on the Twittertubes. I want to be clear about this part: it's not that the Post or other traditional media should use Twitter/citizen information as fact, or even do a story primarily based on "reports on Twitter suggest..", since those reports could turn out to be incorrect.

But the Post and other traditional media should use the Twitter reports as a resource -- as a guide to possible breaking stories, and possible eyewtiness sources. After the USAirways crash, national tv producers and others quickly bombarded the witnesses Tweeting from the scene with interview requests -- good for them. In this case, the Post went beyond ignoring the tweeters to ignoring their competitor, the City Paper, which had published the images. Boggles the mind.

Update: Thanks City Paper for the link! (links!).

Photos from the Snowpocalypse

These are photos I took Saturday afternoon/evening.

Folks on the Red Line.

This guy was headed toward Hipster hill. Don't know if he made it up.

14th Street

W Street

Meridian Hill Park

Euclid Street

18th Street in Adams Morgan

#CirculatorFail. I had never before realize that Calvert Street goes up much of a hill.

It does, and it was a shitshow.

Guy in Tenleytown.

Housemate made minestrone, accompanied by homemade olive bread from the other day! yum yum yum. The end.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WashPost Bit DC Police Claims That Plain-Clothes Officer Never Brandished Gun at Snowfight -- Despite Photos And Admission to Contrary

At 3:46pm today, City Paper published photos of an incident that's getting attention in DC: a plain clothes (and/or off duty) police officer drew his gun at a snowfight, and only then identified himself as a police officer, according to witnesses. The officer, a Detective Baylor (sp?) was driving a red hummer and people at the snowball fight at 14th and U this afternoon had thrown snowballs at him.

The City Paper report included photos by witness Matthew Bradley, and also included a YouTube clip in which the detective says that "yes I did" wield his gun.

Yet despite all of this, when the Washington Post got its initial story up nearly two hours later (5:40pm), it completely bit DC Police's story: that the Detective had never wielded his gun. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham told the Post's Matt Zapotsky: “He was armed but never pulls his weapon.”

Had the Post really not glanced at what its faster competitor was reporting? Was it not following the story on Twitter, where it would have at least heard of eyewitness report that the Detective brandished a gun, allegations it could have followed up on with, you know, reporting?

Only at 10:20pm would the Post update its story (and add the byline of Martin Weil), with this:
UPDATE (10.20 p.m.)The plainclothes D.C. police detective may have unholstered his pistol during the confrontation with participants in the huge snowball fight, based on video and photos posted on the Internet.
The photos of the gun, and the video of the detective saying he had wielded it, apparently only shifted the Post's position so much ("may have unholstered").

Look, I understand if the Post wanted to be careful or something, and report it as, say, "multiple photos appeared to show the officer holding a gun, and a video shows the man -- who identifies himself at Detective Baylor -- saying he indeed held his gun." Instead, the Post went with the "may have unholstered" language, which is rather misleading.

The Post update also did not include a link to the photos or videos that would be useful to readers. And it's not like they don't post links to thing; the initial report, for examples, included a link to a YouTube video of the snowball fight itself. But this update would give no links.

It will be interesting to see what the Post runs in Sunday's print edition. Will it note how its own initial story got it wrong? Will it note that the DC police, whether by accident or on purpose, had told them something that turned out to be untrue?

Update: The Post added this to the story at 10:57pm:
UPDATE (10:57 p.m.) This YouTube video appears to show a confrontation with the detective. Warning: Contains strong language.
The link is to the video where the detective admits that he wielded his gun. And that's the importance of the video, an importance this 10:57pm update doesn't even mention.

Good point

@cheeky_geeky says: Currently, #DCsnowpocalypse is keeping Washingtonians indoors. Predict surge of babies born on Sept 20, 2010. #snOMG

Scenes from the Snowpocalypse

Was that lovely little lump my newspaper?? No, it turned out.

Important news, not.

Debate on the Twittertubes over who came up with #snowpocalypse.

Friday, December 18, 2009


As of 5:45pm Friday, these are the snow forecasts for DC:

WashPost: 10-18" +
WJLA - ABC: 14-20"
WUSA - CBS: 15-25"
NWS: 1-2 feet

WashPost: 8-16" + snow for DC

I mean, this is a city where the snowstorms always disappoint, but the forecasters are saying they're feeling pretty confident about this now.

The Post's latest forecasts are always here.

They're snowfall map as of 11:45am Friday:

And it will be relatively cold into next week, so the snow won't go away. And this is in a city where people freak out when there's three inches.

Going to buy a sled now. Hot chocolate is stocked.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The increase of wage theft

Good article from AP today: "As wage theft rises, states and cities crack down."
Across the nation, the long-simmering problem of employers who don't pay their workers appears to be getting worse, especially for immigrant laborers.

In the absence of aggressive federal action, some states and local governments have begun to tackle the issue on their own. They say employers who don't pay overtime or minimum wage are unlikely to pay into state workers' compensation or unemployment insurance funds — bilking taxpayers even as they're cheating workers.
Just going to court isn't usually easy.
Until recently, such lawsuits have been the main way for workers to fight back. But lawyers often won't take the cases since they take months to resolve, the payoff is low and collection is difficult.
And, of course, not that many people have that option if even they could get a lawyer.

Damn. That must take a lot of planning.

Greenpeace, at the US Chamber of Commerce, this morning:

Still photos here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PLO, not PLO

In Wednesday's print edition, a Washington Post article begins:
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- The Palestinian Liberation Organization's ruling Central Council gathered here this week to extend the soon-to-expire term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a session that promised to say as much about the drift and division in Palestinian politics as about the 74-year-old leader's standing.
That's the Palestine Liberation Organization, of course. The error has been corrected in the online version.

Pershing Park Mass Arrests Got Media Yawn at the Time

DC agreed to pay $8.25 million this week to hundreds of individuals wrongfully arrested at Pershing Park in 2002. That's how badly they messed up -- how eager they were to settle.

But at the time, did many reporters get that rounding up people standing in a park and arresting them en masse is not how it's supposed to work? No.

Here's FAIR's useful article from the time checking out the coverage. For the most part, the mass arrest of people standing in a park just wasn't a big issue.

The coverage in the Post was sad at first. The initial article, a Style-section front super-snark by David Montgomery ("Taken for A Ride; Police Turn the Bike Strike Into a Tour de Force") missed that the police had done something, you know, illegal. In a follow-up article three days later on the front of the Metro section ("Did DC Police Go too Far?"), the Post finally asked some good questions. The Post has covered the case some over the years, but not like the City Paper's close coverage. The Post article today is on the back of the Metro section.

The coverage in the NYT was light. The protests were covered via a section in the article on the meetings; that something was wrong about the 649 reported arrests was not apparent. The FAIR article has much more from the time.

So will this happen again? Will the media 'get' it next time there is police misconduct at a demonstration? Or are false arrests of demonstrators only news if they happen in Tehran?

The criminalization of dissent became very normalized here in this decade. 9/11 was a big part of it, but I don't think that's everything.

The Secret Service under Bush would kick people out of public events if they held signs saying the wrong thing. Michael Bloomberg, who is progressive on many issues, also helped mainstream an anti-free-speech position.

Next time there is police misconduct at a demonstration, think about how it would be covered by the American press if there were the same facts in Moscow. It's not too much to ask.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another huge settlement for DC in a mass arrest case -- Pershing Park

On 9/27/02, the day before a major IMF/World Bank demonstration in Washington, police arrested about 400 people at a smaller demonstration in Pershing Park, downtown. Many were hogtied; some were held as long as 24 hours. The incident received relatively little media attention at the time.

Since then, a few individual plaintiffs have won settlements from the city. Now, the class action case has come through. Late Monday, the city agreed to an $8.2 million settlement (not quite as big as the $13.7 mil record settlement the other week in the A16 arrests case). The payouts in this case, like that one, will be about $18,000 each.

City Paper has the rundown. And here's the Post's story up late this afternoon. And here's the City Paper's exhaustive coverage of the Pershing Park case over the years.

Update: I should mention, they were hogtied to prevent fornication, the police officials (including Cathy Lanier, now the chief) had argued. Obvi!

Obama Administration's plan on torture

I really highly recommend Dahlia Lithwick's piece from yesterday on what the Obama Administration is up to these days regarding torture.

"What Public Option Supporters Won"

It's hard to know, but I think most of what Jonathan Cohn writes here is probably true.
The campaign for the public option pushed the entire debate to the left--and, to use a military metaphor, it diverted enemy fire away from the rest of the bill. If Lieberman and his allies didn't have the public option to attack, they would have tried to gut the subsidies, the exchanges, or some other key element. They would have hacked away at the bill, until it left more people uninsured and more people under-insured. The public option is the reason that didn't happen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes the WaPo letter section is just embarassing

Here was one recent example:
A double standard for Tiger

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Regarding the Nov. 29 Sports article "Police are turned away a second time by Woods":

If ever a questionable incident prompts the police to want to talk to me, I look forward to asking them to come back another time. I certainly hope that my being neither rich, nor famous, nor idolized will not in any way bear on whether they respect my wishes.

Keith R. Tidman, Bethesda


At least they printed a letter a few days later setting it straight. Still. It's kind of a joke. They're supposed to, like, catch the ones that are based on factually false premises so our time isn't wasted. And so there is more space for letters on reality.

Video: scenes from Copenhagen

See here.

Hmm, real drums are louder than buckets.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama and the drones

Newsweek has a short exclusive in this weekend's magazine about drone strikes in Pakistan -- saying it is Obama who is against more of them. They report:
One person standing in the way of expanded missile strikes: President Obama. Five administration officials tell NEWSWEEK that the president has sided with political and diplomatic advisers who argue that widening the scope of the drone attacks would be risky and unwise. Obama is concerned that firing missiles into urban areas like Quetta, where intelligence reports suggest that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-level militants have sometimes taken shelter, would greatly increase the risk of civilian casualties.
Now, who knows what's really true. This is a story based on anonymous sources, and it may or may not reflect any reality. That said, here are a couple of ways of thinking of it.

The first is that there are people within the government somewhere who want to expand the drone attacks, and are here taking their case to the press, taking on the President. It's possible.

Another possibility, though, is that this is exactly the story the White House wanted. They are continuing drone attacks, and taking considerable criticism from the left and much of the world for it. And with this story, they come across as the cautious administration, the people who want to avoid civilian casualties -- even though civilian casualties are exactly what they're continuing. For example, the Huffington Post thinks the story is news.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Someone made a boo-boo.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: CNN Breaking News
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 2009 15:05:23 -0500
From: CNN Breaking News
To: textbreakingnews@EMA3LSV06.TURNER.COM

-- President Barack Obama has received the Nobel Peace Prize.


Obama and the straw man

George W. Bush was a pretty heavy user of the straw man -- making up arguments that supposedly his critics made (but didn't really), and then knocking them down. It got to the point that even the media spoke up (i.e. AP). The sentences usually began "some say..."

Obama, unfortunately, does some of the same. I don't think it's nearly as extreme, but it's become regular. It's starting to get some push-back; Jon Stewart noted it at one point recently.

And here was Obama in his Nobel Prize speech:

“For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”

Negotiating with Al Qaeda to lay down their arms? Huh? Presmably he doesn't actually think that that's the only other option to a bigger war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In any case, he is giving his full underhanded attack on all of us who understand the many policy options here that he has chosen against -- trying to pretend those options don't even exist.

Oh dear. Another NYT editorial about the weather


Thursday, December 10, 2009

About the new Facebook privacy settings and tools

Honestly I haven't been following this much. But the privacy experts are generally not happy with what Facebook is doing this week with this new set up. Here's an article from TechCrunch.

Lobo calls for an amnesty in Honduras

Porfirio Lobo, who won the coup elections in Honduras, said Tuesday he wants a political amnesty for the entire coup government.

Not clear from the articles if this is just for the overthrowing-the-government related issues or if he means this to apply to all crimes under Honduran law (murder, etc).

On WaPo printing Palin again on climate change

You know it's bad when even Marc Ambinder got upset. The Post printed its second op-ed from Sarah Palin about climate change on Wednesday -- a fix-up of something she posted on Facebook last Thursday.

The points about what Palin writes have been thoroughly examined and don't need to be rehashed (see also Gawker's lovely piece from the other month on odds-and-ends bullshit from the Post op-ed page).

I just wanted to add something about the Post and its business model. The Post, like most newspapers in the country, is in tough times. Part of the issue is that it is now competing with various online sources that in some cases can be more 'edgy' and/or tabloidy.

This helps drive the Post to do things like print Wednesday's op-ed. Sure, they get a few extra clicks, and a few dollars. But that's not even a good business decision.

Newspapers are suffering mainly because they make less advertising revenue from online readers than from the declining paper readers. That there are new online information venues with more 'edgy' content is a problem for the newspapers, too, but a tiny one in comparison.

The NYT helps explain what I mean. Yes, the Times isn't doing well, as its subscriptions continue to go down. But its readership is bigger than ever (that's including online, of course). And the Times has done that without, for the most part, going overly tabloidy. People go to nytimes.com in huge numbers because the content is mostly pretty darn useful -- because most of it is doing what they're good at.

If the Times or the Post tried to out-Gawker Gawker, or out-Politico Politico, they wouldn't succeed, so trying is a bad idea.

I don't know how any of these newspapers will turn out in a few years. But what they have are great assets: devoted readers expecting some quality. The question for them is how to get $ out of these people.

Going tabloid doesn't do much if anything for them. It's short term gain (maybe) for long term loss.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NYT op-ed page plays catch up

Sixteen days ago, I noted new research, reported in the Oregonian, suggesting that buying frozen salmon is almost always more ecological than buying fresh salmon. Now, today, the NYT op-ed page gets to the story.

"All it is is a hip hop Chanukah song written by the senior senator from Utah"

Ok, not hip hop exactly, but here it is. A Chanukah song written by Orrin Hatch, courtesy of Tablet. Say what you will.

A twist in the Honduran election: new turnout number

An important part of the news stories about the elections in Honduras a week and a half ago was that the turnout was high -- 62%, according to the coup government. This helped show, in theory, that the elections were pretty free and fair and that folks were able to and wanted to participate.

A senior U.S. administration official noted the "significant turnout" in response to a question from a reporter. And the 'winner' of the election himself cited the high turnout in his speech, saying that the voters who voted for other candidates helped legitimize his victory.

Then on Friday came word that the officials in Honduras were admitting the number was much lower -- 49 percent.

Jesse Freeston has a 12-minute video report
for Real News Network that covers all of this.

If the number indeed holds at 49, it tells an awfully different story than what we heard.

The Miami Herald editorial, for example, had trumpeted:

The turnout of more than 60 percent signals that most Hondurans were unwilling to heed the call of ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who had called for a boycott of the process to strengthen his claim that the elections were not legitimate because he was improperly removed from power back in June.

In fact, the elections easily passed the most important test of all in any democracy by attracting popular support.

I'm willing to give some time for this to all be sorted out; the number may yet be higher than 49, though any higher number now should be given close skepticism. If such a number appears to hold, all of the coup apologists in the media and the U.S. and other governments will have some thinking to do about whether they stand by their assessments of the robustness of the turnout, and its implications for the legitimacy of the election.

Monday, December 07, 2009

At 79, Omara Portuondo on tour -- and headed to U.S.

Omara Portuondo, who's whose voice you may know from the Buena Vista Social Club album (i.e. track 7), is on tour again, and will be making five stops in the United States in February/March. The shows are in DC, Cambridge, NYC, Miami, and outside Philly.

Sadly, Portuondo is one of the last living stars of the BVSC group: Compay Segundo and Ruben Gonzalez died in 2003, and Ibrahim Ferrer in 2005.

I saw Portuondo twice, in 2000 or maybe 1999 and then in 2001.

Cuban musicians continued to tour in the United States for the first years of the Bush Administration; Afro-Cuban All Stars and Cubanismo both toured as late as 2003. Then at some point the visits were completely blocked.

The policy changed under the Obama Administration, as Reuters outlined last week. Afro-Cuban All Stars toured earlier this year and Portuondo helped host the Latin Grammys. Reuters says Los Van Van is planning a 70-stop U.S. tour next year. It's not completely clear how many Cuban musicians will be given visas.

Anyway, yours truly will not be missing Portuondo's show in DC.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Jared Diamond's troubling op-ed

Jared Diamond's piece in Sunday's NYT was a real mixed bag. Ultimately he ends up in some of the right places, supporting government action on climate change and other environmental problems (shouldn't be too much to ask). And he rightly notes that "in the long run (and often in the short run as well) it is much more expensive and difficult to try to fix problems, environmental or otherwise, than to avoid them at the outset."

But Diamond takes some awful turns on his route to these points, praising businesses he says are doing great things. He says, in most of the cases, that they are taking actions that are simply in their own good (i.e. investing in improving efficiency), yet he gets quite excited about it -- as if we should praise them for doing so.

His examples are Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron. He reports:
Wal-Mart stores also have machines called bailers that recycle plastics that once would have been discarded.
Wow. Getting people to buy plastic items that they would not have bought before, and then marketing it as an environmental victory when you use a basic technology to help in the recycling of some other plastic -- that's guts.

And then there's this:
One last Wal-Mart example shows how a company can save money in the long run by buying from sustainably managed sources. Because most wild fisheries are managed unsustainably, prices for Chilean sea bass and Atlantic tuna have been soaring. To my pleasant astonishment, in 2006 Wal-Mart decided to switch, within five years, all its purchases of wild-caught seafood to fisheries certified as sustainable.
This sounded like quite some spin, so I checked the Greenpeace report from earlier this year on grocery stores' fish policies (big PDF). Walmart was rated 7th out of 20 chains. Greenpeace reports: (page 13)
Wal-Mart’s recent creation of a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy is a positive step, but its reliance on certification systems which certify species like Chilean sea bass and hoki is problematic. Wal-Mart could significantly improve its overall score by discontinuing these species, regardless of certification.
Referring to a number of different sustainable-seafood monitoring programs, Greenpeace reports:
At the time this report went to press, less than half of the seafood sold by Wal-Mart was covered under the aforementioned policies.
That more of it will be in 2011 is great, but really, five years for implementation? Finally, Greenpeace notes:
Wal-Mart has recently discontinued its sales of orange roughy, swordfish, and shark, although some residual inventory may still exist in the supply chain. Recent Greenpeace surveys found that Wal-Mart still sells 13 of 22 red list species: Alaskan pollock, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sea scallops, bigeye tuna, Chilean sea bass, grouper, hoki, ocean quahog, red snapper, South Atlantic albacore tuna, tropical shrimp and yellowfin tuna.
Diamond goes on to tell us of how Coca Cola is doing good things in its water policy and Chevron is doing good things in its environmental policy. It reads a bit like a press release.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Troop withdrawl in 2011? Not exactly.

While Obama said the plan was to begin withdrawing troops in 2011, it's become clear this week that the plan is not so simple. In fact, nothing is definitive.

As Milbank nicely wrote up yesterday, when Gates, Mullen, and Clinton were questioned by Senate Armed Services Cmte on Wednesday, their responses made clear that there's really little promise at all -- that the plan is just a goal, and depends on circumstances.

And now comes word from the good folks at McClatchy that it's even worse:
The Obama administration is giving different explanations of its July 2011 deadline for the start of an Afghanistan troop withdrawal, assuring foreign officials that it applies only to the 30,000 to 35,000 additional U.S. troops that President Barack Obama is sending next year, but suggesting to Congress that it covers all U.S. forces.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What those climate change polls mean

There was a second poll recently, this time from WashPost/ABC, on how fewer Americans "believe" in climate change. (Note: 72% think climate change is happening, while 76% say at least some action needs to be taken. Go figure).

The environmentalists are losing the message war and industry is winning! Or something.

But David Roberts has a good piece about how that misses the point, and we should look at these poll results a bit differently.
If I can’t convince a guy standing in a downpour that it’s raining, seems to me the dumbass in the rain is the story, not my poor messaging.


Did Jon Stewart just say something about 'imperialism' in his interview with Tom Friedman, or was I dreaming that?

Update: Dreaming, it seems. I heard the wrong ism. It was actually paternalism. Here's the episode.