Professional Courtesy And The Press

This internal Washington Post chat transcript raised a few eyebrows last week, but one thing struck me and didn’t seem to get brought forward, so I thought I would point it out…

Jonathan Yardley: The comment of mine two paragraphs above has been leaked, presumably by someone in the newsroom, to the New York Times. Katharine Seelye called me an hour ago pressing for further comment. I declined, stressing that this is a confidential internal critique written solely for the news staff of TWP and refusing to authorize her to quote from it. She called back half an hour later to say that her editor had told her to go ahead and quote from the comment anyway. I told her I expected her to make plain that this is a confidential internal document and that she is quoting from it over the objections of the person who wrote it. She said she would. We’ll see.

I hardly see any point in having critiques and comments if they are to be publicized outside the paper. How can we write candidly when candor merely invites violations of confidentiality? Many readers say they distrust us. Well, now I find myself wondering if we can trust each other.

This is just so amusing I almost don’t know what to say.I guess he expected professional courtesy…can you imagine what the press would be saying if someone in the White House or Congress were to make the same claim?

Oh, wait – they have, in this interview with Leonard Downie, executive editor of the Washington Post:

Some have charged that the press has gone too far in ferreting out information, but Downie comments: “If you take careful surveys of this sentiment, you find that people are upset for one of two reasons: it [the press] has held up in a bad light someone or something they care about, or the investigative stories get too far into ordinary people’s privacy, and readers feel personally invaded. But if you ask the same people who are offended by these stories if they want more investigative reporting, they always say they do.”

Downie is aware of the responsibilities that go along with investigative reporting. “You’re always balancing the public’s right to know with the right of privacy,” he says.

I don’t think that he’s talking about “critiques and comments.”

Dirigisme and Rioting

So why were they rioting in France? I discount the jihadi theory; I tend to think that bored, angsty kids tend to take up the banners of romantic nihilists pretty consistently; those old Huey Newton posters looked kinda cool in French dorm rooms as well.

The French are politically progressive, officially antiracist, and yet somehow a sullen underclass has grown in the suburbs. How did that happen?

Well, let me tell you a personal story that may cast some light on the subject.
After grad school my French then-girlfriend and later first wife and I went and spent some time in France. I was finishing my master’s thesis, and we both had vague notions of coming and living in France. Now she was a smart cookie (not too smart, given that she married me…) who had a degree in Aerospace engineering from ENSAE in Toulouse, and a Master’s in Math from Berkeley. Her dad was a senior executive at a huge French corporation. So she was talented and connected.

And she decided to leave France because she didn’t think she could get a good job.

And as for me getting a good job in France…except with a multinational or a US Corporation, forget it. I wasn’t a member of the ‘club’ – hadn’t gone to the right French schools, wasn’t from a good family (although my in-law family could and would have helped).

The reality is – that like all bureaucratically driven societies (with both public and private bureaucracies) who you know is the be-all and end-all of access and ultimately a good predictor of success.

Take a look at this story in the BBC about the only Arab to head a French public company, Yazid Sabeg.

Yazid Sabeg is a rarity among France’s business elite. He is North African. And those two facts, he believes, are not unconnected.

“A lot of people don’t like my face,” says the 55-year-old industrialist.

Whether or not corporate France is “viscerally racist”, as Mr Sabeg contends, it certainly lacks diversity.

The chief executive of CS, a big communications group, he is the only person of North African origin to head a leading French company.

His father, an Algerian worker, came to France in 1952. Young Yazid studied hard and worked as a civil servant before setting up his own finance company.

In the early 1990s Mr Sabeg took over CS, a contractor in the sensitive field of secure communications for defense and aerospace.

The takeover met with fierce resistance. “The establishment, notably the military establishment, did not like it,” he recalls.

In 1991 intelligence services wrote a scathing report about Mr Sabeg, based on false rumours that he was financing Algerian militants.

Again, who you know. For the smallest business, you need permits, leases, financing – and the reality is that access to those is extremely limited for the African and Arab residents of the cite.

One advantage of the American model is our openness; it matters who you know, but a whole lot less than anywhere else.

That’s a feature, not a bug.

No, In Fact, Our **** Doesn’t Stink.

I’m a GooGoo (Good Government) fan from way back. As someone who believes deeply that government has always had powerful role to play in shaping society, I’m obviously forced to confront the times when that role is abused.

I’ve believed for a while that the direct financial ties between GOP lawmakers and regulators and the laws and rules they write would be fertile ground for a Democratic party that could clean up its own act.

Sadly, it looks like that’s not going to happen.

On the margins, we’re seeing some scandal-slinging by the Democrats, but the issues never rise to the level they should because the slingers are so nakedly partisan that the charges can readily be dismissed.

Here’s a case in point:

Over at the Huffington Report today, one of the lead stories is headlined:

DeLay, Hastert, 31 Other Politicians Paid-Off By Indicted Lobbyist Abramoff To Help Block His Clients’ Rival Casino…

Now in case you’re not following things closely, Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert are Republican Congressmembers from Texas and Illinois.

Let’s click through to the AP story, which opens with the following:

Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

and goes on to point out what Hastert did:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, held a fundraiser at Abramoff’s Signatures restaurant in Washington on June 3, 2003, that collected at least $21,500 for his Keep Our Majority political action committee from the lobbyist’s firm and tribal clients.

Seven days later, Hastert wrote Norton urging her to reject the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians’ request for a new casino. Hastert’s three top House deputies also signed the letter.

followed closely with what Democratic Senator Harry Reid did:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by Sen. John Ensign (news, bio, voting record), R-Nev. The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid’s tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid’s group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004.

The AP headline, by the way, was

Lawmakers Acted on Heels of Abramoff Gifts

So how freaking partisan and cheap a shot was it for the HuffPo folks to take to rewrite the headline as they did – focusing instead on two Republicans?

Look, people get to be partisan and take partisan shots. Democratic drum-beater Josh Marshall is raising funds to hire a muckraking researcher. How much muck do you think will get raked about John “MBNA” Moran?

But there’s a serious cost to this, which is that the voters see the sleaze-flinging as partisan noise, and ignore the real decay and filth that’s slowly accumulating.

The GOP is too firmly tied to its corporate sponsors to institutionally change anytime soon.

The Democrats could do well in this case – by genuinely doing good.

I’m not holding my breath or anything, but a fella can hope.

Update: The new headline is:

“AP: 33 Politicians Received Total Of $830K From Indicted Lobbyist Abramoff And His Clients To Block Rival Casino:” Cool. wonder if other folks complained, or Arianna is reading WoC…

NYT: Iraq is Vietnam; Richard Nixon Says So. Can We Have the Pulitzer Now?

I’ve been working on what I hoped was a balanced and thoughtful response to my buddy Brian Linse’s unfair effort to tar everyone on the pro-war side as jingoists (yes, my accusation is overbroad, but so is his).

Then I read this in today’s New York Times and decided to chuck thoughtfulness and fairness right out he window.

Vietnam Archive Offers Parallel to War in Iraq

White House advisers convene secret sessions on the political dangers of revelations that American troops committed atrocities in the war zone, and whether the president can delicately intervene in the investigation. In the face of an increasingly unpopular war, they wonder at the impact on support at home. The best way out of the war, they agree, is propping up a new government that can attract feuding elements across a fractured foreign land.

…and my initial response was “Well, f**k, let’s just give up, then.”

Because if Iraq is Vietnam, then three things are true:
# We’re on the wrong side of a brutal and senseless war.

# We can’t possibly win it.

# And a bunch of people who got stiffies when they saw “All The President’s Men” will become truly insufferable as they live out their adolescent fantasies of Speaking Truth To Power and Bringing Down The Man while driving BMW’s and Audis and dining at Cafe Milano.

Fortunately, we can make some reasonable arguments that suggest that the first two don’t hold a lot of water.

Vietnam was a textbook war of National Liberation; Vietnam had been a colony of the Chinese and then the French for a really long time, and they wanted their own country.

Ho Chi Minh approached Harry Truman at the end of WW II and asked to become a U.S. protectorate, like the Philippines, as a way of getting out from under the French. We turned him down, and he went to war to kick out the French, and sought and received Russian and Chinese assistance to do so. The path to freedom, the Vietnamese people believed (somewhat mistakenly) led through the occupying U.S. armies.

Iraq – unless like certain professors I know of, you believe that everything is best understood through the lens of Western imperialism – is very different. The path to freedom and independence doesn’t lie in casting off foreign domination – it lies in casting off domestic tyranny.

There are arguments made that we could have won the Vietnam War, had we persisted. I’m not sure I buy them, but having read Chang’s book on Mao and the Chinese guerilla wars, I’m more convinced that guerilla wars without a conventional army are less effective than we have mythologized them to be.

There are facts on the ground that paint a picture far different than that painted in the New York Times; it’s certainly impossible for me to say – and may be impossible for anyone to say – which is true.

That’s what history looks like while it’s being made.


I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no;
For yet a many of your horsemen peer
And gallop o’er the field.

Above All, Persist – Next, Talk

I’ve been criticized in the past for suggesting that the core of our policy in Iraq ought to be “we won’t quit.” (and I’m very pleased that Bush seems to be doing at least one thing right, as in his speech he said that “We will never give in, We will never accept anything less than complete victory.” I kind of liked that…)

To those who’ve been gently (and even not gently) critical of this view, let me offer this L.A. Times story as some explanation of why I keep holding fast to my position:

Some Insurgents Want a Deal, Politician Says

Some Sunni Arab insurgent groups linked to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party are putting out feelers for a negotiated end of fighting in exchange for a timetable for a U.S. pullout from Iraq, a former government minister asserted Saturday, amid fresh signs that upcoming elections have altered the country’s political climate.

“They are eager to start talking, and the United States should take that initiative and start moving,” Samarrai said.

Political solutions are inevitable, he said. “Nobody can crush anybody with weapons alone, and everybody knows that. We have to start talking. Let everyone sit and solve it, for God’s sake, because we are dying here like crazy.”

Samarrai acknowledged Saturday that the groups he was referring to — Sunni nationalist and “patriotic” groups, many linked to Hussein’s former regime, army and security services — form just a part of the insurgency. The U.S. believes they are responsible for the bulk of roadside explosions, car bombs and ambushes targeting coalition troops and security forces.

Note that I absolutely support negotiations, as I absolutely supported negotiations with the Sinn Fein…but negotiations with a clear and bright line – political disagreements, yes; violence, no.

Moscone-Schmitz Dinner

A great dinner at Ocean Seafood last night with a fun and engaging collection of bloggers.

Everyone seemed to have a good time (except for the whole ‘waiter bringing the live fish by for us to inspect before they fried it‘ thing. Several folks felt that we now had a personal relationship with the fish, which made them uncomfortable when it was served. I’ll note didn’t diminish the speed with which it was devoured)

Great food, beer, excellent and good-humored company and a lively and usually friendly chat.

I hope we do it again soon.

1st Moscone – Schmitz Blogger Congeniality Dinner

Update: It’s ON. It’ll be somewhat disorganized, because I didn’t get enough response to reserve a private room, but WTH, we’re bloggers…we’re not supposed to be organized. See you at 7pm

Folks, let’s have dinner and a couple of Tsingtao’s and have some fun, regardless of our political affiliations, biases, prejudices, or lack thereof.

I’m going to suggest that we meet Saturday night at 7pm at Ocean Ave. Seafood, 747 N. Broadway, in Chinatown in downtown L.A.

That’s a good venue, because a key blogger may well be able to come join us there, but not further south. Plus I like their salt shrimp.

I’ll be there, wearing a really loud Hawaiian shirt, and whoever feels like joining me is more than welcome.

Leave a comment and let me know if you’re coming – that way I can try and get a block of tables or a private room, if there are enough of us.

Veteran’s Day 2005

It started in 2002 when I wrote something about Veteran’s Day over at Armed Liberal. Here’s what I wrote in ‘I Started To Write About Veteran’s Day…’:

…and to thank the veterans alive and dead for protecting me and mine.

And worried that what I wrote kept coming out sounding either too qualified or would be interpreted as being too nationalistic.

And I realized something about my own thinking, a basic principle I’ll set out as a guiding point for the Democrats and the Left in general as they try and figure out the next act in this drama we are in.

First, you have to love America.

This isn’t a perfect country. I think it’s the best county; I’ve debated this with commenters before, and I’ll point out that while people worldwide tend to vote with their feet, there may be other (economic) attractions that pull them. But there are virtues here which far outweigh any sins. And I’ll start with the virtue of hope.

The hope of the immigrants, abandoning their farms and security for a new place here.

The hope of the settlers, walking across Death Valley, burying their dead as they went.

The hope of the “folks” who moved to California after the war.

The hope of the two Latino kids doing their Computer Science homework at Starbucks’.

I love this country, my country, my people. And those who attack her…from guerilla cells, boardrooms, or their comfy chairs in expensive restaurants…better watch out.

I don’t get a clear sense that my fellow liberals feel the same way. And if so, why should “the folks” follow them? Why are we worthy of the support of a nation that we don’t support?

So let me suggest an axiom for the New Model Democrats:

America is a great goddamn country, and we’re both going to defend it from those who attack it and fight to make it better.

And for everyone who is going to comment and remind me that ‘all liberals already do that’…no they don’t. Not when the Chancellor has to intervene at U.C. Berkeley to get “permission” for American flags to be flown and red-white-and-blue ribbons to be worn. Not when the strongest voices in liberalism give lip service to responding to an attack on our citizens on our soil.

Loving this country isn’t the same thing as jingoism; it isn’t the same thing as imperialism; it isn’t the same thing as blind support of the worst traits of our government or our people.

It starts with recognizing the best traits, and there are a hell of a lot of them.

They were worth defending in my father’s time, and they are worth defending today.

So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you.

Two years ago, I discussed why I felt that being progressive did not contradict being patriotic, and why even the most ardent American leftist could – and should – embrace American exceptionalism.

Last year, I explained my own journey from disdaining the men and women who serve in the military to honoring them, pointing to Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson as an example of what our military really is made of.

This year, I want to talk about what we owe the men and women serving today.

The war we are involved in has cost 2,000 of them their lives, and many others wounds from which they may never heal. It has cost others their jobs and families as the heavy use of reserves has disrupted many lives.

First and foremost we owe them simple care. It’s outrageous that bloggers are shilling to raise a few tens of thousands of dollars to buy voice-actuated laptops for the troops. It’s outrageous that more large businesses don’t support their reservists. I’ve turned a budget-minded eye to some cuts in VA care for aging veterans who have long since returned to civilian life, but the notion that freshly-wounded veterans of current wars lack for any care is offensive.

It’s a cost of making war.

Next, we owe them personal respect. Reactions to veterans in this war is more characterized by applause than opprobrium, and that’s a good thing. It is one thing to put out a flag on Veteran’s Day, and another to go out of one’s way to shake the hand of a soldier you happen to see at an airport. I’ve done them both, and both of them feel pretty good.

Next, we owe them some measure of understanding and forgiveness. Commenter JC recently posted a thread of comments which set out the basic premise that the horrible death dealt to a child – burned to death by U.S. weapons illegitimized the war. The child’s death is, to him made more horrible by the war’s illegitimacy – I pointed out to him that because he began from the premise that the war was morally wrong, any death was automatically inherently evil.

Our soldiers deal in death, and to paraphrase Patton, their job is not to die for their country, but to see that others die for theirs. We have, in this war gone to unprecedented lengths to spare the innocent, and to act militarily with a standard of care that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, much less in World War II. To some, it’s still not enough.

That may be the case, and the merits of the war may well be subject to argument by reasonable people (as well as the unreasonable on both sides). But the men and women who bear the arms, drop the bombs, launch the missiles and shells are – with rare exceptions – blameless. If there is moral hazard in this war, let the politicians who decided it and the citizens – like me – who supported it bear that risk. The troops who bear the physical risk should be beyond that. As they bear the physical risk for us, we should bear the moral risk for them.

And finally and most of all, we owe the soldiers a level of seriousness in discussing matters of war that has been largely absent from the discussion in the last few years. Cheap partisan and ideological struggles have been played out around the issues of this war. Both sides – again – should look and feel guilty over what they have done in the name of political advantage and expediency.

Veteran’s Day is a simple day in which we – as a nation – express our gratitude to the veterans who have sacrificed, suffered, and risked for us. Acknowledging that requires three simple things:

* To acknowledge that there is an ‘us’ on whose behalf the veterans have served.

* To acknowledge that their service itself was an honor.

* To acknowledge that our nation – like all others – owes no small part of its existence, wealth, and freedom to the simple fact that we were (and I hope are) willing to defend it with the force of arms. We are born in blood, and live with bloody hands.

Finally, to acknowledge that last moral debt with a personal commitment to make that blood others have spent for us matter. To use our freedom, build our community, do something to create a future better than our present.

Honoring our veterans today is the right thing to do. Tomorrow, join them and offer some service yourself to make the country whose uniform they wear a better place – in any way you know how.

Blackfive And Project Valor IT

I’m bumping this, and will bump it once a day until Veteran’s Day this Friday.

I’ve donated $100.00, and I hope that everyone reading this will please donate something – if not to this drive, then to Soldier’s Angels or some other charity that directly benefits the troops.

– A.L.

Blackfive, the Paratrooper of Single-Malt Scotch, just announced a fundraising campaign for another very special campaign – Project Valor IT.

The project provides voice-actuated computers to wounded soldiers so they can send and receive emails and surf the web from the hospital.

Yes, those should be provided as a part of their government-paid care. But they’re not, and while we’re advocating it (I’ll be sending a letter to Rep. Harmon and my dovish Senators), the soldiers are still in need.

They are arranging an interservice competition; I’ll stand beside Blackfive and support the Army. A C-note is on the way via PayPal, and it’d be great if you’d go over to Blackfive donate as well.

The Best of Enemies

Here’s something I just ran into in the L.A. Times – an obituary for C.P. Ellis.

Who’s C.P. Ellis?

C.P. Ellis, whose startling metamorphosis from Ku Klux Klan officer to civil rights activist was described in the 1996 book “Best of Enemies” and a subsequent documentary, “An Unlikely Friendship,” has died. He was 78.

Ellis died Thursday at Durham Regional Hospital in Durham, N.C., of undisclosed causes. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and used a wheelchair in recent years.

The event that converted the city’s oft-praised “odd couple” from adversaries to allies was a 1971 community discussion session about the violence occurring as Durham tried to integrate its schools. Ellis and Atwater co-chaired the 10 days of 12-hour talks, forging not only the unusual friendship but profoundly changing Ellis’ deeply rooted segregationist thinking.

Ellis and Atwater had been such bitter foes that she once pulled a knife on him at a Durham City Council meeting, and Ellis brought a machine gun to their first 1971 discussion session.

They became such close comrades that, after the meetings, Ellis renounced his position as Exalted Grand Cyclops of the KKK, repudiated segregation and joined Atwater in working to desegregate the Durham school system.

You know, it’s things like this that make me doubt my own agnosticism. There is something good in each of us, and even in someone that I’d have thrown away, the evidence seems clear that there’s a reason not to.