Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Logan Suspended

I am kind of shocked about CBS suspending Lara Logan, simply for presenting a fictional news report as fact. Guess I have become cynical.

Do you remember way back in May, when the mainstream press was full of stories about Obama's "scandals," without quotes? None of them turned out to be scandalous, but those who would like to malign the President keep looking for something. Some kind of shenanigans were alleged around the Benghazi attack, cover-ups and talking points and who knew what when, and it was all sound and fury that most of the world disregarded, but a hard anti-Obama core kept pounding the drums.

So it was strange on October 27th when Sixty Minutes ran a story about the Benghazi incident. The story focused on the reports of a man who claimed he was there, he saw everything. Then the Washington Post turned up his initial report of the incident, which said he had been nowhere near the attack. His publisher -- a rightwing imprint owned by CBS -- recalled his books. The man claimed he was "in danger" and went into hiding.

The reporter who had carried the story, Lara Logan, gave a speech last year about how the President is lying about the Middle East. She is married to an operative who spent much of his career planting propaganda in the Middle East, while hiding the source of the information.

CBS clammed up. They stood by their story. Then a couple of weeks ago Logan said she had made a mistake.

Then yesterday, from CNN:
Lara Logan, the CBS correspondent at the center of a discredited October 27 report about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, is taking a leave of absence from work, the network said Tuesday.

Logan's longtime producer, Max McClellan, is also taking time off. CBS suggested that the leaves of absence were punitive measures for the shortcomings in the Benghazi report, which has stung the reputations of both Logan and the program that televised her report, "60 Minutes."

With the staff announcements on Tuesday and the release of an internal review, CBS tried to demonstrate that it has figured out what went wrong with its Benghazi report and taken steps to stop similar mistakes in the future. "The '60 Minutes' journalistic review is concluded, and we are implementing ongoing changes based on its results," a CBS News spokeswoman said Tuesday. CBS' Lara Logan, producer on leave after discredited Benghazi report
CBS tried to explain that it had been a "mistake" to rely on Dylan Davies' interview for the story, but Frank Rich got it just right in the New York Magazine: CBS’s Benghazi Report Was a Hoax, Not a Mistake. You don't make that kind of mistake accidentally.

In my lifetime, the nadir of intellectual debate occurred in the run-up to the attack on Iraq, when you could not criticize GW Bush or the government (remember the Dixie Chicks?) without the most severe repercussions. Last week Andrew Sullivan published his regrets for his support of the American decimation of Iraq, and it is hard reading -- I think a lot of Americans would like to forget just how gullibly wrong we were, how easily the public, even a smart guy like Sullivan, was manipulated by the press. It took a strong will to see clearly, to resist the urge to get even with somebody after 9/11, and there weren't very many strong wills around.

That era set a precedent that has become the baseline for contemporary media. Nothing needs to be accurate, or true. Networks and web sites need to make money, they need content that will attract viewers, there is nothing more to it. The Lara Logan story shows though that the media can be held accountable if people will speak out.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ENDA Passes Senate

There was some important news on the LGBT front this past week, as the Senate easily passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Let's take the story from the Christian Post, just for fun.
In a move hailed by LGBT rights groups, the United States Senate has passed the 2013 version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Senate voted on Thursday 64 to 32 in favor of passing the legislation, which if enacted would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tico Almeida, founder and president of the pro-gay organization Freedom to Work, said in a statement that the vote was a "historic step."

"The Senate has taken a bi-partisan and historic step towards ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job," said Almeida.

"Our fight now moves to the House of Representatives where Speaker Boehner and the Republican Conference will have to decide which side of history they want to stand on. We will work with our Republican allies to push Speaker Boehner to allow this vote for the good of the country and the good of his party."

Since the 1970s, lawmakers have introduced some version of ENDA on behalf of expanding anti-discrimination employment protections to include LGBT individuals.

Efforts have yet to be successful, with the proposed bills having either never been brought to a vote or, as was the case in 1996, was voted down.

For a time, ENDA also met resistance from LGBT activists who argued that the bill did little to protect all sexual minorities and gender expressions as opposed to just gays and lesbians.

Known as Senate Bill 815, ENDA was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon in April and had 56 cosponsors. On Monday, the Senate voted 61 to 30 to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote. During the debate Thursday morning, Sen. Pat Toomey proposed an amendment to expand the religious exemptions offered in S. 815. However, the amendment was voted down with 43 ayes to 55 nays. Senate Passes Employment Non-Discrimination Act; Now Will Go to House
Most people already think that it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It just makes sense. You can fire somebody for being gay? Why would you do that?

A few years ago this was a controversial idea, but that era is rapidly evaporating.

By the way, this was the "inclusive ENDA," with protection for gender identity as well as sexual orientation. There was a time when Congress would have supported a gay and lesbian nondiscrimination bill, as long as it did not include transgender people. If you're not following these things, sexual orientation and gender identity are two entirely different things, and members of one community do not necessarily feel a strong sense of responsibility to the other. It might not have seemed very "progressive" of them, but a lot of gay people would have been happy to pass a bill that covered them, and come back for gender identity later. Attitudes have changed fast, though, and the current bill protects LGB and T.

A little more, given that I am quoting the Christian Post:
Opponents of ENDA maintain that the bill does not do enough to protect religious liberty, especially for employers who may hold moral objections to homosexuality and/or transgender identity.

Emily Hardman, spokesperson for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provided The Christian Post with a statement earlier this week regarding what the organization believed about ENDA's religious exemption.

"The Becket Fund is concerned about any law that does not provide robust religious liberty protections where they are warranted," reads the official statement. "The limited exemptions for certain religious organizations that we have seen in the ENDA draft under consideration are manifestly inadequate."

ENDA will next go to the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives, where House Speaker John Boehner has expressed opposition to S.815.

"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in an earlier statement to Politico.
We put up with quite a lot of irrational and bizarre stuff from religious people, and most of us try to accommodate their weird beliefs when we can. But if their religion tells them they have to be jerks, I think the rest of us deserve to be protected from that.

Some religious people read their scriptures to say that you should not be gay. Whatever, we won't talk about the inconsistencies at this point. But the fact is, I have never heard anybody explain what part of the Bible says you can't hire a gay person, or work alongside them. You know, if they made a case where they showed chapter and verse saying, "The Lord shall smite thee if thou payest a homosexual person for working," then they might be able to persuade somebody to put in a religious exclusion. But, uh, I don't think so.

The vote in the Senate was like butter. Republicans joined Democrats in supporting rights for our gay and transgender neighbors. In the House it will be more political, Boehner is afraid of the Nutty Ones and it looks like he can be intimidated into blocking a vote on this. On the other hand, the recent election might have been a wake-up call for the GOP, and this could be a good opportunity for them to show the people that they can be decent. Okay, a little joke there, sorry.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Understanding the Republican Party

A rational person looks at American public life and wonders how it is that we can enact policies that are so unenlightened -- I don't mean just Democrats, but ordinary people around the world. How can America pay gazillion-dollar subsidies to corporations who are already making gazillion-dollar profits, while at the same time stripping survival benefits from poor people? How can anyone in their right mind stand up and say that we need more guns in schools? Why is the US struggling to meet the lowest educational standards of the developed world? Why do American citizens go bankrupt trying to deal with ordinary health problems? What is the obsession in this country with suppressing women's rights?

The explanation is that we have a political party that believes in these things so strongly that no other legislation can be enacted until their priorities are met. The party is supported by a majority of voters in some regions of the country, it is powerful enough that it must be taken seriously The other party must make compromises with the Republican Party in order to get to more enlightened agenda items, and then these have to be watered down to the point of meaninglessness.

Democracy Corps, James Carville's group, is doing something really fascinating, called the Republican Party Project. They conducted a bunch of focus groups with people who report themselves to be Republicans, to find out what they believe and who they are. The cool thing about this report is that it is objective and dispassionate. You might think a bunch of Democrats would try to tar and feather the Republicans with their own words, but this report is different from that. You are stronger when you understand your enemy's motives and thought processes, and this report was created from that perspective. Of course the Democrats want to win elections, and Democracy Corps is supporting that by producing an accurate and unbiased analysis of the party they will have to beat.
Understand that the base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in DC have let him get away with it. Inside the GOP
The report finds that there are three components to the Republican Party, and they are not necessarily on the same page. The largest group is composed of evangelical Christians, for whom the most important topics are the social ones, homosexuality and abortion in particular (they're against it).

The evangelicals support the Tea Party because they are pushing ahead and getting things done, but they differ in their core beliefs: the Tea Party is concerned with reducing taxes and the size of government, and mostly doesn't really care if gay people marry, mostly thinks it is not the government's job to make women's medical decisions for them. And finally, there is the traditional moderate conservative Republican bloc: "They are centrally focused on market-based economics, small government, and eliminating waste and inefficiency. They are largely open to progressive social policies, including on gay marriage and immigration. They disdain the Tea Party and have a hard time taking Fox News seriously." This is the smallest of the three groups.

The traditional conservative view is a legitimate and even necessary part of the national conversation. A certain amount of money goes into the treasury and there can be different views about what it should be spent on. We may be threatened by foreign countries and groups, and there can be more than one opinion about how to deal with them, and so on. In the dialog between management and labor, the GOP represents management. Well somebody's got to.

I think the Founding Fathers saw the danger of something like the evangelical bloc and tried to prevent it by carefully wording an amendment to the Constitution regulating government's ability to promote a religion or to impede one. No matter how many times they deny it, there really is a legal separation of church and state. And the power of the evangelical component of the GOP lies in the weakening of the separation of religion and government; it is their right to believe the things they do, and to live according to their customs, but it is not their right to force the rest of us to obey their taboos, no matter how repugnant we pagans may be to them.

The Tea Party is a new thing, they are the hell-raisers of the party who come up with impossible demands and then filibuster and shout people down if they don't get what they want. They define themselves as "Washington outsiders" and really don't seem to understand that a democratic government really does require that people make concessions, including them. It really does mean you don't get everything you want every time. But because their blustering has so successfully gummed up the governmental machinery, the Tea Party is seen within the GOP as a kind of success, and the other groups are hoping to get some of what they want through the Tea Party's momentum.

There is a recurrent tacit theme, mentioned several times by the authors, for instance, "While few talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities."

Though the Democracy Corps paper does not address the topic in depth, it is obvious that a core appeal of today's GOP flows from the evolving demographic face of our country. White people are not a majority in some regions, and the tide is moving that way nearly everywhere. It is okay to get goose-bumpy about the Constitution and your sense of patriotism, but if you actually believe in it you have to remember that the Constitution gives rights to everyone, not just you. The freedom of religion is easy to accept when it protects your religion, not so easy when it protects somebody else's, say Wicca or Islam. But that's the way it works.

Some white people are feeling backed into a corner these days. The Constitution used to be a prop for them, it gave them permission to say what they wanted and pass laws that were consistent with their way of life, and that was fine, But now they are tasting what it was like for the rest of the population during that time, when other groups had to accept white Christian domination. The Constitution is no longer a crutch for one group, now the process of democracy is requiring white Americans to tolerate people who are different from them. The Tea Party sounds a little frantic, they know it is best not to talk about race but this is a portrait of white people who want to keep their privilege, their entitlement, when they feel it slipping away from them.

This paper is a fascinating read, if you want to understand one side of American politics. Don't take my snarky word for it, click on the link and read the whole thing.