November 29, 2004
LE MONDE'S EDITOR RESIGNS
If you've read DIRELAND's earlier post on the crisis at Le Monde, you won't be surprised to learn that the paper's editor, Edwy Plenel, announced his resignation today. In fact, Plenel was forced out by his erstwhile ally, the paper's CEO, Jean-Marie Colombani, who is in the middle of a deal to "recapitalize" Le Monde, which is drowning under a tidal wave of Colombani-generated debt. Colombani released a tortured statement referring obliquely to the ethical deviations which took place under the Colombani/Plenel regime at the paper and led to a freefall in circulation, saying: ""We must take as our point of departure that our readers are correct in expressing a desire for a more exigent attitude on our part. Their unhappiness is the expression of an expectation which we must consider legitimate."
The final break between Colombani and Plenel--who attempted to displace his former co-conspirator as the paper's directeur--and the factionalized atmosphere during the last week inside Le Monde came after Plenel fought for a plan to convert the afternoon daily to a morning paper as his solution to Le Monde's financial crisis. But the plan was opposed not only by Colombani, but by the powerful printers' union, the CGT du Livre. The Communist-led union hated the morning paper plan for two reasons: first, it was the brainchild of the "cultural Trotskyist" Plenel--and the CGT, which has never really de-Stalinized, has always hated Plenel, and the Trots he imported to the paper, with a passion. Second, the well-cosseted printers (whose union has guaranteed a lot of feather-bedding) didn't want to have to go to work in the middle of the night to put out a morning paper--and they'd have made Le Monde pay through the nose for having to do so. The morning plan's price was too high--it was a non-starter.
Plenel, over-estimating his power, launched an all-out assault on Colombani last week at a meeting of the paper's Societe des redacteurs (SDR), the Le Monde journalists' association, which still controls a third of the paper's stock. But Plenel, drunk on a power-ego trip, seriously underestimated to what degree his reckless brand of journalism, and the virtual reign of terror the cult of personality he'd created around himself had engendered in the newsroom (rumors of tapped phones and computers, encouragement of co-worker spying and denunciations of Plenel's opponents, etc.), had together alienated a lot of the paper's fine journalists, appalled at the decline in Le Monde's standards and reputation. For them, the financial recklessness of Colombani the media-empire builder was the lesser of two evils, and the newsroom denizens sided against Plenel.
The atomosphere of the last week before Plenel's resignation is recounted in a short article in Tuesday's Liberation.
November 27, 2004
"20/20" and MATTHEW SHEPARD
I just watched tonight's broadcast of ABC's one-hour "20/20" special devoted to what the network had blatantly overhyped as its "revelations" about the murder, and the murderers, of Matthew Shephard. Most of what was served up on-screen wasn't terribly new: it had all been in print somewhere before, or figured in evidence at the trial. Only the self-serving interviews with the two admitted killers--squirming away from the accusations of anti-gay bias--were truly new.
The expensively-coiffed airhead Elizabeth Vargas is no Mike Wallace. Her doe-eyed questioning never really confronted the killers with the contradictions between their latest version of events and the one offered up by their lawyers at their trial--the "homosexual panic" defense that said they were justified in the violence of their assault on Shepard because he'd made advances to one of them. Oh, this defense was mentioned (although never really explained), and Vargas allowed one of the killers to say it was only an invention of convenience cooked up with his lawyer. But none of the extensive accounts presented at trial as part of this defense were mentioned, nor were any legal or psychiatric authorities on "gay panic" asked to comment or dissect the murderers' equivocations.
Nor did Vargas and her producers display any critical distance from, or skepticism about, the on-camera revisionisms of their Wyoming interviewees--six years after the facts. All Wyoming wishes to be rid of the memory of what happened to Shepard, and to erase the national image of the state as anti-gay--it is, among other things, bad for business. But the absence of non-Wyoming expertise (except for one L.A. doctor's brief clip in which he offered the rather obvious thought that crystal meth can make you crazed) left any more objective assessment of the interviewees' claims up to the viewers, without providing them the informational tools or critical screen necessary to filtering out the valid from the invalid, the more-or-less true from the more-or-less false. The "20/20" Shepard report didn't have much more perspicacity or burrow much deeper than your average National Enquirer expose.
Vargas and her scriptwriters left the impression that Laramie residents' filmed statements now claiming one of the killers was bi-sexual somehow eradicated the possibility that homo-hate could have played a role in the murder of Shepard. That suggestion is, of course, utter nonsense: we have known for three decades that fear of, or socially induced hatred of, any degree of same-sex attraction a gay-basher may feel --a smothered desire sometimes acted upon, sometimes not--is a critical, common component of the makeup of young gaybashers. This was the finding of the first major study of gay-bashing youth conducted in the 1970s by the noted sexologist Dr. John Money, head of Johns Hopkins' Gender Identity Institute, and has been borne out by a number of studies since. But ABC went out of its way not to explore the complicated and convoluted origins of homophobia with anyone who had actually studied it.
The program's worst omission, however, was its failure to breath even a hint that violence against those who love differently from the average heterosexual is a daily occurrence in a country drowning in a host of religious superstitions that justify it. For example, there was not any mention of the new FBI report released November 22, which shows that bias violence against gays is now the second most important category of hate-crimes in the U.S., after race. A more thoughtful brand of journalism that wanted to make a serious effort to understand the problem of homohate and the role it played (or didn't) in Shepard's murder might have found the FBI's findings about the new wave of anti-gay violence worthy of mention. Not ABC. Nor did the network think to contact the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs--the alliance linking gay-run AVPs in the various states--which recorded a country-wide 26% increase in violent attacks on gays in just one year by the end of 2003.
And now, Shepard's parents have accused ABC of "selective editing" to make it appear they agreed with the program's theses--deliberately leaving out facts that contradicted the Vargas version, and similarly distorting interviews with two local law enforcement officials.
Most killings have complex and convoluted causes. But the "20/20" report on Matthew Shepard was a piece of sloppy and shallow, incomplete and mindlessly sensationalist, over-promoted ratings fodder that added little to a real understanding of why Shepard was so horribly brutalized and murdered--or to how future assaults might be prevented.
For a serious exploration of the meaning of the Shepard case, I heartily recommend the first-hand, September 1999 report from Laramie for Harper's magazine by my old friend JoAnn Wypijewski. Her eagle-eyed, elegant, thought-provoking article contains many of the claims ABC presented as "new." And the single most intelligent, nuanced piece I've seen on the "20/20" Shepard broadcast was by the excellent Michael Bronski in this week's Boston Phoenix. (By the way, if you've never read Bronski's fine book, The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom, take this opportunity to do so--it has a lot of relevance to understanding both the issues raised by the Shepard case and ABC's botched sensationalism about it).
And, if you'd like to contact ABC to let them know what you think about their Shepard program, here is contact information:
1) David Westin, President ABC News
2) David Sloan, Executive Producer, 20/20
3) ABC News Exec Mark Foley
Phone: 800-221-7386 ext. 2252
4) 20/20 general contact:
5) ABC Television
77 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023
Contacting your local ABC affiliate is an excellent idea.
LOCAL ABC Affliate Info:
Phone Numbers, Addresses, Websites, E Mail Links
November 24, 2004
THE CRISIS AT LE MONDE: THE INSIDE STORY
Le Monde -- once considered France’s pre-eminent daily, its “newspaper of reference,” a must-read in every European capital, and one of the planet’s most prestigious publications--is in the throes of a profound crisis.
Today's edition of the Parisian daily Liberation reports on the latest chapter in the crisis at Le Monde: rumors that its editor-in-chief, Edwy Plenel, could lose his job; a debt of 135 million Euros, with losses just this year of 35 million Euros; and, in consequence, a recapitalization of the newspaper that could bring in new investors who might threaten anew its legendary independence.
But the roots of the crisis began over a year ago, with the publication of a best-selling book that left the reputation of Le Monde for probity and rigor in its reporting in tatters, the ethics of the trio who today edit and control Le Monde under ferocious attack as unworthy of the leadership of a great daily, and its circulation in freefall as more and more once-loyal readers came to the conclusion that the six-decades old paper they loved and respected had lost its soul.
The crisis burst onto the public scene in a cloak-and-dagger ambiance worthy of a John LeCarre novel. On February 19, 2003 the weekly L’Express (roughly the French equivalent of Time) took the unusual step of advancing its normal publication date by a day to publish excerpts from an explosive new book, La face cachee du Monde (“The hidden face of Le Monde”, Editions Mille et Une Nuits).
The 630-page blockbuster had been prepared and published in great secrecy, for fear of economic and journalistic blackmail to prevent or censor its publication by Le Monde’s high command (whom the book’s subtitle accused of “abuse of power”). Indeed, the book’s publisher, Claude Durand--head of Fayard, of which Mille et Une Nuits is a subsidiary-- took the extraordinary precaution of having the book printed in Spain, both to maintain pre-publication secrecy and to avoid any possible sabotage attempts--by, among others, the CGT du Livre, the printers’ union whose allegiance to the current Le Monde leadership had been purchased with lucrative sweetheart contracts for its members (long Communist-dominated, the union had such censorious conduct in its history).
The Hidden Face of Le Monde, which overnight became a runaway best-seller, commanded widespread attention because it bore one of France’s most prestigious bylines: that of Pierre Pean, unquestionably the most important brand-name in France for quality investigative journalism. Given the often compromised and malleable nature of much of the French press, Pean--to preserve his independence--has always published his meticulous inquests in book form.
Pean’s many best-sellers include at least two books which changed French history: Une jeunesse francaise (Fayard, 1994), which made headlines when it revealed the reactionary and collaborationist past of the late Socialist President Francois Mitterand (including his long postwar friendship with Vichy’s former police head, Rene Bousquet, responsible for sending trainloads of Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps); and Vies et morts de Jean Moulin (Fayard, 1998), which at long last unraveled the mystery of the death of the heroic French resistance leader at the hands of the war criminal Klaus Barbie, a martyrdom whose cause was only hinted at in Marcel Ophuls’ Oscar-winning Hotel Terminus, and Claude Berri’s film Lucie Aubrac (Pean demonstrated how Moulin’s capture was, in fact, orchestrated by reactionary elements of the resistance who hated both Moulin’s patron De Gaulle and his then-allies, the Communists).
Pean had been working on his investigation of Le Monde for a year when he learned that Philippe Cohen, who heads the Economy desk at the iconoclastic centrist weekly Marianne, was preparing a similar book. At the suggestion of publisher Durand, the two decided to join forces as co-authors.
In their book, Pean and Cohen delivered a devastating indictment of the tandem who now edit the paper: Jean-Marie Colombani, formerly the paper’s chief political reporter/editor, who became Le Monde’s CEO; and Edwy Plenel, a former police reporter who became the first head of its special investigations department, and who now directs day-to-day the paper’s editorial side.
They were a political odd couple. Colombani, of Corsican origin, a moderate social-Christian, soft-spoken and courteous, started as a television reporter and later built his career covering the arriere-cuisines of French politics and cultivating politicians. Plenel is a sulfurous, intense, and temperamental autodidact, and of the two is the more talented and facile writer. He got his training in politics and journalism when, after his lycee (high school) graduation, he became a staffer for the publications of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), the largest of France’s three principal Trotskyist sects, where comrade “Krasny” (Plenel’s code name in the movement) stayed for a decade before joining Le Monde.
The two took control of Le Monde in a 1994 “putsch” that brought them to power. Le Monde had always been unique among the world’s great dailies because its legendary founder, Hubert Beuve-Mery, wanted to insure that journalists would always control the paper, and gave them--through the association of Le Monde journalists called the Societe des Redacteurs (SDR)--control of a majority of stock and the right to choose the paper’s directeur, or CEO, by election. Colombani had been plotting to take over the paper since the ‘80s, when he first presented himself for the paper ’s top post--and lost. In 1994, he finally won--with the help of the equally ambitious Plenel. No sooner had Colombani and Plenel taken control of the paper--which was operating at a loss--than they recapitalized it through a deal in which the SDR ceded majority control of the paper’s stock. The unique “journalists’ newspaper” thus became a business like any other, the SDR retaining a “blocking” one-third of the stock (a veto, however, which--under the iron rule of Colombani/Plenel--has so far not been used).
Colombani and Plenel’s partner in the financial restructuring of Le Monde was a free-market, anti-Statist propagandist for laisser-faire economics: Alain Minc, a pricey corporate consultant, best-selling author, and former industrialist who--despite having lost billions for a holding company he ran for the Italian magnate Carlo De Benedetti--had an unrivaled network of financial contacts and interests and a privileged position as counselor to France’s conservative governments and politicians. In the followup to the Colombani-Plenel putsch, Minc became Le Monde’s chairman of the board. To many at the paper--long firmly anchored in the humanist left--Minc’s arrrival was like putting the fox in charge of watching the chicken coop. (Not long ago, Minc was convicted in the French courts of flagrantly plagiarizing a university professor’s book about Spinoza for one of his own--and ordered to pay a whopping 100,000 francs in damages).
Within two years of taking power, Colombani and Plenel (with Minc’s support) had replaced virtually the entire editorial hierarchy with liegemen of their own choosing. United by their common thirst for power--not just over Le Monde, but the power to dictate France’s social, cultural, and political agenda--the trio first tried to choose the country’s next president. For the 1995 presidential campaign to succeed the ailing Mitterand, they turned the newspaper into a propaganda organ for the colorless, right-wing technocrat Edouard Balladur, long the right hand of Jacques Chirac, who became Chirac’s rival for leadership of France’s conservatives. (Minc was one of Balladur’s most prominent advisors). It was a shocking choice for many, both inside and outside the paper. And not just the paper’s editorials and op-ed pages were put at the service of Balladur--so too were its news columns. But Balladur turned out to be a wet firecracker--he lost ignominiously to Chirac.
To revive the paper’s stagnant circulation and anchor their agenda-making political power, Colombani and Plenel have used Le Monde’s front page to hype a series of scandals and scoops, often using headlines that promised more than the articles delivered. Rumors that later proved to be unfounded were presented as if they were established fact. Many of the paper’s “investigations” were quite shallow, frequently based more on leaks from friendly politicians and bureaucrats than on real journalistic legwork. This led to a state of affairs in which certain political figures useful to the paper’s leadership were considered “untouchable,” and benefited from highly indulgent treatment in the news columns. Among those pols: two hard-line conservative, law-and-order Ministers of the Interior, the unappetizing Charles Pasqua (ex-leader in the ‘60s of the paramilitary Gaullist strong-arm service, the SAC; and minister in the ‘80s and ‘90s; indicted earlier this year on corruption charges stemmming from illegal arms sales), and the hyperambitious Balladurian Nicholas Sarkozy. (Already preparing his presidential campaign for 2007, for which the opinion polls show him in the lead, Sarkozy was just this month elected chairman of the ruling UMP--the Union for a Presidential Majority--the conservative party created for Chirac).
One of the more startling revelations of Pean and Cohen’s book: the incestuous relationship between Plenel and Bernard Delaplace, the head of the police union during the Mitterand years and so powerful that he was known as “the second cop in France,” after the Interior Minister. Unknown to Le Monde’s readers, Plenel served as Deleplace’s political and media counselor, ghostwriter, and de facto editor of the union’s journal. In return, “Deleplace asked police, when they weren’t officially working, to perform investigations on behalf of the Le Monde journalist,” the cops were paid for their moonlighting in cash, wrote Pean/Cohen, and the results helped advance Plenel’s reputation as one of France’s most ferocious “investigative” journalists. At the same time, Plenel used his Le Monde articles to promote and defend Delaplace. (Delaplace was eventually revealed to be a crook who took kickbacks from industry in the form of exorbitant commissions on ads in the union journal, and was forced to resign in disgrace in 1990 to avoid prosecution and prison--a fact which Le Monde to this day has yet to publish).
One of the more successful of Plenel’s “investigations” concerned the hidden Trotskyist past of Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister from 1997-2002, which Jospin long denied (claiming he was being confused with his brother.) Plenel/“Krasny“, who even today calls himself a “cultural Trotskyist,” unearthed a raft of witnesses who swore that Jospin had been sent into the Socialist Party as a mole by the International Communist Organization (OCI), the most secretive, paranoid, and Bolshevik of the Trot sects (known as the Lambertistes after their pseudonymous leader, Pierre Lambert). Jospin continued to have intimate relations with the Lambertistes long after the newly elected Mitterand named Jospin to replace him as the head of the Socialist Party--a duplicity which Plenel exposed and denounced in Le Monde, and which destroyed Jospin’s reputation and credibility in advance of the 2002 presidential campaign (in which Jospin--who finally admitted his Trot past-- was edged out of the runoff by the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen).
Although Plenel, in a book of memoirs of his youth (Secrets de jeunesse, Editions Stock), claimed to have broken with the Trots of the LCR in the early ‘80s, Pean/Cohen assert that Plenel continued his intimate association with the LCR into the ‘90s--and was thus guilty of the same deception for which the journalist had pilloried Jospin in the pages of Le Monde. Indeed, one of those who became a frequent Le Monde essayist after Colombani and Plenel took power was Daniel Ben-Said, the LCR’s chief ideological theorist (who was presented to Le Monde's readers as an "education expert" with no reference to his sectarian credentials). Plenel recruited and promoted many current and former Trots and put them in key positions to insure his tight control over the newsroom--three of his five principal assistant editors are now from that Trot constellation. At the same time, the “new” Le Monde has given prominent place as “associate editorialists” to the likes of the ubiquitous neo-con intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, and the prophet of globalization and untrammeled free-market economics Jean-Claude Casanova, one of the maitres a penser of the hard right. The Trots Plenel hired weren't brought in for their ideology, but for their Leninist modus operandi and loyalty to the "chief" (i.e., Plenel). Only the paper's foreign affairs department, long a sort of independent kingdom within the Le Monde empire, has managed, for the most part, to guard most of its prideful independence from management interference without seeing its integrity questioned.
Colombani, too, was compromised when Pean/Cohen revealed that he had taken gifts and cash to help train for TV appearances a rising star of right-wing politics, then-Mayor of Lyon Michel Noir (chased from office and indicted in a campaign finance scandal). Colombani filed a suit for defamation against Noir’s bagman, Pierre Botton, for making those claims; the courts ruled against Colombani. Equally unsettling was the revelation that Le Monde had billed the national press cooperative that distributes newspapers, the NMPP, for a million francs for lobbying by Colombani and others to get the Jospin government to accord more subsidies to the press. Le Monde later reimbursed the NMPP for nearly half the fee it received- an act interpreted in other daily papers as an admission of guilt.
Another chapter in the Pean-Cohen book accused Le Monde of having “accounts like Enron’s,” of having sunk Le Monde deeper and deeper into debt, in a frenetic Colombani drive to become a mini Murdoch and create a powerful press group by gobbling up dailies and weeklies all across France. He’s now succeeded in his goal with his latest acquisition, last year swallowing the treasury-rich press group La Vie Catholique, which includes the cash-cow entertainment weekly Telerama, and a raft of other publishing and real estate goodies. But, while Le Monde/LVC, as the new group is known, is now one of France’s three largest press conglomerates, the acquisition only added another enormous layer of debt to the already financially troubled flagship paper of the group.
These are only a few of the many serious (and complicated) deontological crimes and questionable financial maneuvers which have been laid at the door of Le Monde’s chiefs. The trio who run Le Monde have consistently refused to debate Pean and Cohen in public or on television since the publication of their book. Nor have they ever made a response on the real substance of the charges leveled against them, either in Le Monde or elsewhere--that they have perverted a once-great newspaper and put it at the service of their personal ambitions and enrichment.
Instead, Colombani and Plenel have engaged in a campaign of character assassination against their persecutors, accusing them of, among other things, “anti-Semitism” (a laughable assertion, which the daily Liberation editorially ridiculed as “unworthy” of Le Monde).
“One cannot govern without Le Monde,” ex-Prime Minister Jospin famously said. Until Pean and Cohen’s book, there was precious little criticism of Le Monde in the French press--fear of retribution from the newspaper that had become a true counter-power in France was the reason. But over the ensuing year since the Pean/Cohen indictment broke the silence, an avalanche of other books--some of them by former Le Monde colleagues of Colombani and Plenel--have confirmed and reinforced the dark picture painted by Pean/Cohen of a regime which, hungry for and drunk on power, has swept aside the most elemental journalistic rules of ethical conduct.
One of Le Monde’s best-known bylines belonged to its longtime TV columnist, Daniel Schneiderman, who also hosts a weekly TV program of media criticism. In Le cauchemar mediatique (The media nightmare, Editions Denoel), a book about media feeding frenzies published in the Fall of '03, Schneiderman devoted a chapter to the Le Monde crisis. In it he expressed his disagreement with the paper’s TV-imitative sensationalism, criticized the “authoritarian” atmosphere that reigns in the city room, and argued powerfully against the censure by Colombani/Plenel of a column by the paper’s Ombudsman, Robert Sole, in which Sole had called for “transparency” and “letting the light shine” on the “facts” marshaled by Pean/Cohen. When Schneiderman tried to get Colombani/Plenel to debate Pean/Cohen on his TV show, Plenel screamed at him, “You’re either inside or outside, Schneiderman!” Well, Schneiderman is
now outside--after his book appeared, he was fired by Colombani/Plenel.
“Criticize Le Monde and clouds of banishment appear above your head,” wrote Daniel Carton, a former colleague of Colombani’s on the Le Monde political desk, in Bien entendu…c’est off (You understand, that’s off the record, Editons Albin Michel), in which he recounts the paper’s unnatural marriage with Balladur that led him to leave it. (According to the monthly business magazine Capital, Carton was forced into softening or eliminating some criticisms of the new Le Monde regime before his book’s publication, after Colombani put pressure on both author and publisher).
Alain Rollat was a veteran of more than a quarter century at Le Monde, where he’d held key editorial and management posts. A longtime friend of Colombani, Rollat was the central artisan of the putsch that made Colombani Le Monde’s CEO, the organizing of which he recounts in Ma part du Monde (Editions de Paris), the book he published last year after leaving the paper in disillusionment at its ethical decline. Rollat bitterly regrets his role in the putsch; he believes that Colombani is lost in “the vertigo of power,“ and that his expansionist appetite for swallowing up other publications on credit is dooming the paper. Recalling that his old friend Colombani’s salary has increased 330% in eight years, in his open letter to Colombani Rollat told him that “The bank is so present behind you that your empire is in reality nothing more than a house of cards.”
Some non-Le Monde journalists in France have criticized the Pean/Cohen book for its prosecutorial tone. But last Fall, another new book, Le pouvoir du Monde (The power of Le Monde, Editions La Decouverte), by Bernard Poulet, a senior editor at the economic weekly L’Expansion (the proximate French equivalent of Business Week), offered a nonacrimonious but equally damning portrait of the paper’s ethical deviations by dissecting and deconstructing, one after the other, the front-paged false “scoops” and phony “debates” that are the product of what he describes as Le Monde’s lurch into “infotainment.”
And Gilbert Comte, a retired Le Monde veteran trained to practice a rigorous brand of journalism by Beuve-Mery, the paper’s founder, published “Lettre enfin ouverte au directeur du Monde” (Editions du Alpha), berating Colombani and his team for their reckless deviations from the principles that made the paper great. And this list of books critical of the “new” Le Monde is by no means exhaustive.
Readers haven't liked what’s happened to their newspaper, either. In the first three months after Pean/Cohen’s book appeared, news-stand sales declined by 4% (the Iraq war and the consequent thirst for information prevented a sharper decline). But, after that war had ended its first phase, the evaporation of the paper’s once-shining reputation sent sales slaloming downward: they were off 10% in September, 12% in October, and 12% in November of last year. And the circulation slide has continued since then, bringing with it the staggering 35 milllion Euro loss in the last year.
Can Le Monde survive the unlikely “infernal trio” of Colombani, the empire-builder; Plenel/“Krasny,” the “cultural Trotskyist"; and Minc, the plagiarizing capitalist fixer and hymn-singer to globalization? I’ve talked to a number of smart editors at other publications in Paris who believe that the real reason Minc has encouraged Colombani on his expansionist, ever-more debt-ridden course has been to place Le Monde in such a financial pickle that Minc can ride to the rescue as the paper’s savior, snap it up at a bargain price on behalf of France's patronat (the most powerful business barons), and install himself as its sole and undisputed master. The turmoil that Liberation reports today on the Rue Claude Bernard--the Paris street where Le Monde has its headquarters--suggests that fear of this scenario, given the impending "recapitalization" of the paper, is widespread among the paper's many fine journalists who still work there. If it happens, it will be the final, fatal blow to this once-great daily paper's independence.
November 23, 2004
THAT FLU, DAMMIT....Plus "KEEP YOUR JESUS OFF MY PENIS"
Once again, apologies to DIRELAND readers--this lingering flu just won't go away (thanks, Dubya, for not getting us the vaccine we needed to prevent it) and has left me feeling like I just went 12 rounds with Lennox Lewis, with little energy left for blogging after doing the work that pays the rent. We do promise you some goodies in the days to come, however, as we slowly climb back into the arena....
Meanwhile, to keep your spirits up, treat yourself to Eric Schwartz's new video clip, "KEEP YOUR JESUS OFF MY PENIS." It's a hoot! (Thanks to Lenin's Tomb for an e-mail bringing this clip to my attention).
November 19, 2004
STRIKING WORKERS MASSACRED BY U.S. ALLY, THE PHILLIPINES
Without a word appearing in the U.S. media, and with nary a hint of protest from the Bush administration, the Phillipines' army and police massacred fourteen striking sugar workers, who were gunned down on November 16. Two of those killed were children, aged two and five, suffocated by tear gas. thirtyfive more were wounded by gunshots, 133 were arrested.
The Bush dministration, of course, subordinates all human rights violations by our allies to the war on terrorism. But this is state terrorism against some of the Phillipines' poorest people.
To find out how to raise your voice against this shocking slaugther, visit the British trade union group LabourStart's website.
November 18, 2004
TIME TO HELP TRUTHOUT
William Rivers Pitt and his colleagues at Truthout need a little help.
Their fundraising drive isn't going as well as it should. Truthout is a valuable and reliable alternative news source whose existence in the second Bush administration will be even more essential than in the first one. Moreover, Pitts' original essays are some of the best polemics around--and the original contributions from the site's foreign correspondents are first-rate. Sending some bucks to Truthout is a concrete way to show what you think of the November 2 election results. Click here to donate by credit card. If you prefer to send a check:
Make payable to : truthout
P.O. Box 55871
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413-0871
REMEMBERING THE TRANSGENDERED DEAD
THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL TRANSGENDER ADVOCACY COALITION:
The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition will black out its website www.ntac.org on Saturday, November 20, 2004 in observance of the Sixth Annual Day of Remembrance. This day is set aside to pay homage to those who have been murdered in crimes of bigotry or hatred against the transgendered. The sites of many GLBT organizations will be blacked out in honor of those who died.
In the past year, 21 transgender murders have been reported around the world. Twelve occurred in the United States and Puerto Rico,
continuing the pace of one or more murders per month. An unknown number of other transgender murders go unreported around the world.
The Remembering Our Dead website www.rememberingourdead.org lists known murder victims from as far back as 1970. The list currently holds 325 names, with the latest entry being an unknown transsexual found brutally beaten to death on November 6th in a Long Beach, CA alleyway. By next month the list will likely hold one or two more.
The Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives again blocked passage of Senate-approved Hate Crimes legislation this year that would have included both sexual orientation and perceived gender, signaling that transgender, intersex, gay, and lesbian lives don’t count.
Remembering Our Dead memorial services will be held in major cities and small towns across the United States and around the world. To find an event near you, check www.gender.org/remember/day/where.html.
November 16, 2004
My apologies to readers of DIRELAND--I've been laid low by a very bad case of the flu, which is why I've not been posting for the last week. We hope to have something new and interesting for you soon in these next days...
November 09, 2004
TOM FRANK REPLIES TO CRITICS
After I recommended Tom Frank's important book, "What's the Matter With Kansas? How the Conservatives Won the Heart of America," both on this blog and in my post-election analysis for the L.A. Weekly--as well as urging that attention be paid to his post-electIon N.Y. Times op-ed piece-- I was surprised to receive a number of e-mails criticizing Frank on grounds I considered spurious. They suggested that Frank's appeal for a new, populist politics of class to counter the "values" offensive of the right implied that progressives must put back in the closet their support for abortion, gay civil rights, affirmative action, and a host of other social issues.
That's the opposite of my position--successful electoral politics is a matter of addition, not subtraction-- and it also seemed to me to be a serious mis-reading of Frank's incisive writings. But, to clarify matters for the doubters, I decided to ask Tom himself to reply to these misguided notions. I've just received an e-mail from Tom Frank doing so, relevant excerpts of which follow:
"This is a very strange criticism. I have never suggested that the Democrats backtrack on core principles like abortion rights, civil rights, etc., nor would I ever, ever, ever make such a suggestion. On the contrary, I routinely stress that, in contrast to what you hear from a lot of 'centrist,' 'new' Democrats, that the Dems don't have to give in on the so-called 'values' questions if they reach out to those voters in some other way. Doing so at this point would be to make them into a complete replica of the Republicans.
"Instead, my idea is to build the Democratic coalition back up with a majoritarian economic agenda, and also to use such an agenda to fracture the Republican coalition, to derail conservative fake populism. I have been critical of Democrats, though, as you know. I have criticized mainstream Dems for giving in on economic issues and also (perhaps more importantly) to allow the social movements that once powered the party to wither on the vine. I have also been highly critical of certain leftist visions that I think are insular and sectarian and even anti-majoritarian, but that's a different story altogether (one that you can find out more about on my website, www.tcfrank.com). I have also been highly critical of the kind of leftism that one finds in certain reaches of academia, because I think it basically fails to criticize or even understand free-market theory (this comes up in my book 'One Market Under God')....
"Thinking back over all the interviews I've done, I just can't understand how someone would get that impression of me. I always say, 'I'm a liberal straight across the board,' on social as well as economic issues. Always!"
Tom's response, I think, should clear up any misunderstandings.
HALLIBURTON'S NIGERIAN BRIBERY--The Admission
The Associated Press yesterday, under the headline, "Halliburton acknowledges bribes may have been paid," reported that "Various investigations into an alleged $180 million bribery scandal in Nigeria involving a Halliburton Co. subsidiary and other companies have indicated that payments may have been made to Nigerian officials...the Houston-based oil services conglomerate said in a quarterly filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission."
As the first U.S. journalist to have exposed this scandal, in a December 29, 2003 article for The Nation, "Will the French Indict Dick Cheney?", I admit to a certain schadenfreude at Halliburton's grudging admission of those "payments" (a nicely delicate obfuscation of crass bribery). Although I kept hammering away at this scandal in a series of articles (see, for example, my June 18, 2004 piece in The Nation, "Dick Cheney and the $5 Million Man"), this scandal never got more than a few discrete lines in the business pages of our corporate-coddling daily newspapers during the election campaign, despite the fact that the final contract for the Nigerian natural gas refinery was signed on Dick Cheney's watch as head of Halliburton. The one exception: a long September 29 Wall Street Journal front-pager, "A Search for Bribes to a Dictator," an admirable recapping of the story thus far that confirmed the details I'd previously provided and added some more. But even the WSJ's Page One story didn't get the rest of the national dailies to follow suit; John Edwards, in his televised debate with Cheney days after the WSJ piece, made only a small reference to "investigations" of Halliburton, which was so oblique that if one did not already know about the Nigeria-Halliburton scandal one wouldn't have understood what he was talking about. Edwards' faux populism was always only rhetorical--his deeds never matched his words, and he blew a chance to score a body blow against Cheney.
In the wake of Halliburton's admission, finally some of the Big Boys of the press are daring to take the questions arising from it seriously. In today's Washington Post, Dana Millbank devotes his White House Notebook to considering "Halliburton: the Second-Term Curse?" Millbank, after referring to the new Halliburton admission as a "political bomb," is less than forthright when he seems to lament that "there are several investigations and simmering controversies that were held off until after the election -- and that could present trouble for the president as they resurface. " Well, who exactly helped "hold off" any publicity for the scandal, even after the Securities and Exchange Commision opened a formal investigation into it? Why, the Washington Post, and the other great American dailies, who gave that SEC investigation only a few buried paragraphs.
Will our national newspapers now turn their full spotlight and investigative energy on the Halliburton-Nigeria scandal as it gets closer and closer to the re-elected Vice President? Perhaps--but I wouldn't hold your breath.