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34 posts from November 2009

November 30, 2009

Poppycock: Scherer's Desiree Rogers puff piece

I  don't know whether White House social secretary Desirée Rogers is to blame for the gate crashers at the White House dinner, nor do I particularly care.

This defense by Michael Scherer of TIME makes me want to gag, though:

There is an unwritten rule in Washington: If you want to last, don't stand out. Those who do—think Tom DeLay with his cigars, Jack Abramoff with his restaurant—tend to get clipped before too long. Some call it the “tall poppy syndrome,” probably owing to an anecdote, recorded by Aristotle, of Periander's advice to Thrasybulus: “Always put out of the way the citizens who overtop the rest.” I know of a lobbyist in town who talks about his “big-you, little-me” strategy for success. The smaller you make yourself, in other words, the more power you can acquire.

So we are left with a city of influential clerks, quiet, bland and bespectacled by breeding and training, riding the subway in ill-fitting suits, nicked shoes or the occasional short strands of pearls.  Lips flutter, hearts palpitate and breathless emails are exchanged whenever someone attempts to upset this careful order, which is, in a way, what has been happening since the arrival of Desirée Rogers, the glamourus (sic) Obama family confidant who holds the title of White House Social Secretary.

If Scherer wants to paint Rogers an innocent victim of Washington gossip, maybe he should liken her to people who were actually innocent. Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff didn't get run out of Washington because they were flashy. They went down for conspicuous crimes--but that's just another way of saying they were stupid criminals. 

To read the post, you'd think Rogers is being railroaded by the mean Washington establishment because she's such a Big Star. " Scherer is of the opinion that the beltway meanies have been gunning for Rogers from the outset. "But Rogers remained, in a more subdued way, a poppy above the pack, and her detractors did not go away so much as they positioned themselves for the next pounce," he writes. (Above the pack? Shouldn't that be above the patch?)

In fact, a pretty serious blunder happened on her watch. Maybe it wasn't her fault. Or maybe it was a forgivable rookie mistake. I'm sure the investigation will shed light on these issues.

Still, it's a bit much to get indignant when the White House Social Secretary takes some heat after a couple of two-bit reality TV wannabes crash the administration's first state dinner.

Workers Against Warlords in the Philippines

Last week's massacre of at least 57 politicians, journalists, and innocent bystanders in the province of Maguindanao in the southern Philippines has galvanized the country's labor movement to fight government-sanctioned warlords. The Maguindanao massacre is the largest mass killing of journalists in history.

A coalition of labor unions is demanding an end to the prevailing culture of impunity. The man suspected of being behind last week's massacre is a powerful local tribal leader and a key ally of President Gloria Arroyo.

Chally of Feministe has a good summary of the massacre and its aftermath. She notes that the lead suspect is currently in custody. If he ultimately goes to jail, he will be the first journalist-killer in Filipino history. Scores of working reporters have been killed in the country since President Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Tanks and teargas: Honduras's election fiesta

Hondurans went to the polls yesterday in what the pro-coup media cheerfully called the "fiesta electoral."

It's a wild party that drew a bad crowd.

The United Nations and the Organization of American States refused to send election observers because they saw the contest as hopelessly compromised. The elected president, Mel Zelaya was deposed by a coup on June 28 and illegally deported at gunpoint. He later snuck back into the country and took up residence in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The U.S. originally said it wouldn't recognize elections under the rule of the coup regime, which has been condemned by numerous international human rights organizations for curtailing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press and for using arbitrary detention and excessive (sometimes lethal) force against opposition leaders.

Yesterday, the regime sent tanks to surround about 1000 peaceful protesters and bombard them with water cannons and tear gas. 

BoRev is liveblogging the election. The big question is: How many Hondurans joined with Zelaya in boycotting the election?

The Vancouver Olympics is a triumph of human civilization

Listen up, Canada Customs: The Vancouver Olympics will be the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful international sporting event I've ever seen. Is that clear?

I don't want to end up like U.S. journalist Amy Goodman, who was detained at the Canadian border by guards who were concerned that the host of the popular radio show Democracy Now! would speak out against the 2010 Olympics to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia. (via Melissa Lebo in Vancouver.)

For more international news, check out the latest edition of Morning Coffee.

November 29, 2009

Daily Beast lets former Pentagon shill promote screening of Muslim recruits

The Daily Beast ran an op/ed by retired colonel Ken Allard this weekend. Therein, he argues that the Fort Hood massacre shows why the U.S. military should screen Muslim recruits. "We shouldn’t make Muslims into a mysteriously protected class somehow exempt from scrutiny," Allard wrote.

Here's what the Daily Beast didn't tell us about Allard: He was one of seventy-five "military analysts" recruited by the Pentagon to parrot Bush administration talking points about the invasion of Iraq and torture.

The New York Times exposed this domestic propaganda program in 2008:

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found. [NYT]

By the time the Times interviewed him, Allard blamed the Pentagon for misleading analysts in its secret briefings. However, he never apologized for engaging in domestic propaganda. On the contrary, when he publicly protested the Pulitzer Prize the New York Times won for the expose, Allard's main complaint was that he had already described the program in his book, "Warheads."

Allard's protest letter glosses over the two other key elements of the Times' scoop: i) That most of the analysts had ties to firms seeking federal defense contracts, and ii) That the analysts could command thousands of dollars per 3-minute soundbite from TV networks because they had exclusive access to Pentagon briefings, which could presumably be revoked if the higher-ups were dissatisfied with their performance.

This wasn't just a case of an agency giving preferential access to handpicked journalists. Documents obtained by the Times show, DOD treated the analysts as surrogates whose job was to disseminate administration talking points.

It's ridiculous that a man who has been already been exposed as a shill should be granted a platform to expound on matters of national security. The Daily Beast compromised its own credibility by running this op/ed without disclosing Allard's past as a Pentagon shill. Who knows who he's working for now?

November 27, 2009

Pie Heaven

Thanksgiving Pies, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

"If when you die you get a choice between pie heaven and regular heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick but if not mmmboy."- Jack Handey

The pie in front is mixed apple with 2tbs apple cider vinegar substituted for the lemon juice--a great combination, adds tartness with more depth of flavor than lemon. On the back left is Dorie Greenspan's burnt sugar pumpkin pie--a sophisticated alternative to plain pumpkin with a shiny surface and a deep, slightly bitter caramel flavor. On the back right is the Cook's Illustrated pecan pie, which I'm going to make again for Christmas with a little less sugar.

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Brooklyn, NY.

I mixed and matched this year. The crust is from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking from My Home to Yours" and the filling is from Cook's Illustrated. The crust is my new favorite pie dough recipe. It's so flaky it literally puffs when you bake it. The pecan filling was a little too sweet for my taste, but otherwise good.

November 25, 2009

Dispatch from the real economy

The drugstore has locked down the deodorant.

Addendum: You can tell a lot about a neighborhood by what gets locked up to prevent shoplifting. Here in New York, supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods tend to put baby formula behind glass. Swankier places will keep it behind the counter at the pharmacy, or sometimes even out on the shelf.

Yuppie liquor stores keep all but their most expensive bottles out on the shelves to encourage customers to facilitate impulse buys. By contrast, liquor stores in rougher neighborhoods may keep the bulk of their inventory behind plexiglass. Liquor stores are an extreme example because they've got to worry about robberies as well as shoplifting, but it's the same merchandising principle at work. It's a tradeoff between accessibility and security.

Small, expensive items like razor blades and batteries are likely to be secured no matter where you go. But it's a bad sign that deodorant shoplifting has become enough of a problem to justify the expense of the giant plastic case and extra hassle for the employees.

November 24, 2009

Win $1000: 3quarksdaily's Top Quark prize for political blogging

3qd politics prizeI'm very pleased to announce that 3quarksdaily is sponsoring a prize for political blogging.

Eligible posts must be about politics, written in English, and published after Nov 23, 2008.

The winner of the Top Quark award will receive a cash prize of $1000 and feedback on the winning entry from 3QD's celebrity judge, novelist and historian Tariq Ali.

3QD is accepting nominations from now until Nov 29. The winner will be announced on Dec 21. See 3quarks for more details, and to nominate your favorite post. You are encouraged to nominate your own work. Remember, though, only one nomination per person.

Please help spread the word about the contest by blogging, tweeting, or (if you want to be old school) just telling other people.

November 22, 2009

Scientists talk smack on listervs! News at 11

Real Climate debunks allegations by global warming deniers that stolen emails from a closed climate science listerv reveal some kind of conspiracy.