Thursday, March 31, 2011

G.E.'s tax-free year and the news that wasn't on NBC: Hmmmmm on two fronts . . .


In January, President Obama named Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. “He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy,” Mr. Obama said.


Late last week, The New York Times broke the news this way:
G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether 
By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI 
General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010. 
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States. 
Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
The Times goes on to explain that G.E.'s ...
Mr. Samuels
...extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.
As to what G.E.'s non-payment of Federal taxes means, both to shareholders and the rest of us, the Times writes as part of its very long article on big businesses' small tax bills:
The assortment of tax breaks G.E. has won in Washington has provided a significant short-term gain for the company’s executives and shareholders. While the financial crisis led G.E. to post a loss in the United States in 2009, regulatory filings show that in the last five years, G.E. has accumulated $26 billion in American profits, and received a net tax benefit from the I.R.S. of $4.1 billion. 
But critics say the use of so many shelters amounts to corporate welfare, allowing G.E. not just to avoid taxes on profitable overseas lending but also to amass tax credits and write-offs that can be used to reduce taxes on billions of dollars of profit from domestic manufacturing. They say that the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like G.E. not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States. 
The hoopla resulting from this announcement was fairly predictable. An opinion piece in Waterbury, Connecticut's Republican American  says that "some people are up in arms over the New York Times' fact-challenged report that General Electric paid no taxes on its $14.2 billion profit in 2010." After a swipe at the Obama administration, the paper editorializes, in part:

Absent from the Times' piece were some inconvenient facts. GE is among the best-run corporations in the world. Its stock price rose 20.9 percent in 2010 vs. 12.9 percent for the S&P 500. At last report, it had 10.6 billion shares outstanding, so last year's run-up in its stock price plus the dividend totaled almost $40 billion in new wealth. Governments shared in GE's sterling performance through taxes on capital gains and dividends that weren't held in tax-deferred accounts; Connecticut took its cut through its income tax. GE's stock is up a further 8 percent this year because investors big and small, including managers of government pension funds, remain confident in its continued profitability. ... 
Interestingly, GE was able to reduce its federal tax liability to $0 with help from renewable-energy tax credits, which the Times adores because they helped "jump-start hundreds of projects — mostly wind and solar — and created thousands of new jobs" while combating global warming and other environmental scourges. But for this narrative, the credits morphed into "loopholes." GE also got $3.2 billion in credits for federal taxes it overpaid in other years.
ABC news, however, offered this opinion:
"Two things are disconcerting. One is, there's a disproportionate amount of profits being reported offshore. And then, even for the profits that are reported onshore, they're paying less than 35 percent," said Martin Sullivan, a contributing editor for Tax Analysts.
MoveOn.org and Progressives United sent sent out an e-mail calling for CEO Jeffrey Immelt to step down as Chair of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, pointing out that, “One of the chief ways GE avoids paying taxes is by shifting a large portion of its profits overseas, and jobs follow. Now GE’s CEO is the person charged with helping the President create jobs here in America. That’s just perverse."

Google "GE and taxes" and you'll find that the story garnered widespread coverage-- and also galvanized a great many economic opinionators into action. People everywhere have been in a flap -- everywhere, that is, except on NBC News, where, since the story broke, Brian Williams et al. have maintained a thundering silence on the subject.


The National Review, among many news organizations, took note of the network's choice not to cover the GE story, by writing that:
During its Friday broadcast, “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” had no time to mention that America’s largest corporation had essentially avoided paying federal taxes in 2010. Or its Saturday, Sunday or Monday broadcasts, either. 
Brian Williams
Did NBC’s silence have anything to do with the fact that one of its parent companies is General Electric? 
NBC News representatives say that it didn’t. “This was a straightforward editorial decision, the kind we make daily around here,” said Lauren Kapp, spokeswoman for NBC News. Kapp declined to discuss how NBC decides what’s news or, in this case, what isn’t. 
So, are we to understand from Ms. Kapp's comment that NBC has decided that the fact that the largest US corporation isn't paying any 2010 taxes isn't news?

All I can say is what I said in today's post's title: Hmmmmmmm ... 

How about you?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

About that $55,000 Virginia Tech fine: Josh, you got questions? We've got answers ... sort of . . .

Late yesterday afternoon, I posted on the WMRA Facebook page that Virginia Tech  would be fined  $55,000 by the federal government for its handling of the events of April 16th, 2007.

Kevin Sterne is carried out of Norris Hall at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007
(Alan Kim, Roanoke Times, via, AP file photo
The Chronicle of Higher Education began this morning's article on that fine by writing:
The U.S. Department of Education informed Virginia Tech on Tuesday that it intends to fine the institution $55,000 for violations of a federal campus crime-reporting law in its response to the shootings that claimed 33 lives on the Blacksburg, Va., campus four years ago.
The university plans to appeal the fines. 
The department's announcement, in a letter to Virginia Tech's president, Charles W. Steger, affirms the findings in a final ruling issued in December that determined Virginia Tech had violated the Clery Act by failing to provide a "timely warning" on the day of the shootings, April 16, 2007. 
Early that morning, a student, Seung-Hui Cho, fatally shot two other students in a residence hall. The university sent a campuswide e-mail about the incident more than two hours later, at 9:26 a.m. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cho entered an academic building and began shooting at students and professors. Thirty more people were killed before the gunman killed himself. 
The Education Department's report said that the e-mail alert that went out at 9:26 was too vague—it mentioned a "shooting incident" but not any fatalities—and too late. The report also asserts that the university failed to follow its own policy for issuing timely warnings.
Virginia Tech has announced that it will appeal the ruling.


Back to the WMRA Facebook Page.. .

Josh Avni responded to news of the fine by writing: "I'd like to know what changes were made to VT policy after-the-fact. Regardless of whether or not they believe that they acted appropriately under their system, 33 deaths (or any) are unacceptable. Period."

Good question, I thought. So here, sort of, is an answer...




A lot of campus security procedures appear to hang on the Jeanne Clery Act,  passed by Congress in 1990. The Act was named for a Lehigh University first year student who, in 1986, had been raped and murdered by a fellow student in her residence hall.. (And yes, the squabbling halls of Congress did take four years to respond.) 

The original Clery Act basically required colleges and universities who accept any kind of federal funding to make their security policies and statistics on certain specified crime freely available to the public. Those specified crimes are homicide, murder, manslaughter, sexual offenses, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary, drug and alcohol violations, arson, possession of illegal weapons.

The Act also included these rather vague instructions for providing Special Alerts.
• Special Alerts:  If circumstances warrant, special crime alerts and notifications can be prepared and distributed throughout the campus. 
Virginia Tech's responses on April 16th were criticized by many as a bit sluggish. In response the the shootings., President George W. Bush signed amendments to the Clery Act in 2008. Among them, as summarized by Security on Campus, was one that addressed the sluggishness of the Virginia Tech's actions on the day of the shooting:
The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) adds a statement of “emergency response and evacuation procedures” to the Clery Act annual security report (ASR) produced by institutions of postsecondary education. The policy disclosure “shall include” a statement that the institution will “immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff” on campus (as defined in the Act). Warnings may only be withheld if they would compromise efforts to contain the emergency. Accompanying “report” language calls for warnings to be issued “without any delay” following confirmation of an emergency.
Addressing the gun control laws in effect at the time -- the ones that allowed  Seun-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, to purchase a gun -- I found  this annotated entry in Wikipedia:
The massacre prompted the state of Virginia to close legal loopholes that had previously allowed Cho, an individual adjudicated as mentally unsound, to purchase handguns without detection by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also led to passage of the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years. The law strengthening the NICS was signed by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2008.[10] 
The Virginia Tech Review Panel, a state-appointed body assigned to review the incident, criticized Virginia Tech administrators for failing to take action that might have reduced the number of casualties. The panel's report also reviewed gun laws and pointed out gaps in mental health care as well as privacy laws that left Cho's deteriorating condition in college untreated.
Colleges have also slowly begun to address the prickly balance between safety and privacy when it comes to concerns about their students' mental health. For example, North Carolina's State Board of Community Colleges recently amended its admissions policy to include a mental health clause. According to Kinston.com 
The amendment to the state’s admission policy reads: a college’s board of trustees may refuse “admission to any applicant if it is necessary to protect the health or safety of the applicant or other individuals … when there is an articulable, imminent, and significant threat.”


Finally, I found this interchange as a "best answer" on Ask.com. It was posted 4 months ago in response to a less Tech-centered version of the same question Josh asked yesterday on the WMRA Facebook page: What has changed at colleges and universities after the Virginia Tech shootings? 
Oddly, very little. 
In Virginia (where the shooting occurred) many schools have instituted new warning systems and have incorporated text messaging into the system. If there is an alert you will get a text message.
Most schools now practice fire drills more often. Now, a fire drill involves the evacuation of a building so it can be used in case of a fire or in case something occurs that requires the evacuation of the building. 
However, there have been drawbacks. Virginia Commonwealth University actually got a law passed making it illegal to possess a weapon on school grounds. This is problematic because VCU is an urban campus and you have a mix of private property in between the school buildings. So, lots of non-VCU people are in the area and it's very spread out so you can go days without seeing a campus police officer. Also, VCU used to have one of the top criminal justice programs there and the law has made it difficult for many part time students who are currently in various aspects of the LE field. This can be suggested as a concept of focusing on the law abiding (which is easily regulated) as opposed to focusing on those active in breaking the law. Thus this is considered a "Mala Prohibita" argument (Bad because it is not allowed) versus a "Mala In Se" (Bad in itself) situation. 
With the recent budget crisis, many schools have cut back on their manpower in their security/police departments. In any budget issue, employee pay and benefits is the biggest budget issue and the one most easily managed by laying off personnel. 
Now a lot of the security is done just to make people feel safe but really does not offer very strong protection or it is security that is easily avoided. This is a situation of creating a "show" and having the appearance of providing safety which gets a larger response from the public. However, there was a paradigm shift in which law enforcement will now actively engage a shooter as opposed to setting up a perimeter and attempting to treat it as a hostage situation. 
This is both good and bad. This creates a police intervention of the situation as soon as they get on scene but is bad because the situation is confronted without proper intelligence on the issue and also without proper backup giving the advantage to the criminal.
I hope this helps.
I could find very little specifically addressing changes at Virginia Tech, probably because Tech is perceived as fighting an ongoing public relations battle about the shootings, as well as lawsuits filed by families of the victims.

Josh et al, this make anything any clearer?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh, what a tangled web we create, whenever we start to litigate . . .



Forget morality. Is it legal, under the Constitution of the United States, to lie? Is speech that's completely unattached to reality still guaranteed free under the First Amendment?

The 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco says, yep, it sure is. The reason: We all do it.

The New Criterion offers this quotation from 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski's opinion, which offered 28 reasons why we all lie:
Judge Kozinski
"We lie to protect our privacy (‘No, I don’t live around here’); to avoid hurt feelings (‘Friday is my study night’); to make others feel better (‘Gee, you’ve gotten skinny’); to avoid recriminations (‘I only lost $10 at poker’)," Kozinski wrote recently in a case about an inveterate liar named Xavier Alvarez who, just to drive home the point, is also known as Javier Alvarez. Kozinski listed 28 other reasons we avoid the truth, including to "avoid a nudnick" and to "defeat an objective (‘I’m allergic to latex’)," and ending sweetly with "to maintain innocence (‘There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop’)." Judge Kozinski concludes that "If all untruthful speech is unprotected . . . we could all be made into criminals, depending on which lies those making the laws find offensive."
The case considered by the 9th Circuit Court of San Francisco involved Xavier Alvarez who was convicted under the Stolen Valor Act, a law passed by Congress in 2005 to stem an apparent tide of people making up heroic military pasts.

Courthouse News Service describes Mr. Alvarez' situation this way:
Xavier (or Javier) Alvarez
Faced with a criminal indictment, Xavier Alvarez pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act . . .Alvarez had apparently made a habit of lying about his military exploits, telling people that he had won the Medal of Honor for rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis, and that he had been shot in the back as he returned to the Embassy to save the American flag, according to the initial 9th Circuit ruling. 
A federal judge ordered him to pay $5,000, serve three years of probation and do community service.
The aforementioned Stolen Valor Act levies a fine and/or a prison term upon conviction on anyone who “falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States.” If you claim a Purple Heart, a Medal of Honor or any other particularly venerated decoration/medal that you didn't earn, you can get a longer prison term.

The Washington Post, writing about the 9th Circuit Court's recent ruling, reiterated that Alvarez's lying is an established fact.
There’s no question Alvarez lied. After winning a seat on Southern California’s Three Valleys Municipal Water District board of directors in 2007, he introduced himself by saying: “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.” 
None of that was true. But a district judge overturned Alvarez’s conviction by declaring the law a violation of the First Amendment. A panel of the 9th Circuit agreed, and earlier this month the full court refused to reconsider the panel’s decision.
The Post story goes on to tell us that the decision was far from unanimous.
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain and six other 9th Circuit judges said their colleagues were wrong. He said the decision to find the law unconstitutional “runs counter to nearly forty years of Supreme Court precedent” in which the court “has steadfastly instructed that false statements of fact are not protected by the First Amendment.” 
Both sides cite the court’s landmark free-speech cases. Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., who agreed the law was unconstitutional, said 1964’s New York Times Co. v. Sullivan made clear that “false speech is not subject to a blanket exemption from constitutional protection.” 
He said the court has never included “false statements of fact” to be among the classes of speech unprotected by the First Amendment. He noted that as recently as last year’s decision in United States v. Stevens, the court’s list of “well-defined” unprotected speech included only “obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement and speech integral to criminal conduct.” 
O’Scannlain and the dissenters point to cases decided after Sullivan, including Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., in which the court said that “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact."
The Denver Post opined about the 9th Circuit Court's decision on Sunday, writing that:
Sometimes defending the First Amendment involves standing up for miscreants, no matter how distasteful. ... The truly sad part of this, we acknowledge, is that free speech has never been free. It has been achieved by the spilled blood of war heroes — the same people these scoundrels are impersonating.
Ay me, as Juliette said from her balcony. Never has it been more obvious that the law and morality are the most distant of relatives.

I'm sure politicians everywhere are holding their breath, waiting to hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court upholds our legal right to lie.

"A Burden Rightly Lifted." This political cartoon was printed in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper," December 4, 1880. James Garfield had won the presidential election in November. Garfield is shown lying on the ground. Justice, with her scales and blindfold, lifts a heavy weight off Garfield, which is labeled "Calumny." This may be a reference to the Credit Mobilier scandal which haunted Garfield.

Monday, March 28, 2011

As the Dixie Chicks said, you gotta loosen up those chains and Dance!!


2003 magazine cover
Personal confession time . . .

I, Martha Woodroof, love the Dixie Chicks;  both for their music and their outspoken refusal to toe the country music political line.

Imagine being country music singers from Texas and breaking bad on President George W. Bush about the Iraq War in 2003. It was, at the time, considered downright shocking

Back to their music, though, the Chicks had this to say about dancing:
Some days you gotta dance
Live it up when you get the chance.
'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense
And you're feeling just a little to tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance.
You gotta just do it, they're saying. Get out there and move, even when the dance in question is the Big Dance; the Men's NCAA basketball tournament. Forget Dancing with the Stars. My nominees for 2011's best dancers -- the ones who loosened the chains of almost everyone's expectations -- are the members of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Rams.

VCU yesterday, dancing on the odds, which had Kansas as an 11 pt. favorite  (AP Photo/Michael Thomas) 

Mike Wise put it this way in this morning's Washington Post:
Point guard Joey Rodriguez
Their 155-pound point guard, dribbling madly around the basketball court, would need a phone book under his sneakers to clear 6 feet. Their center, who decided life at one of the nation’s most esteemed programs was not for him, appears to be better at three-point shots than the ones he takes closer to the basket. Even their cocksure young leader who preaches controlled chaos — he turns 34 in two weeks — seems unorthodox, almost out of place among the giants of college basketball. 
The good thing is, pedigree and power conferences don’t always dictate who gets a chance to play in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. 
Coach Shaka Smart in victory garb
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
The good thing is, Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Coach Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth got in. 
And once that happened, the improbable followed in lockstep. 
In case you were napping and missed the most scintillating NCAA tournament upset in five years, the Rams from Richmond pulled a George Mason on Sunday, blowing out top-seeded Kansas in the first half of the tournament’s Southwest Region final before repelling a wild second-half rally and pulling away at the end.
And if a college's men basketball team is dancing, you can bet the students are as well.

VCU student Taylor Ricketts (top) celebrates VCU's win over Kansas as fellow student Reid Mownray supports him at VCU's Siegel Center as a thousand students celebrate at the moment the Rams won.
So how improbable is VCU's dancing their way into the Men's Final Four? According to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning, if you had placed a $10.00 bet on VCU to win its first game against Southern California and then let that bet ride, you would have won over $13,000 dollars.

So why should we experienced, worldly-wise, over-burdened adults care that the VCU Rams are going to the Men's Final Four? Why am I writing about this rather than more serious subjects such as Japan or Libya or our own Supreme Court?

Because VCU's gloriously joyful and improbable victory is just as real as those other things. And, speaking for myself, it makes me realize that if hard work and guts and teamwork can shake off all the chains of expectations and set the VCU Rams to dancing in the Final Four, who knows where the rest of ourselves could find ourselves if we gave ourselves a good shake as well. Maybe all we need to do is "loosen up those chains and dance!"

Go Rams! Go world!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hope for Charlie Sheen, a Civic Soapbox essay by RB Horsley



I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and seeing Charlie Sheen unravel on television disturbed and fascinated me. Fascinated me because although Sheen states, "You can’t process me with a normal brain," I can process him with my addict’s brain. Disturbed because it reminded me of where I came from and where I could go if I choose to pick up a drink or drug.

I don’t have Charlie Sheen’s talent, money, or Hollywood pedigree. And I have to say I am thankful for that. I’m not sure I’d be alive if I’d had the means to satisfy all my desires. But it wasn’t lack of funds that drove me to stop drinking and using drugs. It was a moment of clarity, a few seconds when I literally paused on the threshold of my home, my back to the August sunshine, my face to the unlit interior of the mud room. While my pupils adjusted to the dimness, I thought I am nothing, nobody. I am a shell of a human being.

I was astonishingly lonely, depressed and suicidal. I passed through the door to the kitchen and I told my husband I thought I was going crazy. I scheduled an appointment with a counselor. Little did I know that a few days later I would experience my last humiliating drunken binge and at the counselor's I was able to connect the dots between my drinking and my suicidal thinking. She introduced me to the Charlottesville recovery community.

That was twenty-two years ago. 

Since then I have learned to live fully without the aid of alcohol or drugs. With my husband, I have raised three children, experienced the death of one from cancer, emotionally supported the other two through their own struggles with substance abuse. I had to accept the fact that my surviving children could die from their disease too, an especially painful acknowledgment. I have answered the phone to hear an emergency room nurse inform me of a drug overdose; a police officer give me directions to the hospital ICU where my severely beaten and intoxicated child was being treated.

Happily, each of my children has chosen, while still in their twenties, to change their lives.

I was thirty-three and didn’t have many expectations when I stopped drinking. Mostly I just wanted to stop hating myself and I didn’t want to lose custody of my kids. My marriage was on the rocks; I didn’t know if I wanted to save it.

This year, my husband and I will celebrate thirty-four years of marriage. I earned a BA in English from UVA at the tender age of forty-five. The same age Charlie Sheen is today. I can’t ridicule the man. I want him to get better. I want to watch his transformation. I’m afraid he may not have a moment of clarity but I pray he does.

I have a good life due to the counselor who opened my eyes, my family who has loved me despite my addictions all these years, and most of all, the people in recovery who were there to teach me, without judgment, how to really live.

When I was ready.
-- RB Horsley lives in North Garden. She is a writer and poet.

It's historical déjà vu all over again , , ,

This year marks the 100th anniversary of air bombings. And history has probably never celebrated such a momentous event more tidily.

What country was bombed 100 years ago?

Libya.

Is that tidy, or what?

Italian dirigibles bomb Turkish positions on Libyan Territory. The Italian–Turkish war of 1911–1912 was the first in history that featured air attacks by airplanes and dirigible airships.
Ian Patterson, writing in the London Review of Books, had this to say:
The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as ‘collateral damage’. (In those days it was called ‘frightfulness’.) The Italians, however, were much cheered by the ‘wonderful moral effect’ of bombing, its capacity to demoralise and panic those on the receiving end. 
A hundred years on, as missiles rain down on Gaddafi’s defences and sleeping Libyan soldiers are blasted and burned, we hear claims of a similar kind: the might of the western onslaught will dissipate all support for Gaddafi’s regime and usher in a new golden age for everyone. Just as Shock and Awe were meant to in Iraq. Or bombing and defoliation were meant to in Vietnam. Or as the London Blitz was meant to break Britain’s spirit. Yet all the evidence suggests that dropping high explosive on places where people live increases their opposition, their solidarity and their resolve. Happy Anniversary.
As we all know, Libya is again being bombed. This, today, from Radio Free Europe:
Fighting is continuing in Libya for key cities after a fifth night of coalition air strikes.  
Several explosions were heard overnight as antiaircraft fire lit up the sky in Tripoli, where coalition aircraft reportedly hit a fuel depot. 
Witnesses also reported a huge blast at a military base in the Tajura neighborhood east of the capital. 
The official JANA news agency said coalition raids on Tajura killed "a large number" of civilians, while Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim late on March 23 pleaded for a halt of the aerial bombardment. . . . 
French fighter jets return from operations over Libya.(Reuters)
Air Strikes 'As Long As Necessary'
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that coalition air strikes against Libya had been a "success" and would "continue as long as necessary."  
Juppe [said there] had been no reports of civilian casualties caused by allied action, adding that the strikes were "only targeting military sites and nothing else." . . . 
On March 21st, two days after the current Libyan bombings began, Eric Margolis, writing in the Huffington Post, had this to say about U.S. participation:
America's glaring double standard in the Mideast and Muslim world is a major reason for growing hatred of our nation.  
Events in Libya may end up further enflaming such feelings. 
America would be hailed as [a] genuine liberator of long-suffering Libyans if it also intervened in Bahrain and Yemen -- and perhaps Saudi Arabia -- to protect civilians from the ferocity of their despotic governments and promote real democracy. 
But it's only oil-rich Libya that is getting the "humanitarian" treatment from the US and oil-hungry western European former colonial powers. 
A fractured Libya will not only curtail oil exports, it will open the gates to a flood of African emigration to southern Europe. Gaddafi has long been cooperating with France, Italy and Spain to halt the flow of such economic refugees. He now threatens to open the flood gates. There is also a risk that the Libyan conflict could spread into neighboring Mali, Chad, Niger and Sudan.
Turkey has been proposing sensible diplomatic solutions but no one is yet listening to peaceful plans. Once again, the west is gripped by that old crusading fever, a combination of moral outrage at the wickedness of the unspeakable Saracens, combined with a pulsating lust for their riches. 
The question President Obama should be asking himself is: given our $1.4 trillion deficit, can we really afford another little war whose rationale is unclear and outcome uncertain?
As for that outcome, at least from a U.S. point-of-view. . . this, from a March 20th updated AP article taken from the Denver Post:
"No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away." Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was pressed repeatedly during a round of Sunday television interviews to explain the mission's objectives. He said the main goal is to protect civilians from further violence. 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy before a crisis summit on Libya at Elysee Palace on Saturday. (Franck Prevel, Getty Images Europe)
"I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future," the admiral said on ABC's "This Week." "I wouldn't speculate in terms of length at this particular point in time." Asked whether it was possible that the military goals might be met without Gadhafi being ousted, Mullen replied, "That's certainly potentially one outcome." He described the Libyan strongman as more isolated than ever, adding that Gadhafi is "going to have to make some choices about his own future" at some point.  
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that although ousting Gadhafi is not an explicit goal of the campaign, his departure might be hastened as the conflict continues. 
"The opposition is largely led by those who defected from the Gadhafi regime or who formerly served it, and it is certainly to be wished for that there will be even more such defections, that people will put the future of Libya and the interests of the Libyan people above their service to Col. Gadhafi," she said.
So, I guess all that means the questions of what, precisely, we're doing in Libya, and why we're doing it, are still being debated. But that does not take away from the historical symmetry of Libyan bombing, then and now.

Wishing you a belated happy anniversary of one problematic day in history. . .

Yesterday marked 100th anniversary of one of humanity's most contentious accomplishments: Air bombings.

Italian dirigibles bomb Turkish positions on Libyan Territory. The Italian–Turkish war of 1911–1912 was the first in history that featured air attacks by airplanes and dirigible airships.[7]
Ian Patterson, writing in the London Review of Books, had this to say:

The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as ‘collateral damage’. (In those days it was called ‘frightfulness’.) The Italians, however, were much cheered by the ‘wonderful moral effect’ of bombing, its capacity to demoralise and panic those on the receiving end. 
A hundred years on, as missiles rain down on Gaddafi’s defences and sleeping Libyan soldiers are blasted and burned, we hear claims of a similar kind: the might of the western onslaught will dissipate all support for Gaddafi’s regime and usher in a new golden age for everyone. Just as Shock and Awe were meant to in Iraq. Or bombing and defoliation were meant to in in Vietnam. Or as the London Blitz was meant to break Britain’s spirit. Yet all the evidence suggests that dropping high explosive on places where people live increases their opposition, their solidarity and their resolve. Happy Anniversary.
Ironically, history is marking this anniversary by bombing Libya, again. This, today, from Radio Free Europe:
Fighting is continuing in Libya for key cities after a fifth night of coalition air strikes.  
Several explosions were heard overnight as antiaircraft fire lit up the sky in Tripoli, where coalition aircraft reportedly hit a fuel depot. 
Witnesses also reported a huge blast at a military base in the Tajura neighborhood east of the capital. 
The official JANA news agency said coalition raids on Tajura killed "a large number" of civilians, while Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim late on March 23 pleaded for a halt of the aerial bombardment. . . . 
French fighter jets return from operations over Libya.(Reuters)
Air Strikes 'As Long As Necessary'
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that coalition air strikes against Libya had been a "success" and would "continue as long as necessary."  
Juppe told RTL that there had been no reports of civilian casualties caused by allied action, adding that the strikes were "only targeting military sites and nothing else." . . . 
On March 21st, two days after the current Libyan bombings began, Eric Margolis, writing in the Huffington Post, had this to say about U.S. participation:

America's glaring double standard in the Mideast and Muslim world is a major reason for growing hatred of our nation.  
Events in Libya may end up further enflaming such feelings. 
America would be hailed as genuine liberator of long-suffering Libyans if it also intervened in Bahrain and Yemen -- and perhaps Saudi Arabia -- to protect civilians from the ferocity of their despotic governments and promote real democracy. 
But it's only oil-rich Libya that is getting the "humanitarian" treatment from the US and oil-hungry western European former colonial powers. 
A fractured Libya will not only curtail oil exports, it will open the gates to a flood of African emigration to southern Europe. Gaddafi has long been cooperating with France, Italy and Spain to halt the flow of such economic refugees. He now threatens to open the flood gates. There is also a risk that the Libyan conflict could spread into neighboring Mali, Chad, Niger and Sudan.
Turkey has been proposing sensible diplomatic solutions but no one is yet listening to peaceful plans. Once again, the west is gripped by that old crusading fever, a combination of moral outrage at the wickedness of the unspeakable Saracens, combined with a pulsating lust for their riches. 
The question President Obama should be asking himself is: given our $1.4 trillion deficit, can we really afford another little war whose rational is unclear and outcome uncertain?
As that outcome, at least from a U.S. point-of-view. . . this, from an March 20th updated AP article taken from the Denver Post

"No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear. When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past can be washed away." Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was pressed repeatedly during a round of Sunday television interviews to explain the mission's objectives. He said the main goal is to protect civilians from further violence. 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy before a crisis summit on Libya at Elysee Palace on Saturday. (Franck Prevel, Getty Images Europe)
"I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future," the admiral said on ABC's "This Week." "I wouldn't speculate in terms of length at this particular point in time." Asked whether it was possible that the military goals might be met without Gadhafi being ousted, Mullen replied, "That's certainly potentially one outcome." He described the Libyan strongman as more isolated than ever, adding that Gadhafi is "going to have to make some choices about his own future" at some point.  
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that although ousting Gadhafi is not an explicit goal of the campaign, his departure might be hastened as the conflict continues. 
"The opposition is largely led by those who defected from the Gadhafi regime or who formerly served it, and it is certainly to be wished for that there will be even more such defections, that people will put the future of Libya and the interests of the Libyan people above their service to Col. Gadhafi," she said.
So, I guess all that means the question of what, exactly, we're doing in Libya, and why we're doing it, is still being debated.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So, about last night? Who knew that . . .

... Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen possesses a wonderful, comedic stage presence?

photo: Marie Adele Christopher

Here's what I mean.

If you're honest, I'm betting that the first thought that crosses your mind when you meet someone you've listened to on the radio is: Oh, so that's what you look like.

Last night at about 8:05, Liane Hansen took the stage at Blackfriars Playhouse, sat herself down, got comfortable, gazed out at us and said: Oh, so that's what you look like.

It was the first of many, many laughs with which she gifted us during the next couple of hours.

Liane Hansen doesn't give talks; she tells stories, ranging from the harrowing to the comedic. The harrowing included the tale of hearing that her husband (Neal Conan) had been captured by the Iraqi Republican Guard in 1991 while covering the Gulf War for NPR. She told of the days of uncertainty; spent as worried wife bent on professionally reporting her own family crisis. She refused to run with unconfirmed news, even though other news outlets were bandying inaccurate information about with abandon. Her message for us last night: At NPR reporting a news story means the information must be confirmed by two independent, reliable sources. NPR may not be first; but it is accurate.

Liane Hansen came on stage holding a sheaf of papers, NPR's talking points on managements'-- shall we say -- little foo-foos, the Congressional funding debate, and other delicate subjects about which we curious listeners might be -- well -- curious. It was, she said, the first time in her 35 years with NPR that they sent her out equipped with what to say. Liane then promised that if someone asked a question that was covered in those talking points, she'd first read the answer and then tell us what she really thought. Then, with perfect comic timing, she added that maybe she'd hold off on the what-she-really-thought part until after her retirement at the end of May.

Later, someone asked her to read the talking point with which she most disagreed. Liane proceeded to sit on the stage and read the talking points to herself in a stage mumble, frowning, rejecting, turning pages, while our chuckles grew into guffaws. At just the right theatrical moment, she closed up the talking points and said, "Would you mind terribly if I didn't?"

You probably had to be there to really appreciate the comedy of this little bit of theatrical business, but trust me, it was was very, very funny.

photo: Marie Adele Christopher

Liane Hansen spoke to us for about 40 minutes, then answered questions for an hour; and yes, she talked about Juan Williams, Congress, NPR management, as well as the past, present and future of NPR journalism.

Diane Halke, our Development Director (and the person we all have to thank for last night's wonderful time) asked me to introduce Liane Hansen last night. In preparation I e-mailed Liane and asked if there was anything in particular she'd like me to say. She e-mailed back just to "speak from your heart, or head, or soul, or whatever."

So that's what I did.

For the head part I listed a few of Liane Hansen's accomplishments, including NPR-related ones and the fact that back in the mid-eighties she'd worked as an archivist in London's acclaimed Maybox Theatres, where other duties included babysitting Princess Margaret's coat and serving coffee to Sir Richard Attenborough.

But it was while addressing the heart and soul part that I really got down to what I wanted to say about this remarkable woman. As someone who went to high school when women were deemed too delicate physically and mentally for full-court basketball, Liane Hansen symbolizes to me the full-court press the women of our generation executed upon all those “traditionally” male professional bastions.

Liane Hansen not only took on the news business, she got to the top of it. Her life is many things, among them a gift to other women.

I don't know about you, but I will miss her participation in my Sunday mornings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Calling on the Defense Department to do right by Bradley Manning: one participant's view of last Sunday's demonstration at Quantico

Martha note: Harrisonburg's indefatigable Harvey Yoder sent out a notice last week that Diana Woodall would be driving to Quantico to join last Sunday's protest against the treatment of detained army private Bradley Manning, who's accused of giving classified information to Wikileaks (which, as you can see if you click on the link, is no longer available.) 
I immediately e-mailed Diana and asked her to write about her experience at the protest for the WMRA blog. 
I think of this time of year when forsythia is in bloom as the very tender beginnings of spring. I could have easily talked myself out of going to Quantico. I would have preferred to work in my garden than drive to a demonstration. After all, what difference could one person make?

The call to end the prison mistreatment of private Bradley Manning has been picked up by Amnesty International, as well as supporters in Australia, the UK, and more. Last week, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley resigned after calling Manning's treatment, “Counterproductive, stupid and ridiculous.” I believe we all need to “Think Globally—Act Locally.” Here was a local action—in Virginia at least—that now has global significance.
Bradley Manning is the soldier alleged to have leaked documents to Wikileaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But here's the thing: He has not yet been tried or convicted. Yet, he has been held for 300 days in a military brig in Quantico, in solitary confinement, forced to stay in his cell for 23 hours a day.
Now I am not a fan of Julian Assange and have mixed feelings about Wikileaks. But several months ago I heard on NPR that because of the treatment Manning was receiving, his condition had declined. That had me concerned.
So, on Sunday March 20, 8 years to the day after the beginning of the Iraq War, I drove the 2 ½ hours to Quantico to join between 400-500 others in support of Bradley Manning. Quantico base is at the intersection of Route 1 and Anderson Rd, in Triangle, VA, about 30 miles south of DC, and north of Fredericksburg. Just south of the base is the Marine Museum, and instructions on the BradleyManning.org website prior to the event were to park in the museum lot, which is open to the public.
I arrived at just past 1:30pm to find this was not going to be an “ordinary” demonstration. Police had parked perhaps 50 of their cars in the lot, and some sections of the lot were blocked. Soon, a white van with Florida tags parked, and out came 7 or 8 Veterans for Peace members. We walked back to the intersection of Route 1 and Anderson, and by now the demonstrators had moved north to a section of land between the road and a small church, where they set up for a rally.
photo: Diana Woodall
The crowd of between 400-500 people was young and old, white and black and other people of color. I'd say the median age was above 40 if not 50, and the gathering was largely white. Several bus loads of folks had come from DC. Others came from as far away as Harrisburg, PA and of course yours truly from Harrisonburg, VA. People generally seemed to be in good spirits, and some signs had a tinge of humor: “Briefs for Bradley” and “The Emperor has no clothes” referred to the reports of Manning being forced to strip naked at night, even stand at attention in the morning with no clothes. [The “official” version is that Manning is given a suicide-proof gown to wear.] Apparently his underwear was taken from him after Manning made a sarcastic remark about it to the guards. Yet, even the military psychologists do not think Manning is a suicide risk.
In addition to Veterans for Peace, other groups represented included Code Pink, Courage to Resist, Answer Coalition and Richmond Defenders.
Speakers included Daniel Ellsburg, who said his only regret was that he waited as long as he did to leak the Pentagon Papers—which exposed top secret government handling of the war in Vietnam.
After the rally ended, about 3:15, the plan was to march peacefully to the entrance of the base. On the south side of the entrance is a replica of the famous Iwo Jima memorial—Marines lifting the flag after a decisive battle in the Pacific during WW 2. 

Normally open to the public, today the memorial was barricaded. At first, no one was going to be allowed to go near. Then, word was that 6 veterans would be allowed to place flowers at the memorial. I went ahead, and crossed the intersection in order to get a photo. A police woman told me I could not stay on the sidewalk, it was federal property. I didn't think she was correct, but moved on ahead away from the demonstrators about 50 yards. 


photo: Diana Woodall
It was then I noticed at least 50 police men and women in full riot gear, standing hidden from the main road, on an access road in the woods. There were also 8 mounted police, and at least 2 canine units, and 2 helicopters. By this time, all traffic, all directions, had been stopped and re-routed by police. The veterans walked to the barricades around the memorial and placed their flowers, and then four of them sat down in the road. The signal was given to the riot police, who then came out and formed a “V” formation facing the group. Two were arrested, then more sat down. It was not clear to me whether the demonstrators were blocked from being able to cross the street to return to where they had parked their cars or not.
Finally, at about 4:10pm, after about 40 minutes at the intersection, some of the demonstrators began walking back toward the museum, and I walked back with them. I felt a bit too much adrenaline, in my own blood and others'. One woman told how when she bent down to pick up a bottle, trash on the street, one of the police jumped. But I saw no sign of any violence on the part of the demonstrators.
What would happen? Surely there were too many cameras for it to turn too ugly. . .but noticeably absent were any TV stations, local or otherwise. Also absent, by the way, were any counter-demonstrators.
Daniel Ellsberg was one of the 35 people arrested outside the Quantico marine base
In the end, I found out what happened on the Internet: 30 demonstrators were arrested, according to an AP wire story filed by the Washington Post Sunday evening. Other rallies in support of Manning were held in Minnesota, Oregon, California, the UK and Australia.
It's fascinating to me that now it doesn't matter if there is a media blackout on an event or not. People were tweeting from the rally, and one man attempted a live stream of the event using a laptop and cell phone. I don't have a Facebook or twitter account, my phone is not smart. I have thought of it all as a great time-waster. But if it can help in the exercise of our first amendment rights to peacefully assemble to address grievances against our government, then it is fine by me.
Not since Cindy Sheehan, the woman who tried to get an audience with George W. Bush on why her son had died in Iraq, has the current anti-war movement had a name or a symbol. Whether or not you think Bradley Manning is a war hero or war criminal, he has done two things: disrupted the machinery of war as usual, and provided a cause to rally behind for those of us who believe in freedom.
-- Diana Woodall lives, thinks globally, writes, and acts locally from her home in Harrisonburg.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughts about comfort and leaders . . .

Our leaders have so many opportunities to not meet our expectations. And it seems to me that the most remembered presidential failures and successes are the ones that, in the grand scheme of things, matter least.

President Bush reading "The Pet Goat"
We Americans all remember President Bush’s decision to keep reading “The Pet Goat” with an elementary class after being informed of the September 11 attacks, and to fly over the wake of destruction left by Hurricane Katrina, instead of wading into it. Those actions, I think it's fair to say, did not bring great comfort to the American People.

But President Bush also walked out alone into the center of a packed Yankee stadium shortly after the September 11th attacks, which was a terrific message to all of us that the American spirit was undaunted. I don't know about you, but I thought it was very brave of our president.

Our American culture is big on ceremony that masks itself as non-ceremonial action. In times of trouble, we expect our leaders to swing into action, throw balls, get down to the business of leading us through whatever Eve of Destruction we've landed in toward whatever brighter days lies ahead.

We expect leaders to go to whatever part of the country is in trouble and take a good look around. And we take great comfort from our president swinging into Head Cheerleader Mode, giving speeches about how, sure, times are tough, but the tough have gotten going, the American Spirit is undimmed and indomitable, and we, the American People, are going to get through this together.

In my lifetime, America has never had to deal with as destructive and desperate a situation as the current one in Japan. The country's death toll is likely to exceed 18,000; radiation has reached the food chain; the World Bank estimates $235 billion in damages. 


To put  these numbers in perspective:
Though estimates vary, Hurricane Katrina caused $81.2 billion in damages in 2005, according to a widely cited study by the National Hurricane Center. Last year, the costs of natural disasters soared to a worldwide total of $109 billion, three times the total in 2009, according to the United Nations. In 2010, the Haiti quake cost $8 billion, floods in Pakistan $9.5 billion and an 8.8-magnitude quake in Chile $30 billion.
The Japanese people have received high praise for their resiliency amidst this mega-crisis; the government, high praise for the effectiveness of its nuclear disaster plan. But its hard to imagine a more comforting action for the Japanese people than that made last week by Emperor Akihito. And it wasn't brave; it wasn't decisive; and there was nothing "can-do" about it.

To put Emperor Akihito's position into perspective, until 1945, the Japanese Emporer was considered a god, but World War II put an end to that way of thinking. Now, according to the Japanese Constitution, Emperor Akihito is a "symbol of the state and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power."

Last Wednesday, this symbol spoke publicly to his people about his country's crisis, something he has never done in his entire twenty year reign.

The Guardian reported the news this way:

When the emperor of Japan addresses his nation, you know there is a crisis. On 15 August 1945, a week after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hirohito's radio address announcing the surrender of Japan was broadcast across the country. Until last week, however, no event in the country's history was considered traumatic enough for his son, Akihito, to perform a similar task. 
Emporer Akihito (AP photo)
All that changed last Wednesday when the consequences of Japan's biggest-ever recorded earthquake spurred the 77-year-old emperor into action with a televised call for concerted national action. For those old enough to remember Hirohito's Gyokuon-hoso ("Jewel Voice Broadcast"), it was a stark reminder of the gravity of Japan's situation. And in contrast to Hirohito's address, which had been couched in language familiar only to the well-educated and notable for a confusing lack of detail about the surrender itself, Akihito was clear in his message of hope. 
Emperor Akihito spoke simply for about five minutes, saying, among other things:
"I truly hope the victims of the disaster never give up hope, take care of themselves, and live strong for tomorrow. Also, I want all citizens of Japan to remember everyone who has been affected by the devastation, not only today but for a long time afterwards -- and help with the recovery" 
"Currently, the entire nation is putting forth its best effort to save all suffering people. However, under the severe cold weather, evacuees are having a very difficult time because they lack food, water, and energy sources. Also, I am deeply concerned that the current nuclear plant situation is critical. I truly hope that with so many people working together to help, the situation will not worsen." 
"I am deeply impressed to see people who have survived, and are suffering from the biggest disaster, encourage themselves to live for tomorrow. This is so courageous."
Emperor Akihito's words perhaps sound a tad uninspiring to us. There's no cheerleading, energizing, loin-girding rhetoric.

We are such a casual, noisy people -- and long may we remain so. A quiet, heart-felt, five minute speech from a "symbol of the state and the unity of the people" might not bring us much comfort in the face of disaster.

But we are not the Japanese. And, given this rather glaring distinction, this one particularly noisy and casual American found something tremendously moving -- and comforting -- in Emperor Akihito's speech.