Archive for April, 2008

Wright Wronged. Wrong Righted?

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

The gang rape committed by the embedded mass media on Jeremiah Wright will never be acknowledged, but history will record it as a sample of 21st Century racism. Wright is the hapless victim of neobigots, paid promoters of a popular racism that proceeds not from the presumed superiority of the white race but from its presumed inferiority. Blacks hate whites, according to contemporary theory, and this puts whites, who are disadvantaged by unfair laws and inherent good nature, in mortal danger.

The modern racist believes that black hatred is expressed in talk about slavery and discrimination and disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration, illiteracy, and unemployment. African-Americans who are preoccupied with conditions that reflect poorly on our country shouldn’t be surprised when the white folk question their patriotism. Wright has delivered some sermons on these topics over the years, and the neoracist minority, in the person of the commercial media, rose up indignant, as if a single word Wright uttered were anything but true.

The public repudiation of Jeremiah Wright was altogether a fabrication of the media. Although the Clintons introduced Wright’s politics as “an issue” (because he was her opponent’s pastor), guilt by association is never a legitimate issue, and the reporters knew that. But Wright was outspoken, and he’s very similar in skin color to Barack Obama, and innocent whites could get hurt, so the networks and newspapers made a special exception and made Obama’s association with an immoderate orator a political issue.

Enter the redeemer of journalism, Bill Moyers, with an interview that exposes Wright as a keen analyst and an altogether guileless and charitable human being. This gifted leader inspired a discouraged community to rediscover dignity and hope and he’s a credit to the Obamas and their fellow congregants. He deserves a nod of approval from all of us. Instead, the keenest of analysts in the commercial media put a stick in his eye.

I don’t know if Moyers hopes to rehabilitate his profession with this interview, but it’s pretty clear that the reporters in the quarter-million-a-year bracket are beyond redemption. The best paid people in the news industry are gossip-mongers, and they willingly cash out credibility for fame and fortune. The Moyers interview won’t go down in history as amends, but it does set the record straight.

I wait and wait for Obama to confront the toads who follow him around, but he seems to be afraid of them. I keep expecting this outburst: “That’s the stupidest question I ever heard Charlie. All this mess, and you’re asking about that?” If Obama ever stood up to these babbling idiots, I’d consider voting for him. He could start by excluding from his entourage each and every news organization that attacked Jeremiah Wright. Clinton should make the same rule for the reporters that feed at her buffet.

Mad About Yoo

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The document affectionately known as the “torture memorandum” is the work of one John Yoo, Law Professor, formerly of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. This 2003 tome, which Yoo presumes to refer to as a memorandum of law, is the most egregious case of legal bootstrapping since Nixon claimed: “When the President does it . . . it is not illegal. ”

The most sweeping pronouncements–for example, that Constitutional due process of law does not apply to people held captive by the military–are supported by no authority whatsoever, and a substantial proportion of the citations in the 80 pages of text are to opinions from Yoo’s own Office of Legal Counsel and not to cases that ever came before the courts.

When there are citations to actual cases, these are steeped in deception, with only a pretense of responsible legal reasoning. The overall presentation seems intended to obfuscate rather than illuminate. Yoo relies principally on a 1942 case that was unprecedented at the time (wartime, officially, pursuant to a congressional declaration) and that hasn’t ever been followed by the Supreme Court. He cites a work from 1612 for the proposition that people who don’t obey laws aren’t entitled to their protection, and he cites opinions from the Israeli Supreme Court laying out what is and isn’t cruel and unusual punishment.

Among the most outrageous legal claims made by Yoo:

  • The Justice Department has no authority to prosecute crimes committed in the course of military activities (citing Justice Department opinions)
  • Congress has no authority to regulate the military, and criminal laws that explicitly cover government employees are to be interpreted to exclude the president and his military subordinates
  • Torture during the interrogation of military “detainees” is exempt from criminal laws
  • the President can suspend or terminate any treaty or provision of a treaty

Yoo employs the word “detain” (detention is temporary, by definition) when he means “imprison,” and this exemplifies his dishonest use of language throughout. Phrases without legal meaning, such as “unlawful combatant” and “Commander-in-chief power,” are used to justify vast areas of unlawful conduct. Coinages and neologisms have no place in legal writing, but they are a staple of this author.

Taken in sum, Yoo’s arguments, which are without legal merit, amount to a prescription for tyranny. Although the memo has since been “withdrawn,” it served as legal justification for uncounted acts of torture and kidnapping, atrocities for which Yoo is personally responsible.

Yoo includes a ten-page discourse on the definition of assault, concluding that torture in the course of interrogation doesn’t qualify. A third of the opinion is devoted to the Convention against Torture, which the US ratified and which Yoo sifts for loopholes. It turns out this treaty is all but unenforceable against the U. S. president. There’s no legal scholarship behind Yoo’s finding on these points, just a lot of miscellaneous musings, almost as if the opinion were bulked up to compensate for the weakness of its logic.

Yoo must have been very confident that this memo would remain forever secret, because the arguments expose the author as an anti-lawyer and an enemy of the rule of law. Or maybe he’s just confident of his own immunity to accountability. He can be fairly certain that there will be no searching legal analysis of his arguments by any major news-monger. This memo has already been critiqued and tossed aside by the people who tell us what to believe, as if the document itself were something less than a crime against humanity and an assault on the Constitution.

The House Judiciary Committee has invited Yoo to testify about the memo. Committee staffers are presumably taking the memo apart now piece-by-piece, and we can only hope that they take the miscreant to task for his grievous breach of professional responsibility. Yoo ought to be disbarred for this.

Fact: There Are No Facts

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

A fact is a piece of language, a statement about reality. It’s a very particular kind of statement. “I wonder who’s kissing her now,” isn’t a fact, and neither is “I want you to do me a favor.” Although there’s nothing tangible about a fact, it often refers to something tangible.

Roses are red. Is that a fact? Depends on how we interpret the language. It’s a fact that some roses are red, but it’s also a fact that some roses aren’t red. We’ll go along with a child who tells us that roses are red, and maybe let the child know that roses come in other colors, too, but we woudn’t take the statement as fact from a grown-up.

We make judgments when people tell us things that aren’t facts. If we know that the statement is untrue, we might deduce that the teller doesn’t know what he’s talking about or has constructed her own personal reality, or we might notice that it’s April 1. If we don’t know whether the statement is a fact or not, our judgment of the person might lead us to believe what we’re told, or to disbelieve it.

News is factual. By definition, if it’s not factual, it’s not news. When we hear a report from someone we recognize as a reporter of news, we take it for fact. But is it a fact that news is factual? Let’s test a typical news report for truth or falsity. This is from the CBS News website today:

“A U.S. helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at gunmen attacking ground forces early Tuesday, killing six militants in Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. However, Iraqi police said three unarmed men were killed and six people wounded, including two children.”

Notice that the first statement, about the firing of the missile on “gunmen,” killing “militants,” is said with no attribution, but the second statement, that unarmed men were killed and children were wounded, is attibuted to Iraqi police. What sort of editorial decisions could have produced such a sentence? Did the reporter actually see the attack, but only hear about the casualties? That’s the implication, unlikely as it is, and the construction of the sentence seems to accord the first statement greater credibility than the second one. Is it really more factual?

The reporter doesn’t tell us the source of the first statement, and so we have no way of assessing it for truth or falsity. If the information came from whoever ordered the helicopter to fire, it is self-serving, and the lack of attribution makes the statement incomplete and not factual. And yet we are meant to believe it. We are meant to believe that the targets were “gunmen” and the victims were “militants”–epithets with no precise meaning–and we are meant to be skeptical of the report that children were wounded and unarmed men were killed.

The editorial decisions that produced this non-factual sentence were corrupt and intended to deceive rather than to inform. And yet it comes to us as news and we take it as news, except for one thing: we don’t believe it. In a poll released a couple of months ago by Sacred Heart University (and reported almost nowhere), only one in five Americans believe all or most of what’s reported in the news, and almost one in four believe little or none of it.

So it’s news, but we we’re not sure it’s fact. Since news is, by definition, fact, we seem to be left with this: consumers of news no longer believe in facts or even in truth or falsity. We’re content with self-serving statements–at least CBS News thinks we are–without regard to truth. We would like to believe that our soldiers fired at militants, thinks the CBS editor, so he allows us to, but we don’t want to believe that our soldiers are killing children, so the editor raises doubt, even when there is none. And that’s supposed to make us happier and, really, better off.

The day may come when we’ll need a fact or two. Unfortunately, because of the destruction of facts by our embedded mass media, we won’t know facts when we see them. We’ll be slogging through disinformation like the innocuous-looking CBS report, trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, while our republic collapses around us.