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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit www.dankennedy.net. For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The varieties of stealing. Reader JP points out a logical inconsistency in yesterday's New York Times story on the IRS crackdown aimed at poor and working-class families who benefit from the earned-income tax credit. It is an inconsistency that Media Log blushingly confesses to having missed entirely.

The Times story noted that tax-credit fraud costs the government less than $10 billion a year, whereas corporate tax shelters cost more than $50 billion. But as JP notes, those who are wrongly collecting the earned-income tax credit are engaged in criminal activity, whereas corporate tax shelters are perfectly legal.

Of course, if poor people had the lobbying muscle of corporations, cheating on the earned-income tax credit would be enshrined in the tax code as a positive good. Like the old Bob Dylan line says, "Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king."

posted at 10:08 AM | link

Friday, April 25, 2003

Then again, they probably didn't vote for Bush. Mary Williams Walsh has a truly sickening story on the front page of today's New York Times. George W. Bush's IRS is cracking down on the earned-income tax credit, or EITC, the principal means by which the Clinton administration helped low-income working families.

It seems that there may be some fraud going on, and no, fraud isn't good. But Walsh shows that the IRS is demanding a level of proof that almost no one will be able to comply with.

Meanwhile, the most mind-blowing detail comes near the end of her story:

An I.R.S. briefing paper ... states that in 1999 the Treasury lost $8.5 billion to $9.9 billion by paying earned-income tax credits to filers who should not have received them. A separate analysis, by two Treasury Department specialists, says subsequent measures may have reduced these erroneous payments by $2 billion.

By comparison, corporations managed to sidestep as much as $54 billion in 1998, by hiding about $155 billion in profits in tax shelters, according to a study by a Harvard economist, Mihir A. Desai.

Guess which type of fraud the Bushies are more pissed off about? As my father used to say, it is enough to gag a maggot.

posted at 9:16 AM | link

Hard drives and hard times. Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey offers "a little perspective" on the state budget crisis this morning, noting:

[O]ne of the safest jobs to have through this recession has been a government job. Just 0.7 percent of federal, state, and local jobs in Massachusetts -- 3,000 people in all -- have been cut in the same period, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Massachusetts technology giant EMC Corp. alone has cut more than twice that many jobs worldwide over the last two years.

That's fine, but Bailey omits the difference between EMC's getting rid of workers (fewer hard drives for customers who don't want them anyway) and cities and towns getting rid of teachers (do I have to point out the obvious?).

Jill Stein, the Green Party for governor last year, released a statement yesterday saying that a good chunk of the deficit could be closed by "raising over $2 billion in additional state revenues by closing loopholes and making the current tax system fairer."

Stein isn't specific, but what she's saying is actually pretty well known. The '90s were a time of huge tax giveaways in Massachusetts, mainly to the affluent and to the business community.

In fact, the website of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, the organization that Stein now heads, is loaded with ideas to bring in more money and to make the tax system fairer.

I don't know how many of these are good ideas, but it looks like a worthwhile place to start.

posted at 9:16 AM | link

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Berlin to Media Log: Bush still stinks! Boston University journalism professor Michael Berlin is unhappy with Media Log's ever-so-slight deviation from its usual anti-Bushism:

Dan --

Of course you are right that it does matter if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq.

I am troubled, however, by your "however."

I do not think that President Bush should get any credit whatever for ending human-rights violations, since that was not at all his purpose; it was a "collateral" dividend.

The reason he should not get credit is that he lied to the world and, more importantly to us, the American people, in offering justification for an invasion that killed 130-plus Americans and far more innocent Iraqis and (given the American track record in nation-building in Afghanistan, Haiti, and beyond) offers no certainty that the people of Iraq would be better off 10 years down the road, if factional fighting or a rigid Islamic autocracy were to emerge from the present vacuum.

I needn't even reach for my previous argument against invasion -- that even if Iraq had WMD, there was no indication that it would use them against us or give them to terror groups to use against us, and that human-rights violations, in themselves, cannot legitimize the unilateral exercise of military power against a regime unless they are of the scale that prompted President Bartlett to act to stop a Rwanda-style massacre, on West Wing. (Would Bush have intervened? We know that Clinton didn't.)

Retrospectively, I will say that if human-rights violations alone could justify such an invasion, there would be half a dozen candidates for invasion with a claim equal to that of Saddam Hussein, including "friendly" nations such as Indonesia and possibly Pakistan. I too believe that people can live best under a democracy, but a government that unilaterally decides which autocracies must be overthrown by force is not one I would take pride in; there is too much danger of arrogance and misuse of power.

If no WMD are found, Bush's claims (and Colin Powell's too) to the contrary will surely cost them dearly in the world. I only hope that it costs them dearly with the American people and, in itself, without other considerations being necessary, makes it impossible for them to win a second term in office.


Berlin makes some splendid points, but I guess my view of Bush just isn't quite as cynical as his. I think Samantha Power got Bush exactly right when she told me -- in part of an interview for this week's Phoenix that, unfortunately, didn't make the cut -- that she believes the president is committed to liberalization and reform in places like Iraq, but lacks consistency. Said Power:

The cynical way of viewing Goerge Bush's behavior is that he doesn't have any commitment to [those principles], and he's just invoking them. I don't think that's true. I think he is committed to these principles, but he just doesn't want to apply them very many places. You may say that's the same as not having the principles in the first place, but you know, whatever. That's the way it is.

This doesn't absolve Bush, of course, but I think it does explain him. I have no doubt that he's thrilled at the scenes of liberation playing out in Iraq, and has probably by now convinced himself that that's why we went in in the first place.

However, he lacks the imagination, on the one hand, to understand how much damage we caused to Iraq and to ourselves in the process and, on the other hand, how many other terrible places are crying out for liberation as well -- not just his pet bugaboos, Syria and Iraq, but, as Berlin notes, "friendly" regimes as well.

posted at 11:33 AM | link

Stay tuned. I'll be on The David Brudnoy Show tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on WBZ Radio (AM 1030). The topics will be this week's cover story in the Phoenix ("Waging Post-Warfare"), media coverage of the war in Iraq, and whatever else is on David's mind.

posted at 10:45 AM | link

Local zero. Rick Santorum's hometown papers don't appear too worked up about his grotesque homophobic remarks to the Associated Press.

The dominant Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, having run a story and excerpts from the interview yesterday, is silent today, save for a critical letter to the editor. The rival Tribune-Review, despite being owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife, has a mild but anti-Santorum column today by Dimitri Vassilaros.

Neither paper has run an editorial on the matter yet.

Couldn't check the statewide Philadelphia Inquirer or the tabloid Philadelphia Daily News, as their websites appeared to be down this morning.

But you can't help but get the feeling that this is going to fizzle pretty quickly. This culture simply doesn't put gay-bashing on the same plane as racism. Too bad.

posted at 8:38 AM | link

More on the horrors of Iraq. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby doesn't seem to think it matters whether we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I disagree -- after all, that was our most prominently stated purpose for going to war.

However, there's no question that we put a halt to one of the most gut-wrenching humanitarian crises in the world: the torture and murder performed routinely by the regime of Saddam Hussein and his sons, especially Uday.

Three more horrifying reports on the particulars, in the current Newsweek, and in today's New York Times and Boston Globe.

Even if George W. Bush's adventure comes to a bad end; even if his intentions were less than pure going in; he has to get at least some credit for putting an end to such evil.

posted at 8:37 AM | link

Surreality show. If O.J. feels like killing someone, does the camera crew have to stop rolling?

posted at 8:37 AM | link

New in this week's Phoenix. I interview eight foreign-policy experts on what will and should happen next in Iraq and with the US position in the world. Offering their thoughts are Samantha Power, Fareed Zakaria, Paul Berman, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Lawrence Kaplan, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Joseph Nye, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Also, I take a look at the annual Jefferson Muzzle Awards, in which Attorney General John Ashcroft leads the pack in suppressing the First Amendment and expanding government secrecy.

posted at 8:37 AM | link

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Bestiality, homophobia, and Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's disgracefully homophobic junior senator, lives in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, according to his Senate biography.

The local weekly, the Penn Hills Star, has not yet had a chance to react to his outburst comparing and contrasting homosexuality to pedophilia, bigamy, polygamy, and bestiality. (Why is it that the right-wing Republican gay-bashers always turn out to be lugging around a mind full of depravity?)

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is certainly a worthwhile read this morning. It includes long excerpts of Santorum's so-called thoughts, expressed in an interview with the Associated Press. ("That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." Woof!) The Post-Gazette also publishes a story by politics editor James O'Toole on the angry reaction that Santorum's hate speech generated.

The rival Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs just a wire story that gets little play on the paper's home page. Apparently nothing on the editorial pages or from the columnists, either. Is the Trib really that slow off the mark, or is this a reflection of the sensibilities of its zillionaire right-wing owner, Richard Mellon Scaife?

The pillars of more or less respectable conservative opinion, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard, and National Review, appear to be silent this morning; their pundits are no doubt trying to figure out how to defend the indefensible.

No such problem at the right-wing site NewsMax.com, which shortly after midnight today posted a hysterical rant under the headline "KKK-FJB Democrats Attack Santorum for Gay Comment." The "KKK" is a reference to Senator Robert Byrd's former membership in the Ku Klux Klan; "FJB" is an acronym for something that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton supposedly once said, and I'm sorry, you're just going to have to read the damn thing to find out what it means.

Tellingly, NewsMax quotes Santorum's milder comment about "bigamy," "polygamy," "incest," and "adultery," but leaves out what he said about kids and dogs. Even the wing-nuts understand how toxic this is.

posted at 9:20 AM | link

Forbidden souvenirs. You may have already seen this -- Romenesko has it up -- but if you haven't, check it out. Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden just can't keep his name out of the paper.

posted at 9:20 AM | link

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Amphibious landing. If it weren't for that weenie Colin Powell, we could have already taken over the rest of the world by now. And Newt Gingrich is ready to do something about it.

Huh? At this late date, the very phrase "Newt Gingrich" might suggest that this is a joke. But the Newtster has managed to embed himself within a Pentagon advisory committee, and -- according to this truly scary Washington Post story by Glenn Kessler -- he's taken up the cudgel on behalf of those who think Powell is too influential and Donald Rumsfeld just isn't powerful enough.

In the event that George W. Bush sides with Gingrich, hit "Eject."

posted at 8:58 AM | link

Quote of the day. Media Log thought about nominating the Reverend James Allen, an African-American minister who told the Boston Globe's Andrea Estes that the loss of free golf privileges at Franklin Park for a group of black ministers was, well, you know, "a racial thing," maybe.

But then I read down and found this gem from another minister who's suddenly facing the anguish of pay-to-play, the Reverend Brian Gearin:

It would have been nice. But I believe God is in control. If it was meant to be, it would have happened. If you believe God is in control of everything, you're able to take the good with the bad.

Yes, indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

posted at 8:57 AM | link

Anatomy of a non-scoop. Slate's Jack Shafer has a smart take on Judith Miller's non-news in yesterday's New York Times that an Iraqi scientist she couldn't interview had told American officials about weapons of mass destruction that she couldn't identify.

No follow-up in today's Times, either.

posted at 8:57 AM | link

Monday, April 21, 2003

Face to face (sort of) with Eason Jordan. CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan and I appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources yesterday. We didn't debate each other directly -- rather, host Howard Kurtz interviewed Jordan in studio, and then asked me to comment from my perch in Boston. You can read the transcript here.

I thought Jordan's most interesting comments involved what he called the "hypocrisy" of other media in condemning CNN's dealings with the regime of Saddam Hussein while keeping quiet about their own dealings. At one point Jordan said:

There were many journalists who knew stories like this. I encourage you and everyone to read the New York Times today. John Burns has a diary, a Baghdad diary in the New York Times that is fascinating, it's very compelling, and it's all true about what compromises journalists had to make in Baghdad in order to stay there and not to put innocent lives at risk.

Burns's front-page "Baghdad Diary" in Sunday's Times, headlined "Last Days of a Brutal Regime," is indeed "fascinating" and "compelling," the sort of gripping account that he (and the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid) have justly become known for during the war in Iraq.

Among other things, Burns reveals that he spent the final days of the regime skulking around stairwells and staying in other reporters' hotel rooms to prevent the authorities from following through on a threat to haul him away, never to be seen again.

Here's the section of Burns's piece that Jordan was talking about:

A tacit understanding, accepted by many visiting journalists, was that there were aspects of Mr. Hussein's Iraq that could be mentioned only obliquely. First among these was the personality of Mr. Hussein himself, and the fact that he was widely despised and feared by Iraqis, something that was obvious to any visitor ready to listen to the furtive whispers in which this hatred was commonly expressed.

The terror that was the most pervasive aspect of society under Mr. Hussein was another topic that was largely taboo. Every interview conducted by television reporters, and most print journalists, was monitored; any Iraqi voicing an opinion other than those approved by the state would be vulnerable to arrest, torture and execution. But these were facts rarely mentioned by many reporters.

Some reporters bought expensive gifts for senior ministry officials, submitted copies of their stories to show they were friendly to Iraq, or invited key officials like Uday al-Ta'ee, director general of information, for dinners at the expensive restaurants favored by Mr. Hussein's elite.

On the editorial page of today's Times, Ethan Bronner writes with considerable sophistication and nuance about the terrible conflicts that journalists face in covering a regime such as Saddam's. Bronner writes of the Jordan affair:

The controversy has highlighted an uncomfortable reality. Covering totalitarian states forces a journalist to act in compromising ways. Anyone who has reported from such countries knows that it is one of the most challenging tasks a journalist faces, involving daily calculations over access, honesty, freedom of movement and fear of reprisal. Some governments assume a foreign journalist is a spy. The way they treat you forces you to act like one.

Bronner seemingly defends Jordan in writing: "It's easy to say Mr. Jordan and CNN made the wrong choice. It certainly allows for a comforting moral clarity." Yet he also follows that by saying, "And it may be that they stepped over a line in pandering to Iraqi officials." Earlier in the piece Bronner asserts: "Mr. Jordan's confession did not inspire confidence."

Bronner, I think, gets at the heart of the problem. Yes, media insiders understand that compromises must be made in order to cover the news in a horrible place such as Iraq. (Something they could and should do a much better job of explaining to the public they are supposedly serving.)

But Eason Jordan, in his 13 trips to Iraq, did far more than decide what to cover and what to set aside for another day. By his own account, he was dragged against his will into life-and-death decision-making. I'm glad he's decided to come clean, but he still hasn't convinced me that he did the right thing in not ordering CNN to pull out of Iraq.

posted at 10:09 AM | link

More smoke; gun TK? The Times' Judith Miller today reports what may be the existence of the smoking gun. Her lead:

A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.

Further down, though, Miller writes:

Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.

Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist's safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked.

The facts that Miller reports may turn out to be true. But based on the sketchy, censored details that she has to offer today, why was this story published on the front page? For that matter, why was it published at all?

posted at 10:09 AM | link

From Boston to Baghdad. Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker and Boston Herald columnist Cosmo Macero (fee required) both love the irony of Big Dig overlord Bechtel's decamping for Iraq. Walker's conclusion: "The accounting on the Big Dig is a costly public disgrace. But that's already history. For Bechtel, it's on to Baghdad."

posted at 10:08 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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