Debates over Israel and activism in defense of transparency and journalism heat up this week
Glenn Greenwald guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 14.01 EDT
I’m traveling rather extensively this week – the last week of travel I have for quite some time, thankfully – so here are several brief items worthy of note:
(1) As the Guardian was the first to report, the physicist Stephen Hawking withdrew from “a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” The resulting attacks on Hawking were instant and predictable.
The Israeli writer Noam Sheizaf has written the best article I’ve read on the entire matter. He points out that the event from which Hawking withdrew is not really an academic one but rather “an annual celebration of the Israeli business, political and military elites”, and he rebuts the principal attacks on Hawking. Juan Cole adds this simple point:
“Israel, which daily steals Palestinian land and resources, is like a wealthy person who insists on burglarizing his neighbor, and naturally after a while the dinner invitations in polite society drop off.”
As any writer well knows, nothing guarantees more vicious, personalized, or sustained attacks than criticizing the Israeli government: it’s one of the reasons so many people refrain from doing so. Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston this morning references just a few of the despicable attacks on Hawking (he notes that Israeli professor Steven Plaut wrote of the wheelchair-bound physicist: “I suggest that the people of Israel send Hawking for a free trip on the Achille Lauro!!”) and calls on everyone to stand up to these sorts of bullying campaigns and smear tactics. Meanwhile, one writer tries here to depict Hawking as a hypocrite for having visited Iran and China, but that claim is quickly and thoroughly destroyed by commenters in the comment section: one of the things about the internet I love most.
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(2) The US military has done its best to erect a wall of secrecy around the court-martial trial of Bradley Manning, easily one of the most important trials on whistleblowers and espionage laws in many years. This week, the military judge not only permitted numerous witnesses to testify in secret but also ordered a “dry run” of parts of the trial to be held in secret as well, a moveeven military prosecutors acknowledged was “unprecedented”. Legal proceedings demanding greater transparency brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of several journalists and activists (including myself) have been rejected by military courts.
One of the government’s petty and vindictive tactics has been its refusal to release transcripts of the hearings to the media or the broader public (even as it generates a transcript for itself). This has prevented journalists reporting on the proceedings from effectively quoting much of what was said. To rectify this transparency gap, the Freedom of the Press Foundation – the group which I helped found and on whose board I sit – this morning announced that it was launching a campaign to crowd-fund a court reporter to produce comprehensive transcripts for every day of the Manning trial, which it will then release to the public. The group estimates that between $40,000-50,000 is needed. Those interested can donate here.
As this Huffington Post article on the FPF’s new campaign notes, the group has also awarded grants totaling $8,500 to two exemplary independent journalists – Alexa O’Brien and Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola – to enable them to continue to cover every day of the proceedings (it was their coverage and criticisms that, in part, helped to pressure the NYT to finally begin covering the trial). This is one reason I am optimistic about the future of journalism and transparency: there are, as a result of internet technologies and activism, creative ways constantly being developed to produce and sustain real journalism without the suffocating constraints imposed by many large media corporations. There are media outlets that are accommodating themselves to these trends rather than resisting them, and those are the ones most likely to survive.
(3) Last week, the Obama administration announced its choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission: Tom Wheeler, who is not only a former telecom lobbyist but also a huge bundler for the Obama campaign. The New York Times Editorial Page today explains that this choice is “raising serious questions about [Obama’s] 2007 pledge that corporate lobbyists would not finance his campaign or run his administration.” It also notes that “given his background, it is almost certain that [Wheeler] raised money [for Obama] from people whose companies he would regulate, creating potential conflicts of interest.”
Last week, President Obama named another big bundler of his, the billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, to be his Commerce Secretary; at the Nation, Rick Perlstein details just some of the interesting questions about that choice that need to be explored. At this point, the only surprising thing is that there are any more bundlers left for Obama to appoint to important administration positions.
(4) The ACLU submitted a FOIA request to obtain the Obama administration’s policy on intercepting text messages sent to and from cell phones. This is the document they received – here – from the Most Transparent Administration Ever™. It’s hard to believe that the DOJ isn’t mischievously cackling at their own brazenly displayed contempt as they do these things.
(5) Two months ago, a federal judge struck down the Obama administration’s 2012 effort to overrule the scientific findings of its own Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which recommended that there be no age limit on who can purchase Plan B (the so-called “morning after pill”) over-the-counter – and instead tried to impose arbitrary age restrictions on the ability of underage girls to purchase the product. At the time, Obama loyalists insisted that this was just a political calculation made by Obama in an election year to avoid a politically touchy issue. The self-proclaimed defender against the “War on Women” could not possibly believe in such an irrational policy on the merits, the story went. But last month, the Obama DOJ announced that it would appeal the judge’s ruling in order to win permission to impose a 15-year-old age limit on who can purchase Plan B over-the-counter, making clear that they do indeed believe in the policy.
Imposing an arbitrary age limit on who can freely purchase Plan B makes absolutely no sense. Supporters of the Obama policy try to distort the debate into one about whether young adolescent girls should be encouraged to have sex, but Plan B is used only by people who have already had sex, and it’s used to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The mentality that leads to restrictions on its being freely accessed is the same one that demanded that clean needles, contraceptives and other vital health products not be made available: that they “encourage” behavior that is deemed “bad”. The reality is that denying access to these products does nothing more than damages people’s health and enable proliferation of bad health outcomes. That’s why the FDA, based on studies that Plan B has almost no side effects, recommended that it be made available for everyone on an over-the-counter basis.
Yesterday, the Obama DOJ sought to defend its new age limitation to the federal judge, and Salon’s Irin Carmon reported on some of what the judge said. In particular, he blasted the Obama DOJ for copying the policy and mindset of the Bush administration, for playing political games with health and science, for bad faith and dishonest legal arguments, for pretending to unveil a new policy favored by women’s groups just two days before announcing the appeal, and then asking: “You’re disadvantaging young people, African-Americans, the poor… that’s the policy of the Obama administration?” It’s remarkable how similar the patterns are from this administration over and over in all sorts of seemingly disparate issues.
(6) At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner two weeks, ago, President Obama, referencing the trend of political officials becoming media pundits,said this:
Some of my former advisers have switched over to the dark side. For example, David Axelrod now works for MSNBC, which is a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod.”
(7) This Friday night, I’ll be on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show on HBO. Yesterday, along with Michael Hastings and David Sirota, I spent an hour on Cenk Uygur’s “The Young Turks” show discussing a variety of interesting issues. One short segment can be seen here, while others can be seen here,here, here. Here’s a video of one of those segments from below: