Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

Nervous States — Matt Ford in The Atlantic on what Russia’s seizure of Crimea means to former Soviet satellites.

Fifteen independent countries, including Russia, emerged from the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Six of them—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are in Europe, and all of them have a complicated relationship with modern Russia. Seven other countries once belonged to the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union’s military alliance in Eastern Europe. With the Cold War’s end, none of them had faced the threat of military intervention by the communist superpower’s successor state—until now. (In discussing Europe here, I’m not including Eurasian countries like Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008, or the military support Russia offered Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region in the early 1990s.)

In response to the standoff in Crimea, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves announced that he would convene the National Defense Council on March 2 to discuss the crisis and called upon the Baltic states to increase their defense spending. “The events in Ukraine show that this struggle is taking place within Europe as well,” he said in a speech to the Baltic Defense College last week. “This sends a clear signal to Estonia and the [other] Baltic states: we must invest more in our national defense.” Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, joined NATO in 2004.

“The Baltic states have been among the most vocal EU states during this crisis, urging Russia to abandon its military intervention in Ukraine and respect Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Erik Brattberg, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told me. “They will watch the events in Ukraine closely to see if the U.S. and NATO will stand up against Russian aggression.”

Recent experiences with Russia also fuel Estonia’s concerns. The removal of a Soviet-era war statue from the capital city of Tallinn in 2007 led to riots among ethnic Russians (who make up almost a quarter of Estonia’s population) and diplomatic outrage from Moscow. Shortly thereafter, a concerted, three-week cyberattack crippled Estonian government agencies, banks, news outlets, and other organizations—a vital blow to what some have called “the most wired country in Europe.” Estonian officials blamed the Kremlin for the cyberattacks, a claim Russian officials vociferously denied.

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, responded on Saturday by invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, whereby NATO member states consult one another if their territorial integrity or political independence is threatened, for only the fourth time in the alliance’s history (Ukraine is not a NATO member).

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors “are certainly very worried that what is happening to Ukraine today could happen to them tomorrow,” Brattberg told me, noting that both Estonia and Latvia have “significant Russian ethnic minorities.” Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted on Saturday that Russia retains the right to protect Russian-speaking populations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Both the NATO ambassadors and the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet tomorrow to plan the alliance’s response to the unfolding crisis.

Fixing MSNBC — Leslie Savan in The Nation on the same old same old on the cable network.

Saying things on national TV once relegated to The Village Voice or The Nation understandably lends MSNBCers a confidence, almost a sense of triumphalism, which sometimes trips them up into merely nyah-nyah-nyahing the right. Fox does this with far more gusto at the left, but it doesn’t serve MSNBC well. A friend of mine says she can’t watch MSNBC anymore, because “they’re smug. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them, they treat like they’re stupid.”

The flip side of smug is a sense of insecurity. Hosts are coming (the estimable Joy Reid, as well as Farrow, debuted a show this week) and going (Baldwin, Olbermann, Martin Bashir, Dylan Ratigan). Clearly they’re under constant pressure to rack up ratings, something the Chris Christie scandals have indeed helped them do.

Which brings us to Bill Maher’s critique. Unlike Baldwin, Maher “loves” MSNBC. But in a Valentine’s Day post he decided to break up with the network because it’s preoccupied with another man, the New Jersey governor.

[Rachel] Maddow defended the heavy coverage on Maher’s HBO show the next week. “I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically,” she said, “and will continue to be obsessed with it while amazing things in that story continue to happen.” Maher conceded that Benghazi isn’t a real scandal while Bridgegate most definitely is—though, he added, “It’s just that it’s not Watergate.” And he softened that too-easy trope that MSNBC is the Fox News of the left, saying, “I hate false equivalency. MSNBC, one of the great things about it is that they are scrupulous fact-checkers whereas Fox News are scrupulous fact-maker-uppers.”

If the non-Fox media have been hard on Chris Christie lately, it’s in direct proportion to how hard they fell for him before. For years, the media—and this includes MSNBC stars like Scarborough, Matthews and, on occasion, Al Sharpton—loved the blunt-talking, fuggedaboutit Jersey guy who had the guts to “work across the aisle.” When Bridgegate revealed that in fact he had been intimidating and threatening Democratic office-holders all along, it unleashed a torrent of pent-up, actual reporting.

So, yes, as Bill Maher says, MSNBC has been obsessed with Christie, but no, they’re not covering him too much. And yes, as Alec Baldwin says, in stronger words, the shows have fallen into a sameness.

It’s a problem, however, that can be remedied, sometimes as simply as having a host light out for the territory. Ed Schultz, for instance, is running a weeklong series on the Keystone XL Pipeline, reporting from Nebraska and listening to the citizens TransCanada is trampling over. Ed, who began as a (surprising) supporter of the pipeline, now appears to be leaning against it. It’s a change of heart and venue that’s making his show, and at least one hour of MSNBC, suddenly suspenseful and dynamic.

Thanks, Anita Bryant — Cliff O’Neill in the Miami Herald on how the anti-gay crusader helped him come out.

I’m grateful for Anita Bryant.

I should clarify.

See, if it weren’t for Anita Bryant and her fear-mongering in the ‘70s, things would probably have turned out quite differently for me.

In 1977, when Miami (and, by extension, the entire nation) was debating whether children needed to be “saved” from homosexuals, I was one of those children.

I may have been 12, but I was quickly coming to understand that I was gay, or at least bisexual. Thanks to the popular culture of the time and shows like All In The Family and Barney Miller, I knew that “that thing” had a name. And I was probably that.

But I didn’t know what to make of it. Aside from the fact it wouldn’t make me terribly popular among my peer group, that is.

Enter Anita. Of course I knew the pretty lady from the orange juice commercials. But suddenly she was on TV telling everyone that they needed to “save our children” from homosexuality. I had no idea that there existed a (then-named) gay liberation movement, that local activists had recently effected passage of an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual preference (then the term of the day) or that the world was suddenly focused on my hometown.

And I certainly didn’t let on to my parents that I had a personal interest in all of this. Still, it didn’t take long to realize how they felt about it.

I still have a vivid memory of my mother hosting a “Stop the ERA” (Equal Rights Amendment) party for her ladies’ group, complete with a big, red stop sign-shaped cake and horrified whispers about unisex bathrooms.

So I just sat back and watched the drama on TV. The anti-Anita ads, explaining how if you start exempting one group from legal protection it’s not long before you start making it OK to discriminate against anyone, seemed logical. But the fear-based ads suggesting that “exposing” kids to gay teachers would make them gay made no sense to me at all. I was one of those kids. What I was feeling was as innate as my hair color. I wasn’t the victim of some adult molestation that “turned” me.

Nope, thanks to those ads and debates, and the ads and debates in cities from Eugene, Oregon, to St. Paul, Minnesota, in the ensuing months, I got really clear with this part of who I was. And I got to see eloquent, real-life gay and lesbian people on television answering questions, no matter how insulting.

Doonesbury — Tears of a clown.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. I’ve pretty much stopped watching MSNBC (specifically Hayes and Maddow) as long as Bridgegate is the lead story every night. Yes, it’s a real scandal, but that doesn’t justify making it the top story every night on a national news broadcast! I do tune in occasionally and will watch if they’re discussing something else.

Comments are closed.