Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Elephant in the Torture Room — Charlie Pierce on why the Senate torture report let the Bush administration off the hook.

The Iraq War always has been the elephant in the room as the investigations into the crimes of the last administration as regards torture were investigated. (Remember the default setting for that White House in its explanation for there having been no WMD’s was that the CIA screwed up and misinformed them.) Hanging this all on the CIA is to poke in the eye the institution wherein work the people who know how the intelligence used to lie this country into a calamitous war was barbered and stove-piped. They know where the memos are. Their memories are very good. They know the phone numbers of many reporters. It behooves the former president and his minions, no matter how unscathed they were left by the Senate report, to stay on the good side of people, even if that means cheering for torture on the television. And there is also one more reason for them to do it, more horrible than all the rest.

John McCain has come right up to the edge of saying it on a couple of occasions since the report was released. Many of the techniques used by this country in torturing its captives were not designed merely to produce actionable intelligence — and the report states clearly that very little of that was forthcoming anyway — but to produce confessions of any kind, whether that was for propaganda purposes or to furnish their captors with a ginned-up casus belli of their own. That was why the North Koreans used sleep deprivation on American GI’s. That was why the North Vietnamese trussed McCain up into stress positions.

I do not want to believe what I am about to write. I think it’s possible that the barbarians in the White House tortured people in order to produce statements they could use to validate further their bullshit case for their bullshit war. Even I don’t want to believe that we were ruled for eight years by that species of monster. If that is the case, however, somewhere at the CIA there’s a memo, and somewhere there’s somebody in a cubicle that knows where the memo is, and who knows the phone number of a reporter. I suspect the Christmas card list at the Cheney household will be lengthy for the next several decades.

Black Lives Didn’t Matter — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the genteel racism at The New Republic.

Earlier this year, [Franklin] Foer edited an anthology of TNR writings titled Insurrections of the Mind, commemorating the magazine’s 100-year history. “This book hasn’t been compiled in the name of definitiveness,” Foer wrote. “It was put together in the spirit of the magazine that it anthologizes: it is an argument about what matters.” There is only one essay in Insurrections that takes race as its subject. The volume includes only one black writer and only two writers of color. This is not an oversight. Nor does it mean that Foer is a bad human. On the contrary, if one were to attempt to capture the “spirit” of TNR, it would be impossible to avoid the conclusion that black lives don’t matter much at all.

That explains why the family rows at TNR’s virtual funeral look like the “Whites Only” section of a Jim Crow-era movie-house. For most of its modern history, TNR has been an entirely white publication, which published stories confirming white people’s worst instincts. During the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s, TNR regarded black people with an attitude ranging from removed disregard to blatant bigotry. When people discuss TNR’s racism, Andrew Sullivan’s publication of excerpts from Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve (and a series of dissents) gets the most attention. But this fuels the lie that one infamous issue stands apart. In fact, the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR’s history.

The personal attitude of TNR’s longtime owner, the bigoted Martin Peretz, should be mentioned here. Peretz’s dossier of racist hits (mostly at the expense of blacks and Arabs) is shameful, and one does not have to look hard to find evidence of it in Peretz’s writing or in the sensibility of the magazine during his ownership. In 1984, long before Sullivan was tapped to helm TNR, Charles Murray was dubbing affirmative action a form of “new racism” that targeted white people.

Two years later, Washington Post writer Richard Cohen was roundly rebuked for advocating that D.C. jewelry stores discriminate against young black men—but not by TNR. The magazine took the opportunity to convene a panel to “reflect briefly” on whether it was moral for merchants to bar black men from their stores. (“Expecting a jewelry store owner to risk his life in the service of color-blind justice is expecting too much,” the magazine concluded.)

TNR made a habit of “reflecting briefly” on matters that were life and death to black people but were mostly abstract thought experiments to the magazine’s editors. Before, during, and after Sullivan’s tenure, the magazine seemed to believe that the kind of racism that mattered most was best evidenced in the evils of Afrocentrism, the excesses of multiculturalism, and the machinations of Jesse Jackson. It’s true that TNR’s staff roundly objected to excerpting The Bell Curve, but I was never quite sure why. Sullivan was simply exposing the dark premise that lay beneath much of the magazine’s coverage of America’s ancient dilemma.

[…]

Things got better after Peretz was dislodged. The retrograde politics were gone, but the “Whites Only” sign remained. I’ve been told that Foer was greatly pained by Peretz’s racism. I believe this. White people are often sincerely and greatly pained by racism, but rarely are they pained enough. That is not true because they are white, but because they are human. I know this, too well. Still, as of last week there were still no black writers on TNR’s staff, and only one on its masthead. Magazines, in general, have an awful record on diversity. But if TNR’s influence and importance was as outsized as its advocates claim, then the import of its racist legacy is outsized in the same measure. One cannot sincerely partake in heritage à la carte.

In this sense it is unfortunate to see anonymous staffers accusing TNR’s owner Chris Hughes of trying to create “another BuzzFeed.” If that is truly Hughes’s ambition, then—in at least one important way—he will have created a publication significantly more moral than anything any recent TNR editor ever has. No publication has more aggressively dealt with diversity than BuzzFeed. And not unrelated to this diversity has been a stellar range ofstorytellingand analysis, that could rival—if not best—the journalism in the latest iteration of TNR.

Real Capitolism — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

The banking giant Citigroup announced on Friday that it would move its headquarters from New York to the U.S. Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C., in early 2015.

Tracy Klugian, a spokesperson for Citi, said that the company had leased thirty thousand square feet of prime real estate on the floor of the House of Representatives and would be interviewing “world-class architects” to redesign the space to suit its needs.

According to sources, Citi successfully outbid other firms, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, for the right to move its headquarters to the House floor.

The Citi spokesperson acknowledged that the extensive makeover of the House is expected to cost “in the millions,” but added, “It’s always expensive to open a new branch.”

Explaining the rationale behind the move, Klugian told reporters, “Instead of constantly flying out from New York to give members of Congress their marching orders, Citigroup executives can be right on the floor with them, handing them legislation and telling them how to vote. This is going to result in tremendous cost savings going forward.”

Klugian said that Citi’s chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, will not occupy a corner office on the House floor, preferring instead an “open plan” that will allow him to mingle freely with members of Congress.

“He doesn’t want to come off like he’s their boss,” the spokesperson said. “Basically, he wants to send the message, ‘We’re all on the same team. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.’ ”

Doonesbury — Covering an epidemic.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

Comments are closed.