Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Washington Back Channel

This is a long feature in this past Saturday's New York Times magazine, and it was written by Max Frankel. It's incredibly long but also amazingly informative. I really do recommend reading this one online. It's a critique on the Libby case, though really, Frankel is just using the Libby case as a prop to show how the reporter-official relationship work, since it is our most recent example of the use of leaks and misleading information.

Not only does Frankel explain how reporters and Washington officials exchange secrets to further each other's motives, he also draws specific examples from the history of the Valerie Plame-Wilson fiasco and the WMD accusations that propelled into the indictment of Scooter. And then Frankel draws parallels from his experience as a reporter to show that this is not the first time it's happened.

Now the way he does this is quite skillful, because he manages to inform the readers who have not been following the Plame affair since it's began (that's me) and also to make connections to how it relates to the nature of political journalism, especially in Washington.

I think- and I'm not too sure, because this article was really dense, and i'm still trying to smooth out some confusion on my part- that his point is that the government has every information marked "secret" and disclose it to the press whenever it serves their purpose, so it makes whatever matter they are trying to prove or show or promote more legitimate and important. In order to do this surreptiously, the government sometimes enlist the help of willing journalists who are in search of a good story, and they will accidentally let slip this information. Now, a proper reporter will investigate further, and of course he will come up with some information. The next step is for the reporter to choose the right time to publish this "leak" like it was news, when really the government officials have been anticipating it since their tongue slipped during the conversation.

The problem with the Plame affair and the Libby indictment is that the jury never went into why and how it happened. With Libby, they simply focused on him lying ("forgetting") on when he heard about Plame. And with Plame, the blame has been thrown all over the administration, with all the leaks and the information criss-crossing each other, that it just turns on to be a huge convoluted mess.

Here's the thing that kinda bugged me: Frankel never actually goes into it, but he hints several times that the reason why Armitage even leaked Plame in the first place (I guess I should use the word "allegedly") is because he was holding grudges against the Wilsons. Frankel used the word "bitter feud" to describe it. From what I can tell, the "bitter feud" began when Valerie Plame asked her husband, Joe Plame, an ambassdor, to look into the matter as to whether Iraq was trying to buy some WMD material (stuff? I don't know what term to use), and Joe came up with nada- or at least information that was incongruous with that claim. However, the government got hold of it, and decided to use that in a memo where the President announced that Iraq was harboring WMD, which acted as a reason for invading Iraq. Now, how did the government get the information? Does this mean that Plame was asked by the CIA to investigate that? And even so, how could the government manipulate this information to further their economic/political agendas?

I don't know if Frankel was trying to trivialize it or humuliate them, but he seemed to make the beginnings of this affairs to be rather petty. I mean, I don't know much about it, so I'm going by the use of diction and the tone of voice.

Obviously, it shows dishonesty and corruption on the government's part- but in the paragraph before, it also shows how just because an information is important and is "secret" does not mean that it is true or helpful.

Here's something I found interesting as well:

"'Off the record' information could not be published, but could guide research and perhaps be confirmed elsewhere; 'deep background' material could be printed only if not attributed to anyone; 'background' called for a circumlocution, like 'senior administration official.'"

Frankel also wrote in a memo in 1971 (during the Pentagon Papers leak when he was chief Washington correspondent for the NYT):

"Learning always to trust each other to some extent, and never to trust each other fully- for their purposes are often contradictory or downright antogonistic- the reporter and the official trespass regularly, customarily, easily and un-self-consciously (even unconsciously) through what they both know to be official 'secrets.'"

Frankel ended the article with his concerns on how the Libby trial will affect the future of journalism.

"Was it worth turning the White House into a defensive fortress? Was it worth invading newsroom files and alerting other sources that their chance of exposure has been significantly increased? Was tracking down one leak worth the risk that greater wrongdoing will go unreported in the future?"

When I was in my Foundations of Journalism class, we actually spent a lot of time discussing leaks as whether being helpful or harmful. I'm just really happy to see Frankel expand on these questions- shows that no matter how long we spend discussing it, it will always be relevant to how reporters treat information, and how officials dispel them- because whatever comes out of this hold of knowledge can either be helpful or disastrous to the well-being of the country.

Link to Frankel's article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/magazine/25Libby.t.html?ref=magazine

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greenwich Village Gunfight Leaves Four Dead

This one definitely hits close to home. I was walking home from work yesterday around 9-ish, and there were a lot of police cars just making their way towards the south side of West Village. And usually, I don't turn my head when I hear cop cars, I'm used to sirens. But then there was another, and then another- and all these cop cars were coming from different directions and all going to the same place. I considered going down the street to see what was going on because I was curious and nosy, but I decided to just go home.

It was on the front page of the New York Times, and apparently some man walked into a pizzeria on MacDougal St., DeMarco's, and shot the bartender. Then when he left the pizzeria, two auxiliary officers followed him down the street, while calling for the cops. Suddenly the man turned around and shot those two auxiliary officers. I guess by then the cops started arriving (which was around the time when I was walking home) and they shot the man and he died.

Anyway, what I learned from that article was that sometimes the cops who hang out on busy streets, who patrol and stuff, aren't actually cops, but they're called auxiliary officers. They have almost identical uniforms. On the newspaper, there was a sidebar where they talked about auxiliary officers, and what their duties are.

"The two were members of the city’s auxiliary police force, which is made up of unpaid volunteers who wear uniforms virtually indistinguishable from those of New York City Police officers but who are unarmed."

Basically, they're just for show, to keep the crowds safe, and they're not being paid to put their lives at risks.

So on my way out of my dorm, the security guard warned me about the two reporters hanging out outside, and that they would bug me to sign them in. I asked why they're there, and security guard said, "Didn't you hear? An NYU kid died in that shooting last night."

Anyway, the newspaper did not mention names, but if you look at it online, it says names. The NYU kid was one of the auxiliary officers and his name is Yevgeniy Marshalik, Eugene to most people. He lives in my dorm, and he's 19.

Definitely hits closer to home than I'd like it to. This is so unfortunate, I don't even know what to say.

This article was written by Alan Feuer and Al Baker. The article about auxiliary officers is titled "Uniformed Eyes and Ears on the Front Lines" and it was written by James Barron.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/15/nyregion/15cops.html?hp=&pagewanted=all
Link for the article about auxiliary officers: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/15/nyregion/15auxiliary.html

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

For U.S. Troops At War, Liquor Is Spur to Crime

This was in the New York Times, and was written by Paul von Zielbauer. I don't think I've read much by him- i mean, I've probably skimmed but that's it, because his name just doesn't register.

Well, this one caught my attention because what he did was list all the various offenses that U.S. soldiers have gotten punished/convicted/let go for that was alcohol-related, and all these offenses have been publicized before as a way to promote anti-U.S.-involvement sentiment. However, I think this article did well to seperate the offenses of the soldiers into problems that come from drinking, instead of cramming it into the problem of the U.S. being at war in Iraq.

If young men at home are drinking and doing stupid stuff like getting into fights and bar brawls, what makes anyone think it would be any different in a war-zone, when tensions are a lot higher? Especially if most of these men are really, REALLY young, and probably not allowed to drink legally in the U.S. There's just a greater tendency for testosterone-filled men to want to prove their masculinity in a situation where they are otherwise striking out. By striking out, I mean by the onslaught of sectarian violence and the U.S. inability to have control in a country that their hubris got them into.

von Zielbauer listed some medical experts, and one of them was Charles P. O'Brien, who is a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He said, "I think the real story here is in the suicide and stress, and the drinking is just a symptom of it."

That makes me really sad. It reminds me that these soldiers are just human as the rest of us, and they are not just invincible bodies of men that serve and protect.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/world/middleeast/13alcohol.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Between Black and Immigrant Muslims, an Uneasy Alliance

This is a huge article in the NYT that spans on a quarter of the cover, and then to 2 whole pages in the metro section. It's incredibly interesting, and the picture NYT chose to run on the cover is emblematic of the progress that these two cultures within the same religion have undergone.

The story is about how African-American Muslims and immigrant (Arab, South Asian) Muslims are hesitant to embrace each other despite having the same religion. Black Muslims face different problems and different stereotypes. The article said that a lot of these black people actually found their faith in prison when they were lost and down, by following the path of Malcom X. They are often the forgotten members are the Muslim community.

Oh, since I mentioned the picture on the frontpage. It shows Dr. Faroque Khan, who is the head of a mosque in Long Island, and Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, head of a mosque in Harlem, sitting on the ground with their legs crossed, and they have food in front of them. They are leaning in towards each other, Imam Talib is talking and gesturing with his hands, and Dr. Khan is listening intently. Behind them, there are some other people in a line of some sort, presumably waiting to get food. I thought this picture was great, because it just shows how the rest of the Muslim community are kinda unaware of the steps that need to be taken in order to unite these two seperate faiths into one religion.

Here's something that the article mentioned that was kinda intriguing. It said that when blacks became Muslims, they had to part with mainstream culture in some way, whereas Muslim immigrants are just trying their best to assimilate into the American culture.

"Black converts often take Arab names, only to find foreign-born Muslims introducing themselves as 'Moe' instead of 'Mohammed.'"

That must be frustrating. Because say you are someone who is being judged by a religion you choose to take up because you really really believe that your soul belongs to that religion, and then you meet someone whom you feel is privileged enough to grow up in that environment and yet wants to hide that rich history.

Another difference is the economic rift in these two communities. The muslim immigrants are often well-educated and came here for a job, or to study or whatever. So as a result, they live in nice neighborhoods (ie. Long Island) and drive nice cars. On the other hand, like I said before, many of these black muslims found their faith out of desperation, and it is often from hitting hard times.

Something the writer, Andrea Elliott, also said was that for some people who convert to Islam, it is sometimes a political action because they are looking for a faith that does not cater to the majority, that is not "dominated by the white elite."

It's hard to judge, because this is just one article (and to be fair, the only in-dept article) that I have read about Muslims, be it black or immigrant. However, it seems like black Muslims are very hung up on combining politics with religions, like they are trying to prove something by clutching on to their Koran.

I got that impression halfway through the article, when Imam Talib is quoted, "We need power. Without that, we'll destroy ourselves." He said that in context of having returned from Manhattan Detention complex where he works as a chaplain, and there were men in there from his mosque who were back in jail. So, he is saying this kinda in exasperation, in quiet desperation- that's what I have worked from the quotes.

Also, the reason why Imam Talib traveled to Long Island to speak in Dr. Khan's mosque was to ask for funds for his mosque. Again, there's the whole donation factor involved. Of course, the article is about what it took in order for Dr. Khan to invite Imam Talib to his mosque, the understanding that he had to go through. And also what it took for Imam Talib to accept this invitation, since it means venturing out into a part of the religion that he is not fully aware of.

But the practical end of this deal is that Imam Talib got $10,000 from the congregants of Long Island. I know, bright side is that that immigrant population is responding well to the sermons of a black muslim. And then the article say that that is the most amount of money Imam Talib has ever raised for his mosque in one night- well, duh, since they are rich Long Island dwellers, instead of Harlem neighborhoods.

That came off very cynical. That was just my take on it though. The article is definitely worth taking a look at.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/nyregion/11muslim.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Four Unspeakable Truths: What Politicians Won't Admit About Iraq

Today's article is in the front and center of Slate.com and is written by Jacob Weisberg.

Weisberg basically lists the four truths about the Iraq war that politicians won't or are afraid to admit. The first is that the war was a mistake, and I guess Hillary Clinton was the first politician who came to mind.

The second is that American soldiers are victims as much as heroes. I guess we all remember how everyone reacted last year when Kerry made a blunder during a speech saying that if we don't study hard, we would end up in the war (or something like that, I don't remember the exact words) That was really bad because it showed that he thought that the soldiers who went to war are not going there because they are heroes, but because they are not in college. Weisberg felt that though Kerry quickly apologized for it, that was largely true.

"Americans who attend college and have good employment options after graduation are unlikely to sign up for free tours of the Sunni Triangle. People join the military for a variety of reasons, of course, but since the Iraq war turned ugly, the all-volunteer Army has been lowering educational standards, raising enlistment bonuses, and looking past criminal records."

The third truth is that lives lost in Iraq are lives wasted. I can see why this one is particularly sensitive, especially to the parents of the American soldiers who have died. No one likes to hear that their kid's life had been wasted; they want to see their kid going down in the battlefield in glory, for some sort of purpose.

Personally, I don't know how I feel about truth #3. Makes me feel kinda bad, because I don't like to think that these people who feel they are doing something good are being judged as having wasted their lives when they get shot in the chest. Of course, what I don't like does not necessarily mean that it is not true.

The fourth truth is that America is losing or has already lost the Iraq war. That one really gets me, because it depends on what a person means when he says "lose." I felt like we lost the war the minute we did not have a plan as to how we would handle the sectarian violence and the politics of the country and the relations between the religious and non-religious. I guess this really is the classic case of "be careful of what you wish for." I mean, we "conquered" Iraq so quickly, and our government was so confident in overturning the situations that. And yea, now they have the whole of Iraq in their hands- all the problems and the blood.

Link: http://www.slate.com/id/2161385/nav/tap1/

Thursday, March 1, 2007

2 Paintings By Picasso Are Stolen In Paris

The headline pretty much says it all. What makes it even more incroyable is that it was stolen from the home of Picasso's granddaughter, Diana Widmaier-Picasso. There two paintings, "Maya with Doll" (1938) and "Portrait of Jacqueline" (1961), were both from Picasso's Cubism period, and police say that they are worth about $66 million dollars.

This caught my attention because I think it's kind of ridiculous that we have all these crazy war crimes, sectarian violences, rape cases, pyscho killers- and then these paintings by a celebrated painter is just stolen off the walls of his granddaughter's home. It seems so tame by comparison, and yet completely absurd. How did these robbers bypass strict security alarms? It just brings to mind the crazy agility of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, or even the whole complicated plan of Thomas Crowne. So theatrical.

I read an interview with an art lawyer in some art magazine, and she said that despite the triviality of art theft compared to the news on CNN, the money that people can make off selling these expensive art can help finance questionable operations, like terrorism. So it's not just capricious whims of bored rich people.

I just remembered an article in a NYT magazine last year about a man who is currently creating field where he combines art history with the "tools of criminology, pyschology and deductive logic" to help solve and retrieve valuable works of art. It was a very informative article about how he works on forming a profile on the type of person who would steal that painting, and then he would figure out how it was stolen. He is basically a pioneer in this field, and has really helped opened the eyes of the FBI and Scotland Yard. It is interesting that this forgotten field of crime is gaining some form of order and knowledge.

"'The art trade is the least transparent and least regulated commercial activity in the world,'' says Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, a London-based company that maintains a leading database of stolen artworks."

I found the article and it was pubished in the NYT magazine's issue of December 17, 2006. The art historian/detective's name is Noah Carney. The article begins by describing his love of art, and how he would be the first suspect if a statue that he admires is stolen. It's a great piece written by Tom Mueller, and it is titled "To Sketch A Thief."

To end, I feel that Diana Picasso should get the help of Noah Carney. That would be great NYT karma there.

Link: 2 Paintings By Picasso Are Stolen in Paris- http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/arts/design/01pica.html?_r=1&ref=design&oref=slogin