Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ILJ Awards for February 2006

Intrepid Person of the Month

This past month Yahoo! had a bull’s eye on its back for outing Chinese journalist Shi Tao – although he was actually sentenced in April 2005. While the focus on Yahoo! is certainly justified, I think it’s even more important to honor the man in the eye of the storm.

There is no greater threat to totalitarian regimes than truth. Indeed, it was the communications revolution as much as Western military might that brought down Eastern Europe’s “Iron Curtain” between 1989-1991. Those who dare challenge the status quo of totalitarianism by exposing its evils to the outside world represent freedom’s hammer. Such individuals are also putting themselves in severe jeopardy. Tao is serving a 10-year prison sentence with forced labor in Chishan Prison, Yuanjiang City. The charge against him was “revealing state secrets abroad.” Specifically, Tao transmitted emails to websites based outside China, containing a memo sent to journalists by the Chinese Communist Party concerning the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Tao hoped to aid journalists abroad in their coverage of any unrest that the Chinese government would try to cover-up.

While these facts were widely disseminated, the tapestry of Tao’s life has not received the same scrutiny. There is a human being behind the name Shi Tao. He was born in 1968 in Yanchi City in the northwest region of China. I was surprised to learn that he is a published poet; founding the Zhuxi Literary Society while a teenager attending school. Tao studied poetry and politics at East China Normal University, where he founded the urban poetry group Woting and served on the board of the Shanghai University Associations of Poets. Shanghai's City Poetry was especially influential to Tao as he began publishing poems in state run literary journals with a national readership, such as Shanghai Wenxue and Mengya. In 1989 he participated in the student demonstrations that ended in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

After graduating in 1991, Tao worked for a year as a teacher in Xi-An City, before pursuing his career in journalism. His career advanced as reporter, editor, and director in Xi-an, Taiyuan and Changsha.

Tao also published numerous pieces of poetry, including “Borders of Heaven,” which was published by Shanxi People's Publishing House in 2002. However, Tao had to sacrifice his development as a poet for his work as a journalist. Perhaps he could have made his mark as a poet but the quest to champion truth took precedence.

Thanks to Yahoo’s complicity, Tao has been forced to sacrifice something even more precious than his poetry: his personal freedom. Tao is not allowed to write anything while in prison, except for letters to his family.

When originally apprehended in November 2004, Tao reportedly had a heart condition and ulcer. Not surprising given the stress this man had to live with. In Chishan, Tao’s forced labor consists of processing jewels.

On a personal note, Tao and I are nearly the same age and I can’t help but wonder what I would've done in his place. Tao could've easily taken the path of least resistance and been a careerist, writing newspaper articles that conformed to the Communist Party’s wishes. Or he simply could have pursued a career in poetry and opted not to make political waves. Too many Americans, including myself, take our freedoms for granted while someone like Shi Tao is willing to put everything on the line for the cause of transparency and truth. Meanwhile, here in the United States truth has been raped and violated these past five years by a cabal of corporatists, neo-cons, religious zealots, and a cowardly media. Our apathetic public has let it happen.

May the example of Shi Tao serve as a symbolic reminder to remain vigilant in the pursuit of truth in our own country. I would rather meet someone like Shi Tao than a garden-variety politician or stenographer masquerading as a professional journalist any day.

Republocrat of the Month

Once again I am compelled to name a Senator from my home state of New York as the Republocrat of the Month. Senator Charles Schumer is an intelligent man with a pugnacious style I used to admire. I especially appreciated the way he took down Senator Al D’Amato in 1998. D’Amato was notorious for his rough and tumble campaigns and Schumer demonstrated skill and toughness in defeating him. Schumer was also a steadfast defender of the Constitution during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton while serving on the House Judiciary Committee and again in the Senate. However, he went along with President Bush too easily after 9/11 and his recent publicity stunts regarding the Dubai Port fiasco can’t conceal that Schumer is part of the problem.

Schumer used his influence as the head of the Democrat’s Senate Campaign Committee to deny Paul Hackett access to financial donors. Undermining a candidate’s ability to raise money in a large state such as Ohio is analogous to wiping him off the ballot. Hence, Schumer withheld the power of choice from Ohio Democrats and that is utterly despicable.

Washington Democrats such as Schumer who survived the party’s debacle in 1994 have a perverse pathology. They played triangulation games with President Clinton to preserve their position in the '90s and then took the path of least resistance under President Bush. As a result, these Washington Democrats that Schumer epitomizes have become a self-gelding machine of ineptitude with no core. Survival has not resulted in wisdom for this group of Democrats. Instead, navigating through turbulent political waters has imbued Democrats such as Schumer with an off-putting combination of timidity and hubris. Both qualities were on display in his behind the scenes party machine intervention in Ohio. Timidity because these Democrats fear an independent outsider like Hackett they can’t control. Hubris because of a chronic belief their judgment is superior to that of voters. Remember, the party leadership wasn’t enamored of candidate Barack Obama two years ago either.

This is a party in desperate need of new blood from beyond the beltway. Paul Hackett, on many levels is the ideal candidate for Democrats to re-brand their party as compassionate and tough. He’s an Iraqi war veteran with populist credentials, not fearful of mixing it up with Republicans but in the cultural center on issues such as guns. His opponent Sherwood Brown is an insider but with admirable qualities and an impeccable progressive pedigree. As a more experienced campaigner with a proven track record to raise money, Brown might be the better candidate to unseat incumbent Senator Mike Dewine. One can also make a plausible case that Brown would make a better senator than Hackett. I readily concede that if I was an Ohio voter I might have chosen Brown over Hackett. However, I would’ve wanted to have the power of decision for myself. Schumer, who recruited Hackett in the first place concluded his judgment was above that of Ohio voters. John Nichols writes in The Nation that Brown is the better choice but misses the point entirely. Choice is precisely what Schumer and the rest of the Democratic leadership denied the voters of Ohio. I expect such anti-democracy tactics from Republicans. It has no place in the Democratic Party.

Brezhnev Republican of the Month

I was poised to give this award to the Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff following the recent revelations about Hurricane Katrina combined with the controversy over port security. However, New York Republican Congressman and the Chairman of the House Committee for Homeland Security, Peter King overtook Chertoff with his recent performance on Meet the Press when Tim Russert challenged him about port security:

MR. RUSSERT: I—gentlemen, the Democrats have—are saying very loudly that they have tried repeatedly to put more money into port security. Benny Thompson, Democrat on your committee, Congressman, he tried to increase spending by a billion dollars, he wanted to double the number of oversea port inspectors, he wanted to put radiation portal monitors. And every time, the Republicans said no, you voted no. Do you regret now opposing some of those measures to improve port security?

REP. KING: Tim, we have voted to increase port security dramatically, it’s gone up almost $2 billion since four years ago. Almost 100 percent is screened, it’s not actually examined. But even, you know—people use a number that only 5 percent of the cargo is actually examined. Even Senator Clinton the other day, said 15 is maximum. So it’s between 5 and 15, we do have to do more. I support doing more. In fact, my committee is holding hearings next month, Congressman Lundgren, Congresswoman Harman are holding hearings on the issue of port security. More does have to be done, but a lot has been done also.

MR. RUSSERT: So the Democrats were right?

REP. KING: No, we—no, a lot more has to be done. The fact is you don’t just throw money at it, you do it in a way that works. Well, half this technology the people are talking about doesn’t work that well, and the idea is how do you do it? You can’t be examining every piece of cargo that comes in, it’s to do it effectively and also to do it in a way that doesn’t stop world commerce. Having said that, we realize more has to be done. But their idea, in all due respect, often is throw money into it. And you—again, the idea is to do it in an effective, smart way. I think more should be done, and I’ve said that all along. I had hearings last year as subcommittee chairman, having hearings now that I’m full chairman, and we are going to move forward. I think Susan Collins is really moving the right direction.

How has King used his power of oversight as Chairman to improve port security? Furthermore, what has he done as Chairman to faciliate more accountability from the Bush Administration as well as influence them to upgrade their capacity to respond to natural disasters? Doesn’t he bear any responsibility for not anticipating FEMA’s inability to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security? Doesn't he represent co-equal branch of government and retain special responsibilities as Chairman of this committee?

In recent weeks, King has exploited the Dubai controversy to appear independent from Bush and credible on national security. King reminds me of the Soviet Communists who criticized others about Chernobyl to deflect from their own culpability. His public relations bait and switch are reminiscent of those very same Soviet Communists. Perhaps if Congressman King took his oversight responsibilities seriously in the first place, the Administration might not have attempted this end around regarding Dubai and been more prepared to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Heck of a job Congressman King. Well done.

The Pravda Award

It was suggested to me recently that I add an award category to illustrates the media’s complicity with our current political environment. So I created the monthly Pravda Award. As followers of the Cold War may recall, Pravda means “truth” in Russian and was the name of a prominent newspaper in the Soviet Union that the Kremlin utilized to deliver state sponsored propaganda.

Contrary to conservative Republican propaganda the so-called liberal media bias is a myth that has been skillfully debunked by Media Matters among others. The preponderance of evidence suggests the media is heavily tilted towards disseminating conservative misinformation. Although this is old news to progressives, many are not aware of this bias. It is my hope that such a monthly award will help educate the public about this virus and empower them to make more informed judgments.

I was prepared to select Brit Hume of Fox News for his shameful performance interviewing Vice President Dick Cheney following his hunting accident. It seemed like the perfect choice because Brit Hume is the anti-Shi Tao. However, Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News surpassed Hume on the last day of the month with her interview of President Bush.

As Media Matters noted on their website today:

“During an exclusive interview with President Bush on the February 28 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas repeated White House distortions and uncritically accepted Bush's answers -- even though some were demonstrably false. Vargas echoed the White House line -- which, as Media Matters for America has noted, is not credible -- that Bush ‘doesn't read the polls.’ She ignored a House Select Committee's criticism of the White House on its response to Hurricane Katrina despite using that same report to question Bush during the interview, even though the report's findings contradicted Bush's claim that the ‘problem that happened in Katrina’ was that the White House lacked ‘good, solid information from people who were on the ground.’ Vargas also omitted the key distinction that a Dubai company seeking to take over operations at port terminals at six major U.S. ports is state-owned -- an omission that allowed Bush to suggest that anti-Arab sentiments were the source of criticisms of the deal rather than concerns with national security. Finally, Vargas's interview ignored a number of current issues, including warrantless domestic spying and the Plame investigation -- despite her having found the time to ask Bush: 'What do you think you were put on this Earth to do?'"
Her performance was utterly pitiful and unworthy of a journalist bearing the special responsibility interviewing a head of state entails. I didn’t think it possible to have a more odorous performance than Brit Hume’s interview with Vice President Cheney. Vargas proved me wrong and earned the Intrepid Liberal Journal’s first monthly Pravda Award.


The Dickel said...

Jesus Christ, could you write a longer article?

Paul J said...

Thank you for writing an loquent and thoughtful commentary on insane situation we find ourselves in by March 12, 2006. This regime has sped up the decline of Americas place inthe world, morally, economically. An uneccesary war in Iraq that planned well before 9/11. 7 billion dollars a day to run the operations in Iraq. The creation globally of anti-american feelings. BUSH-CHENEY-WOLFOWITZ and company have polarized and created millions of young muslim that will become part of the jihad where none existed. The radicals must love Bush and company. When will the insanity end? The Iranians love Bush and company, who have done more to further Irans ambitions to dominate this region than they ever did for themselves. Our troops are needlessly dieing.

Richard said...

Your comment on Chuck Schumer above is the perfect example to compare with Molly Ivin's rant about hapless Dems in D.C., so I have made such a comment and reference back to your post here.

Oh, and I agree with both above comments, though my only compalint with the length of your post is that it is hard to like to just one of your awardees. [Grin}

Richard said...

What?? Comment moderation? I get no instant gratification from posting a comment???

I hate the spam comments also.