Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At Least SOMEBODY at the WaPo Gets it!: (but the Editor STILL doesn't)

Dan "the Man" Froomkin,'s blogger extraordinaire is back from paternity leave and  he came back swinging.  His brilliant comments today
in his weekly online chat prove there is at least ONE person at the Post who really GETS it when it comes to the Howell controversy.

Asked about the Controversy, Froomkin, who had himself been the target of Howell's poison pen (sparking a Post Blog explosion all its own) Pulled no punches:

I think's comment cutoff was a mistake. It's a big paradigm shift for people used to controlling every word that appears in their newspapers -- but online, a little loss of control pays off big time.

We should glory in the passion of our readers. We should listen to what they have to say, respond to their concerns, and if necessary correct their misimpressions. In short, we should empower the reader, not shut the reader up -- even temporarily.

Dan also lays the wood to Howell in no uncertain terms:

On the specific underlying issue, it's worth pointing out that the flashpoint for all this was a flatly inaccurate statement by the ombudsman -- that was then left uncorrected and unaddressed for several days

So much for Debbie's "poor me, I was just misunderstood" fig leaf.

Then he cuts the legs out from under Jim Brady's excuse about getting the vapors from all the naughty words and unkind things the readers were saying:

Furthermore, the fact is that the over-the-top abusive comments were in a tiny minority. From what I can tell, the vast majority of posts were passionate, articulate, reasoned, interesting.

In fact, the quality of the discourse in blog comments and Live Onlines (and in my e-mails) is extraordinary. It enriches our site enormously.

Well imagine that, a reporter who actually values the opinions of readers.   And then almost a coup de grace he actually praises the readers for being PO'ed about Howell's column.  As far as he's concerned, getting Angry when the Post prints BS is a good thing.  

Preach it Brother!:

The Web offers great newspapers the opportunity to correct their mistakes quickly and effectively. When we don't, I'm actually quite happy to see people getting angry.

Can I get an Amen?

It's almost as if he values accuracy, and is concerned with the Post's credibility  or something.  Strange.  Also a Pity the editor couldn't find it in himself to care about such things. (too preoccupied with the potty-mouths in the peanut gallery apparently)

Well its about Damn Time.   It's refreshing to see somebody  at the finally stand up and speak the truth to power, even if the power is his own boss.

In fact, I think Froomkin's one mistake today, was a misplaced faith that his boss Jim Brady, editor of the Washington and the man responsible for shutting down the blogs, actually GOT it.

 In his Chat Froomkin (The's former #2 editor BTW) said of his boss :

The good news is that my understanding is that comments will be back soon. I think Jim Brady understands better than most that when you're lucky enough to matter so much to people that they want to engage with you, let them!

Perhaps.  But as it happened Brady was at the very same time  having his own online  Chat today (on a panel with the writers of Buzz Machine, firedoglake;  PressThink and Instapundit).  And I must say he  was showing precious few signs of the enlightenment Froomkin ascribed to him.

During the Chat, both  panelists and chatters made good  points which framed the controversy excellently:

Seattle, Wash.: The Post's dramatic over-reaction to some critics has, in effect, broadly painted all Democrats on the left as vulgar. Last night, one of the sillier TV pundits characterized blog reaction to Howell's column as "organized terrorism." What can The Post do to tamp down this sort of dangerous mischaracterization, and how can readers who care enough to participate in the dialogue trust that they won't again all be treated as barbarians when they disagree?

Jay Rosen: I think it would have been wise if Deborah Howell, in her latest piece, "The Firestorm Over My Column," had elected to share with readers not only the rude, crude and disgusting things sent her way, but some of brilliant and inspired ones that made her think, caused her to question herself, or introduced problems she had never considered before....

Jane Hamsher: The should be thrilled by the passion and intelligence and civility exhibited by the vast, vast majority of commenters.

Over at Kos, someone compared an archived version of the original comments on the "Maryland Moment" blog with the ones that were restored and found only ten that were deemed so "offensive" that they had to be deleted. That's a 99% civility rate. I think most people who run a public board would think that was remarkable.

Sadly though, Brady  responded to all this thoughtfulness by pulling a Scotty McC and clinging to his now thoroughly discredited original story with a death grip.

Jim Brady: I have made this point countless times, but to no avail. The cached posts you see don't include any of the posts we removed. Simple as that. When we saw them, we took them down, which means they weren't live and thus not on that cached page. So analyzing that page and drawing conclusions is faulty.

however  mere minutes later that lie is put to rest once and for all :

[ in response to another query on the same subject]

Jame Hamsher:..

Are you saying that these messages, which you are saying you pulled, never appeared on the blog?

Jim Brady: Not at all. They were there and we removed them. And thus they would not appear in a cached page, which is essentially a snapshot in time. If they weren't live at the moment the page was cached, you wouldn't see them.

Ahh but if they WERE then We WOULD have now wouldn't we?

Then a panelist cut to the chase and asked the million dollar question:

Jane Hamsher: Jim, Jane here. I'm just wondering, did you filter messages before they were seen publicly or after? We know that posts were removed and then restored at various times over the last week. But what is puzzling is that some messages with profanity were restored while others with strictly appropriate political content were not. Can you explain?

Apparently not, because he never even attempted to respond to that question, instead he ignored it completely  even after Hamsher asked it again and included a Link to the specific comments (the KOS diary natch.)

After Jim Ducked that question  Hamsher tried another, this time asking for an answer to the  simple factual question of precisely HOW MANY nasty posts there were (an issue it's fair to say, was central to justifying the action) .

This time Brady doesn't ignore her but instead  turns on her with a nasty personal attack (ironically the very thing he complained about readers doing)

Jane Hamsher: There is a big difference between "several" and "hundreds." Is it a "dozen" as Strauss said, or "hundreds" as Brady said in the Hugh Hewett interview?

I think Jim Brady owes us some specifics.

Jim Brady: I don't know the exact number, but I can assure you it was more than dozen. I removed about 50 myself.

And, Jane, since you obviously don't want to discuss the topic at hand and would instead prefer to play Columbo, let me pose a question to you: I looked at your blog last night in preparation for this, and in addition to all the nice things you had to say about me, I noticed that you often link to "WaPo" articles that are critical of the Bush Administration and give them your implied endorsement. But then when we publish something that doesn't fit into your worldview, we're called "shills of the GOP." Which is it? You can't have it both ways, but you seem to want to.

Can it really be so that the editor of the largest online newspaper in the country is so clueless about blog culture as to believe that linking to an article means you are giving it an "implied endorsement"?

Brady then continued his forthcoming ways by brushing off questions about why Howell, who had started the feces-storm with her lazy reporting,  wasn't participating in the Chat:

Jim Brady: Deborah has chosen for the time being not to any live discussions, but we've talked about it, and you'll see her on here at some point.

ah well. there it is then.  The Post lets Howell publish a poor poor pitiful me Column  but then lets her hide under the desk rather than face the people she insulted in it.  So much for that whole "valuing interactivity thing

Well Since Jim Never did get off his talking points and into a real discussion, I think I'll let this participant speak for me:

Artesia, N.M.: Jim Brady, you're trying to define the primary issue as civility -- as if it's a shock that people use bad language. But the primary issue is credibility. The Post's ombudsman relayed a blatantly false Republican talking point, offered a late and grudging limited "apology", and then you shut down a forum that showed your customers were angry about it. Stop acting like you never heard bad language before and start addressing the actual issue.

Update [2006-1-25 17:6:13 by Magorn]:
Be sure to also Read this Diary which contains some interesting inside information from Hamsher about how Brady manipulated the Chat

Republicans Unveil New Ethics Plan. No. Really. Seriously

Since apparently nobody can find the old one, House Republicans redefined the word Chutzpah today and Unveiled a New Ethics Bill

Described here in completely neutral language by the WaPo

 House Republicans moved to seize the initiative for ethics reform Tuesday with a comprehensive package of changes  including the banning of privately sponsored travel like that arranged by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.{ shocker}

The package also includes a virtual ban on gifts,{ didn't we HAVE one of these Already?}  except for inconsequential items like baseball caps,{ soon to be Made of SOLID GOLD}  and a provision that will affect few people: elimination of congressional pensions for anyone convicted of a felony related to official duties.  { all other felony convictions are apparently Hunky-dory with them}

Strangely the Earth Did NOT, I repeat Not, open up and swallow the Republican Caucus whole, after they introduced the legislation.

But this Smarmy exercise in message muddling wasn't done yet, as apparently the Republicans were trying to set some sort of Olympic record for keeping a straight face:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert Showing reporters exactly how large he believes his testicles are for daring to use the words "Republicans" and "Ethics" in the same sentence

The Bill was an expected montage of silly half-measures and partisan gamesmanship:

Members of Congress [currently are limited to] only those gifts valued at under $50, with a ceiling of $100 from any one individual in a year. {which strangely didn't stop Abramoff from handing out thousands of dollars of swag with little or no hindrance}

Hastert and Dreier said their gift ban would be "significantly stronger" { but  Just as loophole ridden and useless}

[However they said it] would not prevent members from accepting a baseball hat or a T-shirt from visiting middle-school students. ( because their only concern besides Puppies and flowers is protecting those poor middle school kids  whose Dreams and hopes would be Simply CRUSHED if they Couldn't give a T-shirt to congressman}

Hastert went on to further tempt the Almighty to smite him down by saying :

"I know that fact-finding trips are important,{ Hell I'd gotten my handicap down to a 4 thanks to those ST. Andy's weekends} but private travel has been abused by some," Hastert, R-Ill., told a news conference.

And he is of course very about the corrupting influence of large contributions---going to the other side

Hastert said ethics reform should also include the issue of spending by tax-exempt partisan groups known as 527s. In the last election such groups spent $544 million, according to one estimate, and tended to favor Democrats.

Which of Course has Precisely nothing to do with accepting Difts and trips from lobbyists, but hey, nothing like a bracing non-sequitur or two to further muddle an issue eh wot?

And for a rousing Lie De Force finale,  Hastert went on to Deny that this legislation was somehow belated or a knee-jerk reaction to current news:

Hastert, at his news conference, shrugged off criticisms that he had put off action on lobbying reform and was only responding when his own party faced a crisis.

"A year ago most people around Congress couldn't tell you who Jack Abramoff was," he said.

{"Hell we were getting so many bribes in those days we didn't even bother to try to remember Names.  We just took the money, passed the bills and ---oh  hell did I say that out loud?"}

Which is a touch like saying the Titanic has some minor structural damage.

But passing Even this Pathetic Figleaf bill won't be easy.  Before the reciever was even cold on the Conference call; senior Republicans were reverting to their true form and defending the status Quo at the trough:

Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., who is running to succeed DeLay as majority leader, put out a statement that "many trips are truly educational, and I believe a complete ban on all private travel would be an overreaction that doesn't get to the root of the problem."

{ "which is,  of course, that we are a bunch of corrupt good Ol' Boys who are completely dependant on illegal Corporate contributions to continue to hold power on the Hill", he Didn't go on to say but should have.}

Folks, Sometimes the Res Ipsa Loquitor   "The thing speaks for itself."   This is one of those times,   Mostly because I'm feeling a touch naseous now from the stench of hypocrisy coming off the article.  We Can't let this one slide

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cronyism kills Again!: BushCo gutted MSHA enforcement, forced out Whistle blowers

Deep in your soul, you knew it was his fault.  And you were right.

When you saw the faces of the grieving families, the tragic pictures of the bodies being hauled to the surface, and W's sanctimonious mug pontificating from the podium,  you knew the whole thing stunk somehow.  Mine explosions?  dead workers?  Did we fall into a time warp back to 1920 somehow?  Didn't we have rules about worker safety to prevent this sort of thing?

Well the answers in reverse order are: yes we did once; and politically,  yes we have.

 Welcome to the New Gilded Age,  a place where MSHA engineers can be canned for having the temerity to demand  that large politically connected corporations play by the same safety rules as everyone else; and where politically connected foxes are given the job of protecting the chicken coop.

 This is a story you may already know but it's time to take another look at it in light of recent events.  Its the story of whistleblower Jack Spadaro  

Spadaro's Story Starts with the largest Mine Disaster in US History:

On Oct. 11, 2000, in Inez, Ky.,..a coal-waste reservoir the size of 306 Olympic-size swimming pools sprang a leak. Within six hours, 300 million gallons of thick sludge had flooded out of the Big Branch Refuse ...Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people. ...the EPA declared the spill the largest environmental catastrophe in the history of the southeastern United States...The Inez disaster was almost 30 times larger than the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker spill,

Jack Spadaro, head of MSHA's Mine Safety Institute, was brought in to investigate, and he As later he told 60 Minutes   uncovered evidence that the "accident" was really the result of gross negligence on the part of the Coal Company:

During the investigation carried out by Spadaro and his colleagues, it came out that there had been a previous spill in 1994 at the same impoundment. The mining company claimed it had taken measures to make sure it wouldn't happen again, but an engineer working for the company said the problem had not been fixed, and that both he and the company knew another spill was virtually inevitable.

Unfortunately soon after,  W got elected/selected/appointed, and someone decided to put the brakes on the investigation

(quoting the Atlantic monthly article again)

two days before President Bush's inauguration, Spadaro and his team were abruptly assigned a new boss to lead the investigation. Immediately after taking charge, Thompson told Spadaro's team that they had one week to conclude the investigation. ....Spadaro...had counted on having four or five more months to complete their work.

And then the Whitewash began in earnest:

The new head of MSHA, a Bush appointee named Dave Lauriski, was a former mining industry mining executive ,..Spadaro says Lauriski came into his office one day, and insisted he sign a watered down version of the report -- a version that virtually let the coal company and MSHA off the hook.

"He said , `I'm in a hard spot here and I need you to sign this report," recalls Spadaro. "I said, `You'd best take my name off that report because I'm never going to sign that report.'"

... in the end, Massey Energy was only cited for two violations, and had to pay approximately $110,000

Spadaro, for complaining publicly about the whitewash, and starting an IG investigation of no-bid MSHA contacts given to Lauriski cronies , was harassed and then railroaded out of the agency over a disputed $22.50 in Cash advance fees on his government issued credit cards:

[MSHA] deputy assistant secretary, John Caylor threatened to fire him if he didn't stop raising questions about the no-bid contracts.

Just one month after Caylor's threat, Spadaro's government credit card and travel records were audited. It turned out  he had used his government credit card to take out cash advances when he needed money to entertain dignitaries and students at the academy. The processing fees for those 13 cash advances totaled $22.60. ... Spadaro was told that his abuse of the credit card was a "serious offense."

If this charge had been anymore trumped up, they would have needed to bring out Ol' Live Weasel Toupe Himself  to tell Spadaro he was fired.  

Now I know you will be shocked to learn this, but it seems as if Massey Energy had a lot of friends in the new Bush Administration:

Massey Energy, Martin County Coal's parent company, gained a front-row seat to the new Bush administration when it invited James H. "Buck" Harless to join its board in 2001. Harless, a West Virginia coal and timber baron, had raised $275,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, given $5,000 for the Florida recount, and contributed $100,000 to the president's inaugural fund. Bush nicknamed Harless "Big Buck" and invited him to join the administration's transition task force on energy. "We were looking for friends, and we found one in George W. Bush," Harless told The Wall Street Journal.

And that was only part of a larger industry-administration love fest:

 coal executives, threatened by Vice President Al Gore's green background and his pledge to increase taxes on fossil fuels, thought they could get a better deal with the Republicans--when they raised a record $3.8 million dollars for the 2000 federal election, 88 percent went to the GOP. At the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association a few months after Bush's inauguration, the group's director told 150 industry executives, "You did everything you could to elect a Republican president. [Now] you are already seeing in his actions the payback."

Hmm. So they gave Bushco something, and they wanted something in return.  I thought that translated as "Quid Pro Quo", but my Latin must be rusty because THAT would be Illegal.

So what the hell does all this have to do with the Sago Mine Disaster?   I'd argue everything.  the Sago Mine had an Appalling safety record and had been cited for significant safety violations 208 times in 2005 alone  and even more significantly almost 3x the number of citations they had in 2004.  In other words, the mines operators were showing increasingly flagrant contempt for the safety rules and regulations  that MSHA set down.  And why not?  The firing of Spadaro proved that they had Friends at the Top of the Agency, and it would remain their toothless lapdog for as long as W was in office.

This isn't the First time That negligence by Bush's business cronies have killed the very people they are supposed to be saving.  I'd also lay money it won't be the last.   The real question is, when will it be enough?

How many more pictures of pain, loss, and tragedy, will it take before the outrage starts in earnest?

Update [2006-1-5 15:27:42 by Magorn]:
Read Vyan's Diary from this morning for even more excellent commentary on the Bushco Gutting MSHA and almost all of the other safety and regulatory agencies.

Marines Betrayed and a father's eloquent outrage

Yesterday, the WaPo ran a letter from the Father of Marine killed in Iraq starkly titled A Life Wasted.  The letter is an epitaph for his son that also asks hard questions about the war killed him:

The words "hero" and "patriot" focus on the death, not the life. They are a flag-draped mask covering the truth that few want to acknowledge openly: Death in battle is tragic no matter what the reasons for the war. The tragedy is the life that was lost, not the manner of death. Families of dead soldiers on both sides of the battle line know this. Those without family in the war don't appreciate the difference.

Moving as the letter is alone, the tragedy of the loss is compounded when you consider this report that says his Son was killed by our supposed allies:

The families of those who died are being told that on Aug. 1, six Marine snipers from the 3/25 were killed, and it appears they were set up and ambushed.

Two days later, 14 Marines from the 3/25 were sent to arrest the insurgents who killed the snipers, but their vehicle was blown up, killing all of them.

It now appears that they also may have been set up.

What can you possibly say to a father who has lost his son because his elected leaders are incompetent, or bent on sacrificing his son for their fever dreams of empire?  

Mr. Schroder eloquently shows how empty words are in face of such pointless grief:

Early on Aug. 3, 2005, we heard that 14 Marines had been killed in Haditha, Iraq. Our son, Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder II, was stationed there. At 10:45 a.m. two Marines showed up at our door. After collecting himself for what was clearly painful duty, the lieutenant colonel said, "Your son is a true American hero."

Since then, two reactions to Augie's death have compounded the sadness.

At times like this, people say, "He died a hero." I know this is meant with great sincerity. We appreciate the many condolences we have received and how helpful they have been. But when heard repeatedly, the phrases "he died a hero" or "he died a patriot" or "he died for his country" rub raw.

"People think that if they say that, somehow it makes it okay that he died," our daughter, Amanda, has said. "He was a hero before he died, not just because he went to Iraq. I was proud of him before, and being a patriot doesn't make his death okay. I'm glad he got so much respect at his funeral, but that didn't make it okay either."

This has become the favorite dodge of the of the Flag-waving Right.  They try to ignore the ugly realities and mounting costs of this war by covering everything with a red white and blue haze of high-sounding words and pretend that dying in battle is somehow glorious and noble (as if Wilfred Owen hadn't  killed that Lie nearly 90 years ago with Dulce et Decorum est)

but to the families affected, he hollowness of the words and gestures are made obvious by their loss:

At Augie's grave, the lieutenant colonel knelt in front of my wife and, with tears in his eyes, handed her the folded flag. He said the only thing he could say openly: "Your son was a true American hero." Perhaps. But I felt no glory, no honor. Doing your duty when you don't know whether you will see the end of the day is certainly heroic. But even more, being a hero comes from respecting your parents and all others, from helping your neighbors and strangers, from loving your spouse, your children, your neighbors and your enemies, from honesty and integrity, from knowing when to fight and when to walk away, and from understanding and respecting the differences among the people of the world.

and then Mr. Schroeder attempts a little quiet heroism of his own:

This leads to the second reaction. Since August we have witnessed growing opposition to the Iraq war, but it is often whispered, hands covering mouths, as if it is dangerous to speak too loudly. Others discuss the never-ending cycle of death in places such as Haditha in academic and sometimes clinical fashion, as in "the increasing lethality of improvised explosive devices."

I am outraged at what I see as the cause of his death. For nearly three years, the Bush administration has pursued a policy that makes our troops sitting ducks.

Though it hurts, I believe that his death -- and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq -- was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator -- a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation -- a careless disregard for professional military counsel.

and his Son had apparently been having the same questions about the war:

n our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it," because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places. Marine commanders in the field say the same thing. Without sufficient troops, they can't hold the towns. Augie was killed on his fifth mission to clear Haditha.

And Schroeder has been no passively grieving father, he's been extremely active in trying to get the real story of just what happened to his son that day, and what's he forced the military to admit, and uncovered on his own destroys the myth that we are making "progress in Iraq" (from the second linked article):  

six Marine snipers were killed in a firefight just outside of Hadithah. The Marines said they were on an intelligence-gathering mission, but family of the fallen and Schroeder say insurgents may have infiltrated Iraqi security and betrayed the Marines.

"What we have heard from Marines is that the six snipers who were killed on Aug. 1 were set up," said Schroeder.

Schroeder said it was the mission of his son and 13 other Marines to capture the insurgents who killed the snipers.

The amphibious assault vehicle carrying Augie Schroeder was blown up and all 14 Marines on board were killed.

Paul Schroeder said his son and the others were also betrayed by Iraqi forces who were supposed to be working with the Marines.

"The two incidents of Aug. 1 and Aug. 3 are tied together, all in an effort to get insurgents who were either part of the Iraqi security forces or who were told by Iraqi security forces where they had their opportunities," said Schroeder.

The military has been its usual forthcoming self about this:

NewsChannel5 spoke with Maj. Shenandoah Sanchez, who investigated the events.

"All details pertaining to the incident are still classified," he said.

But Lt. Col. Mike Brown, also with the 3/25, said the investigation, "was about how the people responsible were ultimately found."

Brown told NewsChannel5, "The fact these men were compromised is a part of the investigation."

Brown declined to say who they were and if they were captured.

Can You imagine what you'd do if this was your son?  Not only is he killed, a grief that's almost unimaginable, but then you find out he was lured to his death by the very people his president is embracing as the solution to the Iraq quagmire.  What would you do?

Well Paul Schroeder has a suggestion for all of us:

Two painful questions remain for all of us. Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain? President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead. That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?...

But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.

This is very painful to acknowledge, and I have to live with it. So does President Bush.

are ya ready to stop whispering?