Homage to Izzy Stone: Secrets & Lies
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
June 24, 2008
Lies, big or small, are corrosive worms that can weaken foundations of
trust, influence how events are framed, injure the liar as well as those
lied to. When those untruths come from private individuals, the
consequences usually are contained. When public officials lie, the moral
dry-rot can be wide-ranging, sometimes leading to catastrophic results
I.F. Stone, one of my journalistic heroes from the '50s and '60s ("I.F.
Stone's Weekly"), believed, correctly, that all
governments lie and it is up to reporters to ferret out the truth. Izzy,
who died in 1989, once regaled me by confessing that his greatest
journalistic joy was in finding hidden truths in public documents at the
local library or Library of Congress or in one-paragraph fillers in the
newspapers or buried amidst the final paragraphs in long stories in the
mainstream press. A good journalist, he said, doesn't have to make
anything up; the truth of what's really going on is right there in the
open, ripe for the picking if you know where to look, and how to look.
And, most importantly -- do you hear, mainstream-media reporters?? -- if
you're willing to look.
So what I'd like to do here is to browse through some current events and
see what can be learned politically, socially, personally, from nuggets
of news unearthed from the daily newspaper in the past few days. Here we
1. "DISAPPEARING" THE ANGER
What happens, and what is being said, when bureaucrats bring political
sensibilities into the designs of a public artist?
It often happens. For example: Maya Lin's emotionally powerful Vietnam
Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a black granite wall emerging
from the earth with the names of the fallen etched into its reflective
surface. Lin was forced by conservative opposition in the early 1980s to
share the memorial grounds with a traditional sculpture of three
soldiers. The two memorials don't mesh at all. (If you hang around and
watch where the three million annual visitors to the memorial grounds
go, it's directly to Lin's non-traditional Vietnam Veterans Wall, with
few even paying attention to the aesthetically irrelevant three-soldiers
sculpture next to it.)
Now the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is being planned for the
National Mall in Washington, D.C. An artist recently showed his
rendering of the Rev. King sculpture to the U.S. Commission of Fine
Arts, the federal panel that oversees monuments and memorials on the
Mall. According to a three-paragraph story in my local newspaper, the
commissioners indicated that the statue made King look "confrontational"
and suggested that the sculpture be altered "both in form and modeling."
The reaction of the artist was to alter the design by turning up King's
mouth slightly to indicate the hint of a smile.
That was the extent of the little story. What can we learn from this?
The demand by the commissioners reminds one of Stalinist editing.
Someone out of favor with the Soviet dictator? Airbrush him out of the
photo. Don't like the way a novelist writes? Send him to the gulag.
Object to a playwright's words? Have the censor remove them.
In this instance, the forces of reaction are demonstrating that they
don't like blacks to be seen as angry or confrontational (formerly
called "uppity"). So a softening smile appears on the civil rights
activist who probably was one of the most confrontational social leaders
in American history, able to transform justifiable African-American
anger into a non-violent confrontational movement of huge and lasting
Much of white America in 2008 would prefer to believe that the racial
problem is over and done with or at least well on its way to being
solved. Barack Obama is a candidate for the presidency -- therefore,
they reason, black anger and frustration are unnecessary.
If you want more evidence of where this anger comes from, and why it
won't disappear for a long long time, check out a new book by the
award-winning Wall Street Journal writer Douglas Blackmon, "Slavery By
Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War
to World War II." Blackmon convincingly argues that a brutal era of
economic/political "neo-slavery" took hold in the American South after
the Civil War, and was largely tolerated by whites in the North and by
the federal and state judicial systems up until post-World War II. Only
after the fallout from that war, the integration and affirmative-action
rulings by the Supreme Court and the historic voting rights- and civil
rights-legislation pushed through in the mid-1960s by President Lyndon
Johnson as a result of courageous civil-rights activists, did the Jim
Crow system finally begin to break apart. (I grew up in the post-war
South, so can vouch for the accuracy of Blackmon's thesis.)
Here's the transcript of a fascinating interview with Blackmon on
PBS' "Bill Moyer's Journal" from last Friday.
So, public artists, you've been given your marching orders. Remember:
Public art should make people feel good -- and "patriotic." When in
doubt, add an American flag. Yep, that's what the U.S. Commission on
Fine Arts did to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, just in case visitors
get confused as to what country they are living in.
2. DEMS' WAR-FUNDING CAVE
By now, everyone has heard the essence of the news about the House
Democrats' total cave on two vital legislative issues: continued funding
for the Iraq Occupation and the passage of so-called "compromise" FISA
legislation -- the latter generally approved of by no less than the
now-titular head of the party, Senator Obama.
All that was covered in the headlines. But below the surface, what's
On the war-funding bill, the Democrats, with a straight face, claim they
got huge "concessions" from the Administration by getting Bush to allow
them to add funds for Iraq veterans' education and better post-battle
health care, plus extended benefits to the unemployed in this dire
economy and aid to flooded-out Iowa farmers -- as long the Dems provided
the monies to continue the war/occupation. In other words, CheneyBush
got what they wanted: an unfettered OK to continue waging war without
Congress constantly breathing down their necks trying to get a
But why were the Democrats so conciliatory on the war issue? At least a
good share of the reason has to do with the coming November balloting,
scared of going into the general-election campaign without having
supplied "our brave young men and women" in Iraq the required funds for
their armed support. Conveniently ignored is the fact that the corrupt
Iraq rathole, which has eaten up an estimated $1 trillion, has sucked up
at least $15 billion
that the Administration cannot account for. The Pentagon
auditors have absolutely no idea which corrupt contractors,
subcontractors, warlords or government officials ripped them off. Nor
does the Bush Administration even profess to care much about the obvious
thievery -- hey, it's just taxpayers' money.
But whatever the Dems' public rationalization for continuing to fund the
war without at least adding some language to get U.S. troops out of that
quagmire soon, the point is that even though Bush has the support of
barely 23% of the population on the war and most every other issue, the
Democrats continue to behave as if they must bow to his superior will.
No wonder the public holds Congress in such disfavor as craven,
self-destructive wimps. This is why progressives this time out are
running against a good many Blue Dog Democrats, who tend to vote with
the Republicans on key issues.
3. THE WEAK-KNEED CAVE ON FISA
But what about the revamped FISA bill, which the Democratic leadership
and the White House referred to as a "compromise" that both sides could
agree to? As far as I can see, rhe Democrats essentially gave CheneyBush
all that they asked for: retroactive legalization of what they've done
in terms of warrantless domestic spying, and retroactive immunity to the
telecom giants for their cooperation in the lawbreaking, even without a
court first determining what those corporations actually did.
The White House claims that under the "exclusivity" rule now passed, the
White House can no longer act totally on its own when it wants
surreptitiously to tap citizens' phone calls, read their emails, rifle
through their computer files. Under the new bill passed by the House,
from now on all such domestic spying must be done through the rules
established by Congress under FISA.
But those rules are an open invitation to further abuse by the Executive
Branch. For one thing, those rules are pretty much what Congress
authorized in 1978 when setting up the FISA (Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act) Court as a reaction to the gross misuse of
intelligence and secret files by the Nixon Administration. George W.
Bush, even prior to 9/11, broke the law by authorizing domestic spying
outside of the FISA requirements. He paid no penalty then, and
apparently will not now, for his criminal behavior -- not even an
impeachment hearing on the charges. So in the bill passed last week,
Congress is saying to the Chief Executive: "Don't ever do that again,"
but has provided no penalties if Bush or the next President decides to
do it again anyway. And, they will, of course. If you build it, they
And what of the Democratic leadership, especially Obama, going along so
meekly as the Fourth Amendment and other Constitutional protections
against autocratic rule were being shredded in this bill? What's going
on? (Obama says he'll fight against the telecom immunity provision in
the Senate, but he knows he'll lose there; the real fight was in the
House, where Hoyer and Pelosi aggressively engineered the deal.)
It's possible that Obama, seeing the Oval Office in his near future,
doesn't want to be boxed in by Congressional restrictions. Maybe he even
believes in the need for draconian legislation to keep an eye on the Bad
Guys, with the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens considered
unfortunate "collateral damage." But he's given no such indications in
previous speeches and actions, and he did vote against telecom immunity
in last year's version of a similar bill. But candidates who become
office-holders, swooning with the perfume of power in their nostrils,
have been known to alter their principles.
Or maybe what we're witnessing is merely the time-honored dance to the
center by candidates who've emerged victorious in the primaries by
playing to their party's more narrow activist base and now must try to
guarantee the election by going after the large middle part of the
electorate, who are more cautious and moderate in their views.
The blogger Digby calls Obama's current position a conscious
political "strategy" rather than a capitulation. My guess is that
shortly we'll start to see more such maneuvering toward the center by
John McCain, once he's pandered and coddled the Republicans in the
extreme rightwing of the party, who regard the former GOP "maverick"
McCain with some suspicion about the depth of his conservative beliefs.
Even with all the flip-flopping to the right from his former
more-moderate positions, he's still looked at askance by the "true
the blogger Atrios summed up the situation well in terms of our
expectations of a President Obama: "It'll be no shock to most of us
if Obama is less than all we want him to be in many ways. Let's just
hope he's more than we expect him to be in others."
I think Obama, despite his built-in weaknesses and the usual
politician's tendency to try to be all things to all people, has within
him the potential for greatness. But we progressives and independents
sure are going to have to be alert and constantly keep his feet to the
political fire, lest he wander off into the usual Beltway byways,
beholden to too many establishment interests.
Too bad I.F. Stone isn't still around. He would salivate at the
possibility of dealing with a good but wavering Democrat.#
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught
government & international relations at universities in California and
Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two
decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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