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October 21st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

More Weasel Words on the Affordable Care Act

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October 1st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History

In Which My Critique of PBS NewsHour for Letting Architect of Iraq War Spew Invective at President Obama Gets Wide Coverage

For a media hound like me, Jim Romenesko’s media news website is a regular must-read. Imagine the satisfaction I felt today when I saw he’d done a post yesterday that used a tweet of mine from Monday night—about a shockingly one-sided PBS Newshour segment about ISIS and President Obama—as the jumping-off point for his piece. In the segment, Judy Woodruff interviewed Frederick Kagan, an early proponent of invading Iraq, who slammed President Obama repeatedly for his supposed failures with regard to Iraq, including the bogus canard that he failed to leave US troops in the country, when it was the Bush administration that negotiated the terms under which US forces left. This and many other false and tendentious claims were made by Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, all of which went unchallenged by interviewer Judy Woodruff. Worse, at the end of the segment she said, “We hear you,” as if lending her stamp of approval to Kagan’s screed. I was appalled at this egregious example of biased coverage and tweeted to that effect. Today, Romenesko ran a post picking up my tweet, and for which he interviewed PBS ombudsman Michael Getler, who’s also covered this episode. Getler agreed that the segment was an example of terrible and one-sided coverage. Getler learned that the program had planned for another guest to be on opposite Kagan, but that they couldn’t come on, after all. The NewsHour never told viewers this on-air. Below is a screenshot to Romenesko’s post, and here’s a link to it.

Romenesko, Sept 30, 2014



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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Annals of (Un)employment Injustice

In a handwritten letter written last month, an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania oral surgeon, Dr George Visnich, fired a female employee, Carol Jumper—who had worked for his medical practice for twelve years—after she informed him she’d been diagnosed with “cancer affecting her ovaries, liver, and pancreas.” Ever since my own brush with wrongful dismissal I pay special attention to accounts like this one, reported yesterday by Huffington Post. The doctor’s attorney has since claimed that the letter was meant to make it easy for Jumper to qualify for unemployment benefits, and that the doctor intended to re-hire her once and if her treatment was successful. And yet, the letter is as curt and unfeeling as anything I’ve ever read. See for yourself:
Doctor's letter
The letter, which I read as filled with eagerness to terminate her before she might cost the doctor an extra dollar in raised health insurance premiums, was shared on Facebook by a friend of the fired employee, resulting in much opprobrium for the doctor and contributions to a benefit fund for Ms Jumper. I detect bad faith on the doctor’s part, with careful wording meant to protect him from the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which “current and recovering cancer patients are protected against job discrimination…so long as the individual is able to perform the job’s essential functions.” He wrote, ” You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.” He’s evidently tried to absolve himself, by claiming that “this [would] make it easier” for Jumper to claim unemployment benefits, but I detect a convenient calculation behind his words—I believe they were meant to make things easier for him, not his long-serving, mortally ill, employee.

Local reporting on the incident explains that Ms Jumper did not ask anyone to put the letter on Facebook, and that she is focused on trying to get well, not on her former employer. She is probably not pursuing a legal case, which I understand, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, none of the reporting reveals what she’s doing about health insurance now, but I assume she’s been forced into COBRA to continue the coverage she had under her employer. No word in any of these stories, either, as to whether he offered her any severance or help with paying for COBRA. I have to assume he has not. Meanwhile, the doctor’s lawyer says that the attention on the letter has been “very troubling” for his client. Gee, you’d almost think he was the one with cancer.

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September 5th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

President Obama, Strolling around Stonehenge

Glad to see our hard-working Pres enjoying one of the world’s great wonders. Not surprisingly, right-wingers, many of whom probably don’t have a passport, are criticizing him for making this stop. Such know-nothings and idiots. From the look of it, some of them think he flew deliberately to Britain, just to see the ancient site, not conceding he had already been in Wales.

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July 30th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; News, Politics & History

“TURN: Washington’s Spies”—Currently My Favorite TV Show

Turn AMCI’ve been engrossed with AMC’s Revolutionary War historical/spy drama TURN since it began airing last winter. After a few months watching it every Sunday night at 9pm I learned that the historical source material for the show’s writers is WASHINGTON’S SPIES: The Story of American’s First Spy Ring, a 2006 Simon & Schuster book I just got a copy of at my NYPL branch. It’s by Alexander Rose, a writer educated at Cambridge now living in NYC. His well-paced narrative centers around the key espionage ring of the Colonial Army, the Culper Ring, for which American officers recruited civilian agents to operate undercover, in New York City, and behind enemy lines, to gain valuable information on Tory movements and their forces in NY, CT, and NJ. One seaside town, Setauket, on Long Island, is a strategic spot, where many British troops were billeted in the homes of uneasy locals, and where Abraham Woodhull lived, one of the ring’s most important members.

Washington's Spies, Alexander RoseThe thing I appreciate about the book and the program is how they both make clear that—given the advantages of training, manpower, and firepower enjoyed by the Redcoats—espionage was one of the few ways for the Americans to neutralize those advantages, and capitalize on the greater knowledge they had of local geography, nearby villages, and the residents of those towns. Having seen all ten episodes aired so far, and now reading the book, I’m amazed how close to history the program is tracking—with many of the scenarios and most of the main characters present in both. After a full season of 10 episodes, AMC renewed it for a second season, and I expect the show will resume early in 2015. Meantime, AMC is re-airing all Season I episodes beginning this Saturday night, August 2 at 10pm, right after another AMC historical series, Hell on Wheels, about the building of the transcontinental railroad. Here’s AMC’s own description of TURN and below that three more show photos with cast.Washington's Spies back cover

“A character-driven drama set during the Revolutionary War, TURN: Washington’s Spies takes us behind the battlefront to a shadow war fought by everyday heroes who vowed to keep their heroics a secret. Based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s SpiesTURN: Washington’s Spies centers on Abe Woodhull, a farmer living in British-occupied Long Island who bands together with a disparate group of childhood friends to form the Culper Ring. Together they risked their lives and honor and turned against family and king for a fight they believed in passionately, ultimately helping George Washington turn the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the rebels. Their daring efforts also revolutionized the art of espionage, giving birth to modern spycraft as we know it today, along with all of the moral complexity that entails.” 

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July 6th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Slight Sliver of Light in the Aftermath of Teenagers Killing Teenagers in Israel and Palestine

The families and communities grieving the recent kidnapping/killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are trying to console one another. From Times of Israel coverage today:

“The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offered his condolences Sunday in a phone call to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son was murdered last week in what police believe was a revenge killing by Jewish extremists. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he too spoke to Abu Khdeir and, on behalf of the residents of Jerusalem, condemned the killing of his son Muhammad [age 15]. The call came hours after two Palestinians from the Hebron area paid a visit to the grieving Fraenkel family.”

Elsewhere today, Israeli police arrested six Israeli Jewish males, some teenagers, in the murder of the young Abu Khdeir, found dead some hours after passengers in a passing car abducted from an east Jerusalem street.  It was reported by that Israeli authorities believe that one night before the accused perpetrators grabbed Abu Khdeir, some of them tried and failed to abduct a nine-year old boy who, with his mother, fended off the attempted kidnapping. Finally, in a related development, a clandestine video recording had been made of Israeli soldiers arresting and beating a teenager, Tariq Khderi, who is an American cousin to Muhammad Abu Khdeir, visiting family for the summer. It has been a very terrible month in Israel and the Occupied Territories. When teenagers are torturing other teenagers, something is seriously wrong in a society.3 murdered Israeli teenagersMuhammad Abu Khdeir

The Times of Israel story mentioned above reported at some length on the exchange of sympathies among Jewish and Palestinian civilians, a slight sliver of light amid the bad news:

“One of the [Palestinian] visitors told the Hebrew NRG website that Fraenkel’s statements last week after Abu Khdeir’s murder ‘touched a large portion of the Palestinian people.’

‘I come from a bereaved family, I lost my brother and I have family that were former prisoners, unfortunately we also threw stones at you. What can you do?’ he said.

In a statement last week, the Fraenkels condemned the murder of Abu Khdeir, saying in a statement that ‘There is no difference when it comes to blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.’

‘The moment we learn to deal with each other’s pain and stop the anger against one another, the situation will be better,” the [Palestinian] visitor said. “Our mission is to strengthen the family and also to take a step forward towards the liberation of my people. We believe that only through the hearts of the Jews will our liberation happen.’

He described the warm welcome the Fraenkels gave him, and said: ‘We are sorry for any harm against people, whether Jewish or Muslim. We don’t want anyone to be hurt, and want to reach a political agreement.’

The two Palestinians also described an upcoming initiative called the ‘Hunger Strike Against Violence,’ next Tuesday, on which the Jewish fast of the 17 of Tammuz coincides with the ongoing Muslim Ramadan holiday. ‘Palestinians that I knew wanted to come visit and console the families, so I brought them,” [Fraenkel family friend] Ostroff said. ‘The family welcomed them in a remarkable way. They didn’t even think twice to let them in; it was obvious to them that it was okay.’”

I will close this post by referring to a tweet I sent out last night, regarding a sober analysis of the current situation from a longtime Israeli security official.

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June 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Did Allied Bombing of France in WWII Cross an Ethical Line?

Are you aware that during WWII, British, American, and Canadian airplanes bombed Nazi infrastructure and installations in occupied France, or that an estimated 57,000 French civilians died from Allied actions during the war? I was not until last night, when I heard an in-depth report by BBC correspondent John Laurenson that CBC Radio carried on their weekend news program. In Laurenson’s story, the transcript of which can be read here, with several illustrations, he added that Free French forces pleaded for a halt to the raids, to no avail. Meanwhile, the Vichy government—cooperating and collaborating with the Nazis all the while—tried to turn the populace away from any sympathy for the Allied cause by decrying the bombardment.

Laurenson narrates that “According to research carried out by Andrew Knapp, history professor at the UK’s University of Reading, ‘Roughly 75,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the UK [including Hitler's V missiles]. In France, it [was] in the order of 518,000 tonnes.’” Incredible, but apparently accurate. Some of the raids—especially the one pictured here that leveled Le Havre, killing 5,000 inhabitants of the city—would under today’s international agreements, probably be regarded as war crimes. More than 1,500 French towns were hit during the war.

DeGaulle must’ve lobbied Churchill, and FDR, to stop the raids that aimed to hit “marshaling areas,” as the Allies phrased it. But it was the conduct of Marshall Petain and his government that most concerned the Allies,. This topic, and the scale of French casualties, was taboo for many decades, with the moral ambiguity that had shrouded the war years in France. According to this report, many French were conflicted about the bombing campaign. They didn’t ‘support’ it, but many were ashamed of the conduct by the Vichy leaders, and hoped the Allies would prevail. In that context, the deaths of civilians was in some ways as expected, if not excused, as that of combatants. It was total war. Along with the above figure on the French casualties, at least 60,500 British civilians died from the German aerial bombardment. On D-Day itself, in 1944, 2,500 Allied combatants died, while about the same number of French civilians died that day.

Though I don’t excuse certain aspects of the Allied bombing, which has been examined and as far as I can tell, convincingly indicted in A.C. Grayling’s important book, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, I think I have a sense of some of the priorities and concerns that may have preoccupied all the Allied heads of state (Churchill and FDR, and also Mackenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister during the war, whose fighter pilots also flew bombing runs over France). They weren’t certain the Allies would win, and so believed in, or rationalized, some bombing that crossed an ethical line.  As for the crews who flew those missions they were lethal for them, too, for Laurenson adds about the British flyers: “Almost half of Bomber Command’s airmen were killed in action. Their missions, their commanders argued, would help win the war more quickly.”

In the case of Churchill, in particular, I don’t mean to cut him any slack he doesn’t deserve. I’ve read Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, where Churchill’s belligerence is on display, and in his own words for it’s a book assembled entirely from original documents. And, yet I must concede that he fought the war like he feared the Nazis might win, a possible outcome that would have been even more detestable than the moral crimes he committed, or may have committed.  I recommend you read Laurenson’s story here.

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May 28th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Food & Spirits; News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Blending New York City History, Anarchism, Contemporary Painting, and Home-brewed Ale

AleA fascinating slice of synchronous civic history was on display on the Lower East Side of Manhattan recently. At 50 East First Street, on a one-of-kind block tucked just north of East Houston, is a new gallery/activist venue called OSMOS Address. Kyle and I enjoyed the exhibit at the purpose-driven space run by socially conscious curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. The show features the paintings of Peter Dreher, who for forty years has devoted himself to painting domestic objects—a water glass and a chalice, for instance—in an ongoing series of meditative still-life works. Along with Dreher’s mesmerizing paintings, the evening offered visitors to the gallery the chance to taste a savory reddish pale ale—brewed by Austin Thomas, artist, gallerist and craft brewer—with aromatic fresh-baked bread from Table on Ten in Delaware County, New York, each small loaf sporting a sprig of rosemary—serving as an earthy tasting companion to the ale.Bread

Quoting from a handout distributed at OSMOS Address, the small batch ale was brewed as part of an homage called “Beer on Sunday,” honoring a distinguished nineteenth century tenant of this same address, “a German-American anarchist named Justus Schwab, who kept a ‘Beer-hole’. . . where writers, artists, radicals and other misfits met to drink and talk in to the night.”

The free-thinking anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) knew Schwab well and said this about her close friend:

“Schwab was the traditional Teuton in appearance, over six feet tall, broad-chest, and strait as a tree. On his wide shoulders and strong neck rested a magnificent head, framed in curly red hair and beard. His eyes were full of fire and intensity. But it was his voice, deep and tender, that was peculiar characteristic. It would have made him famous if he had chosen an operatic career. Justus was too much the rebel and the dreamer, however, to care about such things.”

A reprinted article on hand, originally appearing in the New York Times of March 7, 1879, chronicled a criminal trial in which Schwab was the defendant. He had been arrested at 50 East First on July 22, 1878, accused with dispensing alcoholic beverages at his Beer-hole shortly after the clock turned midnight and ticked over in to that early Sunday morning. Arrested at 12:15 am, Schwab was charged with a violation of Sunday closure laws—aka “blue laws”—a sign of churches’ influence on local regulations, which were still on the books in many municipalities well in to the twentieth century. Hearing the case, a three-judge panel found in Schwab’s favor, pointing out that the law as written forbade the serving of alcoholic beverages between one o’clock and five o’clock in the morning, and made no mention of midnight as the cut-off. Schwab was acquitted and the judges ordered court costs to be paid to him by the arresting officers. A pretty big win for the activist who not only kept beer taps in his establishment, but also operated a printing press with which he issued broadsides and political pamphlets in service of the causes embraced by Emma Goldman and other radicals of the time. The plaque about Schwab at 50 East First Street relates a friendship he shared with keen misanthropic writer Ambrose Bierce, a writer primarily identified with San Francisco, whose later disappearance during the Mexican War remains a mystery. I was unaware he had spent time in NYC.Schwab plaque

Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Austin Thomas presented all this lore alongside the works of Peter Dreher in an adroit blend of hitherto hidden history and adventuresome aesthetics. I look forward to attending other events at OSMOS Address—where Rabinowitz told us she plans to set up a printing press—and at shows put on by Austin Thomas of Pocket Utopia. Kyle and I also enjoyed meeting longtime residents of 50 East First Street, artists Christin Couture and William Hoise, keen appreciators of nineteenth century aesthetics and collectors of objects and antiques from the era.

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