Netflix Doc E-Team Showcases Human Rights Workers Fighting in the Field

Well-known both for its political activities and for its long-running film festival, Human Rights Watch becomes the subject of a documentary itself in E-Team. Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s film isn’t a broad portrait of the organization.

Instead, it focuses on four Europe-based case workers on the HRW emergency team: Anna Neistat; her husband, Ole Solvang; Peter Bouckaert; and Fred Abrahams. Starting in 2011, they investigated human rights abuses in Syria and Libya. Initially, these are presented almost as if E-Team were a fictional adventure film and Neistat a female Indiana Jones.

The emphasis on the team’s daring amid mass chaos seems a bit off: This threatens to become yet another film about white Americans and Europeans telling the stories of Third World people. But the rest of the film does much to redeem that dubious trope: E-Team is ultimately about activists trying to summarize the crimes of Syria’s Assad regime in a way that will inspire the world’s media and governments to take action.

The results are sometimes maddening: A Moscow press conference leads to accusations of HRW being part of an American conspiracy. Abrahams points to his experiences in Kosovo in the late ’90s and the eventual prosecution of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic as success stories for the organization. However, it’s much harder to put an upbeat face on three years of slaughter in Syria, all documented by the E-Team. You sense them struggling to remain positive, even as the very existence of this film suggests that many people care deeply about the work of Human Rights Watch.



The 25th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, spearheaded by the New York–based organization, is back. Notable selections from recent years have included Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, both of which have since earned Oscar nominations. In keeping with the advocacy group’s mission statement, the festival seeks to expose worldwide injustice. The two films featured tonight do just that: Mano Khalil’s The Beekeeper, about a Kurdish beekeeper who now resides in Switzerland after losing his livelihood at the hands of the prolonged conflict; and Iva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders, a five-part visual essay that focuses on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to examine themes of immigration, displacement, and xenophobia.

Tue., June 17, 6:30 p.m., 2014


Weed Won’t Turn You Into A Violent Criminal: Report

Until recently, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have insisted that arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses is a way to reduce violent crime in the city.

The idea that weed somehow turns people into violent criminals, of course, is a load of crap — as proven by a study released today.

Human Rights Watch released the findings of its study on whether those who are arrested for marijuana possession go on to commit violent crimes — which, believe it or not, they don’t. Shocking, we know.

The study, titled “A Red Herring: Marijuana Arrestees Do Not Become Violent Felons,” found there is no evidence to support the idea that locking up low-level marijuana offenders does anything to reduce violent crime.

HRW used data from the New York Department of Criminal Justice
Services to track the
criminal records of nearly 30,000 people who had no prior convictions
when they were arrested for marijuana possession in public view in 2003
and 2004. The study tracked any criminal activity for those in the survey group until mid-2011.

Of those roughly 30,000 people in the group who were arrested for low-level marijuana offenses, more than 90-percent had no felony convictions as of 2011. Only 3.1-percent were convicted of one violent felony offense. An additional 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions.

“The New York City police sweep large numbers of people into the the city’s criminal justice system – particularly young people of color – who do not go on to become dangerous felons,” the group concludes. “These findings are consistent with and add to research by Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, City University of New York, which shows that the preponderance of marijuana arrestees do not have prior criminal convictions.”

A misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction, and even an arrest that’s not followed by a conviction, can severely screw someone in terms of their opportunities for employment, housing, and loans.

As Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has said, “The human cost to each one of these people and their families is serious and it is real.”

Civil rights groups say that low-level marijuana arrests unfairly target minorities — of the roughly 50,000 people arrested each year in New York for low-level marijuana offenses, 87 percent are black or Hispanic. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, 94 percent of all arrests for small amounts of marijuana (less than 25 grams) in New York happen in New York City.

“As long as they keep arresting people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how those arrests contribute to public safety, ” says Issa Kohler-Hausmann, co-author of the report. “If these arrests have crime control benefits that outweigh the costs, public officials have yet to identify them.”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, low-level marijuana arrests costs New York City $75 million a year — all while clogging up the court system.

See HRW’s full report here.


Love Is a Battlefield at the Human Rights Watch Film Fest

“Love is a crime,” says an Afghan female prisoner in the new documentary Love Crimes of Kabul.

Though travails of the heart may seem trivial compared with the panoply of atrocities on display at the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 16 through 30 at the Walter Reade Theater)—which this year includes mass killings in Guatemala and Colombia, sex trafficking in Eastern Europe, and the intractable madness of the Arab-Israeli conflict—they turn out to be just as revealing.

Love Crimes of Kabul, which also premieres on HBO July 11, documents three inmates in Afghanistan’s Badam Bagh prison who have been imprisoned for “moral crimes” such as adultery and premarital sex. Iranian-Jewish American filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian says the film was originally inspired by two young lovers who were executed in 2009 for trying to elope in the Taliban-controlled area of Nimruz. But that region was too dangerous, so she decided to focus on the women’s prison instead.

“What I like to do is bring a little bit of understanding to the American public about what life is like over there by showing intense stories of people living at the margins,” says the Manhattan-based Eshaghian, whose last film, the 2008 Berlin prizewinner Be Like Others, focused on transsexuals in Iran. By showing a nation’s outliers, she believes that the culture’s social norms, however foreign to Western viewers, will become clear. As she explains, “the minute someone transgresses a line, it’s apparent what that line is.”

Rather than focus overtly on politics or military intervention, Eshaghian has a more humanitarian goal. “I hope when you watch both films you identify with the characters, and the next time you see something about Afghanistan [or Iran] you can feel they are human like you.”

She elaborates: “It’s important to understand who you’re invading.”

Indeed, Love Crimes’ characters are eminently relatable: a smitten 17-year-old, a headstrong adulterous divorcée who says her parents “plan to quietly drown me,” and a charismatic fiancée who uses the unjust court system to her own advantage. And unlike certain self-righteous human-rights docs, the movie paints a hazier picture of female subjugation. “You cannot simply say these are women who are oppressed or poor things,” says the filmmaker. “The laws for women are terrible and they should be given more rights, but they still find ways to get what they want.”

Still, the film shows how naïve it is for U.S. policymakers to believe—or at least say that they believe—that Afghanistan
is approaching a stable and equitable democracy. (When Eshaghian was making the film, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside her hotel.)

“It’s not possible to change a culture overnight,” she says. “For instance, if someone came to the U.S. and said, ‘From tomorrow, everyone has to wear a bikini every day,’ you’d say, ‘What?’ It’s that same idea: The Americans are here; now you don’t have to wear a burqa? That’s not going to happen. Women told me, ‘If I take off my burqa, it’s going to signal to the men that you can molest me.’ At this point, it’s part of who they are.”

For her next project, Eshaghian hopes to make a film about the elderly, possibly in her native Iran. While she has misgivings about returning to the country—“I’m not sure if it’s safe to go back now,” she says—a documentary on the subject would likely be permitted. “It’s clearly not political if you’re filming 80-year-olds,” she says—though given Eshaghian’s previous films, such personal subjects often are.

‘Love Crimes of Kabul’ screens June 20–22 as part of the 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival,


Giving Voice to the Cause, the Rallying Cry of Human Rights Watch

Enraged calls to action over injustice have always defined the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and this year’s 21st edition is no less vocal, laying bare, in more than 30 features from 25 countries, a world still striving to secure equality and justice for all. From the rocky battlefields of Afghanistan (Restrepo) to the small-town communities of Pennsylvania (Out in the Silence) to the farmlands and financial centers of India (Nero’s Guests), the long-running fest’s 2010 edition seethes, laments, and inspires, capturing through a variety of fictional and documentary works the efforts—sometimes noble, sometimes fruitless, rarely painless—of the marginalized and oppressed to reclaim their sovereign voices.

Though surprisingly silent on Israeli-Palestinian tensions, there’s nonetheless no shortage of conflict on display, much of it infused with furious indignation free of didacticism. Director Raoul Peck (Sometimes in April) turns to his native Haiti with the fest’s Centerpiece selection, Moloch Tropical, a Shakespearean portrait of a power-mad fictional modern-day president (loosely inspired by early-19th-century ruler Henri Christophe) ruined by greed, arrogance, and hubris. His story confined to the luxurious hilltop mansion where the poor country’s commander-in-chief authorizes torture and sexual assaults as his political standing disintegrates, Peck’s latest—a spiritual companion piece to Aleksander Sokurov’s Hirohito-in-defeat drama The Sun—is a hothouse study of a man and country crippled by corrupted ideals.

While Moloch Tropical interrogates one individual’s heart of darkness, Presumed Guilty excoriates an entire body politic via the plight of a young Mexico City man who was arrested in 2005 and convicted for murder despite a wholesale lack of evidence. Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith’s blistering documentary exposes a retrograde and rigged criminal justice system in which innocence isn’t assumed but must be established, and where basic legal logic and civil liberties take a backseat to the crooked self-interest of police officers, prosecutors, and judges.

Art proves a piercing vehicle for exposing wrongs and demanding rights in Thet Sambath’s Enemies of the People. Having lost his family to Cambodia’s Killing Fields in the late ’70s, Sambath, a journalist by day, spent the past decade pointing his camera at those responsible for the atrocities, eventually befriending and coaxing admissions of treachery from rural killers as well as Pol Pot’s right-hand man, Nuon Chea. His documentary is a dogged quest for truth that epitomizes HRW, just as Chea’s cold, obstinate refusal to assume moral guilt for his crimes reveals the continuing need for the human rights struggle and, by extension, for this righteously angry fest.


Truth and Tragedy at “Human Rights Watch 2009” Festival

Bombs fall from the skies above Lebanon like metallic raindrops, tearing people to pieces and families apart. In Afghanistan, music fills the air for the first time since shoulder pads were in fashion, but not without risk to those singing it. Malian girls struggle to walk, let alone breathe, after genital mutilation. Activist pranksters goose their way onto the cable news channels by posing as corporate agents of manmade disasters. And this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival is as fervent as ever, trying to awaken us to seldom seen or heard atrocities and illuminate the efforts of those looking for a better way.

Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah wrecked Lebanon’s southern landscape and nearly obliterated its economy. With intense visual and moral clarity, Remnants of a War reveals the absurd tragedy of people in the region making a living dismantling explosives that have been scattered across terrain no longer safe for farming or play. Though it acknowledges both Israel and Hezbollah’s violations of international laws of war, Jawad Metni’s moving eye-opener, which ends on a strikingly poetic grace note, fiercely calls out Israel’s flamboyant military might and blames the deaths caused by unexploded cluster bombs on the superpower’s refusal, as of the film’s completion, to turn over its strike data to United Nations peacekeeping forces. (They have since released the info.)

The focus of Tapologo‘s equally enraged lens is the manner in which deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes drive South Africa’s HIV pandemic. Filmmakers Gabriela and Sally Gutiérrez Dewar peer into the wounded heart of a region where 50 percent of women are infected with HIV and a courageous network known as Tapologo tries to bring dignity to lives that have known none. The pain these women feel as their bodies increasingly betray them is brutal, but what lingers most is the documentary’s stinging indictment of the Catholic Church’s stance on AIDS and sexuality, ironically communicated via the heartache and fury felt by one of the church’s foot soldiers: a bishop working closely with Tapologo.

Another heart-wrenching testament to the integrity and solidarity of women in the face of staggering adversity, Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter follows the efforts of a West African woman living in Philadelphia to secure the asylum she thinks will save her two-year-old daughter from the senseless barbarism of genital mutilation. As evinced by their previous film Rosita (HRW ’06), humanist filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater demonstrate a nerve-shredding talent for cinematic juxtaposition—throughout, they intercut Goundo’s legal nightmare with the lead-up to a mass female circumcision in Mali—that avoids feeling trivial.

Not so for Afghan Star. Although in awe of the small but significant changes that have come to Afghanistan in the past few years, the film seems uncommitted to seriously exposing and challenging the root and sham of the Taliban’s contempt for music and women. Criss-crossing between life on the streets in the war-torn country and the titular American Idol–inspired reality program, director Havana Marking favors the crude spectacle of performance televised on the show, making a seemingly unintended case against democracy: It causes tacky TV.

And where Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, a/k/a the Yes Men, use ridicule of the most subversive sort to expose the way in which corporations dishonor human life (The Yes Men Fix the World), Joe Berlinger does so with an arrogance-free emphasis on human interest and eyewitness account. Tears tell no lies in the veteran filmmaker’s Crude, a Herculean work of investigative journalism that lays out the decades-long indignities suffered by an indigenous group living—or, rather, dying—in an area of Ecuador’s Amazon region ravaged by oil drilling. Berlinger handily rebuts every Chevron snake’s Bushy-sounding denial of wrongdoing with haunting visions of oil slicks and once-lush environs transformed to mud, contrasting shots of the sick with the cold steel exteriors of corporate towers—all to remind us that we should fight to combat the still-lingering effects of colonialism in our world.


Cardinal calls Gaza ‘concentration camp’ — lit up by white phosphorus, observers say

Al Jazeera report on white phosphorus in Gaza.

As Chico Marx said, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

That’s easy when it comes to Gaza. The Jewish state’s brutal use of white phosphorus — alleged over the weekend by observers on the ground dispatched by NYC-based Human Rights Watch — is lighting up the landscape.

However, most of the U.S. press (a notable recent exception is Newsweek) has its usual blind spot when it comes to Israel’s war on Gaza. As the Daily News noted late last week in “‘Concentration camp’ Gaza stirs fire”:

Relations between the Holy Land and the Holy See were tense Thursday night after a leading Vatican cardinal compared the besieged Gaza Strip to a concentration camp.

“Defenseless populations are always the ones who pay,” Renato Cardinal Martino told the Italian daily Il Sussidiario. “Conditions in Gaza increasingly resemble a big concentration camp.”

That drew a furious denunciation from Israeli officials, who said the comment was “based on Hamas propaganda.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the son of Holocaust survivors, called on the Pope to apologize to Israel.

Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, defended his comments.

“They can say what they want, but the situation in Gaza is horrible,” he told the newspaper La Repubblica.

Confirming that is Human Rights Watch, whose observers belie Hikind’s claim that the brutality in Gaza is propaganda.

In fact, it’s even worse than the cardinal says, according to HRW.

You question the watchdog group’s credibility? HRW broke several major stories of U.S. atrocities in Iraq — including the horrific tale of the American soldiers in Fallujah who proudly called themselves the “Murderous Maniacs” and admitted to kicking the shit out of Iraqis just for the fun of it. (See my September 2005 item “U.S. Soldiers Reveal New Torture Tales.”)

Now, here’s what HRW says about what’s going on:

On January 9 and 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area.

Israel appeared to be using white phosphorus as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.

“White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.

If the Nazis had had white phosphorus — the 21st century version of napalm — they would have used it against the Jews.

Now for less bad news…


N.Y. Times: ‘Adding to Recession’s Pain, Thousands to Lose Jobless Benefits’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Retail Bankruptcy Wave Expected’

N.Y. Times: ‘Storm Sinks Indonesian Ferry, 250 Feared Dead’

Bloomberg: ‘U.S. Consumers Keep Autos Longer, Shun Showrooms as Cuts in Payrolls Mount’

Drivers rattled by the worst U.S. labor market since World War II are hanging on to old autos longer instead of buying new models, threatening to crimp sales again in 2009 after demand plummeted to a 16-year low.


N.Y. Post: ‘Sex, Drugs & Death at Luxe Hotel’

A Long Island banana mogul at the center of a deadly sex romp at a tony Midtown hotel lives a double life – married suburban dad and…

Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Plans To Keep Estate Tax’

Obama and congressional leaders plan to move soon to block the estate tax from disappearing in 2010.

N.Y. Times: ‘Obama Signals His Reluctance to Look Into Bush Policies’

Barack Obama indicated that he was unlikely to authorize a broad inquiry into Bush administration programs like domestic eavesdropping.

N.Y. Times: ‘Democrats Look for Ways to Undo Late Bush Administration Rules’

Harper’s: ‘The $10 trillion hangover:
Paying the price for eight years of Bush’ (Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes)


Wall Street Journal: ‘New Playing Field In Electric Car Push’

Fewer barriers in electric-car production have leveled the playing field for newcomers hoping to compete against established car makers.


Mayor Bloomberg’s crackdown on motorists who abuse official parking placards has snared a slew of detectives and investigators who work for the city’s prosecutors, the Post has learned…

N.Y. Times: ‘In Emphasis on Economy, Obama Looks to History’

Harper’s: ‘A Farewell to Dick Cheney’

Dick Cheney is the man that James Madison was warning us about.

Harper’s: ‘Harper’s Index: A retrospective of the Bush era’

Bloomberg: Paulson Bailout Fails to Give Taxpayers Buffett’s Terms With Goldman Sachs

Henry Paulson‘s bank bailouts, done under “great stress” during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, failed to win for U.S. taxpayers what Warren Buffett received for his shareholders by investing in Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The Treasury secretary made 174 purchases of banks’ preferred shares that include warrants to buy stock at a later date. While he invested $10 billion in Goldman Sachs in October, twice as much as Buffett did the month before, Paulson gained certificates worth one-fourth as much as the billionaire, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Goldman Sachs terms were repeated in most of the other bank bailouts.

Salon: ‘Bill Moyers on Israel/Gaza’ (Glenn Greenwald)

N.Y. Times: ‘Citi Is Urged to Replace Chairman’

Regulators are pressing Citigroup to shake up its board and replace its chairman in an effort to restore confidence in the beleaguered bank.

Newsweek: ‘If Obama is Serious: He should get tough with Israel’ (Aaron David Miller)


Gov. Paterson joined an estimated 10,000 Israel supporters in Midtown yesterday to proclaim the Gaza offensive an act of self-defense. “We recognize the right of the state of Israel to…

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Eyeless in Israel’

N.Y. Times: ‘Few in U.S. See Jazeera’s Coverage of Gaza War’

Tel Aviv-based journalist Lisa Goldman takes the Israeli press to task over its coverage of the Gaza campaign. “For the most part, Gaza as a place inhabited by human beings has been ignored,” she writes of Israeli media coverage.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Timeline: The Gaza Strip, From Disengagement to Operation Cast Lead’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Israel hints at end of Gaza operations’

Israeli leaders hinted Sunday the Gaza assault might soon wind down, even as thousands of fresh reservists joined the battle and infantry units pushed toward the crowded heart of Gaza City.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Analysis: Ceasefire hinges on Egypt closing smuggling routes’

The Nation: ‘Can Labor Revive the American Dream?’

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘If at First You Don’t Succeed: Hasidic Singer, Subject of Rabbinic Ban, Tries Again’

Hasidic singing sensation Lipa Schmeltzer was set to perform last March before a crowd of thousands at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater in New York. The concert, a charity fundraiser, was billed as “The Big Event.”

Then, less than three weeks before the concert date, 33 ultra-Orthodox rabbis — including some of the community’s most prominent figures — issued an edict banning attendance. The event, they warned, was likely to cause “ribaldry and lightheadedness.”

Deferring to the rabbis, organizers promptly canceled the concert. The ban, however, roiled the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, world, sparking an unusual public outcry in a community known for its scrupulous obedience to rabbinic authority.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘What Happens to Gaza When the Fighting Stops?’

Nation: ‘Moral Blindness on Gaza’ (Robert Scheer)

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Fact or Fiction?: The Story of the Fake Holocaust Memoir’

A children’s book based on Herman Rosenblat‘s Holocaust love story, which was recently exposed as a hoax, was pulled from bookstores. The East Village Mamele explains the scandal to her daughter.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘ABC’s hidden cameras unveil anti-immigrant prejudice’

Investment News: ‘Morgan Stanley, Citi in retail merger talks’

Nation: ‘Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction’ (Naomi Klein)

To end the bloody occupation, Israel must be the target of the same kind of global movement that finally ended apartheid in South Africa.

Nation: ‘Toward Peace in Gaza’

Investment News: ‘Rubin retires from Citi’

Nation: ‘Caroline and Me’ (Katha Pollitt)

Caroline Kennedy would like to be a senator. I don’t blame her. So would I!

Especially if Governor Paterson could just waft me into office, and I didn’t have to, um, you know, campaign. I’ll bet some parts of the job are really fun, and it’s public service, which is so uplifting. You think I’m joking, but every argument that has been advanced for Kennedy is just as true for me. She’s a mother, a writer, a person with no electoral experience or, so far as we know, longstanding interest in acquiring any–me too! She has more kids; I’ve written more books–I’d say it averages out.

Nation: ‘Obama Anoints Kaine, Praises (And Snubs?) Dean’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Big shakeup at fatal psych ward’

Fox News: ‘”Victims” of Madoff Scandal Do Math, Realize They Profited’

From Fox News: “Hundreds and maybe thousands of investors in Madoff’s funds have been withdrawing money from their accounts for many years. In many cases, those investors have withdrawn far more than their principal investment.” And more:

“I had a call yesterday from a guy who said, ‘I’ve taken out more money then I originally put in, but I still had $1 million left with Madoff. Should I file a $1 million claim?'” said Steven Caruso, a New York attorney specializing in securities and investment fraud.

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Madoff vics: Let him rot in jail’

Madoff’s victims say it’s outrageous that he has been allowed to serve house arrest in his cushy East Side pad.

N.Y. Times: ‘Eight Years of Madoffs’ (Frank Rich)

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff Prosecutors Push Back Deadline’

Federal prosecutors bought more time to focus on their investigation of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion fraud scheme after they reached a deal with Mr. Madoff’s lawyers to delay the deadline to bring an indictment in the criminal case against him.

Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had faced a deadline Monday to convince a grand jury to indict the New York money manager on fraud charges or show at a public court hearing that there was “probable cause” to arrest him, but Mr. Madoff’s lawyers agreed Friday to give the government until mid-February to do so.

Delaying any indictment gives prosecutors time to investigate Mr. Madoff and others without having to prepare for trial, or negotiate a deal in which he agrees to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for a lower prison sentence, says Anthony Barkow, a former federal prosecutor.

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘AJCongress Crippled by Madoff Scandal’

Telegraph: ‘”Hellishly hot” sauce dedicated to Bernard Madoff’

Wall Street Journal: ‘New Ponzi Case Pursued’

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil charges against a Pennsylvania man accused of running a $50 million Ponzi scheme since at least February 1995.

Gothamist: ‘Bernie’s Weekend at Home, Before Judge’s Decision’

N.Y. Times: ‘GMAC Chairman With Ties to Madoff Steps Down’

Gawker: ‘Marc Rich Lost “Insignificant” Millions to Madoff’

N.Y. Times: ‘New Description of Timing on Madoff’s Confession’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Madoff Brother, at Arm’s Length?: Peter Was No. 2 and Close to Bernard; Investigators Now Scrutinizing Role’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Bernie Madoff’s bagman had everything to lose’

J. Ezra Merkin, former chairman of national lender GMAC, crashes to earth as the second biggest conduit for Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Wall Street Journal: ‘Funds of Funds & Madoff: “Like Presiding Over the Long-Term Funeral”‘

Advanced Trading: ‘Fund-of-Hedge Funds Lacked Technology to Avoid Madoff Losses’

Investment News: ‘Madoff scam hurts Mackenzie Financial’ ‘Activist Gunning For Yeshiva Board’

A hedge fund is campaigning to fire the board of Yeshiva University because of its investment with Bernard Madoff. ‘Commentary From Our Publisher: Bernie, We Hardly Knew Ya’ ‘Merkin Liquidation Stymied By NYU’ ‘Woman Tied to Madoff in Hiding’


Drop a ball on Times Square! Drop a bomb on Gaza!

An agitprop video from the Israeli government. See the Forward‘s “YouTube Yanks Israeli Army Videos.”

Who would have guessed that, with the end of the disastrous Bush regime in sight, we would have been so gloomy on New Year’s Eve 2008?

You’d think this would be a time of celebration, or at least some happy whistling to ourselves as we sweep out Dick Cheney‘s accumulated droppings from the past eight years.

But the dropping’s not done, and the deepest suffering is yet to come, as the fallout from Wall Street’s wreckage turns from flurries tonight on Times Square into a blizzard next year throughout the country.

It figures that Arctic temps are swooping in to make this an especially cold night in the city.

Global warning: It’s hot in the Middle East, where bombs are dropping on Gaza (with Mayor Mike Bloomberg‘s support). And, to put it mildly, it’s intemperate elsewhere: Aside from the numerous places like the auto junkyard in Detroit, builders and contractors will soon be dropping even those skilled workers who never drop tools. At this rate, things will be so bad by next Christmas that even Jesus‘s dad wouldn’t be able to get a carpentry gig.

The shakes aren’t typically a warning sign of an onrushing depression, but everybody’s got them, especially bosses. The city’s dropping Snapple from its vending machines, and one of Mike Bloomberg‘s aides is dropping his feverish P.R. campaign to give Princess Caroline Kennedy
the vacant Senate seat. (See the Post‘s “MIKE’S AIDE COOLING HIS CAROLINE PUSH.”

A whole lotta droppin’ goin’ on. As usual, few of those who are dropping the ball aren’t themselves getting dropped.

And then there are those millions of Americans who wish that Bernie Madoff would simply drop dead. If it does happen, I hope it’s on my watch.

Now it turns out, as the Madoff yarn keeps unraveling, that his outrageous behavior is dearly costing a slew of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First (see this Bloomberg list), in addition to the big and small charities we already knew about.

So, Happy New Year to civil libertarians everywhere!

Madoff’s not the only source of grief. Many journalists are being dropped every day — prompting a jeremiad (in both senses of the word) for Nat Hentoff, a modern-day Jeremiah who I’m pretty sure was a contemporary of the prophet himself. (For Hentoff, I’ll drop an IBM Selectric typeball tonight in Times Square; it’s the most I can do.)

Whatever you drop, hang onto your laptop. You need it to click on these stories …


Bloomberg: ‘Americans Under 70 May Find 2008 Was Their Least Favorite Year’

N.Y. Times: ‘Glamour Still Rules, but With Fewer Debutantes’

Subtle signs of the recession were on display at the
International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria.


Crain’s New York Business: ‘Foreclosure suit filed against developers’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Gaza Strip invasion is right thing to do, Mike Bloomberg says’

N.Y. Times: ‘No Mug? Drug Makers Cut Out Goodies for Doctors’

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Even With Aid, Groups Scramble To Cope With Post-Madoff Mess’


Crain’s New York Business: ‘Big projects mask declines in construction spending’

N.Y. Times: ‘Village Voice Lays Off Nat Hentoff and 2 Others’


N.Y. Times: ‘After Unofficial Tally, Senator Trails Rival in Minnesota Race’

Crain’s New York Business: ‘Yeshiva revises Madoff losses to just $14.5M’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Bernie Burns Bacon: Actors Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick among Bernie Madoff victims’

N.Y. Times: ‘SAT Changes Policy, Opening Rift With Colleges’

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘YouTube Yanks Israeli Army Videos’

YouTube has removed videos that the Israeli army posted as part of a public relations effort to rally world opinion behind its operation in Gaza.

On December 29, the IDF began posting videos of its aerial strikes. The rationale was that it wanted to support the claim that it is not targeting civilians, but rather Hamas targets — especially rockets destined for Israel.

N.Y. Times: ‘Madoff Spotlight Turns to Role of Offshore Funds’


You go, Equinox! A Manhattan judge has let the gym chain off the hook in a lawsuit over an infamous spin class that went bad when one spinner attacked another for grunting and yelling things …

Bloomberg: ‘Macy’s, New York Times Haunted by Debt Loads From Ill-Timed Stock Buybacks’

Macy’s Inc., Gannett Co. and New York Times Co.’s attempts to prop up their stocks with debt- funded buybacks have left them saddled with higher borrowing costs as they work to pay off loans.


Bloomberg: ‘Texaco Toxic Past Haunts Chevron as Judgment Looms’

N.Y. Times: ‘In 2009, Economy Will Depend on Unlocking Credit’

N.Y. Times: ‘Ad Agencies Fashion Their Own Horn, and Toot It’

N.Y. Times: ‘Still Paging Mr. Salinger’

N.Y. Times: ‘As Another Memoir Is Faked, Trust Suffers’

N.Y. Times: ‘Films Reach Theaters a Drib Here, Drab There’

Bloomberg: ‘Dollar Heads for Biggest Annual Drop Against Yen in Two Decades’



Daily Flog: Warning to whitey, desired streetcars, soiled Lennon, two Georgias, Target practice

Running down the press:

Daily News: ‘First look at wife of John Lennon slayer in decades – she says let me be’

Jesus Christ! I’d forgotten that Mark David Chapman was such a sicko/twisted Lennon wannabe that he had also married a woman of Japanese descent.


Congratulations to the Post for not only mentioning in the second paragraph that the shooter had just been fired from a Target store but also for showing the maturity not to hammer into readers that grim irony, as I am immaturely doing right now.


Good story, better head. The fourth graf is key:

McCain has closed the gap by padding his lead among whites, Southerners and white evangelical Christians.

At least that should make the rest of us whites feel better — that we’re not quite as bad at acting on our institutionalized, internalized racist impulses.

Being upfront about race is something that much of the media is not doing. Witness this CNN story:

“McCain, Obama to address ‘values voters’ “

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama plan to appear together Saturday at a minister-moderated forum held in a church as thousands of evangelicals plan to gather in the nation’s capital to pressure both men move further to the right on social issues.

“Values voters” my shiny metal ass. The rest of us also vote our “values.” These are white conservative Christians (99 percent of them), so call them that in the headlines. Christ, there are even political parties in Europe that use “Christian” in their names.

Newsday: ‘Revealed: Julia Child was a U.S. spy in World War II’

This AP story is old news, but it does remind us why she seemed to have such mixed feelings about turkey.


Clever hed on this:

The 38-year-old Favre – who turns 39 in October – had his fifth practice yesterday morning for the New York Jets, but he admitted his arm wasn’t exactly feeling lively.

Brett Favre is one pro athlete who talks like a real person, unlike the platitudinous Derek Jeter, for example, or the former Giant blowhard Jeremy Shockey or the guarded-beyond-all-reason, high-paid choker Alex Rodriguez. Favre sez:

“I didn’t throw the ball very well this morning, underthrew some throws. No pain, but I’m 38 years old. It’s got to be fatigued a little bit. . . . I felt 38 today, I’m not going to lie to you.”

In his case, he probably won’t. A rare celebrity.

Times: ‘In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority’

Warning to whitey: Your reign as The Man will end sooner than predicted. Sam Roberts reports:

The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.

The British press doesn’t whitewash this news with P.C. tentativeness. The BBC’s lede, for example:

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 – eight years sooner than previous estimates.

The big change is among Hispanics and Asians whose share of the population is set to double to 30% and 9%.

The Times more subtly emits a red-alert tone:

“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.

Unless you’re talking about the Cherokee Nation. In that previous monumental conflict in Georgia (even before Sherman’s march), Andrew Jackson ethnically cleansed the Cherokees, herding them to the Ozarks along the Trail of Tears and replacing them with slaves and ballcap-wearing, NASCAR-loving rednecks.

Anyway, the Times just loves trend stories, and here’s a trend in the Times itself: Just last week (as I noted on August 7), the paper blared “‘Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20’ “

Next topic for the Times: How do we protect the Upper West Side from these Visigoths?

Human Rights Watch: ‘High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas’

Yes, NYC-based Human Rights Watch has an open bias as a Goody Two-Shoes, but also does some great reporting — unlike its better-known but stodgy fellow NGO Amnesty International — so why not include it in “the press”?

Mainstream international papers, like the Guardian (U.K.), have no problem giving HRW full credit when it breaks news stories. This morning the Guardian‘s Mark Tran notes:

Human Rights Watch provides the first independent confirmation that Georgian villages in South Ossetia have been looted and burned.

HRW is somewhat schizoid as a news source, because it always follows its great nuggets of news with predictable appeals to officials to stop the madness. For example, today it reports:

Forces on both sides in the conflict between Georgia and Russia appear to have killed and injured civilians through indiscriminate attacks, respectively, on the towns of Gori and Tskhinvali, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed its deep concern over the apparently indiscriminate nature of the attacks that have taken such a toll on civilians.

Memo to HRW: Lose the second sentence, please, because your news reporting speaks for itself and you’re clouding the impact of that reporting with that squishy, predictable statement of “deep concern.” (I guess HRW feels it has to do that, but I ignore such statements of concern — who could disagree with such sentiments? — and take its reporting seriously. Keep reading this item and you’ll see why.)

U.S. papers refuse to include HRW and like groups in their press club, but the Internet dissolves that separation because HRW’s reports are as freely and directly available as news from other sources.

You may have forgotten — and the mainstream press has done nothing to help you remember — that HRW broke one of the most grim and explosive stories (so far) from the Iraq War.

Back in September 2005, HRW revealed that U.S. troops at Camp Mercury, outside Fallujah, proudly called themselves “Murderous Maniacs” as they tortured and beat up hapless Iraqi prisoners merely for sport — and in a highly sexualized way that was worse than at Abu Ghraib. As I wrote back then:

In a shocking new report, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne reveal that they or their fellow soldiers routinely beat, tortured, stripped, humiliated, and starved Iraqi prisoners in 2003 and 2004 at a base near Fallujah, often breaking bones, either at the request of superiors or just to let off steam.

HRW wasn’t guessing, nor was it chiding from its Fifth Avenue offices. It waded right in and talked to U.S. troops about it. From its own report, “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division”:

The accounts here suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military is even more widespread than has been acknowledged to date, including among troops belonging to some of the best trained, most decorated, and highly respected units in the U.S. Army. They describe in vivid terms abusive interrogation techniques ordered by Military Intelligence personnel and known to superior officers. . . .

The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers.

Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Prisoner Under Control] tent on their off-hours to “Fuck a PUC” or “Smoke a PUC.” “Fucking a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “Smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

Three years later, HRW has made its own march into Georgia. So keep tabs on its reporting. For that matter, keep checking the Guardian‘s Georgia page.

NY Observer: ‘Penguin Group Wins Rights to Steinbeck Novels’

Minor note on a major author, especially compared with Tony Ortega‘s unique yarn about Steinbeck and Mexican-American farmworkers in today’s Voice: “John Steinbeck’s Ghosts.”

Times: ‘Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software’

John Markoff‘s piece about a court ruling in favor of open-source software is a little confusing, but the upshot is that a major pothole has been patched on our major transportation artery, the information highway.

Times: ‘Conflict Narrows Oil Options for West’

In other transportation news: Good piece by Jad Mouawad about our latest loss in the centuries-old Great Game in Central Asia, and bad news for us SUV owners:

[E]nergy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.

Times: ‘Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future’

Yet another transportation story.

Unfortunately, the Times blows this story by just briefly noting that cities and even small towns across the country had functioning streetcar lines until the mid 1950s, and not mentioning at all that it was the automobile lobby that killed them as it pressured pols to build the Interstate Highway System.

I don’t blanch at this new development because when I was a kid in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I depended on the kindness of streetcars. Public transit is a blessing, no matter how much my fellow straphangers grouse about the MTA and Long Island Rail Road.


Carolyn Salazar‘s lede is right to the point:

An enterprising squatter transformed a vacant Brooklyn lot into a thriving million-dollar business — an illegal parking lot and chop shop, prosecutors said yesterday.

Whereas powerful pol Shelly Silver is squatting like Jabba the Hutt on a vacant lot on the Lower East Side, as the Voice‘s Tom Robbins reports.

Daily News: ‘Gloomy Gotti trip to Sunshine State’

The latest installment of news about the fading Italian-American Gangster Era. John Marzulli reports:

Junior is on the move.

John A. (Junior) Gotti, aka Bureau of Prisons inmate 00632-748, began his journey to Tampa Wednesday to be arraigned on racketeering and murder charges.

Who gives a shit?

Daily News: ‘Elizabeth Edwards stayed with cheating husband John for children’s sake’

A perfect example of how the Daily News almost always lags behind the Post in tabloidian terms. The lede:

An anguished Elizabeth Edwards decided to stay with her cheating husband because she is dying and worried about their two young children, her closest friend says.

Only five tabloidian buzzers: “anguished,” “cheating,” “dying, “worried,” and “closest friend.” Yesterday, I noted eight in a Post Edwards lede.



The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival documents the real and
sometimes politically unpopular stories about everyday people struggling and
sacrificing. This year marks the 19th year of the festival and features 19
full-length films and 13 shorts—20 of which are made by women. Tonight, be
sure to catch To See If I’m Smiling, a story that takes you into the lives of former Israeli women soldiers (whose country, by the way, is the only one in the world that mandates its young women to serve on active duty). Among the more disturbing experiences, one woman recalls how she got her picture taken with a Palestinian corpse. The short film Deadly Playground, about the one million unexploded cluster bombs that Israel left behind in southern Lebanon after its 2006 war with Hezbollah, precedes it.

Fri., June 13, 1:30 & 9:15 p.m., 2008