The Pasty Little Putz has decided to ‘splain to all of us “How the Post Was Lost.” He gurgles that The Beltway’s hometown paper gave away its natural advantage. Well, I suppose it’s better than one of his screeds on religion… MoDo is on a real tear this morning. In “Madam President” she hisses that President Obama passes the torch, but not to his vice president. What a blissful opportunity for her — two of her very favorite targets in one column. In “Kansas and Al Qaeda” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us all about how the drought in the Middle West is connected to the turmoil in the Middle East. You thought his writing was bad? He’s been working on a documentary for Showtime… Mr. Kristof, in “Help Thy Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison,” says some old shotgun shells got a Tennessee man a 15-year sentence. Was it justice served or justice run amok? In “Fatal Mercies” Mr. Bruni says the assisted-suicide prosecution of a Pennsylvania woman who allegedly gave her father the morphine he requested seems both imprudent and inhumane. Here’s The Putz:
Many American newspapers were doomed to decline from the moment the Internet arrived on personal computers. But The Washington Post, just sold off unexpectedly to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, was never really one of them.
This is something the sentimental send-offs for the Graham family and its stewardship tended to ignore. As disruptive as the Internet has been for journalism, The Post was uniquely positioned to succeed amid the chaos. And it has struggled, in part, because the paper’s leaders failed to step into an online-era role that should have been theirs for the taking.
The nature of that role is suggested by a scene in the Thatcher-era British sitcom “Yes, Prime Minister” in which a politician explains who actually reads the British papers.
“The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country,” he tells his aides. “The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who own the country. The Morning Star” — a paper founded as a Communist organ — “is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country. And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”
Back when “Yes, Prime Minister” aired, this comic analysis didn’t really fit the American journalism scene. There were ideological and interest-based papers, especially in the big cities, but mostly geography rather than identity determined what newspaper you read.
With the arrival of the Internet, though, the American media landscape began to look more British. Once you could read any paper from anywhere, the advantage went to properties that could brand themselves nationally, and define themselves by their audience as much as their city.
In this landscape, The Wall Street Journal has a clear role as the paper of the American business class, with The Economist, The Financial Times and the Bloomberg empire as its supplements and competitors. The New York Times fills a similar role for the intelligentsia and the liberal professional classes. The Huffington Post is basically the nation’s left-wing tabloid, and it has several right-wing rivals and imitators. ESPN.com serves as the nation’s sports page. And then various outlets, from BuzzFeed to The Atlantic, are competing to find or build a general-interest niche.
Since there aren’t that many major niches, most existing newspapers were always going to be losers from this shift.
But The Washington Post was different, because even though the Grahams placed a fierce emphasis on being a local paper, the locality The Post covers is inherently national. And given that D.C.’s influence has only increased in the last 20 years, and the public’s interest in national politics has surged, it would have been entirely natural for The Post to become, in the new-media dispensation, the paper of record for political coverage — the only must-read for people who run the country, who want to run it, who think they run it, etc.
Instead, it’s possible to date the moment when that opportunity slipped away: it happened in 2006, when John Harris and Jim VandeHei left The Post to found Politico.
Now, there are many reasons a publication like Politico was easier to build from scratch than it would have been to create inside a traditional, cost-burdened institution. But that’s also hindsight talking: from the vantage point of 2006, VandeHei and Harris looked like gamblers, and The Post’s grip on what the press critic Jack Shafer called the “political news from Washington” beat still seemed secure.
Today, though, it’s Politico rather than The Post that dominates the D.C. conversation, Politico rather than The Post that’s the must-read for Beltway professionals and politics junkies everywhere, and Politico rather than The Post that matches the metabolism of the Internet.
I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly like the Politico style or the role it plays in our gilded capital, and who misses The Post as it was when I arrived in Washington. But nostalgia is for columnists, not publishers: Politico has claimed a big part of the audience that The Post needed in order to thrive in the world the Internet has made.
That’s why I’m skeptical of the various theories about how The Post’s new genius owner might invent some new way to deliver content or bundle news or otherwise achieve a profitable synergy between his newspaper and Amazon.
Maybe such a synergy exists. But it’s more likely that the best thing Jeff Bezos can offer his paper is more old-fashioned: the money and resources necessary to take back territory lost to a sharp-elbowed competitor.
What Bezos can deliver, in other words, is a newspaper war, with clear and pressing stakes. For The Post to thrive again, Politico must lose.
So possibly The Putz isn’t a huge fan of Tiger Beat on the Potomac? Who knew? Here, FSM help us, is MoDo:
President Obama proved himself a great segue artist Friday, as he smoothly glided from his previously unassailable position on the matter of surveillance to his new unassailable position on the matter of surveillance.
There is no moral high ground that he does not seek to occupy. As with drones and gay marriage, he seems peeved that we were insufficiently patient with his own private study of the matter. Why won’t the country agree to entrust itself to his fine mind?
Yet while Barry is in the thick of it, the air is thick with Hillary. From the sidelines, she is soaking up a disproportionate amount of attention and energy, as though she were already Madam President.
She is supposed to be resting and off making $200,000 speeches, but instead she’s around every political corner.
The cicadas never showed up. But we can’t hear ourselves think here this summer over the roar of the Clinton machine — and the buzzing back to life of old Clinton enemies. Meanwhile, Obama’s vaunted campaign machine, which has morphed into a political group called Organizing for Action, has sputtered in its attempt to tear down Republican obstacles and push through his agenda.
While President Obama seems drained and disgusted at the idea of punching through the Republican blockade that awaits him on his return from Martha’s Vineyard, he told Jay Leno that Hillary “had that post-administration glow” when they met for lunch recently.
As the president was getting ready for his news conference, his former secretary of state was dominating the news with an event she didn’t even attend. Emily’s List held what was, in essence, Hillary’s first Iowa campaign event, titled “Madam President” and featuring Claire McCaskill, the Missouri senator who famously broke away from Clinton Inc. to join the Obama revolution in 2008. Now McCaskill, who once said she wouldn’t trust Bill Clinton near her daughter, is presciently back in the fold, on board with Ready for Hillary, the super PAC supporting Clinton for 2016.
As ABC News’s Michael Falcone reported from Iowa, the state that allowed Obama to vault over Hillary, McCaskill said she’s dreaming of “that moment in 2017 when we can say ‘Madam President’ to Hillary Rodham Clinton.’ ”
In a funny echo of Hillary’s defense of Bill during the Gennifer Flowers scandal, when she said she wasn’t home baking cookies and having teas, McCaskill told the forum it’s hard for women to run for office because it’s “not sitting down to tea and crumpets.”
For one thing, McCaskill said, it’s awful to go to a department store to buy Spanx and get recognized as a senator.
It’s being called Hillary’s “shadow campaign.” But the shadow campaign actually began when she was secretary of state. Obama granted his former rival special privileges and allowed her to move Hillaryland, with all her loyal image-buffers and political aides, into the State Department intact.
Because he doesn’t traffic in the unseemly nitty-gritty of politics that is mother’s milk to the Clintons, Obama has been somewhat naïve in how he has handled the imagery of their relationship.
West Wing strategists did not totally trust Hillary after the bitter 2008 battle. They thought by pulling the former secretary of state close, Obama could ensure that Hillary was not out there recreating events and decisions or taking more credit than she deserved — as she sometimes did during her 2008 campaign.
So Obama did not seem fully aware, with their cozy joint “60 Minutes” interview and their laughing al fresco lunch at the White House recently, that instead of co-opting Hillary, he looked like he was handing her the White House silver on a silver platter. The Clintons can present those images as Obama passing the torch and bypassing Joe Biden, just as Bill once took a simple handshake from J.F.K. during a Boys Nation visit to the White House and turned it into an Arthurian moment.
Many Democrats are hungry to make history again, and they see the first woman president as the natural successor to the first black president.
But in other ways, Hillary is not such a natural successor. The Clintons are ends-justify-the-means types with flexible boundaries about right and wrong, while the Obama mystique is the opposite. His White House runs on the idea that if you are virtuous and true and honorable, people will ultimately come to you. (An ethos that sometimes collides with political success.)
It’s odd that Obama, who once talked about being a transformational president, did not want to ensure that his allies and his aims were imprinted on the capital. Instead, he has teed up the ball for Hillary. Some of the excitement about Barack Obama was the prospect of making a clean start, after years of getting dragged into the Clintons’ dubious ethics and personal messes. Yet Obama ushered in the return of Clinton Inc. and gave it his blessing.
What he doesn’t seem to realize yet is that Hillary’s first term will be seen, not as a continuation of Obama, but as Bill Clinton’s third term.
Christ, but it’s going to be a ghastly campaign. You’d think that bitch MoDo would choke on her own bile… Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Salinas, Kansas:
I’ve spent the last few months filming a Showtime documentary about how climate and environmental stresses helped trigger the Arab awakening. It’s been a fascinating journey because it forced me to look at the Middle East through the lens of Arab environmentalists instead of politicians. When you do that, you see the problems and solutions very differently. Environmentalists always start by thinking about the health of the “commons” — the shared air, soil, forests and water — that are the basis of all life, which, if not preserved, will undermine the whole society. The notion that securing the interests of any single group — Shiite or Sunni, Christian or Muslim, secular or Islamist — over the health of the commons is nuts to them. It’s as laughable as pictures of gun-toting fighters strutting on the rubble of broken buildings in Aleppo or Benghazi, claiming “victory,” only to discover that they’ve “won” a country with eroding soil, degrading forests, scarce water, shrinking jobs — a deteriorating commons.
Our film crew came to look at the connection between the drought in Kansas and the rise in global food prices that helped to fuel the Arab uprisings. But I stumbled upon another powerful environmental insight here: the parallel between how fossil fuels are being used to power monoculture farms in the Middle West and how fossil fuels are being used to power wars to create monoculture societies in the Middle East. And why both are really unhealthy for their commons.
My teacher here was Wes Jackson, the MacArthur award winner, based in Salina, where he founded The Land Institute. Jackson’s philosophy is that the prairie was a diverse wilderness, with a complex ecosystem that supported all kinds of wildlife, not to mention American Indians — until the Europeans arrived, plowed it up and covered it with single-species crop farms, mostly wheat, corn, or soybeans. Jackson’s goal is to restore the function of the diverse polyculture prairie ecosystem and rescue it from the single-species, annual monoculture farming, which is exhausting the soil, the source of all prairie life. “We have to stop treating soil like dirt,” he says.
Jackson knows this has to be economically viable. That’s why his goal is to prove that species of wheat and other grains that scientists at The Land Institute are developing can be grown as perennials with deep roots — so you would not need to regularly till the soil or plant seeds. The way to do that, he believes, is by growing mixtures of those perennial grains, which will mimic the prairie and naturally provide the nutrients and pesticides. The need for fossil-fuel-powered tractors and fertilizers would be much reduced, with the sun’s energy making up the difference. That would be so much better for the soil and the climate, since most soil carbon would not be released.
Annual monocultures are much more susceptible to disease and require much more fossil fuel energy — plows, fertilizer, pesticides — to maintain. Perennial polycultures, by contrast, notes Jackson, provide species diversity, which provides chemical diversity, which provides much more natural resistance and “can substitute for the fossil fuels and chemicals that we’ve not evolved with.”
Jackson maintains some original prairie vegetation. As we walk through it, he explains: This is nature’s own “tree of life.” This prairie, like a forest, “features material recycling, runs on sunlight, and does not have an epidemic that wipes it all out. You know during the Dust Bowl years of the ’30s, the crops died, but the prairie survived.” Then he points to his experimental perennial grain crops: “That’s the tree of knowledge.” Our challenge, and it will take years, he notes, is to find a way to blend the tree of life with the tree of knowledge to develop domestic prairies that could have high-yielding fields planted once every several years, whose crops would only need harvesting and species diversity could “take care of insects, pathogens and fertility.”
And that brings us back to the Middle East. Al Qaeda often says that if the Muslim world wants to restore its strength, it needs to go back to the “pure” days of Islam, when it was a monoculture unsullied by foreign influences. In fact, the “Golden Age” of the Arab/Muslim world was when it became a polyculture between the 8th and 13th centuries. Of that era, Wikipedia says, “During this period the Arab world became an intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education. …” It was “a collection of cultures, which put together, synthesized and significantly advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Byzantine and Phoenician civilizations.”
What is going on in the Arab world today is a relentless push, also funded by fossil fuels, for more monocultures. It’s Al Qaeda trying to “purify” the Arabian Peninsula. It’s Shiites and Sunnis, funded by oil money, trying to purge each other in Iraq and Syria. It’s Alexandria, Egypt, once a great melting pot of Greeks, Italians, Jews, Christians, Arabs and Muslims, now a city dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, with most non-Muslims gone. It makes these societies much less able to spark new ideas and much more susceptible to diseased conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies. To be blunt, this evolution of Arab/Muslim polycultures into monocultures is a disaster.
Pluralism, diversity and tolerance were once native plants in the Middle East — the way the polyculture prairie was in the Middle West. Neither ecosystem will be healthy without restoring its diversity.
Little Tommy neglected to point out that Kansas is one of the epicenters of American Talibangelicals… Now here’s Mr. Kristof:
If you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young
Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.
Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.
“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”
Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.
The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.
In May, a federal judge, acknowledging that the case was Dickensian but saying that he had no leeway under the law, sentenced Young to serve a minimum of 15 years in federal prison. It didn’t matter that the local authorities eventually dismissed the burglary charges.
So the federal government, at a time when it is cutting education spending, is preparing to spend $415,000 over the next 15 years to imprison a man for innocently possessing seven shotgun shells while trying to help a widow in the neighborhood. And, under the law, there is no early release: Young will spend the full 15 years in prison.
This case captures what is wrong with our “justice” system: We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners.
This hasn’t always been the case, but it is the result of policies such as mandatory minimum sentences since the 1970s.
In 1978, the United States had 307,000 inmates in state and federal prisons. That soared to a peak of more than 1.6 million in 2009. Since then, the number of inmates has declined for three consecutive years to 1.57 million in 2012. The number of juveniles detained has also begun to drop since peaking in 2000, although the U.S. still detains children at a rate five times that of the next highest country.
In short, there’s some hope that this American experiment in mass incarceration has been recognized as a failure and will be gradually unwound. Among the leaders in moving away from the old policies are blue states and red states alike, including New York and Texas. But America still has twice as many prisoners today as under President Ronald Reagan.
Almost everyone seems to acknowledge that locking up vast numbers of nonviolent offenders is a waste of money. California devotes $179,400 to keep a juvenile in detention for a year, and spends less than $10,000 per student in its schools.
Granted, mass incarceration may have been one factor in reduced crime in the last couple of decades; there’s mixed evidence. But, if so, the economic and social cost has been enormous — including the breakup of families and the increased risk that children of those families will become criminals a generation later.
There’s also contrary evidence that incarceration, especially of young people, doesn’t work well in preventing crime, especially for young people. One careful study of 35,000 young offenders by Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. reached the startling conclusion that jailing juveniles leads them to be more likely to commit crimes as adults. Milder sentences, such as electronic monitoring and home detention, were actually more effective at preventing adult crime.
Alternatives to incarceration are both cheaper and more efficient. Youth Villages has an excellent record of working with troubled youngsters and their families, and of keeping them from committing crimes. So do some job-training and education programs. Mass incarceration has been particularly devastating for blacks and members of other minority groups, as well as for the poor generally. In this case, Edward Young is white.
Conservatives often argue that there is a link between family breakdown and cycles of poverty. They’re right: Boys are more likely to get into trouble without a dad at home, and we have a major problem with the irresponsibility of young men who conceive babies but don’t raise them.
We also have a serious problem with the irresponsibility of mass incarceration. When almost 1 percent of Americans are imprisoned (and a far higher percentage of men of color in low-income neighborhoods), our criminal justice system becomes a cause of family breakdown and contributes to the delinquency of a generation of children. And mass incarceration interacts with other government policies, such as the way the drug war is implemented, to have a disproportionate effect on African-Americans. Black men use marijuana at roughly the same rate as white men but are more than three times as likely to be arrested over it.
Young is particularly close to his children, ages 6 to 16. After back problems and rheumatoid arthritis left him disabled, he was a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked in a doctor’s office. When the judge announced the sentence, the children all burst into tears.
“I can’t believe my kids lose their daddy for the next 15 years,” his wife, Stacy, told me. “He never tried to get a firearm in the 16 years I was with him. It’s crazy. He’s getting a longer sentence than people who’ve killed or raped.”
Young’s lawyer, Christopher Varner, of Chattanooga, is appealing the sentence and says he is shaken by the outcome. “It’s shocking,” he says. “That’s not what we do in this country.”
I asked Killian, the United States attorney, why on earth he would want to send a man to prison for 15 years for innocently possessing seven shotgun shells. “The case raised serious public safety concerns,” Killian said.
The classic caricature of justice run amok is Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables,” pursuing Jean Valjean for stealing bread for hungry children. In that case, Valjean knew that he was breaking the law; Edward Young had no idea.
Some day, Americans will look back and wonder at how we as a society could be much more willing to invest in prisons than in schools. They will be astonished that we sent a man to federal prison for 15 years for trying to help a widow.
So, they’ll send you to the slammer for 15 years for having shotgun shells, but you can have as many weapons as you can stuff into your house without any problem at all? The country’s gone stark, raving mad. Here’s Mr. Bruni:
Few of us get anything approaching the degree of control we’d like over our lives. Must we also be denied a reasonable measure over our deaths?
That’s all that Joseph Yourshaw, 93, seemingly wanted: to exit on his own terms, at home, without growing any weaker, without suffering any more. And that’s all that one of his daughters, Barbara Mancini, 57, was trying to help him do, according to the police report that set her criminal prosecution in motion.
She’s charged, under Pennsylvania law, with aiding a suicide, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Such a sentence would be ludicrous, but so, by all appearances, is the case against her: a waste of public resources, a needless infliction of pain on a family already grieving, and a senseless prioritization of a frequently ignored (and easily ignorable) law over logic, compassion, decency.
It would have been easy for prosecutors to walk away; that sort of thing happens all the time. That it didn’t happen here suggests how conflicted, inconsistent and bullheaded we Americans can be when it comes to the very private, very intimate business of dying.
These are the facts of the case, according to public records and news reports:
Yourshaw was receiving hospice care at his home in the small central Pennsylvania city of Pottsville. A decorated World War II veteran who had gone on to run his own contracting business, he was terminally ill, with severe diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease, among other ailments. He was frail and in pain, and had indicated a yearning for an end to it all.
On Feb. 7, he sought one, swallowing an unusually large measure of his morphine in the presence of Mancini, who did nothing about it. A hospice nurse who stopped by the house afterward found him unresponsive and later said that Mancini, herself a nurse, confessed to having provided him, at his request, a vial or bottle of his painkiller that contained a potentially lethal dose.
The hospice nurse called 911. The police and paramedics arrived. Although Mancini insisted that her father did not want to be revived, he was given medical attention and brought to a local hospital, where his condition stabilized. He nonetheless died there on Feb. 11. He did not get to spend his final days in his own home or his final hours in his own bed.
The statement of the police officer who interacted with Mancini on the day of the overdose says, “She told me that her father had asked her for all his morphine so he could commit suicide, and she provided it.” Mancini, through her lawyers, later denied that she was deliberately enabling him to end his life. Trying to reconcile these conflicting claims is, for now, impossible: a judge has issued a gag order for the main players in the case, which is headed to trial, barring a plea agreement or a prosecutorial change of heart.
But nowhere can I find any dispute that Mancini’s 93-year-old father was fading and hurting. Nowhere can I find any insinuation that Mancini coaxed him toward suicide. Or poured the morphine down his throat. Or did anything more than hand it to him. That’s it.
And the lightness of this alleged assist, coupled with the ambiguity of its connection to his death after he’d rebounded from the overdose, has not only provoked outrage from Compassion and Choices, an organization that supports more options in end-of-life care.
It has also prompted befuddlement on the other side of the issue, with a leading opponent of assisted suicide scratching his head about the way the case is being handled. “It is odd to see one like this prosecuted,” Stephen Drake, the research analyst for the advocacy group Not Dead Yet, told me.
He added that the case worries him, because if it gets significant publicity and informs what many people believe assisted suicide is, they’ll see it as a more benign act than he believes they should. “It’s going to make it even harder to prosecute ones that really call out to be prosecuted,” he said.
Such prosecutions are rare all in all, even though assisted suicide — under medical supervision and specific circumstances — is legal in only four states: Oregon, Washington, Montana and, as of a few months ago, Vermont.
Alan Meisel, the founder and director of the Center for Bioethics and Health Law at the University of Pittsburgh, said that that’s partly because “these kinds of things usually happen in secret.”
But that’s also because when they do come to light, the police and prosecutors exercise enormous discretion, knowing that there are all kinds of gray areas in which the law is a clumsy, crude instrument; that a jury may be loath to punish a gesture of apparent mercy; and that it’s not uncommon for death to be hastened by painkillers, even in hospitals.
Did Mancini break the law? If the accounts of both the hospice nurse and the police officer are accurate, probably so, but the Pennsylvania statute that forbids assisted suicide, like similar statutes in other states, is worded broadly and says nothing about what rises to the level of assistance.
That vagueness can be a blessing, allowing the police and prosecutors to filter the law through their own good judgment and sensitivity. No such filter has been applied here, at least based on the evidence presented at a preliminary court hearing early this month.
A SPOKESMAN for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which is in charge of the prosecution, declined to comment for this column, citing the gag order. So I couldn’t ask anyone there how, in an era of severely limited government resources, the dedication of time and money to this case made any sense.
I couldn’t ask anyone how, precisely, Mancini had done her father wrong. I couldn’t point out that his widow — her mother — had spoken out in defense of her before everyone involved stopped talking. I couldn’t note the different exit made recently by a terminally ill journalist in Seattle, thanks to Washington’s Death With Dignity Act.
Her name was Jane Lotter, and last week, in The Times, Michael Winerip wrote this of her last moments with her family, including her husband, Bob Marts:
“On July 18, the couple and their two children gathered in the parents’ bedroom. Ms. Lotter asked to keep in her contact lenses, in case a hummingbird came to the feeder Mr. Marts had hung outside their window. The last song she heard before pouring powdered barbiturates, provided by hospice officials, into a glass of grape juice was George Gershwin’s ‘Lullaby.’ Then she hugged and kissed them all goodbye, swallowed the drink and, within minutes, lapsed into a coma and died.”
No paramedics. No arrest. No need.