A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in favor of the government's decision to keep photos and video of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden a secret, rebuffing a conservative watchdog group that had sought their release.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington accepted a White House assertion that releasing the images, including death photos of bin Laden, could spark violence and risk the lives of Americans abroad.
The classified images show the dead al-Qaida leader at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the transportation of his body to a U.S. ship and his burial at sea, the government says, according to Reuters. The photographs were taken so the CIA could conduct facial recognition analysis to confirm the body's identity, court papers say, according to the news agency.
"It is undisputed that the government is withholding the images not to shield wrongdoing or embarrassment, but rather to prevent the killing of Americans and violence against American interests," read Tuesday's decision by U.S. Circuit judges Merrick Garland, Judith Rogers and Harry Edwards.
In its decision, the court rejected an argument by conservative group Judicial Watch "that the Central Intelligence Agency failed to show that releasing images of bin Laden's body — specifically those showing it cleaned and prepared for burial — would harm national security or reveal classified intelligence strategies," Bloomberg reports.
Judicial Watch's Freedom of Information Act request elicited 52 records from the CIA, but the agency withheld all of them, citing exemptions for classified materials and information specifically exempted by other laws, according to The Associated Press.
Shortly after the May 2, 2011, raid, President Obama said in a CBS 60 Minutes interview that the release of "very graphic" photos of bin Laden's corpse could be used as propaganda by extremists to whip up anti-American violence.
"We don't trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama said.
Shanghai did something last fall that few other cities on the planet could have even considered. It opened two massive art museums right across the river from one another on the same day.
The grand openings put an exclamation point on China's staggering museum building boom. In recent years, about 100 museums have opened annually here, peaking at nearly 400 in 2011, according to the Chinese Society of Museums.
The frenzied construction of cultural infrastructure follows earlier building binges involving roads and bridges. But it's harder to manage a museum than a highway. For one thing, you need to fill museums with worthwhile exhibits and visitors.
At more than 600,000 square feet of exhibition space, the China Art Palace is about the size of New York's Museum of Modern Art. It's housed in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo's former China pavilion, which resembles an ancient Chinese roof support — or an upside-down red pyramid, depending on your perspective.
The top attraction is an animated version of an ancient Chinese scroll, "Along the River During Qingming Festival," which depicts ordinary life in a Chinese city during the Song dynasty (960-1279) more than eight centuries ago.
The scroll, which debuted during the World Expo, is about two stories high and more than a football field long. It literally comes to life with figures strolling across an arched bridge or talking to each other as they push a barge out into the current.
"I think it's really beautiful," says Xu Qinhua, a 62-year-old retired teacher. "When I was young, my teacher told me I should see the original, but I never had the opportunity."
Building A Cultural Hub
The China Art Palace, which is free to the public, also provides access to foreign art most people here would otherwise never get to see. Earlier this year, the museum presented an exhibition of 19th century French naturalist masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
"I am here mainly to see the techniques," says Lin Weipeng, who is a painter in coastal Fujian province and has tried to copy some of the French masterworks on his own.
Lin, who wears a knockoff down jacket emblazoned with "Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club," is holding his 9-year-old daughter, Mowei, in his arms.
"She can't really understand these paintings," he says. "But I just want to give her some feeling for it. If she doesn't get to go to France, this is probably her only chance to see the original work."
All of this is part of the Shanghai government's master plan to turn this mega-city into a cultural capital and magnet for global talent. A relatively sleepy metropolis as recently as the 1990s, Shanghai has made a lot of progress, developing a vibrant restaurant scene and dynamic nightlife. But the city is still primarily known in China for business and conspicuous consumption.
Teng Junjie, artistic director of the city's Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV, likens Shanghai's ambitions to other cosmopolitan cities in the West.
"New York City and Paris are financial centers. They are also indisputably cultural centers of the world," says Teng. "Shanghai is now in that process but hasn't yet reached that level."
Obscurity, Literal And Figurative
A short ferry ride across the Huangpu River is the city's other new museum, the Power Station of Art. It features contemporary work and is housed in a converted power plant with a smokestack that is nearly as tall as the Washington Monument and doubles as a giant thermometer that lights up at night. Lying along the river, the Power Station most closely resembles London's Tate Modern.
A major Andy Warhol exhibition opened here late last month. In the first week or so, the museum sold about 6,000 tickets at a little more than $3 a head. Not that many in a city of 23 million.
One reason is the obscure location. The Power Station sits in a mostly abandoned section of the Shanghai Expo site that is a long walk from the nearest subway station and a mystery to most city cab drivers.
A second reason there aren't many visitors is a lack of publicity.
Jack Wang, a first-year medical student, came to the Warhol exhibit earlier this month, but only because a friend told him about it.
"Andy Warhol, literally, I don't know his name, but I've seen a lot of his art pieces before," says Wang, who wears a gray hoodie and blue slacks. "The display of this art is really exquisite."
Li Xu, deputy director of planning at the museum, thinks there is a third reason for the small crowds. When it comes to contemporary art, he says, most Chinese don't know where to begin because cultural education has lagged far behind China's economic boom.
"My estimation is one-third to one-half of artworks are hard for average visitors to understand if they didn't receive sufficient art education," says Li. "Chinese graduate students' understanding of art only reaches the level of middle school students in the U.S."
To try to change that, museums are starting young. The China Art Palace runs workshops for elementary school students on subjects like naturalist painting, but getting them in the door is tough. China's hypercompetitive educational system still emphasizes rote learning and tests. Li says most schools see no practical value in field trips to art museums.
"The sole purpose for parents to send kids to school is that they can get into college," says Li. "Anything that's not related to the college entrance exam will not get parents' and teachers' attention."
Museum Construction Outpacing Demand?
Jeffrey Johnson, an architect who runs the China Megacities Lab at Columbia University, is among a number of scholars who study China's rapid urbanization. He says local governments are building museums to create a cultural life and competitive identity for their cities.
But China lost a lot of art because of its civil war in the 1940s as well as the Cultural Revolution, looting and overseas sales. Johnson says many museums are going up faster than curators can fill them with works and audiences. Many of China's new museums, he says, are closed or only open sporadically.
"They might have a grand opening or a press conference with great photographs and government officials," says Johnson, "but if you return to this museum, which officially has been open for three months, it ... might be closed and locked."
Johnson likens the museum boom to China's real estate glut in which new housing has outpaced real demand. In a crowded nation like China, though, emptiness can occasionally have its benefits. Back at the Power Station of Art, Jack Wang is enjoying a rarity here: the uncrowded public attraction.
"It's great for me," says Wang, sitting on a couch not far from rows and rows of Warhol's iconic Campbell's tomato soup cans. "The environment here is very comfy and peaceful. But I think more people should have chances to come here to see this art."
Horace Greeley may have suggested at one point that going west might be a good idea, but he probably wouldn't be happy to see what's going on with Los Angeles as of late. The Dodgers are in last place in the National League West, the Angels are hovering near the bottom of the American League West, and the Lakers didn't even make the playoffs. Even Jimmy Fallon and NBC are bringing The Tonight Show back to Manhattan, deserting some place called Burbank after 40 years.
But if there is anything involving Los Angeles that always seems to get short shrift, it's their election for mayor. Many political junkies can quote you chapter and verse about the classic battles for City Hall in, say, New York or Chicago, but rarely does L.A. come into the conversation. And that certainly is true of today's (May 21) election.
Certainly, it's an election with historic potential. Wendy Greuel, the city controller, is one of the two candidates in the runoff, and if she wins she'll become the city's first female mayor. (New York can't even boast that, though that outcome is a possibility later this year.) Her opponent, city Councilmember Eric Garcetti, is 42 years old; if elected, he'd be the youngest mayor in more than a century. He'd also be the city's first elected Jewish (or half-Jewish) mayor; his mom is Jewish.
(L.A. once did have a Jewish mayor, Bernard Cohn, but as the Los Angeles Times' Patt Morrison points out in a fun column, he was "an appointee who served only a couple of weeks in 1878 after the elected mayor died." Still, Morrison adds, he "managed to stay in the headlines for years, once the world learned that he had kept his Jewish wife and three children on one end of town and his Catholic Latina mistress and six more children on the other.")
But I digress. Los Angeles mayoral elections are officially non-partisan; Greuel and Garcetti happen to be Democrats. And, quite frankly, neither is exactly lighting up the joint. They are both earnest, sincere, non-ideological candidates, neither of which seems certain as to how to handle the growing deficit, let alone tell voters which way they intend to take the city. No one is confusing their imagination and vision with what catapulted Antonio Villaraigosa into office eight years ago. Some of Villaraigosa's goals were met, while many — such as planting a million new trees — were not. The term-limited mayor leaves with his outsized personality and charisma still intact, but with a sense that a lot still needs to get done.
Perhaps this is the perfect time for a Garcetti or a Greuel to take over. Neither has promised much, so maybe there will be less likelihood of a voter letdown. But it's just hard to get worked up about it all.
Looking back. Not every L.A. mayoral race has put voters to sleep, but it would be a fair wager that voters would prefer a dull contest to the vitriol and ugliness of what happened in 1969. Back then, two-term Mayor Sam Yorty had long been on the outs with his fellow Democrats, having challenged Gov. Pat Brown in the 1966 primary and ultimatley endorsing Republican Ronald Reagan in the fall. He was an all-out hawk on Vietnam and felt that the civil rights movement was being hijacked by Communists; his rhetoric during the Watts riots of 1965 was filled with distrust and innuendo. In the '69 contest, Thomas Bradley, a black city councilman, clobbered Yorty in the initial election, 42-26 percent. But Yorty made overtly racial appeals in the runoff and won by more than 50,000 votes out of some 800,000-plus cast.
(Check out this great 1969 archival footage of the first primary from ABC News and the runoff campaign from CBS News, courtesy of YouTube.)
Four years later, with Yorty's act wearing thin, Bradley led Yorty in the initial election and beat him in the runoff by 100,000 votes, including a majority of white voters, becoming the city's first African-American mayor.
Bradley is the longest-serving mayor in L.A. history, winning a total of five terms (including a rout of Yorty in 1981). In 1989, Bradley got a majority in the first round and didn't need to go into a runoff, and that hadn't happened with any L.A. mayor in decades. Like Yorty, Bradley sought the governorship twice, but Yorty never managed to win his party's nomination. Bradley was the Democratic nominee in both 1982 and 1986, losing each time to George Deukmejian (R); in '82 he was within an eyelash of becoming governor.
But his fifth term, which was marred by charges of police brutality and a worsening of race relations, all but collapsed in the riots that followed the 1992 trial in which L.A. police officers were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King, riots that led to deaths and massive property damage ... and a great loss to Bradley's leadership and legacy. He retired a broken man in 1993.
Then came Richard Riordan, a Republican who stressed his business experience and his promise to crack down on crime, a clear reference to what had happened to the city in the latter years of Bradley's tenure. Riordan became the first GOP mayor since Norris Poulson was ousted by Yorty in '61, and was re-elected in a 1997 landslide.
2001 brought James Hahn to city hall. Hahn was a long time government insider, serving as city controller as well as city attorney. Perhaps equally important was that he was the son of the legendary Kenneth Hahn, a longtime county supervisor who was well known as a civil rights champion and beloved in the black community. Jimmy Hahn was elected by some 40,000 votes, defeating Villaraigosa, who had been the speaker of the state Assembly. But Hahn made the controversial decision to replace Police Chief Bernard Parks, an African-American, and that cost him dearly with black voters. Villaraigosa, with the kind of charisma Hahn never had, walloped him in the 2005 rematch. He became the city's first Latino mayor since Cristobal Aguilar, who served from 1871-72.
And that brings us to today's runoff. Polls show Garcetti ahead, as he has been since the March 5 initial primary, in which he finished with 33 percent to Greuel's 29 percent.
Pittsburgh primary. As has been the case since the early 1930s, the winner of today's Democratic primary will become Pittsburgh's next mayor. Luke Ravenstahl, who became mayor in 2006 following the death of the incumbent and who got national attention for becoming, at age 26, the youngest mayor in the city's history, is not seeking re-election. With four candidates on the ballot, Tuesday's primary is basically between city Councilman Bill Peduto, who has often sparred with Ravenstahl, and Jack Wagner, a former state Auditor General who ran for governor
Pudding On the Ritz. In two previous Political Junkie columns (July 2, 2012 and Nov. 1, 2005) a question appeared concerning the meaning of an obscure campaign button — "I Like Judge Sutton and Rice Pudding Too!" I of course had no idea what it was in reference to either. But now the mystery has been solved. Milo Pyne of Durham, N.C., put a picture of the button on Facebook, asking for answers, and got his answer: "One of the local papers [in Nashville, Tenn.], the Banner I think, used to ask local attorneys to rate the judges. One comment made was that Judge Sutton had 'rice pudding for brains.' I remember my dad nearly fell out of the chair laughing at that because he'd had dealings with him and agreed completely."
No news is too trivial for Political Junkie.
By the way, there were several objections to my trivia answer on the May 1 Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. The question was, "Who was the most recent vice presidential candidate who, while out of office, later ran for the Senate?" My answer: Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 VP candidate, ran for the Senate from New York in 1992 and again in '98. Several people — Zachary Doering, Cathy Reynolds of Toledo, Ohio; Tim Cross of Williamsburg, Va.; Barbara Gunderson of Albany, N.Y.; Bill Simenson of Minneapolis, Minn.; Robert Smith of Denver, Colo.; Brent Rogers of Sydney, Australia; and Zachary Doering all thought the answer should have been Walter Mondale, an ex-VP who ran for the Senate from Minnesota in 2002 after the death of Paul Wellstone. But I specifically said that I was looking for the most recent VP candidate, not the one who ran for the Senate most recently. And Mondale was a VP candidate in 1976 and '80.
OK, so you guys don't get a t-shirt, but you do get honorable mention.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the growing list of Obama controversies, everything from the Benghazi talking points to the IRS focusing on conservative groups to the Justice Department combing through the phone records of Associated Press reporters. Special guest: former DNC chair Howard Dean. You can listen to the segment here:
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me. I was out last week; the link below is the previous week's offering.
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a TOTN T-shirt, but also a 3-1/2 inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??
Last week's winner: Michael Ruffin of Fitzgerald, Ga.
ON THE CALENDAR:
May 21 — Los Angeles mayoral runoff. Also: Pittsburgh mayoral primary.
June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned. Also: New Jersey gov. primaries.
June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.
June 26— Final "Political Junkie" segment on Talk of the Nation. TOTN ends on Thursday, June 27.
Aug. 6 — Seattle mayoral primary.
Sept. 10 — New York City mayoral primary.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at email@example.com.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in political history: President Richard Nixon nominates Warren Burger as Chief Justice of the United States. Burger, a 61-year old native of Minnesota and a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, would replace Earl Warren, chief justice since 1953, who is retiring. Burger is seen as a "strict constructionist" and a a conservative, compared to Warren, described as an "activist" and liberal Supreme Court justice (May 21, 1969). The Senate will confirm Burger June 9 on a 74-3 vote. The three opponents, all Democrats: Gaylord Nelson (Wis.), Eugene McCarthy (Minn.) and Stephen Young (Ohio).
Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell Me More Staff
Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie has been in the headlines, by her own choice for a change.
Genetic testing showed she was at high risk for breast cancer, so she decided to have a double mastectomy to improve her odds. She revealed her choice, and the thinking behind it, in a recent op-ed in The New York Times.
On Tuesday's Tell Me More, host Michel Martin spoke to a mother and daughter who faced the same issue.
Regina Brett is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She wrote about the path she and her daughter Gabrielle (Gabe) Brett took in an award-winning series called "The Inheritance." Both women had prophylactic double mastectomies.
Regina says Jolie's action could alter the public discussion:
"You know, when we had surgery, people kind of rolled their eyes and said, 'Jeez, are you crazy? What are you making such a radical decision for?' So I think it's important somebody that famous has the gene and is honest about her decisions."
Gabe described why she decided to have a surgery because of her cancer risk:
"I just needed to know. I was going to ... you know, go through life believing I had a time bomb in me no matter what. So if I could get the relief of finding out I was negative and I was not a carrier, then I could relax a bit more. If I found out I was positive, then I felt like I could get the surveillance and the screening, regular mammograms, breast MRIs, and be really proactive about it. But not knowing was not going to be helpful."
Gabe on how she sees her decision in hindsight:
"No-brainer now that we have a family, and now that my priorities are different. The hardest part is actually coming to grips with, I'm going to remove a healthy part of my body. And I think once I made that decision, you know, the weeks leading up to surgery, I had a lot of anxiety, but honestly the minute I got rolled out of surgery and I was awake and alert, I felt such relief."
Regina, on the decision to not have reconstructive surgery:
"For me, I wasn't going to have breasts again. I would have maybe an implant with skin over it but for me it wasn't the breasts that I had known and loved my whole life. I wouldn't feel anything. I wouldn't feel if somebody touched me, and I realized I would only be having breasts for everyone else to look at and say 'wow, she looks great.' ... So I bought prosthetic breasts, and I named 'em Thelma and Louise."
Apple CEO Timothy Cook made a rare appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, testifying after congressional investigators revealed that Apple avoided billions in taxes. Reporter Charles Duhigg of The New York Times and guest host Jennifer Ludden talk about how, as Duhigg writes, "technology giants have taken advantage of tax codes written for an industrial age."