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August 06, 2009

The Old Testament President

By: Aaron Datesman

Maybe it’s all those years I attended Mennonite Bible School, but this report in the LA Times

We don't know much about how it works, but in 2007, Marc Garlasco, the Pentagon's former chief of high-value targeting, offered a glimpse when he told Salon magazine that in 2003, "the magic number was 30." That meant that if an attack was anticipated to kill more than 30 civilians, it needed the explicit approval of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or President George W. Bush. If the expected civilian death toll was less than 30, the strike could be OKd by the legal and military commanders on the ground.

reminds me of this (Genesis 18:22-26)

The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."

I don’t think we want any American politician to be playing in the same league as the Old Testament LORD. Generally I would prefer instead that the President be about as powerful as a big-city mayor.

That this is moral idiocy of the highest order is blazingly obvious. But it’s also something else: cowardice. Any person willing to contemplate the murder of innocents to preserve himself is a coward.

President Obama, I’m looking right at you.


— Aaron Datesman

Posted at August 6, 2009 12:05 AM

Well said, though I'm sure it has him quaking in his boots.

I've not observed that calling sociopaths 'cowards' has ever had much of an effect, other than to enrage them and to make them strike out even more viciously.

Anyway, the point is valid, so, fair play to you.

Posted by: NomadUK at August 6, 2009 03:48 AM

"If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake

Posted by: lisa at August 6, 2009 06:30 AM

Got to break eggs to make omelet as the great humanitarian Joseph Stalin put it

Posted by: Härj at August 6, 2009 08:55 AM

But, hell, I went to Sunday School too and Abraham talks Jehovah down to just ten righteous as a threshold.

By this metric, the U.S. policy is at least three times less ethical (or more unethical) than Jehovah, which is really quite a damning thing to say.

Posted by: Cloud at August 6, 2009 10:05 AM

Unless one is in the "that which is good is so because it is loved by the gods" camp, I suppose, which may be the chief root of the whole rotten tree.

Posted by: Cloud at August 6, 2009 10:10 AM

Unlike in the case of Sodom, U PAID FOR IT. (could possibily lend SOME partial responsibility) Which brings to mind, how many rightous people lived in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, all of Vietnam?
Only Lot and his family, 4 souls, was spared from Sodom. Looking at WE THE PEOPLE, I'm guessing that Iraq and Afghanistan are damn lucky to walk away with anyone left alive.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 6, 2009 12:33 PM

Nice comparison of the article in the LA Times to the passage in Genesis. I like it that far.

God was definitely crazy before he split himself in Three. That seemed to help a little. At least he hasn't killed everyone on the planet since then. (Yet.)

I think "blazingly obvious" should fall within the Chazelle "of course" rule.

Is killing civilians cowardly? I certainly think it's disgusting and wrong, but "cowardly" doesn't work for me. Maybe that's because the Nazis justified the act of doing the dirty work of the Holocaust as requiring great courage, because after all nobody likes to kill thousands upon thousands of women and children but somebody (in their opinion) had to do what was necessary to solve the Jewish problem once and for all. Seriously, that's straight from Himmler, who was so cold-blooded it's hard to imagine he really had feelings. But I bet he did, vile as they likely were. So easy, hard, brave, cowardly--what does it matter? Don't kill civilians should be the rule. No exceptions. I'd leave "cowardly" out of it.

As for all this looking at Obama with righteous fury, I don't think it shows much understanding of our messed-up politics, and it verges on displaying a sort of prideful attitude of being morally above politics. Obama is not and never was the messiah. He's just President. He cannot by Executive Order stop all killing of civilians, and even stopping the use of the Predators would probably cause him great political trouble. And by trouble I mean a threat to his Presidency that could take us backward, not forward. Politics is perilous. It's much easier to be an ex-President than a President.

So I'd prefer that you lash out at the military, which develops, recommends, and implements battlefield tactics. Or you could try to build some opposition to our vast military empire. Or you could get behind a movement to get us out of Afghanistan, or to change the "rules of engagement" we use there. I just don't see how lashing out at Obama for being a coward and a moral idiot accomplishes anything, and it perpetuates the prevailing misunderstanding of what Presidents can and cannot easiliy or even effectively control.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 12:50 PM

NE - Interesting points, and I thought about some of them when deciding whether to write a longer post. I agree with much of what you say, but would like to offer these quibbles.

1) The President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He could easily stop all killing of civilians if he chose. He could also stop a great deal of killing without any affirmative statement or action by refusing (behind closed doors) to approve drone attacks in Pakistan.

2) If causing the deaths of children isn't cowardly, then the word has no meaning. It fits. We should use it.

That said, I agree that Obama probably can't do what he nominally has the power to do. I should have been more clear. It's the cultural acceptance of murder which I find so repugnant. If we were brave, we would accept the possibility that some of us might be injured or killed as the price of protecting innocent lives.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at August 6, 2009 02:49 PM
and even stopping the use of the Predators would probably cause him great political trouble.

Accepting the slaughter of innocents (who make up more than 90% of predator victims) because not doing so would probably cause you political trouble, even great political trouble, should probably fit the definition of cowardice. No?

Posted by: empty at August 6, 2009 03:47 PM

WHY worry about GOD and who is rightous or not when HE has U THE AMERICAN CITIZEN to punish the earth. Well ABLE to call down horrendous fires from Heaven above to punish the Innocent and Guilty alike. WHY worry about Abraham and his Kin when WE have Gen. Stanley MacChristal to determine who is rightous or not, which lives, which dies.
Its kind of like having to wash dishes. Should I do them by hand OR use my new well OILED machine? Should I walk to town or RIDE in my new well OILED machine? U&I have Stanley and ALL Stan needs from US is GOD's AMERICAN MADE WELL OILED MACHINE.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 6, 2009 04:13 PM


I really don't think it's an issue of cowardice. Several Presidents who would be classified as cowards by that type of calculus--McKinley, Wilson, FDR, JFK--were certainly not cowards, whatever other deficiencies each could be argued to have had. I find the problem more similar, and almost as distasteful, as a lifeboat ethics question. What is the political cost of saving some villagers in Waziristan? How far can you push before the military uses its enormous political power against you, which in combination with the right wing media could overwhelm your Presidency? Can Obama challenge the military's use of Predators across the board without compromising his effort at health care reform? A generalized fight with the Pentagon about whether the Predator is a legitimate weapon would be hard to win, and I hate those drones. I agree with moral objections to their use, but I just don't see how cowardice is the issue. Don't forget--if Obama's Presidency fails, that will cost lives too. Obama has to pick his political battles and win them. One does not have to embrace Machiavelli to believe that.

So "political trouble" was perhaps a poor choice of words. I believe Obama already has tried to limit the use of Predators, and I don't know how far he can go without getting the Pentagon to go on the offensive against him. Hell, like everyone else, I don't even know what he is doing behind the scenes, because absurdly enough, we don't get to know that for a few decades.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 05:24 PM

perhaps the reasoning is that if you only kill a few people you're only a little damned. but I'm also guessing that if you went to most churches here in the US and asked a congregation to pray for the innocents our government kills, you wouldn't feel very welcome after you said those words.

for the longest time I've felt that the more demonstrative a christian is about his faith, the less likely it is he actually IS a particularly good christian.

I suppose that might apply to some other faiths as well, but I've never heard of fundamentalist buddhists or daoists killing a bunch of people.

Posted by: grimmy at August 6, 2009 05:25 PM

Aaron Datesman:

1) You wrote: "The President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He could easily stop all killing of civilians if he chose." That is a non sequitur. Not only can't President Obama easily stop it, I doubt he could stop it with great difficulty. All he has the unqualified power to stop, or cut short, is his Presidency. That is why I thought your post showed a lack of understanding of what I called "our messed-up politics." I share your position about Predators. I abhor killing civilians. I suspect President Obama does too. So help make it easier for him to win his internal battles with the military and the militarists in the bureaucracy. Of course, all you or I can really do is help people recognize the real problem.

2) You wrote: "If causing the deaths of children isn't cowardly, then the word has no meaning. It fits. We should use it." I already said why I disagree with that. I will add that cowardly isn't at the top of my list of evils. I actually think killing children is worse than cowardly. The distinction may seem like quibbling, but it is important if people think this type of pervasive evil happens BECAUSE OF cowardice. It does not.

3) You wrote: "If we were brave, we would accept the possibility that some of us might be injured or killed as the price of protecting innocent lives." There was a time when we were a warrior culture, and there is a strong sentiment on the Right to make us that again, at least as much as possible. That was partly a post-Vietnam reaction, partly our developing love of Rambo-like paramilitarism (followed by a host of other flicks in the genre), all of which has become a big part of our culture. But it was not a big enough part of our culture to the Right, perhaps because of the vastness of our military commitments. Much of the "War on Terror" and the adoption of unconcealed torture has been intended to boost our warrior mentality as a culture.

Bear in mind that we killed more women and children when we were "brave" enough, by your definition, to accept that "some of us might be injured or killed protecting innocent lives." The age of chivalry was a myth. "The Good War" is largely a myth. The extent of our atrocities in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere has been largely underreported and is not recognized. Most of all that horrific violence happened back when most people accepted that some of us might be injured or killed along the way. Warrior cultures are brutal, and not just towards other warriors.

So we should be careful what we wish for, and we should be clear about what we oppose, and why.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 06:08 PM

There's no evidence Obama is opposed to the military/industrial complex. It's nice to talk about what some hypothetical pro-peace President (imagine Ralph Nader, for instance) could or could not do, but this doesn't have much to do with Obama, so far as anyone can tell.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 6, 2009 06:10 PM


I'm just speculating, but I think it more likely that the reason for the 30-or-under rule was that killing too many innocent Pakistanis all at once caused trouble for (and therefore with) the Pakistani government and military, and our government and military didn't want to do more of that than necessary.

I share your dislike of bloodthirsty religion.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 06:22 PM

Donald Johnson:

Obama certainly isn't "opposed to the military/industrial complex" or he wouldn't be President. I agree that you can't take that stance and get elected/selected as President in the United States, and that has been true for quite a while.

But there is a middle ground between "pro peace" and unabashed warmongering, most recently popularized by his predecessors. Within that middle ground, Obama looks to me to be trying to shrink rather than expand our military commitments and the use of force as a solution to international problems, but he has been handed a lot of problems that already exist.

Granted, it's hard to know exactly what's going on because of the damnable secrecy of everything, compounded by the pervasive lying. That makes it hard for everyone to be sure what's going on.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 06:40 PM

NE, I was just kidding about the only being a little damned comment.

FWIW, I suspect you're right, but I'm guessing it's also a calculation of what kind of scale of mortality per airstrike is necessary to make page 1 of the NYT, as opposed to a cursory item about a "smallish number" of accidental casualties buried in the 20th graf on page 37 or so.

Posted by: grimmy at August 6, 2009 07:29 PM

NE, Obama just allowed even more money to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That doesn't sound like lessening military might to me.

Posted by: Jenny at August 6, 2009 07:30 PM


Fair enough, but I said my impression is that he's trying, not that he's always succeeding.

My perpetual theme is the basic nature of the problem. Well-meaning Presidents who have intelligence and courage can make a difference at times, but only so much of a difference, and they have to be careful and skillful about it, because in order to get elected they have had to accept a bunch of crucial limitations and in order to be effective and stay in office they have to keep accepting them. (The real militaristic Presidents seem able to make more of a difference, just in the wrong direction.)

That being said, as I also suggested, because we're only allowed to have the information we need as citizens to effectively judge our leadership once they have long been out of office, just before we ourselves die of old age, you could be right and I could be wrong. We're stuck with a high margin of error when it matters. Ridiculous and galling.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 07:46 PM

NE: in a couple of months, Obama will have MORE troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than Bush ever did. He is taking it in the wrong direction entirely.

Also, what he does or does not do will not compromise the health care reform. They have already compromised, and soon they will capitulate.

Posted by: Susan at August 6, 2009 08:21 PM

NE: in a couple of months, Obama will have MORE troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than Bush ever did. He is taking it in the wrong direction entirely.

Also, what he does or does not do (in a military way) will not compromise the health care reform. They have already compromised, and soon they will capitulate.

Posted by: Susan at August 6, 2009 08:22 PM


This emphasis on "Obama will" is what frustrates me. Of course he is having trouble with health care reform. We have institutionalized corruption, and the Senate is a reactionary, throwback institution that makes the lowest common denominator seem enlightened. The power held by Max Baucus is just ridiculous, and he's just one of a bunch of towering mediocrities who are thrilled with themselves and apparently not so much with ordinary people, since they don't ever seem to actually do anything for anyone but contributors. Baucaus isn't even unusually bad--he fits right in. Some of those Senators, such as Imhofe and Pryor, are just plain morons. And many others, like Lieberman and Specter, would be more likeable if they were morons.

As for Afghanistan, Obama wouldn't be President now if he had run against that war. I haven't said he isn't a practical politician or a compromiser, or that he doesn't understand how the country really works. Many othres may not, but HE does. Compromise and conciliation is his modus operandi. It doesn't mean HE is a coward or corrupt, and it does look to me like he is trying to straighten this mess out a little. He sometimes undoutedly he gets it wrong, and he most certainly can't just make everything ok all of a sudden--we're way past that. As a nation, we have really let ourselves get screwed. And screw others abroad too.

If we want real change, we'll need to get money out of politics, probably abolish the Senate so that we have real proportional representation throughout the country, enact real sunshine laws and give them teeth, give workers real rights and enforce them, replace the Fed with a central bank that isn't basically in the pocket of a few huge private banks, shrink the military a whole bunch, and restore something more closely resembling social equality, which will soon be extinct. In the meantime, we need to stop destroying the world and prevent the crazies (who are attracted to the GOP like flies to shvt) from finishing the job. But Obama can't make all that happen. If he tried almost any of that right now, the only result would be his failure.

If Obama (or someone else) had a movement behind him and conditions that made it possible for him to do more and be bolder, he would. Or someone else would. Get the movement behind him, he'll stay in front of it. Politicians are surfers, not earthquakes. They don't make waves, they ride them. And Obama is a politician.

Posted by: N E at August 6, 2009 09:47 PM

Again, NE, you seem to be assuming that Obama would do what you and I would consider to be the right thing if only conditions were right. Maybe, maybe not. On some issues I think not--I think that what we see Obama doing just reflects what he wants himself and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise Glenn Greenwald doesn't seem too impressed by Obama's good intentions on civil liberties and governmental transparency issues, for instance.

Not that I have much to contribute on this, but it's probably more sensible to assume that any given President is not secretly on our side and plan accordingly. Except, of course, on those issues (probably pretty rare) when a President actually does seem to be on the right side of the issue.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 6, 2009 11:02 PM

I don't think Obama has an ideology, apart from the ideology of how it's really cool to be president, and a cock-eyed version of meritocracy, i.e., "I'm really smart and talented, therefore I deserve to be president."

This is only different in degree from "My dad was president and my family is rich and important so I deserve to be president", not in kind.

Apart from not lowering taxes on the rich even further and stem-cell research, I don't see how he has done anything markedly different than what McCain would have done(remember that they both voted for the bankster bailout). I'm not saying McCain would have been preferable, just that the meaningful difference is pretty negligible.

Posted by: grimmy at August 6, 2009 11:56 PM


"I don't think Obama has an ideology, apart from the ideology of how it's really cool to be president, and a cock-eyed version of meritocracy, i.e., "I'm really smart and talented, therefore I deserve to be president."

--I don't even know where that comes from and don't have any idea how to respond. I don't see that in Obama at all. He is not ideological, granted, but since the foundation of progressive/left ideology is in ruins, he doesn't have much choice. His approach has been smart. It may fail anyway, but it has been smart.

"This is only different in degree from "My dad was president and my family is rich and important so I deserve to be president", not in kind."

--All successful people want to be successful. All ambitious people are ambitious. I don't even understand the point of your criticism. If you are suggesting he isn't very different from the silver-spooned Bushes, I think that's ridiculous. I don't want Joe the Plumber to be President because he's as ordinary as can be.

"I'm not saying McCain would have been preferable, just that the meaningful difference is pretty negligible."

--I'm certainly glad you won't find out anytime soon how wrong you are about that. But we'll all probably get another reminder within a decade.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 12:28 AM

Anybody who defends Obama and the Democrats is on the wrong side of history. Period.

Posted by: smdqr at August 7, 2009 12:56 AM

Donald Johnson:

I am not crazy about what has been going on with the transparency and First Amendment issues, but I don't think Glenn Greenwald knows exactly what is up there either, just because so much is classified and the internal administration debate is nonpublic. I also don't think Glenn Greenwald is the shrewdest political analyst around, though I do like his substantive positions and writing.

You've heard it from me before, but maybe somebody hasn't. Presidents can be quite a bit better than the appointees and bureaucracy around them. I think that was certainly true of McKinley, Wilson, Harding, FDR, and JFK, and also Ike and Carter to an extent. Even Truman, LBJ, and Nixon rose above the bureaucracy at times. I don't know whether being at the top of the staff chart imparts a broader sense of responsibility, or whether ego drives Presidents to strive for a greater legacy, or whether at a certain point a person who has become President quits focusing on narrow considerations, but a lot of our Presidents on occasion have tried quite hard, over some formidable obstacles, to rise above those around them in their administrations and the military. Unfortunately, they always get shot down, on occasion literally.

I don't know how you intend to "plan accordingly" based on your assumption that President Obama, or any other President, is not "secretly" on our side, but I would recommend that we all try to understand this recurring pattern in our political history so that maybe we can change it. Putting different people in the Oval Office just won't get that done. It was Einstein who said, I believe, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That is certainly how our Presidential (and Congressional) politics has worked. We need to change the structure of the government. We need to greatly reduce money's role in the process. And we need to reduce the power of the military and National Security bureaucracy.

In the meantime, given what we have, you have to look pretty closely to tell what Obama is trying to do. If one ignores the constraints on him, which are as real as leg irons and handcuffs, of course it seems like there is no difference between him and any other President. But if you take those constraints into account, there is a world of difference between him and Bush. Or between him and McCain.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 12:56 AM

NE, you're a fool.

Posted by: Jenny at August 7, 2009 01:20 AM

Why do you sentimentalize presidents and the presidency so? If you seek out a lawyer you don't care about whether choosing lawyer A over lawyer B makes you "feel good about yourself", you just care about whether he does what he says he will do. You don't care about his inspirational biography or his heart, you just assume he has none and accept this matter of factly, and preoccupy yourself with his job performance and his fidelity to what he said he'd do for you. Can't you look at the president, any president, in the same way?

You said you didn't understand where i was coming from earlier, in decrying a president for his ambition, and Obama in particular for his lack of apparent ideological focus, and apparently you think the only other choice is a "joe the Plumber" type figure. I say I prefer somebody who wants to be president in order to accomplish certain things, i.e., who has a sense of mission, and articulates it.

As opposed to someone who just really wants to be president, and recognizes that to occupy the white house he needs to give lip service to various stands on various issues, because not doing so wouldn't be cricket, and he'll be booted out if he doesn't, you know, stand for stuff.

Obama has no sense of mission that I can detect, besides careerism, and a sense of entitlement. Although I didn't know FDR, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Obama's no FDR.

Finally, you say that

"the foundation of progressive/left ideology is in ruins."

I disagree. The democrats have abandoned liberalism, sure. But look at the consequence of what they replaced it with, their measured, supposed "pragmatism": they are unable to move the legislative agenda at will, even with control of both houses of congress and the presidency, without first getting permission from the statistically neutered opposition.

Please don't give me that "as real as leg irons and handcuffs" foolishness-- that only applies to the people we have locked up in indefinite detention. If control of both houses, including 60 seats in the senate, AND the presidency, aren't enough to ram single-payer down the throats of the republicans, WHAT USE are Obama and the democrats?

Posted by: grimmy at August 7, 2009 02:50 AM


Obama is not "the Democrats." I don't like the Blue Dogs at all and don't think much of very many folks in Congress. Of course the Democratic Party is beholden to money as much as the GOP. And Obama has to deal with that too! I don't think he's a saint, just a politician. Every President will always disappoint you, at best, under the present system, if you don't recognize they are constrained by it. You don't have to like them for going along with so much, but don't act like it all comes from the Oval Office or nothing will ever change.

I certainly don't sentimentalize the Presidency.

I don't care about the heart of the President. I do care about evaluating him and the political landscape correctly. The fact that a President has a hard time doing anything decent he sets out to do doesn't surprise me much anymore. The whole system is set up to accomplish that.

I want a President who wants to accomplish things too. But I also want a President who knows what can be accomplished, given the situation around him, and is smart about doing it, because otherwise the results will be what was accomplished by one of the greatest people ever to try to get the job, George McGovern (who failed so spectacularly not because he was antiwar, but because he lacked political savvy). When i think a President isn't trying, that's when I give up on him. As i've said, because everything is so secret and there is so much lying, there is a high margin of error. I suppose I cut Obama more slack than i would if I hadn't read a lot about how other Presidents have been sabotaged and undercut in the past. It seems to be extremely difficult for a President to prevent it.

You can keep saying Obama is careerist and has a sense of entitlement, but I don't see it. These are very subjective perceptions on the part of each of us.

Obama is no FDR, but we're not in the 1930s or 1940s now. Even by the end of the 40s, that ship had sailed. We have to build something new--that's what I mean by the foundation of progressive/left ideology being in ruins. It's not that the principles of equality and social justice are wrong or even outdated, but some political program with broad popular support has to be built on those principles. There has to be a movement. The readership of ATR and all the other left blogs put together isn't a movement.

As for your last point, Obama doesn't control the Democratic Party. Most of those Blue Dog Senators are controlled by money. Baucus and Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu and others might as well be Republicans and probably would be in a heartbeat if it served their personal interests.

I'm not even saying that Obama and the Democrats are of much use. As I said, I'm not so crazy about the Democrats, and if there were another legitimate option to their left, I'd go there. Obama is the President we've got. He's got incredibly nasty opposition outside his party, plenty of opposition within it, and money still dominates our politics. Go ahead and blame Obama for things that aren't within his control if it helps you blow off steam, but that doesn't help him try to get single-payer through or accomplish anything else. He is not the problem, and I don't share your perceptions about his goals or motivations.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 11:26 AM

Jenny: You wrote: "NE, you're a fool."

Guilty as charged. How about you?

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 11:33 AM

IF YOU REALLY want single payer, then NOW is the time to get up off YOUR ass and apply pressure on Congress.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 7, 2009 11:52 AM

Mike Meyer:

Single payer isn't even on the table now. Pressure for a public option is all that can be applied. Then LOTS of pressure needs to be applied to strip Baucus of his Finance Committee chair. Getting him out of the Senate would be even better.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 12:38 PM

NE: Pelosi put it on the table last Saturday.
I'm reminded of what Von Braun told Hitler. " Always I shoot for the stars, its just that sometimes I land in London."

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 7, 2009 01:03 PM

no, NE, you really are a fool, and suddenly talking as if you have a sense of humor doesn't change that. while not inconsistent, your writing is wildly unfocused, and occasionally simply wrong (as when you assumed obama had lessened the use of predator drones when he's actually massively expanded their use).

more importantly, though, your calculation is this: the waging of aggressive war (the mother of all war crimes) must continue under the obama administration (idefinitely, right?), because if he ends the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, republicans will gain prominence in american politics. and they're really bad because they kill people.

of course it's not just war. it's immigration, privacy, health care, the banks, our privately-owned prison population of almost two and a half million, our ever expanding homeless population, indefinite detention of foreign nationals without ANY semblence of a fair trial; there really isn't a single issue for which obama is willing to put himself on the line (if, in fact and as you assume, he doesn't support the unspeakable crimes he himself been perpetrating for seven months).

that's why people are so frustrated, why BLAWGERS BLAWG about how he's a coward. (and no, of course it doesn't DO anything; who the fuck are you?) even those who were willing to accept a comprimise here and there are throwing up there hands. the question is, what evil will it take for you to abandon the notion that what's good for the party is good for the nation.

Posted by: utica at August 7, 2009 01:25 PM

This is a structural thing. Individuals and their intentions don't matter, or matter very little.

For starters, anyone who intends to end wars, always be honest and do all the right things will never get elected anywhere in the first place, because to get elected you have to lie, kiss ass, and compromise a lot. That's just how it is, folks.

Posted by: abb1 at August 7, 2009 02:27 PM

abb1: Can't be prez of the country without being criminal= a criminal country= a criminally friendly minded population= a nation, OPENLY WILLING to follow criminals. Is that what YOU are saying?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 7, 2009 04:09 PM

Why, it doesn't have be criminal. As they say, the real scandal isn't what's illegal - it's what's legal.

Posted by: abb1 at August 7, 2009 04:51 PM

utica: You wrote "your writing is wildly unfocused" and then you sort of went all over the place. I don't know if you appreciate the irony of that, but you should.

You're right that the drone attacks have increased with the increase in the war, but you may not have picked up that I strongly oppose our involvement in Afghanistan, and our escalation of commitments in Central Asia, and if I said the drone attacks have decreased, that was my mistake. I do make mistakes, but all that frustration you have won't just not "DO anything," it may well help do the wrong things, assign blame incorrectly, and help keep the left on the same unproductive road that it's been on for a long while now. That is not a road to success, if you haven't noticed.

If you don't understand what I'm saying, maybe it's me, maybe it's the comment format, maybe both, but you should at least briefly consider the possibility that maybe there's something you don't know or understand too. Or that you might have more thinking and studying to do. As it is now, you didn't come within a mile of summarizing the position I have stated, let alone what I think as a whole. I'm confident that your approach will go nowhere, and I have reasons. If you want you can just be frustrated, pissed at me, and keep on the same path, and that is what most people do nearly all the time, and maybe you'll even get something psychological out of it. But what you get out of that frustration will be for you, and you alone. It will do nothing for anyone else.

Calling people cowards and expressing moral indignation is easy. Literally anyone can do it, and cowards ironically are better at it than anyone else. (Doing it with wit or humor to make a point is something else again, and our host among others is really good at it.) But when I think the wrong person has been called a coward, I point that out. And even if I'm wrong about whether the cowardice charge has legs,trying to come up with alternatives and strategies wouldn't be nearly as easy, or probably feel as good. I think that matters. When people seem really impressed with their own morality while doing something that has no cost to them and really doesn't accomplish anything for anyone else either, that strikes me as an observation crying out to be made. Because when people get proud of themselves for just thinking something without actually doing anything that makes a difference, they can get in the habit of settling for that.

In closing, I'll avoid profanity (let's keep Mr. Hyde out of this), but I otherwise like the question you asked me, and I encourage you to ask yourself that same question: Who are YOU?

Just try to avoid using words in answering it.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 06:19 PM

Mike Meyer:

The problem is the Senate. It's too bad we'd have to have another civil war to get rid of the Senate.

(And, of course, those low population states that benefit from the Senate have lots and lots and lots of guns.)

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 06:26 PM

But, but, but I like having the Senate in place for CHECKS&BALANCES.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 7, 2009 06:46 PM

"But, but, but I like having the Senate in place for CHECKS&BALANCES."

All those big corporate CHECKS sure are doing wonder for those Senators' account BALANCES!

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 08:46 PM

Wouldn't "leave Obama aloooone" have been more succinct?

Posted by: empty at August 7, 2009 08:53 PM


yep. that's mostly why i agreed with jenny that i'm a fool.

but there is a small possibility that someone will get something out of it, so what the hell.

Posted by: N E at August 7, 2009 09:54 PM

NE: More the merrier. What about the House, U think they don't get the same checks for their balance?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 7, 2009 10:47 PM

Mike Meyer:

--smaller checks for the house balance, poor devils

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 01:22 AM

Mike Meyer:

--smaller checks for the house balance, poor devils

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 01:22 AM

NE: EITHER WAY they're ALL bought off, But NOT by U&I. WE are left with ONLY one option, pressure in numbers. THUS the reason for calling Nan(1-202-225-0100). Perhaps YOU might ACTUALLY participate?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 02:30 AM

Mike Meyer: u R always ASSUMING that I DON'T pArTiCiPaTe. For the life of me, I don't know Y. For a DOG, I participate a GrEaT DeaL.

By the WAY, I don't actually think pressure in numbers is the answer, absent a unified movement. And how do you make a unified movement out of a whole bunch of people who seem like the crowd at the Tower of Babel? Each thrilled with his own pure heart, disdainful of the rest. Alas, we need that prophet to come wandering out of the desert, in a big way. Too bad he'll either be mistaken for the Antichrist and killed, or alternatively actually be the Antichrist (metaphorically).

So WE alL jUSt goTTa read OUR Aeschylus and dO wHAt wE CaN.

Without cowardice, of course, Brave and Heroic Blawgers that we ALL are.

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 11:56 AM

NE: Isn't REASONABLE health-care worth the price of a phonecall, worth a moment of YOUR time? When so many have worked so hard through the years for this CHANCE, won't YOU also put YOUR hand to the plow and give a little push? If I may point out, this is not saying no to power, its saying yes to single payer.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 01:16 PM

"For starters, anyone who intends to end wars, always be honest and do all the right things will never get elected anywhere in the first place, because to get elected you have to lie, kiss ass, and compromise a lot. That's just how it is, folks."

Having disagreed with abb1 rather strongly on the Gates thing, I'm happy to agree with him here.

NE, you haven't given any reason for thinking Obama is anything other than what he appears to be--ideologically center-left (by American standards). And nobody else has either, frankly. Hell, the Obama supporters put forward as examples of his being out of the box tend to be people like Samantha Power, who is a mainstream careerist who clearly chose very carefully what she would write about in her genocide book. (East Timor, which makes the entire US political mainstream look awful as supporters of genocide, got about one paragraph, for instance.) That's the kind of progressive Obama is, at best.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 8, 2009 01:39 PM

Donald Johnson: When has such a person EVER run for office in this country. THE LAST person who fits THAT description was hung on a cross, and He wasn't an American. Its the public education system and the culture in this country. WE don't teach things like that here. Lying for wars (although morally criminal) is STILL legal here.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 02:07 PM

eugene v. debs for president. and what's with all this random capitalizing?

Posted by: grimmy at August 8, 2009 02:32 PM

grimmy: WHO sez its random?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 03:47 PM


Debs was a great man, but of course he didn't win. Debs is one of my moral heroes, because of his extraordinary courage and dedication, and Woodrow Wilson's treatment of him is the single hardest thing for me to like about Woodrow Wilson. (I like some things about Wilson very much.) In contrast, Harding really liked Debs personally and took some political grief for pardoning him. You can never be sure who is going to do the right thing.

(I believe Mike Meyer's position is that capitalizing creative, so i HaVe jOiNeD HIM.)


I don't mind Samantha Power, but I think she sees what she's supposed to see from her Cambridge office window and doesn't see much else.

I think Obama is more or less what you think he is, but I don't think his political choices reflect opportunism or cynicism as much as a correct reading of the political lay of the land. Being elected and re-elected and the foundations for political success, and without that you can't do anything for anyone except, like Debs, become an opposition leader and a moral figure. That Obama is not trying to be, and that he is not.

By the standards of practical politicians, which Obama is, I think he's great. I don't think i'm going to convince you to agree with me, and I've already told you the basis for my positions, so I'll skip repeating all that.

But people who think Obama can just issue an executive order that pulls us out of Central Asia, or decree that we aren't goign to use Predator drones any more because they are immoral, really do not understand how our government and our National Security state actually work. That's unfortunate. That's also why moral pronouncements about Obama's supposed cowardice annoy me. It's very hard to get enough of a glimpse into the National Security State to understand what Obama can and can't do, so I really don't want to blame people for not seeing and understanding what is deliberately concealed from them, but I sometimes lose my patience with those who have great moral certitude about Obama's decisions when they seem to understand what Obama can and cannot do, and with what consequences, about as well as I understand what Bach would think about Randy Newman's use of his harmonies.

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 05:36 PM


When you say there are constraints on what a President can do I tend to agree, but I think the constraints kick in much earlier--nobody who has any serious desire to break those fetters you talk about has any chance of getting the nomination from the Democratic Party. People who get that far make a choice to be part of the system, and as Chomsky says somewhere, most people don't like cognitive dissonance--if you participate in actual war crimes, for instance, you're going to tell yourself that it's the right thing to do. It's interesting to speculate about what would happen to a Dennis Kucinich or a Ralph Nader if such a person made it to the White House, but the fetters and constraints would and did kick in long before they could come close.

You're not getting why people are irritated with you, I think--it's this protective stance you adopt with respect to Obama and other Presidents. I agree that if through some miracle Kucinich got into the White House he would face a torrent of hostile leaks and lies from politicians and bureaucrats and vicious stories and commentary in the press all designed to destroy any attempt he might make to bring real change. But Kucinich didn't make it into the White House and in the real world, the sort of person who does is going to be the sort of person willing to lie and compromise and stomp on leftist ideals and if they have a social conscience (as Carter seems to in his post-Presidential life), it goes into storage while they are in office. Why shouldn't such a person be called a coward or worse? If they secretly harbor leftist views, they ought to be big enough to welcome such attacks. The more such attacks there are, the more cover they have for moving to the left.

What bugs me about your stance is not that you think Presidents have constraints on them--in some respects (though not others) I may see those constraints as being even stronger than you see them. What bugs me is that you seem so protective of Obama and other Presidents, as though there is something noble about people who make it into that office and we're hurting your feelings or theirs by calling them cowards. Why should anyone care about their feelings or their inner desires, if they don't act on them? They chose to run for the position they hold and if it forces them to be bastards, it's their own choice that put them there.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 8, 2009 06:05 PM

Donald Johnson:

I agree with your first sentence completely, but you (and Chomsky) are mistaken in your assessment of the character of everyone who approaches the question of power different from you. Like many politicians and past Presidents, Obama likely sees no point in being out of power, because then you can't do anything. This is often not a trivial consideration, given that the nature of the political opposition, but much of the left always seems to conclude quite quickly that the GOP and the Dems are two of a kind because both do many bad things. I agree with the premise and disagree with the conclusion.

Obama, like you, undoubtedly realizes that if he were Kucinith or Nadar or even someone just a little left of himself, he wouldn't be where he is. So he wants to accomplish something. I hope he succeeds. He does have to think about political consequences of all his decisions, even if it is repulsive to use Predator drones. Those who believe Presidents control everything that happens in their administration haven't done much historical reading.

I realize why you are irritated with me, but your whole second paragraph demonstrates to me that you don't really grasp the nature of the problems Presidents face. It isn't about trying to bring "real change," or about lying and compromise. Do you really think Dennis Kucinich has never lied or compromised in his political career? Do you think Ralph Nader has never told a lie, never compromised his principles? (If so, ask him about unions.) That isn't the issue. For Obama, the stakes are high, and of course he knows it. He can't help but know it. That's probably an ego thrill to him, as it would be to anyone, but it's also sobering. In his mind, I doubt his job is just about him being the President. And it certainly isn't about him having secretly leftist views and having to decide whether to act on them. I never said Obama is a secret leftist. Hell, I don't even know what that means in our present social circumstances. But I do believe that he wants more fairness and more egalitarianism and more justice. You may think it's clear how we get that, but I don't given that losts of powerful forces don't want that and are working to prevent it. (And in general with considerable more skill and cunning than the left uses.)

You mentioned Chomsky, and I have to say that I think he is actually responsible for a lot of this problem on the left (which may be partly why West Point lets him come speak there.) I admire Chomsky's brains and dedication, but I think he uses a coloring book version of history that does his intelligence a disservice and leads a lot of people to do the same because they trust him based on his uncompromising moral positions and ability to say what he thinks without varnish. (He's an admirable man, but not a deity.) The problem is, in very simple terms, a President makes decisions in the midst of a very complex and volatile environment, with political consequences, both intended and unintended, resulting almost constantly, and with many people of questionable loyalty and many enemies all around him, both in his own party and the opposition party. You call recognizing this very basic reality apologetics, but a moral criticism that isn't even remotely grounded in the real situation that exists isn't worth much. Obama has to accept many things he doesn't like and can't do something about everything he dislikes. I can't believe I even have to state that, let alone over and over again.

And this very moralistic criticism of Obama is socially harmful. You and all those who are prone to talking about Presidential cowardice and immorality think you are performing an act of moral distinction, but I don't think so. I don't defend Presidents because I really wanted to be a Secret Service agent and couldn't. This isn't about Presidents. Obama doesn't need my protection. I'm not concerned about the feelings of him or any other President. But I do want him to be as effective as possible, which can only happen if he's politically successful. He has a lot working against him without the left attacking him instead of the forces in our society that actually are reactionary and brutal and dont' have good intentions, and who make his job so difficult.

That's what you all don't seem to understand. Attacking Obama doesn't hurt him, it hurts the people, including foreigners by the way, who you think you're helping when you do it. Weakening Obama strengthens his enemies, who are the ultimate problem. It really is possible to attack the military for Predator drone attacks. It really is possible to attack Senator Baucus and the Senate for being in the pocket of the health insurance industry. It really is possible to attack the right wing for their collusion with the Honduran military. Everything really doesn't have to be Obama's fault just because he didn't or couldn't stop it. I wish I could make you, and others, understand that, but I think I'm just going to have to read Aeschylus to get a deeper appreciation of the tragedy of how our human dramas repetitively unfold.

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 08:38 PM

" really think Dennis Kucinich has never lied or compromised in his political career? Do you think Ralph Nader has never told a lie, never compromised his principles? (If so, ask him about unions.) "

No. No.

As for the rest, criticizing Obama and calling him names doesn't mean I don't prefer some of what he's done to what McCain would have done. I'll pass on commenting on the rest, since it seems to presuppose that I can't tell the difference between Obama and the Republicans, though Chomsky among many others have all been proponents of "lesser of two evilism" precisely because he sees that there is a significant difference between the two--bad is better than worse. Now you probably could get an argument started on that here.

Anyway, I'm used to the fact that you'll continue to be offended when people insult Obama around here. You should get used to the fact that people will continue to do it. And I don't think insults from the left are harmful--what's harmful is allowing centrists and the press to define the far left end of the spectrum

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 8, 2009 09:06 PM

Donald Johnson @9:06pm: AGREED. The lesson of Bush/Cheney is NOT enough criticism and/or indictments.

NE: Obama and Congress WILL NOT GIVE YOU what it is YOU want. YOU MUST FIGHT for the needs of the nation, WE ALL MUST.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 09:24 PM

Obama is here to SERVE THE NATION, not the other way around.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 8, 2009 09:26 PM

Mike Meyer: I agree with both things you said.

Donald Johnson: I am not offended, and I certainly don't expect most people to quit doing anything, or for that matter to learn anything until something else makes the time right.

Posted by: N E at August 8, 2009 10:25 PM

"or for that matter to learn anything until something else makes the time right."

That may cut both ways.

The US was imperialistic long before the shadowy bureaucrats of the national security state ever existed. And there's a need for "liberal" Presidents like Obama, Bill Clinton, and JFK to act as though they had a decent respect for the opinions of mankind--to put a happy friendly sophisticated face on America doing what America wants to do. Obama is opposed by the more troglodyte elements of America for various reasons--some are fanatics who can't abide the thought of an American apologizing for anything, even an apology for some CIA operation over 50 years ago. Such apologies are a form of what the theologians call "cheap grace"--the appearance of repentance without any actual intent to change one's behavior, but they sometimes impress people and garner good will, so smart people like Obama and Clinton give them out. And it drives the far right nuts.

A smart mainstream foreign policy practitioner who likes the idea of the US running the world for the benefit of its elites will much prefer Obama to a blundering arrogant buffoon like Bush II. Of course, aside from the troglodytes Obama will also face opposition from the right because of what Jon calls the iron law of institutions--people care more about their position within an organization more than they care about the organization. Some rightwingers would rather see American foreign policy in utter disarray rather than see a moderate/liberal Democrat making it work better. (And by work better I don't mean better for ordinary people here or abroad, except by accident or where necessary to throw a bone.)

This is where I think your view is unsophisticated and delusional--you put so much emphasis on Obama "trying" to do the right thing within the constraints he faces and never talk about the way "liberal" Presidents in fact are good PR for American exceptionalism and American imperialism, which are tendencies in our history that go all the way back to the Puritans. But yeah, me and ole Noam agree that Democrats are, with all this, better than Republicans in life and death ways on some issues. You will get some disagreement with some people on the left on that issue, and you might even find me (reluctantly) on your side on that one.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 9, 2009 10:01 AM

BTW, it's not just liberal Presidents, of course, who support US imperialism on the liberal side. There are bucketloads of liberal intellectuals and pundits and politicians who do the same. See virtually any column by Tom Friedman, for instance. His column today is a classic--he writes about the wonderful progress Fatah is making on the West Bank, with Israeli encouragement and says Gaza should be left alone until they choose to join, never mentioning that Gaza has been the target of massive Israeli killing and sanctions. Friedman, of course, is the crudest version of a liberal imperialist, but he's been hugely popular with some many liberals for many years, so it's safe to assume he represents a significant strand in liberal thinking about foreign policy and economics. Obama is more sophisticated, but so far he appears to be Tom Friedman with a brain included.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 9, 2009 10:19 AM

Donald Johnson:

When I said "or for that matter to learn anything until something else makes the time right" I was lamenting the basic fact that people, me among them, only learn something when the time is right for them personally. There were many things that I now know and understand that I didn't know and understand 15 years ago, though I certainly could have known more of them then. Much of the information was there, but I didn't have time and otherwise wasn't in the frame of mind to understand it. That's all I meant. I could very well think the same thing about my current self 15 years from now.

I don't think Chomsky would entirely agree with your synopsis of his position.

I don't like much of what Tom Friedman says.

I don't disagree with all your points, but I don't think you have understood me. And I wouldn't call that political analysis you put forward sophisticated, if that's what you're looking for. Cynical yes, sophisticated no. I think it's the sort of analysis that looks better from a distance, with the facts blurring together and a little out of focus. In that I think it has something in common with Chomsky's view of history, though he is certainly smarter than I am and would probably make me pay for saying that. So it's good he's not here!

Posted by: N E at August 9, 2009 11:22 AM

NE: The time seems right for UNLIMITED DETENTION without trial for GITMO Detainees. The PERFECT lesson to be taught by a Constitutional Scholar/President.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 9, 2009 02:21 PM

I wouldn't call my analysis sophisticated either, come to think of it. I think it's basically correct as far as it goes, but sophistication is for others who know more. As for Chomsky, my synopsis is fairly accurate--he's not terribly hard to follow on this. He sees the Democrats and the Republicans as two parts of the business/imperialist party, but thinks that Democrats are on average less destructive than the Reagans and Bushes and on the domestic front they've done much more (though not nearly enough) to make life somewhat easier for poor and working class people. So the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, but he's never let that get in the way of calling them monsters and war criminals.

He'd add that you expect this sort of situation in any country--elites will try to run the country along lines that work nicely for them, though there will invariably be factions, and people lower on the social scale may find that one faction is less evil than the other. But one shouldn't lose sight of the commonalities they (the elites) share.

Your point of view, stripped of the elements that sound suspiciously like Obamaphilia and Presidential hero-worship, boils down to this--there are rightwing fanatics in the government who would do almost anything to sabotage attempts at carrying out a humane foreign policy. I agree with that, though I'm probably less willing to believe in some of the specifics that you swallow. I just go further--I think the entire political system is full of such people, and by and large, Presidents themselves are such people in most cases. There are no doubt examples where a President is more liberal than the evil bureaucrats. But it's not worth getting into a tizzy when someone criticizes Obama in the same terms you yourself would probably use for the people you think are the real warmongers.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 9, 2009 02:48 PM

Donald Johnson/NE: Obama IS a real warmonger. Ah, the glories of war are marvelous and the rewards great IF one did not have to spend last month in a ditch with a rifle and no sleep.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 9, 2009 04:14 PM


I agree. I'm just more longwinded than you.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 9, 2009 04:41 PM

Donald Johnson:

I guess it's inevitable that you want to reduce my views to a paragraph, but i have to say your view of my views doesn't bear much resemblance to what I actualy say. I guess to those who hate Obama, anyone who doesn't hate him sounds like a hero worshipper. Hero worship of Presidents in general I can't even comprehend. That's just goofy. I'll let Chomsky take care of his own views. For some reason, the explanation I expressly stated for why I don't think criticizing Obama is helpful isn't even something you ever address. You just ignore that, as if I hadn't said it, and go back to talking about hero worship or whatever else you have on your mind. That isn't argument, it's repetition. There is no point to it.

May I ask what are your favorite five books on American political history? Do you have any favorite books that deal with particular Presidents. I know you like Caro's excellent biography, but I wonder if there are any others you like. Because repeating things in blog comments really doesn't get either of us anywhere. If you really want to continue this dialogue, maybe specifics would help us avoid endless redundant restatements of our respective views. Pick a President, and I'll try to give you an example. Just please stay away from Coolidge and Grover Cleveland!

Posted by: N E at August 9, 2009 09:50 PM

Donald Johnson: Its Red Flag Blindness. I saw it deeply embeded over at Jesus General concerning Obama around the election. I got banned for just pointing out FISA red flags.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 9, 2009 11:19 PM

Mike Meyer, you got kicked off Jesus General? My hat's off to you. If Nancy Pelosi had any sense she'd offer to buy you lunch the next time you called her.

Posted by: grimmy at August 10, 2009 01:28 AM

grimmy: Twice-Feb 06, Oct 08+ C&L 4 Pelosi's number and Capitalization errors+ Atrios 4 Pelosi's #+ Ace of Spades 4 thinking+ Confederate Yankee 4 breathing+ etc,etc,etc. I'm lucky to be able to comment anywhere on the net.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 10, 2009 11:53 AM

punctilious post. upright one detail where I bicker with it. I am emailing you in detail.

Posted by: Debt Settlement Program at August 10, 2009 12:42 PM

I don't want to do the book discussion thing. I liked Caro, much of Chomsky, "All on Fire" (a biography of Garrison), three or four of Gary Will's books (Confessions of a Conservative comes closest to what we're talking about, particularly the chapter on politicians and their virtues) and even some centrist liberal stuff, like Manchester's US history from 1932-1972 "The Glory and the Dream", though much of it would make me gag if I reread it. And Seymour Hersh and Kai Bird.

I didn't respond to the reasons not to criticize Obama because I thought it not worth a response, but since you asked again here it is. People who work within a political party have to hold their tongues much or most of the time when a President of their party does something they think stupid. Everyone knows this and that's part of why such people are considered to be political hacks. If people hold their tongues for the reasons you suggest, other people soon notice this and they start making allowances for the political hackiness of the tongue-holders and their oh-so-clever economy with the truth soon only works on the kind of people who are extremely good at doublethink. (Admittedly there are quite a few of those, but I don't think their cognitive malfunctions should be encouraged.) I think Obama's rightwing critics should be eviscerated when they say stupid things, which is 99 percent of the time, and I'm all in favor of people at centrist liberal blogs doing that. It's even done here from time to time. I'm also in favor of people criticizing Obama when he really does say or do stupid things and not acting as though he's not responsible for the very things he says or does. I accuse you of hero worship, btw, because you consistently move from saying that Obama has contraints on him to talking about him as though he would do and say dramatically different things if those fetters didn't exist. And then there's the stuff about assassinations, apparently by "them", which is apparently in the background of every decision Obama makes. Whatever.

Agreed that it's more important to put pressure on him than engage in theological disputes about his real intentions, so I'll abandon this. It's why I decided not to contribute to cluttering up Nell's thread with this nonsense. But no, I don't think it's good to withhold criticism of Obama. I think that sort of attitude is a legitimate reason people feel cynicism about both politics and political activists. They suspect the activists are almost as full of bullshit as the politicians. And if they don't suspect that, then they are being misled. I don't think much longterm good can come from taking a partisan attitude towards truth--it is, of course, helpful for some people when we go along with that, but those probably aren't the people one wants to help.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 10, 2009 02:06 PM

You will of course say you don't take a partisan attitude towards truth--you might say Obama isn't responsible for what he does (fetters, assassins, etc...) Fine. Those of us who think he does bear some responsibility should say what we think.

In general, though, supporters of a President who say that President is so hampered by constraints he can't really do or say what he secretly feels probably aren't the kind of supporters a President wants in the public arena. It's probably best for Obama that the views of supporters like you not be widely known--I think the last thing he'd want would be for people like you openly supporting him saying the things you say on cable TV.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 10, 2009 02:22 PM

That conclusion is funny. I'm not going to be on cable TV anytime soon. You'd get there long before I would.

I wouldn't get too proud of yourself for not taking up space with comments that nobody else cares about. You're as big a sinner as I am. Hell, we even seem to comment past each other.

I never said Obama isn't responsible for what he does. Everybody carries that burden. But I think your approach, which seems like the approach of the majority of the posters at ATR, doesn't recognize the real problems, leads to disunity on the left, and actually drives Obama towards the very things you want to prevent, because when he's weakest he will be less inclined to take political risks. It's when he's strongest that he should be able to push against harder for his goals, though I agree entirely that he needs to see political reasons to do that. You seem to think he actually wants to do bad things, but I think he wants to do good things, but without failing, and the problem is it's really hard in our system for a President to do good things without jeopardizing himself. The system is really not set up to have much tolerance for Presidential do gooding.

We agree that our system is screwed up, and it needs massive change, but that massive change is very difficult to accomplish, in part precisely because the system is so screwed up. We are not in the midst of a revolutionary period. No President can simultaneously fight every political battle and change many things all at once absent the right social conditions and a very powerful movement to do that. That only happens when the social fabric has been ripped apart enough to weaken the existing power structure, as came closest to happening in the 1930s and 1960s. We aren't even close to there right now, so if Obama were to fight all the battles you want him to, he would be politically destroyed. It wouldn't even be difficult for his enemies in both political parties to do that if he were to start ignoring the political reality in which he finds himself. To take the approach you urge upon him, he would have to be indifferent to political success. And not just he, but we, need him to succeed. Your eyes must just skim over that without even taking it in, because you always start talking about hero worship and assassinations and other such things that aren't what I'm saying. For those reasons, it was preordained that people with your views and the posters at ATR would be disappointed with Obama, and I could have told you all last year that you all would be. He cannot do much of what you want. I wish that weren't so, but all we can do is push and hope for as much movement as we can get.

I can understand people just saying to hell with the Dems and the GOP, i'm going to be part of some third party. It's easy to imagine a better party. The trouble is, any such third party isn't going to wield power anytime soon. So I stick with the Dems for now, and I want Obama to be as effective as possible. He won't be effective, by my standard, if the left is disunited or not behind him, because then he won't pay attention to the left and will be driven even further toward the center. Of course, he is driven toward the neoliberal center anyway, because that's what the Reagan Revolution and Clinton triangulation and our new post-911 world have given us. The centrist/neoliberal path is definitely the path of least resistance for him, but if the left follows your approach i think it's a sure thing that he will pay less attention to the left. And that's not what I want. You don't have to call someone names to pressure them, though maybe that motivates people more than anything else and is necessary for that reason. If so, that's too bad.

It's very clear to me that lots of people are going to keep talking about cowardice and other noble moral principles, and you'll feel that's doing something useful and I won't. And people will blame Obama, and that's really of no consequence except to the extent it leads people to think his mistakes are more about him and his political and personal nature than about the structure of our political system and and National Security State and the dominance of our military, and also some of the weaknesses of our national character, notably our hubris and tendency to think the world would stop spinning if we didn't run it.

Posted by: N E at August 10, 2009 03:26 PM

NE: Obama's goals are NOT my goals, therefore his political fortunes are NOT my concern. MY GOAL is to see that Obama fulfills HIS CAMPAIGN PROMISES, the VERY reasons he was elected. CLOSE GITMO, return to THE CONSTITUTION, cease signing statements, healthcare reform, etc. His attention has left that path and has joined the Dems in the rush to 2012. I live in TODAY, NOT NOV 2012. He works FOR US and ALL his political maneuvering IS a waste of OUR time and WILL prove to be a waste of his time.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 10, 2009 04:39 PM


That's great, keep at it. If everybody were like you, life would be swell, even if you're a DOG.

Posted by: N E at August 10, 2009 04:52 PM

NE, I keep considering a comment, then I read your latest one and you've said it better. I too find it terribly disheartening that all this brainpower on ATR can't get past internetty-internetness.
Nobody here thinks Obama is God--there are plenty of sites for that--but a lot of the attitudes strike me as the political version of sportsbar chat, and instead of stats, people provide Chomsky. It's harmless enough, but it ain't useful; it's how a certain type of person lets off steam--and because that certain type of person considers themselves to be SERIOUS, well then, they let off steam about serious topics.

Yes, right, the President allows bad things to happen; and we all read the retrieved nugget secure in the knowledge that if Dennis, or Ralph, or (be still my heart) Noam were President--not to mention little ol' us--the world would be a much better place. But what about Iron Man? I think he'd make a good President. Or that lawyer from To Kill a Mockingbird, the one Gregory Peck played. He'd be totally good. Forgive me for being silly, but comparing Obama--or anyone else who actually gets to be President--with the wholly imaginary deeds of Dennis or Ralph or Noam is not so far from silly fanboy bullshit. Fun, entertaining, but deep inside the Marvel Universe. And don't talk to me about how such intricate blather is necessary to build a vision for a viable political alternative; the real holdup isn't talk, but MONEY. But of course that's something that the Left doesn't have, so to be part of the club, you have to despise it, and spin tales of 100,000,000 people each giving a dollar--nice when it happens, but rare. Maybe it won't be rare in the future; and maybe someone will invent a metal suit that allows you to fly. Fun to think about, but not at present not worth more than a daydream.

NE's right in that real social change comes during times of upheaval; but given that we have a huge military industrial complex armed with nonlethal technology, an aristocracy uninterested in the welfare of the lower 98%, not to mention thousands of nukes, I don't think anybody here should much be rooting for that upheaval, even if it results in President Chomsky declaring single-payer atop the smoking ruins of the Washington Monument. "Hey you mutants! Stop scuttling from crater to crater and listen!"

And BTW, since Donald brought it up: anybody who believes that the assassinations of the 60s were not organized political murders is indulging in the most insulting kind of American exceptionalism I can think of. And the most damaging, because progress will not come without an effective answer to political murder. This is the third rail for a lot of progressive people, because they already feel marginalized enough; and because it's not the kind of solution they want--it is a fairly terrifying, uncontrollable, irrational vision of reality, not one that lends itself to thoughtful books published by academic presses. But given the government documents that have been released about the period of 1955-75, any view of the modern American Imperial Presidency that does not contain within it the possibility of political murder is, frankly, childish. It's voting for President Iron Man.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at August 10, 2009 04:54 PM

Very interesting discussion and I agree with points on N Es and DJs side.

However, something I don't quite understand is why both you guys are so contemptuous to anything right wing.

Now I know the usual thing that comes to mind, the Neo-Cons and their lackeys (theres something about jingo monkeys which makes me suspect mental disease). But the Paleo-Cons are cut from a different cloth and are a virtually unmentioned demographic in the political scene.

Although some of them value the "good ol'" days when children were seen and not heard and women were subservient (and others when miniorities "knew" their place). In the end however, I followed one Paleo that made more sense than any Democrat I ever met. Forget Debs, look up William Cooper. He made Patrick Henry look like a pipsqueak and rightly so.

With that said, I think making conclusions based on some "left-right" continuum is insensible. In the end you have to look for people who feel for their fellow man, whoever they are.

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 10, 2009 05:11 PM

Nikolay Levin: AGREED.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 10, 2009 07:11 PM

Nikolay Levin:

Donald Johnson and I both lean left, though I hope i don't seem contemptuous of everything on the right. I admire William McKinley more than Bill Clinton. Hell, I even admire Warren Harding more than Bill Clinton. But come to think of it, McKinley and Harding might not fall to the right of Clinton.

If you're comparing Debs to the William Cooper who wrote and lectured about UFO's, per Wikipedia, I'm not sure whether you're serious or are just messing with me. Acknowledging that elements of the government commit murder when that serves their interests isn't the same as believing in UFOs or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Of course, all such ideas are lumped together in our cultural atmosphere, mostly through the media, in order to prevent the citizenry from recognizing how power trumps morality when it comes to National Security. Our society has its social taboos to protect those who run everything, just as every society does, and the National Security State is our sacred cow. In the words of 19th century American philosopher Charles Sander Peirce:

“Certain nonconformities are permitted; certain others (considered unsafe) are forbidden. These are different in different countries and in different ages; but, wherever you are let it be known that you seriously hold a tabooed belief, and you may be perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty no less brutal but more refined than hunting you life a wolf. Thus, the greatest intellectual benefactors of mankind have never dared, and dare not now, to utter the whole of their thought.”

Challenging the moral grandeur of the American State by revealing its willingness to commit political murder at home as well as abroad (where it has long been so common as to be routine) remains very much a taboo, notwithstanding that most people, at least among those who aren't highly rich and educated, also sense the truth of it on some level. The more often people see Dick Cheney on television, the greater the cognitive dissonance on that point. In some circles, it surely must have been considered past time to put a new face on the Empire, if only because we were developing a brand problem. I can never forget Jim Hightower's remark that Dick Cheney smiles like a banker who just evicted a widow. That wasn't a boost to the good will of the USA franchise. Whoever decided to let the muscle work the front room?

Posted by: N E at August 11, 2009 01:22 AM

Mike of Angle:

I like your post and agree with it, except that I'm not sure that "progress will not come without an effective answer to political murder." But you're right about the assassinations of the 60s and what the documents now public show about them. Most people would be shocked by what is known, and especially by how much is known. (There is a fabulous book of articles edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease called The Assassinations that consisted of parts of things that had been published by Probe Magazine in the 1990s, if anyone wants to study up. Nikolay Levin, the book is praised on the cover by Jesse Ventura, a non-lefty who dares to say what others won't, possibly because he's too tough to get electrocuted by any little old third rail.)

In connection with politics, there are other reasons to stay away from charges of political murder and political terrorism (such as that 911 was an 'inside job') than you identify. Once cultural myths have become established, they are very hard to uproot without upheaval like that you so vividly and amusingly decribed with President Chomsky declaring single-payer over the smoking ruins of DC. Oddly, for a variety of reasons, it's the idealistic yet ultimately timid left in the US (Chomsky most of all) that can be most easily convinced that any talk about government conspiracy is crazy. People on the right commonly think the government will do just about anything TO THEM.

I am conflicted about this. The people who control the National Security State, like Dick Cheney most recently, are well aware that they can get away with anything, quite literally, whenever they need to. And that certainly has been and remains a political game-changer. That's very bad for obvious reasons. But making people see the shocking truths of what is now our official history, if only recent history, is probably the hardest thing of all to do. I think we're more likely to solve global warming first. It is an injustice, but Dick Cheney isn't going to live nearly long enough to do time, just as George Herbert Walker Bush went on to become President after JFK was murdered. (See Russell Banker's book Family of Secrets.) There ain't no justice in this world, so start reading your Aeschylus now.

Mind you, I wish that weren't so. I sometimes have posted elsewhere, as at Nell's sight, under the name of Ovid, which I actually chose rather than just typing something stupid like "Not Exactly" into one comment and then sticking with it. I chose Ovid because he once wrote: "Treason never prospers, for when it does, none dare call it treason." I like that quote, since it captures an important truth in so few words, and because that truth is hidden in plain sight. I came across the quote, though translated into King James English, because someone in our State Department scribbled it on a memorandum in 1913, just after the Taft/Teddy Roosevelt feud had split the GOP and let Woodrow Wilson claim the Presidency, much to the consternation of our right wing at the time. The jingoes hated Wilson from the start. That bunch is always quick to see treason from a President who isn't one of them.

Neither the State Department nor the navy were happy about Wilson's arrival into the White House, and they had sent the fleet around to all the South American ports at the end of 1912 to give their Latin American elite friends have some assurances that they wouldn't let Woodrow Wilson get in the way of protecting our business interests (dollar diplomacy) just because Wilson had novel ideas like self-determination. (But yes, Donald Johnson, like nearly everybody else, Wilson was a racist, though actually far from the worst of his time.) So much for Presidential power.

Later, once the US entered WWI, the navy put together files on 100,000 Americans that they considered subversives, and Wilson found out about the files and immediately, as Commander in Chief, ordered them destroyed because many of the subjects of the files were his friends and supporters. Instead of following Wilson's order, a rich conservative "private citizen" gave the navy the money to have the names typed up and put in private hands for safekeeping. So much for direct Presidential orders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Those are not exceptional incidents. But of course they taint my view of how the government works. Assassinations are rare, because that's a drastic action, but even assassinations aren't as rare as we're taught. As far as I know, there was one but only one attempt on Wilson's life, on April 3, 1919, when he was probably poisoned at Versaille (that's what his physician, Dr. Grayson, initially thought at least) with Bela Kun and his communists already in control of Hungary and German communists threatening Bavaria. By then, the conservative old officers in military intelligence, under Ralph Van Deman, were damn sick of this self determination crap. Of course, maybe Wilson did just get the flu, even though it seems a little strange for a doctor who had been treating the flu in others for the past three months to immediately suspect poisoning. But we'll never know, because as a nation we don't admit that such things happen to us, so no investigation ever ensues. (Partly that's done by making sure someone else will take the blame if there is an inquiry, which was accomplished in that instance by leaking to intelligence that the Germans had a plot to poison Wilson. Herbert Yardley confirmed this a dozen years later in his book The Black Chamber, and he also accurately noted that Wilson never really recovered physically from his "illness" at Versailles.) Anyway, regicide and the like is as old as the world, and we accept that such things happen routinely everywhere else. But we're different. We're Americans.

As Harry Truman once apparently said, surprising me with unexpected insight, "the only that that is new in this world is the history you don't know."

Posted by: N E at August 11, 2009 12:12 PM

" wouldn't get too proud of yourself for not taking up space with comments that nobody else cares about."

That's a good point, but I wasn't exempting myself, from the charge of cluttering. I've been acutely aware of my contribution to useless rhetoric in this and other threads, though it does seem I lack the self-discipline to stop. In this case, though, this is an old thread, so people can clutter it up with rantings all they want without distracting from something important.

To Mike of Angle--

I'm skeptical of the political killings of the 60's, but I might be wrong. Some people would engage in political assassinations and false flag terrorist attacks in the US if they thought they could get away with it. I think it's much easier to do that sort of thing in other countries and get away with it, because on the whole Americans don't get too upset about the attempted assassination of some reputed bad guy overseas, but a pretty large percentage of people even within our own military and police and intelligence agencies would be outraged if such stunts were perpetrated against fellow Americans and many would try to do something about it. You can call that American exceptionalism if you want to score some cheap rhetorical points with fanboy tendencies, but I think it's true. You plot the assassination of a President and you run a grave risk that some damn CIA guy will take his patriotism seriously and expose you. Try it against Castro and I think very few such people will expose you or try to stop it at the risk of their life and/or career.
Someone like MLK, otoh, falls somewhere between those two cases and so Hoover could try to blackmail him.

As for Chomsky fanboy stuff, guilty. I cite him because I agree with him on this and it's probably slightly more convincing to cite him than my own authority, but if it comes across as fanboy (and it admittedly does), then I'd try something else.

Aside from my lousy rhetorical strategy aregarding Dennis and so forth, my point is that openly anti-imperialistic people like Kucinich aren't getting into the White House anytime soon and when it is people like Obama or Clinton or LBJ , then we should feel free to call them out when they do something awful and not avoid harsh criticism of them because they are better than the alternative and actually do good things in some areas and are under intense and mostly dishonest attack from the right. NE's pov, aside from the political assassination stuff (which he brought up in the Honduras thread), is not new as he might agree--we've all heard some variation of it and one can go partway along with it without buying into his dislike of anti-Obama invective. Whether we should go off and support a third party or how we should change things so that people like Dennis have a chance of getting in is well beyond my understanding, so I'll let y'all figure that out, but I don't think it involves blaming shadowy forces for Obama's own policies and statements and again, to the extent that anything we say matters, we will look like political hacks if we start excusing him in that way. Now if this is all just blowing off steam, it doesn't really matter, but you and NE seem to think something about this thread matters. NE presumably thinks that a mass movement should behave the way he wants us to behave--we're all supposed to refrain from harsh criticism of Obama. To my mind that's silly and rather dangerous, or would be, if anything being said by you or me or NE had any practical consequence outside this blog.

And agreed about the uselessness of some internet ravings, including most of my own, but they are addictive and it's hard to go cold turkey. I'll try harder, though certainly not by following your example. Funny thing is, I tend to agree with much of what you've said about internet ravings both in this thread and earlier. Maybe this will be the shove I need to act on it.

Nicolay Levin--

As for paleocons, I like much of what Andrew Bacevich and Daniel Larison say, though I think Daniel Larison has been disappointing on Honduras, if I remember correctly. (And he's also a Confederate sympathizer, though not a racist, but that sort of sympathy makes me very uneasy.)

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2009 01:12 PM

NE, that's some fascinating history, and right in my wheelhouse; Have you read The Yankee/Cowboy War, btw? My deep belief in shenanigans comes from 30 years of reading not politics, but history; the history of other Empires is loaded with intrigues, and to think that our version is any different is silly. In fact, it's probably more, given that the money and power at issue is more, and technology makes skullduggery more convenient than it was in, say 1919.

What I mean by an effective response to political murder is simply this: leaving a place for the power of charisma, movements have to be broad-based enough so that the removal of the Great Person doesn't end the movement (as with MLK); and people in the movement have to be individually advanced enough so that, when the Great Person is removed, their activities actually increase, so that those who use violence are "re-trained." They use violence because it works, somebody once said; but it only works because we let it.

My point about social upheaval was primarily about the power of technology. Today Wilson would be poisoned with polonium, not whatever quaint Borgia-era tincture they used in 1919, and there's no coming back from that. The power of technology is applied to all spheres of human endeavor, including the dark arts of assassination, manipulation, and control. For this not to be the case, our era would have to be morally superior to the past, and I think we'd all agree that it isn't.

The reason that this simple truth of increased complexity driven by technology doesn't come up on places like ATR is because it takes the fun out of the site. Whatever reason Obama has for doing something, I suspect "cowardice" doesn't describe it very usefully. Yet we use that, because "cowardice" is something we all can relate to. The hellishly complex system of the Presidency is not.

At ATR we endlessly circle the same larger topics--hypocrisy, corruption, folly--without acknowledging the power of technology to balloon and complicate each past our comprehension. We live in the era of the internet; and also Photoshop; and polonium. And so as the world complicates, our political judgment must do so as well--if we are indeed attempting to figure out what's up. If we're just letting off steam, being simplistic is fine.

But this urge towards catharsis isn't always harmless. On the left, we cling to the idea of a righteous mob; on the right, they cling to one of the homestead, the compound, kept safe by handguns. Were the shit ever to hit the fan, I think both sides would find these strategies deeply flawed.

So what to do? I suspect positive change will come most rapidly by a moral improvement--felt on a mass scale, but cultivated on an individual level. In my experience, righteous anger--especially the shallow kind that the internet keeps us all swimming in--does not lead to these peaceful, measured, primarily affectionate attitudes. Meditation does.

But of course it is more fun to feed our monkey brains by hurling invective, than it is to sit quietly. I don't think there's anything wrong with the badinage on ATR, but I do think that it is a dead end, and locks us into a game we cannot win. After reading 10,000 posts like Aaron's--and 10,000 comment threads like the beginning of this one--I would feel like a jerk if I didn't say anything.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at August 11, 2009 02:15 PM

" suspect positive change will come most rapidly by a moral improvement--felt on a mass scale, but cultivated on an individual level. In my experience, righteous anger--especially the shallow kind that the internet keeps us all swimming in--does not lead to these peaceful, measured, primarily affectionate attitudes. Meditation does."

That's the sort of thing I remember you writing. Part of the problem is that I know people who are, in their personal lives, very calm, very decent people, not judgmental or angry on an individual level, and yet they totally buy into horrific ideas like Islamophobia. One of the stereotypes I see in liberal and lefty circles sometimes is that rightwing people are personally angry and unpleasant and so on, when in real life they can be and often are sweet-tempered, kind, generous, (sometimes extremely generous), warm, and not at all vicious. I've known people like that all my life. And then they vote for Bush and Cheney. The very fact that they are personally decent makes it hard for them to understand that they are supporting men who are not. They see Bush as one of their own.

On the whole, when it comes to whether we spend too much time getting catharsis online, you're probably right. What is useful about ATR and blogs like it is that it replaces the need for people like Chomsky--in the primitive era before the internet it took a fair amount of effort and sometimes just dumb luck to find out about the sorts of atrocities we are responsible for overseas, but now it's easy. What to do with the info is another story.

On NE's point, though, I don't think that blaming Obama for his own actions is wrong, even if one thinks the accompanying invective is too self-indulgent. NE is pushing a theory about how the government works and how change occurs and if I made the effort I could continue to disagree with NE and avoid self-indulgent displays of catharsis and continue to hold Obama responsible for his own actions. I think I'd be doing that even if I meditated more. The chief difference would be that the thread would be more polite.

9/11 as an inside job--sigh.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2009 03:20 PM

Mike of Angle:

We have similar interests. The real history of everything is scandalous. Christians able to read and digest Robert Eisenmann's James the Brother of Jesus would become apoplectic about the unreported origins of their religion. The same could be said for devout Muslims who read Hagarism by Patricia Cook and Michael Crone. (Those are fascinating but difficult books, by the way, and despite being a genius, Eisenmann is no writer). States, religions, everything else--what actually happened and what became the official story have little to do with each other, at best. I'm with you about that being a fundamental law of historiography, but I don't think that view is popular in the Academy, because of the nature of universities. And of course the court historians dominate the media and popular presses.

I actually have read, and even have a copy of, the Yankee/Cowboy war. I like Carl Oglesby's writing and respect his work. I think he and Daniel Brandt have written well about the 60s, and I trust them. The thing I must remember about that book is the appendix on the explosion of Dorothy Hunt's plane, and the quote of Charles Colson saying that he thought the CIA did it. It's quite a thing to blow up a plane to kill one passenger, shocking really, but apparently not so shocking to Charles Colson that he didn't believe it. And that sort of recognition of the ruthless amorality of power isn't unique to Colson. Agnew later said that he was worried that Nixon and Haig were going to kill him. Per Dan Carter's biography of George Wallace, Wallace was firmly convinced that Nixon's people were behind Arthur Bremer's assassination attempt on him so he wouldn't split the Southern vote and help McGovern win with a plurality. And we know from David Talbot's book that RFK and Jackie immediately suspected a large political conspiracy was behind JFK's death, and that Nixon, Jackie, and LBJ all reacted to news that RFK was running in 1968 by predicting that he would be killed. Then, for the foreign angle, there is DeGaulle's reaction to the JFK assassination, when told it had been a lone gunman: "You're kidding! Cowboys and Indians!"

All these things and many, many more are in print and known, but they are not talked about in polite company. It's unseemly to discuss that many of our political leaders think it not just plausible, but likely, that our own government commits murder and even mass murder. (If it's so crazy to think that the government would do these things, the historical record reveals that many of those closest to the government think are crazy enough to believe it.)

I do think you underestimate that people just don't know this stuff, or much of it, and it definitely may be the pot calling the kettle black to accuse folks who complain about the cowardice of our leaders to be engaged in something that is a dead end. What isn't a dead end? Building 7 at the WTC didn't collapse when it was supposed to (it was announced on air as having collapsed once in the morning and twice in the afternoon before it finally did collapse), and never in the history of the world has there been a clearer example of a textbook controlled demolition than WTC 7 going down (probably because they had to work fast to bring it down that afternoon after the first effort in the morning for some unknown reason failed). There is no way that Osama bin Laden did THAT, unless he had not just an advance demolition team plant charges but also had a standby demolition team on the ground ready for such contingencies. But most people aren't going to believe any of that. It's much easier and more rewarding psychologically to blame the arab boogeyman than to believe that. People don't think about these things in terms of facts anyway. I mean, after Arlen Specter "came up with" the single bullet theory (his own words) is there anything that people won't believe when they want to badly enough. Not to mention that it is political suicide to raise the issue, the third rail you referred to.

And even if most people did come to think the government is capable of unspeakable evil, to steal Merton's phrase that became James Douglass's title for his outstanding book about the JFK assassination, that wouldn't change anything. Most Americans aren't familiar enough with being powerless. People elsewhere, like minorities here, have long realized that there are many things they can't necessarily change. No less than one Barack Obama wrote of his boyhood experiences in Indonesia shortly after the CIA helped murder more than half a million members (maybe a million) of the PKU in that country, to which his mother and he moved just after it happened. Obama's mother apparently was sturck by the fact that Indonesians proceeded with life under the military with few speaking publicly of that wholesale slaughter that had just happened a few short years earlier, and which had been directed and assisted by Americans. Those dead people were shadows, ghosts of a horror that it was better to leave alone in the past. Moving forward was all that could be done. Sebastian Haffner has written eloquently of this same phenomenon in Nazi Germany. The left in the U.S. would almost certainly do the same, and ultimately will when given the chance, despite all the easy talk about courage, though I'm not sure that's true of the right. A lot of those guys on the right would probably actually like to die in a hail of bullets (which is different from the courage I like).

I'll have to give meditation a try. If a movement ever successfully brings change to the U.S., it will have to be democratic and nonviolent, but for the reasons we have been addressing, it's pretty easy to make something democratic and nonviolent appear otherwise. It has been done before, both with Cointelpro and otherwise. Once upon a time, back before the Great Depression, the United States was unique among the industrial nations in permitting corporations to make free use of agents provocateurs and police agents for their own private purposes, mostly to avoid labor trouble. But their agents became entrepreneurial and repetitively caused trouble to justify being hired. A democratic socialist named Robert Hunter wrote about this back before WWI in a book called Violence and the Labor Movement, available for free online via Google books. The agents actually became the problem. Even at least one U.S. attorney complained about this. That's a conundrum--those who gets blamed aren't necessarily to blame, and I don't have an answer to it.

Let's keep our fingers crossed. Every so often there is a rare individual, a Malcolm X or MLK or RFK, who can get unity and commitment from people you wouldn't predict, but as you pointed out, that kind of charismatic leadership is easily cancelled, so to speak. We really need an answer better than some kind of Tyler Durden to emerge, and if we get lucky we need to not let that chance get cancelled by violence. I haven't spotted anyone or anything yet, and though I basically like a lot about Barack Obama, he isn't The One. So let me know if you see the prophet creeping out of the desert, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

Posted by: N E at August 11, 2009 04:29 PM

Well, it's good to have that all out in the open.

I don't doubt there are psychological tendencies at work here, probably on both sides of the issue, though different ones.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2009 04:48 PM

The ONLY prophet that's going to walk out of America's wilderness is Elmer Gantry.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 11, 2009 08:19 PM

Mike Meyer:

Good point, but that doesn't cheer me up.

Posted by: N E at August 11, 2009 09:31 PM

DJ, be skeptical all you want about the assassinations of the 60s, but be aware that the historical record is increasingly against you. And your description of young CIA agents rising up, fired by a cleaning patriotism, would be awesome--except that they did not materialize in 1963, or 1965, or 1968, or two months later in 1968...At some point that becomes something you should consider, if you are indeed interested.

I do not have an opinion about 9/11, but when the government is asked to investigate itself, I do not expect truth to be the result. You may disagree, but I'd be surprised if you did.

As to meditation, I know that this is an unsatisfying "solution" to readers of ATR. Most of us are highly verbal, extremely intellectually active people; writing and thinking is what we do, it is who we are. But I have never yet found an argument that gives me the kind of emotional resolution that meditation does. Like I said, I'd be kind of a jerk if I'd had that experience and didn't pass it along--to a group of people whose primary characteristic is that they have a tendency to get wound up over stuff.

My suggestion of meditation is not to make anybody a nicer person, DJ. There were lots of nice Nazis, I'm sure. But Islamofascism, Nazism, hardcore Christian conservatism--all these thrive in direct proportion to the amount of fear one has. In my experience, and Jesus Christ, I'm no yogi, I'm just a guy, meditation reduces this base level of fear. It's not about being nice; it's about being less scared. Thus less quick to attack and defend; more able to empathize, et cetera.

But that's just me, and I know enough about writing for an audience that I could churn out comments and posts that everybody would love, sardonic ruminations on human folly and the blindness of power, and...Five years on, I know the fucking drill, and I'm sure you do too. But at a certain point, basic respect for the issues at hand pushes one towards solutions, not simply more "Ain't it awful?" Meditation seems to work, for me; improvisation, too. I'd be anxious to hear the solutions of others.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at August 11, 2009 09:54 PM

Donald Johnson:

Mike of Angle is being nice when he says that the historical record is against you. Those things in that first paragraph you wrote to him are entirely fact-free analysis, the kind of things people tell themselves so they don't have to examine facts and can feel justified in their opinions anyway. It would be more honest to just say you don't think issues like that are important enough to know about, or that you choose not to know about them for some other reason (perhaps even a reason you could identify). There's not necessarily any reason to know anything about 9/11, though of course it was the single most important event in the US in quite a while and will shape American foreign policy for decades. You don't have to know anything about it, and you can even have opinions about people who do based on nothing but your subconscious, but to not know anything about something and have opinions about it does say something profound about your opinions.

Posted by: N E at August 11, 2009 10:28 PM

Mike of Angle: Call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 demand single payer, or public option, or co-ops, or save US from socialism, or whatever, just call. I, myself, am completely not above making annoying phonecalls to promote any cause I'm personally interested. AND I feel good about it.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 11, 2009 10:44 PM

NE, there's a practical limit to how much improbable stuff any person should have to look at, and the 9/11 truthers don't strike me as having said much that I have to listen to. It would not surprise me if there are some skeletons in the governmental closet regarding 9/11, some embarrassing or even damning things they don't want us to know, but that it was an inside job is inherently implausible. I realize you think you've got the truth about this and it's worldshaking and groundbreaking and turns everything we think we know upside down. Join the freaking club. If I listed all my friends over the years on scraps of paper and scattered their names around me, I could spit in any direction and hit someone who thought exactly the same thing.

Everybody claims to have facts on their side, no matter how crazy the cause. I've got a friend who sends me links to Islamophobic sites and who recommends Islamophobic authors and another friend who is heavily into intelligent design and while I may or may not feel mildly curious about the claims, I don't feel any obligation to take any of it seriously, yet if they are right, it's all terribly important to know.


I'm not knocking meditation as something to improve one's outlook. I've tried it briefly and gone to a couple of seminars and regret that I didn't have the discipline to stick to it.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2009 11:48 PM

Forgot about this--

", be skeptical all you want about the assassinations of the 60s, but be aware that the historical record is increasingly against you. And your description of young CIA agents rising up, fired by a cleaning patriotism, would be awesome--except that they did not materialize in 1963, or 1965, or 1968, or two months later in 1968"

Presupposes that those young CIA agents knew that the CIA was behind the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK. If they didn't know that, because there was no good reason to think so, or because they weren't in the loop somehow (only sociopaths knew, apparently), then no, they wouldn't have risen up.

1965? All I can think of there is Suharto and the mass killings in Indonesia, which involved the CIA. But I don't expect patriotic gung ho Americans to object to killing a million or so commies or possible commies in some foreign country. As the object of a fanboy cult once wrote, Time Magazine openly gloated about what happened in Indonesia, which again seems to me to be more important for what it says about our culture than some real or imaginary plot by shadowy forces to kill Presidents who go all Thomas Merton on them.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 12:13 AM

Donald Johnson:

I hate that name 9/11 truthers. It sounds idiotic. And I agree that there are idiots who believe most things, including that. Maybe even especially that, because the subject invites speculation and paranoia and all sorts of emotional crap.

I think you have to listen before you decide whether there is anything to listen to, not the other way around. But it is probably a big waste of time, especially in comparison with doing something of use to somebody. I'd rank it ahead of fantasy football and behind helping someone rake leaves.

"Inherently implausible"--you're just saying that you don't believe it and don't think you need to know anything more than what you do to think so. Fine, that's what your society tells you to think, so that's not surprising or unusual. But the fact that society does send that message, and successfully, results in unfortunate temptations for the powerful.

"I realize you think you've got the truth about this and it's worldshaking and groundbreaking and turns everything we think we know upside down."
--You "realize" a lot of things based on assumptions, projections from other people you know, and other things I certainly don't know anythng about. What you wrote has got nothing to do with me. I don't even think you or anybody else gives a shit what I say about this or much else. A week from now you won't be able to tell me accurately more than two things I've mentioned, if that, and I doubt I'd be able to tell you much you said to me either. But hey, we seem to think we're having fun even if we should be meditating.

I certainly don't have a test to share that separates truth from bullshit. You'll have to separate the enlightened wheat from the Islamofascist chaff as best you can.

Posted by: N E at August 12, 2009 01:12 AM


Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 12, 2009 03:06 AM

Ok, shorter now.

N E, I don't think we have anything to go on explaining the collapses, even though there's some solid evidence for thermite demolition published in the Bentham Journal recently, there's nothing to prove. Giuliani carted away all the evidence to China, molten steel and all. Even though I don't believe NIST tested any real steel destroyed during that day, we don't even have a government endorsement.

I think the truthers should stick to the more damning questions.

Whats with the Isrealis caught enveloped in throes of jubilation when they were simply there to "document the event"? Maybe the coincidental wargames on 9/11 AND 7/7?

Honestly NE, I don't care what Wiki-aproved publishers says about Cooper. His political activity was most notable anyway. I'd appreciate if you gave him credit for predicting the events of the 9/11 attacks in detail. (I can provide links!)

Even though he was somewhat active with local militias (enough that bomb squads posthumously searched his home and federal sharpshooters observed his funeral) he left behind some undeniable ideas about responsible, effective resistance. I recommend any of his various biographical films.

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at August 12, 2009 03:20 AM

"Fine, that's what your society tells you to think, so that's not surprising or unusual. But the fact that society does send that message, and successfully, results in unfortunate temptations for the powerful.'

The beauty of the particular fanboy cult that I follow, as opposed to the one you follow, is that mine doesn't require me to believe in all sorts of massive shadowy forces doing the real history behind the scenes performing actions worthy of a James Bond villain. When I read Noam for the first time I went from being a centrist Democrat (would have loved Obama back then if he'd been on the scene) to far left in an eyeblink, without having to change hardly anything about what I regarded as a fact in the physical world. One mainly changed moral perspective. It's on moral perspective that mainstream society is often wildly askew--you have on the one hand mainstream publications condemning terrorism and then applauding virtually identical actions by groups we support. Oh, they claim that our side doesn't deliberately kill civilians--now there's a claim about the world, but it's a transparently stupid one, since virtually every guerilla group in the world murders what they call "collaborators" and every counterinsurgency group in the world violates human rights and anyway, a little cursory reading in mainstream publications usually reveals that the favored group does kill civilians. When I read Chomsky I didn't have to think that the mainstream scientific or engineering community was covering up the existence of X, or that there were groups running around planting thermite charges in public office buildings, or that the real history of the world involves shadowy groups killing off Presidents as needed--btw, not all imperialist nations are like ancient Rome, where assassination was a common career climbing move . I didn't have to believe that the academic world was covering up the truth about Islam (not your theory, but one of my friend's.) Chomsky really didn't require hardly any change in how one perceived the brute facts of history--you just had to remove the moral blinders. Mostly, you had to notice that atrocities A were not talked about nearly as much as atrocities B, and hey, look which group committed A and which committed B. The biggest examples of a coverup that I can think of would be what was happening in East Timor and how the Palestinian refugee crisis was really generated, but the first was simply a matter of omission, with some info leaking out and being ignored by the MSM, and in the other case the Palestinians and their supporters knew perfectly well what had happened and there was nothing really surprising that Israel supporters would deny Israeli atrocities and that such denials would work in America thousands of miles away with no firsthand acquaintance with the truth and a cultural predisposition to believing the supposed "good guys". This is all people behaving the way one would expect, and coverups that are perfectly easy to understand with no Mission Impossible or James Bond-like implausibilities.

There's really not time enough for people to focus on every wildly unorthodox theory of how the world works and if it seems
ridiculous on factual grounds, it's not a bad idea to dismiss it. Sure, once in a while you'll find out you were dismissing Galileo, but most of the time you were dismissing Cyrus Teed. Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov used to drive me nuts as a child when I read them saying such things, but when I grew up I came to think that they're usually right.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 08:24 AM

Also, to paraphrase my own guru, I suspect the mainstream types (including Obama) would prefer that the far left (to the extent that we have power) get all caught up studying the minutia of the JFK assassination or acting like they're experts in technical fields, rather than pointing out the bleeding obvious atrocities that involve real people dying (sometimes by the hundred thousand) in actions supported by both the far right and the center-left.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 08:33 AM

Just remembered one of my greatest political influences--

"Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science", by Martin Gardner

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 08:56 AM

Nikolay Levin:

I don't know that much about Cooper, and I certainly don't know if anything on wiki is right. I am familiar that he made some fairly prescient forecasts about 9/11, as did Alex Jones, and I did once watch a short documentary film about him and his suspicious death. I certainly don't presume he didn't know anything just because he had some wacky theories about other stuff, but it does make me consider him a suspect source. To those few people who had been watching the unfolding of the Osama bin Laden drama and those who had already steeped themselves in recent American history (I had not), it woulnd't have been/wasn't that hard to predict something around the time of 9/11. That's what Cooper and Jones did, but it didn't mean they were sure to be right (Jones has made subsequent predictions and been wrong), or that they had any special inside knowledge. They were probably just suspicious, cynical, and paying attention to what was going on in the press. I don't know anything about Cooper's thoughts about resistance or his connections to militias, though that movement is politically important, so I should.

I don't want to start a debate about what happened on 9/11, though you're right that it was certainly important that all those war games were going on, creating confusion that impeded an interceptor response. There are places to talk about that stuff for those who want to (I actually don't), and to acquire lots of information, though of course many questions are impossible to answer because of an absence of information. Incomplete information and confusion create uncertainty and contradictions, and the overwhelming majority of people will not accept a conclusion that has far-reaching and unsettling implications and consequences unless everything is crystal clear, if then. It's almost comical how everybody starts disagreeing with everybody else once a discussion ensues, either talking about Israelis or Saudis or neocons or something else and being all too certain about things they don't actually know. I agree with Donald Johnson about that. And then somebody gets pissed, especially about that Israeli talk, and everyone starts arguing among themselves. The same thing happened with the JFK assassination. I can see why people end up where Donald Johnson is. That is completely predictable and probably unavoidable.

Posted by: N E at August 12, 2009 01:05 PM

"I suspect the mainstream types (including Obama) would prefer that the far left (to the extent that we have power) get all caught up studying the minutia of the JFK assassination"

Gee, that must explain the enormous media investment in lying about the JFK assassination for years on end in the past, first in the 60s, again in the mid and late 70s, and then again in the 90s when Oliver Stone made his movie. And it must also explain the enourmous media effort to make everyone dismiss all "conspiracy theories" as crazy, a view that you yourself hold but that didn't even exist socially until recent decades. In the 60s, the great majority of people thought JFK had been killed by a conspiracy, largely because it was so obvious. I can only laugh at your inability to see that. It took some work over the eyars and the passage of time to get people comfortable with overlooking that the supposed long gunman was shot in police custody. Put aside everything else, that sure was a little suspicious. Most folks at the time thought that, just based on common sense, but then they hadn't yet been trained to get nervous about "shadowy conspiracies" and think about something else.

Let's see, the media uniformly repeats that it's crazy to think the CIA killed JFK, but the Naval Academy invites Noam Chomsky to give speeches there, and yet you would have us believe that Noam Chomsky's ideas are socially dangerous and the media actually prefers that everyone spend their time reflecting on whether the CIA killed JFK. Sure they do. That's why they act exactly as though they want the opposite.

What I think is that Noam Chomsky isn't a threat to anything and never will be, but if most people were to decide that the government kills their Presidents and mass murders thousands of citizens, the shit might really hit the fan. Maybe even that wouldn't cause riots, especially if people were scared of being killed, but people would be radicalized in a way that goes beyond reading Chomsky, which, in your own words, let your change your opinions without "hardly changing anything about what I regarded as a fact." In other words, you didn't have to do much of anything, let alone anything risky or unsettling. You just became a Chomskyite in your mind and went about your business arguing with your Islamofascist-hating friends, though feeling differently about yourself because you challenged the whole social order, though in my view in a completely harmless way.

You like to call things that you don't want to think about "wildly unorthodox," and I have no doubt that you would be derived as a conspiracy theorist in many circles. That's my point. You keep denying it and proving it at the same time.


Posted by: N E at August 12, 2009 01:35 PM

I probably could have typed that response myself, NE. Not in your exact style--I don't have the talent for matching people's styles. But I knew what openings I gave you. I just deleted a long response--there's been enough of that.

As for who poses the greater threat to the social order, you or me, it's sort of like debating which of the various housecats I've had was more likely to become a maneater.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 07:08 PM

there you go again, as ronald reagan once said to somebody: i never said i'm a threat to the social order. i don't see ANY threat to the social order right now, let alone little old me.


Posted by: N E at August 12, 2009 07:41 PM

I should leave well enough alone, but when I said your response was predictable, I meant that I wasted my time in a predictable way when I opened up about my epistemological view of life--I was pretty sure you'd miss the point in the way that you did. So again--most crackpots aren't Galileo, but they all think they are. You dismiss them all and you will be wrong about Galileo, but right about the rest. Which is precisely why Chomsky is so convincing--he doesn't claim that everything you know is wrong--he says that most of what you read is right as far as it goes, but the emphasis, particularly the moral emphasis, is out of whack. Atrocities are reported differently depending on who does them. Entirely believable, and once he points it out it's obvious, if one is willing to get beyond one's tribalism. Orwell made the same point. That's extremely important--now whether I do something about it or do enough about it is another story and there I'm vulnerable to criticism, but the idea that Chomsky/Orwellism is just sticking to the comfortable status quo is mixing up ethics with epistemology. I knew about the Vietnam War before I read Noam and reading Noam didn't change much of my knowledge about the facts. What changed was that I started thinking of it as the moral equivalent of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Recognizing that one's own country is guilty of war crimes and terrorism is very important on an ethical level and it's more challenging to the average person than thinking that "Yeah, I bet Oswald was framed by the CIA." Not that this makes the CIA theory right or wrong.

And of course thinking that we are guilty of war criminals doesn't necessarily mean I actually do much about it. I don't do nearly enough. But that's another of your mistakes--you confuse the lack of action on my part with the fact that my beliefs about what happened in Vietnam (except for the moral interpretation) didn't change much at all. I could become a convert to 9/ll or JFK theories and do nothing about that either.

You totally missed the analogy to science and pseudoscience, which isn't much of a stretch because at least some of the 9/11 truth claims are claims about how mainstream engineers are wrong about what could have happened. When people start doing that it's a red flag. But aside from that, pseudoscientists have exactly the same attitude that you have--if a theory isn't revolutionary, if it doesn't "disturb" you, if it's not some huge paradigm shift then it's wrong. Well, no. Most revolutionary theories are wrong. And people who are in love with the idea of revolutionary theories that go against mainstream thinking are apt to lose their critical faculties.

Incidentally, the fact that I don't read much about 9/11 conspiracy theories doesn't mean I don't read anything at all. I know, for instance, that some say that the twin towers couldn't have collapsed the way they did without explosives and I know that the mainstream structural engineering community says that is false. It sounds very much like the paranormal stuff I used to read--for instance, that the pattern of destruction at Tunguska in 1908 could not have been caused by a small asteroid or tiny comet, but must have been nuclear. Nevermind that most scientists disagree--it must have been a spaceship. I find people like this very irritating.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 08:16 PM


Okay, I can go along with that. As for social order threats, you brought that up in connection with my Chomsky conversion story.

But nevermind that--the cat wants food now.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 08:19 PM

Donald Johnson:

I hope your cat eats well and reward you for your kindness. And I hope I didn't snark at you too much for those few little sighs.

By the way, I always mean it when I say that I admire Chomsky's intelligence, values, and dedication, as well as a lot of his anaylsis.

Posted by: N E at August 12, 2009 11:10 PM

The cat runs things around here. You want a shadowy elite behind the scenes, look no further than the feline community.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2009 11:33 PM

"Recognizing that one's own country is guilty of war crimes and terrorism is very important on an ethical level"

True, and once one recognizes that, the next question is: does this behavior magically stop outside our borders? The archives of this very blog suggest that it does not. So the real issue is whether or not one is comfortable with this information. You are not, and have every right to say so, but it seems inconsistent with your worldview as far as I have been able to glean it. But of course we are all inconsistent; only on the internet is inconsistency a serious offense. In reality it is how we learn and grow.

Were you to make a good-faith assay of the evidence in the JFK, RFK, and MLK murders, I feel very confident you would not come to rest on the lone nut side of the fence. These cases pivot not on the charisma of the murdered (as Chomsky and his ilk would have you believe) but the ballistics, the autopsies, and the persistent influence of our covert, well-funded, arrogant and unaccountable national security state. There's nothing theoretical or shadowy about it; it's very concrete.

"...and it's more challenging to the average person than thinking that "Yeah, I bet Oswald was framed by the CIA."
Perhaps, but the purpose is not to "challenge the average person," the purpose is to figure out what the hell happened. The assassinations are CRIMES, and they should've been solved within six months by the institutions set up and maintained for this kind of work. But since these institutions could not or would not (who knows why?), the investigatory role fell to a bunch of private citizens. These people have worked for decades, with little financial reward and constant public ridicule. They are a diverse bunch, and I agree with some a great deal, some a bit, and many not at all. But at their best, they display a very pure kind of patriotism. The JFK research community contains people as rational, intelligent, and accomplished as anybody reading or posting on this blog--so a little respect is only decent. Yes, there are eccentrics, but where does a reader of ATR get off calling someone else an eccentric? :-)

I have to say it offends me when Chomsky says "Who cares [who shot JFK]? It doesn't matter." Not only is that morally repugnant (not to mention snotty), it demonstrates why Chomsky's always struck me as the poli-sci version of They Might Be Giants.

Most Americans don't understand or care about what went down in East Timor; they should, but they don't. They DO understand and care about what happens to their own President--and so the JFK murder is a "teachable moment." It shows why this national security state is a bad thing all around; it shows the self-serving nature of the watchdogs; it says that it CAN happen here, so we better do something. Outrage over the JFK murder leads inevitably to outrage over American terrorism/war crimes abroad; and Chomsky's inability to see, and exploit, the visceral connection between the two should give you pause.

I've enjoyed this chat, guys. Be well. Oh, and Donald: I tried meditating several times before I found a style that worked for me. If you do try again, don't get hung up on how long you do it, or if you're fucking up; letting go off all that is a big part of the benefit. The mind gets sharper as it quiets. Just breathing and relaxing is difficult enough for me, so my goal is merely to sit there with my eyes closed until my timer goes off. I can manage that...most days.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at August 12, 2009 11:50 PM

BILLY SOL ESTES had JFK killed. He hired Jack Ruby and Max Williams, the grassy knoll shooter, and Oswald. Estes had mortgaged propane and anhydrous amnonia tanks that didn't exist. Lyndon Johnson was financially and politically connected to Estes. Deep in the heart of Texas.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 13, 2009 12:36 AM

I'm a teensy bit more open-minded about JFK and the rest than you might glean from all the above, but a little dabbling convinced me it wasn't worth it and as for 9/11, that goes tenfold (though the physics of building collapses might be interesting in itself). Maybe if I was an expert in ballistics and acoustics and really could honestly interpret the evidence for myself and not just cherrypick the experts that fed my own predilictions, I'd think it worthwhile to read the thousands upon thousands of pages written by people from every POV, because I really don't trust anyone on that subject. The MSM asskissing that went on for both Posner's book and Bugliosi's book was enough to make me want to believe three or four mutually contradictory conspiracy theories all at once. But I don't trust the conspiracists either . I'd have to digest massive amounts of info and I am not competent to analyze some of it and I've got a sneaking hunch that there's a lot of people writing about this from every conceivable POV who aren't actually competent either, that the whole topic is a magnet for cranks with theories and access to publishers and while cranks and their theories can be interesting, more often they are just tiresome people who ought to shut up. (No, I'm not at all self-aware).

I'd say something about my alleged contradictory belief system, but won't. Doesn't matter.

Again though, the fact that the public might be more interested in JFK is not that encouraging. Supposing the CIA did do it and you could prove it. I don't think it would necessarily increase the number of people sympathetic to who we kill overseas. Sure it'd be important to do, if it's true, but lots of people are already prone to thinking that big government or big business is out to get them (not that they're wrong) and popular culture is full of TV shows showing fiendish corporate execs and politicians all plotting to murder each other and stomping on innocent people in the process, so that's part of the popular zeitgeist. I don't think people always make a connection between "The government is out to hurt you" and "your government is out to hurt innocent foreigners, sometimes in wars that you support." The first they may believe and the second they may think unpatriotic or even personally offensive. Show that the CIA killed JFK and you mainly shake up the subscribers to the NYT who are all too sophisticated to believe such nonsense. Though, yeah, that'd be fun. I'd get over my own embarrassment at not believing it quickly enough just to enjoy seeing that. Would it lead anywhere useful? Maybe, maybe not. It should be exposed if true, of course, but I wouldn't be able to guess in which way the political winds would blow.

But we've already got plenty of evidence right out in the open, no technical knowledge required, very simple and compelling, that we help murder people overseas or torture them. Look at Gaza or look at the torture scandal or umpteen other cases. No expertise required at all--even the mainstream press has done a semi-decent job exposing what's going on. Impressing on people that this matters is what Chomsky tries to do and given the choice between writing about JFK theories and what he actually does, I think he's made the right choice. Coming at the massive evils we commit overseas via the alleged infighting and assassinating of the elites here seems a bit roundabout.

As for meditating and also less internet posting and doing more useful things, I should try to do all that. This thread will go dead soon anyway, so that's one less temptation.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 13, 2009 01:00 AM