June 29, 2007
One of the first quasi-blogs I ever read regularly was Cursor. Then when I started this site, Cursor was extremely generous is sending people this way.
Now Cursor needs to raise funds to keep going and ramp up its sister site, Media Transparency. Media Transparency does something no one else does: track the right wing's think tank-academia-media money machine in a systematic way. Here's an endorsement from Eric Alterman:
It deserve's recognition for public service and the widest possible audience...Media Transparency is the essential tool for tracking this movement.
And for an example of Media Transparency's work, see this piece on AEI and its push for war with Iran.
June 28, 2007
Nir, I Mean What Are You Talking About?
American Coprophagia points out that a small glitch in the matrix allowed Nir Rosen on appear on CNN last week. John Roberts was understandably confused:
ROBERTS: Seeking to ease tensions in the Middle East, the Bush administration is reaching out to a new Palestinian government, while at the same time trying to isolate the more radical Palestinian factions of Hamas. But is it the best strategy for a lasting peace? Nir Rosen has written extensively on the Middle East and is a fellow at the New America Foundation. He joins us now from our Washington bureau.
So, Nir, nobody ever imagined that the Palestinians would break down into two competing statelets. But the U.S. policy in bucking up Mahmoud Abbas and at the same time trying to isolate Hamas, could that back fire?
NIR ROSEN, JOURNALIST: Well, it already did. We created a civil war. This is actually outrageous. Ongoing U.N. envoy to the Middle East peace process, Alvaro De Soto, himself accused the U.S. of fomenting a civil war by training, funding and arming Fatah thugs and inserting them into Gaza to destabilize the Hamas government.
We never gave them a chance. They were democratically elected in an election that was widely recognized as free and fair, even by former President Jimmy Carter.
And then the U.S., along with Israel, Jordan and Egypt trained these gangs and actually put them in Gaza to overthrow the Hamas government. And, of course, it's actually backfired and Fatah was overthrown. But all you're going to do is isolate and further radicalize Hamas.
And so when you say that the U.S. is seeking to ease tensions in the Middle East, I disagree with you. These are tensions that the U.S. actually created in the Middle East.
ROBERTS: Nir, I mean what are you talking about, we have Fatah thugs being sent into the country to wage war with Hamas?
ROSEN: Well, they were trained by the U.S. General Dayton, our envoy to the peace process, was responsible for a program, along with Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East, and they actually trained Fatah in the West Banks. The Jordanian special forces created the Fatah bada (ph) brigade. The Egyptians, as well, trained Fatah in Egypt. The United Arab Emirates actually sent money and arms. And then they were allowed to enter Gaza and then began to attack Hamas. I mean this was an existential threat to a democratically elected government. What we've done is overthrow a government that was elected. The U.S. . . .
ROBERTS: And, Nir, what could the effects of that be? Could it be that Hamas and Gaza gets pushed closer to Iran? I mean could Israel soon see an Iranian proxy on its southern border?
ROSEN: Well, not very likely. The role of Iran is very exaggerated. And Iran supports more the Islamic Jihad movement than is Hamas. And Iran isn't contiguous with Gaza. So there isn't much it can do. It can send a little bit of money. And don't forget that Hamas is a Sunni/Muslim brotherhood movement.
And actually that's part of the problem. Hamas is a Muslim brotherhood movement. Egypt and Jordan both have very strong Muslim brotherhood opposition parties and they're terrified of seeing a successful Muslim brotherhood model in the Middle East. So they've also contributed to this overthrow. But I wouldn't worry about Iran.
ROBERTS: All right. Should the United States have engaged Hamas? I mean was Hamas willing to listen?
ROSEN: Certainly. I think the U.S. wasn't willing to listen. The people of the Middle East, and Palestinian in particular, are overwhelmingly in support of resistance to the occupation that persists. Israel has doubled the amount of illegal settlers in the occupied territories since the peace accords were signed. Israel has killed over 300 civilians in Gaza since it withdrew from Gaza.
We're not listening. Hamas won the elections. And they've made statements to the effect that they are willing to recognize Israel. Israel isn't willing to recognize Palestine.
ROBERTS: Right. But you know the flip side of that coin, though, is near that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they keep firing rockets into southern Israel. So Israel's got to respond somehow, does it not?
ROSEN: Well, you've had a couple of civilians killed, and that's tragic. But there's no parity over here. Over 100 Palestinian children in Gaza have been killed by the Israelis since the Israelis withdrew from Gaza. These people are being strangled. They're in a prison. They're being bombed by the Israelis constantly. And the international recognizes the right to resist occupation.
ROBERTS: Well, there's definitely a lot of different opinions on what's going on. Nir Rosen with one of them.
Nir Rosen, thanks very much.
ROSEN: Thank you.
How The USS Vincennes Killed My High School Biology Lab Partner
Violence never ends just with its intended consequences (as horrible as those might be). Violence also always has enormous unintended consequences. And these unintended consequences are completely unpredictable—not in the sense that few people can correctly predict them, but in the sense no one anywhere can predict them.
I was thinking of this recently when I read this excellent article in the London Review of Books. It's about the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie and the ongoing appeal by the Libyan intelligence agent who was convicted of the bombing in 2001.
Anyone who follows this knows the conviction was probably fraudulent. It's far more likely the bombing was carried out by Iran, with assistance from Syria. But the US didn't want to blame them, for two reasons: (1) it was in retaliation for the USS Vincennes shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 in July, 1988, killing 290 people; and (2) the initial prosecution took place in the build up to the Gulf War in 1990, and we wanted to get Syria on board.
All in all, it's international politics at its ugliest. It demonstrates normal people's lives have no value from the perspective of their governments, and the US can successfully lie for decades with no one here ever noticing.
But the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus had consequences beyond the bombing of Pan Am 103. Here's a story from the Washington Post on January 1, 1989:
4 YOUTHS DIE IN MD. EXPLOSION;
POWERFUL BLAST RIPS DOORS OFF BETHESDA GARAGE
By: Paul Duggan, Lisa Leff, Washington Post Staff Writers
First Section; Page A1
Four Maryland teen-agers, including the 15-year-old son of a Brazilian Embassy attache, were killed early yesterday when a powerful explosive device detonated while the youths were tinkering with it in the diplomat's garage, Montgomery County police said.
Three of the young men were described yesterday as close friends and as highly intelligent, science-oriented 1988 graduates of Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School. One of them, Samir Gafsi, showed a recent interest in explosives, according to his girlfriend, Sharmi Banik.
"He was telling me about the explosion on the Pan Am jet" that crashed in Scotland Dec. 21 after a bomb went off, Banik said yesterday. She said Gafsi recently told her that he and his friends could "do better than that." Another of the victims also had a keen interest in explosives, a teacher said...
Sam Gafsi was my lab partner in high school biology. He was pretty good at counting those drosophila melanogasters. Who aboard the Vincennes could have predicted that when they pulled the trigger on that Sunday morning in the Persian Gulf, they were also killing Sam?
In almost every circumstance, violence is a very, very, very, very bad idea.
AND: The above stamp was issued by the Iranian government soon after the shootdown of the Airbus. Iran's government may or may not be as depraved as that of the US, but they certainly deserve credit for effort.
June 27, 2007
Mankind Wants To Know
Here's Mark Twain:
Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
And here's George Orwell:
Whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time.
Nothing ever changes.
June 26, 2007
Rod Dreher [of National Review], the Crunchy Con Man, reads All Quiet on the Western Front and discovers that skepticism toward warmaking and a doubtful mind toward those who agitate for combat doesn't spring universally from absolutist pacifism. That a grown man with a family and career has just chanced upon this realization is indicative of something, but I'm not sure how to say it with derision appropriate to its cosmic stupidity.
And yet it's not so uncommon to hear adults, educated beyond most of their peers, relatively aware of Western history, reasonably well-read, and not prone in their daily lives to bouts of simplemindedness, express the utmost shock at the mendacity underlying the war in Iraq. Somehow, though almost every great work by current or former soldiers exposes the horror, cruelty, absurdity, and barbarism of war--the way it cripples the body and maims the soul if you survive--they have to be reminded again and again that warfare isn't a method of national therapy.
Here's some of what Rod Dreher wrote:
Many was the time I had to put the novel down while reading it, and silently repent of the way I had so thoughtlessly anticipated the pleasures of stomping the Iraqi military during the march-up to the war there. War we will always have with us, and there will be times when war is the only choice we have. But it must always be the last resort, and must never, ever be undertaken with anything but utmost gravity. It is a detestable thing.
Dreher is forty years old.
Elites in every country are generally very stupid—not because there's something wrong with them genetically, but because power makes people stupid. And the more power people have, the stupider they become. America's elites have been very powerful for a very long time.
June 25, 2007
Why Bother Buying New Propaganda When You've Still Got So Much Perfectly Fine Old Propaganda Lying Around?
Which well-known Iranian leader could be described as "wild," "erratic," "eccentric," "crazy," "gangster-like," "fanatical," "absurd," "dictatorial," "demagogic," "inflammatory," "cunning," "slippery," and "unbalanced"?
Actually, it's a trick question. According to an article by Baruch historian Ervand Abrahamian (via All the Shah's Men), these terms were all used by the British government in the early fifties to describe Mohammed Mossedegh. (In 1953, the UK persuaded the US to help them overthrow Mossedegh's government and install the Shah.)
Yet every single one of those thirteen terms has also been used by American and British media and politicians to describe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What are the odds that we'd have to deal with TWO wild, erratic, eccentric, crazy, gangster-like, fanatical, absurd, dictatorial, demagogic, inflammatory, cunning, slippery, and unbalanced Iranian leaders? As I've said before, we really have the worst luck.
"absurd"—Toronto Globe & Mail
I Want More Spam From Wives Of Blood-Soaked Third World Despots
Until now, everything I've received in the Nigerian-email scam genre has been from nobodies, politically speaking. But I just got spam from "Mrs. Jessica Savimbi," who claimed to be the #2 wife of Jonas Savimbi. It even came with impressive links to the BBC here and here to establish her ("her") authenticity. I wonder if I should write back and ask if she ever got to hang out with John Stockwell or Jack Abramoff.
This has gotten my hopes up that someday I'll receive email from the wives and girlfriends of:
June 24, 2007
• War in Context is a great resource.
• Last week Alec of Prose Before Hoes said Auf Wiedersehen Fatah
• Der Spiegel has an article about Fatah's torture chambers in Gaza, now open to the public.
• Also in Der Spiegel, Hamas hardliner Mahmoud Zahar claims in an interview to have brought in $42 million from Iran to Gaza in suitcases...as well as $50 million from Libya and $82 million from Kuwait.
• Andrew Hammel pointed out to me that the Washington Post omsbudswoman responded to reader complaints about the embarrassing Andrew Ferguson column on Al Gore and Lincoln. She quotes Ferguson saying "I'm mortified about this. It was incredibly stupid. How I missed [Gore's endnotes] is inexplicable."
But Everyone Thought They Had WMD
Did you know the House of Representatives just voted 411-2 for a resolution which stated Iran "has aggressively pursued a clandestine effort to arm itself with nuclear weapons"? So when Bush bombs Iran in spring, 2008 and we later learn they actually weren't trying to make nukes, Democrats will (rightfully) hear "But everyone thought they were!"
Arthur Silber has the gruesome details.
June 22, 2007
Roger Morris On Robert Gates, Part II
Part II of Roger Morris' fantastic Robert Gates history is up at Tomdispatch.
I particularly like this quote from Archie Roosevelt in the 1960s about the Baathists on the CIA payroll:
"They're our boys bought and paid for, but you always gotta remember that these people can't be trusted."
Man, it's so hard to get trustworthy quislings these days!
BONUS: Archie was the cousin of Kermit Roosevelt, who ran the CIA coup in Iran in 1953. Via All the Shah's Men, here's what the British discovered at the time in a psychological study of Iranians:
The ordinary Persian is vain, unprincipled, eager to promise what he knows he is incapable of or has no intention of performing, wedded to procrastination, lacking in perserverance and energy, but amenable to discipline. Above all he enjoys intrigue and readily turns to prevarication and dishonesty whenever there is a possibility of personal gain. Although an accomplished liar, he does not expect to be believed. They easily acquire a superficial knowledge of technical subjects, deluding themselves into the belief that it is profound.
It's quite strange the way the countries with all the oil are filled with such awful people. I guess we've just been very unlucky.
Soft Formica Empire
The Church of the Subgenius comments on the situation in Gaza:
Humans would rather fight their neighbors than the Conspiracy. That's been the key to Their success. Pinks prefer the familiar in everything, ESPECIALLY enemies. Colonialism never would have succeeded anywhere, had the natives not been so dedicated to fighting amongst themselves that they were happy to sell out to the invaders for a few extra blunderbusses. By the time any two given tribes of Normals stop hating each other and start organizing against the common foe, it's too late and they're BOTH under the jackboot. What's worse, the minute the genocidal conquerors finish looting and leave, the natives go right back to fratricide. This pattern repeats itself in all human systems, from nations down to kindergarten classrooms. You can bet that if any group of people are starving to death, their neighbors will be throwing food away in PLAIN VIEW.
Without divine intervention, we can probably look forward to an inevitable, perpetual apocalypse in which the "Enlightened Fascism" of a New World Order/Northern Hemisphere Conspiracy will be pitted against the more traditional Third World Fascism of a Southern Hemisphere Conspiracy...a planet where the loud hairy tribes of super-industrialized Northern Asia-America-Europe-Russia are a cancerous blight of asphalt and shotguns, paranoiacally guarding their soft, formica empires against the hard and hungry hoards from South America-Africa-India-and the Middle East...forever, and ever, and ever.
Dennis Perrin Addresses The Take Back America Conference
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some important weeping to do.
June 21, 2007
Like Goebbels, But Without The Personal Charm
Well, if we were to bomb the Iranians as I hope and pray we will...It's entirely possible that many countries, particularly in the Middle East -- the Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, who are very worried about Iranian influence and power -- would at least secretly applaud us. And I think it's possible that other countries in Europe, for example, and elsewhere, would be relieved...
The future of Europe hangs on our success in the East. We are ready to defend it...There are many serious voices in Europe that have already realized this. Others still resist. That cannot influence us. If danger faced them alone, we could view their reluctance as literary nonsense of no significance. But the danger faces us all, and we must all do our share. Those who today do not understand that will thank us tomorrow on bended knees that we courageously and firmly took on the task.
Incredibly Enough, There's Something Even Worse
On Tuesday Frontline ran a new documentary on Iraq called Endgame. In it they interviewed Frederick Kagan, the think tank guy who came up with the idea of the "surge." As explained below, Kagan earnestly tells us Iraq has been a catastrophe in part because "opposition to the war has not been constructive." Yes: as I've always suspected, this is our fault.
Yet as hilarious and horrifying as that is, another part of the Kagan interview is more hilarious and horrifying still. When watching this, see if you can help cringing in shame on Kagan's behalf, and cringing in terror for the rest of us—living as we do in a world run by eight year-old boys:
NARRATOR: Well known military scholars were brought to Camp David from Washington think tanks.
KAGAN: It was a very cool experience. They flew me up on a Chinook, which is in itself a cool experience, to fly along the Potomac like that. Honestly I went there just eager to have the opportunity to lay a plan before the president to say let us, you know, seize hold of this opportunity.
It's Exactly This Kind Of Intellectual Humility And Willingness To Take Responsibility That's Going To Win Us This War
KAGAN: I think it's important to mention this -- we have really suffered from the fact that the opposition to the war has not been constructive and that there have been many, many opportunities for critics of the war to challenge the administration on the way that it was fighting the war that had been missed as critics through the end of the 2004 presidential campaign focused on whether we should have gone to war or not at all.
As it happens, I also have a transcript from a precocious 2 year-old Freddy Kagan speaking in 1971:
KAGAN: I think it's important to mention this -- we have really suffered from the fact that opposition to me smearing shit all over myself and the walls and everyone else has not been constructive. There have been many, many opportunities for critics to challenge me on the way I've been smearing shit on everything, but they have been missed as critics focused on whether I should have started smearing shit on everything at all.
AND: Let no one say the Bush administration hasn't followed through on his 2001 inaugural address:
America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected...
Our public interest depends on private character...
I will live and lead by these principles...
• Much to my surprise, the New York Times has published an op-ed on Gaza that mentions reality:
From the day Hamas won the general elections in 2006 it offered Fatah the chance of joining forces and forming a unity government. It tried to engage the international community to explain its platform for peace...None of these points appear to have been recognized in the press coverage of the last few days.
Nor has it been evident to many people in the West that the civil unrest in Gaza and the West Bank has been precipitated by the American and Israeli policy of arming elements of the Fatah opposition who want to attack Hamas and force us from office.
• Even more shockingly, the Washington Post has published two op-eds based in this universe. Perhaps Fred Hiatt was out sick?
Ahmed Yousef (the same Hamas advisor who wrote the above NY Times piece): Engage with Hamas
Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller: 'West Bank First': It Won't Work
• Tony Karon: The Eight Fallacies of Bush's Abbastan Plan
• Ben White at Electronic Intifada: Decoding the media's Palestinian "civil war"
June 20, 2007
Robert Gates, Part I
The first in a three-part series by Roger Morris examining the career of Robert Gates is up now at Tomdispatch. It's fascinating.
More recent Tomdispatch:
• Michael Klare: "The Pentagon as Global Gas Guzzler"
• Karen J. Greenberg: "Blowback, Detainee-Style"
For Digbyheads like myself, her recent public appearance at the Take Back America conference was quite exciting. She demonstrates what I've always believed: America has a gigantic amount of talent, smarts and energy that went untapped pre-internet. (And in fact most of it remains untapped even with the internet.)
So check out the video if you haven't seen it already. Then check out Max Sawicky's critique.
June 19, 2007
More Things They Hide In Books
I certainly didn't know this about the guy who founded Reuters. It's from All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer:
[Nasir al-Din Shah, Shah of Iran from 1848-1896] was famous for his excesses...He demanded to be called not only Shah of Shahs, but also Asylum of the Universe, Subduer of Climate, Arbitrator of his People, Guardian of the Flock, Conqueror of Lands, and Shadow of God on Earth. Those who refused to honor him were flogged, shot from cannons, buried alive, or set afire in public squares...
To support his lavish tastes, Nasir al-Din Shah...came up with the idea of raising cash by selling Iran's patrimony to foreign companies and governments...
A German-born British subject, Baron Julius de Reuter, of news agency fame, won the most breathtaking one of all. In 1872, for a paltry sum and a promise of future royalties, he acquired the exclusive right to run the country's industries, irrigate its farmland, exploit its mineral resources, develop its railroad and streetcar lines, establish its national bank, and print its currency. Lord Curzon described this as "the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamt of, much less accomplished, in history"...
Iranian patriots, of whom there were already quite a number, were naturally outraged...
Finally, Nasir al-Din Shah realized that he had overstepped the limits of the possible, and he revoked the concession less than a year after granting it.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that (1) our media is entirely wholesome and trustworthy, and (2) America and England have nothing but the best interests of the Iranian people at heart.
AND: Just so you know, as of today I am Asylum of the Universe.
Tony Blair gets it:
Very shortly before the war, in early 2003, there was an Anglo-French summit. Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. 'We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, "Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"'
The obvious question here is: what exactly is the "it" that Chirac didn't get? I assume it is "hundreds of his own citizens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed." Chirac just didn't get it.
Don't You Worry Your Purty Li'l Head About No Presidential Signing Statements
When Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe first began writing stories about Bush's presidential signing statements last year, former Bush administration lawyers told us not to be concerned:
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who until last year oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for the administration, said the statements do not change the law; they just let people know how the president is interpreting it.
''Nobody reads them," said Goldsmith. ''They have no significance. Nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statement..."
As a new story by Savage explains, that's apparently now inoperative:
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, defended Bush's use of signing statements and his expansive view of the president's constitutional powers.
"We are executing the law as we believe we are empowered to do so," Fratto said. "The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real."
June 17, 2007
I've heard from several people who say this site's formatting is screwed up. If you're having the same trouble, I'd appreciate it if you could let me know, along with the kind of browser and computer you're using. It looks fine to me in many different macintosh browers.
UPDATE: I've fiddled with it. If it looked weird previously, how's the front page now? It should have George Washington rather than Gandhi in the ad.
HELP: The things I've tried to do haven't worked, and it's still messed up for people using Explorer or Netscape on a PC. Any advice would be appreciated.
FIXED?: I believe it's fixed now, though please let me know if that's not the case for you. Many thanks to the internet overbrain, in particular Jay of The Hindsight Factor and Jeremy.
June 16, 2007
Translating Tony Snow
John Caruso says:
It's sometimes difficult to understand Fox White House News Spokesman Tony Snow, since he's taken lying to such heights that the lie density frequently exceeds one lie per word. He's actually lying even when he coughs to clear his throat. So I thought I'd help by translating one of his recent statements.
I strongly suspect that Tony Snow doesn't just lie every second of his waking life, but actually lies in his dreams.
AND: Thanks also to Herr Caruso for bringing this Condoleezza Rice quote to my attention:
I am quite certain that it would be difficult for any commission to debate more fully, to investigate more fully, to criticize more fully the policies of the United States Government than is done every night on CNN, on ABC, on CBS, on NBC and on any number of smaller channels in the United States.
The interesting thing is that, when speaking privately, government officials are well aware of the lapdog nature of the US media. In one of the leaked British government documents, David Manning (Blair's chief foreign policy advisor) wrote this to Blair after a meeting with Rice:
It is clear that Bush is grateful for your [Blair's] support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different from anything in the States.
How American's Founding Fathers Would Fight Back Against The Bush Administration
Freeway Bl•gger explains.
Why Martin Indyk Is Director Of The Saban Center for Middle East Policy And You're Not
Because unlike you, he can write this for the Washington Post without giggling:
One might expect that [Mahmoud Abbas] would denounce Hamas's coup and call for international intervention to restore his control.
This is also impressive non-giggling work by Indyk:
Hosni Mubarak's regime turned a blind eye to the importation of weapons and money that helped ensure Hamas's takeover.
Egypt transfered a large quantity of arms and ammunition to PA security organizations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with Israel's approval...
The shipment included 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition.
UP NEXT: Indyk denounces Iraq for invading the United States.
June 15, 2007
No Such Thing As Too Much Bernie Aronson
I particularly was impressed by the fact he doesn't speak Spanish. Such people make the best Latin American diplomats.
April 24, 1990
Washington at Work; An Unlikely Diplomat Seizes the Opportunity To Shape Latin Policy
The day the Senate confirmed the nomination of Bernard W. Aronson as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs a year ago, lightning struck two century-old oak trees on his lawn, toppling one into his dining room.
A neighbor called Mr. Aronson at the State Department, but the new Assistant Secretary was too preoccupied with Panama and Nicaragua to inspect the damage until later that night. ''When I got home,'' he recalled, ''I wondered: Was this a bad omen?'' At the time, the question did not seem irrational.
Mr. Aronson, who does not speak Spanish, was suddenly responsible for a region that had long produced trouble for more experienced diplomats. Then there was his personality, which could not necessarily be called diplomatic. Mr. Aronson can sometimes be thin-skinned, socially clumsy and prone to losing his temper. ''He's not the foursquare button-down bureaucrat,'' said Robert Leiken, a Harvard University researcher who is a longtime friend. ''He's got all the hang-ups and virtues of a character out of a Saul Bellow novel.''
What's more, the 43-year-old Assistant Secretary is a Democrat -- the highest-ranking Democrat in the Bush Administration. Mr. Aronson's background as a speech writer for Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale made him suspect to many Republicans; his nomination by President Bush made him a turncoat to some Democrats. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, ''told me I was nuts to take the job,'' Mr. Aronson said. Many predicted that the Administration was setting him up to use as a scapegoat when Daniel Ortega Saavedra won re-election as President of Nicaragua.
'A Great Year for Bernie'
Instead, Mr. Aronson is enjoying the benefits of that potent political force good luck. Mr. Ortega was defeated, and on Wednesday, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro is to be inaugurated in his place. Of course, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs is not directly responsible for the Sandinistas' electoral defeat. But leading Democrats and Republicans alike give him credit for a strong role in forging a bipartisan policy with Congress on Nicaragua, for handling relations with Latin America after the invasion of Panama and for helping avert a right-wing coup in Guatemala.
In a region of revolutions, debt, drugs and earthquakes, the tide could easily reverse. Indeed, despite Mr. Aronson's jawboning in Managua last week, Mrs. Chamorro is reportedly planning to keep a Sandinista as head of the army, throwing into question the demobilization of the contras. but for the time being things are going his way.
''It's been a great year for Bernie,'' said Robert G. Beckel, a political aide in the Carter White House who was manager of Mr. Mondale's 1984 Presidential campaign. ''He may well be the bipartisan prototype for the future.''
Mr. Mondale agreed. ''The Bush Administration could use several Bernie Aronsons,'' he said.
Does Mr. Aronson represent a new post-ideological Washington creature? Or is he simply an opportunist?
''As far as the notion of jumping ships or jumping parties, I didn't do either,'' Mr. Aronson explained. ''There is a long tradition in this country, and one I strongly respect, of bipartisan foreign policy. Where our foreign policy has been most creative and productive, it has been bipartisan, whether that has involved NATO or the Marshall Plan or deployment of the cruise and Pershing missiles or the Alliance for Progress.''
What is consistent in his career, Mr. Aronson said, is the belief that ''freedom and justice go hand in hand.''
''I've always tried to be on the side of the underdog,'' he said, ''and defend the democratic center from enemies, whether they be from the left or the right.''
Guitar, Civil Rights and Yeats
Mr. Aronson said that as a Democrat he was more in the mold of Hubert H. Humphrey than George S. McGovern. But he is a product of the 60's who still plays guitar and sings folk music, is nostalgic about the civil rights movement and talks of ''doing the right thing.'' With his wife, Carol L. Corillon, director of the Committee on Human Rights at the National Academy of Sciences, and their newly adopted infant daughter, he lives in Takoma Park, Md., a Washington suburb so identified with liberal causes that some call it the People's Republic of Takoma Park.
A discussion with Mr. Aronson can feel like a college rap session. Over a bowl of his wife's homemade vegetable soup, he recently talked about the poetry of William Butler Yeats. ''Yeats embodies both the passion and the tragedy of life,'' he said, adding that he drew this lesson from the poet's example: ''You can't be casual in a job like this. You don't have a right to do it halfway, or fail to seize an opportunity, because people's lives are in the balance.''
The lessons Mr. Aronson has learned come out of an eclectic life. The son of the founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Mr. Aronson grew up in Rye, N.Y., and after graduating from the University of Chicago, served as a Vista volunteer in Appalachia.
''Working with very poor people in Appalachia reinforced my views about a lot of things,'' he said. ''There is a certain kind of ideology that is applied to poor people in Latin America, that somehow poor people don't care about freedom and dignity, that all they want is a health clinic and a job, and they don't care if they have to keep their mouths shut. That's total bull.''
A Wrenching Contrast
After a stint as a reporter at The Raleigh Register in West Virginia, he joined the movement to change the leadership of the United Mine Workers. His work caught the eye of Vice President Mondale, who brought him to the White House as a speech writer.
Mr. Aronson first went to Central America in 1983 with a human rights delegation investigating Salvadoran death squads. ''In El Salvador you could taste the death in the air,'' he recalled. Soon after, he went to a friend's wedding in Washington. ''The contrast totally demolished me,'' he said.
It led Mr. Aronson into his first venture at crossing party lines. As a speech writer in the 1984 Presidential campaign, he counseled Mr. Mondale to take a tough stand against the Sandinistas' treatment of the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua. After that campaign, he moved toward the Republican position, supporting the contras as the only way to challenge what he viewed as the Sandinistas' ''repressive Leninist'' regime.
That position angered many liberals. It also attracted the attention of Oliver L. North, then a National Security Council aide, who sought Mr. Aronson's advice on persuading moderates to support the Reagan Administration's Nicaragua policy.
Mr. Aronson and three other Democrats known together as ''The Gang of Four'' urged the Administration to install liberal Nicaraguans in contra leadership positions. (His colleagues were Mr. Leiken, the lobbyist Bruce P. Cameron, and Penn Kemble of the human rights group Freedom House.) In 1986 he wrote a speech for President Reagan on the eve of a crucial House vote on contra aid, seeking to appease Congressional Democrats by promising to improve the contras' performance on human rights.
A Turn in the Tide
That speech, along with recommendations from two conservative Republicans, Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and Senator John McCain of Arizona, won him his current job. ''I called Jim Baker,'' Mr. Hyde recalled, ''and I said, 'He's a liberal Democrat, but he thinks like you and I do about Central America.' Being a liberal Democrat, and with the Democrats dominating Congress, he could pull off the compromises.''
Even before Mr. Aronson's nomination was confirmed, he worked closely with Secretary of State Baker to forge a bipartisan agreement on Nicaragua, in which the Bush Administration dropped its insistence on military aid for the contras and Congress agreed to nonmilitary aid.
It was a radical change from the days of Mr. Aronson's predecessor, Elliott Abrams, who so angered Democrats in Congress that they once refused to let him testify at a subcommittee hearing. And it demonstrated the kind of skill Mr. Aronson will need to persuade Congress to pass the Administration's $800 million aid package for Panama and Nicaragua.
For all his seeming luck, Mr. Aronson's unconventional personality still comes through from time to time. Under heated questioning at a recent House subcommittee hearing on United States backing for the Salvadoran army, he showed his unease by chewing ice into a live microphone, producing a resounding crunch.
On a recent Latin American tour with Vice President Dan Quayle, he annoyed the Vice President's press staff by seeming to turn up every time a camera pointed at Mr. Quayle with a head of state. In Asuncion, Paraguay, Quayle aides watched with dismay as Mr. Aronson came up behind Mr. Quayle and President Andres Rodriguez, posing for television cameras on the presidential yacht. Mr. Aronson, grinning, stood between the two and put his arm around Mr. Rodriguez. Quayle aides watched helplessly from shore as the yacht pulled away, carrying the two politicians and Mr. Aronson.
Mr. Aronson called the awkward moment ''a small and unimportant metaphor for what we should do more of.''
''I don't think we go wrong,'' he said, ''by showing some friendship and affection for the new democratic leadership of this hemisphere.''
Washington Post Courageously Eliminates Inconvenient History
Thanks, Washington Post, for your eloquent descriptions of what never happened:
Under international pressure, Arafat agreed to name Abbas as a newly empowered prime minister in 2003...
When Arafat died at the end of 2004, Abbas won the elections to replace him as president of the Palestinian Authority. Despite deep Israeli misgivings, the United States encouraged Abbas to hold Palestinian legislative elections -- and Abbas invited Hamas to participate, believing he could beat them at the polls. But Hamas won...
Then, Washington organized a financial boycott of the government, in an effort to showcase Abbas as a moderate alternative in his role as president...The United States had just begun delivering nonlethal aid and training to security forces loyal to Abbas when Hamas decided to strike and seize Gaza.
Meanwhile, back in reality:
In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas elections, last January , Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House office with talk of a “hard coup” against the newly-elected Hamas government — the violent overthrow of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant — the U.S. had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government...
Egypt transfered a large quantity of arms and ammunition to PA security organizations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with Israel's approval...
The shipment included 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition.
2,000 non-lethal AK-47s. Those are the best kind!
June 14, 2007
U.S. Mideast Envoy On Palestinian Civil War: "I Like This Violence"
...we haven't seen the spread of violence in the West Bank and I think everybody's glad for that and everybody's pleased for that. Nobody wants to see violence.
Yes, the US sure hates all this violence!
Here's Condoleezza Rice, speaking in public on February 15, 2007, after Fatah and Hamas agreed in Mecca to form a unity government:
Americans did not want to see Palestinians killing Palestinians. Palestinians should be living in peace among themselves and with Israel. And I know how difficult it was to watch the violence and to watch innocent people lose their lives. And so the calm, the hopes for a ceasefire between the Palestinian factions, that's something we very much support.
This violence! We hate it!
Now, here's David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and US Envoy to the Middle East, speaking in private several weeks before Rice. This appears on p.21 of the leaked report (pdf) by Alvaro de Soto, former UN coordinator for the Middle East:
...the US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas -- so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington how much "I like this violence", referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because "it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas".
(via Paul Woodward at War in Context)
EARLIER: From a June profile of Condoleezza Rice in the Atlantic (sub. req.):
In the fall of 2005, as part of a new push for democracy in the Middle East, Rice insisted that legislative elections be held in the Palestinian territories...To Rice’s surprise, the elections in January 2006 were won by Hamas...
Eager to reverse the results of the election, Rice decided on a new plan of action that resulted in fighting in the streets of Gaza between Hamas and Fatah gunmen. The plan, which she developed after speaking to President Bush, was to put pressure on the Hamas government by providing the Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas with training, intelligence, and large shipments of supplies and new weapons, paid for by the United States and by Saudi Arabia. The hope was that Hamas, faced with a well-armed, well-trained force of Fatah fighters, might be cowed into moderating its positions or relinquishing the power it had won through elections. Alternatively, Hamas might be pressured into an escalating series of gun battles, in which case Abbas, as head of the Palestinian security forces, would have an excuse to crush Hamas by force...
Hamas won the clashes, which left more than 140 Palestinians dead, and the Hamas government remained in power.
And from Conflicts Forum last January:
Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams — who Newsweek recently described as “the last neocon standing” — has had it about for some months now that the U.S. is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is working to ensure its failure. In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas elections, last January , Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House office with talk of a “hard coup” against the newly-elected Hamas government — the violent overthrow of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant — the U.S. had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government...
The Abrams program was initially conceived in February of 2006 by a group of White House officials who wanted to shape a coherent and tough response to the Hamas electoral victory of January...Since at least August , Rice, Abrams and U.S. envoy David Welch have been its primary advocates and the program has been subsumed as a “part of the State Department’s Middle East initiative.”
AND: Tony Karon has more.
Give That Man An Order Of The Badge Of Honor
Boy, that Freedom House sure sounds like a bunch of fascists, dunnit? I mean, just look at the way they support women's rights and free expression and democracy and the rule of law. Why, Freedom House even criticizes the U.S. for not living up to its own principles! What a buncha Nazi evildoers!
Please. You people cannot be serious.
It's awful, isn't it? First people start believing there's a difference between Freedom House's rhetoric and reality...and the next thing you know, they'll be wondering the same thing about General Secretary Brezhnev in 1968!
We have not occupied Czechoslovakia, we do not intend to keep it under “occupation,” but we hope for her to be free...
Thanks, Comrade Hinkle, for stamping out this deviationism before it begins!
UPDATE: In comments below, a certain Mike of Angle wonders whether my statement is accurate that Freedom House is mostly funded by the US government. It's no exaggeration to say troublemakers like him, constantly requesting "evidence" and "facts," are responsible for all evil throughout human history. Nevertheless, JUST THIS ONCE, I will indulge his hideous lust for empiricism:
Big non-government 2005 funders include the very conservative Bradley Foundation and John C. Whitehead.
June 13, 2007
More Bernie Aronson
Here's more evidence of the amazing life change of Bernie Aronson. This is what he tells striking miners elsewhere in Harlan County U.S.A.:
[This is] the first time East Kentucky has stood up against the coal operators. And you're doing it. And when you win, you're fighting for your kids, and your grandkids, every one of them will have a better life 'cause of what you're doing here. And that's why they fight so hard. If there wasn't so much at stake they wouldn't be fighting you so hard. They wouldn't shoot into your homes if there wasn't so much at stake.
Unfortunately, Aronson did not then add "As soon as I can, I hope to write propaganda for the people doing the shooting."
• Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse: "Fighting Words: An 11-Quote Quiz on the Bush Administration's War of Words"
And if the excellent content weren't enough, the site's also undergone a snazzy redesign.
Good Internet Things
• Arthur Silber tells a story with an extremely happy ending
• Jonathan Versen on TV's context of no context
• Ioz says: "Jonah Goldberg wallowed neck-deep in his watering hole, for though awkward on land, in the water he is beautiful."
• As the Giant Noise Machine leaps to defend Scooter Libby, Rick Perlstein remembers a similar defense of William Calley when he was convicted in 1971 for My Lai:
"The real murderers are the demonstrators in Washington who disrupt traffic, tear up public property, who deface the American flag."
Likewise, the real perjurers in 2007 are Cindy Sheehan and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
June 12, 2007
Bernie...What Happened To You?
I've been watching Harlan County U.S.A, maybe the best documentary ever made about unions in the U.S. It takes place in 1974 and follows a strike by Kentucky coal miners, as well as efforts by UMW reformers to kick out the union's corrupt president, Tony Boyle. First Boyle has Joseph Yablonski, who ran against him for the union presidency, murdered along with Yablonski's wife and daughter. Then one of the striking miners is murdered, and no one is prosecuted.
At that point a young UMW staffer named Bernie Aronson, part of the union reform movement, appears:
ARONSON: We're trying to investigate how the fix was put in here in Harlan. It's pretty clear when a man commits murder and the state police charges him and witnesses say that he fired on the man unprovoked, that a grand jury is duty bound to indict him. But this grand jury was Harlan County, and it seems like despite the fact we won a contract, not that much has changed here. It was just like in the old days -- if the company kills a man, the company gets let off. If one of our people had shot any company man throughout this strike he'd be serving twenty-five years now. Bill Bruner is scot-free.
As I watched this I thought: Bernie Aronson...Bernie Aronson...where have I seen that name before?
Then I realized: it was here.
I've checked, and incredibly enough, it's the same person. In addition to his other wholesome activities, he's on the board of trustees of Freedom House, along with other freedom-lovers like Kenneth Adelman and Malcolm Forbes.
People are weird.
Ralph Peters Gets Around
It's not a good sign for us or the middle east that people know enough about this for someone to do an art exhibit about it.
June 11, 2007
Can't Our Foreign Policy Elite Come Up With Higher-Quality Lies?
Kenneth Baer is the kind of person who'll end up somewhere in the next Democratic administration:
Baer was Deputy Director of Speechwriting for Gore-Lieberman 2000 and Senior Speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore...
During the 2004 election, he was a senior advisor to the Joe Lieberman for President campaign and later advised the Kerry-Edwards campaign on a variety of policy issues...In addition to running his own consultancy firm, Baer Communications, he has taught at Georgetown University and at Johns Hopkins University.
So it's interesting that he writes things about US foreign policy that make no sense whatsoever. It's not that I expect him not to lie about US foreign policy. Obviously lying about it is his job. But it's weird the people who fund the Democratic party can't find people to come up with higher-quality, more-convincing lies.
Here's Baer's argument:
Declassified documents from classified hearings before the Six Day War in 1967 show that senators from the Committee on Foreign Relations were concerned about Vietnam—and this led them to be skeptical, even as tensions rose in the mideast and Israel was threatened, about using US military force.
We are now in a parallel situation: Iraq has made the US skeptical about further military force, even as tensions rise in the mideast and Israel is threatened. We must not make the same mistake today that we did in 1967!
The problem with this, of course is...it's totally insane. Was America's mistake in 1967 the fact we didn't invade Egypt?
So Baer is stridently making exactly the opposite case he thinks he is. The "threat" to Israel in 1967 turned out to be wildly overhyped. The problem turned out not to be the US failing to come to the aid of our beleaguered ally, but rather our failure to reign our beleaguered ally in. And the long-term results of this have been catastrophic. If we really are in a situation today like 1967, the first thing we have to do is make sure Israel doesn't nuke Iran.
Again, I understand Baer has to come up with SOME kind of bullshit to cover up the actual goals of his funders: for the US to continue running the middle east without challenge (and with Israel acting as, in Melvin Laird's words, the "local cop on the beat."). But surely in a country as rich and talented as ours we can expect better crap than this.
The Money Power Of The Country Weighs In
Hilariously enough, the National Association of Manufacturers has eagerly endorsed Andrew Ferguson's Washington Post column slamming Al Gore for using the "money power of the country" quote.
NEXT UP: The Communist Party's blog sneers at someone claiming Lenin talked about useful idiots.
AND: I like the way the NAM blog is called "The Shop Floor." I guess "The Lush Expense Account," "The Massive Government Subsidy" and "The Gulfstream V" were taken.
June 10, 2007
More Of Andrew Ferguson's Hacktastic Hackery
What Ferguson is wrong about (beyond his hilarious "no footnotes!" mistake) is this:
...the point of the passage is very un-Lincolnian...Lincoln was a vigorous champion of market capitalism, even when it drifted (as it tends to do) toward large concentrations of wealth.
In fact, the bogus quote is not far from things Lincoln definitely did say. Here's the fake quote, supposedly written by Lincoln in an 1864 letter:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
And here's Lincoln in December, 1861 in his first State of the Union address:
It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government--the rights of the people...
In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.
It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government...
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration...
No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty...Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.
Indeed, those are close enough that I strongly suspect the bogus quote was directly inspired by Lincoln's real statement—which is pretty famous now, and was more so then. And then there's this well-known Lincoln statement, from 1837:
These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people.
Yes, vigorous champions of market capitalism say such things all the time. I believe Milton Friedman had that engraved on his tombstone.
Ho-Hum, More Stunning Right-Wing Hackery In The Washington Post
Andrew Ferguson of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard writes this for Donald Graham's newspaper:
You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, "The Assault on Reason." It's a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver. Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.
Here's p. 282 of The Assault on Reason:
Ferguson goes on to say the Lincoln quote that Gore uses is bogus, and actually dates from the 1880s. Perhaps this is true, but I don't think I'd rely on his research skills.
June 08, 2007
How The Internet Enables People To Be Even Crazier
Here's why I think things spiraled out of control:
1. I suspect evolution simply did not prepare humans for the internet. We're designed for face to face interaction with others—where communication involves not disembodied words, but words plus tone, body language, facial expression, etc. (Hence emoticons.) Words by themselves are a surprisingly small part of the message. Along with this, the no-place of the internet encourages users to (unconsciously) engage with others as not-people. I'm sure if Colapinto had met Mollie sitting next to her on a plane he would have acted much more normally.
2. The internet rightfully causes great anxiety to old media writers. Not only does it erode the economic base of their institutions, it also calls into question their status. Until now, reaching an audience with your writing was about talent only to a limited degree. It had just as much to do with going to the right college, living in New York, being charming at cocktail parties, etc. This is particularly true about the type of cultural writing Colapinto does. Who doesn't have an opinion about Paul McCartney? Who can say why Colapinto should have a job doing this, as opposed to anyone else?
You'd be tetchy and prone to lashing out too if you were him. Nobody likes competition, particularly when the rules suddenly get changed on you mid-game.
AND: If you're in New York, why not go see Mollie's very funny sister Amy in her show?
ALSO: Mike adds his 3 cents.
We Can't Investigate The Crime I Committed Because It Made Lots Of People Mad At Me
Here's Jack Straw, explaining why the British government shut down the investigation into the multi-billion dollar bribes BAE paid to Prince Bandar:
"There are some difficult choices to be made here, but we face a very serious terrorist threat in this county," Straw said in Parliament. "We vitally need cooperation, as we have received from, amongst others, Saudi Arabia, and the prime minister was absolutely right in not seeking to jeopardize that."
I realize this is probably a stupid question...but I wonder whether the UK might face less of a terrorist threat if its government and corporations didn't collude in stealing billions of dollars from the people threatening them.
June 07, 2007
These Are Truly Bizarre People
Why on earth would...?
Uh. I don't understand how anyone could—hmmm.
These are some of the very strangest people on earth.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler: Bush's Warrantless Wiretapping "Worse Than Watergate"
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Chairmen of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, is holding a series of hearings, starting today, on the Bush administration's NSA wiretapping program, habeas corpus, renditions, etc. He said a lot of encouraging things in a new interview with Josh Marshall—for instance, that the warrentless wiretapping is a "criminal conspiracy" that is "worse than Watergate."
For those who prefer reading to watching, here's a transcript:
MARSHALL: Hi, this is John Marshall from TPM Media. We're here this morning with Congressman Jerrold Nadler of the 8th District of New York, which covers...lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn?
NADLER: And the West Side.
MARSHALL: And the West Side. You are starting a series of hearing later this week about the Constitution, civil liberties, and particularly the Bush administration's abuse of each of these. What are these hearings going to be about?
NADLER: Well, they'll be about a number of things. This week we'll be having a hearing on the NSA and warrantless wiretapping, the abuse of the FISA court and so forth. The rest of the month we'll be having hearings on rendition, we'll be having hearings on habeas corpus, and the Military Commissions Act.
MARSHALL: A lot of our viewers know there was this testimony a few weeks ago by James Comey, the former Deputy Attorney General, this is the thing about this nighttime visit to Attorney General Ashcroft's hospital bed, etc. Substantively that seemed to bring up that there was a lot more disagreement within the Justice Department than we realized about this program. Has that added more --
NADLER: Well, it brought up two things. Number one, what you just said. There was more disagreement than we realized -- three things, really. Number two, they apparently went ahead with an unauthorized program even for a while after they got the advice of the Justice Department that it was illegal. We'd like to know what that was. Third, apparently -- remember the New York Times revealed that they were wiretapping people in the United States whom they believed might be in contact with a foreign agent abroad, without getting wiretaps as required by the law. The Justice Department deemed that okay. But apparently they were doing something else, which the Justice Department deemed not okay, which they continued doing after the Justice Department said it was not okay, and only when Comey and others threatened to resign did they allegedly stop doing this or modify it. We'd like to know what that was.
Now of course they have testified that, Comey said it was classified. We're going to ask him. We may have to go into executive session. Because we can't legislate, Congress can't legislate, if they hide it from us. The President admits that on forty-five different occasions he granted authorization for wiretapping without a FISA court warrant -- what I call warrantless wiretapping, outside the law. This is a felony. This is punishable by five years in jail. The President, the Attorney General, and anybody else -- there's a prima facie case they engaged in a criminal conspiracy. And in effect what they're saying is they have a right to classify, and thus hold themselves harmless, from a criminal conspiracy.
From my point of view, if the executive branch is contemptuous of the power of Congress, and is going to go above the law, and ignore the law, you have to use whatever weapons the Constitution gives Congress.
MARSHALL: We've been following very closely this attorney general firing story, going back a few months now. In the course of that, sort of a sub-part of that story is the purging of civil rights division, voting rights division, you've got all these career people who've left, kind of pushed out. You're going to look at how the Attorney General run those divisions of the Justice Department. What are you going to be looking at?
NADLER: Well, we've already had one oversight hearing on that. We'll have more. It's a separate issue. It's the politicization, the ideologicalization, if you will, of the Justice Department. You have a situation with the disregarding, humiliating and in effect expelling of the professionals, the career people of the Justice Department, having the political people overrule them for political reasons, not justice reasons, and now we know through Monica Goodling that the career people were being replaced on a political basis -- even though the law says they're supposed to be non-political.
MARSHALL: How do these accusations of voter fraud, attempts to push accusations of voter fraud, what's the tie-in between that and voting rights around the country?
NADLER: Well, the tie-in is that by all objective measurements there's been very little voter fraud. The Justice Department has gone all out to try to find it, and they've found very very little of it. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but almost none of the type they're talking about of voter fraud where one person votes for another person, a person votes where they're not supposed to vote, etc. But what they've been doing is using the excuse, and the Republican party has been doing this -- this all came out of Karl Rove's shop -- the Republican party's been using the excuse of allegedly rampant voter fraud to push procedures, and laws in various states, in Congress, to require more and more restrictive identifications and other things, allegedly to prevent voter fraud but really it has the effect of voter suppression. Now, if you're a US Attorney -- these US Attorneys are all Republicans, they're all appointed by the President, they have no motive to ignore legitimate voting fraud -- but a number of them, we know, started looking into allegations of voter fraud because some Republican party official would say, hey, there's voting fraud in this place or that place. And they'd look into it and they'd find nothing there, and they said so! And they got fired. So they were fired in effect for not pursuing cases against innocent people. Which is a subversion of justice.
MARSHALL: Is there one issue that really hasn't gotten a lot of press attention that should, that you're going to be looking at?
NADLER: I think the one issue that hasn't gotten enough attention is the overwhelming obviousness of the fact that this entire warrantless wiretapping is illegal and the President and Attorney General are engaged in a criminal conspiracy. I mean, to me this is worse than Watergate. I don't understand why -- yes, it got in the press a little...yes, this is illegal, no it's not, because we have this power. Well, the Supreme Court says you don't have that power. There is no shadow of a claim at this point. And it's incredible.
MARSHALL: And this is even separate from, I mean James Comey, comes in and says, you've got to bring it back, you're saying even at that level it's still illegal, even what he approved?
NADLER: Yes, that's right. Clearly.
MARSHALL: Thank you very much for your time.
They Hate Us For Our Freedom. Our Freedom To Collude In Multi-Billion Dollar Theft.
The BBC reports:
A Saudi prince received secret payments from the UK's biggest arms dealer, a BBC investigation has revealed.
BAE Systems made regular payments of hundreds of millions of pounds to Prince Bandar bin Sultan for more than a decade.
The payments were made with the full knowledge of the Ministry of Defence...
The Prince served for 20 years as Saudi ambassador to the US.
Up to £120m a year was sent by BAE from the UK into two Saudi embassy accounts in Washington for more than a decade...
According to Panorama's sources, the payments were written into the arms deal contract in secret annexes, described as "support services".
They were authorised on a quarterly basis by the MoD.
The SFO inquiry into the Al Yamamah deal was stopped in December 2006.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the time it had been dropped because of national security concerns.
So...$100 billion a year flows into Saudi Arabia's coffers to pay for their oil. The US and UK make sure that, rather than the money staying there and being spent for the people of Saudi Arabia, it returns to us to pay for weapons Saudi Arabia doesn't need. To make this happen, arms dealers bribe the Saudi royal family with hundreds of millions of dollars, all with the knowledge and approval of the British government.
It's all so cozy:
...for two decades, Bandar had built an intimate personal relationship with the Bush family that went far beyond a mere political friendship...Bandar and the elder Bush had participated in the shared rituals of manhood -- hunting trips, vacations together, and the like...
In charitable contributions alone, the Saudis gave at least $3.5 million to Bush charities -- $1 million by Prince Bandar to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum...and a $1 million painting from Prince Bandar to George W. Bush's White House.
Two days after the 9/11 attacks, the President asked Bandar to come to the White House. Bush embraced him and escorted him to the Truman balcony. Bandar had a drink and the two men smoked cigars.
Bush welcomed Prince Bandar bin Sultan to his Texas ranch after telephoning Crown Prince Abdullah, the sitting ruler of Saudi Arabia, to say that recent anti-Saudi statements coming from the United States do not reflect Bush's desire for an "eternal friendship" with the kingdom.
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government...They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
June 06, 2007
Freakier Than Holsinger
As you may have already seen, Dr. James Holsinger, Bush's nominee for Surgeon General, is very concerned about gay men and their "anal eroticism." Indeed, like most extremely manly men, he spends a lot of time thinking about this. I'm guessing that, at least when he was younger, he thought about it four or five times a day.
So everyone's getting a good laugh about this. But Bush & co. work out their peculiar psycho-sexual obsessions in ways far more serious than this.
Take Eliot Cohen, for instance. Cohen wrote the Air Force's study of the effects of air power during the Gulf War. Later he was a founding member of Project for a New American Century. And now he works for Condoleezza Rice in one of the State Department's most prominent positions.
And this is what Eliot Cohen wrote about bombing other countries in 1994:
Air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength, in part because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment.
Ha ha ha! Yes, killing thousands of people with high explosives is sort of like sex out of wedlock! What a witty, apt comparison!
These people are the world's most genuine perverts.
Was Iraq Going To Be Certified WMD-Free In 1997?
Andrew Cockburn, co-author of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein and author of Rumsfeld, told this amazing story recently on Antiwar.com Radio:
COCKBURN: March 26, 1997 was a very important day in the history of Iraq. That's when Madeleine Albright announced that economic sanctions would remain...whether or not Iraq was found to have any more weapons of mass destruction. It didn't matter. We were going to keep sanctions on regardless. And I happen to know -- I found out recently the reason why she said that: which was that Rolf Ekeus, who was then the chief UN weapons inspector, was about to say that Iraq was now free of WMD. Okay? And this is an Antiwar Radio exclusive, I might tell you.
Rolf Ekeus was about to certify that Iraq was now free of WMD. The Clinton administration was panicked -- because if he said that, then economic sanctions would have to be lifted. Then the right wing here would say: ah, Bill Clinton let Saddam get back on his feet! And the Israeli lobby would be up in arms. So the solution was for Madeleine Albright to declare this policy, in which case they knew what would happen. Saddam would say, well, heck, I'm not going to cooperate with the UN anymore if it doesn't matter whether I comply or not, why should I let your inspectors run around the country -- who he well knew, as a lot of other people knew, were heavily infiltrated by the CIA and MI6 -- let all these Western spies run around, if there's nothing in it for me? So therefore I'm stopping cooperating.
And that's why he stopped cooperating. That was a predictable and, you know, looked for result, he stopped cooperating with the UN inspectors, so they pulled out, and [the US] said, oh, we don't know, he's kicked out the UN, we don't know what he's up to! And that really set the stage for 2003.
HORTON: And even for Operation Desert Fox in 1998.
COCKBURN: Right. The last thing they wanted was a certification, was clear evidence that Saddam didn't have any weapons.
Cockburn has also written a brief article about this, in which he quotes Ekeus saying "I was getting close to certifying that Iraq was in compliance with Resolution 687." Hopefully Cockburn will expand on this in the future, because it's an extremely important part of what happened. Here's some context for people not familiar with the details:
According to the relevant UN resolutions, the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq (beginning in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait and maintained at the end of the Gulf War) would be lifted when Iraq was certified to have been disarmed of WMD.
However, the US said immediately after the Gulf War that the sanctions would remain until Iraqis kicked Saddam out. Here's Robert Gates (then National Security Adviser, now Secretary of Defense) speaking in April, 1991:
All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone. Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government.
Before taking office, Clinton emphasized his policy was the same as the Bush administration's.
Saddam's regime made it easy on the US by lying—not about weapons they still possessed, but about what they'd produced pre-91. Meanwhile, they secretly destroyed these weapons soon after the Gulf War.
However, by the mid-nineties, Iraq's lies had been uncovered by UNSCOM. And Hussein Kamel, the man who'd run Iraq's WMD programs, defected in 1995 and told UNSCOM that Iraq had nothing.
Just days afterward Richard Haass, prominent in Republican national security circles (and now head of the Council on Foreign Relations) appeared on a panel with Kanan Makiya at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. This excerpt of what he said is long, but it's all worth reading:
HAASS: Sanctions cannot get rid of Saddam Hussein, but they can create the context in which that sort of thing can happen. Meanwhile, even if that doesn't happen, sanctions keep Saddam down...
I think we have to guard against the possibility that one day we may not be able to keep the French and Russians in line, that, if you will, Saddam does comply with so much of -- with -- you know, of the resolutions, that the United States can't sustain the policy, and I think we have to have in our hip pocket what would be a fallback strategy at that point...
We are clearly in favor of regime change...[but] there's no reference anywhere in any U.N. resolution to regime change. And for the United States in the past, when we have talked about trying to keep sanctions in place so long as Saddam is in power, that might be something the United States wants, but we're on political and legal thin ice when we say that because, alas, others don't agree with us, particularly the French and the Russians, and they do have the text [of the UN resolutions] to support them.
Q Dr. Haass, you expressed optimism that the defections would actually keep the sanctions going longer than otherwise. But if you look at what Ekeus just said yesterday or today, he actually sounded positively enthusiastic, in his own Scandanavian way, of course, about the -- (laughter) -- about the Iraqi report that was just received, and it seems possible by November there will be already a positive report from Ekeus that might bring the Europeans to want to remove the sanctions.
On the other hand, the American arguments have not worked with regard to the other resolutions. Can you think of any, or can anybody think of any, creative ways to come up with new arguments that might persuade Europeans to keep the sanctions beyond that date?
HAASS: Oh, I'm not worried about keeping sanctions beyond November. I think that won't be terribly difficult. Even if Mr. Ekeus is convinced is convinced that by now the Iraqis have not simply shown another layer but they have not revealed everything, then a period of time would have to pass so we'd have a monitoring period, roughly, say, six months, whatever, before sanctions would be lifted. So I think the big debate on sanctions doesn't happen this fall, it probably happens next spring...
It's possible at some point the United States will find itself totally isolated. And then, as I suggested earlier, then I think we'll have to start thinking about fallbacks...
And indeed the US did find itself isolated by 1997. UNSCOM was not finding evidence that Iraq was hiding anything, and on the UN Security Council only the US and England favored the continuation of sanctions. And so Albright, who'd just become Secretary of State, went to Georgetown and said this:
We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions...And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful...
Clearly, a change in Iraq's government could lead to a change in U.S. policy. Should that occur, we would stand ready, in coordination with our allies and friends, to enter rapidly into a dialogue with the successor regime.
And that was that. Ekeus was replaced as head of UNSCOM by Richard Butler in July, 1997. Relations between UNSCOM and Iraq worsened, with Iraq more frequently blocking access to "presidential sites." The US continually threatened bombings in reprisal, which finally happened in Operation Desert Fox in December, 1998.
UN inspectors never returned until fall, 2002 in the run up to war. And just as under Clinton, they were there simply as a pretext to make regime change possible.
(Thanks to Seth Ackerman for pointing out the Haass appearance.)
June 05, 2007
If I could just make one more request: it would be nice if you guys could put him under oath and ask him what the hell he was doing.
Libby's Devious Integrity
One particularly entertaining one is from Henry Kissinger. Here's how Kissinger pretends to see the world, when writing to a judge:
I met Scooter early in the second Bush administration, when he served as Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney. In that capacity, he attended all my meetings with the Vice President. He also acted as a kind of liaison for me to the National Security process. I was deeply impressed by his dedication, seriousness, patriotism and essential dignity...in my observations, he pursued his objectives with integrity and a sense of responsibility.
Here's how Henry Kissinger actually sees the world, from The Final Days:
Kissinger counseled his aides that deviousness was part of their job [on the National Security Council]. "You systems-analysis people have too much integrity," he told one of them. "This is not an honorable business conducted by honorable men in an honorable way. Don't assume I'm that way and you shouldn't be."
Harsh But Honest Criticism From A Bold Leader
My friend Rob sent me this recent commencement address, in which the speaker didn't hesitate to tell some uncomfortable truths:
While it’s wonderful to have the world literally at our fingertips, the tsumani of information at our beck and call has the potential to drown us and actually make us less informed...Surfing the web may be fast and fun, but sometimes pursuing knowledge requires you to go in the deep end — and not just dip your toe in the shallow water...
The proliferation of celebrity magazines makes Lindsey Lohan’s latest stint in rehab seem more important than what’s happening in Darfur.
The kind of fluff that accosts us on the newsstand may seem like harmless fun, but it should also come with a warning label that says it can rot your mind and distort your values.
Wow, that's great! If only the person saying this had some influence in this area! But sadly, they are completely powerless.
COMING UP: I fearlessly attack this website for its many deep flaws.
June 04, 2007
Dear God Almighty I Hate Hillary Clinton
I didn't watch the debate last night, because I was too busy painting a confederate flag on the shell of my box turtle. (Don't ask.) But I'm reading the transcript, and it certainly makes me despise Hillary Clinton even more:
BLITZER: Senator Clinton, do you agree with Senator Edwards that this war on terror is nothing more than a bumper sticker; at least the way it's been described?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D) NEW YORK: No, I do not. I am a senator from New York. I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11, and I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda.
And I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough. And I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should following.
Is there any way she could have packed more loathsome disingenuousness into thirty seconds? Every single word except the senator from New York part could have come out of George Bush's mouth. It's like she's studied all his talking points and boiled them down to their essentials.
1. Pretend you don't understand what people mean when they criticize the phrase "war on terror." Act like such people mean the 9/11 attacks weren't so bad.
2. Have you mentioned 9/11? Good. Be sure to emphasize your unique insight into and emotional connection with it.
3. Pretend to think the 9/11 terrorists were "intent upon foisting their way of life" upon us. Nothing better expresses the depth of your contempt for Americans.
4. Try to find that sweet spot where people will still be scared enough to feel they need you to protect them, but not so scared they start to wonder what you've been doing for the past five years.
She. Is. Horrible.
June 03, 2007
More Lighting Candles, Less Cursing Darkness?
A few days ago, "Guest" left this comment:
Mr. Proprietor, as much as I enjoy the scornful take-downs on this site, I would really like to hear more about what the "good guys" are doing these days. Are there good journalists out there? I would love it if you would spend a few column inches just listing them, and talking a little about what they're doing.
Truth be told, I am almost through reading blogs at all - most of what I read are Left takedowns of ridiculous Rightwing bullshit, and it's gotten really old. I understand that this is necessary. But it's not exactly news that Bush, Cheney, etc. are liars, and that most journalists these days are spineless non-journalists and paid hacks. I would like to see more of an effort to discuss and promote the non-bullshit that's out there. Unless of course there isn't any.
I think this is a completely accurate criticism. In fact, my getting angry at Fareed Zakaria may indicate that I've hit bottom with this particular addiction.
I will strive to do better in the future. In the meantime, I'm very much open to anyone who has further thoughts.
I Can Get Mad About Anything
Right now I'm mad at Fareed Zakaria for writing this:
For those who look at the future and see challenges, competition and threats, keep in mind that this new world has been forming over the last 20 years, and the United States has forged ahead amid all the turmoil. In 1980, the U.S. share of global GDP was 20 percent. Today it is 29 percent.
Zakaria likes this little factoid. Here he is using it (with a different number for 1980, weirdly enough) in 2002:
In 1960, the United States' share of world output was thirty per cent; by 1980 it had dropped to twenty-three per cent; today it is twenty-nine per cent.
So which is the better yardstick? Let's ask the World Bank:
Purchasing power parities
Purchasing power parity (PPP) conversion factors take into account differences in the relative prices of goods and services—particularly non-tradables—and therefore provide a better overall measure of the real value of output produced by an economy compared to other economies...
Market exchange rates
The total GDP data shown here measured in current U.S. dollars use annual, market exchange rates. This means that the values and derived rankings are subject to greater volatility due to variations in exchange rates. Inter-country comparisons based on GDP at market prices should, therefore, be treated with caution.
And the IMF:
Advantages of PPP. A main one is that PPP exchange rates are relatively stable over time. By contrast, market rates are more volatile, and using them could produce quite large swings in aggregate measures of growth even when growth rates in individual countries are stable. Another drawback of market-based rates is that they are relevant only for internationally traded goods...PPP is generally regarded as a better measure of overall well-being.
And the OECD:
What are the major uses of PPPs?
The major use of PPPs is as a first step in making inter-country comparisons in real terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and its component expenditures...Calculating PPPs is the first step in the process of converting the level of GDP and its major aggregates, expressed in national currencies, into a common currency to enable these comparisons to be made.
What are the drawbacks to using exchange rates to convert GDP to a common currency for making international comparisons (e.g. of production or productivity)?
[E]xchange rates do not simply reflect the relative prices of goods and services produced in a country...the PPP approach is preferred conceptually in such cases...As with a time series of GDP at constant prices, it then becomes possible to compare the underlying volumes.
Because exchange rate movements, in general, tend to be more volatile than changes in national price levels, the purchasing power parity approach provides the proper basis for comparing living standards and examining productivity levels over time
The problem here isn't that Zakaria made a mistake. It's that he would never make a mistake like this in the other direction—i.e., something that made the U.S. look worse than it is. You don't get to be International Editor of Newsweek and host of your own program on PBS and on the board of Yale without having a tendency toward saying inaccurate, self-congratulatory crap about America.
Moreover, to really rise in those circles, it has to be inaccurate, self-congratulatory crap that's no more than two sentences long. Anything more will tax the attention span of the person you're talking to at the reception at the Council on Foreign Relations. Kudos to Zakaria for really honing his skill in this area.
Still, it's not a good thing for countries when their institutions select for people who tell pleasing fairy tales rather than the truth. For instance, such countries often get involved in land wars in Asia.
June 02, 2007
Return Of The King
After some time away, the King of Zembla is back with lots of news from a distant northern land.
As we know, the Nixon adminstration was tremendously manly in the early seventies. But the Bush administration exemplifies current day manliness. Here's Michael Gerson, former chief Bush speechwriter, talking about Dan Bartlett and Bush:
“They’re good friends. I can tell the president enjoys his company, enjoys kidding around with him. They share a Texas view of life, and an approach. They both have a casual manner and a manly humor and share a lot of political interests, coming out of that Texas Republicanism.”
Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"
June 01, 2007
The Manly Men Of The Nixon Administration Visit McManlytown
Here's Richard Nixon being extremely manly in the Oval Office tapes:
NIXON: You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. Neither in a public way. You know what happened to the popes? They were layin' the nuns; that's been goin' on for years, centuries. But the Catholic Church went to hell three or four centuries ago. It was homosexual, and it had to be cleaned out. That's what's happened to Britain. It happened earlier to France.
Let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn, they root 'em out. They don't let 'em around at all...
The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to time--it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.
Here's Kissinger in The Final Days, wearing the man-manly pants:
On occasion [Kissinger] expressed enthusiasm at the size of the bomb craters that American B-52s left in North Vietnam, and he once bragged to Elliot Richardson that they would "reduce Le Duc Tho to tears." When Anthony Lake, his executive assistant, questioned the bombing policies, Kissinger ridiculed him. In a long discussion that grew heated, Kissinger said Lake's approach to the war was "not manly enough."
Also in the The Final Days, Alexander Haig rides the manly train to McManlyville:
To Kissinger and his aides, Haig sometimes referred to the President as an inherently weak man who lacked guts. He joked that Nixon and Bebe Robozo had a homosexual relationship, imitating what he called the President's limp-wrist manner.
And What Do Iraqis Think About This?
Now that the Bush administration is claiming their model for our presence in Iraq is South Korea, has anyone asked Iraqi politicians what they think about that? Sam Husseini did—three years ago.
Henry Kissinger Tells It Like It Is
From The Final Days:
Kissinger counseled his aides that deviousness was part of their job. "You systems-analysis people have too much integrity," he told one of them. "This is not an honorable business conducted by honorable men in an honorable way. Don't assume I'm that way and you shouldn't be."
From Woodward's recent book State of Denial:
A powerful, largely invisible influence on Bush's Iraq policy was former secretary of state Kissinger.
"Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter [his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby] and I sit down with him."
The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs.