September 30, 2007
New Seymour Hersh Article On Iran
Here are the most important parts:
This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism...
At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, "Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives." The former intelligence official added, "There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President"...
The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.
I bolded the sentence about Pentagon support for this plan because that's critical. I'm working on a piece about congressional opposition to an attack on Iran, and let me tell you, there is essentially none. The only thing that might stop Bush and Cheney is the military. It's extremely significant if their resistance is weakening.
AND: Hersh will be on CNN's Late Edition today (meaning at some point between 11 am-1 pm ET) talking about the article.
September 29, 2007
Columbia's Long History Of Dictator-Loving
Wonderfully enough, on the very same day Columbia president Lee Bollinger was castigating Ahmadenijad, the dictator of Turkmenistan was speaking elsewhere at Columbia. Yet Bollinger didn't seem upset about this at all. Huh.
Meanwhile, it turns out Columbia gave the Shah an honorary degree in 1955, just two years after the US overthrew Iran's democratically-elected government and installed him in power. Louis Proyect has the details on this (with pictures!) as well as on other proud episodes of Columbia's coziness with dictators.
September 28, 2007
Dan Abrams, Master Of Journalism
Now we know Dan Abrams, general manager of MSNBC, demanded that David Shuster apologize for getting his facts wrong in an exchange with Rep. Marsha Blackburn on the MoveOn Petraeus ad, when Shuster turned out to be right.
So how did Abrams become general manager in the first place? Clearly GE executives liked the job he was doing previously as host of The Abrams Report—for instance, his impressive performance in this December 12, 2002 interview with Mike Farrell. (I learned about this from Jeff Cohen's book Cable News Confidential.)
As you'll see, it's no surprise GE decided to elevate Abrams to a key decision-making position. He knows how to get the job done.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: On the agenda tonight: a new report that Iraq may have given Islamic terrorists nerve gas. If so, could that change a lot of minds about war? We'll ask policymakers, and a even Hollywood star who is leading the anti-war effort, whether this could change everything...
[The story Abrams referred to had been on the Washington Post's front page the day before, and was completely untrue.]
Some of Hollywood's biggest names are urging restraint in the standoff with Iraq. This week, they signed a letter addressed to President Bush asking him to tone down the rhetoric and urged him to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict instead of using military action.
The letter reads, in part: "War talk in Washington is alarming and unnecessary. The valid U.S. and U.N. objective of disarming Saddam Hussein can be achieved through legal diplomatic means. There is no need for war."
But does Iraq's reported sale or gift of chemical weapons to an Islamic extremist group change all of that?
Joining me now is one of the people who signed that letter, a former "M.A.S.H." star, as well as NBC's "Providence," Mike Farrell...
What do you make of this? This new report indicates to me that this, if true, is a very, very serious issue that might warrant a war with Iraq.
FARRELL: Sure. Let me, if I might, ask you to back up just a bit. "If true," you said.
FARRELL: What if it's not true?
ABRAMS: Well, let's start...
FARRELL: No, let's start with the history.
You know and the American people should know that this administration has hired a public relations firm to sell its case on war -- for war on Iraq. If this leak that is, as Secretary Korb simply just pointed out inferentially, if this leak done in the way it is, which doesn't really tie them to it, but may propose the proposition, so that you and others can raise it on television and ratchet up again people's fears, if this report is not true, what does it mean?
And what does it mean to those of us in America who feel that perhaps this administration, as has been called the most secretive in U.S. history, is simply trying to gull us into approving an action that goes against the very principles upon which our democracy is based?
ABRAMS: OK. Now let's go to my question, which is, if it is true, does that change your position? And my concern has always been that this letter was premature, meaning that, right now, what we have seen is the president go to the U.N., get a 15-0 resolution, hasn't attacked Iraq, hasn't gone in unilaterally, maybe doing this as a strategic move to make it clear that the U.S. is serious. If this is true, then would that make you reevaluate and say to yourself: Maybe we were hasty?
FARRELL: Sure. Let me respond to your preamble before I respond to the question.
The president's going to the U.N., as you well know, or I assume you know, was done reluctantly. It was done at the urging of Secretary Powell, against the wishes of most of the hawks in the administration.
ABRAMS: It was done, though. It was done. Who cares why? It was done...Now answer my question, which is, if it's true.
FARRELL: Yes, but you have also -- forgive me -- you have loaded the question with any number of principles leading up to it.
ABRAMS: Forget about the principles. Just answer the...
FARRELL: No, I am not going to forget about the principles. I will answer the question if you will shut up and let me...But let's be fair. The administration has been acting -- the media, forgive me, has been acting as a megaphone for the administration throughout this process.
ABRAMS: You know, that's...How much media are you actually watching on this? Are you really watching a lot of...
FARRELL: When you emblazon your own show with "Showdown With Iraq" or "Countdown on Iraq" and all this other stuff...what is the message that is sent, do you suppose, to the American people?
ABRAMS: The message that is sent is that there has been a U.N. resolution that has given Saddam Hussein a certain amount of time to respond. Saddam Hussein had a timeframe. He had to respond..
Let me bring in Lawrence Korb...Lawrence Korb is someone who you all have cited, because, as I pointed out before, he has been reluctant.
Are you as cynical as Mr. Farrell about the administration, basically suggesting that any possible al Qaeda connection, etcetera, simply would be false?
KORB: Well, I think one has to be cynical about the way that they have released information. For the longest time, they kept trumpeting this idea that there was this meeting in Prague. That turned out not to be true.
And there's the point I made earlier. If in fact this is true, they need to come forward, tell us, not have leaks, unnamed sources, without White House permission. On "60 minutes" last Sunday, they showed that they leaked a story to the paper. Then, all the members then went on television and cited that as a source.
ABRAMS: I agree with you both when it comes to how information is released. The question is, if it is true, it is scary.
FARRELL: Well, yes.
ABRAMS: And that is much more important to me than how it's being released...
FARRELL: Is it important to you that the administration has lied in the past and that we have indications that they're continuing to try and gull us into believing that they are telling the truth?
ABRAMS: I don't know about that.
FARRELL: Well, they have.
This Is Where We Disagree
I'm pleased to read this New York Times article about US religious leaders meeting with Ahmadinejad. Good for them. Yet here's where these religious leaders and I part ways:
At the clerics’ meeting, Albert Lobe, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, said pointedly, “We mean to extend to you the hospitality which a head of state deserves.”
My position is that all heads of state of all countries at all times should, when appearing in public, be showered with rotting garbage. This garbage should consist of at least 5% rancid mayonnaise by volume.
It's not that there are no worthwhile heads of state. At any time Planet Earth may enjoy as many as two of them. But the worthwhile ones will appreciate the garbage-pelting policy and not be deterred, while the non-worthwhile ones may decide to move into a less destructive career, such as serial killer.
• CurrencyTrading.net has a new post called "10 Important Functions Performed by the Federal Reserve that You’ve Never Heard About." It's quite interesting, though I can't agree with the first sentence:
Most people know that the Fed performs functions like adjusting the discount rate and federal funds rate, clearing checks, and lending money to banks.
...since not only do most people not know this, I'm not sure most people know there is such a thing as the Federal Reserve.
• Jonathan Versen sends along a post from Muzzlewatch about famous Lebanese oud player Marcel Khalifé. Apparently a San Diego concert featuring him was canceled because the venue claimed it would be "divisive" and "unbalanced" without an Israeli performer on the same bill. This is clearly bad, but to me the real scandal is the very real possibility there is no instrument called the oud.
• New blurver and admitted Canadian Ian Garrick Mason has an update on Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen captured in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was fifteen and held in indefinite detention at Guantanamo since then.
September 27, 2007
It's Times Like This When It Would Be Nice If We Had Reporters Or A Congress
Here's Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, writing for the Huffington Post. Note the dates are more than four months ago:
My cousin Larry Russell, a travel writer, spent three weeks (May 11 through May 31 of 2007) in Jordan as a guest of the Jordanian Tourist Board. He was invited to dinner at the home of Karim Kawar, Jordan's ex- ambassador to the United States (2002-06), in Amman. Dick Cheney and his daughter were Kawar's guests two nights before Larry arrived. Kawar confided to Larry that "Cheney's mission was to sound out the reaction to a forthcoming bombing of Iran's nuclear sites (no ground invasion planned) by the U.S. from Jordan's King Abdullah and President Mubarak of Egypt. They both rejected the idea."
When Larry pointed out that Jordan and Egypt receive regular economic and military equipment assistance from the United States so any resistance to this plan on their parts would probably be of a token nature at best, Kawar just smiled.
Here's an AP story datelined May 8th:
Mr. Cheney departed Tuesday on a weeklong trip to the Middle East right after a visit to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
While Ms. Rice's trip had a wide-ranging agenda, administration officials said Mr. Cheney would focus largely on the next steps in Iraq.
His first stop will be Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Other announced stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. He will also visit the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf.
What can Mr. Cheney bring to the region that Ms. Rice could not?
''The vice president is somebody who has long relations with many of the key leaders in the region, and therefore, is able to deal with them on a basis of personal trust and confidence,'' said the White House press secretary, Tony Snow.
''They can have conversations that are candid, that are detailed, that are respectful,'' he said.
Perhaps it exists, but I've never seen coverage beyond this of what Cheney discussed at these meetings.
Hillary Clinton Would Like To Take This Opportunity To Spit In Our Face Just One More Time
Here's Hillary Clinton in the debate last night, talking about the recent Israeli bombing of Syria:
CLINTON: [W]e don't have as much information as we wish we did. But what we think we know is that with North Korean help, both financial and technical and material, the Syrians apparently were putting together, and perhaps over some period of years, a nuclear facility, and the Israelis took it out. I strongly support that...there was evidence of a North Korea freighter coming in with supplies. There was intelligence and other kinds of verification.
I wish she'd just gone for it completely and described how Syria had attacked Israel in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The only other candidate who even picked up on it was Obama, who delivered this audaciously hopeful weak tea:
OBAMA: Now, we don't know exactly what happened with respect to Syria. We've gotten general reports, but we don't know all the specifics. We got general reports in the run-up to the Iraq war that proved erroneous, and a lot of people voted for that war as a consequence.
Sam Husseini On Iranian TV
I'm disappointed they don't call it "Voice of Iran-English," just for the symmetry in propaganda.
September 26, 2007
Katie Couric, Now And Then
Katie Couric at the National Press Club last night:
“Everyone in this room would agree that people in this country were misled in terms of the rationale of this war...The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying ‘we’ when referring to the United States and, even the ‘shock and awe’ of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the ‘Today’ show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’ And is this really being properly challenged by the right people?"
Katie Couric, April 3, 2003:
"I think Navy SEALs rock!"
It's good to know that, as an extremely rich, prominent journalist, Couric did not conceive of herself as one of the "right people" to "properly challenge" a march toward war. I assume she thought to herself, Surely there must be someone somewhere with the power and access to ask some tough questions! Why aren't they stepping forward?!?
Lee Bollinger, Courageous Man Of Principle
We found out with Ahmadinejad how Columbia President Lee Bollinger introduces foreign leaders who are (1) unsavory and (2) Official Enemies of the United States. Bollinger doesn't back down! He tells it like it is!
So, how does he introduce foreign leaders who are (1) unsavory and (2) Official Friends of the United States? John Caruso has the details.
Carah Ong has all the information on the Kyl-Lieberman Iran amendment, which just passed 76-22. Before the vote the language was changed from unbelievably horribly bad to merely very bad.
Clinton voted for it. Obama, audaciously and hopefully, missed the vote.
September 25, 2007
Iran Iran Iran
The Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran was not voted on today. ThinkProgress has a statement by Harry Reid saying it is being revised and he currently neither supports nor opposes it.
Carah Ong has what appears to be the amendment's current language. The changes are small and essentially meaningless in terms of slowing the momentum toward war it would create. All they would do is provide cover for Senators like Reid to vote for it.
Ong also points out the Tom Lantos bill broadening sanctions on Iran passed today 397-16. The Senate version has been filed as an amendment to the FY08 Defense spending bill.
And Ong has remarks by Peter Galbraith today on Kyl-Lieberman.
Finally, Dennis Perrin is entertaining about the Ahmadinejad-in-NY explosion of warmongery.
Tell Your Senators NOW To Oppose Kyl-Lieberman Amendment On Iran
The horrible Kyl-Lieberman Amendment on Iran may be voted on in the Senate as soon as today. Call your senator right now (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) to tell them to oppose it.
I don't have any hope this will fail, but it would be nice for it not to be a shut out. Call now.
AND: You should write them, too. Get their contact forms at senate.gov or via Just Foreign Policy. A useful guide on writing to congress is here, although of course there's no time to send something by mail.
September 24, 2007
Now that we know George Bush and Karl Rove recently spent 45 minutes listening to Norman Podhoretz's views on Iran (kill! kill! kill!), it's worthwhile to remember this May 21, 2004 statement by Podhoretz's wife, author Midge Decter:
We're not in the middle east to bring sweetness and light to the whole world. That's nonsense. We're in the middle east because we and our European friends and our European non-friends depend on something that comes from the middle east, namely oil.
(You can listen to it yourself here at 35:55. Decter was appearing on KCRW's show To the Point.)
Bush gave Podhoretz the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2004. And he hired Elliot Abrams, Iran-contra criminal and Podhoretz and Decter's son-in-law, for his National Security Council staff. (Delightfully, Abrams' title is "Deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy." I understand the position was originally called Deputy National Security Adviser for Sweetness and Light.)
So Bush really digs this family. How strange that he loves hanging around with a clan whose matriarch he disagrees with so fundamentally.
BONUS: Just before her oil comment, Midge Decter said this about another guest who referred to neoconservatives as "Jacobins":
I'm with Bill Kristol here. You can put a name on it and make it a very unpleasant name. That's not the way to conduct an argument.
Yes, there's nothing neoconservatives hate more than the use of name-calling in political arguments. It's their absolute refusal to engage in it themselves that gives them their well-deserved reputation for intellectual integrity.
This Ahmadinejad Guy Is Even Worse Than I Thought!
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said he thought Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad was a mistake "because he comes literally with blood on his hands."
Not just figuratively, but literally with blood on his hands. I'm sorry, that's just bad manners.
Here Comes The Kyl-Lieberman Amendment On Iran
According to Carah Ong:
Senators Lieberman and Kyl predicted that their amendment could come up for a vote tomorrow if there are votes on the Defense Authorization bill.
Senator Kyl also said they would possibly change some of the language in the amendment to say that the resolution is not an authorization for use of force against Iran...
Sen. Lamar Alexander asked for unanimous consent to be added as a co-sponsor to the bill.
I'm giving the over/under on the number of Senators voting against at negative five.
Greenspan: Saddam Was "Far More Important To Get Out Than Bin Laden"
It's gone almost completely unnoticed that when Alan Greenspan appeared on the Charlie Rose Show last week, he announced that Saddam Hussein was "far more important to get out than bin Laden." (Video here, transcript below.) Nice to learn how the people at the pinnacle of US power are actually thinking as they make our decisions for us.
There's lots of other good stuff too:
• Greenspan spends several minutes shucking and jiving about what he said in his book about Iraq and oil. As you read the Charlie Rose transcript below this, keep in mind while Greenspan bloviates about how this is just MY opinion on what the motivation SHOULD have been, and the Bush administration itself was completely sincere, and people now are getting a caricature of my views! what precisely it is he wrote:
Whatever their publicised angst over Saddam Hussain's "weapons of mass destruction," American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in the area that harbours a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.
Note also what he said in a Guardian interview conducted before the book was published: "I thought the issue of weapons of mass destruction as the excuse was utterly beside the point."
• When Rose suggests Saddam being an "evil tyrant" as a possible rationale for war, Greenspan doesn't even bother to give it a nod. Completely irrelevant. I suspect that, in private, exactly the same deep moral fervor is felt by the Bush administration.
• Greenspan explains how, if Saddam had remained in power, this that and the other thing might have happened, eventually, that would have had "catastrophic effects in the industrial world." It would be an enjoyable experience to witness him wander the streets of Baghdad making this case for war. "Oh no!," I imagine Iraqis saying, "Not a highly speculative, unknown possibility of economic damage at some future date to the world's richest countries! Thank god you got here in time!"
• Greenspan tell us this is "a fascinating problem about the issue of the morality and the whole concept of preventive wars." I understand that's the way Iraqis see this too—as a "fascinating problem."
Greenspan also explains he's "conflicted by this issue. I don't know how I would come out. I can see the arguments on both sides." Here it's useful to again look back at the pre-publication Guardian interview, where he said, "From a rational point of view, I cannot understand why we don't name what is evident and indeed a wholly defensible pre-emptive position." Wow, he's really on the fence on this one.
Alan Greenspan: Celebrating 81 Years of Mumbly Hackdom.
CHARLIE ROSE: You said in respect to the Iraqi war, it was about oil.
ALAN GREENSPAN: In my judgment.
CHARLIE ROSE: In your judgment.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Tell us exactly what you meant it was about oil. Because when you said that, every liberal, progressive, left blogger in the world said a-ha!, Alan Greenspan has finally told the truth. The war was about oil. He's our guy.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Let`s put it this way. It is about -- it is about...
CHARLIE ROSE: MoveOn.org has found a new hero. It's Alan Greenspan.
ALAN GREENSPAN: They weren`t listening closely. No, more exactly, in the passage I put that in, I go by it a little too fast. I erroneously thought it was relatively self-evident, and it wasn't.
I was not saying that the administration did not believe that there were weapons of mass destruction, and that was the motive for going to war. I have every reason to believe that that is, in fact, the case. They were wrong, obviously, but that was the motive.
I was raising a different issue. To me, I always thought it was very important that Saddam Hussein be deposed.
CHARLIE ROSE: But not because he was an evil tyrant, but because of what he could do with the oil weapon.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Absolutely. The problem basically was that if you looked at his history, he was clearly gravitating towards gaining control of all Middle East oil, specifically by finding a way to bottle up the Straits of Hormuz.
CHARLIE ROSE: But he had already been defeated in that effort. That is what the '91 war was about. He goes into Kuwait, and he talks about or he thinks or it was projected on him that he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia. In that case, you know, game over.
ALAN GREENSPAN: And he kept coming back and coming back and coming back. I mean, remember that there was no evidence, as far as I could see, that having been defeated in the first Gulf War...
CHARLIE ROSE: That he gave up ambition.
ALAN GREENSPAN: ... that he gave up ambition. And the critical issue was I always suspected or thought fairly inevitable that he would be able to get one of the Soviet nuclear weapons, which I had said it's inconceivable to me that during the chaos of the immediate fall of the Berlin Wall that they could protect all of those weapons.
CHARLIE ROSE: We believe they have.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Absolutely -- it looks to me as though they have, because if they hadn't, somebody would have detonated one of those things - - some terrorist...
CHARLIE ROSE: Somebody would have sold it to somebody for a lot of money.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Yes. So that it always -- it was always my impression that he had, obviously a huge amount of cash. And that he would get a nuclear weapon, threaten all of his neighbors, blockade or control the Straits of Hormuz, and essentially blackmail the industrialized world.
People do not realize in this country, for example, how tenuous our ties to international energy are. That is, we on a daily basis require continuous flow. If that flow is shut off, it causes catastrophic effects in the industrial world. And it's that which made him far more important to get out than bin Laden. And whether we did it by any non-military or non...
CHARLIE ROSE: What people would now question in terms of your judgment about that is whether he was that threat, in fact, at the time, and whether he could have been contained. And whether we lost when we had so much a reserve of goodwill, we would have been better off focusing on bin Laden.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, I grant that it`s a disputable issue. And I am not convinced I`m right on this. And I don't think the evidence is fully on my side.
But knowing how tenuous the problem is, it is very important for the national security of this country and the economic security, as well as all of our major trading partners, that the international oil system remain secure.
CHARLIE ROSE: Either that or find an alternative.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Or -- exactly. And I'm arguing in the book that we better start finding alternatives. Because we are not going to be able to maintain this.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you have been at the highest level of government for a long time.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: In various -- in and out of the White House, economic adviser, chairman of the Federal Reserve. I mean, you have had -- you have been a voice that people wanted to at least -- even if it weren`t in your jurisdiction, they respected your judgment. And you seem to be saying that if this country doesn`t understand that its economic security depends on having an access to fossil fuel and to oil, we`re going to be in huge trouble. Unless we do that. And therefore at every turn, every president of the United States has to think about do I have a guaranteed source of oil.
ALAN GREENSPAN: You are never going to get a guaranteed source. But you have got to have a source which is sufficiently reliable or several sufficiently reliable sources so that if one goes out, you can continue to maintain the system.
CHARLIE ROSE: And if I have to knock off some dictator to get that source, that's OK.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, that raises a fascinating problem about the issue of the morality and the whole concept of preventive wars.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you say?
ALAN GREENSPAN: And I say I am conflicted by this issue. I don't know how I would come out. I can see the arguments on both sides.
September 23, 2007
Supporting The Troops Through History
Some oppose the extermination of the genetically unfit. It infuriates me that these traitors fail to support the troops:
Extending the project [of forced euthanasia] from children to adults meant rendering medical killing an official overall policy — a policy Hitler enunciated in his “Führer decree” of October 1939...usually attributed to Hitler’s conviction that a wartime atmosphere would render the German population more amenable to such a project, there was a deeper psychological relationship between “euthanasia” and war. As the fanatical Dr. Pfannmüller in the Nazi program put it: “The idea is unbearable to me that the best, the flower of our youth must lose its life at the front in order that feebleminded and irresponsible asocial elements can have a secure existence in the asylum.”
COMING UP: Why supporting the troops involves you giving me all your money and then pulling me around in a rickshaw.
New From FAIR
FAIR has put some of its most recent issue of Extra! online. Available articles include Seth Ackerman on the media's refusal to report America's involvement in the Gaza civil war ("I Like This Violence!") and Aaron Swartz on right-wing environmental fairy tales ("Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?"). A version of Swartz's piece with all his sources is here.
Jon Stewart In 1996 On US Foreign Policy
I dug up Jon Stewart's 1996 HBO special, and have snipped together the bits on America's propensity to bomb things—particularly Iraq. It's interesting for a bunch of reasons, and still pretty funny.
(Sorry, technical glitch. Hold on.)
September 22, 2007
September 21, 2007
Threatening Lieberman-Kyl Amendment On Iran
Amazingly, no one anywhere in the US media seems to have noticed that yesterday Jon Kyl (Arizona) and Joe Lieberman filed an extremely threatening amendment on Iran to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill. I guess all their time was taken up with the earth-shakingly important issue of newspaper ads.
It's a "Sense of the Senate" resolution, which means it has no legal force, but as the Congressional Research Service will tell you, "foreign governments pay close attention to [such resolutions] as evidence of shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities." If you want you can read it yourself (.doc), but here are the most important paragraphs:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.
If something like this passes both the House and Senate, I think Bush could legitimately argue that between it, the War Powers Act and the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations to Use Military Force, he has all the authority he needs to attack Iran.
UPDATE: It seems one news outlet has noted this—National Review.
The Warmonger Within
September 20, 2007
The Iron Law Of Institutions Strikes Again!
The vote today condemning the Moveon Petraeus ad is an excellent example of the Iron Law of Institutions—ie, that people within institutions act to increase their own power rather than the power of the institution itself.
A retarded baboon could understand it was in the long run best interests of the Democratic party as an institution to stand united against the bill. Yet 22 Democrats voted for it, thus passing it 70+ to 25.
Why? I guarantee you because in many cases the Democratic Senators don't like Moveon. It may be good for the party overall, but any new constituency usually creates enormous problems for those already in power. (At the least it requires you to spend time for their care and feeding.) Why would you want to change the status quo when you're the status quo? Far more appealing to take these interlopers down a peg.
Thinking Clearly About The Media
In comments here, Craig Cipriano writes:
Every form of mass media in the US is supported by advertising. Radio, television, and newspapers all need advertisers to operate. So, relative to all other forms of media, the cost of surfing the internet for information is "free".
If HuffPo, Kos, FDL, C&L, Atrios, Digby, TomDispatch, ATR and all the others started charging subscription fees, it would deprive far too many people of their vital and diverse information and opinions.
While the 'net isn't free in the purest sense, it gives all of us unparalleled access to a wealth of knowledge we can't afford to get any other way.
Let's try to think clearly about this. Look at it this way:
The total 2006 advertising revenue for the Tribune Co.'s main papers (the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Newsday) was $3.26 billion. This money isn't conjured up out of thin air; it comes from the pockets of everyone who buys products advertised in those papers.
Now, how much of this goes to genuine, serious reporting? Ie, not shareholder profit, not executive salaries, not 3,000-word pieces on Suri Cruise in the LA Times Calendar section. Is it even one percent of that $3.26 billion—ie, $32.6 million? Let's be extremely generous and say it is.
What this means is that America can afford to pay for serious reporting. In fact, we can afford to pay 100 TIMES the cost of serious reporting.
So is there a better source than advertising? The other possibilities are government funding, subscriptions and donations. Getting money from the government is always a bad idea in the long run. And I agree a subscription model may have negatives that overwhelm the positives.
But what about donations? Imagine progressives organized themselves to start a news organization, available for free online and funded entirely by donations. And imagine the goal was to raise $32.6 million—one percent of the advertising revenue of one division of one media conglomerate. What would that pay for?
At a generous $100,000 per person in salaries and benefits, that pays for 250 reporters and editors with $7.6 million left over to run the web operation. 250 reporters and editors answerable not to advertisers and corporate owners, but solely to the people who read and fund them.
Are there even 250 reporters and editors now following national politics seriously in the entire United States? Let alone 250 reporters and editors with the freedom to say what they want?
The point is this: not only are we already paying for all the information we're getting, we're paying in an incredibly inefficient way, while also giving up almost total control to people who don't have our best interests at heart. It's by no means the case we can't afford to get information in any other way. It's just that we've failed to organize ourselves in our own best interests. We can change this, but only if we understand what's actually happening now.
Now With More Hitchens!
Don't Think You Know Better Than Haig
Here's Donald Kagan, former Dean of Yale and father of Frederick Kagan, speaking this September 11th:
[Kagan's] keynote address centered on the importance of patriotism and national unity, and Kagan decried those who support withdrawing troops from Iraq in the near future. Referencing a lecture he gave shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, he said Americans have a “moral responsibility” to support the government...
As an advocate for freedom, the U.S. has earned its share of enemies, so Kagan said it has a special need for domestic unity and patriotism.
As Congress considers a series of bills that would drastically alter the course of the Iraq war, one prominent Republican senator will be focusing his efforts on condemning a newspaper advertisement.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, will introduce a sense of the Senate resolution Thursday criticizing MoveOn.org's recent advertisement in the New York Times. The ad called into question the credibility of Lt. General David Petraeus, suggesting the pseudonym "Betray Us."
Cornyn's amendment proclaims that the general "deserves the full support of the Senate."
Here's an ad that appeared in London newspapers about General Douglas Haig after the Battle of the Somme, during which countless British soldiers were slaughtered for no reason whatsoever:
How the Civilian May Help in this Crisis
Write encouragingly to friends at the front....
Don't repeat foolish gossip.
Don't listen to idle rumors.
Don't think you know better than Haig.
Soon afterward the British government promoted Haig to Field Marshall.
September 19, 2007
• Peter Galbraith examines US-Iranian relations
Curse You, Liberal Media!
They promulgate their liberalism via the sneaky strategy of appearing extremely conservative.
September 18, 2007
Alan Greenspan, Indomitable Demagogue
Dennis Kucinich on Meet the Press, February 23, 2003:
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, you made a very strong charge against the administration and let me show you what you said on January 19. "Why is the Administration targeting Iraq? Oil." What do you base that on?
REP. KUCINICH: I base that on the fact that there is $5 trillion worth of oil above and in the ground in Iraq, that individuals involved in the administration have been involved in the oil industry, that the oil industry certainly would benefit from having the administration control Iraq, and that the fact is that, since no other case has been made to go to war against Iraq, for this nation to go to war against Iraq, oil represents the strongest incentive...
MR. PERLE: It is a lie, Congressman. It is an out and out lie.
Richard Cohen, February 25, 2003:
"Liar" is a word rarely used in Washington...So it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face...
Kucinich himself seemed only momentarily fazed by Perle's sharp right to his integrity and went on, indomitable demagogue that he seems to be, to maintain that the coming war with Iraq will be fought to control that nation's oil...How did this fool get on "Meet the Press"?
[S]omething truly awful has happened. The looming war has already become deeply and biliously ideological. By that I mean that the extremes on both sides -- but particularly the war's opponents -- no longer feel compelled to prove a case or stick to the facts.
Alan Greenspan in his new book, reported September 15, 2007:
I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.
Richard Cohen responding to this important information, September 18, 2007:
If there is a phrase more closely associated with both Hillary and Bill Clinton than "the politics of personal destruction," it does not come to mind...[but] for Hillary it has lost all meaning. When, for instance, Gen. David Petraeus was slimed as "General Betray Us," Hillary Clinton looked the other way. This was the politics of personal expediency...
It is an odd standard Clinton has when it comes to smears...She would, it seems, rather be president than be right.
How The People In Charge Manage To Live With Themselves
More Alan Greenspan:
Q: [Cheney's] popularity ratings are quite low and he’s sometimes portrayed as sinister. Is that an accurate characterization?
A: Not in the slightest. He has strong views but manipulator, that he’s not. He’s been very straight with me.
I'm sure Greenspan believes this. As long as Cheney has been straight with ME, Alan Greenspan, no other questions need be asked.
The Guards Have Changed Uniforms, Which Means I'm Free!!!
I'm apparently the only person on earth who hoped the TimesSelect scheme would work. One extremely negative aspect of the internet is the way it pushes media outlets to abandon subscriptions and move toward being completely advertiser-supported.
Meanwhile, there's almost no consciousness of this. In fact, there's a kind of anti-consciousness. Eric Garris of Antiwar.com tells us "New York Times Figures Out the Web: It’s Free!" and Andrew Sullivan sneers "Welcome to the blogosphere, guys. It's free."
Uh, no. The internet isn't free. The writers, editors and web designers at the New York Times will continue to be paid for what they do. Everyone else will pay for it every time they buy a product advertised there. And we pay not just for the writing, editing, etc. in the way we would if the New York Times were supported 100% by subscriptions, but ALSO get to pay the enormous costs of creating and placing ads.
Moreover, we pay in another way: we give advertisers ultimate control of the information we get about the world. We will only be able to run things for ourselves, like adults, when we understand information costs money, and decide to pay for it directly. Instead of using the internet to do that, we're regressing—paying for it indirectly while handing over the reins to others and running around like toddlers shouting "I'm free!"
(I have much more sympathy here for Antiwar.com than Sullivan. Antiwar.com actually is using the internet in an innovative way, and forcing readers to recognize it costs money. Sullivan is the one who reminds me of a two year-old.)
September 17, 2007
Alan Greenspan Blandly Announces He's A Slavering Monster
Alan Greenspan explains his "the Iraq War is largely about oil" comment in an article by Bob Woodward:
He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive"...
"I wasn't arguing for war per se," he said. But "to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do"...
"I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.
"No, no, no," he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."
What's interesting about this is that Alan Greenspan apparently feels comfortable announcing he's a hideously cruel, vain monster.
Leave aside the shameless deceit Greenspan engages in here about the fundamental issues. Assume the United States is in Iraq to "protect the oil supplies of the world" (rather than to make sure the oil and the oil profits are controlled by Greenspan and his friends). Assume there was no way to protect these oil supplies with Saddam Hussein in power (in fact, Saddam had been begging the United States to cut a deal on this specifically).
Even granting all that, what exactly is Greenspan saying? He's saying that because we chose to build our entire civilization on oil, and have refused to wean ourselves off it, we're entitled to rip entire countries to shreds to preserve the "existing system." And sure, eventually we'll have a new system, but what's the rush? Certainly someone who was one of the most powerful people on earth would have no responsibility to encourage this new system to be born.
Greenspan might as well have walked into his interview with Woodward covered in blood, carrying a wet, dripping sack from which he occasionally removed the viscera of Iraqi children to munch on. Yet Greenspan has no awareness there's anything objectionable about this, nor does Woodward, nor does anyone they ever meet at their exciting Washington cocktail parties. "The Iraq War is largely about oil," says Alan to Bob. "Ooooh, have you tried the six year-old's pancreas? It's tasty!"
ALSO: She's Nancy, and she's covered in blood.
No Such Thing As Too Much Kagan
Tuesday’s Sept. 11 memorial service took on a political edge when history and classics professor Donald Kagan accused Iraq war opponents of being unpatriotic...
[Kagan's] keynote address centered on the importance of patriotism and national unity, and Kagan decried those who support withdrawing troops from Iraq in the near future. Referencing a lecture he gave shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, he said Americans have a “moral responsibility” to support the government.
“The war [in Iraq] is not lost,” Kagan said. “[Yet] opponents have rushed to declare America defeated"...
Sept. 11 has been designated “Patriot Day,” and Kagan opened his speech by saying he intended to focus on the concept of patriotism. Citing America’s role in World War II, the fall of the Soviet Union, the conflict in the Balkans and the removal of Saddam Hussein, Kagan painted an image of the United States as a force for freedom in the world.
“America has been a beacon of liberty to the world since its creation,” Kagan said.
As an advocate for freedom, the U.S. has earned its share of enemies, so Kagan said it has a special need for domestic unity and patriotism.
“Few countries have been subjected to as much questioning … as our own,” Kagan said, “There should be a presupposition in favor of patriotism.”
Americans who have questioned the United States’ involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unpatriotic, Kagan said, and are undermining the country’s efforts to win the wars...
Yes, I've always thought the primary message students should get at college is "shut up and stop asking questions."
(Noticed by Mike)
September 16, 2007
• The first segment on a recent episode of This American Life about this impressive guy:
Sam Slaven is an Iraq War veteran who came home from the War plagued by feelings of hate and anger toward Muslims. TAL producer Lisa Pollak tells the story of the unusual action Sam took to change himself...
• Ray McGoverns tells a story:
[A]fter a lecture I gave two and a half years ago in a very affluent suburb of Milwaukee...some 20 folks lingered in a small circle to ask follow-up questions. A persistent, handsomely dressed man, who just would not let go, dominated the questioning:
"Surely you agree that we need the oil. Then what's your problem? Some 1,450 killed thus far are far fewer than the toll in Vietnam where we lost 58,000; it's a small price to pay... a sustainable rate to bear. What IS your problem?"
I asked the man if he would feel differently if one of those (then) 1,450 killed were his own son. Judging from his abrupt, incredulous reaction, the suggestion struck him as so farfetched as to be beyond his ken. “It wouldn’t be my son,” he said.
• Rob Payne describes our silent land.
• Jeff Cohen talks at Google about his book Cable News Confidential:
Looking On The Bright Side
You can get all today's Iran speculation here and at Antiwar.com. Hilariously, David Ignatius offers earnest advice to the Bush administration on how to "defuse this growing state of tension." I'm sure they'll get right on that.
If we attack Iran, the price of oil will likely skyrocket. This could have two beneficial effects: (1) making the U.S. and the world far more serious about conservation and alternative energy; and (2) making the impeachment of Bush plausible when the American economy collapses. When discussing impeachment with people skeptical it could be done, I've always said: it could be done if gas costs $8 a gallon.
September 15, 2007
Atlas Shrugged, Part II
More Alexis Debat
Parasites Perish As They Should
I thought I already knew the entire extent of Alan Greenspan's creepiness. I was wrong:
Shortly after Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: "Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."
I suspect someone somewhere once wrote a similar letter to the editor about Mein Kampf. But they didn't end up Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
EARLIER: The adamantine thought patterns of Greenspan's wife.
September 14, 2007
More On Alexis Debat
From Laura Rozen at Mother Jones.
The Warmonger Within
Dennis Perrin has written an interesting post about his time in the Army, here. Watch for part two, coming soon.
Over One Million Dead In Iraq?
Almost completely forgotten now is the November, 2002 estimate by Medact, the British affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, that an invasion of Iraq and subsequent civil war "could cause half a million deaths."
And rightfully so, since subsequent events have completely discredited them. This is from a British polling company working in Iraq:
In the week in which General Patraeus reports back to US Congress on the impact the recent ‘surge’ is having in Iraq, a new poll reveals that more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have been murdered since the invasion took place in 2003.
Previous estimates, most noticeably the one published in the Lancet in October 2006, suggested almost half this number (654,965 deaths).
These findings come from a poll released today by O.R.B., the British polling agency that have been tracking public opinion in Iraq since 2005. In conjunction with their Iraqi fieldwork agency a representative sample of 1,461 adults aged 18+ answered the following question:-
Q How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof.
Four or more 0.002%
Given that from the 2005 census there are a total of 4,050,597 households this data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003.
September 13, 2007
Let's Listen To The Real Experts
When the New York Times reports from overseas, you can always trust them to provide a fair, balanced assortment of serious sources on what foreigners are thinking. For instance:
Seeking Terror’s Causes, Europe Looks Within
Since the terror attacks on the United States on Sept. 11 six years ago, Europe has faced far more new attacks and reported plots than the United States...
In that setting, questions about how minority populations of Muslims are integrated into the mainstream are coming to the fore, along with basic questions about Islam itself. Less attention is being focused on finger-pointing at the United States, analysts say...
An editorial in Bild on Friday said: “There are no easy answers. But the 1.4 billion or so Muslims owe it to the rest of the world to at least try to give answers and find a remedy. A religion with bloody margins does not belong in a world which wants to and must move closer together.”
Bild is a hyper-conservative German tabloid best known in the journalistic world for publishing a picture of a topless woman on its front page every day.
How The Media Actually Works
As somebody who worked in the publishing biz for a while, I wanted to chip in a bit here.
1) The vast majority of print publications--newspapers and magazines--are sold for less than it costs to print, ship, and distribute them. If you're going to make a profit, it's going to come from advertisers. This makes their voice more powerful than readers'.
2) It's always easier to justify displeasure on the part of readers than advertisers. If you have 10,000,000 daily readers (5,000,000 that actually pay for it, and a rate-base of 8,500,000) and 2,000 advertisers, it's easier and cheaper to replace 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 readers than x dollars of ad contracts. And their logic is correct. How many of us still deliver our eyeballs to--or even pay for--the NYT, after Judith Miller? Sure it made us mad, but we still read.
3) Advertiser displeasure is felt immediately and goes straight to the bottom line: "Mr. DeBeers is on line four and he's hopping mad about the article on diamond-mining." Reader displeasure is felt mostly in retrospect: "Dear Sirs, I was deeply dismayed to read your irresponsible and one-sided blah-blah-blah..." "Well, we've gotten twenty of these. Maybe we should consider running an Ombudsman feature." "Ahh, don't worry about it--they'll find something else to complain about tomorrow."
4) What each advertiser provides is significant and concrete--x dollars of business--while what each reader provides is variable, miniscule, and difficult to quantify. I would imagine that a publication gets its circ audited no more than twice a year, and smaller publications even less frequently. If you run something that an advertiser doesn't like, you lose money today, and you know exactly how much you lose. If you run something a reader doesn't like, perhaps they write a letter; and perhaps they stop reading. But unless they also convince 100 of their friends to stop reading, the impact is vanishingly small. And even when it's not infinitesimal (rare), and can be tied definitively to x or y article (difficult), there is the assumption with a mass-market product that 100 readers paying 75 cents can be replaced a lot more cheaply and easily than an advertiser that pulls $100,000 worth of ads. Losing readers only costs you money if its significant enough to drop below your rate-base (which is usually lower than your readership, to give advertisers a good deal). A single article cannot lose you 1% of your circ, but it can cost you 1% of your advertising. If you're going to err, you err on the side of pissing off readers, not advertisers.
The proliferation of purely advertiser-supported venues since 1950 has made print much more susceptible to advertiser pressure. The lag time between cause and effect makes advertiser pressure much more immediate, targeted, and painful than reader discomfort. And the short-term nature of capitalism (and any publicly traded business) only increases these effects.
To be blunt--and with all due respect to anybody who disagrees--to believe that readers exert anywhere near the pressure that advertisers do, shows merely that the speaker has never been the editor or publisher of anything. But people WANT to believe this, because they're used to getting the Sunday NYT for cheap.
If you want a publication to be independent, you must be willing to pay the freight. Publications are not magically exempted from the rules of capitalism just because we wish they were.
Why You Shouldn't Believe Anything You Read, See Or Hear
It's a particularly shocking lesson in the fact that, in terms of providing accurate information, the media is an incredibly rickety contraption. The reason for this, of course, is that the media doesn't exist to provide accurate information. It exists to make as much money as possible for its owners. It does an excellent job at that.
And yet people—well, upper middle class white people—have a deeply held commitment to the idea the media exists to be accurate, and in fact does give you a tolerably accurate view of the world. Why this bizarre delusion persists is an interesting question.
Noam Chomsky On Attacking Iran
Here's Noam Chomsky, emailing Alexander Cockburn on how he's changed his mind on the likelihood of the Bush administration attacking Iran:
Yes, I was quite sceptical. Less so over the years. They're desperate. Everything they touch is in ruins. They're even in danger of losing control over Middle Eastern oil -- to China, the topic that's rarely discussed but is on every planner or corporation exec's mind, if they're sane. Iran already has observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- from which the US was pointedly excluded. Chinese trade with Saudi Arabia, even military sales, is growing fast. With the Bush administration in danger of losing Shiite Iraq, where most of the oil is (and most Saudi oil in regions with a harshly oppressed Shiite population), they may be in real trouble.
Under these circumstances, they're unpredictable. They might go for broke, and hope they can salvage something from the wreckage. If they do bomb, I suspect it will be accompanied by a ground assault in Khuzestan, near the Gulf, where the oil is (and an Arab population -- there already is an Ahwazi liberation front, probably organized by the CIA, which the US can "defend" from the evil Persians), and then they can bomb the rest of the country to rubble. And show who's boss.
September 12, 2007
Frank James Explains It All For You
Frank James, National News Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, took a look today at a new Media Matters study finding that conservative columnists get more space than progressives ones in papers nationwide. This isn't a shock to anyone who's spent time conscious in the past 100 years, but it's still useful to discuss. Kudos to James for providing an explanation that's exactly right:
There's one explanation for MM's results which has nothing to do with a nefarious conservative cabal running the newspaper industry...
Newspapers are generally in business to be profitable. That means, more often than not, providing consumers with products that reflect their tastes. Thus, more conservative syndicated columnists than not.
Most of a newspaper's revenue comes from advertisers, not subscribers. (And on the Tribune blog where James wrote this, the revenue comes 100% from advertisers.) Newspapers naturally want to keep their advertisers—ie, their consumers—happy. Advertisers tend to be conservative businesses. Hence, more conservative syndicated columnists.
Of course, I left out two sentences of what James wrote. Here's what he actually said:
There's one explanation for MM's results which has nothing to do with a nefarious conservative cabal running the newspaper industry.
Demographically, newspaper readers tend to be older than non-newspaper readers. An older audience is likely to be more conservative. Newspapers are generally in business to be profitable. That means, more often than not, providing consumers with products that reflect their tastes. Thus, more conservative syndicated columnists than not.
I'm sure James is being honest here: he truly doesn't understand that a newspaper's readers are its product, not its consumers. (They're sold to its actual consumers, the advertisers.) You might find it beyond belief someone could get to his position in the newspaper business and have no idea how it works, but in fact people like James rise to the top not in spite of, but because of their ability to completely miss what's right in front of their face. The consumers prefer it that way.
AND: Here's a table from the Tribune Co.'s 2006 annual report, showing the sources of revenue for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Newsday:
As you see, in 2006, 79.7% of their revenue was from advertising, and just 14.1% was from readers. Gosh, I wonder whose tastes they tend to reflect?
It Really Is All About The Oil
There's been an impressive amount of honesty recently about what the Iraq war is all about. Here's George Bush, in an excerpt from Dead Certain:
"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives...Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West."
And here's Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) on why we can't leave Iraq:
Candidly, we would be giving it [Iraq] up to Iran. Iraq has, it's estimated, 10% of the world's oil, but in fact it has probably about 20% of the world's oil. It's a huge amount to allow a unfriendly country to control.
The oil is also the basis of our motivation to attack Iran. The idea that Iran is a genuine threat to the U.S. is preposterous, but Iran is by no means a preposterous threat to the ability of George Bush, Exxon and Prince Bandar to control the mideast's oil completely.
I Could Watch This Movie A Million Times
Here's an extremely encouraging section of David Petraeus' congressional testimony that, sadly, has been mostly overlooked:
Significantly, in 2007, Iraq will, as in 2006, spend more on its security forces than it will receive in security assistance from the United States. In fact, Iraq is becoming one of the United States’ larger foreign military sales customers, committing some $1.6 billion to FMS already, with the possibility of up to $1.8 billion more being committed before the end of this year. And I appreciate the attention that some members of Congress have recently given to speeding up the FMS process for Iraq.
Fantastic! I think history has shown that U.S. arms sales to Iraq have never been anything but positive.
September 11, 2007
We Will Never Forget
Mike takes a look at the hideous crime committed by a small group of fanatics on this date.
"Progress" By The Numbers
Tom Engelhardt is running his third TomDispatch piece looking at Iraq via numbers, here.
Today Is The Sixth Anniversary Of An Enormous Opportunity
Time to rerun this.
September 10, 2007
Where Do These People Get The Idea We're Indifferent To Human Life?
George Packer, writing for America's most prestigious magazine:
Even in narrow strategic terms American interests would be harmed by large-scale slaughter in Iraq. The spectacle, televised around the world, would deepen the feeling that America is indifferent to human, especially Muslim, life.
Andrew Sullivan, writing for America's second most prestigious magazine:
I'm not sure that a wider Sunni-Shiite war, however unpredictable, is against the West's interests.
September 09, 2007
Sometimes I argue with friends who believe the people who run America are utterly indifferent to human life. I tell them: "You couldn't be more wrong. If you made up a list of the top 1000 priorities of the people who run America, human life might come in as high as 997th."
I was pleased to see my perspective validated in George Packer's recent New Yorker article about Iraq:
David Kilcullen, an Australian counter-insurgency adviser who served on Petraeus’s staff...drew up a list of core American interests in Iraq, which he later gave to senior officials at the White House and the State Department. In order of priority, the list contained the following items: maintain the flow of oil and gas in the region; prevent the establishment of an Al Qaeda safe haven in Iraq; contain Iranian influence; prevent a regional war; prevent a humanitarian catastrophe on the scale of Rwanda; and restore American credibility in the region and in the world (which Kilcullen called “the master interest,” and which doing all the others would go a long way toward achieving).
You see? They do care! Human life is on the list! Right there after their four higher priorities! Of which the top one is oil!
The best part is that mere paragraphs later, Packer expresses this concern:
Even in narrow strategic terms American interests would be harmed by large-scale slaughter in Iraq. The spectacle, televised around the world, would deepen the feeling that America is indifferent to human, especially Muslim, life.
Yes, it would be terrible if the world were to get such a distorted picture of America. We must make them understand how we really feel: that human life is wonderful, as long as it doesn't conflict with all our higher priorities.
Dennis Perrin recommends some movies to add to your netflix queue.
Mike examines the Doris Anderson phenomenon:
Our Leaders: Thank Goodness They're Completely Different From Saddam Hussein
This is from a new New Yorker article on Iraq:
White House officials are determined to present the surge as a dramatic turn in the war—as if the war could still be won....Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush...described Petraeus as a man who could enter the military pantheon next to Grant, if only the American people would give him the chance. “What happens if, at the eleventh hour, we’re witnessing one of the most remarkable feats in American history on the part of a general?” he said. “If that’s the case, why do you want to give up now?”
This is Kenneth Pollack in The Threatening Storm, explaining why Saddam Hussein was so incredibly dangerously dangerous:
Saddam has a twenty-eight year pattern of aggression, violence, miscalculation, and purposeful underestimation of the consequences of his actions that should give real pause to anyone...
Even when Saddam does consider a problem at length...his own determination to interpret geopolitical calculations to suit what he wants to believe anyway lead him to construct bizarre scenarios that he convinces himself are highly likely.
September 08, 2007
Food On Radio
I was surprised to find out this piece I wrote on international food aid was the basis for this radio commentary by the 87 year-old Fred Fiske. It's a good thing the piece was, you know, accurate. This is harder than it seems.
September 07, 2007
John Kerry In 1971 On Wartime "Intelligence"
With all the time spent debunking the flood of misleading claims from the Pentagon about Iraq (such as the excellent Washington Monthly piece "The Myth of AQI"), I'm surprised no one has quoted John Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony on Vietnam:
SENATOR SYMINGTON: Mr. Kerry, from your experience in Vietnam do you think it is possible for the President or Congress to get accurate and undistorted information through official military channels?...
KERRY: I had direct experience with that. Senator, I had direct experience with that and I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission, and including the GDA, gunfire damage assessments, in which we would say, maybe 15 sampans sunk or whatever it was. And I often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures.
The intelligence missions themselves are based on very, very flimsy information. Several friends of mine were intelligence officers and I think you should have them in sometime to testify. Once in Saigon I was visiting this friend of mine and he gave me a complete rundown on how the entire intelligence system should be re-set up on all of its problems, namely, that you give a young guy a certain amount of money, he goes out, sets up his own contacts under the table, gets intelligence, comes in. It is not reliable; everybody is feeding each other double intelligence, and I think that is what comes back to this country.
I also think men in the military, sir, as do men in many other things, have a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see. And this is a very serious thing because I know on several visits- Secretary Laird came to Vietnam once and they staged an entire invasion for him. When the initial force at Dang Tam, it was the 9th Infantry when it was still there- when the initial recon platoon went out and met with resistance, they changed the entire operation the night before and sent them down into the South China Seas so they would not run into resistance and the Secretary would have a chance to see how smoothly the war was going.
I know General Wheeler came over at one point and major in Saigon escorted him around. General Wheeler went out to the field and saw 12 pacification leaders and asked about 10 of them how things were going and they all said, "It is really going pretty badly." The 11th one said, "It couldn't be better, General. We are really doing the thing here to win the war." And the General said, "I am finally glad to find somebody who knows what he is talking about." (Laughter)
This is the kind of problem that you have. I think that the intelligence which finally reaches the White House does have serious problems with it in that I think you know full well, I know certainly from my experience, I served as aide to an admiral in my last days in the Navy before I was discharged, and I have seen exactly what the response is up the echelon, the chain of command, and how things get distorted and people say to the man above him what is needed to be said, to keep everybody happy, and so I don't- I think the entire thing is distorted.
The strangest thing is that as far as I know, even Kerry himself hasn't referenced this.
Thank God America Is Helping Iran Build Its Nuclear Industry
A while back, Cyrus Safdari at Iran Affairs put together a great collection of scanned-in newspaper stories from the seventies about U.S. support for the Shah's nuclear power program.
Censorship At Commondreams?: An Experiment In Petty, Embarrassing Webspats
I admire Commondreams, not just for being a great resource but for having their act together generally. But John Caruso makes a compelling case here that they're engaging in ferocious and inappropriate censorship of comments.
If what Caruso says is accurate, they haven't just removed ugly or threatening comments. They're (1) removing comments they disagree with politically; then (2) removing every comment by the same person throughout the site; and (3) removing responses to the comments they removed.
I understand there are more important issues right now, like trying to prevent yet another catastrophic war. I also appreciate it may simply be an overenthusiastic intern. And I'm well aware there are fewer spectacles sillier than grown people arguing about comments on websites. But if Commondreams is doing this, they should stop. It demoralizes the folks and thus makes larger goals harder to attain.
September 06, 2007
Salon WMD Story Seemingly Overstated
Salon is running a big story by Sidney Blumenthal headlined "Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction." But while I hate to throw a wet blanket on everyone, and it's hard to know for sure, it appears overstated.
The story's about Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister. As has been known for several years, Sabri was recruited as a spy by France, which then arranged for him to provide information to the US. And while he didn't say Iraq was teeming with banned weapons, he apparently also didn't say they were clean. Here's a Washington Post story from 2006:
[Sabri] provided information that the Iraqi dictator had ambitions for a nuclear program but that it was not active, and that no biological weapons were being produced or stockpiled, although research was underway.
When it came to chemical weapons, Sabri told his handler that some existed but they were not under military control, a former intelligence official familiar with the situation said. Another former official added: "He said he had been told Hussein had them dispersed among some of the loyal tribes."
Now, here's how Blumenthal's story begins:
On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.
These stories actually don't contradict each other. According to the Post, Sabri did say the Iraqi government itself had no actual banned weapons. So Blumenthal's story is literally correct that Sabri claimed "Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction." However, there's a significant difference between the head of the CIA telling the president "we have a spy who says Saddam wants a nuke, is hiding WMD programs and gave out chemical weapons to his tribal allies" and "we have a spy who says Iraq isn't hiding anything." The way the story's written gives you the impression it was the latter rather than the former. (And since it was the former, Sabri's claims haven't "turned out to be accurate in every detail.")
In fact, the Sabri story has always been the one part of all this that's made me feel sympathetic toward the Bush administration. If what Sabri was saying had been right, then they would have been justified in believing Iraq truly wasn't taking this last opportunity to come clean. They might well have believed that, whether or not the Iraqi military turned out to have actual WMD when U.S. troops arrived, Sabri's claims made it clear there was no way to disarm Saddam without an invasion.
So while no one wants to see these guys nailed on the WMD issue more than me, I don't think the Salon story does it. Instead, I get the impression Blumenthal's CIA sources are spinning what happened pretty hard. The clearest evidence of this is Tenet's February 5, 2004 speech on Iraq, in which he made reference to Sabri:
[A] source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle said Iraq was not in the possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon.
Saddam had recently called together his nuclear weapons committee, irate that Iraq did not yet have a weapon because money was no object and they possessed the scientific know-how. The committee members assured Saddam that once fissile material was in hand, a bomb could be ready in 18 to 24 months. The return of U.N. inspectors would cause minimal disruption because, according to the source, Iraq was expert at denial and deception.
The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides under the oil-for-food program had been diverted to covert chemical weapons production.
The source said that Iraq's weapons of last resort were mobile launchers armed with chemical weapons which would be fired at enemy forces in Israel; that Iraqi scientists were dabbling with biological weapons with limited success, but the quantities were not sufficient to constitute a real weapons program.
It would be pretty odd if Tenet had told Bush in September, 2002, "Sabri says they have nothing!" and then said this in public eighteen months later. I strongly suspect he said the same thing both times, and the "Saddam's regime itself doesn't have WMD right this second" part is being cherry picked out of it in 2007.
In any case, the most interesting part to me is what Sabri was up to. Was he lying? Or unknowingly providing false information—and if so, why did he believe it? Maybe someday we'll find out, since according to the Salon piece he's now spending France's money in Qatar.
UPDATE: Thanks for the comments. To clarify, I agree the WMD issue is a distraction. The only thing that matters is Bush & co. wanted war and didn't care what the facts were. Moreover, in politics, spending time on "intelligence" is always a trap. It has almost nothing to do with what happens. (See Arthur Silber.)
I also agree Tenet was probably spinning things himself at Georgetown (in the other direction). He's a shameless hack.
However, the reason I pointed this out is because careful journalism is important—because it's important for people to stay in complicated reality, rather than believing misleading stories because they want to believe them. It concerns me when I see "our" "side" doing this. In particular, I think Donald Johnson is correct, below, that Blumenthal presented things this way because it seems to get Democrats off the hook.
Iran: A Dagger Pointed At The Heart Of America
September 05, 2007
Democrats And The Iron Law Of Institutions
Read this if you're driven insane by the Democrats.
John Caruso of a Distant Ocean is pissed off at Medea Benjamin:
Medea Benjamin complains that Nancy Pelosi makes time to meet with Democratic coffee klatches and "high-dollar donors" but won't meet with activists from Benjamin's CODEPINK. My response:
The Democrats generally (and Nancy Pelosi in particular) learned that they could ignore people like CODEPINK generally (and Medea Benjamin in particular) in 2004, when progressives made it eminently clear that they would vote for a Democrat who was as bad as (or worse than) George Bush on the most crucial issues--especially Iraq...
So if Nancy Pelosi won't meet with you now, Medea, it's because she knows that there's absolutely no need for her to do so. You can sputter all you want about how "Pelosi has alienated CODEPINK and most of the peace movement" and how "disillusioned" you are, but you've already proven that in the only place that Democrats care about what you do--the voting booth--you're willing to sacrifice your principles and give them your support...
Let me gently suggest that John, in his understandable frustration, is not perceiving this situation clearly. What he's overlooking is that the Democrats operate according to the Iron Law of Institutions. The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.
This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it's that this cannot be changed. What can be done, sometimes, is to force the people running institutions to align their own interests with those of the institution itself and its members.
I'll get to back momentarily to today's Democrats, but first it's useful to look at how the Iron Law plays out in other cases. At the country level, Saddam Hussein is an extreme example: during his thirty years in power, he made choices that led to the obliteration of Iraq—not because there was nothing else he could have done, but because choices that would have strengthened Iraq would have made him less individually powerful within Iraq. And this is a constant occurrence in the history of dictators. When Stalin purged many of the Red Army's most competent officers in the late thirties it made the Soviet Union itself far weaker—in particular, more vulnerable to a Nazi invasion—but what mattered to Stalin was eliminating internal rivals to his power. The same dynamic is displayed in less virulent form with Bush and Cheney: whenever they've had to choose between sharing power with others within a stronger America, and holding more power within a weaker America, they've chosen the latter.
Probably the best writing about this at the political party level was done by the late Walter Karp. Karp points out in Buried Alive that before the 1972 elections there was a huge influx of new people and energy into the Democratic party from the anti-war and civil rights movements. This was enough to get McGovern nominated. But here's what happened then, as Karp describes it:
As soon as McGovern was nominated, party leaders began systematically slurring and belittling him, while the trade union chieftains refused to endorse him on the pretense that this mild Mr. Pliant was a being wild and dangerous. A congressional investigation of Watergate was put off for several months to deprive McGovern's candidacy of its benefits. As an indiscreet Chicago ward heeler predicted in the fall of 1972, McGovern is "gonna lose because we're gonna make sure he's gonna lose"...So deftly did party leaders "cut the top of the ticket" that while Richard Nixon won in a "landslide," the Democrats gained two Senate seats.
Could McGovern have won if he'd been fully supported by the status quo powers with the Democratic party? Impossible to say. But they didn't want to take any chances: they preferred to make sure he lost the election, because his winning it would have meant newcomers would dilute their power within the party. That's the Iron Law of Institutions in action.
In The Politics of War Karp examines a similar situation in the election of 1912. The incumbent was William H. Taft, a Republican. However, he was extremely unpopular both nationally and with the progressive movement within the Republican party. First the National Progressive Republican League (essentially a party within the party, like the Progressive Democrats of America today) backed Robert La Follette. They eventually deserted him for Teddy Roosevelt, because he seemed more likely to wrest the nomination away from Taft. Karp writes:
If a presidential nomination were decided by the sentiments of a party's rank and file, Roosevelt would have won the nomination by a landslide. Of the 388 convention delegates chosen by popular vote, Taft won a mere 71, or less than 20 percent. If a presidential nomination were decided by money, Roosevelt again would have won. He had the preponderance of money on his side. If a presidential nomination were dictated by the party leaders' desire to win the general election, they would have nominated Roosevelt themselves. The Republican oligarchy, however, was fighting for its life. Compared to the prospect of losing power within the party, rank-and-file sentiment meant little. Winning in November meant least of all. The oligarchy was determined to renominate Taft, a certain loser, solely to keep control of the party. "When we get back in four years," explained a machine senator from Indiana, "instead of the damned insurgents, we will have the machine."
So what does this mean for John Caruso's (and everyone's) frustration with the Democrats today? A lot of things, such as:
1. The voting booth is by no means "the only place that Democrats care about what you do." In fact, from their perspective, by the time you get to the general election much of the game is over. Withholding your November vote from candidates they like but you don't will, at most, make them a little sad. Often they'd prefer it, if that's the price of keeping you out of their hair the rest of the time. That's why they don't try to appeal to the ~50% of Americans who don't vote.
2. If you want to motivate powerful Democrats, attempt to threaten their power within the party, not the well-being of the party overall. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly because much of the power within the party is (as Karp would put it) an unelected Democratic oligarchy. For instance, Pelosi's status as Speaker can be challenged straightforwardly. Getting at the source of the party oligarchy's power, which is money and institutions outside of electoral politics, is much more difficult.
3. Any serious attempt to transform the Democratic party would include a conscious attempt to change its culture, into one that celebrates different people: organizers rather than elected officials and donors. Culture only seems like a weak reed. It's in fact the most powerful motivation people have. If people are celebrated for acting for the good of the whole rather than just themselves, they'll act for the good of the whole. Likewise, a better culture would humble the "leaders," to discourage those with individualistic motivations from seeking the positions. A Democratic party that worked would require Charles Schumer and Steny Hoyer and anyone who donated over $5000 a year to clean the Capitol toilets.
4. If you don't believe the Democratic party is redeemable, don't get your hopes up that another party would end up being much better. Any other party would also be subject to the Iron Law of Institutions. It thus would be quickly just as dreadful as the Democrats...unless people put in the same amount of work as would be required to clean out the Democrats' Augean stables.
5. Generally speaking, don't expect too much from political parties, and certainly don't expect them to change much in less than a generation. And in any case, keep in mind much of the power in society lies elsewhere.
It was a Republican state party boss, Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania, who early this century stated with notable candor the basic principle and purpose of present-day party politics. In the face of a powerful state and national resurgence of reform and the sentiments of the majority of the Republican rank and file, Penrose put up a losing slate of stand-pat party hacks. When a fellow Republican accused him of ruining the party, Penrose replied, "Yes, but I'll preside over the ruins."
AND: I've removed an anecdote I was using about Egypt and the 1967 War because of doubts about its accuracy.
It's Never A Bad Time To Compare George Bush To A Crazed Murderer
How do crazed murderers justify their actions to themselves? Here's a piece in Slate about O.J. Simpson's book If I Did It:
"Nicole was the enemy," O.J. realizes as he leaves for her house with a knife in the car. "I'm tired of being the understanding ex-husband. I have my kids to think about."
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said yesterday that President Bush views America as a ''10-year-old child" in need of the sort of protection provided by a parent..."
''It struck me as I was speaking to people in Bangor, Maine, that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child," Card said. ''I know as a parent I would sacrifice all for my children."
On June 12, 1994, Nicole and O.J. Simpson's daughter was almost nine years old.
EARLIER: George Bush and Cho Seung-Hui explain why it's not their fault.
Tom Engelhardt On Victory Culture
A new edition of Tom Engelhardt's 1995 book The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation has just come out, updated to cover recent history. You can learn more about it here, and read the 2007 preface here.
See also the newest TomDispatch piece, by Engelhardt: "Seven Years in Hell: On Body Counts, Dead Zones, and an Empire of Stupidity"
September 04, 2007
The Sucktastic Barack Obama
Iran now poses the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation. Iran supports violent groups and sectarian politics in Iraq, fuels terror and extremism across the Middle East and continues to make progress on its nuclear program in defiance of the international community. Meanwhile, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel must be "wiped off the map."
George Bush? Michael Ledeen? No, Barak Obama, today in the New York Daily News.
You may remember how, in fall of 2002, leading Democrats would talk about the terrifying threat posed by Iraq's terrifying WMD, but then argue that despite this terrifyingness we really needed to try more diplomacy. What's Obama's answer for the terririfficly terror threat from Iran? "Strong diplomacy."
On to Tehran!
It Just Doesn't Happen
From the new book Dead Certain about the Bush administration:
He viewed it as the commander in chief's obligation to visit with those who had suffered loss as a result of his decisions. "Sometimes it's not pleasant, and I understand that," Bush said..."But that's part of the presidency, to immerse yourself in their emotions. Because they look at the president and they—most of them—say, 'My son or daughter did what they wanted to do.' The interesting thing is, the healer gets healed. I appreciate it"...
"I'm told by some politicians here that the people they meet with say, 'Get out now.' That just doesn't happen with me."
No, I guess it doesn't.
The Distasteful, Dangerous Barbarians Across The Sea
(You can find the actual, hilarious "America I Have Seen" here.)
September 02, 2007
Wow, We Suck
With the Bush administration seemingly heading toward a catastrophic attack on Iran with little chance they'll be stopped, now is a good time to consider how much everyone involved in this process sucks.
By this I don't mean Bush blah Republicans blah suck. That's too easy. Any honest evaluation would find most of the blame lies elsewhere.
I can't emphasize this enough. I won't go into detail because it's so embarrassing, but the difference between what I've done and could have done is gigantic. In particular, it took me decades to figure out how American society works, which is as humiliating as taking twenty years to figure out tic tac toe. And I'm extending my suckiness by complaining about it publicly. In a blog post. I really, really suck.
Everyone I know sucks
My family and friends don't feel powerful because none of us is Rupert Murdoch. But on any rational scale—comparative or historical—we have a lot of freedom and resources. Have we utilized even 5% of these? No. That's because we don't truly believe people in other countries are as real as we are. We've also failed to imagine the likely consequences to ourselves from our inaction. This is particularly distasteful because we're living in the first time in history when technology enables non-saintly humans to figure this out, if they want to. Clearly we don't want to. We suck.
Liberal blogs suck
Arthur Silber is absolutely right about this. The blogosphere esucks.
The anti-war movement sucks
Afghanistan? Okay, that was impossible. Iraq? September 11th, etc. But Iran? If you can't stop the third war in six years—one that's going to happen because shredding infants with flechettes is the last remaining activity that provides William Kristol sexual gratification—you should change your name from "anti-war movement" to "pro-sucking movement."
We started out as thirteen colonies clinging to the eastern seaboard. Then we conquered the entire continent. Then we ended up with military bases in a hundred other countries. Now we're researching how to drop tungsten rods on people from space. Yet we remain convinced we're really nice. My country 'tis of suck.
Human beings suck
We've been working on "civilization" for 6,000 years. We've figured out fire, and making extremely tall buildings that don't fall over, and even crossing plums with apricots. Yet we've made zero progress on our main problem: slaughtering each other in generous megadeath quantities. This suggests the error is indeed bred in the bone. In Latin, our species is called homo suckapiens suckapiens.
Planet Earth sucks
Life is centered on everybody eating others until they themselves get eaten. And their entire lifespan is spent worrying about being eaten, which always happens in the end anyway. This whole setup sucks.
The universe sucks
Its apparent meaningless wouldn't be so bad if existence were solely pleasurable. In my experience, this is not the case. 13.7 billion years of suck.
In conclusion, I hate to claim there's any point to this, because that would detract from its meta-suckiness. Nevertheless, success is more likely to follow from a clear-eyed appraisal of a situation, rather than hubristic fantasies.
That's the theory, anyway. It admittedly sucks.