October 31, 2007

New Webb Sign-On Letter On Iran

James Webb has started circulating a sign-on letter, currently endorsed by 22 Senators total, stating "We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran." I've explained the significance of this at Mother Jones.

Posted at 07:20 PM | TrackBack

Debates Of Our Time

Robert Samuelson:

One of the big debates of our time involves the causes of economic growth. Why is North America richer than South America? Why is Africa poor and Europe wealthy?

Similarly, why do white Americans tend to have more money than black Americans? Oh, if only there were some unbelievably obvious, historically-based reason staring us right in the face. Sadly, however, there is not. Maybe we'll never know the answer.

BUT: In fairness to Samuelson, he suffers from the same affliction as Thomas Friedman—a large, furry parasite that has attached itself to his upper lip and sucked his brain out through his nose.

AND: For a less snide, more rational examination of this, see Ken Silverstein. I myself would add to Samuelson's reading list something about the estimated eight million people worked to death in the Imperial City of Potosi.

October 30, 2007

Advice From Arthur Silber


Including the rules about bad words.

Thank You

Arthur says it so I don't have to.

What I will add is: there's a real threat that I don't have presents, and Santa Claus should, in his role as present-giver within the present-giving process, be giving presents to me.

UPDATE: In fairness to Ezra Klein, he did previously write this.

October 29, 2007

More People Who Only Understand Force

Looking around online, I see that:

Iran only understands force.

The fundamentalist regime in Iran only understands the language of force.

Iran only understands force.

The Iranians only understand force.

Now, here's Hamid Hajibabaei, a conservative member of the Iranian parliament, speaking with Frontline:

I don't want to say that I agree with everything Dr. Ahmadinejad says, with every word he utters, but his politics have been successful against the bullying and power plays of the United States. Mr. Bush pays attention only to the language of force.

EARLIER: Other people who only understand force.

Why We Don't Get Invited To Planet Earth Block Parties

Mankind finds, kills world's oldest animal.

The Trouble With Tribals

Dennis Perrin describes his experience with the hideously depressing tribalism in politics, both Republican and Democratic flavors.

Also, see Arthur Silber generally for the rest of your depressing-examination-of-tribalism needs.

Here, Let Them Tell You For Themselves

Noam Chomsky speaking in 2005:

[W]e don't have anything resembling a democracy anymore. Take a look at the last campaign. The campaign is run by the same people who sell toothpaste...

They know that on issues they're going to lose people. So therefore you have to portray George Bush as a--look he's a pampered kid from a rich family who went to prep school and elite university, and you have to present him as an ordinary guy...fake Texas twang, and he's off to his ranch to, you know, cut brush or something...That's like a toothpaste ad...

Ken Silverstein, writing today for Harper's:

Last June, when I was researching my story on Mitt Romney’s political consultants, I attended a conference sponsored by Campaigns & Elections magazine...

Inside the ballroom, a parade of consultants regaled the audience with strategic advice and war stories. “We always say it’s not like selling toothpaste, but in a multi-candidate field it is like selling toothpaste,” Doc Sweitzer, a Democratic media strategist, said during one panel.

October 28, 2007

Stop Calling Them Crazy

I wish op-ed types would stop calling political leaders crazy. They almost never are. Saddam Hussein, for instance, wasn't--he just seemed that way if you didn't understand his motivation had nothing to do with the well-being of Iraq, and only to do with his own power.

Meanwhile, Rosa Brooks of the Los Angeles Times says this:

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney shouldn't be treated like criminals who deserve punishment. They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment. Because they've clearly gone mad...On Tuesday, Bush insisted on the need "to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat."

Huh? Iran is now a major threat to Europe? The Iranians are going to launch a nuclear missile (that they don't yet possess) against Europe (for reasons unknown because, as far as we know, they're not mad at anyone in Europe)? This is lunacy in action.

Lunacy? This. Is. SPARTA!

Really, there's nothing crazy about the Bush/Cheney concern about Iran. Obviously Iran isn't a threat to Israel, or Europe, or the US. But it is a serious threat to Bush, Cheney, Bandar, Olmert et al running the mideast for their own benefit. They have to claim they're worried about the first in order to get us to die for the second.

But there's nothing crazy about it, just as there's nothing crazy about Saddam saying he invaded Kuwait to keep them from turning Iraqi women into "ten dinar prostitutes." The only crazy people in this scenario is us, if we fall for it.

October 27, 2007

Here's Where I Went Wrong

Digby was nice enough to mention the post of mine on Walid Jumblatt from yesterday. One of the commenters there wrote this:

It all reminds me of the numerous hugs and kisses that former President Clinton bestowed on Yaser Arafat, and the hug and kisses Mrs. Clinton gave to Mrs. Arafat subsequently.

What a silly-ass post. I guess when you've got nothing, you go with this kind of vapidity.

John Cole | 10.27.07 - 9:48 am |

(Clarification: this is not the John Cole of Balloon Juice.)

The commenter is mostly wrong, but does point to an important aspect of this phenomenon I wasn't clear about.

MOSTLY WRONG: It's unlikely Arafat would ever have said the kind of things Jumblatt has; i.e., about how "we are all happy" about American soldiers being killed in a mideast war. This isn't because Arafat was a nice person--he was about as nice as a similar figure, David Ben Gurion--but because he always knew what side his bread was buttered on. He generally understood the balance of power in the world, and so, contrary to standard US mythology, tried desperately for decades to get in America's good graces. For instance, during the 1970s he secretly came to an agreement with the CIA to warn about us about possible attacks on U.S. Embassy employees by other Palestinian organizations.

Thus, the Arafat=Jumblatt analogy is very weak, at least in the way John Cole is making it.

WHAT I LEFT OUT: The dividing line between what foreign leaders are acceptable isn't, as I implied, just whether Democrats or Republicans are meeting with them. The dividing line is also (perhaps mostly) whether they've knuckled under to US foreign policy. Anyone who has is acceptable, and Democrats are generally safe cozying up to them. Anyone who hasn't is radioactive, and if Republicans meet with them, they may well be attacked from the right, with Democrats joining in.

To understand this phenomenon, look again at Arafat. He was a vile terror-monger up until 1993, and any American politician who met him was a terrorist-lover. This had nothing to do with Arafat making any statement like Jumblatt has--it was purely because he wasn't doing exactly what we told him to do.

Then, when we finally broke him and he agreed to be the US-Israeli subcontractor under the Oslo accords, he received the seal of approval. Clinton could hug and kiss him as much as he liked. (Later, after Arafat surprised us with unexpected backbone in 2000, he went back to being a vile terror-monger.)

The process worked in reverse with Saddam Hussein. It was perfectly fine for a bipartisan group of senators to meet with him in spring, 1990 at the height of his criminality. They all happily smooched his ass, with Alan Simpson commiserating with him about the "haughty, pampered press." (This was shortly after Saddam had had a British journalist executed.)

Then when Saddam disobeyed orders and invaded Kuwait, he was suddenly transformed into the Butcher of Baghdad. No one, Democrat or Republican, could possibly have met with him after that without the standard explosion of insanity.

Or take the two Mahmouds, Abbas and Ahmadinejad. They've both engaged in exactly the same kind of holocaust denial, with Abbas writing, "Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions—fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand."

But it's perfectly fine for Abbas to have said it, and fine for George Bush or Hillary Clinton to hang out with him, because Abbas follows orders. If he stopped following orders, that holocaust quote would be repeated every time he's mentioned in the US media, and Hillary couldn't meet with him anymore. Conversely, if Ahmadinejad would just start following orders, he could deny the holocaust all he wants, and Hillary could make out with him on national TV. No problem.

This is so glaringly obvious you'd think it might occasionally appear in a US newspaper, perhaps as often as once a decade. But it doesn't. As Noam Chomsky likes to say, you've got to admire the discipline.

October 26, 2007

Dead 18th Century Irish Political Philospher Speaks Out About Blogs

I'm going to start posting things on the Mother Jones blog from time to time. Sadly, no money changes hands during this procedure. Nevertheless, I encourage you to go check out "Edmund Burke Speaks Out about Blogs and the Failure of the Democrats", and leave comments if you're so motivated.

Posted at 04:23 PM | TrackBack


Imagine there were a foreign politician who said:

• "We are all happy when U.S. soldiers are killed [in Iraq] week in and week out. The killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq is legitimate and obligatory."

• In October 2003, after rockets were fired at the hotel at which Paul Wolfowitz was staying in Baghdad, that "We hope that next time the rockets will be more accurate and effective in getting rid of this virus and his like, who wreak corruption in Arab lands."

• That he felt "great joy" at the 2002 space shuttle Columbia disaster because one of the astronauts was Israeli.

• That the real axis of evil is "oil and Jews," and "The oil axis is present in most of the U.S. administration, beginning with its president, vice president, and top advisers, including Rice, who is oil-colored, while the axis of Jews is present with Paul Wolfowitz."

Next, imagine a Democratic president and vice president met with him on multiple occasions and spoke of their admiration for his "courageous stand." And that prominent liberal think tanks invited him to give high-profile speeches.

And then: imagine the weeks of wall-to-wall shrieking on every cable show in America. Imagine how it could be heard on Mars. Imagine the endless, furious denunciations by every Republican politician with a mouth. Imagine the mass resignations, public disavowals and groveling apologies. Imagine how the incident would be woven forevermore into a narrative about the need for Democrats to assure America every day until the end of time they had left behind their America-hating, anti-Semitic, terrorist-loving ways.

None of this happened, of course. Because while Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt has said all these things, he's only met with a Republican president, George W. Bush (last February). And he's only met, on multiple occasions, with a Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney. (Cheney followed Jumblatt onstage just last week, which is when he took the opportunity to praise Jumblatt's "courageous stand.") And Jumblatt has only been feted by prominent conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It's a measure of the absolute conservative dominance of the media and entire political system that not only is this all OK, almost no one is even aware of it. Certainly the Democrats aren't; I assume they haven't read up on it because they're too busy denouncing MoveOn and forcing Pete Stark to lick George Bush's boots.

(Jumblatt's statements were briefly noted by the Washington Post last year on page A15.)

October 25, 2007

More Things To Do

• Many thanks to Nell for pointing out MoveOn sent out an alert yesterday saying they indeed ARE organizing against war with Iran. The entire email is below the fold, but here's what they're talking about:

We're proposing a major campaign to prevent another war. We'll put retired generals on tour to convince political leaders and editorial boards that this war would be a disaster. We'll run ads challenging the Administration. And we'll press Congress to stand up to Bush.

You can donate money for the campaign here. (And don't forget to send money to Just Foreign Policy.)

• Write and call your senators to tell them to sustain Dodd's possible filibuster against telecom immunity on FISA violations. The ACLU has set up a page here.

Then, sign the Open Left letter to Harry Reid.

COMING UP: I tell you what kind of toothpaste to buy. Then, shoelaces. Soon you will need to make no decisions of any kind, and we will all move together en masse to Guyana.

• • •


Dear MoveOn member,

To be honest, I don't even like to think about the possibility of war with Iran. But here's the unfortunate truth—plans for an aerial attack have been drawn up.1 There's nothing stopping Bush from launching that attack any day. And right now the progressive movement's main strategy for preventing it is simply to hope that it doesn't happen.

To paraphrase my ninth-grade sex-ed teacher, "Hope is not a method." We need to do something. There are increasing indications that war with Iran may be imminent. And experts agree it would be a catastrophe.

So today we're proposing a major campaign to expose the danger of a new war with Iran (see below for details). It'll cost about $200,000, and if we can raise the money, we'll start today. Can you chip in $50?

Donate here

War would be a disaster. Military officials who've gamed-out a war with Iran say it's a very, very bad idea. "Iran would hit back against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and activate terrorist allies in the Middle East, further destabilizing a region already struggling with two major wars."2 US troops in the region, Israelis and American civilians abroad and at home would all be at risk.

And it's a real possibility. For months, there's been a stream of leaks and revelations by former Bush administration officials that paint a scary picture: Vice President Cheney and the neocons are quietly maneuvering us toward war with Iran—just as they did with Iraq.3,4

Now, the New York Times reports that Freedom's Watch, a $200 million propaganda machine headed by former White House insiders, has started to press for an attack.5,6 And this past week, Bush and Cheney upped the ante with aggressive statements, even invoking the specter of "World War III."7

Observers across the political spectrum, from Senator John McCain to former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, say the threat is closer than it appears.8,9 And it's never a good idea to underestimate this president's capacity for recklessness.

We can't run the risk that they're crazy enough to do it. That's why it's so important that we make sure policymakers understand the cost of war, and we pressure Congress not to roll over on Iran. If we can raise the money today, here's what we'll do:

A number of top retired generals and military experts are willing to say publicly that attacking Iran would be a strategic disaster. We'll put them on tour to speak to political leaders, editorial boards and big audiences.

We'll run ads challenging the Bush administration and key presidential candidates—and remind people that the last time we heard many of these phony arguments was in the lead-up to war with Iraq.
We'll commission polling to show wavering politicians that if they stand up against war with Iran, the public will stand with them.

We'll run a major grassroots campaign urging Congress to confront the administration on Iran.
None of us know how likely a strike against Iran really is. But I'm going to do more than just hope it doesn't happen. The signs and signals have become too glaring. We have to act.

Please join in launching this campaign:

Donate here

There have been a few leaders and organizations within the progressive movement who've consistently sounded the alarm on this issue. Now it's time for the rest of us to join them.

Thanks for all you do,

–Ilyse, Justin, Marika, Matt, and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


1. "Shifting Targets: The Administration's plan for Iran," The New Yorker, October 8, 2007.

2. "Cheney Targets Iran," Rolling Stone, October 18, 2007.

3. "The Redirection," The New Yorker, March 5, 2007.

4. "The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know," Esquire, October 18, 2007.

5. "Big Coffers and a Rising Voice Lift a New Conservative Group," New York Times, September 30, 2007.

6. "Freedom's Watch targeting Iran," Media Transparency, October 17, 2007.

7. "Nuclear-Armed Iran Risks World War, Bush Says," New York Times, October 18, 2007.

8. "Cheney Targets Iran," Rolling Stone, October 18, 2007.

9. Video clip of Sen. McCain in Republican Debate. October 9, 2007.

Our Perceptive Leaders, Part 28,834

This is Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's aide de camp, speaking in a new Frontline documentary about Iran. Clearly Armitage is a very wise man:

Having served in Iran, I am fearful of their hegemonistic appetite. Even during the time of the shah, I find that I've never seen a more ethnocentric country in my life. I have never seen a country for whom the days of Persepolis was, unlike for you and I, 2,500 years ago; they see it as yesterday. So this leads me to some fear about their view of themselves on the world stage.

Yes...coming from the leadership class of the United States, you can see how Armitage would be shocked to visit a hegemonistic, ethnocentric nation with an expansive view of itself on the world stage. "Who are these freaks?" I imagine him saying to himself.

EARLIER: Armitage and America's long struggle against our foes in Lunaticistan.

October 24, 2007

Things To Do

Donate money to Just Foreign Policy. MoveOn and TrueMajority have not made stopping war with Iran a priority. Just Foreign Policy has. Now they're producing videos on Iran and a national tour with former NY Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, the author of All the Shah's Men, about the US overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953. These moves are both wise and creative, so we should fork over some money.

Then, sign up to receive their updates.

• Sign the MoveOn petition calling for Congress not to give telecom companies immunity for wiretapping us illegally for the past six (?) years. It's not impossible to win this one. And certainly doing so would make both the good guys and bad guys take notice. There's a reason the Republicans (and many Democrats) are so anxious to destroy MoveOn.

You've Got To Crawl Before You Can Walk, And You've Got To Do...Something Before You Can Crawl

I'm pleased to see the coordination between Moveon, prominent blugs, and Christopher Dodd over the telecom amnesty issue. (Your source for this issue, as always, is Glenn Greenwald.) It's been a long time since my "side" has been organized enough to do something like this. Generally we can't get our act together well enough to hold a tofu roast.

In and of itself it's barely anything, of course. This is exactly the kind of thing I hoped might emerge regarding Iran, and we remain a million miles from effective action there. Still, if this kind of organization could also bring together unions, progressive African Americans and Latinos, environmentalists, etc., it might accomplish something worthwhile. All it would take is extremely hard work, lots of good luck, a tolerance for crushing disappointment, and 30-40 years.

I'm Perplexed By The Number Of Americans Who Can Think For Themselves

Where did this come from?

October 12-16, 2007
"Which comes closer to your view? In the long run, the U.S. will be safer from terrorism if it confronts the countries and groups that promote terrorism in the Middle East. OR, In the long run, the U.S. will be safer from terrorism if it stays out of other countries' affairs in the Middle East."

Confronts 47%
Stays Out 45%
Unsure 8%

August 8-12, 2007
"Which comes closer to your view? In the long run, the U.S. will be safer from terrorism if it confronts the countries and groups that promote terrorism. OR, In the long run, the U.S. will be safer from terrorism if it stays out of other countries' affairs."

Confronts 41%
Stays Out 49%
Unsure 10%

Is there anyone, except perhaps Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who ever appears on TV to argue that staying out of other countries' affairs will make us safer from terrorism? Meanwhile, everyone else--from the president on down--is screaming all day long every day about the need to "confront" the evildoers. Even Chuck Todd pointed this out yesterday on Hardball, sort of:

TODD: You don't have a unified message, anti-war message, anymore on the left. It`s very muddled among the Democrats.

Obviously the idea that in the past there was a unified anti-war message from the Democrats--much less one calling for us to get out of the mideast as a wise means to reduce terrorism--is deeply insane. Still, Todd's certainly correct we're only hearing one view now.

So here's my question: when did all these Americans start sneaking off and thinking for themselves?

(poll via Digby)

October 23, 2007

Tonight...We Dine...In VIRGINIA

The Latest Thing

Kevin Drum:

THE MISQUOTATION OLYMPICS....It would appear that Commentary's Gabriel Schoenfeld is trying to compete for the world title in selective misquoting [of James Fallows]. Original quote here. Schoenfeld version here. Dismayed reaction here.

On the other hand, Schoenfeld has some serious competition from Stanford's David Kennedy, who opened his review of Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal with an obscure century-old quote that was not just gratuitously insulting, but actually meant exactly the opposite of what he said it meant. Brad DeLong explains here.

Is this the latest thing in opinion writing? Not to merely misquote, but to twist meanings a full 180 degrees? Sounds like a fun game. Maybe I'll give it a try myself.

This isn't the latest thing in opinion writing. It's been used in all societies by the powerful against the less so. Certainly that was the case in, say, the Soviet Union. It's also true in the United States, where the "mainstream" has been always been shockingly dishonest about anyone who leaves the reservation. (See: Chomsky, Noam.)

What is new, and important, is that these techniques are now being used against nice center-left types like James Fallows and Paul Krugman. This indicates the balance of power has shifted in significant ways. What will be interesting to see is what lesson people like Fallows and Krugman will take from this. Will they understand that what's being done to them now is merely the extension of what's been done before to others, and make common cause with the previous Dirty Fucking Hippy victims? Or will they fight back only on their own behalf, in which case they'll inevitably lose?

October 22, 2007

Mother Jones On Leaving Iraq

The latest issue of Mother Jones has a giant feature on all the different aspects of getting out of Iraq. It's complicated.

Post Leaves Something Out About Richard Mellon Scaife

The Washington Post is lapping up the grimy details of the divorce of right-wing sugar daddy Richard Mellon Scaife in a new article. It would be distasteful if Scaife weren't such an unpleasant person. Yet even while sniggering at his situation, the Post manages to leave extremely pertinent information out. Here's a story from Scaife's past, as the Post tells it:

Though he jousts, indirectly, with public figures, Scaife seems to detest attention. He almost never speaks to the media, and on one of the few occasions he did, it was to tell a reporter, who'd sandbagged him on the street, that she was ugly and that her mother was ugly, too.

Here's the story as the reporter herself, Karen Rothmyer, tells it:

After several unsuccessful efforts to obtain an interview, this reporter decided to make one last attempt in Boston, where Scaife was scheduled to attend the annual meeting of the First Boston Corporation.

Scaife, a company director, did not show up while the meeting was in progress...A few minutes later he appeared at the top of the Club steps. At the bottom of the stairs, the following exchange occurred:

"Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?"

"You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here."

Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion regarding his questioner's personal appearance - he said she was ugly and that her teeth were "terrible" - and also the comment that she was engaged in "hatchet journalism." His questioner thanked Scaife for his time. "Don't look behind you," Scaife offered by way of a goodbye.

Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother, whom she had arranged to meet nearby. "She's ugly, too," Scaife said, and strode off.

We Can Only Keep America Safe By Coercing Tons Of False Confessions And Then Lying About It

Steve Bergstein has the amazing end to the story of Egyptian citizen Abdallah Higazy:

Higazy was staying in a hotel in New York City on September 11 and the hotel emptied out when the planes hit the towers. The hotel later found in the closet of his room a device that allows you to communicate with airline pilots. Investigators thought this guy had something to do with 9/11 so they questioned him. According to Higazi, the investigators coerced him into confessing to a role in 9/11. Higazi first adamantly denied any involvement with 9/11 and could not believe what was happening to him. Then, he says, the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they torture people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly torture in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was innocent! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession.

But that's not the end of the story. The end of the story is that all this came out in the decision in Higazy's case, which was posted online last week. But the court apparently realized they'd made a mistake in allowing Americans to read about the threats the FBI made against Higazy's family–so the court took down the decision, then replaced it with a version that redacted those parts, and actually called a blurg which had published that section and asked them to TAKE IT DOWN. The blurg said no.

See Bergstein for all the details. How I love our little websites.

And what's the best part, beyond the cruelty to Higazy and unknown others? The best part is the FBI has unlimited money, time and trained agents, so there's no possible way they'd miss a real threat to our lives while dicking around with all their coerced confessions.

(Via Jim Henley, who's been on the Higazy story since the beginning.)

AND: Remember this was no idle threat. A story about the Egyptian government's extraordinary brutality–including their willingness to drug and rape thirteen year-olds, videotaping it all the while–is here.

October 21, 2007

Grown In The Fertile Soil Of The Internet

• Kung Fu Monkey on America's weird farm fetish:

For chrissake, only 17% of Americans live in rural settings anymore. Only 2 million of those people work on farms or ranches (USDA figures)...

Four million people in the US play World of Warcraft. And yet, do I ever hear:

CNN: We stopped by the gates of Ogrimmar in Durotar, on the east coast of Kalimdor, where one local told us Hollywood just can't relate to the level-grinding life.

UNIDENTIFIED ORC: They've never been back here, questing Razormane or Drygulch Ravine, y'know ... or farming for Peacebloom and Silverleaf. They're out of touch.

No. No I do not.

Earlier from Kung Fu Monkey: "Learn to say ain't"

• Christopher Dickey explains what we can learn about our invasion of Iraq from the movie Deliverance

• Somehow I'd never seen these excerpts from a hilariously terrifying NRA comic book before

"Peace is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" by David Swanson, the hardest working man in progressive politics

• Tristero on spying:

[L]iberals like myself, who are pretty far removed from Intelligence activities, tend to have a very skeptical attitude towards the agencies. This is as it should be. A skeptical attitude by laypeople towards spies and spying is a bad thing only in a culture that is jonesing to descend into paranoia, the denouncing of neighbors, and isolation.

Right on. I often think spy agencies, at the end of the day, always do more harm than good to their societies. This is partly because they tend to attract fundamentally boring people whose can only enjoy life with the stimulation of meaningless intrigue and spy vs. spy crap.

Bob Harris At Firedoglake

Bob is going to be at Firedoglake today at 5 pm ET to talk about his new book Who Hates Whom.

As it happens, Mike and I were talking just moments ago about what a great piece of work it is—hilarious, informative and humane. We decided every television sold should come with a copy, so that people could understand what the hell's going while watching the news. Until that happens, though, you can always buy it.

October 20, 2007

William Bennett Isn't Scared To Tell It Like It Is

Speaking yesterday at the Family Research Council Conference, William Bennett took the American people to school:

"Battlefield surrender comes from cultural surrender," [Bennett] says. "Cultural surrender comes from befuddlement."

Nothing in history is clearer than this. Take World War II: the Germans surrendered only when their liberal media successfully confused and demoralized the populace. Likewise, Japan surrendered following an intense effort by left-wing academics to befuddle Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Problem With Comedy

Here's a good example of why I'm not in the comedy world anymore.

It's a video piece by the Onion, parodying a cable roundtable on the topic "Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?" It made me laugh and laugh, and is exactly what I'd want to be doing if I were writing comedy professionally.

Yet at its core it's crushingly sad. Paranoid schizophrenics genuinely do think all these things, and they and their families suffer horribly. It's funny 'cause it's true.

And that's the problem with comedy. It requires you to spend all day long every day thinking about suffering, to the exclusion of every other aspect of existence. There's nothing funny about happiness. Soon suffering's all you perceive. Meanwhile, professional comedy allows you no avenues for improving things. Everything's horrible, and there's nothing you can do. Comedy can be a dark, dark place to put your brain.

That said: enjoy!

In The Know: Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?

Hillary & The Appalling Scumbags

I believe the short-lived proto-grindcore band Hillary & the Appalling Scumbags opened for Throbbing Gristle at their infamous Hamburg show in 1978.

Coincidentally, Russ Baker and Adam Federman have written an in-depth piece on the appalling scumbags that Hillary Clinton hangs out with. The main one they cover is financier Alan Quasha, who was previously seen bailing out George W. Bush's failing oil company in 1986. But there are others.

Of course, she was married to the President of the United States, and he had more people killed than Quasha could ever dream of. So I guess she's used to it.

I can't believe we're going to have to live through eight years of the Clinton Restoration. Will it be three times as squalid as the first time around, or merely just as squalid?

AND: I didn't realize Chelsea Clinton is now working for a hedge fund. You can see how, having the opportunity to do literally anything she wanted with her life, she would choose this. They're a sweet family.

October 18, 2007

The Iron Law Of Institutions, In History

I'm on deadline for something. But to keep hope alive here, I'd be v. v. curious to hear what people think about this shard of the past:

Almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the civil war in Spain [in 1936] elections in France had resulted in the formation of a popular front government under Leon Blum (1872-1950). The internal party conflict in France reached a fearful intensity. Voices were heard on the right: "Better Hitler than Blum!"

I contend this is a perfect example of the Iron Law of Institutions: powerful forces within an institution (France) preferred for the institution to suffer rather than for the institution to thrive while they lost power within it. And indeed they got their wish: when Germany conquered France, the collaboration government was made up of French rightists who hated Blum.

Moreover, I believe the Iron Law of Institutions will almost never steer you wrong if you're trying to understand human behavior. It certainly explains events like this, which recur throughout history.

Am I completely right? Completely wrong? Half of each? Discuss.

UPDATE: Curse you, Bernard Chazelle! Curse you and all your "facts" and "genuine knowledge about France," with which you shamelessly pollute the comment section of this website!

"Better Hitler than Blum!" was poorly worded. "Better Satan than Blum" was more like it. Blum was Jewish and a socialist, which to many conservative Catholics in France at the time were two mortal sins even Satan didn't have.

Hitler, however, was German. Which made him much worse than Satan. One simply cannot overestimate how strongly anti-German French sentiment was (except, ironically, among intellectuals, even on the left, most of them bigtime germanophiles.)

So, Jon's thesis, while very interesting in its own right, could use a better illustration.

All the more so as it appears the phrase itself "Plutot Hitler que Blum" may never have been used as a rightwing slogan. It was first coined by Emmanuel Mounier as a putdown against the complacent French bourgeoisie. That much is known.

It's possible it was used by pro-nazi groups later but I am not aware there's any record of that.

I am actually curious. If anyone can find such evidence, please let me know.

Again the sentiment the phrase it expresses has high relevance. But it's like "The French have no word for entrepreneur." Bush could have said that, he should have said that. But there's no record he ever did.


Which Is It?

Exciting Washington insiders party, or literal hell on earth?

Favorite part:

[Robert Bennett] said that "I will not support any Democrat who stands on the platform with Al Sharpton, and you can quote me on that."

Bennett's clients have included Bill Clinton, Judith Miller, Casper Weinberger, Clark Clifford and Paul Wolfowitz. So you can see how deeply he cares about holding up the highest ethical standards.

October 17, 2007

Inside Blurgggging

This, about Megan McArdle and others, is very funny. At least if you have a small, withered soul like I do.

As it happens, I've occasionally attempted to engage with McArdle. I'm always curious about people with whom I disagree and how they think. Do they simply not know certain things, and if you tell him these things will they change their minds?

I haven't made any headway in her case; in fact, she never responded to these emails. I win by default!!!

From: Jonathan Schwarz
Subject: Saddam's behavior
Date: January 17, 2007 6:05:15 AM
To: Megan McArdle

Megan, I saw that you recently wrote in this post:

I was an unabashed hawk, 100% convinced that Saddam had WMD.

The lesson that I can unequivocally take out of this is: do not be so confident in your ability to read other people and situations. Saddam was behaving exactly as I would have behaved if I had WMD, so I concluded that he had them. I will never again be so confident in the future.

This makes me wonder: did you know UNSCOM was infiltrated by US spies trying to set up a coup in which Saddam would certainly be killed, and that the Iraqi regime was aware of this?

One of the reasons I bet $1000 that Iraq had nothing was because of this. Saddam was behaving exactly as I would have behaved if I were a gangster with no WMD but under that kind of threat.

Interestingly, one of the reasons given for Desert Fox in 1998 was that Iraqis refused to give UNSCOM access to a Baath party building. According the Duelfer report, Saddam was actually in the building at the time, and (rightfully) concerned that anything UNSCOM found about his whereabouts would be learned immediately by the US.

Then I sent her the first email again, with this attached:

From: Jonathan Schwarz
Subject: Saddam's behavior
Date: March 15, 2007 7:12:15 AM
To: Megan McArdle

Megan, I'd still be interested in the answer to this question, whenever you have a second.

The reason I remain interested is that I think the subject is important -- I believe many of the people who got this so wrong did so because they arrived at conclusions derived from honest reasoning based on poor information (that is, information that was in some mixture incomplete and false). I also believe this problem of poor information continues today, on many subjects, with similar results.


October 16, 2007

Stabbed In The Back

This is from Osama bin Laden's will, which he wrote in Tora Bora in December, 2001:

If it were not for treason I would have triumphed.

...proving once again that there is no war so preposterous that the crazed right-wingers who start it can't blame others when they lose.

Hard To Know Which Side To Root For

Ayman al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden's number two in al Qaeda. In 1995 (when he was still running his own organization, called al-Jihad) he attempted to assassinate Hosni Mubarak when Mubarak visited Ethiopia. Here's how Lawrence Wright, in The Looming Tower, describes the Egyptian government's response when the plot failed:

To deal with Zawahiri, Egyptian intelligence agents devised a fiendish plan. They lured a thirteen year-old boy named Ahmed into an apartment with the promise of juice and videos. Ahmed was the son of Mohammed Sharraf, a well-known Egyptian fundamentalist and a senior member of al-Jihad. The boy was drugged and sodomized; when he awakened, he was confronted with photographs of the homosexual activity and threatened with the prospect of having them shown to his father. For the child, the consequences of such a disclosure were overwhelming. "It could even be that the father would kill him," a source close to Zawahiri admitted.

Next the Egyptian agents got the first boy to lure in a second, whom they also drugged and raped. Then they got the two to spy on Zawahiri in an attempt to kill him. Then Zawahiri caught the two boys spying. And then he had them both shot.

AND OF COURSE: A jolly picture of Bush and Mubarak holding hands and grinning is available here.

October 15, 2007

On The Internet

• John Caruso examines the impressive journalistic rigor displayed by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks when dealing with Noam Chomsky. Then the post links back here. YOU WILL NEVER ESCAPE.

• Norman Finkelstein mercilessly reviews the most recent book by Jeffrey Goldberg, aka my favorite journalist.

• Rob Payne explains his dislike of "patriotism."

• Ian Garrick Mason on nature's patient reclamation of humanity's silly endeavors. See also my favorite poem.

October 14, 2007

Suddenly I Feel Much More Warmly Toward Hillary Clinton

I didn't know this about the Democrats:

Although they are Druids, liberals masquerade as rationalists...

Because of liberals’ druidical religious beliefs, they won’t allow us to save Africans dying in droves of malaria with DDT...

At the beginning of the 2004 presidential campaign, the Democratic Leadership Council held briefings to teach Democratic candidates how to simulate a belief in God. To ease the Druids into it, the DLC recommended using phrases like “God’s green earth"...

Democrats revile religion but insist on faking a belief in God in front of the voters claiming to be “spiritual.” They can’t forthrightly admit they are Druids...

That's from the first chapter of Ann Coulter's book Godless. I had no idea there was so much money to be made from anti-Druid sentiment in today's America.

In any case, if the Democrats are really about chanting in the woods at night and worshiping trees, sign me up. I thought being a Democrat felt more like being trapped in a stuffy conference room in a Holiday Inn near the airport as Rahm Emmanuel ranted at you for three hours about the importance of CAFTA.

(Coulter via)

Bullets Cannot Stop Them

I've come to believe there's literally nothing that can stop the New York Times' zombie-like doggedness in mindlessly repeating claims by the US government as fact. If Iraq couldn't do it, what possibly could? I suspect if "intelligence sources" told Michael Gordon that he, Michael Gordon, was head of Al Qaeda as well as an assassin trained to murder all of America's puppies, this breaking news would be on the front page the next day.

The latest atrocity, by David Sanger and Mark Marzetti, starts off like this:

Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

That's bad but not too bad. They do specify this is just what someone told them. Non-zombies would then examine the government's assertions with the intense skepticism they warrant.

Not the New York Times, though. By paragraph three, the unverified government claims have transformed into fact, as we were are told about "the reactor project." In paragraph four, it is simply "the reactor." Nowhere in the article is there any reference to Iraq, nor to the New York Times role then in disseminating propaganda.

PREVIOUS FINE WORK BY DAVID SANGER: Here's Sanger on September 12, 2002, loyally swallowing the government's crap:

President Bush plans to challenge the United Nations today to enforce resolutions it has passed since 1991 requiring Iraq to "unconditionally accept" the destruction of its chemical and biological weapons and nuclear research facilities...

And on the next day, asking for more:

[Bush's aides] told reporters that the United States would not oppose inspections as long as they occurred in the next few months, without interference from Iraq, and as long as they resulted in the immediate destruction of Mr. Hussein's stocks of chemical and biological weapons and nuclear installations.

Mr. Sanger concluded both articles with a long cry of "Braaaiiiiiiinnnnnssss!"

October 13, 2007

The Greatest Media Critic In American History

Howard Kurtz:

The people who own the networks may be conservative, but they don't run the news coverage (although they can influence it indirectly through budgets and the like).

I also hear the people who own General Motors don't run the car factories, although they can influence them indirectly.

No Hugs For Anyone

No one has correctly answered my "guess the musical snippet" quiz—so no one gets the tiny prize, which might have included a hug from me. Perhaps avoiding this possible hug is your reason for not coming up with the answer. However, I prefer to believe it's because it was genuinely obscure: it's from the end of the song "The Postman" from the 1992 David Baerwald album Triage. I have never in my life met a single person who's listened to Triage, at least before I urged it upon them. That's too bad, because it's a true work of art.

If you couldn't hear it clearly, in the clip Baerwald is saying: "A society...it's like any animal. It's gotta live. It's gotta eat."

Fixing The Intelligence, Circa 1989

Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby & co. didn't start fixing the intelligence around the policy in 2002. That's been their MO their entire careers. What they did regarding Iraq was completely predictable, and in fact was predicted by people who knew their history.

The best known pre-Iraq example is the "Team B" affair from the mid-seventies, where they made up lots of stories about how the Soviet Union was just about to overwhelm the US with their overwhelming overwhelmingness. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union collapsed. Whoops!

Then there are the episodes almost no one knows about. One is the effort by Cheney and others in the eighties to cover up Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons, as well as the way we and the Saudis were helping. (They couldn't let the truth get out because Pakistan was helping us with our proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, which of course turned out to be a giant success in its own right.) In order to do this, they had to crush a government nuclear analyst named Richard Barlow who was loudly warning about what Pakistan was up to.

Today the Guardian is running an excellent story about Barlow—what they did to him, what's happened to him since, and the chance he may receive a small measure of justice. It provides a real glimpse into how the US government truly works, which is why it appears in a foreign publication. I encourage you to read it all.

October 12, 2007


I will give a small prize to anyone who can identify the origin of this musical snippet. Be warned this prize may include a hug, whether you want one or not.


Hint: this is from an album I consider the only artistically successful musical work about U.S foreign policy.

Another Awardee

Other people are getting prizes beside Al "Nobel Laureate But Reporters For Time Magazine Would Still Get Bored Having A Beer With Him" Gore. Robert Parry's reporting on the evaporation of habeas corpus for U.S. citizens is #1 in Project Censored's new list of last year's top 25 censored stories.

Parry's "winning" articles are here and here. Parry has also written a new piece on Gore questioning why he won't put his body where his mouth is and run for president. You can and should give money to Consortium News here.

October 11, 2007

Tami Sagher: Funny

Tami Sagher is very, very funny. She wrote and performed one of the funniest segments ever to appear on This American Life, on their November 2, 2001 show (Ira Glass' introduction starts around 25:00). She also tells a funny story on this episode. And now she's started writing for 30 Rock, which was already genuinely funny and now will be funnier still.

Thus, I recommend you make your life better by adding some Tami Sagher to it.

America: Too Fat For Fascism?

I agree the actions of Michelle Malkin and her tribe of retarded baboons has a strong whiff of eliminationism. I'm not worried about it, though. I think the material facts of American society will prevent any serious lurch toward organized physical attacks by political gangs. For instance:

1. You need lots of people in good shape for fascism. When you're chasing the Armenian/Jew/Commie/Tutsi/Kulak down the street, you can't be distracted by your pants chafing against your chubby thighs. That leaves the miscreant time to get away and continue their plotting to destroy humanity.

Also, the best massive torchlit rallies peak around midnight. But by then most Americans will have polished off the fourth serving of their bottomless pasta bowl at Olive Garden, and be too sleepy to attend. This will definitely cut into the public displays of fealty to the Maximum Leader.

2. To really get a mass slaughter off the ground, the society carrying it out must somehow remain unaware of what it's doing. While one hand is bludgeoning the subhumans to death, the other has to remain clamped firmly over the eyes. I guess I've heard rumors the national guard went kind of crazy in Oregon, but there hasn't been anything about it on CNBC, so...

With the development of the internet, cell phones that take video, etc. this type of doing-but-not-knowing can't be maintained. This weird-but-real aspect of human psychology has important consequences...especially when it concerns violence toward first worlders, but for others as well. I'm certain one reason we haven't rolled out the carpet bombing in Iraq is that our political class would be confronted immediately with the consequences of their actions. Things are hideous in Iraq, but not as bad as they'd be if information didn't get back here so quickly. The blissful ignorance of mankind's overlords can't remain as total as it used to.

Feel free to remind me of this if we end up in Detention Annex 1283B together, guarded by a 420-pound former telemarketer named Tiffany.

October 10, 2007

The Lighter Side Of Genocide

For anyone interested in the current foo-fa over whether Congress will officially recognize the Armenian genocide occurred (and that it did in fact qualify as genocide), this Obsidian Wings post and its comments are worthwhile. My sympathies are with Nell.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LIGHTER SIDE? Just before the invasion of Poland, Hitler apparently gave a speech to his officers saying this:

I have placed my death-head formation in readiness -- for the present only in the East -- with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the Lebensraum which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?

My favorite part of this quote is that both Armenian genocide deniers and Holocaust deniers get extremely agitated about it, but for different reasons. Holocaust deniers generally accept the Armenian genocide happened (dirty Muslims killing Christians!) but don't like the idea that Hitler compared his actions to that. On the other hand, Armenian genocide deniers in Turkey accept that the Holocaust happened, but since the Armenian genocide never did, why would Hitler say that?

Bob Harris, Now In Easy No-Reading Form

Bob Harris's new book Who Hates Whom has been turned into cartoon form by Scott Bateman and is appearing on Salon's Video Dog.

Also: Who Hates Whom is v. funny and v. informative, and you should buy it.

Trita Parsi On Little Known History of Israel-Iran Relations

Trita Parsi, now head of the National Iranian-American Council, has written for Rootless Cosmopolitan on some little-known history of Israel-Iran relations. Based on his book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, it's the kind of thing that tends not to make it into books, and certainly not onto the Learn Nothing From History Channel. The book's website is here, and its Amazon page is here. And here's Parsi recently on Democracy Now!:

October 09, 2007

Virtual Chevron Protest Today, 4-6 pm ET

Chevron is one of the biggest corporate supporters of the Burmese dictatorship. This site is encouraging people worldwide to call and fax them today between 4:00 and 6:00 pm ET (their headquarters are in California) to tell them to change their relationship with the junta. Go there for details, including contact information.

Via John Caruso, who suggests "tell them you won't buy any more gas from them until they divest from Burma."

October 08, 2007

John Hagee: President Doesn't Need Congressional Declaration Of War To Attack Iran

Last Friday Charles Goyette of Antiwar Radio interviewed John Hagee, the slightly insane head of Christians United for Israel. More than five hilarious minutes of the eighteen minutes total was devoted to Goyette trying to get Hagee to say whether George Bush would need Congressional authorization if he wants to attack Iran. Hagee really, really didn't to answer the question, so much so you get the feeling he was considering hanging up the phone and fleeing to Peru. But he finally came out and said: no, Bush can do whatever he wants. Below are the relevant sections of the interview, stitched together.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain; his disciples came unto him
and he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying:
never, ever give a straight answer about the U.S. Constitution if you can avoid it

—Matthew 5:1

GOYETTE: I know you are a champion of taking the war to Iran—I wonder if you are a champion of the United States Constitution.

HAGEE: I certainly am.

GOYETTE: So you think we need a declaration of war to expand this war to Iran?

[over four minutes of Hagee hemming and hawing deleted]

HAGEE: We do not have a war declaration for Iraq, and neither does the president need one to expand it into Iran.

CHARLES GOYETTE: Okay, that's the answer I was looking for. He can do it on his own authority.

HAGEE: He certainly can. We're in Iraq on his authority.

The Real News On Iran

I believe The Real News (aka Independent World TV) is the most important media experiment in existence right now. Progressives already have fairly good magazines, books, radio and websites, but we're missing the most important part: TV. The Real News is an attempt to remedy this. I encourage you to check them out—beyond their website, a good place to start is with a DailyKos series of interviews with founder Paul Jay—and give them money. (So you know, I hope to do some work for them.)

Here are two recent interviews Paul Jay did on Iran. The first is with Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, focusing on Hillary Clinton's views on the mideast:

And here's an interview with Pepe Escobar on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment and U.S. policy toward Iran generally:

October 06, 2007

Ginmar On Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Ginmar, who returned from Iraq two and a half years ago, has written a long, grim description of her struggle since with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as the VA:

One night I got on the bus and my vision had abruptly changed. It was blurry and too sharp, and my ears were ringing. I could barely breathe and my chest felt like it had a belt around it. My chest hurt. My stomach felt so bad I was afraid I'd throw up or worse. I finally got off the bus at a stop sign near a fast food restaurant and threw up in their restroom. I caught the next bus and hung on with white knuckles till I got to my stop in downtown, near a gas station. I threw up there, too.

Read it all.

(Thanks to Anna for the pointer.)

October 05, 2007

Richard Spertzel, Explained

Two days ago I mentioned Richard Spertzel, a former UNSCOM inspector and one of the people the CIA sent to Iraq post-invasion, and said he'd brazenly lied in a Wall Street Journal article from 2004. I also promised to provide more details about it if anyone was interested.

It turns out several people indeed were interested enough to email and request more information. I think it's pretty well explained in this old post about Frank Gaffney—as you'll see, Gaffney made all the same claims on the radio that Spertzel did in his op-ed. (In fact, I'm pretty sure Gaffney got it from Spertzel. He's too stupid to make this kind of stuff up on his own.) But let me know if anything's unclear.

New Nir Rosen Article

Nir Rosen has written another piece on Iraq's refugees, following up on his recent New York Times Magazine article. You may not be surprised to hear things are grim.

Back To Normal

Sometimes in discussions about the (corporate-owned, advertiser-supporter) media you come across the idea that it used to be liberal, but not anymore. For instance, Jim Henley: "When I was a teen...and for a time after that, the media was very liberal."

I wouldn't agree with that, exactly. Rather than saying the media once was liberal, I'd put it like this: there was a brief period during the late sixties to the mid seventies when parts of the media weren't completely reactionary. And from this tiny real acorn grew an immense imaginary oak called the "liberal media." Still, I acknowledge the media has changed significantly over the past forty years.

But to me most everyone takes away the wrong point from this. Particularly among baby boomers, afflicted with too many viewing of All the President's Men, there's a sense the late sixties-mid seventies was the norm and today's situation is the aberration. Instead, the late sixties-mid seventies was the aberration. Now we're back to normal.

That's because (corporate-owned, advertiser-supported) media always has powerful conservative tendencies. It's in its DNA. What was different during our brief media glasnost wasn't the media's DNA, but the outside environment. Most importantly, America then was the most middle class it's ever been before or since. It made financial sense for advertisers to try to reach a broader audience. And so a somewhat different media became profitable. Large social movements clamoring to be heard also had an effect.

But then the empire struck back. The movements weakened, and the U.S. steadily became less and less middle class. Now we have economic inequality on par with the twenties—and thus a media like the twenties too. It could hardly be otherwise.

So the media's not going back to its "liberal" period unless the larger economic structures of the United States do as well. And we shouldn't be hoping for a return to that media era anyway. It was never that great to start with, and as we've since learned, it was extremely vulnerable to outside changes.

A much better plan is to accept the corporate-owned, advertiser-supported idea is inherently flawed, and come up with alternatives. Ezra Klein is thinking along these lines, and so is Bree Nordenson. Both articles mention what I believe is the best solution, Dean Baker's concept of "artistic freedom vouchers."

Baker's idea is simple: everyone would get a $100 tax credit that would go to whatever artistic or journalistic endeavor they designate. The recipients could do whatever they wanted with it, as long as they agreed to give up copyright to what they produced.

This could lead to a media without government control, without advertisers, and—most importantly—without PBS trying to appeal to the upper middle class white donor class via acoustic Eagles concerts. Everyone wins except the forces of evil.

There are likely other solutions, too. (Klein and Nordenson discuss some of them.) The important thing at this point is just to start understanding the problem and thinking about possible answers.

(The ball's in your court, Mr. Nielsen Hayden.)

October 04, 2007

How Lucky We Are To Live In A World With So Many Moral Men

Jeffrey Goldberg, "Should the U.S. Invade Iraq?", October, 2002:

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Osama bin Laden, "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," August, 1996:

Terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms in our land, is a legitimate right and a moral obligation.

AND: Just before the invasion of Iraq, the right-wing American Catholic philosopher Michael Novak gave a speech about its necessity at the Vatican. The speech's subtitle was "A Moral Obligation."

October 03, 2007

No Such Thing As Satire In America

Here's Chris Matthews on the Daily Show last night, talking about his book Life's a Campaign:

STEWART: If you treat life like a campaign—

MATTHEWS: Yes it is...It is a campaign. Everything about getting jobs is about convincing somebody to hire you. Right? It's about getting promotions. It's about selling products. It's always a campaign. It's a campaign to get the girl of your dreams. It's a campaign to do everything you want to do in life.

And here's the moron newscaster character (played by William Hurt) in the 1987 movie Broadcast News, giving Albert Brooks' character Aaron some advice:

TOM: And remember—you're not just reading the news or narrating. Everybody has to sell a little. You're selling them this idea of you. You know, what you're sort of saying is, "trust me. I'm credible." So whenever you catch yourself just reading...stop and start selling a little.

Later in the movie, the Albert Brooks character says this:

AARON: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No...He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important.

Just coax along flash over substance. Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

AND: I think a better name for Broadcast News would be Weep Now for the Terrible Tragedies Suffered by Whiny Oblivious Rich White People. It's undeniably funny, though.

Jeffrey Goldberg, Five Years Ago Today

Here's Jeffrey Goldberg, then a staff writer at the New Yorker, participating in a debate on Iraq in Slate on October 3, 2002. That was five years ago today:

There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Wow, did he call that one! He's like the Babe Ruth of geopolitical analysis!

Still, as gruesome as this is (and as gruesome as Goldberg's pre-war reporting was), I don't recommend that anyone get angry at him personally. He doesn't matter. What matters is the political economy of our media. Here, in an article from this past August, is a description of how that political economy functions:

David Bradley had been trying to lure Jeffrey Goldberg to the Atlantic for more than two years.

Bradley, the magazine's owner, wrote flattering letters. He courted Goldberg at a McDonald's on Wisconsin Avenue. He proffered a hefty signing bonus. And when the New Yorker's Washington correspondent finally seemed receptive to making the move, Bradley sent in the ponies.

"He's incredibly persistent and makes you feel like you're God's gift to journalism," says Goldberg, who had turned Bradley down once before. But that was before the horses showed up at his home to entertain his children. "The charm is incredibly disarming," says Goldberg, who joined the Atlantic last month...

Part of what Bradley is selling is a commitment to long-form journalism, at a time when there are few quality outlets for those who believe in the power of nonfiction narrative. But what Goldberg calls "smart-bomb flattery" doesn't hurt, and neither do salaries for top journalists ranging as high as $350,000.

"Smart-bomb flattery." Oh, tee hee hee. I find it particularly witty for Goldberg to speak of himself enjoying these metaphorical smart bombs at the same time that, thanks in part to him, Iraqis are enjoying the real kind.

In any case, the lesson is clear: as long you advocate war—any war, anywhere, anytime—and as long as you coat it with a certain brand of intellectual varnish, you literally cannot be wrong in the mainstream US media. Your views may diverge from reality so completely they are essentially psychotic, but as far the people who own the media are concerned, it's reality that's mistaken. Hey, do your kids like ponies?

EXTRA CREDIT: In his Slate post, Goldberg cites Richard Spertzel as an authority. Spertzel is an American former UNSCOM inspector and a truly appalling hack. Predictably enough, Spertzel was later hired by the CIA as part of its post-war WMD search team—and predictably enough, he came back to the US and wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal brazenly lying about what they'd found and what the final CIA report said. (Brief description here, though it's actually even worse than that. Details on request.)

MEDIA MOGULS, EXPLAINED: Why is David Bradley so anxious to spend his hard-earned money on Jeffrey Goldberg? The answer is really quite straightforward.

BONUS: Goldberg's Slate views were heartily endorsed at the time by Andrew Sullivan: "The invaluable Jeffrey Goldberg presents what is to my mind an unarguable case for removing Saddam from power in Slate....We cannot let ourselves be led by the deluded and the defeatist any more." And thus:

When it comes to hiring, Bradley's most useful trait may be patience. Says Andrew Sullivan, who had been blogging for Time: "David regularly offered me tea and scones every year or so for the better part of the last seven years, to find out what I was up to, and always suggested ways to go work for him." Sullivan recently moved his blog to the Atlantic's site.

PREVIOUSLY: Jeffrey Goldberg is "said to" source things in an unusual fashion.

October 02, 2007

I Prefer The Term "The Global Well-Earned Confidence"

Here's Israel's Foreign Minister, angrily asking the question that has been voiced about the UN so many times before:

In comments apparently directed at China and Russia, Tzipi Livni cast the Iran nuclear dispute as a test of the United Nation's relevancy. Both countries, which are among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have resisted imposing a third set of sanctions against Iran despite the Islamic country's refusal to abandon its uranium enrichment program - a possible pathway to nuclear arms...

"What is the value, we have to ask, of an organization which is unable to take effective action in the face of a direct assault on the very principles it was founded to effect?" Livni said.

Of course, the people asking this question in the past have generally been wondering about a different country whose name starts with I.

They don't call us "The Global Arrogance" for nothing.

Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007

The House of Representatives is voting today on the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007. Based on past experience, this sounds like it could be a declaration of war against the moon. But according to Just Foreign Policy, whose judgment I trust, it's a good thing, and you should be telling your representative to vote for it. They have a page set up to write here, but you definitely should also call. Capitol switchboard: 202 224-3121.

UPDATE: I'm pleased to report it passed. Was it all due to this post? I'm too modest to say. (Yes.)

The Real Stakes In This Terrible War

Dennis explains:

I recall a relative of mine arguing in favor of extensive war in the Middle East, saying that if we didn't bomb the Arabs into submission, they would come over here and "fuck us in the ass." That's a direct quote, by the way. I remember that line well because I had no real come back to it. I mean, what do you say to that: "To the contrary, they won't fuck us in the ass"?

Definitely read the rest.

EARLIER: "I will screw him in the ass!"

AND: They will base their ass-screwing juggernaut in a small creek in Crawford, Texas.

October 01, 2007

More Disasterous Iran Legislation On Its Way

Carah Ong has details here and here on new House and Senate bills on Iran. They're turning up the volume in every way possible.

Amusingly, one bill is from Illinois Republican Mark Steven Kirk, who supports American unions about 10% of the time yet all of a sudden is passionately devoted to the wellbeing of Iranian labor activists. Then there's the bill condemning Iranian actions in Lebanon, sponsored by a Democratic Representative named Steve Israel. Subtle!


Blurgs have had a real impact by extending the memory of political discussions. It used to be the media couldn't remember anything that had happened more than five seconds ago. Now, thanks to blurgs, events of the day are (sometimes) put into the context of the past five years.

This is good, but nowhere near enough. That's because the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. What we need is blurgs that put current events in the context of the past twenty or fifty or a hundred years. Everything happening now can only make sense to people if they see how it's part of a long-running story.

I sometimes try to do this in a half-assed fashion. Juan Cole does it well when he does it at all. But as far as I know, only one blurgher does what I'm wishing for almost all the time: Rick Perlstein. For instance: "The Other Side of the Little Rock Nine", which explains how we got from 1957 to right now. Likewise, "Bedwetter Nation" illuminates another strand of history running from fifty years ago to today.

I don't think I'm overstating much when I say this kind of thing is COMPLETELY NEW IN HUMAN HISTORY. In the future, every worthwhile blurg will do this.

More Seymour Hersh

Two recent interviews with Seymour Hersh:

1. With the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:

HERSH: There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually -- and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post -- we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism.

I've been working for The New Yorker recently since '93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about. Couldn't care less now. It doesn't matter, because I'll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it's online, we just get flooded.

So, we have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven't come to terms with it. I don't think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.

Right on! Elsewhere, Hersh has specifically praised Dana Priest and Nir Rosen.

2. With Der Spiegel:

DER SPIEGEL: What interest does the White House have in moving us to the brink with Tehran?

HERSH: You have to ask yourself what interest we had 40 years ago for going to war in Vietnam. You'd think that in this country with so many smart people, that we can't possibly do the same dumb thing again. I have this theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve. Everything is tabula rasa. Everybody has to discover things for themselves.

Is Hersh right? Maybe. I know I was almost thirty before I had any idea what was going on. But if Hersh is correct, democratic government is essentially impossible. Thomas Jefferson famously explained why in 1778 in his "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" for Virginia:

The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.

AND: I urge you to start listening to the Jefferson Hour, a weekly radio program in which Great American Weirdo Clay Jenkinson pretends to be Thomas Jefferson and answers caller questions on current affairs as him.