December 31, 2007

Fight! Fight! Fight!

The answer to the question "Who is IOZ?" is apparently "me". Nonetheless, I hereby declare a giant blurg spat between him/me and me/him about his statement:

...the constant demands for Action, for a Plan, for a collective Purpose--these are invariably made by people whose heads are still cobwebbed with cant. Useless though they are, the self-satisfied perseverations of the soi-disant progressive community appeal to this type simply because they carry the illusion of change: new names, new polls, new H.R. Such-and-Such to pray for passage, new FISA bills to filibuster, la, dee, da. When I wanted to learn yoga, my guru told me that I had to learn how to breath first, and goddamn if he wouldn't let me climb into a downward-facing dog or even stretch to touch my toes until I did.

I agree with the "cobwebbed with cant" part. Where we part ways is I think humans can only clear the cant out of their heads by acting on their cant-filled beliefs. Then, when they see the world doesn't fit these beliefs, they hopefully move onto newer ones with a lower cant content.

Here's how Professor Chompers puts it:

Well, you don’t sit in your room somewhere and dispel illusions — very few people are capable of doing that. I mean, some people are capable of doing it, but most aren’t. Usually you find out what you think by interaction with people, otherwise you don’t know what you think — you just hear something, and maybe you accept it, or you don’t pay any attention to it, or something like that. You learn about things because you’re interested in the topic, and when it’s the social world, your interest in it often involves — ought to involve, at least — trying to change it, it’s in that context that you learn. And you learn by trying out ideas, and hearing reactions to them, and hearing what other people have to say about the topic, and formulating programmes, and trying to pursue them, and seeing where they break down, and getting some experience, and so on and so forth.

So dispelling the illusions is just a part of organizing and acting. It’s not something that you do in a seminar, or in your living room...if you’re trying to dispel illusions about a live, ongoing social process that’s changing all the time, and that you only get to see little pieces of — that’s really not the way to do it. You do it through interactions with other people, and by functioning in some kind of community of concern, and of commitment, and of activism.

I appreciate Mr. IOZ's frustration with donkeldom, online and off. But America is so completely depoliticized that I support people doing pretty much anything (except forming neighborhood fascist gangs, and even that doesn't worry me too much). Perhaps I'm foolishly optimistic, but I believe people will learn from the horrendous mistakes they'll surely make. And even if they don't, giving it a shot is the only way they have even a possibility of doing so.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:15 PM | Comments (36)

I Miss The Fear

American business elites have gone completely bonkers in the last twenty years. The attack on Social Security is part of this, but by no means all. If they could, they'd return us to the 19th century, with child labor, 80-hour work weeks, union organizers mowed down in the street, and everything else.

What's the source of this bonkers-ness? Back in 1998, Doug Henwood attributed it to their diminished fear since the collapse of the Soviet Union:

...capitalists won't concede even social democratic reforms without the threat of expropriation, which was what the USSR symbolized for them.

I didn't believe this at the time because I was a cosseted middle class idiot. But since then I've realized Henwood was completely right. You don't have to take my word or Henwood's for this, though. Just ask Marriner Eccles, Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1934-48. This is from William Greider's book Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country:

As a millionaire himself, Eccles was certainly not hostile to the private accumulation of wealth, though he did resent the stubborn adherence to the status quo preached by his fellow bankers and businessmen. They insisted depressions were "God-given and not man-made" events and that no one should interfere in the process, least of all government. "It became apparent to me, as a capitalist, that if I lent myself to this sort of action and resisted any change designed to benefit all the people, I could be consumed by the poisons of social lag I had helped to create," he explained.

So even during the thirties, with the depression and the Soviet Union staring them right in the face, only the most unusual and intelligent of America's business class were willing to share power and money. Today the unusual and intelligent club is far smaller, giving us Fed chairs like Alan "Parasites Perish" Greenspan. Unless something else comes along that frightens these people deeply, they will push and push and push until they've destroyed everything, including themselves.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:30 PM | Comments (19)

Death By Election

David Swanson:

There must be a Star Trek episode (if there's not, there should be) in which all the best minds in the leftist political opposition on some planet are diverted into an obsession with a virtual reality game, leaving all the right-wingers free to drive the planet into inevitable war and destruction. A game is a harmless thing when not put to such use. Elections are a fundamental pillar of democracy when not put to such use. That makes the case I want to argue all the more difficult. My thesis is that, if we do not change our thinking, elections are going to be the death of U.S. democracy.

Read the rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:22 PM | Comments (30)

December 30, 2007

Kenneth Pollack: Incredibly Enough, He's Even Stupider Than You Thought

Here's Kenneth Pollack, writing in his book on Iran called The Persian Puzzle:

Every observer of Iran has a story about the moment he or she had an epiphany about just how different Iran is from any other country in the world. My own came in 1989, when I was a junior military analyst in the Central Intelligence Agency's Iran-Iraq Branch...I set out to write a paper on the likely course of Iranian military rearmament. The year before, the Iranians had suffered a devastating series of defeats at the hands of the Iraqi army...After the war, the Iranians announced that they planned to rebuild their armed forces quickly...We assumed that after the events of 1988, Iran's highest priority would be to eliminate the potential for Iraq to employ its superiority on the ground to blackmail Tehran or seize Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province...

Instead, when we began piercing together the evidence of what the Iranians were up to...[t]hey certainly were not acting the way any other nation facing a serious threat would act...they were buying mostly weaponry intended for naval warfare...In other words, they were not arming to defend themselves against Iraq...they were arming to defend themselves against us, the United States. That was when I first truly understood that Iran was a very different country from most others and that it was a country obsessed with the United States of America.

This is from Web of Deceit by Barry Lando, covering about the same time period that Kenneth Pollack is talking about, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war:

The Reagan administration, in effect, decided to undertake a secret war...Heavily armed U.S. Special Operations helicopters, stealthy, sophisticated killing machines that could operate by day or night, were ordered to the Persian Gulf. Their mission was to destroy any Iranian gunboats they could find. Other small, swift American vessels, posing as commercial ships, lured Iranian naval vessels into international waters to attack them...

Beginning in July 1987, the CIA also began sending covert spy plans and helicopters over Iranian bases. Several engaged in secret bombing runs...In September 1987, a special operations helicopter attacked an Iranian mine-laying ship...

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency dispatched additional officers to Baghdad...they were planning day-by-day strategic bombing strikes for the Iraqi Air a twenty-four hour period, U.S. forces sank or demolished a destroyer and a couple of frigates, which represented half the Iranian navy.

If Saddam had not ultimately prevailed, the Pentagon had prepared an even more ambitious strategy: to launch an attack against the Iranian mainland. "The real plans were for a secret war, with the U.S. on the side of Iraq against Iran..." said retired Lieutenant Colonel Roger Charles, who was serving in the office of the secretary of defense at the time. This was confirmed by Admiral James A. "Ace" Lyons, who was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. As he put it, "We were prepared, I would say at the time, to drill them back to the fourth century."

Relatively cooler heads prevailed. According to Richard Armitage, who at the time was assistant secretary of defense, "The decision was made not to completely obliterate Iran...However, had things not gone well in the Gulf, I've no doubt that we would have put those plans into effect."

How incredibly bizarre those Iranians are! Just because the people at the helm of the most powerful military that's existed in world history were seriously discussing how to "drill them back to the fourth century" and "obliterate" them, they actually were worried about it! I guess we'll never be able to understand the filthy wogs.

Anyway, it's standard in government bureaucracies for people to become blithering idiots who have no idea what's going on right in front of their face. So Pollack isn't unusual in that regard. But it takes a special man to use his own blithering idiocy about his own country as justification to believe another country is mysterious and incomprehensible. Kenneth Pollack is that special man.

In his capacity as an expert on the mideast, Pollack has in the past six months written for the New York Times and been on NBC, CNN, Fox and NPR.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:20 PM | Comments (14)

The Horrible, Horrible Democrats

Matt Stoller points out five giant issues that are ignored by Clinton and Obama (and for the most part by Edwards), when any genuinely progressive presidential candidate would be trying to drag them onto the national agenda.

Almost forgotten now is how Howard Dean vowed in December, 2003 "to break up giant media enterprises." Of course that vanished when he became party chair.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:53 PM | Comments (6)

Take Up The White Woman's Burden

Yesterday Bernard highlighted this section of Hillary Clinton's recent appearance on CNN about the Bhutto assassination:

BLITZER: I think I understood what you were implying when you said a U.S. investigation probably wouldn’t have credibility...

CLINTON: I think it would politicize it...I think it would be much better for it to be independent and impartial and be seen as that. Part of what our challenge here is, is to convince the Pakistani people themselves and particularly the business elite, the feudal elite, the military elite that they are going down a very dangerous path...Therefore we need to help them understand what is in their interest...

That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that kind of language before? Oh yeah:

In March 1960, the Eisenhower administration formally adopted a plan to overthrow Castro in favor of a regime "more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people"...the secret plan emphasized that Castro must be removed "in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. involvement."

We've spent so much time trying to help the people of the world understand what's in their interest, while making sure no one sees what we're doing. That's because we're not just good, we're also really modest. And we get so little thanks! You might call it the White Woman's Burden.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:09 AM | Comments (6)

December 29, 2007

Hillary Knows Best

By: Bernard Chazelle

Senator Clinton outlined to Wolf Blitzer "Five Steps Needed To Address Pakistan in Wake of Bhutto Assassination."

Editorial comment: I counted only 4 steps but they are so big they feel like 5.

First, Hillary called for a Hariri-like investigation into Bhutto's assassination. Good idea. After all, that's how we got Bin Laden, so why not? But seriously I'm with her on this one.

Her second suggestion was to press for free and fair elections right on schedule. Again, who's to disagree? Democracy can't wait. Yes, I know, the main candidate was bumped off and her party was a shell built entirely around her, but surely her manicurist or yoga instructor can run in her place and beat a general with the full weight of the Army and the Intelligence Services behind him. That's the beauty of democracy: anyone can be president. Again, Hillary nailed that one.

The third part of her plan is to... well, it's subtle so let me quote her:

I suggested that a retired [US] military leader who could relate to President Musharraf on a one-to-one basis and ... serve as a kind of support to President Musharraf, military man to military man, about what it takes to really move toward democracy.

So we get a US general to help "support" a dictatorship in a faraway land... Worked great in Latin America, so why not?

The fourth step is to remind Musharraf that he is undermining democracy and ask him to shape up. What a brilliant move! Just think, if only we'd sent a reminder to Hitler and Stalin... Those dictators, you know, they forget.

But Hillary saved the best line for last:

Therefore we need to help them understand what is in their interest.

Their interest? Thou Art to Serve Thy Master.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:32 PM | Comments (16)

December 28, 2007

Random Musings about Pakistan

By: Bernard Chazelle

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is a tragedy for her relatives and those of the 20 others who died in the attack. It is a sad day for her supporters.

Ms Bhutto was courageous to the point of recklessness. Her father was both Pakistan's great hope and bitter disappointment. But she lacked his considerable political skills. Upon her return to Pakistan at Bush's behest, Musharraf made mincemeat of her. It is doubtful he had anything to do with her death: in fact, his political future is now in jeopardy. If anyone besides her killers has blood on their hands, it is Bush, who sent her to her death in a harebrained scheme.

Bhutto's two stints as Prime Minister were marked by massive corruption and gross incompetence. But she agreed to do America's bidding and so she was merely, in the words of the New York Times, "imperfect."

In the corridors of power in Islamabad, few will mourn her passing. In fact, Agatha Christie could have written the script: the victim is dead and all the usual suspects have reason to celebrate. The military hated her; the master triangulator Musharraf couldn't stand the thought of the power-sharing agreement the US was trying to shove down his throat. Her nemesis and chief rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had been mentored by Zia-ul-Haq, the man who killed her dad. The Inter-Services Intelligence (the infamous ISI) wished her dead. So did the Islamists and tribal leaders.

Pakistani politics is not for the faint of heart. One can imagine Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, muttering to himself: "And they think we are the crazy Muslim country!"

One man wasn't too thrilled by yesterday's events: Bush. His entire Pakistan policy is in tatters. For this he can also thank torture-loving John "Musharraf is our indispensable ally" Negroponte. The US gave Musharraf $11 billion in 6 years and the good general used that money to rid Pakistan of the last vestiges of American influence. He may well meet Benazir's fate one day or be ousted by his former protege and replacement as Army Chief, Ashfaq Kiyani, but don't discount his extraordinary survival skills. In particular, for years now Musharraf has been running circles around American policymakers; or, for that matter, the imperial satraps manning the fort at the New York Times.

Washington must now call for new rules

Washington must also demand

[Washington] must insist that

Washington will need to send the same message

How about "Washington must learn to mind its own business"?
Now, on to the nut graf.

American policy must now be directed at building a strong democracy in Pakistan that has the respect and the support of its own citizens and the will and the means to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

This is a statement of breathtaking ignorance. A strong democracy in Pakistan that had the respect and the support of its own citizens would have neither the will nor the means to fight the Taliban, an organization that Pakistan helped create in the 90s to pacify its Tribal Areas and maintain its influence in Afghanistan. The US is losing the war in Afghanistan and is pressuring Pakistan to fight the good fight for us. Trouble is, Islamabad has long nurtured a careful relationship with the tribal belt and has no desire to start a full-fledged civil war within its borders. The low-level skirmishes that the Pakistani army wages (and usually loses) in Balochistan and the North-Western regions are more than it can handle.

Bush got mad at Musharraf for negotiating with the Taliban. Never mind that
Britain and the US are currently in negotiation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Has the NYT noticed that European diplomats were expelled from Afghanistan last week?) The hypocrisy is staggering.

Speaking of which, President Bush said this today:

The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy

Forget about the use of words: the "cowardice" of suicide bombers; the murderous extremists (not to be confused with the murderous moderates). How can Bush speak of those "trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy"? What democracy? The US has been propping up a dictator to the tune of $11 billion for 6 years, and The Decider goes after the Underminers of Pakistan's democracy...

Why must Orwell always have the last word?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:58 PM | Comments (18)

December 27, 2007

The Nigger Gook Wog Oriental Doesn't Value Life Like We Do

Here's the famous quote from Gen. William Westmoreland in the Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds:

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

This is from the best book to read if you want to understand U.S.-Iraq relations, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush by Barry Lando:

"The natives of these tribes love fighting for fighting's sake," Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard assured Parliament. "They have no objection to being killed." The military's argument was that, though the often indiscriminate air attacks might perturb some civilized folks back in London, such acts were viewed differently by the Arabs. As one British commander observed, "'[Shiekhs] not seem to resent...that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs." In other words, as Lawrence himself explained: to Arabs, women and children were "negligible" casualties compared to those of "really important men." He assured the British public that this was "too oriental a mood for us to feel very clearly."

(For most of this, Lando was relying on the work of Priya Satia.)

This news about the Oriental is particularly interesting in the context of this 1918 quote from Arthur Balfour about Iraq and Iran, also lifted from Web of Deceit:

"I do not care under what system we keep this oil, but I am quite clear it is all-important for us that this oil should be available."

What a wonderful coincidence that the people who live on top of all this valuable real estate don't care when we kill them! If they did care we'd have to feel bad about ourselves, so we really caught a lucky break!

AND: Remember that Balfour famously said, "Nothing matters very much, and most things don't matter at all." How interesting that there was one thing he considered "all-important."

I like to imagine an alternate universe in which Iraq conquered England to seize their fog, and in which this comment of Balfour's was endlessly quoted by Iraqi newspapers to demonstrate how the Occidental doesn't care about human life.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:36 PM | Comments (27)

Meet The Scanner

You should subscribe to the feed of The Scanner, a new political bl*g by someone who (1) is anonymous and (2) genuinely knows what they're talking about. (I specify subscribing to the feed rather than bookmarking it because it seems to keep to a relaxed schedule of one post per month.)

You can start here: "Why the “new progressive movement” is fucked"

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:44 AM | Comments (24)

December 24, 2007

My Christmas Message

I'm so tired of the commercialization of decrying the commercialization of Christmas!

When I was growing up, we didn't need special issues of Real Simple Magazine or episodes of Oprah to decry the commercialization of Christmas. I bet my entire family could have decried the commercialization of Christmas for less money than they spend on one disapproving segment on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric about competing neighbors in Boca Raton who each spend $1 million each year on Christmas decorations in their subdivision. In fact, one year when times were slow at dad's law firm, we decried the commercialization of Christmas without spending any money at all!

That's because we understood the true meaning of decrying the commercialization of Christmas. It's about giving, and sharing, and spending time with your loved ones being angry about the CGI baby Jesus in the Wii commercial.

The worst part is it starts earlier every year. First it was December, then Thanksgiving, then Labor Day. I wouldn't be surprised if we wake up one year soon and we're decrying the commercialization of Christmas on December 26th, before we've even returned the copy of It's a Wonderful Life we bought to decry the commercialization of the previous Christmas!

So take my advice: this year, step back from your over-scheduled, stressful life, and decry the commercialization of Christmas the old fashioned way. You don't need big corporations to do it for you. Just get together with the people you care about the most, and bitch about it like your parents did...and their parents before them. I bet a year from now you'll look back on this as the best decrying the commercialization of Christmas of all.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:07 PM | Comments (10)

December 23, 2007

Thomas Friedman's Best Column

In today's Times, Friedman wrote about Noah, the Olympics, God, apes, soft-shell turtles, floods, gibbons, imams, and gymnastics. You know, the usual.

But then a miracle happened! Friedman had a Christmas present for us all!

This is my last column until April. I will be on leave, writing a book on energy and the environment.

I hope it'll be that 4-volume series on triangulating the energy in a spherical environment embedded in a flat universe we've all been waiting for.

Just one thing, Tom. Take your time!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:48 PM | Comments (18)

December 22, 2007

Some Fresh Smileys With Your Cluster Bombs, Sir?

Andrew Sullivan, Dec. 2007:

Consider this hypothetical. It's November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm.

Forgive Sullivan's ignorant use of the word logarithm. Who cares if a man gets his mathiness all mangled up so long as his grey cells churn out such rare insights?

Now, at last, I see it.

If unwashed hordes of Muslims hate America, it's because Bush's grandfather was named Prescott; it's because Clinton's white skin burns in the sun; it's because Paris Hilton can't find a hijab to match her complexion; it's because Americans pray too loudly to their Christian, Jewish, Mormon, or Scientological gods; it's because of that damn over-used, misused, abused softy-soft power: too much Britney, not enough Oprah. I get it.

So wheel in a new president who is black, blue, yellow, or polka dot. Elect a new commander-in-chief with an exotic name and, voilà, all over Terroristan, I proudly say, hearts will melt faster than polar caps.

I'll confess I didn't see it that way at first. I thought it was not so much the "face of America" that bugged them Muslims but, rather, the spiked boot of America on their necks. I thought they might be a wee bit peeved that, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, we supported every one of their bloody dictators faster than they could produce them.

I wondered if all that talk of bombing three Muslim countries in six years got them agitated somehow. And what did they make of our willingness to flush our constitution down the toilet just so we could torture them in secret donjons? And did they mind our rush to slaughter, maim, and humiliate them? And did they perhaps notice that, since 1991, no one has caused the deaths of more Muslims than we have? Wasn't that our "Muslim problem," I wondered?

Apparently, I wondered wrong.

Consider this hypothetical. It's November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. Suddenly, CIA agents burst into his house, beat him to a pulp, and waterboard him till he drowns. "Damn, Charlie, wrong house!"

Chris Matthews is beaming: "How lucky can the world be to have this young, dark-skinned man moving into the White House! Senator Biden, will Muslims have any excuse not to love us now?"

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:48 PM | Comments (13)

When We Murder Millions, We Don't Do It Just For Fun! We Have Reasons!

Harper's recently published the transcript of a 1947 conversation between Stalin and Sergei Eisenstein about Eisenstein's two part film Ivan the Terrible. (Part I had already been released three years before, but Stalin's censorship would prevent Part II from being produced until after his death.) Also present were Molotov, the Foreign Minister, and Nikolai Cherkasov, who played Ivan.

STALIN: Have you studied history?

EISENSTEIN: More or less—

STALIN: More or less? I know a thing or two about history...You need to depict historical figures correctly...Ivan the Terrible was very cruel—you can show that—but you have to show why it was essential. One of Ivan's mistakes was that he didn't finish off the five major feudal families. If he had wiped them out, there would never have been a Time of Troubles...

CHERKASOV: Can the killing of Staritsky be left in the screenplay?

STALIN: You can leave it. There were killings.

MOLOTOV: Repressions in general can and should be shown, but it has to be shown why they were committed, in the name of what...

EISENSTEIN: Are there going to be any other special instructions for the movie?

STALIN: I'm not giving you instructions. I'm expressing a viewer's thoughts.

You see here, in distilled form, all the standard tropes displayed by history's greatest monsters. Stalin was an intelligent man and recognized hideous cruelty when he saw it. But the depiction of Ivan reflected on him, so he wanted everyone to know the cruelty wasn't just for fun. Unlike his vicious opponents, who tortured and murdered because they were bad people, Ivan's cruelty was FOR THE GREATER GOOD. Indeed, Ivan's real flaw was that he wasn't cruel enough. If he had been, he could have done even MORE good.

Also notable is Stalin's monumental, monstrous vanity. He's not giving instructions! Why would you possibly think that? No, he's merely expressing his views! It was up to Eisenstein to decide whether to take into consideration the perspective of the dictator who could by moving his pinky have Eisenstein fed alive to alligators.

Joe, this is David Addington. David, this is Joe. I think you two have a lot in common to talk about.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:17 AM | Comments (22)

December 20, 2007

Bang, Bang, We're Alive?

Mike of Angle

In this recent comment thread about Barack Obama, reader Ted wrote:

"What's the chance that the "winner" of the current lefty, lefty, lefty crop of candidates gets offed? It's been a long time since the days of Lynnette Fromme...Plausible? Nil? I mean, have you seen some of the comments around O'Reilly snippets on youtube? I've got to go with plausible -- what with the current war mania, patriotism and all."

Which made me think of the good ol' Conspiratorial Octopus splayed out across a map, a sack of money in one tentacle, gun in another, maybe a typewriter labelled "The Media" in a third. People like Ted exasperate the hell out of him:

"Ted, Ted, Ted (chomps on cigar) patriots don't assassinate people! LONE NUTS assassinate people. That way, nothing could've been done to prevent it (so everybody gets to keep their jobs); and nothing will be done to prevent it in the future (so that it can happen again as needed). The whole point is that it's completely 'random' in cause, yet inevitably reactionary in effect. Honestly, it's like you're not even paying attention. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother."

Obama in particular pushes at least three hot buttons (he's black, Muslim, and liberalish). So if he gets elected, the question should be asked: is it wise or even possible to augment his personal security? Could this be done without creating a dangerous precedent? Anyone? I'm open to ideas. At what point do we, as the side that always has the funerals, get serious about this issue? I don't wanna wake up one morning and find all the nervous joking a lot less funny; at a certain point humor becomes an admission of impotence, and I'm not there yet. Are you?

Assassination is the opposite of democracy, and if we're serious about the latter, we have to be serious about the former. The Founding Fathers might suggest looking at Rome--not for the Pretorian Guard (which would be a fast track to tyranny), but for structures like the Tribune of the Plebeians, that sacrosanct defender of the have-nots. Of course this guarantee of personal safety was only as strong as Roman political ethics; but at least the structure recognized that government functioning under the threat of physical harm is a sham. So perhaps one of the ways we can prevent future political violence is by acting aggressively antipartisan--enshrining democracy as not just a process to be defended by those with a material interest in the outcome, but something akin to a civic religion. Fetishize clean elections. People want something to believe in, so have 'em believe in that--it's better than the FSM. Maybe it's possible over the long-term to create an environment where political murder is less likely to thrive.

The bad news is that, in polite company, talking about assassination is tantamount to ripping off a juicy one. The good news is that protection procedures work. It doesn't matter who killed JFK; if the Secret Service had followed standard operating procedure, Jack would've lived to schtup another day. If the appropriate parties know we're paying attention--and that we'll insist on personal accountability should somebody "forget" to close a window or line a parade route or vet the rent-a-cop standing there with a gun--they might think twice. (Wonder if these Secret Service agents would've acted differently? How about their boss, Emory Roberts--the guy who told them to leave JFK's car?) Currently, there is no penalty for conspiring. The last official verdicts on both the JFK and MLK cases found for conspiracy (the HSCA investigation and the King family's civil suit respectively), and yet the only people who paid a price were those suddenly-not-so-lone nuts.

I had ominous thoughts along these lines from the moment I shook Obama's enormous paw back in 2005; this dark ruminating reemerges periodically, whenever it can fight through the meds. In a New Agey, clutching-at-straws kinda way, I believe in tamping down negative ideation, especially when it has the possibility of becoming a mass phenomenon. (It also keeps my "mental weather" tolerable.) So please don't encourage me, folks; but I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts. Sorry about the melodramatic narration to the Love Field video; I couldn't find the silent clip, but the "WTF" moment is fascinating. Compare, if you like, how Caligula's assassination went down--many attempts, but only successful when the Praetorians themselves were involved. Who's protecting the leader? And who are they loyal to?

But there's an unexplored alternative to the top-down remedy of protection, and that's the bottom-up approach of making leaders less essential. I've just finished a book on John Lennon and The Beatles, and one point that I try to make is that assassination only works if a movement evaporates after the leader dies. It's a question of attitude; if a movement is built the right way, for the right reasons, removing the leader should release a great deal of righteous energy. Suddenly leaderless, every person becomes a leader. That may be baldly idealistic, but the reality is assassinations only work if we allow them to; they only work with our consent.

In the original comment thread, the redoubtable Don Escobar brought up psychiatry, suggesting that it has sapped people's appetite for confrontation, reducing effective political action. Maybe so. But I would argue that self-actualization, political awareness, and compassion all feed on each other. Of course there are times (like elections) where the mechanism requires us to be subsumed into an individual. If we can insist on competent protection at those moments, and reject the cult of personality the rest of the time, perhaps new levers will present themselves.

Mike of Angle

Posted at 11:43 PM | Comments (34)

No Heckling Please, We're White Supremacists

In the news:

A white separatist group planning a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Jena is suing the town, claiming officials are violating the Constitution by asking participants not to bring firearms...

It's hard out here for white racists these days. First they took away their slaves, and we didn't speak up; then they confiscated their lynch ropes, and we didn't utter a word; then they came for their water fountains, and we kept silent.

What's next?

In an Oct. 15 letter to McMillin, Richard Barrett, an attorney for the Nationalists, asks the town for ... "adequate security," restroom facilities, access to drinking water, "adequate and secure parking" and no noise from hecklers.

I know the line in the Declaration of Independence about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of adequate, secure parking" but I looked in vain for a statement about heckling. All I know is, when you're trying to rule the world with an iron fist and enslave half of its population, heckling can be really annoying.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:35 PM | Comments (5)


In his most recent article, Matt Taibbi is uncharacteristically sunny:

Normally the sight of prospective voters muttering platitudes about "hope" and "change" would make any reporter erupt with derisive laughter, but at Obama events one hears outbursts of optimism so desperate and artless that I can't help but check my cynical instinct. Grown men and women look up at you with puppy-dog eyes and all but beg you not to shit on their dreams. It's odd to say, but it's actually moving.

He winds up with this: that he's got the numbers and the momentum, even the most hardened political cynic has to ask — why not this guy? Would it be such a terrible thing for America to show that it's big enough to elect a black president? Wouldn't that be something all by itself? The very fact that the public, mostly on its own, has lifted Obama past an arrogant establishment consensus adds to his appeal as a symbol of the idea that not everything in our politics is rigged, that not everything that they tell us is impossible really is.

So maybe it's OK to let the grandiose things that an Obama presidency could represent overwhelm the less-stirring reality — i.e., Obama as more or less a typical middle-of-the-road Democrat with a lot of money and a well-run campaign. Maybe it's OK because it's not always about the candidates; sometimes it's about us, what we want and what we want to believe. And if Barack Obama can carry that burden for us, why not let him? Seriously, why not? The happy ending doesn't always have to ring false.

Perhaps I'm blinded by my loathing for the Clintons, but I agree. America probably can't do better than Obama at this point in time, and we certainly could do far, far, far worse. Just having a non-100% white person nominally in charge would change the country's mental weather considerably. And when politicians organize the energy of millions of people, as Obama has done, it sometimes heads off in useful directions the politicians don't expect.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:07 AM | Comments (46)

December 19, 2007

Robert Parry On The Bush-Clinton Balance Of Scandal Terror

Robert Parry:

Even as Hillary Clinton’s operatives were dropping hints that Republicans would exploit Barack Obama’s youthful drug use, some Clinton insiders privately worried about her own vulnerability because the Bush administration possesses detailed knowledge of her movements – and her husband’s – over the past seven years.

Because of Sen. Clinton’s unique status as the first former First Lady to run for President – and because her husband was succeeded by a Republican – she is the first candidate to have both her and her spouse be subject to regular, long-term surveillance by an Executive Branch agency controlled by the opposing political party.

Since they left the White House in 2001, Bill and Hillary Clinton have been under the protection of the Secret Service, formerly a branch of the Treasury Department and now part of the Homeland Security Department. Records are maintained showing where they go and whom they meet.

Homeland Security is under the control of Michael Chertoff, a longtime Clinton nemesis dating back to his work as a Republican lawyer on the Senate’s Whitewater investigation in the 1990s...Though Secret Service records are supposed to be closely held secrets, a source close to the Clintons told me that it is believed that senior Republicans have received regular briefings about movements of the Clintons that might prove embarrassing if released during the general election campaign.

In addition, as Parry notes later, the Clintons have an incentive even if Hillary wins the election to go easy on Bush's current scandals. The rest.

Donate to the Consortium News fundraiser here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:07 PM | Comments (8)

December 18, 2007

From War Criminal to All-Around Slimeball: Bob Kerrey's Tortuous Path to Sainthood

When Hillary needs to turn her campaign into a free-fire zone, who else to call upon but the Butcher of Thanh Phong, Bob Kerrey?

It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal.

Pressed to elaborate on his feelings toward Senator Obama, Bob Kerrey added:

Look, I think Barack Hussein Obama should be proud of the years he spent studying the Koran in the madrassas. Remember, Korans don't kill: people do. Not to mention that his Islamic upbringing gives him a fresh perspective on the 9/11 hijackers that none of us church-going, peace-loving Americans can match.

What do I think about his drug dealing past? The way I see it, his experience dealing crack in the hood, which to his credit he has not denied, just means he'll be able to deal more effectively with the pigmentation issue in America today. Do I believe President Barack Hussein will turn the White House into a nest of Muslim drug lords? No. But that's why we have campaigns: to discuss these issues and give the candidates a chance to tell us where they stand.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:14 PM | Comments (16)

Robert Parry On Ed Rollins And The $10 Million Payoff To Reagan

With Ed Rollins taking over the Huckabee campaign, it's a good time to remember that Rollins says a Filipino politician told him he'd given the 1984 Reagan campaign $10 million in cash from Ferdinand Marcos. Of course, no one in America does remember that except for Robert Parry:

The pundits on CNN’s “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” were unanimous: Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins was a great guy and his hiring as national chairman for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign gave it a solid jolt of credibility.

But Blitzer’s panel of journalists on Dec. 14 didn’t seem to either know or care that Rollins has withheld evidence since 1991 about the identity of a top Filipino politician who admitted delivering an illegal $10 million cash payment to Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Rollins, who ran Reagan’s reelection campaign, mentioned the admission in his 1996 book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, recounting how the Filipino casually asserted over drinks that he had carried the money in a suitcase to a Republican lobbyist who was representing the Reagan campaign.

And Parry has much more on the evidence for the Marcos-Reagan connection, including Reagan getting millions more in 1980. Read it all.

Then, donate to the Consortium News fundraiser here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

Turkey Bombs Charlie Brownistan

Turkey just bombed northern Iraq, apparently with the approval of the US. Ken Silverstein of Harper's has posted email from a former American official working in Kurdistan, who says the Kurds are understandably angry:

The blowback here in Kurdistan is building against the U.S. government because of its help with the Turkish air strikes. The theme is shock and betrayal. The Kurds see themselves as the only true friend of the Americans in the region, and the only part of Iraq that is working, and are especially hurt by the attack...

The key factor in the air strike is what they hit–it wasn’t a collection of PKK fighters, it was a series of small mountain villages, widely disbursed, some as far as 70 kilometers inside of Kurdistan. The people killed and wounded were villagers, not PKK fighters or support people.

The initial explanation from Washington that the United States did not authorize the Turkish strike is bullshit, and every Kurd here knows it.

I hesitate to make jokes about this, because Kurds have been horribly treated by history. On the other hand, this is, by my count, the sixth time we've betrayed the Kurds since World War I. You'd think they'd anticipate our pulling away the football by now.

(Post regurgitated from here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:43 AM | Comments (10)

December 17, 2007

90,000 Sign Onto Wexler Call For Impeachment Hearings

Wexler Wants Hearings, where Judiciary Committee members Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) call for impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney, has almost 90,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon. If you haven't already, please sign it—the more people who do, the more likely it is big online groups will jump in and make it a cause of their own. Then we could be talking about 500,000 signatories...which in turn would make room for all kinds of good things.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:15 PM | Comments (8)

Tomdispatch: Rebecca Solnit on Hopeful Books


The Secret Library of Hope
12 Books to Stiffen Your Resolve

By Rebecca Solnit

Hope is an orientation, a way of scanning the wall for cracks -- or building ladders -- rather than staring at its obdurate expanse. It's a worldview, but one informed by experience and the knowledge that people have power; that the power people possess matters; that change has been made by populist movements and dedicated individuals in the past; and that it will be again.

Dissent in this country has become largely a culture of diagnosis rather than prescription, of describing what is wrong with them, rather than what is possible for us. But even in English, a robust minority tradition can be found. There are a handful of books that I think of as "the secret library of hope." None of them deny the awful things going on, but they approach them as if the future is still open to intervention rather than an inevitability. In describing how the world actually gets changed, they give us the tools to change it again.

Here, then, are some of the regulars in my secret political library of hope, along with some new candidates:

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:59 PM | Comments (3)

The Shepherds Discuss How To Guide Their Flock

Here's an internal Costa Rica government memo about their campaign for CAFTA that was leaked and is now in the latest issue of Harper's. Any connoisseur of government lying should read it:

What I like about this is how it demonstrates how few tools these people have. They have to use the same ones over and over again, now matter what they're selling: trade deals, tax cuts for billionaires, wars. In fact, it's so predictable that this is exactly what I would have come up with if I'd had to guess at what they were saying to each other. Here's how it always goes:

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! You might remember this previous leaked memo from the National Association of Manufacturers in 2001, which went out to lobbyists who were going to attend a photo op pushing for Bush's tax cuts for the top 0.1%:

"The theme involves working Americans. Visually, this will involve a sea of hard hats, which our construction and contractor and building groups are working very hard to provide...But the Speaker's office was very clear in saying that they do not need people in suits. If people want to participate -- AND WE DO NEED BODIES -- they must be DRESSED DOWN, appear to be REAL WORKER types, etc. We plan to have hard hats for people to wear."

So it's no surprise this was exactly the plan in Costa Rica.

Be afraid! As with the selling of the Iraq war, so too with CAFTA. There's something scary out there, and you need us to protect you from it.

Be especially afraid of outsiders! The people who run the world are sophisticated internationalists. So as in this memo, they're embarrassed to appeal to atavistic fear of strangers. But if that's what it takes to sway the "simplest people," then they'll use it. They may vacation in Gstaad with the Saudi royal family, but to sell the Iraq war they'll tell you scary stories about Teh Muslim Darkies. They may themselves take orders from Citibank, but to sell CAFTA they'll scream about "foreign influence."

It's not all about the Benjamins! It's not enough to confuse and terrify the rubes—you've also got to give them something to believe, some larger cause. As they write here, "No one is willing to die for free trade, but maybe they would for democracy." I'm sure there are also White House Iraq Group memos saying, "No one is willing to die for American Hegemony in the world's greatest oil-producing region, but maybe they would for democracy."

All in all, this is a great template for keeping power if you believe human beings are sheep.

INTERNET BONUS: You can send email to one of the authors of this memo here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:50 AM | Comments (10)

December 16, 2007

The New York Times and Its "Good Wars"

The Times last August:

How a 'Good War' in Afghanistan Went Bad

Today's editorial:

Unless the United States and Europe come up with a better strategy — and invest more money and troops — the “good war” will go irretrievably bad.

The obvious question: how can a war be good? But since this blog shuns the obvious like the plague, I shall ask instead: why the quotation marks? Note that the "good war" is going bad, not "bad." What's going on?

Shirley Temple ate candy on the good ship lollipop, not the "good ship" lollipop. Peter Beinart doesn't want your children to fight the "good fight." He wants them to fight the good fight. But let me not bore you with all that advanced linguistic theory.

Only bloodthirsty perverts can see goodness in war. So if the Times sees goodness in a war, it must credit that horrible thought to the Great Anonymous Pervert out there. That's the purpose of the quotation marks. In other words, the difference between a good war and a "good war" is this:

A good war is fuckin' good, whereas a "good war" is f*ckin' good.

That's the difference.

Written by Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:49 PM | Comments (10)

56,000 Sign Onto Wexler Call For Impeachment Hearings

If you haven't yet, check out the website Wexler Wants Hearings, where Judiciary Committee members Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) call for impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney. If you're the kind of weirdo who thinks the rule of law is a good thing, I strongly encourage you to sign the petition supporting them and then tell everyone you know about it. They have 56,000 people already in just two days, and the more clamor they hear from us here in Lilliput, the more willing they'll be to go further.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:29 PM | Comments (11)

December 15, 2007

Murder On The Occident Express

Wondering who killed democracy in the United States? Wonder why no one is ever held accountable? Perhaps you should read Murder on the Orient Express, the famous mystery by Agatha Christie.

In it, the detective Hercule Poirot is taking a train from Istanbul. There are only fourteen other regular passengers. On the second night, one of them is murdered.

The evidence is perplexing: the victim has twelve stab wounds. But some seem to have come from a right-handed person, and some from someone left-handed. Some seem to have been delivered by someone very strong, and others by someone weak. Other clues each point to different suspects.

Hercule Poirot then gathers all the passengers together, along with an owner of the railroad line. He produces two theories:

#1 The victim was murdered by a stranger who somehow boarded the train and then escaped unnoticed.

#2 The victim was murdered by everyone. All the suspects stabbed him, and none knew who struck the killing blow.

Poirot says he'll let the owner decide which theory is most likely. There is a pause. The owner, because the victim was dislikable, says it must have been the stranger. And that's what he'll tell the police.

So: who cooked the intelligence on Iraq? Was it the Bush administration? Or Republicans? Or Democrats? Or Bill Clinton? Some of them were more guilty than others, but THEY ALL DID IT. And thus they were all happy to blame it on a stranger called "intelligence failure."

Likewise, who authorized torture? As we've learned recently about the briefings given to high-level congressional Democrats on waterboarding, THEY ALL DID.

Who let the catastrophic housing bubble inflate? THEY ALL DID.

Who gave away hundreds of billions to the richest people in America? THEY ALL DID.

In each case, the Democrats and Republicans are the suspects. There are a few honest voices, most very far from power, who act as Poirot. Here's Scott Ritter, speaking about Iraq in 2005:

You know, there's a lot of talk today in the Democratically controlled judiciary committee about going after the Bush Administration for crimes, for lying to Congress, and etc. And I'm all in favor of that, bring on the indictments, but don't stop at the Bush Administration. If you want to have a truly bipartisan indictment, you indict Madeleine Albright, you indict Sandy Berger, you indict every person on the Clinton Administration that committed the exact same crime that the Bush Administration has committed today.

And then there's the owner of the train: theoretically, at least, that's us. All the Poirots can do is tell us where the evidence leads. We can then decide to blame it all on the stranger, because it's easier. Certainly the suspects would prefer that. We can also try to blame a few of the passengers, in which case they'll start pulling out all the evidence pointing at the others.

But if we want to prevent more murders in the future, we'll blame them all. The one thing we won't do is wait around expecting some of the suspects to conduct an honest investigation. For obvious reasons, that will never happen.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:47 PM | Comments (24)

December 14, 2007

Good Christian Soldiering

The poll asked: "Are you Christian?" Two billion people answered yes, plus or minus the few who didn't understand the question or don't like to boast to strangers. Now, 2,000,000,000 is a big round number, and you'd think Christians would go to sleep with the confidence that comes from knowing they're the biggest, baddest team in the game.

Not so fast! Who knows they won't wake up the next day Jewish, atheist, or, God forbid, Muslim? Can't happen? Yeah, right, and Bush's reelection couldn't happen either. In this post-9/11 world, one can never be too vigilant and so, by a vote of 372 to 9, the House of Representatives just approved Resolution H. Res. 847, entitled "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith."

About time, I say.

This cult of Christmas makes perfect sense. Ask yourself: why do the good Christian soldiers standing guard in Congress all love Baby Jesus so much?

Because babies can't talk! That's why. The minute Jesus opened his mouth it was all downhill from there. "Help the poor! Love the destitute! Assist the crippled!" Come on, what was he thinking? Let's be clear: just because Jesus went all socialist on us at an early age does not mean 2 billion innocent souls have to pay the price. Haven't Christians suffered enough? So, please, keep your Jesus cooing and gurgling, OK?

Me, I just can't wait for the 2009 State of Christendom Address, when President Huckabee tells us what fun it was to ride dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:34 PM | Comments (15)

Three New Democrats In Impeachment Effort

Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all members of the House Judiciary Committee, have created a website calling for impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney:


This is particularly significant because Wexler isn't a member of the progressive caucus, which indicates the center of gravity on the issue is shifting. The site has additional information, including their new op-ed and ways to support them.

Posted at 02:35 PM | Comments (6)

December 13, 2007

Junk Media Makes Us Sick

From Stop Big Media and the talented Matt Thompson. (See some of Thompson's previous work here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

The Inconvenient Truth About The Clinton Administration And Global Warming

Al Gore's been getting lots of praise for his harsh words in Bali about U.S. inaction on global warming. John Caruso makes an extremely important point about the problem with all this gushing, here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:39 PM | Comments (9)

Robert Parry On Our Excitingly Incipient Nightmarish Dystopia

Robert Parry:

U.S. forces in Iraq soon will be equipped with high-tech equipment that will let them process an Iraqi’s biometric data in minutes and help American soldiers decide whether they should execute the person or not, according to its inventor.

"A war fighter needs to know one of three things: Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?” Pentagon weapons designer Anh Duong told the Washington Post for a feature on how this 47-year-old former Vietnamese refugee and mother of four rose to become a top U.S. bomb-maker.

Though Duong is best known for designing high-explosives used to destroy hardened targets, she also supervised the Joint Expeditionary Forensics Facilities project, known as a “lab in a box” for analyzing biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints, that have been collected on more than one million Iraqis.

(You may remember Anh Duong from the documentary Why We Fight.)

Donate to the Consortium News fundraiser here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:20 PM | Comments (3)

Who Cares What Your Motives Are?

As we've experienced the various catastrophes of the recent past, writers have come out of the woodwork to tell us how the perpetrators all meant well. Yes, they agree, perhaps they've caused a few disasters here and there. But you can't question their motives!

Here's Bob Drogin, talking about his book Curveball on the Iraq/WMD extravaganza:

It's not a gotcha book. It's more a story of human frailty. This is not a political conspiracy. It's a conspiracy of ineptitude driven by tawdry ambitions, spineless leadership, and fear.

And this is Jack Goldsmith, former Justice Department lawyer, who wrote a book about the Bush administration's nutty legal "reasoning":

"I was friends with Gonzales and feel very sorry for him...I admired and respected Addington, even when I thought his judgment was crazy. They thought they were doing the right thing."

Drogin and Goldsmith seem to have reached middle age without understanding the most obvious reality of human nature: EVERYONE THINKS THEY'RE DOING THE RIGHT THING. Everything is "a story of human frailty."

If you look closely enough at every event in human history, there are no heroes or villains, just a bunch of bumbling idiots tryin' to get through the day. But by some odd coincidence, people with power always think the right thing to do is to increase their own power, and they're always "driven by fear" to start wars and torture people.

For instance, check out this passage about Goldsmith and Addington:

[W]hen Goldsmith tried to question another presidential decision, Addington expressed his views even more pointedly. “If you rule that way,” Addington exclaimed in disgust, Goldsmith recalls, “the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.”

That's dialogue straight out of Stalin's Soviet Union. Who had more reason to be concerned about attack than they did? After all, Russia had been invaded by Germany during World War I, then by the Allies again after World War I, and then by Hitler. This wasn't a hundred thousand people dying in David Addington's imagination. It was tens of millions who really did die in real attacks.

And yet somehow history doesn't feel it's important to note that Stalin's henchmen "thought they were doing the right thing." Of course they did. WHO CARES?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:04 AM | Comments (19)

December 11, 2007

I Surrender, Video Games

I used to grow truculent when recent graduates from the Stutts humor magazine would say they wanted to write for video games. Why, I thought, couldn't they apply their education and talent to a genuine art form? Like sitcoms?

I'm already behind the times because I don't play video games. That's because I can't play them, in the same way I can't watch Law & Order or investigate the JFK assassination. If I started, I would end up doing nothing else for the next forty years.

But watching the below videos from the new game Portal has really expanded my appreciation of what's possible now. I don't know anything about the game itself beyond what wikipedia tells me, but the writing is truly funny and the acting is brilliant. And the song in the second video is so perfect it almost makes me weep with joy.

So I surrender, video games. You win. And when there are no more novels or movies or TV because no one wants to write such archaic art forms, I will accept it with grace.

FIRST VIDEO: This is the end of the game, when you come face to face with the Artificial Intelligence being you've been battling in a mysterious underground lab. You have a portal gun, which allows you to create portals in any two surfaces and then move through one into the other.

SECOND VIDEO: This plays over the credits at the end. After you hear this, you'll want to read this interview with the woman who voices GLaDOS, and this post by Jonathan Coulton about how the song came to be.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:20 PM | Comments (23)

Three Ways Of Looking At Jane Fonda

1. Rick Perlstein reposts one of the most entertaining snippets of history I've ever read—his examination of America's bizarre anti-Jane Fonda cult.

2. Dennis Perrin explains here and here what Fonda DOESN'T get criticized for, including by herself.

3. Tom Hayden takes a look back at the events of #2.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:43 AM | Comments (11)

TomDispatch: Greg Grandin On The Torturable And The Untorturable

New Tomdispatch:

The Unholy Trinity
Death Squads, Disappearances, and Torture -- from Latin America to Iraq

By Greg Grandin

The world is made up, as Captain Segura in Graham Greene's 1958 novel Our Man in Havana put it, of two classes: the torturable and the untorturable. "There are people," Segura explained, "who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea."

Then -- so Greene thought -- Catholics, particularly Latin American Catholics, were more torturable than Protestants. Now, of course, Muslims hold that distinction, victims of a globalized network of offshore and outsourced imprisonment coordinated by Washington and knitted together by secret flights, concentration camps, and black-site detention centers. The CIA's deployment of Orwellian "Special Removal Units" to kidnap terror suspects in Europe, Canada, the Middle East, and elsewhere and the whisking of these "ghost prisoners" off to Third World countries to be tortured goes, today, by the term "extraordinary rendition," a hauntingly apt phrase. "To render" means not just to hand over, but to extract the essence of a thing, as well as to hand out a verdict and "give in return or retribution" -- good descriptions of what happens during torture sessions.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:15 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2007

Gary Webb's Enduring Legacy

Robert Parry on Gary Webb, who committed suicide three years ago yesterday:

Three years ago, I walked into my home in Arlington, Virginia, and checked my phone messages. One was from a Los Angeles Times reporter who was looking for a comment from me about Gary Webb’s suicide on the night of Dec. 9, 2004. It was the first I had heard of the news.

After I recovered from the shock, I called the reporter back to get more details. I also told him he would have a hard time writing a decent obituary on Webb because the L.A. Times had never acknowledged that Webb was substantially correct in his reporting about the Nicaraguan contras' role in smuggling cocaine into the United States in the 1980s.

Donate to the Consortium News fundraiser here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:55 PM | Comments (6)


Please note that Ken Silverstein has retracted the most important part of the post several days ago about Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. (I mentioned this here.) Silverstein now says Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA executive catching blame for the destruction of the Al Qaeda interrogation tapes, is NOT in business with a brother of Reyes.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:03 PM | Comments (2)

An Our Kampf Christmas

I want you to buy Our Kampf, the humor collection by Mike Gerber and me. Certainly it would make a wonderful gift, for other people or yourself. But I'm sensing you don't feel you can purchase it until some snazzy people recommend it.

Well, hesitate no longer. Here are the snazzy people:

• "Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

• "Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

• "The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

You would be letting all three of them down if you fail to buy Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me. (If you get it from me, please be sure to specify if you'd like a particular inscription.)

As always, your patronage is greatly appreciated, and helps support this site.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:08 AM | Comments (10)

December 09, 2007

Sorry About Electrocuting Your Balls—But You Have To Understand, I Was Scared!

Here's more from the Washington Post's story that key Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, were briefed on CIA interrogation techniques during 2002. Some of the article's many unnamed sources offer up this defense of them for not objecting strenuously:

Several officials familiar with the briefings recalled that the meetings were marked by an atmosphere of deep concern about the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

"In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic," said one U.S. official present during the early briefings.

Atrios rightfully wonders:
I'm wondering where the not "thinking clearly" exception to law, constitution, and international treaty exists.

The joke here, of course, is that not only is there no such exception, there's the opposite of an exception. Here's Article 2.1 of the international Convention against Torture:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

There's a reason for this provision, which is: 7,000 years of human history. Torture is always justified as being in response to some threat, real or imagined. If you allow torture when the perpetrators say they're "in a panic," you're going to get lots and lots of torture.

The Washington Post article may be unfair to Pelosi et al in some way, particularly since the sources are likely terrified of prosecution and want to threaten to bring everyone down with them if they're investigated. Or the article may not be unfair. In any case, for any of them, the "we were scared!" defense is no defense at all.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:47 PM | Comments (10)

The Conventions Of Official Journalism

This is my favorite part of the Washington Post story today about how top congressional Democrats were briefed, early and often, on the CIA's torture programs:

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi's position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage -- they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice -- and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.

I decline to comment directly on accusations I put no thought whatsoever into writing this. But a source familiar with my position on the matter says that I'm a great person who really, when you think about it, shouldn't be blamed for anything I've ever been criticized for.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:00 PM | Comments (13)

December 08, 2007


Omaha mall massacre renews security debate.

America's choice: Airport-style security or accept chance tragedy can strike.

I like airport-style security. Next time I see a guy purchase a semi-automatic M4 Carbine at Wal-Mart, I'll feel much safer knowing he had to take off his shoes.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:30 PM | Comments (19)


What is Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA Deputy Director of Operations who ordered the destruction of the interrogation tapes of two al Qaeda members, doing now? According to Ken Silverstein at Harper's, he's in business with one of the brothers of Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Moreover, says Silverstein, Rodriguez is very close friends with Reyes, who praised him at his retirement by saying Rodriguez was "was really the genesis" of 24.

—Jonathan Schwarz

UPDATE: Ken Silverstein has retracted the most important part of this:

A Reyes staffer has told me that the story “is absolute fiction” and that Rodriguez has never had any discussions about doing business with any member of Reyes’s family. “There’s absolutely no truth to” the story, the staffer said. He said Reyes’s planned a “rigorous inquiry” into the destruction of the videotapes and that, “We are going to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”

I have retraced my steps in reporting the story and it’s clear that what I wrote was wrong...I regret the error and apologize for it.

For what it's worth, the part about Reyes comparing Rodriguez to Jack Bauer is right.

Posted at 03:26 PM | Comments (5)

With All Due Respect, Your Honor, You're a Thug

In that masterpiece of late German expressionism, "M," Peter Lorre plays the role of a psychopath who is hunted down by the cops only to be caught by a motley crue of beggars and gangsters, who then proceed to decide his fate in a kangaroo court. Fritz Lang's movie is not about child killers but about 1930's German society: the ineffectual Weimar Republic vs the brutal efficiency of Hitler's goons — justice versus mob rule. But the movie's emphasis is not on the illegitimacy of underworld justice: it is on its lust for blood.

What made me think of M?

Early in the morning of March 10, 2003, after a raucous party that lasted into the small hours, a groggy and hungover 20-year-old named Ryan Holle lent his Chevrolet Metro to a friend.

The friend used the car to drive three men to the home of Mr Snyder, a drug dealer, and in the course of a burglary that turned violent, one of the men killed Mr Snyder's daughter.

Mr Holle was a mile and a half away from the scene. He had no criminal record. He had lent his car to Mr Allen, a housemate, countless times before.

Mr Holle is now serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

"No car, no murder," said the prosecutor.

I assume the CEO of General Motors has heard this and gone into hiding.

The victim's aggrieved mother got her own brand of justice. The police called to the scene of the murder found one pound of marijuana in the house. So, right after her daughter's funeral, Mrs Snyder was sentenced to three years in prison for drug possession.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:55 AM | Comments (24)

December 07, 2007

In Shocking Development, U.S. Senator Acts Like Non-Asshole

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivered an important speech today full of horrifying information, if it's still possible to be horrified by the Bush administration. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse has access to the Justice Department's secret legal determinations. And, in a shocking breach of congressional protocol, he's used that access. He then was able to get some of the determinations declassified, or at least the summaries he wrote down while reading them in a secure room. This is how he characterizes three of them:

1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority under Article II.

3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.

In other words, the president is the law. Exciting! At least if you are the kind of person who enjoys watching government agents crush your son's testicles!

Whitehouse concludes:

When the Congress of the United States is willing to roll over for an unprincipled President, this is where you end up. We should not even be having this discussion. But here we are. I implore my colleagues: reject these feverish legal theories.

There is, of course, little reason for Whitehouse to be optimistic this will happen. Still, it's a surprise to see even one senator demonstrating he cares about these issues, and explaining them in a way normal humans can understand. Hopefully the Senate's mental-destructo-rays will have obliterated his brain before too long and we won't have this kind of trouble anymore.

For more, see Marcy Wheeler's cogent commentary.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:56 PM | Comments (12)

The Smooth, Pudding-Like Consistency Of Jay Rockefeller

So Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, knew all about the interrogation tapes the CIA destroyed. But he did nothing. Glenn Greenwald beats the crap out of him here.

And as long as everybody's beating the crap out of him, let's remember his amazing statement of complete impotence. I never realized U.S. senators with gigantic personal fortunes had so little ability to affect things.

(The Rockefeller interview was conducted by reporter Charles Davis, whose recent conversation with Dennis Kucinich is here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:19 PM | Comments (4)

Consortium News Fundraiser

Robert Parry's Consortium News is starting a $50,000 fundraiser. Parry is one of the greatest investigative journalists in the United States, and I encourage you to donate.

Parry explains the need for the fundraiser and Consortium News generally here. There are so many possibilities now to fund and create better media ourselves that it's a self-indulgent waste of time to complain about the corporate media. (Certainly few are more guilty of this than me. Indeed, if complaining about the corporate media is a crime, then I'm getting the death penalty. But as of today, I resolve to do better.) Go give Robert Parry money.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2007

Dennis writes here after returning from the Indianapolis funeral of his sister-in-law, murdered last week. Dennis' wife Nan delivers her own eulogy here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:24 PM | Comments (2)

Keeping The Propaganda Image Intact

Today John Bolton explains in the Washington Post why the NIE on Iran is so so wrong:

[W]e not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis...[Bush] would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

In his memoir, Robert Gates described the hatred of the CIA he witnessed while working there at the beginning of the Reagan administration:

That the Reaganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover was apparent in the most extraordinary transition period of my career...[Reagan] orchestrated a comprehensive battle plan to seize control of city long believed to be in enemy hands. Main force political units, flanking maneuvers, feints, sappers, and psychological warfare all played their part as Reagan and company between November [1980] and January [1981] deployed their forces for a political blitzkreig...

CIA had had political transition teams before, but the Reagan transition at CIA was something else again...The range of views on what need to be done to "fix" intelligence was radical...

In the view of many incoming Reaganites, and not just the radicals on the transition team, CIA had badly underestimated Soviet military capabilities and political intentions for years...Like Nixon in 1969, Reagan's men in early 1981 believed deeply that CIA was dominated by political liberals very much out of touch with the real world...

Finally, this is from Hannah Arendt's famous essay "Truth and Politics":

The main effort of both the deceived group and the deceivers themselves is likely to be directed towards keeping the propaganda image intact, and this image is threatened less by the enemy and by real hostile interests than by those inside the group itself who have managed to escape its spell and insist on talking about facts or events that do not fit the image. Contemporary history is full of instances in which tellers of factual truth were felt to be more dangerous, and even more hostile, than the real opponents.

It's hard to understand all this right-wing fury at the friggin' CIA, for god's sake. But throughout history, crazy leaders have reacted to just these kinds of impediments with just this kind of bizarre anger.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:39 AM | Comments (11)

Tomdispatch: Dilip Hiro on "Bush's Losing Iranian Hand"


The Zero-Sum Fiasco
Bush in a Humiliating Zero-Sum Iranian Game of His Own Making

By Dilip Hiro

Bush's woefully misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, carried out under false pretences, has not only drained the United States treasury, but reduced Washington's standing in the Middle East in a way not yet fully grasped by most commentators. Whereas Washington once played off Tehran against Baghdad, while involved in a superpower zero-sum game with the Soviet Union, the Bush administration is now engaged in a zero-sum game, as a virtual equal, with Iran. That is, America's loss has become Iran's automatic gain, and vice-versa.

To grasp the steepness of Washington's recent fall, recall that until Saddam Hussein's disastrous invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the zero-sum doctrine in the region applied only to Iraq and Iran, two minor powers on the world stage.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:42 AM | Comments (9)

December 05, 2007


By: Bernard Chazelle

I can't listen to this without getting goosebumps. All guitar players will always remember where they were when they heard his helicopter had crashed — only a few years after this concert in New Orleans and his recovery from drug addiction.

Written by Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 10:15 PM | Comments (11)

Dear U.S. Government: Please Get Your Preposterous Stories Straight

George Bush, yesterday:

DAVID GREGORY: When it came to Iran, you said in October, on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement, this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

THE PRESIDENT: ...I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was Mike McConnell came in and said, we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to wasn't until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley claimed much the same thing on Monday:

[W]hen the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we'll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically -- as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.

As implausible as this seems, the Los Angeles Times reports that, according to "U.S. intelligence officials," Bush was telling the truth:

The new intelligence was considered compelling enough to call it to Bush's attention in August. In a news conference at the White House on Tuesday, Bush said that the nation's intelligence director, J. Michael McConnell, "came in and said, 'We have some new information.' "

Bush said that McConnell did not provide details...The decision to hold those details back has come under question...But U.S. intelligence officials said they felt compelled to employ that level of caution in part because of the searing experience surrounding the war in Iraq.

"Back in 2002, one of the knocks on the process at the time was that information was not vetted by analysts and was being rushed into the Oval Office," said the senior U.S. intelligence official...This time, even as they vetted the new intelligence and launched into major revisions of the estimate on Iran's nuclear program, intelligence officials said, they deliberately shielded analysts from administration officials and policymakers.

Yet this claim they were just working away without giving the Bush administration any hint of what they were up to is directly contradicted by a Washington Post story yesterday:

Senior officials said the latest conclusions grew out of a stream of information, beginning with a set of Iranian drawings obtained in 2004 and ending with the intercepted calls between Iranian military commanders, that steadily chipped away at the earlier assessment.

In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence. The intercept was one of more than 1,000 pieces of information cited in footnotes to the 150-page classified version of the document, an official said.

Several of those involved in preparing the new assessment said that when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism. Several of the president's top advisers suggested the intercepts were part of a clever Iranian deception campaign, the officials said.

So..."senior members of the Bush administration" including the "president's top advisers" were briefed "beginning in July" on the nitty-gritty of the new information, yet the Bush administration had no idea what was going on until last week.

Usually I'd say this indicates the government is lying, but the Bush administration has demonstrated with their long record of integrity and frankness that they deserve every benefit of the doubt.

Posted at 06:06 PM | Comments (11)

TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt Interviews Jonathan Schell


Tomdispatch: So, take us on a little tour of our world in terms of nuclear weapons.

Jonathan Schell: The way I think of it, in the Cold War, the nuclear age was in a sort of adolescence. Just a two-power or, at most, a five- or six-sided affair. Now, it's in its prime. We already have nine nuclear powers, with lots of aspirers to the club waiting in the wings. The nuclear weapon is fulfilling its destiny, which was known from the very beginning of the nuclear age: to be available to all who wanted it, whether or not they choose to actually build the thing.

In a certain sense, we're just beginning to face the nuclear danger in its inescapable, quintessential form. At key moments in the nuclear age, the public has suddenly gotten very worked up about its peril. Now, if I am not mistaken, could be another such moment. Everybody who has ever marched or spoken up against nuclear weapons should dust off their hiking boots and get back in the fray.

The rest.

Posted at 05:56 PM | Comments (6)

December 04, 2007

The Iran NIE: Should We Be Happy?

Arthur Silber throws some useful cold water in everyone's face:

Let us start with the most crucial point. The reaction from all quarters to the NIE relies on several interrelated central assumptions, ones that are regarded as so unquestionably true that no one thinks they need to be stated: that major policy decisions, including decisions of war and peace, are based on intelligence in the first place; that a decision to go to war is one made only after cool and careful rational deliberation; and that nations go to war for the reasons they announce to the world.


Read it all.

I agree mostly, but not completely, with Arthur's take. Certainly the new NIE changes nothing about the bipartisan policy that we must run the middle east, which in turns means we must crush Iran. However, it may change the cost/benefit ratio perceived by our sane evil leaders about how we go about the crushing. It also strengthens the hand of our sane evil leaders vis a vis their insane evil rivals. Strangling and subversion may become more likely, and direct military assault less so.

Posted at 07:26 PM | Comments (23)

TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt On Permanent Bases In Iraq


Iraq as a Pentagon Construction Site
How the Bush Administration "Endures"

By Tom Engelhardt

The title of the agreement, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a "video conference" last week, and carefully labeled as a "non-binding" set of principles for further negotiations, was a mouthful: a "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America." Whew!

Words matter, of course. They seldom turn up by accident in official documents or statements. Last week, in the first reports on this "declaration," one of those words that matter caught my attention. Actually, it wasn't in the declaration itself, where the key phrase was "long-term relationship" (something in the lives of private individuals that falls just short of a marriage), but in a "fact-sheet" issued by the White House. Here's the relevant line: "Iraq's leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq." Of course, "enduring" there bears the same relationship to permanency as "long-term relationship" does to marriage.

The rest.

Posted at 04:28 PM | Comments (4)

IOZ Would Like To Tell David Brooks Something


Posted at 04:14 PM | Comments (1)

I.F. Stone Right Again

Dick Cheney in October:

We have the inescapable reality of Iran's nuclear program; a program they claim is strictly for energy purposes, but which they have worked hard to conceal; a program carried out in complete defiance of the international community and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Iran is pursuing technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. The world knows this. The Security Council has twice imposed sanctions on Iran and called on the regime to cease enriching uranium. Yet the regime continues to do so, and continues to practice delay and deception in an obvious attempt to buy time.

Matthew Yglesias, today:

[T]he striking thing about this is the extent to which looking back at Cheney's statement he's tried very carefully to avoid directly contradicting the NIE while crafting phrases that are clearly designed to cause the listener to draw the precise wrong conclusion.

It's not as if Cheney read the NIE and decided he had some reason to believe it was incorrect. Rather, he read it, decided he'd better not contradict it, but also decided that bottom line conclusions about how Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program were inconvenient, and thus decided to talk around that minor point and try to get the American people confused about what's happening. Stunningly cynical and yes I'm resolving once again to never be stunned.

I.F. Stone, forty years ago:

Now, governments lie. But they don't like to lie literally, because a literal, flat, obvious lie tends to be caught.

So what they do is, they become masters of the disingenuous statement, of phrasing something in such a way that the honest, normal, unwary reader gets one impression, what he's supposed to get.

Then three months later he discovers it's not true and goes back to complain. And they say, well, that's not what we said -- look at it carefully. And you look at it carefully and sure enough, it was really doubletalk and didn't say exactly what they said.

Posted at 12:44 PM | Comments (5)

Masters Of Deception

This is from a story about the new NIE on Iran:

Several of those involved in preparing the new assessment said that when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism. Several of the president's top advisers suggested the intercepts were part of a clever Iranian deception campaign, the officials said.

Here's a story from May, 2003:

Wolfowitz said the United States and coalition allies are presently engaged in a comprehensive effort to identify, assess and eliminate Iraq's WMDs and delivery systems...

But "this effort will take time," Wolfowitz observed. "Saddam Hussein was a master of deception."

I don't think either case here involves conscious lying by our idiot right-wingers. Idiot right-wingers throughout history have believed their counterparts to be Teh Masters Of Deception. I assume this is because they believe themselves to be Teh Masters as well, and think everyone else is just like them.

Of course, idiot right-wingers DO constantly engage in deception. They're just not masters of it. In fact, it's usually so transparent that a three year-old could see through it. And their idiot right-wing counterparts in other countries are the same way.

Thus, when our idiot right-wingers discover transparent lies by their idiot right-wingers, ours take this as confirmation that theirs are Teh Masters, and behind the simple lies already discovered is a Giant Palace Of Deceit. In truth, of course, there's nothing there at all.

Posted at 11:44 AM | Comments (4)

More Walid Jumblatt

Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt, speaking after a Gaza suicide bombing in January, 2004:

Yesterday, the Palestinian mother Reem Al-Riyashi sacrificed herself, and by so doing joined the columns of the brave Jihad warriors...It is an act of belief and it is the correct path, because the fall of one Jew, whether soldier or civilian, is a great accomplishment in times of decline, subservience, and submissiveness, as a way to undermine the plan to 'Jewify' all of Palestine.

Dick Cheney, speaking after Jumblatt at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy six weeks ago:

I'm pleased to be among the many participants in the conference, a group that includes your key noter, Walid Jumblatt, from Lebanon. I've met with Mr. Jumblatt on a number of occasions, and I admire the courageous stand he's taking...

More on neocon hero Jumblatt here.

Posted at 10:54 AM | Comments (3)

December 03, 2007

Socialism in America

By: Bernard Chazelle

Slithering through the wetlands of freedom, the viperine snake of socialism has breached the firewall of civilization and distilled its poison upon the most innocent, vulnerable members of our society.

I am talking, of course, about investment bankers. While Main Street lives the indolent dolce vita of silky-soft capitalism, the harsh, bleak dystopia of socialism is the daily reality in the parched canyons of Wall Street. Its latest victims? Charles Prince and Stan O'Neal.

These sweatshop laborers used to toil away in the trenches, Chuck at Citigroup and Stan at Merrill Lynch. Through grit and hard work, our two unsung CEOs (which, unsurprisingly, rhymes with "unsung heroes") managed to reduce the combined worth of their companies by 20 billion dollars!

Now don't flatter yourself: are you so sure even you could lose that much money if given a chance? In socialist tyrannies, sadly, no good deed goes unpunished. And in lieu of a heartfelt thank-you from wiped out investors and laid off employees, Chuck and Stan had to take it on the chin: 360 million dollars in severance, right there on the chin!

Some farewell present, I hear you say. But how much is 360,000,000 dollars? "A lot" doesn't quite cut it. The socialist enemy is ruthless and you must be on top of your game to fight it, Comrade. So let me help.

A dollar bill is 6 1/8" long. If you made a roll of toilet paper out of 360 million dollar bills (and lots of scotch tape), you could start in Los Angeles and pull on that roll all the way to Wall Street and then back to LA, covering the road with toilet paper as you go. Then you could repeat this round-trip excursion 6 more times, and you would still be left with 31 million inches of dollar-bill toilet paper: enough to last you and your family until the year 2059 (assuming you stay away from Earthbound Farm pre-washed spinach).

And guess what? You'd still be left with $9.99 + tax: enough to purchase a copy of the "Wall Street Communist Manifesto," the one-page bible of investment banking. It's only one-page long and that page is only one-line long. It reads: "The key to success in banking is to privatize all the profits and socialize all the losses." Or, as rappers on the Street like to put it,

Socialism is for us bankers,
Capitalism is for you suckers.
So, Suck. On. This.

Written by Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:03 PM | Comments (11)

I See The Future, Sort Of

Two weeks ago I tried to explain why it's such a bad idea for Obama to start talking about the terrifying Social Security "crisis." And it's even worse when Clinton responds that Obama's proposed fix would be a trillion dollar tax increase. Inevitably, I said, this would cause us to hear this on right-wing radio in 2012:

HANNITY: How can you criticize Republican proposals to privatize Social Security, when even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agree we should be VERY VERY WORRIED and that the only alternative to privatization is a MASSIVE TAX INCREASE?

I got the date wrong, however. Here's Paul Krugman, today:

Why I get mad at Obama about Social Security

So I just spent a fairly unpleasant 15 minutes on right-wing talk radio. And the host said — this is rough, not a verified quote — “Look, everyone knows that Social Security is going bust, and we’d all be better off if we could put out money in 401(k)s. Even Barack Obama says so!”

Posted at 06:44 PM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2007

Reviewing National Review

You may have seen National Review has gotten in trouble for publishing some glaringly false stories about Lebanon. If not, Thomas Edsall has written up the basics here; there's also more from Glenn Greenwald and Ken Silverstein.

Now I've posted my own complaints at Mother Jones: first, about my personal experience with National Review online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, and second, about the Arab "tendency to lie".

Posted at 10:43 PM | Comments (6)

Lebanon Needs Love

McClatchy correspondent Hannah Allam has written a personal ad for Lebanon:

Failed state seeks new date. Country of good-looking, beach-going people who killed one another for 15 years ISO strong, presidential type. Let's start with reconciliation and statesmanship, and see what happens. We're not into sectarianism, we swear, but our ideal match must be a Maronite Christian. Eloquent and bold in a Nasrallah kinda way, sans the beard and turban. Sedate and reliable like Saniora, except not a crybaby when the Israelis come calling. All inquiries should be sent directly to the American or French embassies (no ticking or oddly shaped packages, please). Letters postmarked Damascus or Tehran will be returned to sender. Can't wait to hear from you! No, seriously, we can't's in the constitution.

If I were teaching a class on comedy, I'd use this as an example of how humor depends completely on your audience understanding your references. This is very funny if you know the basics about Lebanese politics, but mystifying and unfunny if you don't.

Posted at 06:48 PM | Comments (8)

December 01, 2007

Dennis Perrin writes here that his brother's wife was murdered yesterday in Indianapolis. A story in the Indianapolis Star is here.

Posted at 03:32 PM | Comments (5)


The Washington Post today:

Rove's Version of 2002 War Vote Is Disputed

Former White House aide Karl Rove said yesterday it was Congress, not President Bush, who wanted to rush a vote on the looming war in Iraq in the fall of 2002, a version of events disputed by leading congressional Democrats and even some former Rove colleagues.

Rove said that the administration did not want lawmakers to vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq that soon because it would "make things move too fast," before Bush could line up international allies, and politicize the issue ahead of midterm elections. But Democrats and some Republicans involved with the issue at the time said yesterday that Bush wanted a quick vote.

Ben Bradlee, then the editor of the Washington Post, in 1987:

I would like to talk about government lying. Calculated lies. The wilful deception of the public for political end...

In America, the press is curiously shy, even embarrassed when faced with the need to use some form of the verb "to lie" even now when public tolerance for the unexplained and for the unbelievable explanation is wearing thin. We seem to drop quickly into a defensive crouch, when even, as now, we are accused of abusing our power by not accepting explanations which often defy acceptance. We are, too often, close enough to the Establishment ourselves to be uncomfortable in calling a lie, a lie.

Rove is now a columnist for Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post Co.

Posted at 03:20 PM | Comments (13)

Splendid? Check. Blond? Check. Beast? Check.

George Bush:

"This has been a joyous experience, and still is."

George Bush:

"I'm at peace with myself."

Rush Limbaugh:

CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men—

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.

Michael Ledeen:

"No stages. This is total war...If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war...our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

Friedrich Nietzsche, in On the Genealogy of Morals:

[W]e ask ourselves who it is that is really evil according to the code of rancor. The answer is: precisely the good one of the opposite code, that is the noble, the powerful...anyone who knew these "good" ones only as enemies would find them evil enemies indeed....once they step outside their circle become little better than uncaged beasts of prey...They revert to the innocence of wild animals: we can imagine them returning from an orgy of murder, arson, rape, and torture, jubilant and at peace with themselves as though they had committed a fraternity prank—convinced, moreover, that the poets for a long time to come will have something to sing about and to praise. Deep within all these noble races there lurks the beast of prey bent on spoil and conquest.

This hidden urge has to be satisfied from time to time, the beast let loose in the wilderness...even their highest culture shows an awareness of this trait and a certain pride in it...

(See also.)

Posted at 01:57 PM | Comments (17)