January 31, 2008
60 Minutes Blithely Reports That Up Is Down
Robert Parry and Chris Floyd have already covered some of the atrocious performance by 60 Minutes in their interview this past Sunday with Saddam Hussein's FBI interrogator George Piro. But here's a bit more, which is part of what I'll cover in a longer piece myself that's on its way.
1. Here are some of correspondent Scott Pelley's searching questions:
PELLEY: Before his wars with America, Saddam had fought a ruinous eight-year war with Iran, and it was Iran that he still feared the most. As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn't he stop it then? And say, 'Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction.' I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?
Yes, why didn't Saddam tell the truth? Oh, if only he'd been willing to say precisely that over and over and over again for twelve years, including in a February, 2003 interview with Dan Rather on a show called 60 Minutes:
I believe that that noise and the fleets that have been brought around and the mobilization that's been done were, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons...
And it was on that basis that Iraq actually accepted Resolution - accepted it, even though Iraq was absolutely certain that what it had said, what the Iraqi officials had kept saying, that Iraq was empty, was void of any such weapons, was the case. But Iraq accepted that resolution… in order not to allow any misinterpretation of its position. And, indeed, in order to make the case absolutely clear that Iraq was no longer in possession of any weapons.
2. Here's how Piro explained why Saddam refused to say he had nothing:
Agent PIRO: It was very important for him to project that, because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.
PELLEY: He believed that he couldn't survive without the perception that he had weapons of mass destruction?
Agent PIRO: Absolutely.
Now here's what we now know, from the CIA's Duelfer report, was going on inside the Iraqi government:
Saddam assembled senior officials in December 2002 and directed them to cooperate completely with inspectors, according to a former senior officer...He stated that all Iraqi organizations should open themselves entirely to UNMOVIC inspectors. The Republican Guard should make all records and even battle plans available to inspectors...
The government directed key military units to conduct special inspections to ensure they possessed no WMD-associated equipment...
Iraqi military industries several times required scientists to sign statements acknowledging the prohibition on conducting WMD research...
The NMD director met with Republican Guard military leaders on 25 January 2003 and advised them they were to sign documents saying that there was no WMD in their units, according to a former Iraqi senior officer. Husam Amin told them that the government would hold them responsible if UNMOVIC found any WMD in their units or areas, or if there was anything that cast doubt on Iraq’s cooperation with UNMOVIC.Commanders established committees to ensure their units retained no evidence of old WMD.
Iraq’s National Assembly passed a law banning WMD...
On 14 February 2003, Saddam issued a presidential directive prohibiting private sector companies and individuals from importing or producing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons or material...
With Saddam striving so hard to make us think they had WMD, how could we possibly have figured out the truth?
Martin Luther King Responds to Hillary Clinton on Social Change
Several weeks ago this statement of Hillary Clinton got lots of attention:
I would point to the fact that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said, "We are going to do it," and actually got it accomplished.
What's gotten less attention is what Martin Luther King himself thought on this subject. Chris Rabb has the bad taste to point out that King wrote this in an article published in January, 1969 after his death:
The past record of the federal government, however, has not been encouraging. No president has really done very much for the American Negro, though the past two presidents have received much undeserved credit for helping us. This credit has accrued to Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy only because it was during their administrations that Negroes began doing more for themselves. Kennedy didn't voluntarily submit a civil rights bill, nor did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, both told us at one time that such legislation was impossible. President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to get bills through Congress that other men might not have gotten through. I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress.
It would be fun to live in the kind of world where people remembered enough history to ask Hillary Clinton about this.
Dennis has a highly entertaining story about the nineties liberal adoration of John McCain.
January 30, 2008
There Is No End To Bill Clinton's Hilarious Scumbaggery
I'd never seen before a October 21, 2002 interview of Bill Clinton by James Fallows. There's lots of good stuff, but I particularly enjoyed this:
I'm neither fish nor fowl. That is, I believe that he [Saddam Hussein] is very bad. We have a lot to answer for, and he is basically partly our creature. I'm not criticizing President Bush on this because I did the same thing. I've sat there and pontificated about how [Saddam] is the only guy to use chemical weapons on his own people. Yeah he did it, and the Reagan Administration was for him when he did it. Nobody raised a peep then, because he was against Iran. We now know that he got his anthrax strain from an American company while we looked the other way. We also know that, or at least a British journalist has alleged, that Casey [the head of the CIA under Reagan] tried to give him cluster bombs. I don't know if that's true or not 'cause I read it in the British press and you never can tell. I wouldn't give it the same credence I would if I read it there [points at The Atlantic].
This is the kind of thing only obsessives care about here in 2008...but there was no need for Bill Clinton to read the British press if he wanted to "know if that's true or not." The press accounts were based on the 1995 court affidavit of Howard Teicher, who was on the Reagan-Bush National Security Council. The U.S. company Teledyne was being prosecuted by the Clinton administration for illegally selling a Chilean arms dealer parts for cluster bombs, which were then sold to Iraq. Teicher said this was all part of U.S. strategy, run by Casey.
So, if Clinton wanted to know about this, he could have just read the affidavit.
Instead, his administration simultaneously (1) declared that Teicher was lying, and (2) declared the affidavit a state secret and sealed it. Then Clinton's prosecutors pressured Teicher to retract it. (Copies later leaked out to the internet.) This is from a 1996 story about that:
Friday, the CIA said it was "pleased" that Teicher "corrected the record."
"Mr. Teicher's statements served as a basis for a number of media stories that wrongly suggested the CIA was involved in illegal arms transfers to Iraq," said spokesman Mark Mansfield.
Just when I think I've plumbed the depths of Bill Clinton's scumbagginess, he managed to come up with a new angle. In his own way, he's truly a genius.
AND: The most important thing Clinton said in that excerpt is this: "I'm not criticizing President Bush on this because I did the same thing."
That is why nothing is ever investigated and no one is ever held accountable for anything in American politics. As in Murder on the Orient Express, all the suspects are guilty.
ALSO: Buy Secrecy and Privilege by Robert Parry, which covers the Teicher affair in detail.
Past the Halfway Point
By: Bernard Chazelle
The New York Times: "Iraq Conflict Has Killed A Million Iraqis."
And so, in Vietnam and Iraq alone, the US military has caused half the death toll of the Holocaust!
I hope the candidates in their next debates will pause to celebrate the occasion. My secret sources tell me McCain will unveil a plan to take us past the magic 6 million mark! Stay tuned.
— Bernard Chazelle
Finally, It's All About Me
By: Bernard Chazelle
John Edwards is gone! Good riddance. I couldn't take his "raw populism" anymore (as the New York Times put it so eloquently). All this focus on the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the victims of discrimination, what a waste of my precious time! You never got it, John, did you? I was not even born in this country but I "get it" better than you ever will. America's entire political system is about... me! Yes, me. What I wear, what I drive, what I eat, what I own, who I get to boss around. I listen to Hillary. She cares about me (and pretty much no one else). I listen to Obama, and I know he'll make sure Wall Street treats me well. The Republicans, they're all here to serve me. Why do they serve me? Because I bought them all! They were all for sale. I got a good deal. Anyone in the upper middle class can buy them. The poor and the lower middle class? I've got news for them. See this trapdoor right there. Going, going, gone...
PS I hear Edwards got a promise from Hillary and Barack that they'll talk about poverty. See what I was telling you. The guy doesn't get it. Just in my mailbox this morning I found a detailed explanation of the Schumer-Clinton tax relief plan for yacht owners and polo horse breeders.
I love that song, you know, the one that goes: "This land was made for me and me."
— Bernard Chazelle
Washington Event This Saturday With Robert Parry, Daniel Ellsberg And Ray McGovern
Come to Busboys and Poets this Saturday for a panel discussion with investigative journalist Robert Parry, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, and Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The discussion will focus on issues of government secrecy and the manipulation of intelligence for political purposes -- as we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq war, and as we are currently seeing in regards to Iran. Parry will also be discussing his recent book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, and at the end of the discussion, will be signing copies of the book.
Feb. 2 4-6 p.m.
Book Talk and Signing
Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St., Washington, D.C.
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s and two of his sons, Sam and Nat Parry collaborated on this important book. Unlike others about the Bush administration, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush explains exactly who is responsible for enabling an individual so wrong for the job to become president – for two terms! The Parrys edit www.consortiumnews.com, started in 1995, the longest-running investigative website on the Internet. Hear about the new book and enjoy an evening at Busboys and Poets restaurant, located at the corner of 14th and V St NW – 2 blocks from the Metro Green Line – U Street Cardozo stop.
What Is It about Think Tanks?
By: Bernard Chazelle
If you say that "water is wet," people will think you've been eating the wrong kind of brownies.
If you say "As Einstein once told Goedel, water is wet," people will marvel at your wit, wisdom, and erudition.
Now say you ask me point blank: "Bernard, what's your big plan for avoiding nuclear catastrophe?" I might suggest getting rid of all nukes in the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan. But that's because I don't know what I'm talking about.
If you ask a cab driver (and for that purpose, any cab driver will do), the conversation may go like this: "I'd secure existing nukes and appoint an expert to tell the prez what's up. I'd mess up with terrorist finances, and I'd make sure hospitals are ready when it all goes kaboom! Did you say 42nd and Broadway?"
That's why he is a cab driver. The man cannot think geopolitically the way they do in think tanks.
At the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, for example, they've got the biggest brains who've researched the matter for years and years and years. And this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking they've produced that no cab driver could ever match:
Reduce Threat of Nuclear Terrorism:(I bet they got a bonus for that last one. The brilliance!)
1. Securing existing nuclear weapons and materials
2. Creating the position of "Nuclear Terrorism Czar"...
3. Disrupting terrorist finances
4. Developing a contingency plan in case of attack
— Bernard Chazelle
January 29, 2008
There are ample reasons to be appalled by Barack Obama's nascent Israel/Palestine policy. But in fairness, one of his (many) advisers in that area is Robert Malley. Malley has done as much as anyone to debunk the "Israel's generous offer" crap, and is about as decent and impressive as people in these circles get.
There will be a real difference in real people's real lives if there's an administration with Malley in the room, as opposed to one with advisers like William Kristol and James Schlesinger. It may be the difference between "pretty awful" and "unbelievably horribly awful," but I'm not prepared to sneer at that.
Normalizing Air War from Guernica to Arab Jabour
By Tom Engelhardt
A January 21st Los Angeles Times Iraq piece by Ned Parker and Saif Rasheed led with an inter-tribal suicide bombing at a gathering in Fallujah in which members of the pro-American Anbar Awakening Council were killed. ("Asked why one member of his Albu Issa tribe would kill another, Aftan compared it to school shootings that happen in the United States.") Twenty-six paragraphs later, the story ended this way:"The U.S. military also said in a statement that it had dropped 19,000 pounds of explosives on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. The strikes targeted buried bombs and weapons caches.
"In the last 10 days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of explosives on the area, which has been a gateway for Sunni militants into Baghdad."
And here's paragraph 22 of a 34-paragraph January 22nd story by Stephen Farrell of the New York Times:"The threat from buried bombs was well known before the [Arab Jabour] operation. To help clear the ground, the military had dropped nearly 100,000 pounds of bombs to destroy weapons caches and I.E.D.'s."
Farrell led his piece with news that an American soldier had died in Arab Jabour from an IED that blew up "an MRAP, the new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the American military is counting on to reduce casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq."
Note that both pieces started with bombing news -- in one case a suicide bombing that killed several Iraqis; in another a roadside bombing that killed an American soldier and wounded others. But the major bombing story of these last days -- those 100,000 pounds of explosives that U.S. planes dropped in a small area south of Baghdad -- simply dangled unexplained off the far end of the Los Angeles Times piece; while, in the New York Times, it was buried inside a single sentence.
Neither paper has (as far as I know) returned to the subject, though this is undoubtedly the most extensive use of air power in Iraq since the Bush administration's invasion of 2003 and probably represents a genuine shifting of American military strategy in that country.
I Can See The Future
Me, four days ago:
In any case, I'll definitely watch the Sixty Minutes segment. Sadly, though, the reality behind it—whatever it is—won't matter. Given the way the America works, the Piro interview will establish for all time that Saddam was bluffing, was itching to get nukes, etc.
Commenter joe at Jim Henley's website, yesterday:
If the Iraqi government wanted to be certified [as disarmed], why would they demolish WMDs stocks in secret? Why would Saddam keep making statements about having them?
He wanted his country, and the world, to believe they still had that capability, to entrench his own power at home and to project the image of fearsome military might abroad.
The FBI interrogator who worked with Saddam for the months after his capture described Saddam exlaining all of this to him on 60 Minutes Sunday night.
The 60 Minutes piece was a real disappointment, at least from the perspective of the historian in me. There was nothing new or interesting there at all. And from a journalistic perspective, it was a disaster. I'll be posting something about it later today.
January 28, 2008
New From Tomdispatch
"Reality Is Totally Different"
Iraqis on "Success" and "Progress" in Their Country
By: Dahr Jamail
This March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the shock-and-awe air assault on Baghdad that signaled the opening of the invasion of Iraq, and when it comes to the American occupation of that country, no end is yet in sight. If Republican presidential candidate John McCain has anything to say about it, the occupation may never end. On January 7th, he assured reporters that he was more than fine with the idea of the U.S. military remaining in Iraq for 100 years. "We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea 50 years or so… As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That's fine with me."
He said nothing, of course, about Iraqis "injured or harmed or wounded or killed." In fact, amid the flurries of words, accusations, and "debates" which have filled the airways and add up to the primary-season presidential campaign, there has been a near thunderous silence on Iraq lately -- and especially on Iraqis...
Once again, with rare exceptions, that media has had a hand in erasing the catastrophe of Iraq from the American landscape, if not the collective consciousness of the public. What, it occurred to me recently, do my friends and acquaintances back in Iraq (where I covered the occupation for eight months during the years 2003-2005) think not just about their lives and the fate of their country, but about our attitudes toward them? What do they think about the "success" -- and the silence -- in America?
January 27, 2008
The Road to Abu Ghraib
By: Bernard Chazelle
A 5-year-old boy was handcuffed [by NYPD safety agents] and hauled off to a psych ward for misbehaving in kindergarten.
Question: Why did the NYPD use a pair of handcuffs?
Answer: Because the broomstick was too thick.
A Funny Little Story About Suharto
Indonesia's former dictator Suhato, one of the 20th century's greatest butchers, is dead at 86. This reminds me of a funny story!
When Suharto was falling from power during 1998, I listened to an NPR show on Indonesia. It was hosted by the father of someone with whom I'd gone to high school.
The guests and the host spoke about Indonesian history, but made no mention of the "staggering mass slaughter" after Suharto took over in 1965, nor of the US support for all of it. Then someone called in and asked why they hadn't. Specifically the caller spoke of how the US embassy had given the Indonesian military lists of thousands of members of the communist party, so they could be more efficiently killed.
The host found all this preposterous and scoffed. In particular he wanted to know how the caller had gotten the ridiculous idea that the US had handed over death lists.
I don't know where the caller had gotten that idea, but I know where I'd gotten it: from a book on Indonesia I checked out from a library THREE BLOCKS AWAY FROM THE HOST'S HOUSE.
Of course, you can't really fault the host for not knowing about this. He was only a New York Times reporter and graduate of Harvard, so no one had ever taught him how to read.
Also, if I remember correctly, Lyndon Johnson had attended his wedding...which must have been during the same period as the coup, when Johnson was making decisions that led to the hundreds of thousands of people being shot and/or hacked to death with machetes. You can see how you might not want to find out you're the kind of person who has friends like that.
In any case, I've long planned on the day of Suharto's death to listen to a version of "How Can I Keep From Singing?" from the Eva Cassidy album Eva by Heart. And someone's made a little youtube slideshow using it as a soundtrack, so you can listen too, especially the part about tyrants trembling with fear:
January 26, 2008
The Audacity Of Hopefully Strangling More Palestinians
Here's an excerpt of Barack Obama's letter on Gaza to US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad:
Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,
I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condemn the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel...
All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this... Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians...
Ali Abunimah has some pictures of Obama and his wife with Edward Said at a 1999 event in Chicago, along with this:
The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood...As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front."
And here's a section about Zalmay Khalilzad from the book Leo Strauss and the American Empire:
At [the University of] Chicago, one pursued the life of the mind. There was nothing higher, there was nothing else...
Albert Wohlstetter belonged to another world: the world of the policymaking coasts: the world of Washington and Rand. He flew between Chicago and Washington, between Chicago and various think tanks...
Wohlstetter invited the class to a reception at his house. He didn't live, as most of the professors did, in Hyde Park, an old, integrated neighborhood of four-flats and apartments. He lived at the edge of Lincoln Park in an elegant and lavish apartment, where we drank champagne and ate strawberries. This wasn't the life of the mind. This was the life of the privileged and powerful. I don't know why Paul Wolfowitz entered it. I do know how and why Zalmay Khalilzad did.
He is a protege of Wolfowitz, who worked with him on the war with Iraq and the occupation...When I knew him, he was an Afghani graduate student and a radical. He boasted of the demonstrations he had organized in Beirut, of the fedayin he knew and had worked with, and of his friends who regularly visited Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. He went to pro-Palestinian meetings. His room had a poster of Nasser in tears. He and I had taken Wohlstetter's course on nuclear war together. He didn't seem, at the time, particularly interested in the course. He was, however, enthralled by Wohlstetter's party. In the elevator, in the apartment, he kept saying how much it all cost, how expensive it was, how much money Wohlstetter must have. Later, he borrowed my copy of Kojeve's Lectures on Hegel. When he returned it, one sentence was underlined. "The bourgeois intellectual neither fights nor works." The next summer, Wohlstetter got Khalilzad a job at Rand. I don't know what happened to the poster of Nasser.
(Obama letter via IOZ)
And You Thought "Bush the Chimp" Was an Insult!
By: Bernard Chazelle
No, I do not mean the reopen the Great IQ Debate.
Just want to point out that this is getting ridiculous.
What Saddam Learned From George H.W. Bush
Why did Saddam decide to invade Kuwait in 1990? George Piro, the FBI agent who interrogated him for seven months, explains in a new interview:
In the course of several face-to-face discussions, Piro said Hussein also told him that the incident that finally led him to decide to invade Kuwait in 1990 was a personal insult by the emir there.
"What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the emir al-Sabah . . . to try to resolve some of these issues. And the emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait," Piro said in the interview.
Wow, what a preposterous justification for invading a much smaller country! I wonder where Saddam got the idea such nonsense was acceptable?
Here's George H.W. Bush speaking on December 20, 1989, seven months before the invasion of Kuwait, explaining why he'd just invaded Panama:
Last Friday, Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day, forces under his command... brutally beat a third American serviceman; and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.
Here's the Washington Times the next day:
More than anything else, it was a rape threat by Pananamian soldiers to a U.S. naval officer's wife that triggered President Bush's decision to oust "Maximum Leader" Manuel Antonio Noriega... She was "sexually harassed" and threatened with rape, the incident that administration officials called the last straw.
January 25, 2008
Saddam's Interrogator Speaks
George Piro, an FBI agent who was Saddam's sole interrogator, will be on Sixty Minutes this Sunday:
Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen. The Iraqi dictator revealed this thinking to George Piro, the FBI agent assigned to interrogate him after his capture.
Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells Pelley.
He also intended and had the wherewithal to restart the weapons program. "Saddam] still had the engineers. The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there," says Piro. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD…to reconstitute his entire WMD program." This included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Piro says.
I may have to reevaluate. However, based on just the Sixty Minutes teaser, I remain skeptical. Here's why:
1. The US recorded all the interrogations of Saddam. I have a hard time believing if there were sections that would make Bush look good, we wouldn't have seen them.
2. There's no evidence for any of this. Despite what CBS says, of course, Saddam "admitted" over and over and over again that Iraq had no WMD. Iraq said it in dozens of UN declarations, and Saddam personally said it on Iraqi national TV and in an interview with Dan Rather. And there's no indication he took any specific action to bluff the US or Iran in some way; on the contrary.
The CIA Duelfer report is also extremely vague about any direct statements of intent by Saddam about his future intentions. The most it provides is this: "During a custodial interview, Saddam, when asked whether he would reconstitute WMD programs after sanctions were lifted, implied that Iraq would have done what was necessary." This interview was almost certainly conducted by Piro. Meanwhile, the Duelfer report also provides direct statements by underlings that Saddam repeatedly told them Iraq would NOT reconstitute its WMD programs if the UN followed through on its declared intention to create a mideast "zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery.”
So it's possible is Piro isn't being honest here. (My antennae quiver at the fact the first journalist he spoke to is Ronald Kessler, author of embarrassing hagiographies of both George and Laura Bush.) It's also possible Saddam was not honest with Piro. You can easily imagine Saddam would want to claim he had some kind of master plan, rather than accidentally fucking up to the degree his country was invaded.
3. It's also possible Piro is overstating something real. Saddam might have acted in some minor way at different times to obstruct inspections, with the idea this would make Iran believe Iraq still had something, while trying to come clean at other times.
In any case, I'll definitely watch the Sixty Minutes segment. Sadly, though, the reality behind it—whatever it is—won't matter. Given the way America works, the Piro interview will establish for all time that Saddam was bluffing, was itching to get nukes, etc.
Life In Hitler's Bunker: Even Worse Than You Knew
Perhaps this is old to internet sophisticates, but it's new to me.
January 24, 2008
Larrys, Moes, And Curlys
Conservatism isn’t just a temporary delusion or a wacky distraction. In Perlstein’s view, it’s a deep-seated expression of human nature. He recalls the Gilbert and Sullivan song from Iolanthe about two kinds of babies: “I often think it’s comical / How nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative.” His point: “We’re not going to eliminate them. The best we can do is to win our 51 percent. What’s fascinating is that we share this country together.”
I agree, mostly. People don't really have political ideologies. Instead, they have one of a small number of different psychologies, which manifest themselves in ideologies but actually have nothing to do with ideology. People who are fervent "conservatives" in the U.S. would have been fervent "communists" in the Soviet Union. Fervent Israeli "Likudniks" would, if born Palestinian in Gaza, have been fervent "Islamicists." And so on, across the planet.
Here's how Thomas Jefferson put it:
Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still, and pursue the same object. The last appellation of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.
Less optimistically, there's the view of the Church of the SubGenius:
There are three kinds of people -- I call them Larrys, Curlys, and Moes. The Larrys don't even know that there are three types; if they're told, it's an abstraction, because they cannot imagine anything beyond Larry-ness. The Curlys know about it, and recognize the pecking order, but find ways of living with it cheerfully...for they are the imaginative, creative ones. The Moes not only know about it, but exploit and perpetuate it.
The naive, pleasant believers of all kinds are Larrys -- ineffectual, well-meaning do-gooders destined always to be victims, often without once guessing their status. Like sheep, they don't want to hear the unpleasant legends about "the slaughterhouse"; they trust the strange two-legged beings who feed them. The artists, unsung scientific geniuses, political writers, and earnest disciples of the stranger cults are Curlys -- engaging, original, accident-prone but full of life, intuitively aware of the Moe forces plotting against them and trying to fight back. They can never defeat the Moes, however, without BECOMING Moes, which is impossible for a true Curly.
The Moes, then, are the fanatics, the ranters, the cult gurus, the Uri Gellers AND the Debunkers; they are the Resistance Leaders and the Ruling Class Bankers. They hate each other, but only because they want to control ALL the Larrys and Curlys themselves....Larrys and Curlys die in wars started by rival Moes -- the Larrys willingly, the Curlys with great regret.
I think this is closer to reality than Jefferson's view, but I also hold out hope the Larrys are merely sleeping Curlys, and can be awakened.
Why The _____s Hate The ______s
Somehow I've gotten on the mailing list of this site. Their emails always include this invitation to contribute:
Pieces for THINK-ISRAEL should be informative and accurate. Fortunately, those of us who are pro-Israel can show our love of Israel without distorting the truth. We don't need to play by the rules laid down by the Arab-favoring media, which distort the news and omit important items of information.
See #14, here:
14. Of course we seem prejudiced. The media is obviously pro-_______.
More From The Our Lady Of Strangling Brown People Newsletter
As I like to say, elite American news outlets are best understood not as journalistic organizations, but as the church newsletters for an extremely unpleasant religion.
One tenet of this religion is that, no matter what rationality indicates, U.S. policymakers always have "the best intentions." John Caruso examines the latest church newsletter, issued by Newsweek about Gaza, here.
EARLIER: It was only "the best intentions" that made Saddam seek nuclear weapons.
The Scanner has an idea:
There is now talk of a bailout of bond insurers. And that gives me an idea...
Here’s my proposal. I offer it at no charge to any member of Congress, presidential candidate or editorial writer willing to bear the calvary of getting the stink-eye next time at Harry Cipriani. If it becomes necessary to bail out the monoliners to prevent a depression, there will be terms. For once, the highly-paid beneficiaries of a taxpayer-financed bailout will not get off scot-free.
Congress shall specify that no bailout will take place unless and until (a) every bailed out monoliner and (b) every financial institution holding a bailed-out policy certifies that its employees have voluntarily agreed to accept a 25% federal income tax surcharge on every dollar earned above $200,000 for a period of 5 years. A young hotshot earning $300,000 would see $25,000 added to his tax bill. An elder pulling down $1 million would owe an extra $200,000. Since some of the biggest Wall Street multinationals are policyholders, and since this would apply to every one of their employees over $200,000, we could be talking about a lot of people and a lot of money. It could even go some way towards making the bailout pay for itself.
Politically, it’s a winner. Fiscally, it’s sound. It’s extraordinarily well-targeted to precisely the assholes who got us into this mess in the first place.
January 23, 2008
Some graduates students at the University of California-Irvine are researching the readers of political blurghs, for an academic specialty called Informatics. (I myself work in the field of Disinformatics.) If you'd consider being a research subject, details are below. As an incentive, you get entered in a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card.
NOTE: There is no truth to the rumor this is to be the purported "Third Volume" of the Kinsey Report.
Join Research about Readers of Political Blogs - Chance for $100 Amazon Gift Card
- regular reader of political blogs - 4 or more different blogs a few times per week
- owns a personal computer
- age 18 or over
The purpose of this research is to investigate the role that readers play in shaping blogs. Participation in this research will involve one or more phone interviews and optional logging of blog-reading activity. There is no risk to participants and involvement can be ended at any time. Participants will be entered in a drawing for a $100 Amazon.com gift card at the end of the research period. Participants’ privacy and rights will be completely protected. Participation is completely voluntary and you may discontinue participation at any time.
If interested contact:
Eric Baumer: firstname.lastname@example.org
University of California, Irvine
Department of Informatics
University of California, Irvine
Department of Informatics
Mark Sueyoshi: email@example.com
Rodrigo Lois: firstname.lastname@example.org
More From The Our Lady Of Imperial Profit Newsletter
If you're the New York Times and you need a new columnist who'll cover foreign policy, you obviously want William Kristol. After all, he's the guy who said just before the war began, "we'll be vindicated when we find the weapons of mass destruction and liberate the people of Iraq."
Likewise, if you're the Washington Post and need a long piece for last Sunday's paper about the onrushing economic crunch, you obviously want Kevin Hassett. After all, he wrote Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market.
I find the NY Times and Washington Post much more comprehensible if I just think of them as the church newsletters for a particularly unpleasant religion. OF COURSE the people who write the newsletter believe in transubstantiation.
Norman Solomon on his mother's death this past Sunday:
My mother did not die young (she was 86), but since then I've felt awful waves of sadness. And sometimes I think of people who are mourning loved ones of all ages, due to distinctly unnatural causes. The people dying in Iraq as a consequence of the U.S. war effort. The children in so many countries who lose their lives to the ravages of poverty. The health-care system in the United States that -- in the absence of full medical coverage for everyone as a human right -- means avoidable death and suffering on a large scale.
In mediaspeak and political discourse, the human toll of corporate domination and the warfare state is routinely abstract. But the results -- in true human terms -- add rage and more grief on top of grief.
Our own mourning should help us understand and strive to prevent the unspeakable pain of others. And whatever love we have for one person, we should try to apply to the world. I won't ever be able to talk with my mother again, but I'm sure that she would agree.
Solomon says a bit more about his mother in a conversation I had with him several months ago.
The Real News On Impeachment
Donate to the Real News here.
If you haven't already, it's still well worth your time to sign the Wexler Wants Hearings petition.
January 22, 2008
The Wise Economic Stewardship Of Dick Cheney
This seems like a good moment to remember this section of The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind:
As the meeting in Mr. Cheney's office progressed, it became clear that the vice president was ready to weigh in on what the president should do to bolster the economy, and his standing with voters worried about the economy, as the second half of his term began. A package of tax proposals, led by a 50% cut in the individual tax on dividends, had been all but buried since Mr. O'Neill took his stand against it in early September...
After the midterms, though, Mr. O'Neill could sense a change inside the White House...Now Mr. Cheney mentioned them again, how altering the double taxation of dividends would provide some economic stimulus. Mr. O'Neill jumped in, arguing sharply that the government "is moving toward a fiscal crisis" and then pointing out "what rising deficits will mean to our economic and fiscal soundness." Mr. Cheney cut him off. "Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said.
Mr. O'Neill was speechless, hardly believing that Mr. Cheney -- whom he and Mr. Greenspan had known since Dick was a kid -- would say such a thing. Mr. Cheney moved to fill the void. "We won the midterms. This is our due." Mr. O'Neill left Mr. Cheney's office in a state of mild shock.
Without the Bush administration's giant tax cuts for the richest people in America, the government would have more room to maneuver now. The options that remain today are less palatable.
Another important effect of the tax cuts is that a fraction of them will be used by recipients to support political resistance to any constructive actions to deal with our current problems. So it really was a win-win-win.
Here's The Funny Part
We should be glad that our Social Security money wasn’t in the privatized hands of Citibank, Merrill Lynch and the other financial ‘wizards’ as President Bush had so strongly urged.
That's true as far as it goes. But in fact, the further the stock market drops, the less bad an idea privatizing Social Security becomes. (More precisely, the further the price/earnings ratio drops, the less bad it is.) That's because stocks have been comparatively expensive, historically speaking (as measured by the P/E ratio). That means privatization would have led to lots of people buying high and likely selling low. Privatizing Social Security would be a bad idea in almost all circumstances, but the least bad moment to enact it would be just after a stock market collapse.
That's the funny thing about privatization. It will be politically most popular during a stock market bubble, at the exact worst time to do it. And it will be politically impossible when it makes a little more sense. If there's a giant stock market crash this year, don't look for Bush to seize the opportunity to roll out his privatization plan again.
Granted, this isn't all THAT funny. But at a time when much of the world is about to get kicked in the nads even harder than usual, I'll take what I can get.
January 21, 2008
Rick Perlstein, in a piece from last year, remembers the reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King:
Upon King's assassination, The Chicago Tribune editorialized: "A day of mourning is in order"--but this was because civil disobedience had finally won the day. "Moral values are at the lowest level since the decadence of Rome," the editors argued, but only one of their arguments was racial: "If you are black, so goes the contention, you are right, and you must be indulged in every wish. Why, sure, break the window and make off with the color TV set, the case of liquor, the beer, the dress, the coat, and the shoes. We won't shoot you. That would be 'police brutality.'" Another was: "At countless universities, the doors of dormitories are open to mixed company, with no supervision."
This is from the short story "The Policemen's Ball," written around the same time by Donald Barthelme:
Twenty thousand policemen of all grades attended the annual fete...Police colonels and generals looked down on the dark uniforms, white gloves, silvery ball gowns...
The Pendragon spoke. "I ask you to be reasonable with the citizens...I know it is hard. I know it is not easy. I know that for instance when you see a big car, a '70 Biscayne hardtop, cutting around a corner at a pretty fair clip, with three in the front and three in the back, and they are all mixed up, ages and sexes and colors, your natural impulse is to—I know your first thought, All those people! Together! And your second thought is, Force!
Too Crazy For Boystown, Too Much Of A Boy For Crazytown
Jim Henley is completely right about this:
You can’t understand the Obscure Executive, or The Movement or whatever you prefer to call it unless you internalize the bizarre truth: They really believe this stuff. It’s tempting to think of the network of contractors and water carriers and foundations as cynical operators, just a particularly bloody-minded effort in rent-seeking using Rovian attack politics to manipulate dupes into further fattening already bulging wallets. No.
The jabber about GOP schisms among “theocons” and “moneycons” and “security hawks” ignores the overlap of all three tendencies at the core of the contemporary Republican Party and “conservative” movement. Democrats are the party of treason isn’t just something bloggers and barflies believe. It’s the firm conviction of very wealthy and powerful stalwarts of the American Right...
We look at the Democratic Party and see co-opted, managerialist shills. They look at the same group and see the Manson Family.
It's hard for our type to comprehend this, but it's true. Much of real right-wing power in the United States, right up to senior White House staff, sees the world like this. They simply cannot understand why anyone to their left behaves as they do, and the only answer that makes sense to them is "TREASON!!!" They honestly believe that "secular progressives" (as Bill O'Reilly likes to call us) are pining to turn America into the New Caliphate.
And this is nothing new. Here's Robert Parry in Secrecy and Privilege, describing the incoming Reaganite perspective after the 1980 elections:
In a scalding assessment of the CIA’s Soviet analysis, the transition team accused the DI of “an abject failure” to foresee a supposedly massive Soviet buildup of strategic weapons and “the wholesale failure” to comprehend the sophistication of Soviet propaganda.
The transition report even questioned the patriotism of the career analysts who supposedly had underestimated the Soviet commitment to world domination. "These failures are of such enormity," the transition report said, "that they cannot help but suggest to any objective observer that the agency itself is compromised to an unprecedented extent and that its paralysis is attributable to causes more sinister than incompetence."
Of course, this seems utterly bonkers to us, but remember: from their perspective, simply telling the truth is treason.
January 20, 2008
What A Stroke Of Luck!
As Europeans set about colonizing the planet over the past 500 years, we were extremely lucky: all the people we enslaved/raped/murdered turned out not to value human life like we do. If they HAD valued human life like we do, then we would have had to either stop doing it, or feel bad about ourselves. Fortunately, it turned out neither was necessary. We could carry on with the enslavement/rape/murder, and do it with a light heart.
For example, here's Thomas Jefferson, writing about Africans in Notes on the State of Virginia:
Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.
If this hadn't been the case, then Thomas Jefferson, with his moral refinement, couldn't have owned 187 slaves. And thank goodness, because then he wouldn't have had time to sit around philosophizing about how his slaves weren't sad that he enslaved them.
"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]...do not seem to resent...that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs."
If Iraqis had minded being bombed, then the British couldn't have seized all their oil. And the British needed that oil, because it powered the machines they used to bomb Iraqis.
More recently, America found out that Vietnamese people are absolutely fine having napalm sprayed on their children. Here's how Gen. William Westmoreland explained it in the 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."
If Vietnamese had put the same high price on life as we do, then we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves as we killed millions of them in order to occupy their country. And if we couldn't occupy their country, how could we have killed so many of them?
All in all, lots of luck for everyone concerned. This is a lucky, lucky world.
MORE GOOD NEWS!: African slaves weren't just emotionally less sensitive than normal people, but physically less sensitive too:
Negroes...are void of sensibility to a surprising degree...what would be the cause of insupportable pain to a white man, a Negro would almost disregard.
What was great about this was that you could whip slaves without feeling bad about it, because it didn't hurt them. (Some people might ask: well, if it didn't hurt them, then...WHAT'S THE POINT? Some people are rightfully ignored.)
Are Arabs and Vietnamese also less physically sensitive than white people? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess yes.
January 19, 2008
Bernard is not the only person here who has theories about sound. Here are several of mine:
1. The reason men find the guitar so appealing is that when tuned in the normal way, its ~3 octave range is exactly the same as the range of a normal male singing voice (including falsetto).
This may be a theory that many other people have come up with too.
2. Any two objects make a sound if you rub them together, although it may be out of the human hearing range. For instance, air molecules colliding (I read somewhere) make a sound*, albeit one so high-pitched that no organisms on earth can hear it.
My theory is that, as you'd expect, human beings make a sound when rubbed against the universe. That sound is: music and jokes.
3. My third theory is the same as #1, except much louder.
* The fact this is almost certainly untrue (see comments) does not undermine my point IN THE SLIGHTEST.
January 18, 2008
Greatest. Music. Ever.
By: Bernard Chazelle
The Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th is the greatest piece of music in the Western canon. Schubert said so; Wagner agreed; and though I've long considered The Right Brothers' "Bush was Right" a strong contender for the title, in the end where Wagner goes I go.
But why? The melody is catchy; the harmony is simple; the boum-boumboum-boum-boum rhythm is neat, processional, and so pre-20th c. Yet this music is deeply heartbreaking. Its poignancy is almost physical. I've heard it hundreds of times over decades and it always feels fresh and enchanting. What's going on?
Husserl obsessed over it and modern psychologists have tried to understand why it is so powerful. Lung experts have even investigated its effect on breathing patterns. (I kid you not!) A musicologist friend of mine back at Yale thought he found the hidden key to the Allegretto's mystery in folk dancing. Folk dancing? We're trying to understand the H-bomb of music and from Yale what do we get? Square dancing!
For those of you into this sort of thing, a few technical details. The tune is in Am with a middle part in A major. The Am piece consists of a melody in two parts played in alternation over and over again. You get the first one at O:11-O:25, then the second one kicks in O:26-O:40. The idea is to go from Am to C (its relative major) and then back to Am. The harmonic motion is fairly conventional (especially the first submelody, which has a parallel harmony (Am-E7/C-G7) that you find in countless rock tunes, eg, the Stones' Paint It Black).
At 0:53 Beethoven slaps another melody on top of that and it begins to sound polyphonic. It gets fuller and fuller at each repeat, moving into the upper register, with the whole orchestra getting into the action. Then we break to the A major part at 3:00, with echoes of the Pastoral Symphony (my favorite), and we snap out of it at 4:30. Now you don't want to miss the exit, which is pure Duke Ellington gold! Well, almost... Catch it at 4:16-4:29. Cool, huh?
At 4:30 we're back to our sweet little melody in Am, and Ludwig decides to keep the wind instruments going. At 5:27 things get exciting! Beethoven wants to show you he's mastered his "Art of Fugue" and decide to pile contrapuntal runs of 16th notes on top of the opening melody. If you're familiar with Beethoven, you know where this is headed: back to the opening chordal sequence now played with all the amps at max volume. (No wonder Herr Wagner loved that stuff). This is the emotional peak of the movement. The rest is just mopping up after the party (a "coda" in the trade).
The Allegretto is often played -unlike here- as a slow movement (in fact its popularity put pressure on conductors to substitute it for the slow movement of any symphony!). If you want to be a strict musical constructionist, this is plain wrong. Beethoven called it an "allegretto" (hint, hint) and his metronome marks are, in anything, faster than played by Karajan.
OK, this kind of analysis is great fun if you're an amateur musician, but it's completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Why is the music so great? I haven't answered that.
I will now. Here's my theory (warning: I call any dumb-ass half-baked idea of mine a "theory." When the baking is 2/3 ready it becomes a grand theory; at 3/4 it enters grand unified theory territory). The theory is that it has to do with anticipation. What makes music so pleasurable is the interplay of what you hear and what you anticipate (which is why first listenings are almost never terribly enjoyable). If you listen to the Allegretto a lot and let it sing in your head, you'll begin to hear not just the harmony provided by the composer but a million others you anticipate subconsciously. Like sea waves crashing upon the shore and interfering among one another in unpredictable ways. Somehow, it seems that Beethoven engineered the most fabulous interferences ever. End of theory.
Now I want to hear your theories. (Or why you think "Bush was Right" is better music.)
After completing his symphony, Beethoven confided to a friend: "I am at last learning to compose."
Those uppity Germans.
— Bernard Chazelle
More Actual Friends
Kate on culture and the internet and living in Los Angeles. See especially why we need no more adaptations of Jane Austen's Persuasion.
The Corpse on the Gurney
The "Success" Mantra in Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt
The other day, as we reached the first anniversary of the President's announcement of his "surge" strategy, his "new way forward" in Iraq, I found myself thinking about the earliest paid book-editing work I ever did. An editor at a San Francisco textbook publisher hired me to "doctor" god-awful texts designed for audiences of captive kids. Each of these "books" was not only in a woeful state of disrepair, but essentially D.O.A. I was nonetheless supposed to do a lively rewrite of the mess and add seductive "sidebars"; another technician then simplified the language to "grade level" and a designer provided a flashy layout and look. Zap! Pow! Kebang!...
The little group of us -- rewriter, grade-level reducer, designer -- would be summoned to the publisher's office. There, our brave band of technicians would be ushered into a room in which there would be nothing but a gurney with a corpse on it in a state of advanced decomposition. The publisher's representative would then issue a simple request: Make it look like it can get up and walk away.
And the truth was: that corpse of a book would be almost lifelike when we were done with it, but one thing was guaranteed -- it would never actually get up and walk away.
That was in another century and a minor matter of bad books that no one wanted to call by their rightful name. But that image came to mind again more than three decades later because it's hard not to think of America's Iraq in similar terms.
But Where's The Famous Picture Of Him From 1994 When He Was Tony Blair's Chief Speechwriter?
I greatly enjoyed the Dennis Perrin scrapbook, here.
January 17, 2008
The Real News On Bombing Of Gaza And Change In Israeli Government Coalition
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January 16, 2008
Tell Congress To Investigate Pentagon Video Of Iranian "Threat"
Are you the kind of weirdo who thinks Congress should investigate when the Pentagon essentially fabricates a video of U.S. ships being "threatened" by Iran? Just because it could, you know, lead to a massive war based on lies? (Gareth Porter has an excellent run down of how things happened, here.)
If you are such a weirdo, you can contact Congress via Just Foreign Policy.
The Case Of The Missing Option
American politicians continually say "all options" are on the table to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They won't even rule out the first use of nuclear weapons ourselves. Now here's Ehud Olmert:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday Israel would consider "all options" to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, lending a stronger tone to his comments on the Islamic Republic's atomic programme...
"Regarding the threat of nuclear Iran, all options are on the table," an official quoted Olmert as telling parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
"Israel cannot reconcile itself with a nuclear Iran and there is no option which we are ruling out in advance," Olmert said, according to the official, who has a mandate to brief the media on the prime minister's comments to the committee.
Of course, American and Israeli politicians are never asked the glaringly, screamingly obvious question: when you say that all options are on the table, does that include Israel (or America) getting rid of their own nuclear weapons?
After all, if Israel offered to disarm, the international pressure (particularly from the rest of the mideast) on Iran to halt any nuclear activity would likely be unstoppable. So if the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons is so unbelievably dangerous that we'd consider nuking them first to prevent it, you'd think we'd also consider whether this would be a better option. But apparently not.
It's a real tribute to the American media that they manage to avoid this. The staff at the NY Times and CBS are worth every penny.
EARLIER: Back in 2003, when Syria proposes a WMD-free mideast, America explains the idea is "ill-timed."
EARLIER: After the CIA's Duelfer report confirms Iraq had no WMD, George Bush explains that the report also says Saddam Hussein had "the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away."
From the Duelfer report:
Saddam briefed senior officials on several occasions saying, “We do not intend or aspire to return to our previous programs to produce WMD, if the Security Council abides by its obligations pertaining to these resolutions [UNSCR 687, paragraph 14].” Saddam reiterated this point in a cabinet meeting in 2002, according to Dr. Humam ‘Abd-al-Khaliq ‘Abd-al Ghafur, the former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
[Minister of Military Industrialization] Huwaysh believed that Saddam would base his decision regarding future Iraqi WMD development on how the Security Council followed through on its promise in paragraph 14 to establish “in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery.” If this promise was not fulfilled, Iraq should be free to act in its own interests.
January 15, 2008
Revolution of the Snails
Encounters with the Zapatistas
By Rebecca Solnit
I grew up listening to vinyl records, dense spirals of information that we played at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. The original use of the word revolution was in this sense -- of something coming round or turning round, the revolution of the heavenly bodies, for example. It's interesting to think that just as the word radical comes from the Latin word for "roots" and meant going to the root of a problem, so revolution originally means to rotate, to return, or to cycle, something those who live according to the agricultural cycles of the year know well...
We live in revolutionary times, but the revolution we are living through is a slow turning around from one set of beliefs and practices toward another, a turn so slow that most people fail to observe our society revolving -- or rebelling. The true revolutionary needs to be as patient as a snail.
Lawrence Of Cyberia On Sibel Edmonds
I haven't followed the Sibel Edmonds case at all, but Lawrence of Cyberia has some informed speculation that there's less there than meets the eye. I'd be very very interested to hear other opinions. On the one hand, I'd trust Ms. Lawrence's judgment in just about anything. On the other, as she says, she herself hasn't followed the case and is just extrapolating from her own experience as a super-sekret translator.
January 14, 2008
Last Signable Our Kampfs
Do you want an inscribed Our Kampf? If so, please order soon, because I'm almost out. When they're gone you'll have to get it unsigned from cold, heartless retailers like Amazon.
And even if you like cold, heartless retailers, if you'd been considering buying it, I'd appreciate it if you'd order it now from me. I'd like to get these out the door so I can use the space they're taking up for my collection of miniature warships of the People's Liberation Navy.
If you do get it, please send me email with your preferred inscription. However, be advised that due to certain legal unpleasantness a while back, I can no longer sign books "with best wishes and in hopes we can collaborate on the violent overthrow of the U.S. government."
What's Wrong With Us?
I just listened to an old This American Life segment about Cambodia. The Cambodian economy is deeply dependent on selling textiles to the US, and got preferential access to our market by establishing progressive labor standards...until the deal expired in 2005. The story follows a Cambodian delegation to Washington, DC as they try to lobby Congress to make up for this by adding Cambodia to the list of poor countries which can sell textiles to the US tariff-free.
It's heartbreaking to listen to the Cambodians describe their well thought-out case and plans, which barely make it into the consciousness of anyone in Congress. Only eight of the 535 members end up meeting with them. As the reporter Rachel Louise Snyder explains:
SNYDER: This is what it's like to be the little guy up against giant. You have to know everything about the giant, and the giant doesn't even have to know you're there...While this bill means everything to the Cambodians, the sad fact is Americans don't know any of this is happening.
One of the Cambodians says, "For me I have the feeling that I'm coming like a beggar. But I need to go, despite I feel like a beggar. Because I behind me have two million people and a half who are counting on this trade act to survive." (Note the Cambodian delegation can all speak English, if imperfectly.)
This would be bad enough on its own. But what makes it truly horrifying is the context which the This American Life segment left out. That is, of course, that we dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia between 1964 and 1975. Or put another way, 1.3 times as much as the Allies dropped everywhere during World War II, on a country the size of Missouri. Not surprisingly, this played a role in the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent genocide.
In a just universe, Cambodians wouldn't be coming to us as beggars. We'd be begging them–for forgiveness, and to leave us something to eat after they've taken our entire country in reparations.
So here's my question: what's wrong with us? By "us" I don't mean Henry Kissinger and George W. Bush, or Americans; I mean human beings. I have no doubt if the situation were reversed–if Cambodia were the rich superpower and America were the tiny, poor country–Cambodians would behave exactly the same way, ripping us to shreds without even noticing we're alive.
It's ugly for someone on the upside of history's power seesaw to argue this case, but it's clearly correct. Indeed, it's what makes this so difficult to accept. If the staggering, berserk cruelty we've displayed were due to our being especially bad people, the world could get rid of us and see a brighter tomorrow. But as tempting as that appears to some (including, on certain days, me) it wouldn't work.
What's wrong with us? If you happen to know, please speak up.
January 13, 2008
New From TomDispatch
Is Religion a Threat to Democracy?
Faith Talk on the Campaign Trail
By Ira Chernus
It's a presidential campaign like no other. The candidates have been falling all over each other in their rush to declare the depth and sincerity of their religious faith. The pundits have been just as eager to raise questions that seem obvious and important: Should we let religious beliefs influence the making of law and public policy? If so, in what way and to what extent? Those questions, however, assume that candidates bring the subject of faith into the political arena largely to justify -- or turn up the heat under -- their policy positions. In fact, faith talk often has little to do with candidates' stands on the issues. There's something else going on here.
New From The Real News
Donate to the Real News here.
Interview with Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice:
Aijaz Ahmad on Bush's plans for the Mideast:
January 12, 2008
Blaise Pascal Pitched It
By: Bernard Chazelle
And Niels Bohr knocked it out of the park:
[He] nailed a horseshoe above his office door for good luck. "You don't really believe in that stuff, do you?" a colleague asked him one day. To which Bohr responded, "No, but I've heard it works even for people who don't believe."
— Bernard Chazelle
January 10, 2008
There Is No End To The Stupid
I particularly enjoy the excruciating stupidity of the American media when it strikes its "deep expertise" pose. I've been reading up on astronomy, they say, and I wonder how, as president, you'd deal with the way the sun orbits around the earth.
For instance, here's Charlie Gibson, moderating the recent Democratic debate in New Hampshire:
CHARLIE GIBSON: I want to go to another question. And it really is the central one in my mind in nuclear terrorism. The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I've read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there's a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years.
One thing Gibson didn't do when he "read a lot about this" was TO READ ANYTHING. If you feel like reading the study he's referring to yourself (pdf), you'll find that:
1. The question wasn't whether there would be nuclear terrorism in a U.S. city. Rather, it was "In your opinion, what is the probability (expressed as a percentage) of an attack involving a nuclear explosion occurring somewhere in the world in the next 10 years?" I.e., they were asked about the use of nuclear weapons anywhere by anyone, including by governments or outside the US or both.
2. The mean response was 29.2%. However, the median was lower, at 20%.
3. Among the 85 "best nuclear experts in the world" surveyed was Robert Joseph, a notorious hardliner who was on the National Security Council for four years before replacing John Bolton as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Joseph supervised the section on Iraq's WMD in the 2003 State of the Union, and was responsible for the uranium-from-Africa claim.
Others inhabit the Bush administration's Dr. Strangelove-flavored penumbra. There's Richard Allen, who's on the Defense Advisory Board; Frank Carlucci, of the Carlyle Group and Project for a New American Century; and James Woolsey, Patrick Clawson, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Fred Ikle, all well-known for their role with PNAC and similar places.
GIBSON: Really, the central question in my mind is feet. I've been reading a lot about feet in recent days. And the best experts in the world say people each have nine feet. What would you do about this as president?
AND: On the same general subject, Sam Husseini makes a much more important point.
"I, Too, Dream in Color and in Rhyme"
By: Bernard Chazelle
People ask me why I love hip-hop. This is why.
First, J. Ivy tells you what it's about.
Now the tune. Jay-Z wastes little time reminding you why the illest rapper in the business still produces the tightest rhymes. No one else phrases like Jay-Z. Listen to the phrasing: that's where you find the magic of rap!
Yo, first I snatched the streets, then I snatched the charts.
First I had their ear, now I have their heart.
Rappers came and went, I've been here from the start...
I've seen them repo-ed, resold and redriven.
So when I reload, he holds number one position.
When you hot I'm hot.
And when your feet cold, mine's sizzlin'.
It's plain to see...
Next in line, Kanye "You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' " West takes it back to the political "Public Enemy" Chuck D era.
I get down for my grandfather who took my momma.
Made her sit in that seat where white folks ain't wanna us to eat.
At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit-in.
With that in my blood I was born to be different.
Now niggas can't make it to ballots to choose leadership.
But we can make it to Jacob and to the dealership...
Racism's still alive, they just be concealing it.
But I know they don't want me in the damn club...
I know I got angels watching me from the other side.
The hook for J. Ivy to connect it all back up to where it belongs.
... If I were on the highest cliff, on the highest riff.
And you slipped off the side and clinched on to your life in my grip,
I would never, ever let you down.
And when these words are found,
Let it been known that God's penmanship has been signed with a language called love.
That's why my breath is felt by the deaf.
And why my words are heard and confined to the ears of the blind.
I, too, dream in color and in rhyme.
So I guess I'm one of a kind in a full house.
Cuz whenever I open my heart, my soul, or my mouth,
A touch of God reigns out.
— Bernard Chazelle
How to Build a Homeland Security Campus in Seven Steps
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky
Free speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors… Welcome to the new homeland security campus
From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism" -- as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name -- have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.
Building a homeland-security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission...
The $100 Barrel of Oil vs. the Global War on Terror
The Bush Legacy (Take Two)
By Tom Engelhardt
Consider the debate among four Democratic presidential candidates on ABC News last Saturday night. In the previous week, the price of a barrel of oil briefly touched $100, unemployment hit 5%, the stock market had the worst three-day start since the Great Depression, and the word "recession" was in the headlines and in the air. So when ABC debate moderator Charlie Gibson announced that the first fifteen-minute segment would be taken up with "what is generally agreed to be… the greatest threat to the United States today," what did you expect?
As it happened, he was referring to "nuclear terrorism," specifically "a nuclear attack on an American city" by al-Qaeda (as well as how the future president would "retaliate"). In other words, Gibson launched his version of a national debate by focusing on a fictional, futuristic scenario, at this point farfetched, in which a Pakistani loose nuke would fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, be transported to the United States, perhaps picked up by well-trained al-Qaedan minions off the docks of Newark, and set off in the Big Apple. In this, though he was surely channeling Rudy Giuliani, he managed to catch the essence of what may be George W. Bush's major legacy to this country.
The Planet as a GWOT Free-Fire Zone
January 09, 2008
The Real News On Ron Paul & Pakistan
Donate to the Real News here.
Just a short note to say I'm resigning my position here effective immediately to work for the Clinton/Biden campaign.
Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their imperialist technocracy.
"Clinton/Biden: An echo, not a choice"
January 08, 2008
Clearing Up the Confusion about Obama
By: Bernard Chazelle
I like Obama.
I first learned about him in a New Yorker profile way before he was Obama, so I can see just a little further than the rubes who don't pay their respects to David Remnick.
Obama is the best king anyone can buy.
You see, in ancient times, the president of the United States used to perform two functions: King and Prime Minister. Then something happened along the way and the role of Prime Minister disappeared. The reason for this is that politics vanished. We have political theater now but no politics. Nobody ever discusses political ideas anymore: they discuss only people who discuss people who discuss people... who claim to discuss political ideas.
Why? Because Friedman and Fukuyama have won. There's nothing left to discuss. For example, the question is never how to help the poor but how to pretend we do (liberals) or not (Republicans). The question was never whether we should stop killing Iraqis: it was whether daisy cutters (Bush) or cruise missiles/sanctions (Clinton) were the way to go.
Now if you're choosing a figurehead of a king—and that's all we're doing—Obama is not a bad choice. In fact he reminds me of Queen Elizabeth a lot: dignified; articulate (I guess I said it); vacuous.
Quick digression: I am not exactly the monarchical type, but my grandmother was. I argued with her once that the bastards had it coming in 1789! She said to me: "Bernard, a republic that is built on the severed head of a 17 year-old girl cannot be any good." She got the age wrong but the sentiment was a good one. King Obama would never have to fear that I would sharpen my home guillotine.
But where was I? Oh yes, now there's a name for regimes where the political is gone: dictatorship. But this is a democracy, so we've freely chosen our own imprisonment. We should congratulate ourselves. We're like those dogs who crawl into their cages and lock the doors behind.
Kucinich and Ron Paul are running for Prime Minister. The fools just forgot to read the fine print of the election rulebook. People don't elect prime ministers in this country: the world is flat and the prime minister is a computer. We elect kings and, whichever way I look at them, Kucinich and Paul are nothing like Queen Liz.
Now back to King Obama.
Kings are not useless. Many black people who remember the nooses and the backs of buses will wake up on Inauguration Day with a nice, warm feeling about our new king. And who the hell am I, a privileged white man, to go tell them to snap out of their delusions?
I've had my own delusions for, what, 232 years and no black man has ever asked me to snap out of it. So, on the subject of Obama, if you don't mind I'll try to tone down the snark from now on.
— Bernard Chazelle
Hillary! Because They Won't Shoot Her In The Head
Yesterday in New Hampshire, one of Hillary Clinton's local supporters introduced her like this:
"Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated."
There are a whole bunch of implications tied up in this that aren't flattering to Hillary Clinton, America, or homo sapiens generally.
In any case, people don't seem to get shot in the head much anymore in American politics. I suspect that's because the people who you'd expect to do the shooting have perfected Assassination By Media.
Glen Ford On Barack Obama
This is a good day to start years of criticizing Barack Obama from the left. Here's Glen Ford in the Black Agenda Report:
Barack Obama's corporate-made and -financed presidential campaign is the product of three distinct factors, all mitigating against Black self-determination and political cohesion: 1) corporate decisions, made a decade ago, to provide media and financial support to pliant Black Democrats that can be trusted to carry Wall Street's water; 2) a widespread desire among whites to prove through the safe and simple act of voting that they are not personally racist, and/or to dismiss Black claims of pervasive racism in society, once and for all; 3) a huge reservoir of Jim Crow era, atavistic Black thinking that refuses to evaluate Black candidates' actual political stances, but instead revels in the prospect of Black faces in high places. A President Obama would, of course, be the zenith of such narrow, non-substantive, objectively self-defeating visions...In 2007, the Obama "package" amply satisfied all three "constituencies"...
Given the prevailing racism in white American society - a racism that craves revenge for U.S. defeats at the hands of darker peoples even as it expresses opposition to particular, lost wars - and the ever southward thrust of U.S. aggression, Black America is the historically logical center for opposition to U.S. marauding, especially in Africa. Dr. King declared in 1967, in the heat of the Vietnam War, that Black America's destiny was to "save the soul of America" from the "triple evils" of "racism, materialism and militarism" - a huge historical fact that Barack "Joshua" Obama conveniently fails to process.
The Real News Inteviews Kucinich And Gravel
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January 07, 2008
Let's Give Rationality A Shot And See If It Works Out
The Scanner points out that the recent Times of London story is wrong that the UK has higher living standards than the US. Be sure to read to the end for embarrassing France-bashing by Obama's main economic adviser.
New From Consortium News
(Consortium News still is $6,000 short on its end-of-year $50,000 fundraiser. If you have the means, I strongly encourage you to donate. Unless you're Chris Matthews or Colin Powell, it's in your self-interest for Consortium News to survive and thrive.)
Reagan's Bargain/Charlie Wilson's War
by Peter W. Dickson, former CIA analyst
...surely the most glaring omission in the film is the fateful trade-off accepted by President Ronald Reagan when he agreed not to complain about Pakistan’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability in exchange for Pakistani cooperation in helping the Afghan rebels...
The movie producers evidently concluded that scenes of Wilson’s desperate efforts to cover up Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions would not look too good in the film, so that part of the story disappeared from the cinematic version of history...
Unfortunately, the glaring omissions tend to reinforce the triumph of a false narrative about the dismal record of American involvement in the Middle East, including the Reagan-Bush administration’s indifference, almost blasé attitude about the emergence of a Muslim nuclear bomb.
TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson On Charlie Wilson's War
Second Thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War
By Chalmers Johnson
I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (D-2nd District, Texas, 1973-1996) because, for close to twenty years, my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Wilson and Cunningham held exactly the same plummy committee assignments in the House of Representatives -- the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee plus the Intelligence Oversight Committee -- from which they could dole out large sums of public money with little or no input from their colleagues or constituents.
Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Cunningham went to jail because he was too stupid to know how to game the system -- retire and become a lobbyist -- whereas Wilson received the Central Intelligence Agency Clandestine Service's first "honored colleague" award ever given to an outsider and went on to become a $360,000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan...Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth...
What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, drunken sleazebags, so in that sense it's accurate enough. But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing.
January 06, 2008
Understanding People By Understanding Politics
I really have no interest in politics. But I'm definitely interested in people. And I think politics, because it places humans in heightened circumstances, throws human nature into stark relief and thus is a big help in understanding it.
Take these two items about the Clinton crowd. The first is from a recent blog post by David Corn:
When talking to Clintonites in recent days, I've noticed that they've come to despise Obama. I suppose that may be natural in the final weeks of a competitive campaign when much is at stake. But these people don't need any prompting in private conversations to decry Obama as a dishonest poser. They're not spinning for strategic purposes. They truly believe it..."They really, really hate Obama," one Democratic operative unaffiliated with any campaign, tells me. "They can't stand him. They talk about him as if he's worse than Bush." What do they hate about him? After all, there aren't a lot of deep policy differences between the two, and he hasn't gone for the jugular during the campaign. "It's his presumptuousness," this operative says. "That he thinks he can deny her the nomination. Who is he to try to do that?"...A senior House Democratic aide notes, "The Clinton people are going nuts in how much they hate him. But the problem is their narrative has gone beyond the plausible."
The second is from a 1993 article by Seymour Hersh:
A significant factor in the campaign against Saddam Hussein was simple animosity, stemming from the Iraqi leader's occupation of Kuwait in August of 1990 and his near-suicidal defiance of American pressure, which resulted in the brutal and disastrous Gulf War in early 1991. A former American ambassador in the Middle East recalled his surprise when a colleague, who holds a high post in the Clinton Administration, told him that he had started arguing for retaliation on the day after the first reports of an assassination attempt reached Washington from Kuwait. "I was shocked, because I view him as a normally very responsible and sober person, who understands about power and how to use it," the former ambassador said. "He just hates Saddam—a visceral hatred." Another former senior official said that many officials in the Pentagon and the State Department had become increasingly angry with Iraq in the early months of the Clinton Administration, feeling that Saddam Hussein had been "getting away with things" because of Washington's preoccupation with events in the former Yugoslavia.
What does this suggest?
That humans naturally hate anyone with whom they're competing for scarce resources. In the first case the scarce resource is the presidency. In the second it's control of the mideast.
In both cases, life for the peons will be pretty much the same no matter who wins. Obama's policies wouldn't be too different from Hillary's. And certainly both the United States and Saddam agreed it was necessary to crush regular Iraqis. Yet in both cases the Clinton people become irrationally angry at their challengers. Indeed, they actively seek out reasons to be mad, even when they wouldn't be bothered at all by the challenger's actions if he weren't challenging them. (Certainly the US was fine with Saddam invading Iran, and the Clintons didn't mind Obama's "presumption" in 2004.)
What are the larger implications? That people don't hate each other and then compete, they compete and then hate each other. France and Germany wouldn't have had their institutionalized centuries of mutual loathing if they were on opposite sides of the planet...even though the participants were certain of just the opposite, that their hatred had nothing to do with the others being right next door and everything to do with them being inherently evil.
Second, that it's important for us peons not to get caught up in the mutual animosities of our psycho leaders, who will demand we join their "team." Not only do they not care about us, they're driven so crazy by competition that they can't even judge their own best interests.
Third, that if you want a society where everyone hates each other, be sure to create as much competition as possible.
Finally, it's always good to stop and think when you yourself hate someone, even in day to day life. Do you hate them for real reasons, or are you searching out reasons to hate them because you're competing with them? Being conscious of this aspect of my own nature has often made me much happier than I would be otherwise.
Here endeth the weird lesson.
Gods Don't Kill, People Do
By: Bernard Chazelle
Like Christopher Hitchens, I do not believe in a "Celestial Dictator." Unlike him, I consider this my problem, not yours. Spirituality is a beautiful thing. I catch glimpses of it in music and poetry and it moves me like nothing else. I easily imagine what a powerful vehicle for it faith must be.
Sometimes I even catch myself wishing I believed in God. Just like I wish I loved baseball. I envy the erudite passion of baseball fans. Seems like so much fun. Alas, I was born in the wrong country and I have none of the required DNA. My loss. I don't get baseball. I don't get religion either. But I have no beef against it.
I am in awe of the art it has inspired and I am moved by Christianity's emphasis on the weak and the poor (even if only theoretical): a point of focus that, in the secular realm, only Marxism has ever come close to matching. The irrationality doesn't bother me either. I embrace the irrational: my passion for Charlie Parker's "Embraceable You," Bach's Chaconne, Beethoven's 7th, the people I love. Why is that any less irrational than "feeling the spirit of Jesus"? I've never bought into the fake conflict between science and religion either: God could easily have invented evolution for fun. It's lonely at the top and one can hardly blame the Celestial Dictator for playing little games. (In his shoes, sorry, in His shoes, I'd do the same. I'd even make Pat Robertson look like a monkey. Just for fun.)
The downside of religion is that it tends to make people slightly more idiotic than they would otherwise be. And sometimes more dangerous. I'll address both points.
The idiotic part? Nonbelievers should relax. Religion always plays at the edge of charlatanism: that's its nature. Parting the sea, drinking blood on Sundays, mixing man and elephant... it's all a little much, no? But I like to think of the stories as ancient mythical tales that only get better with age, like fine wine. I have no doubt that, in 1,000 years, theologians will pore over the archives of Jon's blog to explain how the disciples of the by-then billion-strong ATR cult should be performing their ritualistic human sacrifices. I respect that.
Religions should be allowed their share of asinine beliefs, though some of them do seem to abuse the privilege: Joseph Smith translating golden plates covered with indecipherable Egyptian writing with the help of magic glasses in 1828. Come on! I have no problem with the plates, the glasses, or the angel Moroni (though you'd think they could have picked a better name): it's the date that gets me — 1828. Face it, all that stands between divine revelation and plain bullshit is 2,000 years of getting used to it. I know I am not being very rational. But I think that is the whole point.
Yes, but I digress. Didn't the Schiavo circus prove the danger of religious extremism? No, it did not. It only made America look like a nation of gullible, blithering idiots. On the plus side, think how many more countries we could have been bombing if not for the Schiavo distraction? This could be apocryphal but I've heard that Huckabee asked the hundreds of prisoners that he pardoned to accept Jesus as their savior. That makes him a very silly man, not a dangerous, let alone evil, man. Between a Pastafarian governor who would condition her pardons on genuflecting to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and one who'd never pardon anyone under any circumstances, I'd take the former any time.
Mind you that I come from a place where separation of Church and State is deadly serious. France nearly fought a civil war over it. Over there, politicians can be seen with their mistresses but not their priests. On this side of the pond, it's a little different: every presidential aspirant must claim Jesus as their national security advisor. It's insane but, as long as Jesus refrains from mentioning the 82nd Airborne, I've learned to relax about it. The whole "debate" about Intelligent Design is brain-dead but it's mostly rich kid's entertainment. Blessed be the nation that has nothing better to do than discuss the contents of science textbooks. Yes, ID is supremely moronic and bad education. In this peculiarly American debate—the evolution "issue" seems to have been settled in every other country on the planet—the stakes are high, indeed. How high? Our ego is on the line! That's how high. Makes us look like buffoonish troglodytes, Olympic-sized nincompoops, cretinous yo-yos. I can live with that.
But not with this:
[Huckabee] has visited the Jewish state nine times, and told the crowd at the Bedrick house party that he favored the establishment of a Palestinian state — in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
It's one thing for religious figures to make utter fools of themselves with creationist nonsense. It's quite another to screw over the rest of the world and agitate for the Rapture with calls for war. Truth be told, Huckabee seems less deranged than most of his friends and he does seem unexpectedly compassionate, but he has had nothing but praise for that certified loon, John Hagee: the man who can't wait to carpet-bomb Iran. His "Christians United for Israel" is coming after the Arabs in the region. But Jewish Israelis shouldn't feel safe either: two thirds of the Jews are supposed to die at the Rapture. Oh well, collateral damage. (I guess it's even lonelier at the top than I thought and God must be truly desperate for entertainment.) No demographic group has been more vociferous in its support of the war in Iraq than Christian fundamentalists. When idiocy morphs into murderous lunacy, I draw the line. I can easily dismiss Schiavo and Britney as Americas's unrestrained indulgence for unfettered imbecility. But when corporate America, neocons, and Christian ayatollahs all come together to convince me that the Middle East really belongs to them, then I know what's coming: massive death. The Schumer-Cheney-Hagee axis makes my blood curdle. Blood for oil and God has been our policy in the region for decades. That's what grabs my attention. Not so much the Schiavo shenanigans or Huckabee's love of Jesus, sweetly quaint distractions though they may be.
Let's clarify a few misconceptions. Hitchens is flat-out wrong. There is zero evidence that Islam increases terrorism. In fact, it may well be that Islam reduces terrorism. Yes, you can say you first read it here. Robert Pape has shown that nearly all terrorist attacks respond to political grievances. If you do the math, you will find that the number of terrorists causally motived by Islam forms a ratio within the Muslim population of less than one in a million, which is well below the ratio of murderous psychopaths within the US population. Chances are that bin Laden is the Saudi version of Jeffrey Dahmer with a dozen disciples for whom God is just a convenient alibi. I'll go further. For all we know, Islam may in fact have a calming influence. Has anyone even tried to disprove that hypothesis? Does anyone seriously believe that, if Islam had never been "invented," Arabs would not be hating our guts just the same for all the obvious reasons? You don't need God to hurt when I crush your genitals.
The oh-so minor fact remains that no one has killed more Muslims than our last two Christian presidents. The superstitious Christianism of the US heartland makes me nauseous, but let's keep some sense of priority.
Here are two things of which I strongly disapprove: (A) displaying the 10 Commandments in a courthouse; (B) killing millions of Arabs in the name of Christ. But I also believe that (B) dwarfs (A) on any moral scale and (B) does not follow from (A). Sorry to disappoint the bien-pensant lib crew, but Roy Moore's cloying antics worry me far less than the assurances I get from my Commander-in-Chief that Jesus advises him on war strategy (which even he knows is bullshit to mask his war lust). No, it's not all the same and winning the courthouse furniture battle will get you nowhere on (B). Maybe one can "fight" for both at once. Good idea. But what are we supposed to make of the countless liberals who get all worked up about Moore while signing on for more war, leaving New Orleans to sink, and never once mentioning the ravages of poverty in the world's richest nation?
In a time of duress, Goethe berated his good friend Schiller for his devotion to the study of the classics: "What do I care about Iphigeneia's woes when the children of my hometown are starving?"
What do I care about Schiavo or Huckabee's love of Jesus when the political Establishment is busy killing the brown man for a buck?
— Bernard Chazelle
January 05, 2008
A Short Parable
In a far away land called Acirema, there lived a golden retriever named Professor Yksmohc. This golden retriever, who wasn't owned by anyone, claimed that people only liked brown dogs. And so, he said, the dogs that people chose as pets were almost all brown.
This golden retriever also claimed that pet dogs truly believed they'd been chosen at the pound because they were so friendly and nice, and it had nothing to do with them being brown. Coincidentally, that's exactly what their owners always told them: they'd been chosen because they were so friendly and nice.
Professor Yksmohc also said if you told brown dogs they'd been chosen because they were brown, they couldn't understand a word you were saying. In fact, when you said "you've been chosen because you're brown," they would hear, "you've been chosen because you're a chihuahua." (In this town, all the dogs hated chihuahuas.)
One day, a brown sheep dog learned about Professor Yksmohc. This brown sheep dog got very mad, and barked and barked until all the town's dogs had come running to see what was happening. Trembling with anger, the brown sheep dog told all the other dogs: "Professor Yksmohc says I was chosen by my owners because I'm a chihuahua. But I'm not! I'm a sheep dog! Stop insulting me, Professor Yksmohc!"
Hearing this, all the town's dogs looked at each other. Perhaps, they thought, Professor Yksmohc was onto something.
Now, this seems like a morality tale for children, far too simple-minded to describe reality. But in fact, it's not simplified at all. It's straight out of a review in the Ottawa Citizen of a new book of interviews with Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes. Here's a representative sampling of what the reviewer, an Ottawa Citizen columnist named Kate Heartfield, says:
Often, when someone asks me about my job as an opinion writer, one of the questions is some variant on, "Who tells you what to write?"
"No one tells me what to write," I say.
This is followed by blank looks, disbelieving looks, or outright contradiction...People who hold a particular view of the mainstream media seem to find it inconceivable that I might actually, as Alice told the March Hare, mean what I write and write what I mean.
And for this, I blame Noam Chomsky...he has given the caricature of the lying journalist so much academic legitimacy that arguing against it seems almost pointless.
God damn you, Professor Yksmohc!
In fact, my guess is that you would find that the intellectual elite is the most heavily indoctrinated sector, for good reasons. It’s their role as a secular priesthood to really believe the nonsense that they put forth...it’s crucial that they believe it because, after all, they are the guardians of the faith. Except for a very rare person who’s an outright liar, it’s hard to be a convincing exponent of the faith unless you’ve internalized it and come to believe it. I find that intellectuals just look at me with blank stares of incomprehension...
And here's more of the golden retriever's damnable blather:
I remember columns by Tom Wicker saying, Look, nobody tells me what to say. I do anything I feel. It's an absolutely free system. And for him that's just right. After he had demonstrated to the satisfaction of the bosses that he had internalized their values, he was entirely free to write anything he wanted.
Hilariously, the publisher of the Ottawa Citizen was fired by its owners CanWest just a few years ago for writing the wrong thing:
CanWest executives said Mills was fired for failing to seek corporate approval of the story reporting the prime minister had repeatedly lied to Parliament and the related editorial calling for him to resign...The company's owners have been strong supporters of [Prime Minister] Chrétien and the Liberal Party.
And there's much more than this—CanWest is notorious in the journalism world for telling staffers what to write.
But no one tells Kate Heartfield what to write. She has, completely of her own free will, arrived at lots of opinions that don't get her fired. What a happy coincidence!
EXTRA HILARIOUSNESS: Here's more of what no one told Heartfield to write:
The title of the book, What We Say Goes, is a piece of dramatic irony: the "we" is meant to refer to the United States, but it could just as easily refer to Chomsky and his followers.
So Heartfield's bosses have demonstrated they can and will fire anyone who crosses the line. But the people who truly hold power in her life are "Chomsky and his followers."
I'd be happy to caricature Heartfield for this if it were possible. But that would like murdering someone who just committed suicide.
BUT: As part of my New Year's resolutions, I refuse to be angry about this. Heartfield merely occupies an evolutionary niche created by Canadian billionaires. There's no more reason to get angry at her personally than there is getting mad at a dung beetle for rolling dung.
(Review via John Caruso.)
January 04, 2008
By: Bernard Chazelle
He is a vicious, unprincipled man; the stories of his ruthlessness when governor of Arkansas are legion.
Bill Clinton? No, Mike Huckabee. His crime? Releasing a convicted rapist (who spent 15 years in jail). Hillary's husband, on the other hand, did not hesitate to interrupt his presidential campaign to fly to Arkansas for the execution of a man with an IQ of 70. But, Huckabee, that conservative freak, his time in office was just one giant orgy of clemency granting.
Huckabee's ideas and behavior deserve to be mocked, ridiculed, laughed at, parodied, and skewered, He should be ignored when he's not being sneered at. And the more creative we all are, the more in your face, the better... The specific movement Huckabee represents is far too dangerous for that. ... the uniquely dangerous qualities of Huckabee.
More uniquely dangerous than our current religious nut-in-chief in the White House? I've heard Huckabee say pretty weird things. And maybe he is Attila the Hun next to Romney (double Gitmo), McCain (100 years in Iraq), Rudy (kill'em faster please), or Hillary (let Wesley run Pakistan). Yes, I know, Al Gore thought up Willie Horton even before Lee Atwater did and he got the Nobel Prize. But must all progressives be so ambitious?
— Bernard Chazelle
January 03, 2008
Our Bitter Laughter
I understand the catastrophic problems with American culture, American history and American politics. But I can't help appreciating the fact someone who wrote this won the Iowa primary. This is from Obama's book Dreams From My Father:
Our assistant basketball coach, a young, wiry man from New York with a nice jumper, after a pick-up game with some talkative black men had muttered within earshot of me and three of my teammates that we shouldn't have lost to a bunch of niggers...when I told him to shut up [he] calmly explained the apparently obvious fact that "there are black people, and there are niggers. Those guys were niggers." It wasn't merely the cruelty involved; I was learning that black people could be mean and then some. It was a particular brand of arrogance, an obtuseness in otherwise sane people that brought forth our bitter laughter. It was as if whites didn't know they were being cruel in the first place. Or at least thought you deserving of their scorn.
That's genuinely wise, and generalizes to all situations where people have more power than others. Obama understands the humanity on both sides of the power equation, and that the problem is power itself, not "bad" people. Yet he also doesn't excuse the hideous behavior of the powerful.
I also like the bitter laughter part. "Our Bitter Laughter" could be the name of this site. Of course, my own laughter is much less bitter than most, since as a privileged white American man I've escaped most of the consequences of the cruel, obtuse arrogance of the people running things. (Knock on wood.)
On the other hand, Colin Powell wrote something in the same ballpark in his autobiography:
...the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start[ed] hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would... And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.
And he's, you know, Colin Powell. So I think I can manage to keep my expectations low low low.
The Real News On Pakistan And Al Qaeda
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Part 1 of 3 on Pakistan:
Part 1 of 2 on al-Qaeda's latest video:
January 02, 2008
I Made A Joke!
I think my explanation of why William Kristol is like a four-foot, 65-pound eight year-old Korean boy is pretty funny (scroll down).
Who Is IOZ?
I am ever more convinced that IOZ is secretly me. Either that or the other way around:
American liberals understand the invasion and occupation as a terribly aberrant, uniquely un-American act foisted on a frightened country and unprepared world by the avatar of awfulness, notre dauphin, Gee-Dub Bush. Their liberalism is essentially personality-driven—ironically, given their loud disdain for the Bushite personality cult. It is the liberal-progressive conviction that the necessary component for good government is good people. People, you know, like them.
Read the rest of my thoughts.
New TomDispatch: How Bush Took Us to the Dark Side
Tom Engelhardt recaps the deluge of recent stories on government abuse, torture, kidnapping, and offshore imprisonment practices. I honestly was unaware of much of this:
Journey to the Dark Side
The Bush Legacy (Take One)
By Tom Engelhardt
...Take, for instance, 20-year veteran of the National Guard Zakariya Muhammad Reed (born Edward Eugene Reed, Jr.), who, for the last 11 years, has worked as a firefighter in Toledo, Ohio. Regularly crossing the Canadian border to visit his wife's family, he has been stopped so many times -- "I was put up against the wall and thoroughly frisked, any more thoroughly and I would have asked for flowers…" -- that he is a connoisseur of detention. He's been stopped five times in the last seven months and now chooses his crossing place based on the size of the detention waiting room he knows he'll end up in. It took several such incidents, during which no explanations were offered, before he discovered that he was being stopped in part because of his name and in part because of a letter he wrote to the Toledo Blade criticizing Bush administration policies on Israel and Iraq.
The first time, he was detained in a small room with two armed guards, while his wife and children were left in a larger common room. While he was grilled, she was denied permission to return to their car even to get a change of diapers for their youngest child. When finally released, Reed found his car had been "trashed." ("My son's portable DVD player was broken, and I have a decorative Koran on the dashboard that was thrown on the floor.") During another episode of detention, an interrogator evidently attempted to intimidate him by putting his revolver on the table at which they were seated. ("He takes the clip out of his weapon, looks at the ammunition, puts the clip back in, and puts it back in his holster.") His first four border-crossing detentions were well covered by Matthew Rothschild in a post at the Progressive Magazine's website. During his latest one, he was questioned about Rothschild's coverage of his case.
The essence of his experience is perhaps caught best in a comment by Customs and Border Protection agent made in his presence: "We should treat them like we do in the desert. We should put a bag over their heads and zip tie their hands together"...
So far, of course, we've only been talking about the lucky ones. After all, Erla Ósk, Zakariya Muhammad Reed, and Nabil Al Yousuf all made it home relatively quickly. In the final weeks of 2007, a little flood of press reports tracked more extreme versions of the global lockdown the Bush administration launched in late 2001, cases in which, after the snarl, the door clanged shut and home became the barest of hopes...
January 01, 2008
Happy New-ish Year
Before January 1st expires, I want to wish a Happy New Year to all of Tiny Revolution's visitors, commenters, book-purchasers and emailers. This site is one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done, and I'm in everyone's debt. Just please be aware I'll be requiring a kidney from each of you during the next 52 weeks. (See #2, below.) Don't whine, you knew what you were getting into.
Extra special thanks to Bernard for agreeing to post here. It seems unfair he knows not just five times as much as I do about politics, but approximately 100,000 times as much about math. However, I accept this unfairness, because his presence makes me look so good.
Here are my New Year's resolutions for 2008:
Expand the Tiny Empire
Look for video here as well as stage performances by me in 2008. I may also walk the MySpace/Facebook path, if I can figure out the point. Any suggestions in this area are welcome. (Remember I am 98 years old.)
Also, Bernard's contributions here have been so appreciated, I'm considering how to turn this into a slightly larger cabal of like-minded weirdos. To start with, I have high hopes Mike will show up more often.
Accentuate the Positive
At all times in history, there have been zillions of people doing wonderful things with little recognition. 99% of the attention goes to various monsters. Even when the attention is extremely negative (i.e., people like us yowling about Dick Cheney or Thomas Friedman) it suggests the monsters are the only ones doing anything important, and the rest of us have nothing better to do than talk about them.
This is empirically wrong. And it saps our capability for independent thought, because it orients us toward reacting to the powerful, rather than acting ourselves.
This is especially pernicious in a period when technology is opening up ways to build new and better institutions. While I understand the visceral appeal of dumping a bucket of pig excrement on Fred Hiatt, this takes time away from what will have a longer-term impact: nurturing our own fledgling efforts.
Beyond this, I also think negativity (at least for someone like me) is deeply immoral. I'm a white American man with a fancy college education. On top of that, I've gotten a million lucky breaks. Few people in history have had less reason for feeling powerless than me. So whenever I'm grumpy, I imagine telling my woes to a Gaza woman whose children are being slowly starved by our foreign policy, or a Baghdad man who's fled Iraq because his brother was tortured to death with an electric drill paid for with my withholding tax. Then I imagine them responding: "Huh. Well, fuck you."
So this year I vow to focus on the world's endless profusion of good people, books, articles, and miscellaneous. In particular I want to highlight anyone taking action I consider fruitful and underappreciated.
Of course, my ever-more treacly sweetness may cause Dennis to puke. Even worse, I will then find a bright side to him puking, thus making him puke again. And on and on, in a deepening Esher-like spiral of optimism and vomit.
Be Less Agitated by the Negative
It's pointless to get angry at individual cretins like Kenneth Pollack. It's like getting mad at a mole for eating worms. The cretins are just filling an evolutionary niche. Far better to focus on changing the overall ecosystem.
This isn't to say it's never worthwhile to point out the cretinous behavior, just that the only worth comes from using it to illustrate the larger problem. If you saw an extremely rich man with a yappy little poodle which he rewarded with doggy treats whenever it bit people, you wouldn't get mad at the poodle. Likewise, I don't want to get mad at yappy little Bill Kristol.
(I note even Professor Chonky struggles with this issue: "the only thing I ever get irritated about is elite intellectuals, the stuff they do I do find irritating. I shouldn't. I should expect it. But I do find it irritating.")
Don't Mess with Mister In-Between
I don't know what this means, but it's part of the lyrics.
What Do You Mean, Happy New Year?
By: Bernard Chazelle
Sorry to interrupt the blogspat, but Nell was kind enough to wish Jon and me (and all of you, too, by the way) a happy new year. Before I replied with my own Happy New Year, I thought I'd explain what I meant or did not mean by that. So many options to rule out:
1. "Happy New Year," a phrase devoid of meaning, is code for the brutally meaningful: "I Do Not Wish You an Unhappy New Year." We shake hands to reassure each other that we left our sharp knives at home. (Not sure if I read that somewhere or I am making it up, but I like it anyway.) If Condi Rice wants to tell Ahmadinejad that 2008 won't be the year we drop the Big One on his head, she'll say: "Happy New Year, Mahmoud!"
2. "Happy New Year" is a suspiciously self-serving wish: make me happy by being happy. Where is the altruism in wishing good health to the guy who is scheduled to donate a kidney for you next year?
3. "Happy New Year" means that I command the skies and rule the universe and,
by virtue of my omnipotence, will make the coming year a happy one for you.
Fairy tales have kept humanity from jumping off high cliffs for centuries. Their usefulness is undisputed. Still, they are fairy tales.
4. See, I thought of you! Which would carry more weight on a random day of the year, for it feels a bit like pleasing the IRS on April 15. How in the world did you remember?
5. Or maybe it just means what it says. I think I'll try that. And so, to you all,
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR !
— Bernard Chazelle