February 29, 2008
By: Bernard Chazelle
What would life be without YouTube?
The Dream Team of jazz gets together for a gig, and there's no doubt who's the star: Billie Holiday. Such was her aura that everyone who was anyone in jazz would have dropped everything just to be on a set with her. This 12-bar blues gives all the musicians a chance to stretch out and show what they've got: Ben Webster with his amazing melodic gift --who else besides Charlie Parker can pack so many melodic ideas in so little space?-- followed by Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Gerry Mulligan (on his baritone sax: what a tone!), Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, etc.
Lester Young (among the most underrated giants of jazz -- along with Benny Carter) is minimalist to a fault. Watch the look on Billie Holiday's face at 2:56... To make sense of the scene you need to know two things: first, the two were romantically involved in an on-and-off fashion (listen to her: "Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on"); second, he phrases his solo just the way she sings. He does it intentionally and you know she knows. And he knows that she knows that he knows that she knows. Hence the look on her face.
Billie Holiday is probably the most influential jazz singer ever. We're so used to it now it's easy to miss how extraordinary her timing is: she phrases like a horn player (much like Louis Armstrong). Just as all rock guitarists, whether they know it or not, try to sound like BB King, every jazz singer turns to Billie Holiday to find out how it's done.
I won't go here into the giant, epic misery that was Billie Holiday's life.
Some of you thought I might choose Strange Fruit instead. I almost did. But it's too damn heart-wrenching. Another day.
February 28, 2008
Joe Scarborough: People Who Care About How We Got Into Iraq Are Not “Americans”
Are you in Manhattan, or Georgetown, or on a college campus? Or just care about why we invaded Iraq? You may be surprised to find out that, as Joe Scarborough explained this morning on MSNBC, you're not an American.
OBAMA: I do know Al Qaeda's in Iraq, and that's why we should continue to strike Al Qaeda targets, but I have some news for John McCain. And that is that there was no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iraq before George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 -- that would Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which is stronger now than at anytime since 2001. I've been paying attention, John McCain.
GEIST: So are you ready for eight months of that argument?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, it is an argument -- Mika's gonna disagree with me on this one -- but I would guarantee you, guarantee you, that while a lot of people in Manhattan and Georgetown and on college campuses are worried about what happened in 2002 and the lead up to the war, Americans are concerned about what's happening now.
It's amazing how many people there are prancing around who aren't Americans. For instance, in December, 2005, 56% of Americans un-Americanically believed it was "very important" for Congress to investigate the way we went to war. By June, 2006 (the most recent poll I can find) that number was still steady at 57%.
It's a lot of fun to imagine what would happen if someone on MSNBC said, "I guarantee you that while a lot of white boys in Alabama and rural Texas are worried about laws banning hand guns, Americans are not."
If you want to express your opinion to MSNBC, Democrats.com has set up something here.
The F Stood For Franco
Ready To Lie From Day 1
Perhaps as you watch Hillary Clinton's dreams ripped to shreds, you've allowed yourself to feel a small measure of human sympathy for her. DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE. She still feels compelled to blatantly lie about everything important, as Robert Naiman explains here.
I have high hopes an Obama administration would put more effort into its lying, and produce the kind of higher-quality lies that we as Americans deserve.
February 27, 2008
What's So Funny About that? Part II
By: Bernard Chazelle
I had a dream. George Bush was driving a 2CV across a railroad track in 2001. His car stalled and the big freight train came barreling down the track... When the body was recovered from the wreckage and the rescuers tried to identify it, all they found was a piece of paper with a yellowish table on it, which had a single column of numbers entitled: January 20, 2001. At the bottom of the page these words were found: "Memo to myself: add a second column - GWB."
Everything Some Limited Amount Of Things!
Brent Budowsky gets a little over-excited at Consortium News about Obama reaching one million donors:
The Obama gang of one million in March will grow to two million by August. It will put to bed the cynicism of those who speak of unity, idealism and participation with sarcasm, derision and negativity. It will bring honor to those who give their time, energy and money to create the true power for lasting change.
One million donors: This gives Democrats the resources to initiate the largest voter-registration project in history.
The year that began with historic turnout in state after state will end with a historic transformation of the electorate itself that will lift Democrats at all levels and inspire independents in all states...
This democracy summer between March and August could raise more than a hundred million dollars of new money, register a million new voters and finance an unprecedented advertising campaign on the Internet and liberal radio to promote a second wave of new donors, voters and volunteers to get out the vote.
2008 is similar to the Solidarity movement that transformed Poland, which was in part about Lech Walesa but equally about the Solidarity workers and their supporters.
But while I wouldn't compare this to the fall of communism, it has some significance.
First, having many small donors does make Obama slightly less beholden than most candidates to America's Most Rich. Also, if he does become president, and if he is willing to mobilize this base without controlling it completely (two big ifs), it would change a lot of political calculations. As I.F. Stone and others used to say, people vote every four years, but money votes every day. Keeping a million people involved every day and "voting" would be nothing to sneeze at.
Second, the fact this changes anything indicates how deeply rotten U.S. politics is. There are about two hundred million American adults. In a healthy system, mobilizing 0.5% of them would have barely any effect. But because our corporate overlords depend on such a narrow base of $$$ and power, and use it to enact such incredibly unpopular policies, merely having a teeny-tiny number of regular folk peep up is disruptive.
So imagine if it were possible to mobilize MORE than one out of every two hundred adults, to do more than just send $50 to someone they saw on Oprah. Let's dream big and imagine one out of every fifty people, or four million. I don't think it's crazy to believe that could be done, nor that reaching such an achievable goal would go a long way to creating Change We Can Believe In (Even Though English Teachers Would Tell You It Should Be "Change In Which We Can Believe").
BUT HOW? I'm writing something about this now, and can't reveal all my tantalizing secrets.
February 26, 2008
Reality Vs. Fantasy
Nir Rosen, who can speak Arabic fluently and has been in Iraq walking the streets with the various Iraqi factions, has written a long, pessimistic article about Iraq's future:
There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.
"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."
Meanwhile, think tank denizen Anthony Cordesman, who (as far as I know) doesn't speak Arabic, and (as far as I can tell) has been on a whirlwind tour of US military bases, has a short optimistic article about our ability to win! win! win!
PREVIOUSLY: Here's how Cordesman analyzed Colin Powell's appearance at the UN:
Secretary Powell made a case that is likely to become steadily more convincing as experts read it over and interpret the details. It was not flashy or dramatic, but it involved a great deal of technical data that is new, and makes a strong case that UN inspection will not work and that Iraq's threat is more imminent than previously reported.
The content of the Powell speech is particularly impressive, given the fact that the US had to be extremely careful to avoid giving up key targeting data, revealing intelligence sources and methods, and giving Iraq advance notice of what UNMOVIC and the IAEA might go on to inspect.
New TomDispatch: Noam Chomsky On Death Of Moughniyeh
The Most Wanted List
By Noam Chomsky
On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. "The world is a better place without this man in it," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: "one way or the other he was brought to justice." Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been "responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden."
Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as "one of the U.S. and Israel's most wanted men" was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, "A militant wanted the world over," an accompanying story reported that he was "superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden" after 9/11 and so ranked only second among "the most wanted militants in the world."
The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines "the world" as the political class in Washington and London...
In the present case, if "the world" were extended to the world, we might find some other candidates for the honor of most hated arch-criminal. It is instructive to ask why this might be true.
February 25, 2008
Would you care to join me for some tea?
Oh, I'm sorry—did I forget to mention this is NAZI TEA?
This is, in fact, a real Nazi teacup. It was in some things of my late grandfather that my family recently sorted through.
As you can see, one side of the teacup has the initials F.K. with the date and location: Mons, 1940. My grandfather was in Mons, Belgium on Christmas, 1944 (see the second picture here), and must have gotten it then. The other side has the Nazi eagle and swastika.
But why would being in Mons in 1940 make the German army want to commission a batch of commemorative Nazi teacups?
Because Mons was where the final shot of World War I was fired.
And that's why I can offer you some delicious, virtual Nazi tea almost ninety years later here in February, 2008.
How We Got Here
The sole piece of criminal government activity that most textbooks treat is the series of related scandals called Watergate...In telling of Watergate, textbooks blame Richard Nixon, as they should. But they go no deeper. Faced with this undeniable instance of government wrongdoing, they manage to retain their uniformly rosy view of the government. In the representative words of The United States—A History of the Republic, "Although the Watergate crisis was a shock to the nation, it demonstrated the strength of the federal system of checks and balances. Congress and the Supreme Court had successfully check the power of the President when he appeared to be abusing that power."
As Richard Rubenstein pointed out, "the problem will not go away with the departure of Richard Nixon," because it is structural, stemming from the vastly increased powers of the federal executive bureaucracy. Indeed, in some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan-Bush administration, a web of secret legal and illegal acts involving the president, vice-president, cabinet members, special operatives such as Oliver North, and government officials in Israel, Iran, Brunei and elsewhere, shows an executive branch more out of control than Nixon's. Textbooks' failure to put Watergate into this perspective is part of their authors' apparent program to whitewash the federal government so that schoolchildren will respect it. Since the structural problem in the government has not gone away, it is likely that students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal foreign and domestic policies. To the extent that their understanding of the government comes from their American history courses, students will be shocked by these events and unprepared to think about them.
Wow, did he get that wrong.
The Million Year War: How Never to Withdraw from Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt
The Tightening Noose: Gaza under Hamas, Gaza under Siege
By Jen Marlowe
Visiting the Torture Museum: Barbarism Then and Now
By Karen J. Greenberg
February 24, 2008
Our Third World America
I've found when you talk to oil company types about the mideast that they barely recognize any possibility they're exploiting anyone. "Before we showed up," they'll say, "these countries weren't even doing anything with all that oil. And they could never have used it properly without us."
Whatever the moral merits of this perspective, it's always the case that third world countries fail to capture the value of their own resources. That's almost the definition of being third world. The important profits don't flow to the people on whose land the resources are found (who often get some low fixed price rather than a meaningful percentage), but to the companies from elsewhere which understand how to exploit the resource.
That makes perfect sense to us when it involves "American" oil companies operating in the mideast. I wonder how much sense it will make to us in the future?
SWEETWATER, Tex. — The wind turbines that recently went up on Louis Brooks’s ranch are twice as high as the Statue of Liberty, with blades that span as wide as the wingspan of a jumbo jet. More important from his point of view, he is paid $500 a month apiece to permit 78 of them on his land, with 76 more on the way...
Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power...Supporters say Texas is ideal for wind-power development, not just because it is windy. It also has sparsely populated land for wind farms, fast-growing cities and a friendly regulatory environment for developers...
“Texas could be a model for the entire nation,” said Patrick Woodson, a senior development executive with E.On, a German utility operating here.
Much of the boom in the United States is being driven by foreign power companies with experience developing wind projects, including Iberdrola of Spain, Energias de Portugal and Windkraft Nord of Germany. Foreign companies own two-thirds of the wind projects under construction in Texas.
It would be interesting to read really serious business journalism about where the money from wind power goes. Certainly as it's presented in this article, this phenomenon doesn't bode well.
Has Chelsea Ever Been Pulled Over by the White Police Because Her Dad Was the Black President?
By: Bernard Chazelle
Who Needs I.F. Stone When You Have MoDowdy?
By: Bernard Chazelle
(My "What's so funny about that?" series will resume after dinner because it could upset your stomach.)
Maureen Dowd brings a unique perspective to political punditry. You see, there is no problem for her that does not have a hormonal explanation. Her universe is crowded with wusses and bitches and the only job left is telling who is who. Hillary is a dominatrix and Obama is Obambi. Without Dowd --or MoDowdy as she would call herself if she ran for office-- you just wouldn't know. Today, MoDowdy tells us how
voters are drawn to the more feminine management style of her male rival.
That would be Obambi. Then she talks about voters eager to move to a soft-power sewing circle approach. Tapping into her inner Tom Friedman, she then writes:
Obama tapped into his inner chick and turned the other cheek.
Mr Keller, bring back the TimesSelect firewall. It's an order!
I.F. Stone, Grandfather Blurgger
Someone's setting up an official I.F. Stone website, though as you'll see if you go to the front door, there's officially nothing there yet.
My idea was to make the Weekly radical in viewpoint but conservative in format...I made no claim to inside stuff...I tried to give information which could be documented so the reader could check it for himself. I tried to dig the truth out of hearings, official transcripts and government documents, and to be as accurate as possible. I also sought to give the Weekly a personal flavor, to add humor, wit and good writing to the Weekly report. I felt that if one were able enough and had sufficient vision one could distill meaning, truth and even beauty from the swiftly flowing debris of the week's news. I sought in political reporting what Galsworthy in another context called "the significant trifle"—the bit of dialogue, the overlooked fact, the buried observation which illuminated the realities of the situation.
AND BLEH: Here's Christopher Hitchens in November, 2006 reviewing a Stone biography:
MacPherson makes the slightly glib assumption—as do the editors of the excellent companion volume, The Best of I. F. Stone—that, if he were around today, Izzy would be as staunchly anti-war and anti-Bush as she is. Having known him a bit, I am not so absolutely sure. That he would have found the president excruciating is a certainty. But he had a real horror of sadistic dictators, and would not have confused Slobodan Milošević or Saddam Hussein with the Vietcong...Nor would he have regarded the forces of al-Qaeda as misguided spokesmen of liberation theology...
Finally, I think he would have waited for some more documents to surface, and helped unearth them himself, before making any conclusive judgments about weapons programs or terror connections in Iraq.
That's some human pathos for you.
February 23, 2008
What's So Funny About That? Part I
By: Bernard Chazelle
I remember a story in the news when I lived in France that got me laughing hysterically.
Because there was absolutely nothing funny about it whatsoever, I knew then that I was just one mean bastard in training.
I can't find the story on the intertubes, but there was this guy with an old beat-up 2CV (that's a car - if you can call it that - see pic below). He attempted to cross a train track but his car stalled. Of course, a freight train was just waiting for this moment to happen and came barreling down the track, crashing into the poor 2CV. No one was hurt.
But that's not the funny part.The train derailed, plunged into a ravine, and emptied trillions of gallons of a dangerous chemical into a river, which then spread all across Southern France, killing fish, vegetation, and the livelihood of thousands. Cleaning up the mess cost hundreds of millions of (today's) dollars.
That's still not the funny part. No, the funny part is that the 2CV owner was a teacher. And teachers in France enjoy one privilege (actually exactly 1): they have their own insurance company and their premiums are absurdly low, like 25 cents a year. It's the fraction "hundreds of millions of dollars"/"0.25 dollars" that got me laughing. (When you're a math type, ratios can be hilarious.)
Recently, the teacher's heir in the Rube Goldberg catastrophe department, a middle rank trader for a big French bank, "lost" 7 billion dollars by trying too hard to become a top rank trader. Sarkozy briefly emerged from the embrace of his supermodel of a wife to say: "His boss is one the highest paid dudes in France, and he doesn't know shit what's going on in his bank. Can we fire that moron?" (That's how they speak in the Elysee palace now.)
That was funny, too. But not as funny as my next post. So stay tuned.
— Bernard Chazelle
Wog Nigger Gook Korean, Nicaraguan And Haitian Doesn't Value Life Like We Do
As we already know, it's okay for us to kill Africans, Iraqis and Vietnamese, since they don't care whether they live or die.
But what about Koreans? We engaged in massive bombing of North Korea cities during the Korean War, in the theory this would cause them to surrender. This turned out not to work. Why? The answer, as I.F. Stone explained in a review of Curtis LeMay's autobiography, is obvious:
LeMay [argues] that bombardment failed because of an "undying Oriental philosophy and fanaticism." He says, "Human attrition means nothing to such people," that their lives are so miserable on earth that they look forward with delight to a death which promises them "everything from tea parties with long dead grandfathers down to their pick of all the golden little dancing girls in Paradise."
As always, there was only one answer to this conundrum in Korea: we had to kill even more of them.
What about in this hemisphere? We've certainly beaten the crap out of lots of countries nearby, and it would be terrible to find out they valued human life like we do. Fortunately, as Greg Grandin points out in Empire's Workshop, this is not the case:
Colonel Robert Denig observed in his diary, "Life to [Nicaraguans] is cheap, murder in itself is nothing." When asked if he ever witnessed American brutality in Haiti, General Ivan Miller replied that "you have to remember that what we consider brutality among people in the United States is different from what they consider brutality."
You've got to admit, we have a great record at finding the people who don't care whether they live or die, and then killing them.
(Thanks to AT for telling me about Empire's Workshop.)
February 22, 2008
William Kristol's Deep Love For Kurdish People Today Is More Beautiful Than Ever
Earlier today Turkey, with the knowledge and approval of the United States, sent troops into northern Iraq.
William Kristol was adamant in his March, 2003 C-Span appearance that nothing like this would ever happen:
ELLSBERG: The Kurds have every reason to believe they will be betrayed again by the United States, as so often in the past. The spectacle of our inviting Turks into this war... could not have been reassuring to the Kurds...
KRISTOL: I'm against betraying the Kurds. Surely your point isn't that because we betrayed them in the past we should betray them this time?
ELLSBERG: Not that we should, just that we will.
KRISTOL: We will not. We will not.
How exactly did we get from Kristol's ringing declaration of principle in 2003 to today's grubby power politics? The road was paved by articles in magazines; for instance, this March, 2007 piece by Michael Rubin in the Weekly Standard. The editor of The Weekly Standard is William Kristol.
Kurdish television and newspapers are rife with incitements to unrest...
Just as Arafat transformed the Palestinian Authority into a safe haven for terrorists, so too does Barzani. His administration provides safe haven and supplies to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorists...
Turkish leaders rightly ask why Washington can cross borders to chase terrorists, but they should not...[W]hile Washington would not bless a Turkish operation to attack PKK camps in northern Iraq, it would understand one...
Iraqi Kurdish leaders continue to shelter the PKK. Whether their support is active or passive is irrelevant, for there are no acceptable levels of support for terror. Nor is it responsible to undercut the security of a long-term NATO ally like Turkey.
By my count, this is America's seventh betrayal of the Kurds since World War I.
February 21, 2008
Michael Bloomberg, Political Philosopher
Here's Michael Bloomberg today, appearing on NPR with Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, bringing the knowledge to America's non-billionaires:
NPR: One of the criticisms Mayor Fenty has gotten from parents since taking over the schools is that his decisions are being made from the top down, with not enough input from grassroots education reformers. What advice would you, Mayor Bloomberg, give to him—
BLOOMBERG: That's what mayoral control is about!
NPR: —based on mistakes and changes you've made with your own system over the years?
BLOOMBERG: I don't know of any—the last time we had an organization try to be run where everybody had a say, it was in Russia, it was called communism, and we all know how well that worked.
Exactly: if there's anything that was wrong with Stalinism as a political system, it's that it wasn't top-down enough. People would wander through the gulag, plaintively wondering why no one in society had the power to make important decisions.
If that's the type of rational, non-demagogic response to criticism you want in a president, you can catch the Unite for Mike fever here.
February 19, 2008
Rarities From The Lost Kristol Tapes
ANGRY WOMAN: Everybody keeps throwing up Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam. Well you know what? Vietnam has nothing to do with this. Saddam Hussein was given twelve years to disarm, and that's what this is all about. We need to stick to the main subject. He would not disarm, he would not disarm. When are you going to make him disarm? It's just like your child. You tell them next time you do that, next time you do that, next time you do that...well, then they start feeling like you never mean what you say!
This is exactly right: invading another country with the mindset that you are the parent and they are the child is a formula for massive success.
A while later, there's this caller:
ANGRY MAN: I think it should be pointed out that the real next Vietnam is in South America, not over in Iraq like a lot of the pseudo-intellectuals from over on the left would have us believe. Mr. Ellsberg, I was in Nam...I want you to know, sir, it was actually at a time when I was heavily self-medicating myself when I actually thought about executing you after the release of the papers.
And the reason why is because a lot of American kids died because of those papers. The morale that hit bottom in the service. The damage that it did to American psyche that resulted in marches spreading across Africa that resulted in famines and genocide that is still taking place here in the 21st century.
Uh huh. Well, if I were William Kristol and had been calling for war, having people like this on my side would certainly reassure me we were on the right track.
In any case, Kristol shows no reaction at all to the Ellsberg death threat. Not only does he not disavow it, he doesn't even acknowledge it.
OTHER CONFUSED MONKEY HOOTING: Here.
More From The Lost Kristol Tapes
Here's another section of Bill Kristol's March, 28, 2003 C-Span appearance I wasn't able to fit into my piece about it. This is at 1:39:35, after a caller asks what will happen if there are no WMD and we're not greeted as liberators:
KRISTOL: Look, I would be shocked if we don't find weapons of mass destruction. I think that's one of the main rationales for the war, and if we don't find them, we would have been wrong at least in arguing that he had them. We wouldn't have been wrong that he had had them, we wouldn't be wrong he was a threat to have them. I expect us to find them, and if we don't find them that would undercut, in part, the rationale for the war...I would agree that if after the war we aren't treated more or less as a liberating force...then that would also be a rebuke to the Bush administration and those of us who counseled that this war was just and necessary. I accept the possibility that I'm wrong. I hope and pray that I'm not...obviously that would be a great blow if Saddam has not been developing weapons of mass destruction.
February 18, 2008
Samwise The Strong
I was incorrect to refer to Samantha "Understand Frodo, I Would Use This Ring From a Desire To Do Good" Power.
Rather, her correct name is obviously Samantha "Samwise the Strong, Heroine Of The Age, Striding With A Flaming Sword Across The Darkened Land" Power.
She felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment her; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted her, gnawing at her will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in her mind; and she saw Samwise the Strong, Heroine of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to her call as she marched to the overthrow of ethnic cleansers and genocidaires. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at her command the vale of the 21st Century became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. She had only to put on the Ring and claim it for her own, and all this could be.
Torture Always Comes Home
REJALI: [T]orture does migrate, and there are some good examples of it both in American and French history. The basic idea here is that soldiers who get ahead torturing come back and take jobs as policemen, and private security, and they get ahead doing the same things they did in the army. And so torture comes home. Everyone knows waterboarding, but no one remembers that it was American soldiers coming back from the Philippines that introduced it to police in the early twentieth century. During the Philippine Insurgency in 1902, soldiers learned the old Spanish technique of using water tortures, and soon these same techniques appeared in police stations, especially throughout the South, as well as in military lockups during World War I. Likewise, the electrical techniques used in Vietnam appeared in the 1960s appeared in torturing African Americans on the south side of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, and, as I argue in the book, that wasn’t just an accident.
So torture always comes home. And the techniques of this war are likely to show up in a neighborhood near you.
February 17, 2008
Meanwhile, Back In Middle Earth
Samantha "Understand Frodo, I Would Use This Ring From a Desire To Do Good" Power is an adviser to Obama's presidential campaign. Here she is being interviewed by Salon:
SALON: You recently wrote in Time magazine that the U.S. needs to "rethink Iran." What did you mean?
POWER: We lunge between two extremes, neither of which is helpful. One is the Bush-Cheney saber rattling -- hyping of the threat, alienation of international stakeholders because of the sense that this is about ideology rather than about problem solving. In saber rattling we're ultimately strengthening Ahmadinejad's base, because the one thing that will unite Iranians -- whether secular, moderate, Islamic or nationalist -- is the idea that we're going to come and attack their country.
On the other hand, there are people who are so disgusted and disillusioned with the Bush years that they romanticize in some way this wily Iranian head of state instead of acknowledging that the Iranian government is by all accounts a supporter of terrorist acts, or that Ahmadinejad is a head of state who denies the occurrence of the Holocaust and has made no secret of his militant animosity toward Israel. My feeling is that we need something in between the extremes...
Uh, who specifically are these "people" who have "lunged" to this particular extreme? Could she name some politicians who've been romanticizing Ahmadinejad? One or two political writers? Who?
Power barely clings to the furthermost edge of the acceptable political spectrum in the United States, and even she is completely bonkers.
THE RING MUST BE DESTROYED.
Outtakes From The Lost Kristol Tapes
KRISTOL: I've thought ever since [the Gulf War in 1991] it would be great to liberate Iraq. I hoped we could do it peacefully, as many people did, we tried with sanctions and inspections and political pressure on Saddam. That ended up not working.
This is an interesting, impressive piece of honesty. According to the relevant UN resolutions, the goal of the sanctions and inspections was to disarm Iraq, not remove Saddam. But removing Saddam, disarmed or not, was America's goal, and so we wanted to use the sanctions to cause Iraq so much economic pain that Saddam would be overthrown in a coup. For that reason, the US repeatedly said that it would never allow the sanctions to be lifted as long as Saddam remained in power, international law be damned. (The inspections were also used as cover for spying to effectuate a coup.)
So Kristol, in a shocking and rare departure, was telling the truth. Later, during the 2004 presidential debate, George Bush would also be surprisingly honest:
Sanctions were not working. The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.
According to international law, the sanctions had worked. They had given Iraq the incentive to disarm. But according to America, the sanctions had not worked.
Of course, neither Kristol nor Bush will ever tell the whole truth: that Iraq's refusal to cooperate with inspections was due to the fact there was no point from their perspective. It wasn't because Saddam was "bluffing."
I Am Surrounded By Enemies
I see Josh Buermann has shamelessly plagiarized my recent piece about Bill Kristol's C-Span appearance with Daniel Ellsberg. Even worse is that, with his typical deviousness, he did so five years ago.
Just A Racket
This is from a Washington Post article about Marc Garlasco, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who now works for Human Rights Watch:
Sitting in a secure vault deep inside the Pentagon, Marc Garlasco cheered when the laser-guided bombs he had helped target slammed to Earth, striking Iraqi soil. As a body flew like a rag doll across the video screen, framed in a bright flash and a cloud of dust, Garlasco and his fellow intelligence analysts thought they had taken out one of the U.S. military's top targets during the early days of the Iraq war...he reveled in the April 2003 airstrike...
[Soon afterward] Garlasco left the Defense Intelligence Agency and traveled worldwide as a human rights activist seeking to determine the civilian toll of his previous work.
"I found myself standing at that crater, talking to a man about how his family was destroyed, how children were killed, and there was this bunny-rabbit toy covered in dust nearby, and it tore me in two," Garlasco said...It really dawned on me that these aren't just nameless, faceless targets. This is a place where people are going to feel ramifications for a long time."
Saul Alinsky studied the Capone crime organization while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. This is Alinsky's account of a conversation he had with Frank Nitti, who ran Capone's crime empire while Capone was in prison for tax evasion in the early 30s:
Once, when I was looking over their records, I noticed an item listing a $7,500 payment for an out-of-town killer. I called Nitti over and I said, "Look, Mr. Nitti, I don't understand this. You've got at least twenty killers on your payroll. Why waste that much money to bring somebody in from St. Louis?" Frank was really shocked by my ignorance. "Look, kid," he said patiently, "sometimes our guys might know the guy they're hitting, they may been to his house for dinner, taken his kids to the ball game, been the best man at his wedding, gotten drunk together. But you call in a guy from out of town, all you've got to do is tell him, 'Look, there's this guy in a dark coat on State and Randolph; our boy in the car will point him out; just go up and give him three in the belly and fade into the crowd.' So that's a job and he's a professional, he does it. But one of our boys goes up, the guy turns to face him and it's a friend, right away he knows that when he pulls the trigger there's gonna be a widow, kids without a father, funerals, weeping—Christ, it'd be a murder."
From Smedley Butler's 1933 speech "War is a Racket":
War is just a racket...There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.
It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service...I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism...
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
OR: We could go Inside the Monkeysphere
(Garlasco article via A Distant Ocean)
February 16, 2008
By: Bernard Chazelle
John Coltrane probably was, along with Art Tatum, the most virtuosic instrumentalist in jazz.
Furthermore, if the word spiritual has any meaning, then Coltrane was its purest musical embodiment.
He composed Alabama in 1963 just a few weeks after four black schoolgirls were killed in a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The terrorists had the right skin color so obviously there was no need for a "War on Terror."
It's mournful music. Very few notes. The opposite of virtuosic. It's modal. You play around the same chord, which gives it a very "determined" tone. And it's emotionally overpowering. It's both sad and hopeful, both confessional and majestic. And it's very humble.
No one has ever played the sax like Coltrane so you know what to expect. But every time I listen to that quartet I am totally blown away by the unbelievable playing of the other guys, especially Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on piano.
February 15, 2008
Our Dear Friends The Saudis
As you may recall, Tony Blair squelched a British investigation into allegations of massive bribery of Saudi royals by British aerospace giant BAE. Here's why:
Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.
Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.
Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.
He was accused in yesterday's high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.
Everyone in these circles is such good friends:
...for two decades, Bandar had built an intimate personal relationship with the Bush family that went far beyond a mere political friendship...Bandar and the elder Bush had participated in the shared rituals of manhood -- hunting trips, vacations together, and the like...
In charitable contributions alone, the Saudis gave at least $3.5 million to Bush charities -- $1 million by Prince Bandar to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum...and a $1 million painting from Prince Bandar to George W. Bush's White House.
A visit in the early nineties to the summer home of George H.W. Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine, earned the prince the affectionate family sobriquet "Bandar Bush."
I for one think it's disgusting when politicians cozy up to some of the world's biggest criminals. You have to wonder: what is Bandar thinking?
Recycling in Britain
By: Bernard Chazelle
Speaking of Bill Kristol, his mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, is a fine scholar whose contributions to mankind range from breeding psychopaths to writing books on, of all things, the "Enlightenment." Her "Roads to Modernity" so impressed the junior warriors across the pond that Gordon Brown himself, the prime minister of Britain, offered to write the introduction. Being that kind of man, of course, he gave it a personal touch:
Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his Wealth of Nations was underpinned by his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Gordon Brown is a prolific writer. A few years earlier, he wrote the forward to a brilliant study of Adam Smith by Iain McLean. Being that kind of man, of course, he gave it a personal touch:
Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his Wealth of Nations was underpinned by his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
In 2005, Gordon Brown delivered a fine speech at Chatham House for the Hugo Young memorial lecture. Being that kind of man, of course, he gave it a personal touch:
Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his Wealth of Nations was underpinned by his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
What's the man trying to tell us? He's saying greed is good. But morality sounds so much better when you give it a geographical twist and you don't forget to recycle.
Source: The Times Literary Supplement 2/8/2008
— Bernard Chazelle
February 14, 2008
Don't Even Think About It
By: Bernard Chazelle
Don't even think about reading any further if you haven't read Jon's previous post about Kristol.
It is an absolute must-read. Although I will write here about his lexical cousin, Kristof, I want to preface this by saying that there's a world of difference between the two. I have been on Kristof's case for a long time because I believe he is an essentially decent man who often gets it wrong. Kristol is the sort of human detritus that gives our species a bad name.
Kristof's column today, about a cameraman who's being force-fed twice a day by people whose salaries you and I pay, is required reading, too. If you have the stomach for it.
About Gitmo, Kristof has this to say:
Most Americans, including myself, originally gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the inmates truly were “the worst of the worst.” But evidence has grown that many are simply the unluckiest of the unluckiest.
I commend Kristof for his honesty. But I also charge him with professional misconduct. Kristof is not just like "Most Americans." He is a columnist for the Times. His job is to be to power what a prosecutor is to criminals. Have you ever heard of a prosecutor giving a defendant the benefit of the doubt in a capital case. A journalist's first obligation is never to give a president the benefit of the doubt. It has nothing to do with Bush. It could be George Washington or FDR. Distrust of power must the default position of a journalist.
The Lost Kristol Tapes
Back in April, 2003 a friend of mine told me that, just after the war began, he'd seen William Kristol appear with Daniel Ellsberg on C-Span. He said Ellsberg had brought up the U.S. support for the 1963 and 1968 coups that brought Saddam Hussein to power, and Kristol appeared genuinely not to know about it.
Since then I've been trying to track the show down. There weren't any transcripts and it didn't seem to be in the C-Span archives. Only recently was I able to locate it, thanks to Kenneth Osgood of Florida Atlantic University, who pointed me to a dusty little corner of the C-Span store.
While watching it, I realized Kristol had performed at a superhuman level. At normal times he is, of course, one of the wrongest people on earth. Yet I'd never seen him be wrong quite like this. So I wrote a long, long piece about it. It's one of my favorite things I've ever done about politics, so I hope you have a chance to check it out and then come back here to comment.
The Lost Kristol Tapes
What the New York Times Bought
By Jonathan Schwarz
Imagine that there were a Beatles record only a few people knew existed. And imagine you got the chance to listen to it, and as you did, your excitement grew, note by note. You realized it wasn't merely as good as Rubber Soul, or Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper's. It was much, much better. And now, imagine how badly you'd want to tell other Beatles fans all about it.
That's how I feel for my fellow William Kristol fans. You loved it when Bill said invading Iraq was going to have "terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East"? You have the original recording of him explaining the war would make us "respected around the world" and his classic statement that there's "almost no evidence" of Iraq experiencing Sunni-Shia conflict? Well, I've got something that will blow your mind!
I'm talking about Kristol's two-hour appearance on C-Span's Washington Journal on March 28, 2003, just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq. No one remembers it today. You can't even fish it out of LexisNexis. It's not there. Yet it's a masterpiece, a double album of smarm, horrifying ignorance, and bald-faced deceit. While you've heard him play those instruments before, he never again reached such heights. It's a performance for the history books -- particularly that chapter about how the American Empire collapsed.
So, sit back, relax, and let me play a little of it for you.
(The C-Span page tells you how many times the segment's been watched. When I first checked, the number was one. By this time yesterday, it had risen to four. All three additional viewing were me.)
The Iron Law Of Institutions, In Iranian History
From a logical point of view, anyone who sets out to create a Great Civilization ought to begin with people, with training cadres of experts in order to form a native intelligentsia. But it was precisely that kind of thinking that was unacceptable. Open new universities and polytechnics, every one a hornets’ nest, every student a rebel, a good-for-nothing, a freethinker? Is it any wonder the Shah didn’t want to braid the whip that would flay his own skin?
It's the Iran Law of Institutions! (Sorry.)
Eatbees argues the Shah's actions "backfired": "Modernization benefiting only the elite caused widespread resentment, leading directly to the Iranian Revolution." I'm not sure of this, however. The Shah may well have believed the "Great Civilization" project consolidated his power in the present, even if it undermined it several years down the road. From any leader's perspective, this is preferable to something that undermines your position immediately. Your choice is usually not between something that consolidates your power forever and something that does not. It's between something that helps your position in the short term, and something that undermines it in the short term.
This is why it's a mistake to think that leaders, particularly autocrats, ever have some sort of grand strategy. Generally their only strategy is "try not to get shot before dinner tonight."
February 13, 2008
Uncontrollable Psychological Reasons
So Imad Moughniyah is dead:
Hezbollah leader Imad Moughniyah, on the United States' most wanted list for attacks on Israeli and Western targets, was killed by a bomb in Damascus, the Lebanese group said on Wednesday...
He was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks in Beirut, which killed over 350 people, as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
As it happens, one of my favorite things ever written by anyone anywhere was about Moughniyah. This is from a 2001 article about him by Kenneth Zimmerman in the Washington Times:
Imad Fayez Mugniyeh [is] a Lebanese Shiite long considered one of the world's most ruthless and elusive killers...
Once the Palestinians were kicked out of Lebanon in 1983, Mugniyeh and his two brothers, Fuad and Jihad, joined a new organization set up by Iran called Hezbollah (Party of God). Its goal was to drive the Western powers out of Lebanon...
Intelligence officials believe Mugniyeh is seeking personal vengeance on the United States and Israel for the deaths of his brothers, which explains in part his willingness to lend his expertise to operations organized by other groups. Mugniyeh's brothers were killed in retaliatory attacks in Lebanon believed to have been carried out by Israeli and U.S. operatives.
"Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mugniyeh," an Israeli-intelligence officer told Jane's Foreign Report recently. "The guy is a genius, someone who refined the art of terrorism to its utmost level. We studied him and reached the conclusion that he is a clinical psychopath motivated by uncontrollable psychological reasons, which we have given up trying to understand. The killing of his two brothers by the Americans only inflamed his strong motivation."
Wait...you're telling me that a young man, when his country was invaded by foreigners, got angry? And then when they killed his brothers, he became even madder? And he wanted revenge on the people who'd done it?
Well, we'll put our best scientific minds to work on it, but I don't think we have any hope of understanding this bizarre freak of nature. He's simply too far outside human norms for us ever to comprehend.
February 12, 2008
Asia's Hidden Arms Race
Six Countries Talk Peace While Preparing for War
By John Feffer
Read all about it! Diplomats remain upbeat about solving the nuclear stand-off with North Korea; optimists envision a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted, but failed to formally end, the Korean War 55 years ago. Some leaders and scholars are even urging the transformation of the Six Party Talks over the Korean nuclear issue, involving the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and the two Koreas, into a permanent peace structure in Northeast Asia.
The countries in the region all seem determined to make nice right now...
Despite all this peace-talk, something else, quite momentous and hardly noticed, is underway in the region. The real money in Northeast Asia is going elsewhere. While in the news sunshine prevails, in the shadows an already massive regional arms race is threatening to shift into overdrive. Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, five of the six countries involved in the Six Party Talks have increased their military spending by 50% or more. The sixth, Japan, has maintained a steady, if sizeable military budget while nonetheless aspiring to keep pace. Every country in the region is now eagerly investing staggering amounts of money in new weapons systems and new offensive capabilities.
The arms race in Northeast Asia undercuts all talk of peace in the region. It also sustains a growing global military-industrial complex. Northeast Asia is where four of the world's largest militaries -- those of the United States, China, Russia, and Japan -- confront each other. Together, the countries participating in the Six Party Talks account for approximately 65% of world military expenditures, with the United States responsible for roughly half the global total.
Why We Fight
By: Bernard Chazelle
I try not to make it a habit to quote David Brooks but sometimes his wisdom is too un-unquotable to resist.
He explains to us why we ain't leaving Iraq any time soon. He is 100% correct. He prioritizes the reasons as follows:
There would be private but powerful opposition from Arab leaders... There would be irate opposition from important sections of the military... There would be important criticism from nonpartisan military experts.
Not to mention the pizza deliverers who cater for think tanks (I hate it when Times columnists forget pizza deliverers. Unintentional? Yeah, right...)
Look Brooks, I understand as well as the next guy that the No1 reason we're there is to please Arab dictators. Fine. I get it. Then we need to please the generals. You've heard the expression "going postal." Well, when generals have no wars to fight, they "go general" and that's ugly. Then, of course, we need to satisfy the needs of the experts who advise the generals before they go general. (And then the pizza deliverers...)
Brooks should take his logic to the next step. We need drunk drivers to serve the needs of ER doctors. We need criminals to give lawyers something to do. We need children to satisfy pedophiles and women to keep rapists in business. We need large urban centers to make Shock & Awe possible. We need the New York Times to showcase the twisted minds of its columnists.
Wherefore Art Thou Stupid?
When I joined the Irgun at age 15...I worked at the office of an Oxford-educated lawyer. One of our clients was a high British official of the Mandate government. He was an intelligent, pleasant, and humorous person. I remember once, when he passed by, a thought crossing my mind: How can such intelligent people conduct such a foolish policy?
Since then, the more I have become engrossed in other insurgencies, the stronger this wonderment has become. Is it possible that the very situation of occupation and resistance condemns the occupiers to stupid behavior, turning even the most intelligent into idiots?
February 11, 2008
Change We Can Believe In
Yurgh, more empty Obamamania:
The adoring women and men who flock to his speeches talk less about what he has accomplished than what they are convinced he is capable of doing...
''I think he has the potential, I really do,'' said Jennifer Ballard, a graduate student. ''Given the opportunity, he would make many changes. He hasn't really been given the opportunity yet. I don't think he's had the ability to do what he'd like to do, and that young people like me would like to see him do.''
Except that's actually a slightly reworked passage from a 1999 New York Times article about Hillary Clinton:
The adoring women -- and men -- who flock to her speeches talk less about what she has accomplished than what they are convinced she is capable of doing.
''I think she has the potential, I really do,'' said Jennifer Ballard, a graduate student. ''Given the opportunity, she would make many changes. She hasn't really been given the opportunity yet. I don't think she's had the ability to do what she'd like to do, and that young women like me would like to see her do.''
New Iran Video
Just Foreign Policy has produced an excellent new video about the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, featuring (among others) Stephen Kinzer. They've also organized a nationwide tour during February and March on U.S. policy toward Iran. Unlike most U.S. discussion of Iran, it features people who actually know what they're talking about (again, including Stephen Kinzer).
February 10, 2008
Here's the end of Barthelme's story "The Policemen's Ball":
The horrors waited outside patiently. Even policemen, the horrors thought. We get even policemen, in the end.
In Horace's apartment, a gold frill was placed on a pearl toe.
The horrors had moved outside Horace's apartment. Not even policemen and their ladies are safe, the horrors thought. No one is safe. Safety does not exist. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Thanks to lurking gnome for pointing out this useful Washington Post article. It's about academic research into how power makes you stupid:
[N]ew research in political science and psychology has provided a novel explanation for why leaders and managers regularly let their followers down and resort to the kind of "layoffs and pay cuts are good for you" talk that defines absurdity. These studies show that leaders often emerge from communities not because they are ruthless, but because they are skilled at managing social relationships.
Something happens to people once they acquire power, however, and the transformation appears to be psychological...[V]olunteers made to feel powerful, even in a trivial laboratory experiment, almost instantly lose the ability to see things from other people's points of view...
[P]ower exacerbates many cognitive biases. People who lack power turn out to be more accurate in guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Because subordinates are also hesitant to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, the problem gets worse, with powerful people having even less input and perspective about how others think and feel...
Not having power forces you to see things from other people's points of view and increases empathy and social behavior. Having power allows you to ignore other points of view -- depriving you of the social skills that led to power in the first place. When powerful people such as Musharraf say and do things that are absurd, in other words, it could be that they are simply unaware of how they appear to others.
We're talking to you, Saddam Hussein:
The growth of a culture of lying to superiors hurt policymaking...Lying to superiors was driven by fear of the Regime and the inability to achieve results as resources deteriorated under sanctions in the first half of the 1990s. Lack of structural checks and balances allowed false information to affect Iraqi decision making with disastrous effects. Saddam knew his subordinates had a tendency to lie, but his earlier efforts to check their claims by “ground-truthing” them through personal tours of inspection decreased by 1998 as he became more reclusive.
And yet, as incredibly stupid as Saddam was, he was nowhere near as stupid as the people who run America. That's because Saddam had to deal with a power greater than himself—the United States—while the elite of the U.S. does not.
Here's a Saddam speech from June, 2000. Except for the part about the "advocates of Satan," it's a far more accurate description of US policy in the mideast than anything you'd ever read in the US media:
Why did Iraq have to face all the things that it faced? The answer: Because the enemies of humanity, people, and God, and the advocates of Satan, understood that Iraq regained its free will and that it can go as far as it wants and as allowed by God Almighty. Therefore, they imposed what they did against us. When we used to say this at the early stages, some people, including some sincere Iraqi nationalists, were saying that we may be exaggerating when we say that they were lying in wait to act against us, regardless of all the excuses they fabricated. But after the embargo and the fighting that lasted 10 years, this became clear. They used to say that the UN Security Council was deciding. But in fact, the UN Security Council became a cover for the United States that it uses when it wants to conceal its unilateral will. When it wants to act unilaterally, it will act unilaterally...
We made this argument in February 1990 during the Amman summit. We analyzed the situation then and said the United States will fabricate certain cases now that it thinks it reached the summit. We said the first target will be the Arabs, and the first among the Arabs will be those in our region, the Arabian Gulf region, because there is more oil here than any other place. We said that then, and some people were surprised by what they read then.
Arthur Silber On Politics And Art
I'm very happy to see Arthur is back, with an appreciation of pianist Leon Fleisher that also wisely examines the intersection of politics and art.
February 09, 2008
All Is Not Lost
By: Bernard Chazelle
People are losing their homes, their jobs, and the few economists who don't shill for Wall Street remind us that not only the worst is yet to come but happy days won't be back for a very long long time.
And when they finally come back, the only computer terminals available in America will have 20,000 Mandarin keys.
Time to jump out the window?
Not yet. Take comfort, Exxon is reporting a $40.6 billion profit (that's billion with a b, and that's profit, not revenue).
The difference between revenue and profit is simple. Revenue is how much poorer you get.
Profit is how much fatter he gets.
Let The Brutal Disillusionment Begin!
On CNN yesterday, Colin Powell clearly hinted he may endorse Obama:
I am watching this race with the greatest of interest, and I know all of the leading candidates...
And I will ultimately vote for the person I believe brings to the American people the kind of vision the American people want to see for the next four years. A vision that reaches out to the rest of the world, that starts to restore confidence in America, that starts to restore favorable ratings to America.
Frankly, we've lost a lot in recent years. I am going to be looking for the candidate that seems to me to be leading a party that is fully in sync with the candidate, and a party that will also reflect America's goodness and America's vision...
I am a Republican, but I am keeping my options open at the moment.
Recall that Obama has met with Powell twice to benefit from his advice.
Before now, I'd been concerned Obama didn't have enough close supporters who are world class war criminals. But a Powell endorsement would certainly take care of my doubts in this area.
Dean Baker On The Real News
Contribute to the Real News here.
Dean Baker of Beat the Press appeared recently on the Real News to discuss the best stimulus package for the US economy. The content's interesting, though the segment's mise en scene is a little...unusual.
February 08, 2008
Earl Butz, RIP NSFW
Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture for Nixon and Ford, recently died.
This reminds me of a joke!
...however, it is NSFW. All I will tell you up here is that it's of my favorite genre: pointing out that whenever someone says "What you have to understand about the ______s is that they're all _______," the description always applies to everyone everywhere.
Here's the joke, which will someday be performed in public:
Earl Butz got fired from his job as Secretary of Agriculture for saying, "The only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit."
I heard this and I thought, Wait a second...am I colored? Because...that's pretty much the only thing I'm looking for in life.
...although, to be honest, I don't really care that much about the "shoes" part.
[pause to consider]
Perhaps it's the shoes difference that makes me part of the master race!
February 07, 2008
Yes We Can
Hillary Clinton is meaner and tougher and that in some ways seems preferable to Obama’s naïve calls for bipartisanship. Also, you know from the get-go what Hillary is all about. Hence, it’s possible to skip the phases of betrayal and disillusionment and go straight to opposition...
It was a creed written into the founding DNA of a politics designed by billionaires.
Yes we can.
It was whispered by red-faced, round-shouldered, self-hating Lockheed lobbyists who knew no matter who lost the election, they would win.
Yes we can.
It was sung by hedge fund CEOs, eating organic, cruelty-free sashimi on their Gulfstream G550 to Singapore, smiling as they realized their good-hearted Brattleboro librarian opponents had abso-fucking-lutely no idea what they're up against.
Yes we can.
We have been told we cannot do this, by a chorus of gentle graphic designers forwarding that video to all 78 of their Facebook friends. We've been told we cannot betray 20 year-old daughters of corporate lawyers, who want to vote in a way that finally lets them live in Scarsdale and feel good about themselves. We've been told we can't create a system in which someone who began as a decent human being must be utterly broken and perverted by his burning lust to climb to the top of the slipperiest pole on earth.
Yes we can.
Now the hopes of the Viacom executive who used to be in an indie band are the same as the gay investment banker who paints still-lifes as a hobby, the same as the dreams of the Brown Literature Professor who's secretly furious when her Salvadoran maid doesn't clean the bathroom properly. We will remember that there are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians; there are no Arabs; there is no West. There is only one holistic, vast, interwoven, interacting, multivaried, multinational dominion of money. We will begin the next great chapter of human submission with three words that will ring across the universe:
YES WE CAN.
A New Moment?
The Grassroots and the Party, 1964 and 2008
By Laura Flanders
The swirl of the primary season is intoxicating and the media love it. If the ratings records set by the recent political debates are any indication, the ongoing primary battle may yet save cable TV. "Super Tuesday" -- the night that was supposed to wrap everything up -- didn't (for either party). Clearly, this extended nomination contest is getting people excited, but will that excitement translate into substantive change -- for Democrats in particular? The past offers some hard-knocks lessons worth thinking about...
The chance to be seen and heard in more than just a handful of quirky early-primary states has already made a striking difference for the Illinois Senator, who was the clear underdog when he entered the race. "What was a whisper has turned into a chorus," Obama told his hometown crowd in Chicago on Tuesday night.
But a whisper, many would like to know, of what? For more than thirty years, Democratic voters like those pouring out of their homes to get involved this primary season have doggedly trooped to their polling places with no expectation of having an actual impact...
For Democratic base-dwellers, in normal times there was only one party season when anyone wanted to hear from them -- this one. Primaries are the one period in the election cycle when contenders suddenly seek to curry favor with the Party's most activist -- and progressive -- part. That's one reason a primary season this long is significant; but, for those voters, will it make any difference at the level of policy? The most positive answer is perhaps.
Bruce Fein On FISA On The Real News
Donate to the Real News here.
Knowing And Not Knowing
Here's Albert Speer writing in his memoir, Inside the Third Reich:
[W]hen a man's position rises, his isolation increases and he is therefore more sheltered from harsh reality...But in the final analysis I myself determined the degree of my isolation, the extremity of my evasions, and the extent of my ignorance...
Whether I knew or did not know, or how much or how little I knew, is totally unimportant when I consider what horrors I ought to have known about and what conclusions would have been natural ones to draw from the little I did know. Those who ask me are fundamentally expecting me to offer justifications. But I have none. No apologies are possible.
The same must be said about myself and this website.
February 06, 2008
What Sexy Sadie Did
crossposted from Hey Dullblog
"Which one of you geniuses," Ed emailed this morning, "is on the Maharishi beat?" As the least-employed member of our merry band, I guess that's me (Mike). I admit to having a real fondness for The Giggling One, and not just because I spent yesterday afternoon at a Mindfulness Meditation workshop at my local public library. (Me and 99 senior citizens.) As cartoonish as his public persona could be, it's undeniable that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi helped change Western culture, largely for the better. And it's equally undeniable that every Beatles fan--and especially every fan of John Lennon--should spare a smile for his soul or whatever's just left us, wherever it's whizzing off to.
Whether it was the meditation, clean living, or just the peace and quiet, The Beatles' time in Rishikesh resulted in an explosion of creativity. And I'm not talking about the "everybody dropped acid and spray-painted George's garage" kind of creativity, but actual songs, the best of which equal any the group wrote. Lennon especially benefited from this--he mined this three-month period for years, not only filling the White Album with stuff written in India, but also parts of Abbey Road and even Imagine.
So TM was good for The Beatles, and not just from a songwriting standpoint. Going to India was the last gasp of the group's legendary unanimity. (Mick Jagger used to refer to them jealously as "the four-headed monster.") This quality had always been The Fabs' secret weapon, but by late 1967, it was subtly, silently on the wane. Trooping off to Rishikesh probably delayed their eventual split by a handful of essential months, perhaps the time it took to make Abbey Road. The Beatles went to India in February '68 and returned in May--by February '69, the group was practically defunct. As went Lennon, so went The Beatles; in Rishikesh, Lennon was a "Child of Nature," but as soon as he returned to the West he became a "Jealous Guy."
Which leads me to the second reason to spare a prayer for the Maharishi, which is the Maharishi's effect on John Lennon. We all know how it ended--accusations, "Sexy Sadie," and Lennon playing the role of the betrayed child, as he did periodically throughout his life. But all that aside, I think The Beatles' time interacting with the Maharishi (roughly August 1967 to May 1968) might've saved John Lennon's life.
For all his protestations about being "a performing flea," Lennon's reaction to the end of The Beatles' touring days was confusion bordering on despair. In the year prior to the trip to India, Lennon wrote only when prodded into action by the ceaseless productivity of McCartney. The rest of the time he spent lolling in an hallucinogenic haze in the sunroom at Kenwood. When he was lucid, which appears to be not very often, Lennon felt a deep dissatisfaction with the life he'd created; as long as his real life was filled with the glamor, stimulation, and ceaseless work of being a Beatle, Lennon could tolerate occasional visits with his wife and child in the suburbs. Now that equilibrium was shattered, and he was miserable.
Part of this is as common as dirt--lots of people who get married young find the choice doesn't fit as they get older. But Lennon was facing an even tougher problem: what to do for the next fifty years. Anything was bound to pale next to being a Beatle, and being a has-been prickled Lennon as a particularly hot kind of Hell. In '67, he wasn't looking at a limitless future, but a slow slide to the grave, perhaps in the ever-growing shadow of McCartney. The drugs made the days seep away, but until Lennon figured out what to do next, he was in a precarious position. Then, in August of '67, Brian Epstein died.
The precise nature of their relationship is unknowable, but it's reasonable to assume that Brian's role in Lennon's life had paternal elements; he was a protector and provider (their weekly "green" came from him), as well as Lennon's biggest, truest fan. Leaving aside for a second the sexual undertones between the two men, Brian Epstein probably satisfied some of Lennon's longings for the father he never had. His sudden death had to be a ghastly echo of Julia's, the central crack in Lennon's psyche. In the wake of Brian's death, Lennon desperately needed all the calmness and perspective he could muster.
The loss of one of Lennon's primary emotional supports--much more essential, it seems, than either his wife Cyn or his co-worker/competitor Paul--was devastating. I don't think Lennon ever really got over it; ceding his business affairs to Yoko was probably an attempt to recreate the earlier relationship. This sudden loss, added to McCartney's growing confidence, Lennon's lack of a vision for the group, and his appetite for harder and harder drugs, makes me think it's not at all unlikely that, without the Maharishi, John Lennon would've been the first of the great rock star casualties, clearing the way for Janis, Jimi, and Jim in death, as he'd done in fame.
Lennon never truly worked out his problems, backing away just as real change was required, but his six-month interlude with TM kept him hanging on through a very dangerous period. As soon as he returned to England, Lennon's destructive behavior resumed; while this eventually destroyed the group, his relationship with Yoko kept him out of the grave. For all his good qualities, Lennon needed a surrogate parent to withstand the buffeting of the world; and for all his eccentricities, the Maharishi played this role at a crucial time, in a very benign way. Lennon eventually rejected him, but that's not really the Maharishi's fault; Lennon was driven to enact a pattern of conversion, obsession, and disillusionment for as long as he lived.
John Lennon always needed two things: something to do, and something to fight. The Maharishi provided the first, but could not provide the second. But the Giggling One kept him alive until Yoko could give him both. For that I thank him, and wish him a cozy little corner of the Cosmos.
Charles Lewis On Our Horrible, Horrible Political System
Charles Kaiser speaks with Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity about how everyone sucks who isn't named Charles. They also touch on the problems with our political system, which apparently are quite severe.
CHARLES K.: Did you see that thing about the 435 days of missing White House e-mails?
CHARLES L.: I've been astonished by the lack of coverage about this. The New York Times really needs to go into this. I said this to Tom Blanton, who runs the National Security Archive, a nonprofit at George Washington University. Blanton brought the court action about this. His center is the biggest single requester of Freedom of Information records in America today, and has been for years. I bumped into Tom Blanton the other day and I said, "Tom, this is unbelievable!" And he said, "It sure is." I said it reminds me of the 18.5-minute gap in the Watergate tape. And he looked at me and said, "Oh, no, this is much much worse: These are millions of White House e-mails. It is technically against the law to destroy these records. And of course the White House is saying it did not deliberately destroy them. This story should be the lead on the evening news."
CHARLES K.: And it probably hasn't been on the evening news at all.
CHARLES L.: No.
February 05, 2008
I recently went out and voted against Hillary Clinton with all of my might. If she somehow defies me and manages to become president, I hope she'll at least have the honesty and grace to spend every day in office literally covered in human blood.
Anyway, who cares? Far more interesting than the elections is Hey Dullblog, a cleverly-named new group blurrrd focused on the Beatles. One of the five founding blurrrders is Mike, and I recommend you check it out.
February 04, 2008
Lie After Lie: What Exactly Colin Powell Knew Five Years Ago Today, And What He Told The World
(For a round up of blog posts on the Powell anniversary, see here.)
Colin Powell made his Iraq presentation at the UN five years ago, on February 5, 2003.
As much criticism as Powell has received for this—he calls it "painful" and something that will "always be a part of my record"—it hasn't been close to what's justified. Powell was far more than just horribly mistaken: the evidence is conclusive that he fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false.
Unfortunately, Congress has never investigated Powell's use of the intelligence he was given. Even so, what's already in the public record is extremely damning. So while the corporate media has never taken a close look at this record, we can go through Powell's presentation line by line to demonstrate the chasm between what he knew, and what he told the world. As you'll see, there's quite a lot to say about it.
Powell's speech can be found on the State Department website here. All other sources are linked below.
PUBLIC CERTAINTY, PRIVATE DOUBT
On that February 5 in front of the UN Security Council, was Colin Powell certain what he was saying was accurate? He certainly was:
POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.
Later, regarding whether Iraq had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program, he said:
POWELL: [T]here is no doubt in my mind...
That's in public. What about in private? According to Larry Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, here's what Powell was thinking at the time:
WILKERSON: [Powell] had walked into my office musing and he said words to the effect of, I wonder how we'll all feel if we put half a million troops in Iraq and march from one end of the country to the other and find nothing.
This is some of what Powell said about the infamous aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq, supposedly meant for their covert nuclear weapons program:
POWELL: [I]t strikes me as quite odd that these [aluminum] tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets. Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so.
Powell's own intelligence staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), prepared two memos commenting on drafts of the presentation. They were later quietly released as appendices to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on WMD intelligence.
The second INR memo, written on February 3, 2003, told Powell this:
Our key remaining concern is the claim that the tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that "far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets." In fact, the most comparable US system is a tactical rocket--the US Mark 66 air-launched 70mm rocket--that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances. Note that the Mk 66 specifications are unclassified, and the Department is planning to share them with the IAEA.
Powell played an intercept of a conversation between Iraqi army officers about the UN inspections. However, when he translated what they were saying, he knowingly embellished it, turning it from evidence Iraq was complying with U.N. resolutions to evidence Iraq was violating them. This appears in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack:
[Powell] had decided to add his personal interpretation of the intercepts to the rehearsed script, taking them substantially further and casting them in the most negative light...Concerning the intercept about inspecting for the possibility of "forbidden ammo," Powell took the interpretation further: "Clean out all of the areas... Make sure there is nothing there." None of this was in the intercept.
Here's the conversation as Powell presented it at the UN. As Woodward reported, the underlined sentences were simply added by Powell:
POWELL: "They're inspecting the ammunition you have, yes.''
"For the possibility there are forbidden ammo."
"For the possibility there is by chance forbidden ammo?''
"And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.''
Powell then explained:
This is all part of a system of hiding things and moving things out of the way and making sure they have left nothing behind.
"And we sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas."
And it's no surprise the Iraqi said this. Here's what the Duelfer report found about what was going on within the Iraqi government just before the January 30th intercepted conversation:
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.
Again: Powell took evidence of the Iraqis doing what they were supposed to do—i.e., searching their gigantic ammunition dumps to make sure they weren't accidentally holding onto banned chemical weapons—and doctored it to make it look as if Iraq were hiding banned weapons.
Since the State Department was questioned about this by journalist Gilbert Cranberg, the translation at variance with Powell's version has disappeared from its site. It's now available only via archive.org.
DECEPTION BY OMISSION
Powell's presentation left out extremely important information, as here:
POWELL: Iraq's record on chemical weapons is replete with lies. It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons.
The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein's late son-in-law.
As far as this went, this was accurate. However, Kamel, the head of Iraq's WMD programs, defected in 1995. Iraq had produced this VX before the Gulf War, in 1991—and according to Kamel, Iraq had secretly destroyed it soon after the war. Then they lied about ever producing it (until his defection). But according to Kamel, they weren't lying when they said they no longer had it.
Indeed, in the UN's notes from Kamel's debriefing, he says Iraq had no remaining WMD of any kind:
KAMEL: All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons -- biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed.
And if that weren't enough, Kamel also said this in an interview on CNN:
SADLER: Can you state here and now -- does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?
KAMEL: No. Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.
But in 1996 Kamel returned to Iraq, where he was killed by Saddam's regime. Thus the U.S. could safely take a witness who truthfully had said Iraq had no remaining banned weapons, and pretend his testimony indicated the exact opposite.
Did Powell know what he was doing at the time? It's unclear. Here's a transcript of an exchange between Powell and Sam Husseini in Washington in December, 2006, with video below:
HUSSEINI: You cited Hussein Kamel in your U.N. testimony. Did you know he said there were no WMDs?
POWELL: I only knew what the intelligence community told me.
HUSSEINI: But did you know that fact?
POWELL: Of course not!
HUSSEINI: You didn't know that, even though it was reported?
POWELL: I've answered your question!
As you can see in the video, Powell was not happy to explore this line of questioning. (He's also never shown any inclination to find out who purportedly steered him wrong; when asked by Barbara Walters asked who was responsible for the mistakes in the overall presentation, Powell stated "I don't have the names.")
As mentioned above, the State Department's intelligence staff, called the INR, prepared two memos on the presentation. They directly contradicted Powell on the aluminum tubes issue, but also warned him many of his claims were "weak," "not credible" or "highly questionable." Here are some (amazingly enough, not all) of the examples the memos give.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: We know that Saddam's son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam's numerous palace complexes.
The first INR memo, from January 29, 2003, flagged this claim as "WEAK":
second bullet. WEAK. Qusay order to remove prohibited items from palaces.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: [K]ey files from military and scientific establishments have been placed in cars that are being driven around the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection.
last bullet. WEAK. Sensitive files being driven around in cars, in apparent shell game. Plausibility open to question.
This claim was again flagged in the second INR memo, from February 3, 2003:
Page 4, last bullet, re key files being driven around in cars to avoid inspectors. This claim is highly questionable and promises to be targeted by critics and possibly UN inspection officials as well.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: [W]e know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing [sic] rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq.
last bullet. WEAK. Missiles with biological warheads reportedly dispersed. This would be somewhat true in terms of short-range missiles with conventional warheads, but is questionable in terms of longer-range missiles or biological warheads.
Page 5. first para, claim re missile brigade dispersing rocket launchers and BW warheads. This claim too is highly questionable and might be subjected to criticism by UN inspection officials.
At the UN, Powell described a satellite picture this way:
The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions...
The truck you [...] see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.
***/WEAK. We support much of this discussion, but we note that decontamination vehicles--cited several times in the text--are water trucks that can have legitimate uses...
...Iraq has given UNMOVIC what may be a plausible account for this activity--that this was an exercise involving the movement of conventional explosives; presence of a fire safety truck (water truck, which could also be used as a decontamination vehicle) is common in such an event.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries.
Numerous references to humint as fact. (E.g., "We know that...) We have been told that some are being adjusted, but we gather some others--such as information involving multiple-corroboration--will stay...In the Iraq context, "multiple corroboration" hardly guarantees authenticity of information.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: [I]n mid-December weapons experts at one facility were replaced by Iraqi intelligence agents who were to deceive inspectors about the work that was being done there.
last bullet. **/WEAK. Iraqi intelligence officials posing as WMD scientists. Such claims are not credible and are open to criticism, particularly by the UN inspectorates.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: A dozen [WMD] experts have been placed under house arrest, not in their own houses, but as a group at one of Saddam Hussein's guest houses.
second bullet. WEAK. 12 experts reportedly under house arrest... Highly questionable.
Powell at the UN:
POWELL: UAVs outfitted with spray tanks constitute an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons.
...the claim that experts agree UAVs fitted with spray tanks are "an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons" is WEAK.
Now, with that for context, it's useful to look back at what Powell said in a November, 2005 interview with Barbara Walters:
There was some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me.
That can be contrasted with this October, 2003 exchange from 60 Minutes II with Greg Thielmann, who headed the office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the INR until September 2002:
PELLEY: If the secretary took the information that his own intelligence bureau had developed and turned it on its head, which is what you're saying, to what end?
Mr. THIELMANN: I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the president of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force.
Clearly, Powell's loyalty to George Bush extended to being willing to deceive the world: the United Nations, Americans, and the coalition troops about to be sent to kill and die in Iraq. He has never been held accountable for his actions, and it's extremely unlikely he ever will be.
By: Bernard Chazelle
Newsweek's European economics editor, Stefan Theil, waits for the US economy to tank to tell us this:
In France and Germany, students are being forced to undergo a dangerous indoctrination. Taught that economic principles such as capitalism, free markets, and entrepreneurship are savage, unhealthy, and immoral, these children are raised on a diet of prejudice and bias. Rooting it out may determine whether Europe’s economies prosper or continue to be left behind.
I, too, love rooting out diets. I consider diets eminently rootable.
They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts.
The jaws of bias again!
Menacing global rifts!
Doctrine of dissent! (Nice oxymoron.)
Are the comedy writers still on strike?
A left-leaning majority, within both the parliament and the public at large, makes the world’s third-largest economy vulnerable to destructive policies driven by anticapitalist resentment and fear of globalization. Similar situations are easily conceivable elsewhere and have already helped bring populists to power in Latin America.
Why do people want paid vacations, health care, maternity leaves, child care??? Because of fear and resentment! That's why.
French students, on the other hand, do not learn economics so much as a very specific, highly biased discourse about economics.
What an amazing statement! The "science of economics" vs a (leftwing) doctrinal discourse about economics. The idea is this: you have physics with Newton's, Maxwell's, Schroedinger's equations; and then you have economics with scientific "laws" about free markets, profits, labor division, privatisation, etc. It's all science.
It's also all crap. The so-called laws of economics are every bit as doctrinal, discretionary, and arbitrary as any "discourse" about them. Economics is discourse. It's not science. Neoliberalism is a human choice, just as communism is. Gravity is the same everywhere. Economic systems differ widely and choosing among them is simply a matter of preference. In fact, it's called freedom. The totalitarian tone of Thiel's piece is unmistakable.
The oldest trick in the book: Why are you picking my pockets? I am not. Nature is and I am just its humble agent.
I only wonder, where in the theory does the part about Communist China bailing out the US economy fit?
Gotta go. Gotta snatch prejudice from the jaws of bias and root out some diets before the day is done.
— Bernard Chazelle
I Can See The Future
Me, nine days ago:
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.
Gershom Gorenberg, senior correspondent for the American Prospect:
Ever since it turned out that Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction were the equivalent of a toy pistol in a bank robber's hand, people have wondered why he maintained the illusion. The suggestion I've heard in café conversations in Jerusalem always made most sense to me: Saddam was much more scared of Iran than of the United States, and wanted at least the silhouette of a deterrent...
So I got a certain satisfaction when Ilan Goldenberg of the National Security Network alerted me to the CBS interview with the FBI agent who interrogated Saddam. In Saddam's view, the FBI man explained, imaginary weapons of mass destruction "kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq."
Note that Ilan Goldberg, besides being executive director of the National Security Network, used to be on the staff of the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the Council on Foreign Relation. Just as the mass mind of the foreign policy "elite" used to believe it was indisputable that Saddam has WMD, so too they now all think he was bluffing. Thus in the long run, the past five years won't have produced even the tiniest crack in their all-encompassing fantasy world. (In fairness to Gorenberg, he does express a note of skepticism, but he's in the elite's outlying precincts.)
Remembering Clinton And Obama On Syria Bombing
Seymour Hersh has written a new article about Israel's bombing of Syria last September. It's inconclusive. No one—Israeli, Syrian, or American—has a convincing explanation of what happened. But certainly there's no strong evidence Syria truly was, as Israel claimed, building a nuclear reactor. Moreover, the hazy evidence, long links of supposition, and hints of other agendas are strongly reminiscent of the Iraq/WMD crap.
With that in mind, it's interesting to remember what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were saying about the bombing soon afterward, at the September 27 MSNBC debate. Here's Clinton:
CLINTON: [W]e don't have as much information as we wish we did. But what we think we know is that with North Korean help, both financial and technical and material, the Syrians apparently were putting together, and perhaps over some period of years, a nuclear facility, and the Israelis took it out. I strongly support that...there was evidence of a North Korea freighter coming in with supplies. There was intelligence and other kinds of verification.
And here's Obama:
OBAMA: Now, we don't know exactly what happened with respect to Syria. We've gotten general reports, but we don't know all the specifics. We got general reports in the run-up to the Iraq war that proved erroneous, and a lot of people voted for that war as a consequence.
Dennis Kucinich Being Outspent 5-1 In Congressional Primary
If you have some extra cash lying around, whining that it wants you to spend it on a political candidate, there are few better places to send it than Dennis Kucinich's congressional primary. The primary is one month away, March 4th, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Democratic party's right wing is striving mightily to kick him out of Congress: he's being outspent 5-1 by opponents. Needless to say, this is a highly unusual situation for incumbents; usually it's the other way around.
I'm not sure Kucinich's presidential races were the best use of his time, but he's an extremely important person to have in Congress. So if you're so moved, donate to his campaign.
Now I'll turn the microphone over the Congressman:
Jonathan Schell On Clinton/Obama Policy Toward Israel
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After discussing Obama and Clinton's foreign policy generally, Jonathan Schell examines their likely policies toward Israel:
February 03, 2008
Jonathan Schell On The Real News
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Jonathan Schell discusses the similarities on foreign policy between Clinton/Obama and the Bush administration:
Getting Past The Sixties
Rick Perlstein explains for the Washington Post why we're not about to "get past" the sixties:
It's easy to find hundreds of pictures of the national student strike that followed Nixon's announcement of the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Plenty of pictures of the riots at Kent State that ended with four students shot dead by National Guardsmen. None I could find, however, of the counter-demonstrations by Kent, Ohio, townies -- and even Kent State parents. Flashing four fingers and chanting "The score is four/And next time more," they argued that the kids had it coming.
The '60s were a trauma -- two sets of contending Americans, each believing they were fighting for the future of civilization, but whose left- and right-wing visions of redemption were opposite and irreconcilable. They were a trauma the way the war of brother against brother between 1861 and 1865 was a trauma and the way the Great Depression was a trauma. Tens of millions of Americans hated tens of millions of other Americans, sometimes murderously so. The effects of such traumas linger in a society for generations.
Perlstein's new book Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America is available for pre-order at Amazon.
February 02, 2008
By: Bernard Chazelle
At the debate in LA, Hillary said this:
Hitler invaded Poland because Polish saboteurs viciously attacked German radio operators.
I couldn't quite believe it, so I checked the CNN transcript. I was wrong. She said something else, but to her credit it was just as historically accurate.
We bombed them for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors.
PS: Can't translate "n'importe quoi." It means "whatever" but because it takes so much longer to say it, it comes out coated with gallons of thick, dripping scorn.
Four People Turned Stupid By Power
Power makes human beings stupid. By this I don't mean "stupid" in the standard sense – many people who've undergone the stupid-fying effects of power appear intelligent by conventional measures.
Instead, power skews a person's ability to perceive reality. If you're at the top of the social pyramid, you won't perceive things that are unbelievably obvious to those lower down. This is generally because human beings hate to learn anything that reflects badly on them. And the more power you have, the more others will not want to bring these things to your attention.
At the same time, power tends to make people believe they're perceiving the world more clearly than others. They think being at the top makes them able to see further.
These two things combine to make those with power often act in way that seem stunningly "stupid," when seen from the outside.
Of course, those lower down the pyramid have their own blinders. Often they see those at the top acting in crazy ways, and think: This must be some sort of Cunning Plan. They can't possibly be that stupid.
OH YES THEY CAN.
1. Saddam Hussein
This is from Web of Deceit by Barry Lando, describing Saddam's state of mind in the lead up to the first Gulf War:
In the first week in December 1990...Saddam was only slowly beginning to understand his hopes of fracturing the U.S.-led coalition were in vain. When a visiting PLO official showed the Iraqi dictator cover stories in both Time and Newsweek vividly describing the upcoming battles, Saddam asked his aides why no one had ever shown those stories to him. A devastating attack really was in the offing...
You really need to be a dictator to be this incredibly stupid. "You mean they're going to attack us? Why has no one told me before?" Uh, because when people have told you such things in the past, you've shot them in the head?
2. Bill Clinton
Here's Bill Clinton being interviewed by James Fallows in October, 2002:
I believe that he [Saddam Hussein] is very bad. We have a lot to answer for, and he is basically partly our creature...[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].
As I noted recently, it was Clinton's own Justice Department that squelched news of the CIA-Iraq-cluster bomb connection. So at first glance it appears Clinton must have been deceptive in the 2002 interview, likely as part of a Cunning Plan.
After further consideration, however, I suspect he was being honestly "stupid," and had never heard of this before it was covered in the British press. How could he have missed this?
First, by sending strong (even if unconscious) signals to his minions that he didn't want to learn things that would be a pain in his ass and lead him into political fights he wanted to avoid. And second, by believing his other sources of information like the Atlantic would give him a clear view of reality. In fact, the Atlantic has its own problems, and, just like Clinton's minions, is not in the business of telling powerful people what they don't want to hear.
3. Thomas Jefferson
Here's Jefferson explaining the "physical and moral" differences between Europeans and Africans in Notes on the State of Virginia:
They seem to require less sleep...
Then, six sentences later:
In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep...
Jefferson was not a stupid man. Yet here he appears appallingly "stupid," earnestly explaining that Africans were weird because they (1) needed less sleep than Europeans and also (2) needed more sleep than Europeans.
The problem here was obvious: Jefferson had a deep need to claim he was different from his slaves. Otherwise, how could he reconcile his desire to think of himself as moral with his desire to own them? So it didn't matter if his "evidence" was contradictory and nonsensical. All that mattered was that he have it. And he was too powerful for anyone to force him to perceive this.
I'm not nearly as powerful as Saddam, Clinton, or Jefferson. (YET.) But I'm a white American man with a fancy education and some connections, which does give me more power than many other humans on planet earth.
In the past, this power has made me incredibly "stupid." And I'm sure I still have a long way to go. Instances of my stunning ignorance are too numerous to list, but a representative example is the fact I only found out about the phenomenon of "sundown towns" from James Loewen's recent book. (If you want to learn more about sundown towns, a good place to start is this post by David Neiwert.)
Many places near where I grew up had been sundown towns, yet I had no idea. How could I have failed to perceive what was literally right in front of my face?
The answer is: power. Many little white children come from families powerful enough to shut out reality. Most little black children do not. Power makes you stupid.
February 01, 2008
Tom Hayden On The Real News On Democrats & Iraq
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The Democrats have been one percent different from Republicans on foreign policy since World War II. But they once had significant differences on domestic policy. What happened? Weldon Berger explains.
We Need More Of This Honesty
I missed this back when news broke of our gigantic new weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Israel. But according to Nicholas Burns, then the third-ranking person at the State Department, the arms sale "says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away."
That's good stuff. I appreciate this kind of honesty, which is much better than all the usual democracy crap. We, a country 7,000 miles away, plan to be "the major power in the Middle East" forever.
Once we're being honest about America's motivations, we can move onto other questions. For instance: will the people of the Middle East react any differently to this than we would if a high-ranking Iranian official declared it was "the major power in North America," and we'd all better just suck it up?