March 31, 2008
Weaponizing the Pentagon's Cyborg Insects
A Futuristic Nightmare That Just Might Come True
By Nick Turse
Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.
Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They're creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases.
Today, many people fear U.S. government surveillance of email and cell phone communications. With this program, the Pentagon aims to exponentially increase the paranoia...
For the past 50 years, work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- the Pentagon's blue skies research outfit -- has led to some of the most lethal weaponry in the U.S. arsenal: from Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones and stealth fighters and bombers to Tomahawk cruise missiles and Javelin portable "fire and forget" guided missiles. For the last several years, DARPA has funneled significant sums of money into a very different kind of guided missile project, its Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS) program. This project is, according to DARPA, "aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems [MEMS] inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis." Put simply, the creation of cyborg insects: part bug, part bot.
Now Our Love Has Died/This Is Why I
When I first heard about Hillary Clinton's story about being shot at in Bosnia I assumed she wasn't just making it up—that in fact she had been shot at somewhere, but was misremembering specifically where it had happened. That's not because she doesn't lie constantly; like most politicians, she does. But I believed smart politicians—and she's certainly one of the smarter ones—generally don't lie in this particular way, especially when they don't have to. As I.F. Stone once explained:
Now, governments lie. But they don't like to lie literally, because a literal, flat, obvious lie tends to be caught.
So what they do is, they become masters of the disingenuous statement, of phrasing something in such a way that the honest, normal, unwary reader gets one impression, what he's supposed to get.
Then three months later he discovers it's not true and goes back to complain. And they say, well, that's not what we said -- look at it carefully. And you look at it carefully and sure enough, it was really doubletalk and didn't say exactly what they said.
But boy, was I wrong. She just completely made this up. But why?
I suspect the answer is that I.F. Stone wasn't quite right. Certainly in big speeches, in written documents, etc., American politicians have generally preferred to mislead rather than flatly lie. But in more casual settings, they've probably told out-and-out lies frequently. What's changed now is they can't away with it as easily, and, at sixty years old, Clinton is having a hard time making an adjustment to a new world.
Think if she had been running for president twenty years ago or even ten. Who would have heard her speech making the Bosnia claim? Probably just the people in the room and a few reporters, and even if one of them suspected it wasn't right, they would likely not have her precise wording. She would be out the door with most people just getting the impression she wanted them to get.
And even if someone had recorded it, it would be a huge amount of work to fact check it, even for a reporter. How exactly were you going to find the video of her arriving in Bosnia for that day, even if you were sure it existed?
And even if someone had found that video, who could they have told about it? All their readers for Portland's weekly alternative paper? Unless they worked for the New York Times and could get it page one, from Clinton's perspective, who cares? And even on the front page of the Times, they couldn't have shown the damning video.
And even if the whole thing had ended up on page one of the New York Times, before long most people would have forgotten it. It would exist only on library microfilm and in decaying individual memories. Again, from Clinton's perspective, who cares?
Here's a famous explanation of this reasoning from Peter Teeley, then George H.W. Bush's press secretary, in a New York Times story in October, 1984:
"You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it," [Teeley] continued. If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, "so what?"
He said, "Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000."
But now every part of the equation has changed, and the lying risk/reward ratio has increased tremendously. It appears that Clinton, who came of political age in an era in which Teeley was correct, hasn't quite learned this yet.
And the truth is, I can't even get that mad at Clinton here. Human beings lie constantly, to themselves and to others, for a million different reasons. Clinton was just being human. The only politicians' lies that I get mad about are the ones that get the rest of us killed. Clinton's told quite a few of those; let's concentrate on them.
ALSO: In all seriousness, I would vote enthusiastically for Hillary Clinton if, after being caught, she'd said: "Yes, I lied about that. I lied because I really want to be president and fly around in helicopters. And the same thing is true for all my opponents and the lies they tell. You want the truth, America? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!"
BUT THERE'S A HAPPY ENDING: According to Behind the Times, the reporter who wrote that story about Peter Teeley at some pointed gained a reputation within the New York Times for being "difficult." She later left the paper and committed suicide. Teeley himself appears to still live in leafy Bethesda, Maryland, in a house about a mile from where I grew up.
March 30, 2008
Is It Me Or Is The Times Unreadable?
Just today, Kristof writes:
How can we judge whether to invade Iraq if we don’t know a Sunni from a Shiite?
Good point. Whenever I kill a Christian, to be certain I am doing the right thing, I always inquire first about their take on transubstantiation.
Maureen Dowd quotes Peter Hart on the central questions:
"Is Obama Safe?" [and] “Is Hillary honest?”
Ah, the age-old associations "black/safe" and "female/honest." Classy, classy. For the non-American readers who need a translation, here it is: "Will Obama rape Hillary?" [and] "Will Hillary say afterwards that she enjoyed it?"
Anthony Cordesman is trying to tell us something. Just not sure what.
An ABC News poll released this month showed that only two-thirds of the Shiite population in Basra had a favorable opinion of the central government [...]
I Feel You
Every once in a while Ibrahim Hawash, 42, calls his wife Noha from his nightshift job to make sure that she has followed the treatment course prescribed by their family doctor for the involuntary urination of their four children, who are in primary school. The doctor says that the four children lost their ability to control urination due to the fear they underwent when Israeli army jets bombed a home near theirs in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip during the "Warm Winter" military campaign three weeks ago. The four children still remember the terrifying night when they woke frightened up to the sound of a thundering explosion in the area and found that the glass of their home's windows had fallen onto their bed...
Thousands of Palestinian children have experienced what Hawash's four children are undergoing. Mohamed Kharsa, 10, lives in the Tufah neighbourhood northeast of Gaza City, which has been subject to severe Israeli attacks. He runs away to his family home whenever he hears the roar of Israeli planes in the sky.
"Whenever I hear the sound of a plane I feel it has come to bomb me," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. Aish Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, says that 30 per cent of Palestinian children under 10 years of age suffer from involuntary urination due to deep-seated fear, and mentions other nervous problems such as nail- biting, nightmares, bodily pains of unknown cause, crying and introversion.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, my entire body seizes up whenever I hear a plane fly low overhead. Looked at rationally this is ridiculous, since I was a mile away, it happened once, and I didn't even hear the hijacked planes; I assume it actually derives from the Air Force jets that flew over Manhattan for several days afterward, which I certainly did hear. However, when planes fly by my spinal cord is not rational, and immediately informs my brain that WE ARE UNDER ATTACK.
In any case, I can easily imagine that if I were one of these Palestinian children, I'd be wetting my pants too. And certainly the fear of omnipresent Death From Above will be encoded in their molecular structure for a long time even if they move to Athens.
I don't think there's much chance the people of the world can create world peace based on mutual love. However, we might be able to build it based on mutual hatred of the violent idiots who've ruled this planet for the past 6,000 years.
March 28, 2008
You have to read the actual article by Matt Taibbi to know what specifically he's talking about, but I think this part applies to any situation:
We can't keep our eyes on the ball and really think about the serious endemic problems of our system of government because we're too busy freaking out like a bunch of cartoon characters over silly, meaningless bullshit. And then forgetting about that same bullshit ten minutes later, so that we can freak out all over again about something else later on...
What a bunch of turds we all are, seriously. God help us if we ever had to deal with a real problem.
What Would Reverend Wright Say?
By: Bernard Chazelle
Hicks's unit opened a furious fusillade, firing wildly into cars, at people scurrying for cover, at anything that moved. Sent in to survey the damage, Hicks found the area littered with human and animal corpses, including women and children, but he saw no military gear or weapons of any kind near the bodies. In the aftermath of the massacre, Hicks was told that his unit had killed 700-800 "enemy combatants." But he knew the dead were not terrorists or insurgents; they were innocent Iraqis. "I will agree to swear to that till the day I die," he said. "I didn't see one enemy on that operation."
Several veterans said it was common to carry a stash of extra automatic weapons and shovels to plant near the bodies of unarmed civilians they had killed to make it look as if they were combatants.
Others described the surreal sensation of committing cold-blooded murder without facing any consequences.
March 27, 2008
The Anonymous Campaign
By: Bernard Chazelle
Jon pointed out a major flaw in Michael Kinsley's argument.
I see another flaw: majorly fatal that one. Think about it. Most presidential candidates know they'll never win and yet they run. Why? Do you still lust for power when you know power is out of reach. (I do, but you, do you?) I submit they run because of the celebrity status it confers upon them.
Having hereby submitted, let me hereby suggest. I suggest we test this hypothesis. Candidates would remain anonymous. Actors would replace them. Only when the election is over would the real winner be revealed (but none of the losers would). Now the real candidates would be shipped to a Siberian salt mine for the entire duration of the campaign, where their job would be to write speeches for their body doubles while they bake pretzels. (Why pretzels? hint: salt mine.)
Think of the side benefits: (A) we could merge the Oscar ceremony with a presidential debate and hope against all hope that dull+dull=exciting; (B) we could try to guess if Ahnold is his own body double; (C) instead of asking our finest political analysts (like James Wolcott) to interpret the significance of Julia Roberts's makeup
(do I see in that purple mascara a planned expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit?), we could just ask our finest movie critics instead (like James Wolcott); (D) it'd be Julia Roberts on your TV screen, not the bullet-dodging Ice Queen of the Balkans.
Oh yes, and also we would know, through the power of the scientific method, if candidates run for power or for attention.
— Bernard Chazelle
Actual Good Writing, Actually By Michael Kinsley, Actually In Time
Somehow, against all odds, something accurate and relevant to human life was written by Michael Kinsley, and appeared in Time magazine:
[V]oters are also right to feel that something is phony about democratic politics and that it's getting worse. Even a candidate who agrees with you on all important issues and always has—no dreaded flip-flops—is forced by the conventions of politics to be disingenuous about at least one core issue: why he or she is running.
Ladies and gentlemen, they are running because they are ambitious. No, really, they are. You probably suspected as much. And yet you would abandon any candidate who dared to admit this, or at least they all believe that you would...[T]he purest form of ambition is political ambition, because it represents a desire to rule over other people.
When you hear the presidential candidates carrying on about democracy and freedom, do you ever wonder what they would be saying if they had been born into societies with different values? What if Mitt Romney had come to adulthood in Nazi Germany? What if Hillary Clinton had gone to Moscow State University and married a promising young apparatchik? What if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, like his father, where even now people are slaughtering one another over a crooked election? Which of them would be the courageous dissidents, risking their lives for the values they talk about freely—in every sense—on the campaign trail? And which would be playing the universal human power game under the local rules, whatever they happened to be?
Without naming names, I believe that most of them would be playing the game. What motivates most politicians, especially those running for President, is closer to your classic will-to-power than to a deep desire to reform the health-care system.
The one flaw here is Kinsley's failure to describe this in terms of Larrys, Moes and Curlys.
Spencer Ackerman On Bush Plans For Permanent Occupation
Spencer Ackerman has written an important and informative piece for the Washington Independent about how the Bush administration is attempting to lay the groundwork for a permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq before they leave office.
If you don't know the background, here's what's been happening up to now:
U.S. troops currently operate in Iraq under a UN Security Council mandate. The mandate has been renewed annually since 2004. It gives coalition troops the legal authority to use force there.
A majority of the Iraqi parliament wants the US to leave Iraq, and for several years has been trying to prevent the mandate from being renewed unless it includes a specific timeframe for us to depart.
The executive branch of the Iraqi government (ie, Prime Minister Maliki and friends) wants the US to stay indefinitely. That's because we want to stay, and Maliki is our puppet. Maliki therefore successfully got the UN to renew the mandate at the end of 2007, even though the Iraqi parliament opposed it and, under the Iraqi constitution, must approve all treaties. Maliki is exactly like Bush in this way; the legislative branch tries to assert its constitutional rights, and Maliki tells them: fuck you.
The mandate is now set to expire again at the end of this year. It would be near-impossible for Maliki and Bush to get another year's extension, because the Iraqi parliament has now gotten its act together. And even if it could be extended, it's undesirable from the administration's perspective, because it doesn't tie the hands of the next president.
Thus, Bush is attempting to create a bilateral "agreement" with Iraq via Maliki. It won't be called a treaty, because as noted that would require the Iraqi parliament to approve it; even worse, under the US constitution, it would require the two-thirds approval of the US Senate.
So what the administration tried to do was quietly institute this accord between itself and Maliki (essentially between itself and itself), and write it so it was a treaty in all but name, giving the US the right to "protect" the Iraqi government from foreign and domestic threats.
However, Congress has actually been doing its job and pushing back on this—holding hearings, asking questions—and the administration has been somewhat stymied. That's where Ackerman picks up the story.
Taking Stock of the War on Terror
A Defeat Only American Power Could Have Brought About
By Mark Danner
To contemplate a prewar map of Baghdad -- as I do the one before me, with sectarian neighborhoods traced out in blue and red and yellow -- is to look back on a lost Baghdad, a Baghdad of our dreams. My map of 2003 is colored mostly a rather neutral yellow, indicating the "mixed" neighborhoods of the city, predominant just five years ago. To take up a contemporary map after this is to be confronted by a riot of bright color: Shia blue has moved in irrevocably from the East of the Tigris; Sunni red has fled before it, as Shia militias pushed the Sunnis inexorably west toward Abu Ghraib and Anbar province, and nearly out of the capital itself. And everywhere, it seems, the pale yellow of those mixed neighborhoods is gone, obliterated in the months and years of sectarian war.
I start with those maps out of a lust for something concrete, as I grope about in the abstract, struggling to quantify the unquantifiable. How indeed to "take stock" of the War on Terror? Such a strange beast it is, like one of those mythological creatures that is part goat, part lion, part man. Let us take a moment and identify each of these parts.
March 26, 2008
GQ covers Meghan McCain:
Meghan has been given a prominent place in her father’s presidential campaign, most notably with her blog, McCainBlogette.com. Loosely inspired, she says—loosely!—by Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, McCain Blogette is a sometimes irreverent, sometimes overly rah-rah account of life on the Straight Talk Express...
Meghan puts it  succinctly: “I’m almost incapable of bullshit.”
It's really fun to live in a country where the people at the very pinnacle of the establishment are rootin-tootin' maverick insurgents. I'm guessing Meghan's no-bullshit blog is particularly inspired by this part of Fear and Loathing:
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
Still So Wrong After So So Long
This is the Atlantic's Megan McArdle giving one of the reasons she was wrong about Iraq:
3) I overestimated my ability to interpret Saddam's behavior. I genuinely believed that he had WMD--the main reason I favored invasion--because he was acting exactly like I would if I'd had WMD. I failed to adequately consider that not being a brutal dictator in a chronically unstable region, I probably had limited insight into his thought process.
What McArdle means is that because Iraq sometimes blocked inspections, she thought this meant they must be hiding WMD. But now she's learned that brutal dictators do all kinds of weird things that delicate flowers like ourselves have no hope of comprehending.
But of course this is the wrong lesson.
Saddam's behavior was completely straightforward, and understanding it didn't require any unusual insight into the thought processes of brutal dictators. At the time we knew the US and UK had placed spies within UNSCOM in an effort to overthrow and kill Saddam, and the US said repeatedly that we'd never lift sanctions as long as Saddam was in power. We also knew at the time that Iraq said this was the reason they sometimes blocked inspections.
Believing that this simple explanation was, in fact, what was going on just required McArdle to believe Saddam "was acting exactly like I would" if there were people trying to kill her: she'd avoid them when possible, particularly if there were no upside. Indeed, this was exactly my reasoning when I bet someone $1000 that Iraq had nothing.
The problem is that McArdle had never heard of this basic background information before the war. What's interesting is that she still doesn't know it, years after the CIA published a gigantic report online that explained this. Even more interesting is that this not-knowing has been an active rather than passive process: I've sent her several polite emails, starting in January last year, telling her what happened and why it matters. She's never responded and the emails clearly made no impression on her whatsoever.
Before we invaded Iraq I would never have believed the fantasy world in which America's elite live was so invulnerable to penetration by reality. Even a giant catastrophic war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands makes no difference.
ALSO WRONG: Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings, while addressing McArdle's beliefs, writes:
If you are working in the administration in some foreign policy or defense-related position, or a scholar in a relevant field at Brookings or AEI, or a columnist or blogger who takes it upon yourself to have and publish an opinion on Iraq, then it's your job to make these calls correctly, and you either have or ought to have the knowledge you need to do so.
This is also a willful misreading of reality, and almost as dangerous as McArdle's. Hilzoy wants to believe making these calls "correctly" is these people's job, and so she asserts it as fact. But if it were fact, then they would have been fired and their careers damaged. The evidence of the past five years overwhelmingly demonstrates that their job is to do exactly what they've done.
These basic misunderstandings about how America works by people with some measure of power portends much greater suffering ahead.
From the very funny Dirk Voetberg:
1. A new piece in McSweeney's: "Coach Barry Murphy's Inspirational Quotes (Lifetime Record: 14-91-1)"
2. From his sketch group Elders of the Dark Tower (of Xxoron), "Project Runway v. Werewolf":
March 25, 2008
Recently Glenn Greenwald pointed to a post by "OldPunk" at an Instapundit-approved blurg. Here's some of what the post said about Obama's speech last week about race. The "you" to which OldPunk is addressing himself is black Americans generally:
You see, you've just given life to the suspicion that black people in America are, and have long been, a fifth column -- unanimously hating the very country that has afforded the highest standard of living ever achieved by black people in human history. We're teetering at the edge of believing that you're a secret society, a massive collection of sleeper cells just waiting for your chance to do serious harm to the rest of us. You've made it possible for us to believe that.
I'd bet a lot of money that "OldPunk" was outraged in 2003 by Saddam's massacres of Iraqi Kurds (though not when they were actually happening during the eighties, when he almost certainly didn't know about them).
The funny part is, some Iraqi Kurds were more than just under "suspicion" of being "a fifth column" during that time. They were actually accepting arms and training from a country with which Iraq was at war, and which in fact had its armies on Iraqi soil.
So if this is "OldPunk"'s view of black Americans now, I wonder how he'd respond if there were substantial African American militias in U.S. cities who'd been armed and trained by Saddam Hussein and/or Osama bin Laden, at the same time there were Arab troops in Seattle and Boston? My guess is he'd be saying "break out the nerve gas."
The correlation here is probably almost exact. Just about every single person who wanted war because Saddam "gassed his own people" is someone who'd want a white American president to gas other Americans.
Sam Husseini On Independent Media
Iraq Winter Soldier Hearings Show Weakness of Independent Media
Jeff Cohen -- full disclosure: he used to be my boss and is a friend -- makes some very valid and important points in ""Iraq Winter Soldier Hearings: Victory for Independent Media."
But there is another way of looking at this.
The fact that the mainstream paid so little attention to Winter Soldier -- as well countless other worthy stories -- is itself a failure of independent media to propel those stories into the mainstream...
The great success of Fox News Channel is not that it has done what it has done, but that it has influenced the "mainstream" as it has.
And in that sense, independent media has totally failed.
To take the example at hand, what we did not see in the last several weeks was independent media asking questions about Winter Soldier at the White House press conferences, or at the Pentagon or State Department. Had they done so, the administration spokesperson's words would likely have led to more attention to Winter Soldier than all the work of all the people who labored on it for months...
But no one asked at the news conferences, so none of that happened.
March 24, 2008
The Battle of Baghdad
Iraq's Most Fearsome Militia, the U.S. military, on the Offensive
By Michael Schwartz
In early April, General David Petraeus, the flavor of the year in American military officers, will return to Washington to report to President Bush and the Democratic Congress on the state of post-surge Iraq. His report will be upbeat, with cautious notes thrown in, and the reception will be warm. The Republicans will congratulate the President, hoping that Americans will stop complaining and finally learn to tolerate, if not love, his war; the Democrats will be quietly unhappy because they would like Iraq to remain a major election issue.
In the meantime, the Iraqis will continue to endure the results of the surge, yet another brutal chapter in the endless war that once promised them liberation.
Over the course of five years, Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, has been transformed from a metropolis into an urban desert of half-destroyed buildings and next to no public services, dotted by partially deserted, mutually hostile mini-ghettos that used to be neighborhoods, surrounded by cement barriers reminiscent of medieval fortifications. The most prominent of these ghettos is the heavily fortified city-inside-a-city dubbed the Green Zone...
The remaining ghettos, large and small, are governed by local militias, most of them sworn enemies of the United States and the Maliki regime...
As Baghdadi citizens continue to flee the threat of violence, ethnic cleansing, and economic destitution, the city waits -- whether for a definitive military confrontation or some less violent change that will bring its long ordeal to an end.
How did this all come to be?
Hey, Man, I Was At Woodstock
This is Peggy Noonan on Meet the Press yesterday:
NOONAN: I know that Mrs. Clinton is surrounded by people who would adore the chance to be for Obama. I, I know one of, one of her top aides who kind of privately makes it clear that he knows that he, himself, is an insurgent character, and that it would be wonderful to be part of Obama's insurgency. But he is where he is, he's backing Mrs. Clinton.
Sure I went to Harvard like my dad, became an investment banker, and joined the Century Club and then the Council on Foreign Relations. But none of that changes the fact that I'm a rebel at heart.
March 23, 2008
Even Larry Wilkerson
Who would have believed five years ago that Colin Powell's chief of staff would end up saying this kind of stuff? Nice job, Bush administration:
SPIEGEL: Do you ever think that Powell was set up?
Wilkerson: Well I am increasingly convinced that, for a part of the Bush administration, the argument “weapons of mass destruction” was just a camouflage, just subterfuge for their real goals and reasons of the war.
SPIEGEL: What are they?
Wilkerson: I am convinced that the vast oil resources of Iraq weigh heavier for me now when I do the strategic analysis as reasons for the war than I thought back then.
George Bush: radicalizing the unradicalizable since 2001.
March 22, 2008
Jeffrey Goldberg Still Unable To Comprehend Reality
Jeffrey Goldberg explains for Slate how he got Iraq so wrong:
I will admit to a prejudice here: I believed—note the tense, please—that Republicans were by nature ruthless, unsentimental, efficient, and, most of all, preoccupied with winning. It simply never occurred to me that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney would allow themselves to lose a war. Which is what they have very nearly done.
What Goldberg still cannot see, despite it hitting him in the face every second for five years, is that the "war" Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney have fought is not the United States Vs. Iraq. Nor is it the United States Vs. Things Jeffrey Goldberg Doesn't Like.
Instead, the war the Bush administration has fought is Their Branch Of The U.S. Oligarchy vs. Everyone Else On Earth. That war they have prosecuted ruthlessly, unsentimentally, efficiently, and with a constant preoccupation with winning. And while it's not something that can be permanently won, they've certainly been on a long winning streak.
True, this winning streak has required them to lose many of the imaginary wars that exist in Jeffrey Goldberg's head. In fact, it may require dismantling the United States as we know it. But that's fine with them.
The fact Goldberg is unable to comprehend this is what qualifies him to write this for Slate.
March 21, 2008
John McCain Or Baghdad Bob?
This is very funny indeed.
March 20, 2008
The Peril of Truth-Telling
By: Bernard Chazelle
I was away and caught only a brief sample of Rev. Wright's sermons. My first reaction was that he would make a great VP. But then I remembered that speaking the truth was the surest way to lose an election. Maybe it doesn't matter. Since, from Iraq to Wall Street, everything is falling apart before our very eyes, looks like the truth won't need any spokesperson for a while. It's what's neat about being kicked in the ass: you don't need to be told about it.
Wright's "God Damn America" got people really nervous.
I wonder why.
Could it be they're worried that God will see the wisdom of that wish and grant it? Conversely, what is this "God Bless America" nonsense? Are people so worried God might forget to do that if he is not duly reminded? How innocent can you be if you have to keep reminding the judge to show mercy?
To summarize, Obama is in the doghouse for knowing someone who's spoken the truth. Meanwhile, McCain is riding high in the polls for his uncanny ability to mass produce industrial-strength crap to the third power. While campaigning in Israel (a swing state), he declared:
If Hamas/Hizbullah succeeds here, they are going to succeed everywhere, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere.
Obviously a subtle reference to Machu Picchu.
— Bernard Chazelle
The Golden Age of the Military-Entertainment Complex
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Pentagon-Style
By Nick Turse
In the late 1990s, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon -- a game in which the goal was to connect the actor Kevin Bacon to any other actor, living or dead, through films or television shows in no more than six steps -- became something of a phenomenon. Spread via the Internet (before becoming a board game and a book), Six Degrees has taken its place in America's pop culture pantheon among favorite late-night drunken pursuits.
Here is a new variant of the game: The goal is to connect Kevin Bacon to the Pentagon...
In reality, there are no degrees of separation between Bacon and the Pentagon because the actor began his career in a "recruiting film" -- a real one. As Bacon recalled: "After the [Vietnam] war was over in 75, I was already thinking about becoming an actor and I got sent out on this Army recruiting film. It was a soft-sell kind of thing. I was a guy getting out of high school who didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, so I took the gig. It was my very first paying acting job."
As it happens, however, the military puts Bacon to shame when it comes to connections in Tinseltown. The Pentagon might, in fact, be thought of as the ultimate Hollywood insider -- a direct result of the ever-expanding military-corporate complex or "The Complex" as I call it in my new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.
So let's play a new version of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the military standing in for Bacon.
Spencer Ackerman On Jeffrey Goldberg & Stephen Hayes
Spencer Ackerman has written an excellent look back for the Washington Independent at the role of Jeffrey Goldberg and Stephen Hayes in taking the U.S. to war, and their unrepentant behavior since. Criticizing fellow journalists and journalistic institutions is rarely a good career move, and Ackerman deserves credit for doing it.
BUT THERE'S ONE GLARING FLAW: The article fails to mention this.
March 19, 2008
Five Years Later
Sure, Operation Iraqi Freedom is a catastrophe, but Operation Rewrite History is a resounding success!
THE PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger...
Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly — yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities…
On this day in 2003, the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom. As the campaign unfolded, tens and thousands of our troops poured across the Iraqi border to liberate the Iraqi people and remove a regime that threatened free nations...
The men and women who crossed into Iraq five years ago removed a tyrant, liberated a country, and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors.
No Evidence For Administration's Claim On U.S.-Iraqi Declaration Of Principles
There's been conflict between Congress and the Bush administration in the past several months over the Declaration of Principles Bush and Maliki signed last November. The Declaration of Principles appears to commit the U.S. to defending Iraq from both internal and external threats. Such commitments have previously only been made by treaties, which require Senate approval.
Last Thursday the Politico reported that a "senior administration official" claimed this was all a misunderstanding stemming from an Arabic-to-English translation of the Declaration of Principles. I've written a new piece for Democrats.com examining whether there's any evidence for this. The answer appears to be no.
March 18, 2008
Unsung Heroes and Alternate Voices
Some of The Best of Five Years of Iraq War Coverage
By Greg Mitchell
In the five years since the tragic U.S. intervention in Iraq began, many journalists for mainstream news outlets have certainly contributed tough and honest reporting. Too often, however, their efforts have either fallen short or been negated by a cascade of pro-war views expressed by pundits, analysts, and editorial writers at their own newspapers or broadcast/cable networks. This sorry record is detailed in my new book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq.
But allow me -- for once -- to focus on the positive by suggesting that many of the most critical and important journalistic voices exposing the criminal nature of, and the many costs of, this war have emerged from an "alternative" universe that includes former war correspondents, reporters for small newspapers or news services, comedians, aging rock 'n rollers, and bloggers, among others.
We can all name our favorite not-famous reporters or online scribes who have covered the war in Iraq in ways that should have been far more common, or offered biting commentary here at home. A full list would be long indeed, but here, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is my modest tip of the hat to just a few of my own favorites, based on what, to some, might seem an idiosyncratic definition of "journalist":
Liberal Blurfs: Why?
At Open Left, Chris Bowers examines why liberal blurfs have proliferated and thrived.
Jim Henley says:
I’m genuinely uncertain. Is the economy fucked? Or is it fucked with extra fucked, slathered in fucked sauce, and fucked for dessert? Are we, as a commenter wrote downblog a couple weeks ago (in rough paraphrase), "Like Argentina, a formerly wealthy country that went bankrupt, and we just don’t realize it yet?"...Or has it just been so long since we had a real man’s recession we mistake an acorn for the sky?
Another way of putting it is, "So, did Bin Laden win then? Did we bankrupt ourselves on an insane and criminal war in half the time it took the Soviets, in response to his ever-so-helpful prodding?"
I know the answer to all these questions, and will provide them as soon as I have time. Hopefully this will be later today. In the meantime, I invite you to supply your own.
March 17, 2008
The Ugly Political Question, In 2008 And 1988
Here's reader email from Talking Points Memo:
I am appalled, though not surprised, at the complete silence by the candidates on the last few days' events on Wall Street and the world's stock, bond and currency markets. This has far more effect on all of our futures than racist comments by the oxygen deprived brains of some old political or spiritual leaders. I know why Clinton and McCain are not talking about it: too many of their biggest supporters had too much to do with what happened...What about Obama?...
Maybe if the media first tried to understand the problems, then asked the proper questions until answers were forthcoming or it was clear the candidates are afraid to ask them, political coverage would be more than the extreme sports coverage it has turned into.
I strongly suspect we're seeing a replay of what happened with the S&L crisis in the eighties. The business details aren't exactly the same, but the political dynamics are.
At first the S&Ls were a fairly small problem. But fixing it when it was small would have required the financial industry to take a big hit. So Wall Street wanted to keep the game going until the problem was gigantic, and could only be dealt with by a federal government bailout. Meanwhile, both Republicans and Democrats were at fault, so they collaborated to prevent it becoming an issue during the 1988 election. Working together, they were able to cost the US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
Everything's the same today, except this may be an even more impressive, multi-trillion dollar success.
Here's an excerpt from William Greider's 1992 book Who Will Tell the People describing the process with S&Ls. It's long, but well worth reading:
The ugly political question that explains the politicians' stalling and obfuscation was always this: Would the taxpayers be compelled to put up the money to resolve this financial breakdown?...[I]f the taxpayers weren't going to pay for it, then the industry itself would have to. The modest $10 billion bailout enacted in 1987 employed federally guaranteed borrowing to raise the money but the funds were in theory going to be repaid by the S&L associations themselves...
Thus, if Congress had provided prompt, adequate financing to solve the crisis, that would have meant raising the industry's premiums sharply...
The saving and loan industry proposed a political alternative: Paper over the problem for now and let the next president deal with it...
Kenneth McLean, staff director of the Senate Banking Committee...explained the subtext driving the congressional decision:
"You were talking about taking away industry money and they said, look, we're paying for this mess...So the message was: Let's let the problem build up and dump it on the taxpayers."
Congress, in effect, acquiesced to that logic and so did the Reagan administration. Sure enough, it was dumped on the taxpayers.
A delicate political problem remained for both Democrats and Republicans. Having temporarily papered over the crisis, now they would have to get through the 1988 presidential election without the people finding out. This proved to be relatively easy since the only remaining power center that might have turned this into an embarrassing campaign issue was the news media. Politicians in both parties counted on political reporters not to catch on and they were not disappointed...
The financial industry naturally shared the politicians' interest in discretion, but the bailout plans were not closely guarded secrets. An inquiring reporter could obtain copies with any special effort at digging. Robert Dugger, lobbyist and chief economist of the ABA, explained the politics:
"Everyone knew the game was: Democrats don't bring this up. Republicans don't bring this up. Because a firefight on this issue will have more bodies on both sides than anyone wants to lose. The financial community knew that and we all knew where the play was: Wage the presidential campaign on all issues, but don't use the thrift crisis. We all know it has to be dealt with. We'll do it right after the election"...
At the White House, the immediate goal was to get Ronald Reagan safely into retirement without having his final year in Washington marred by an embarrassing taxpayer bailout for a deregulated industry. When Dan Brumbaugh was briefly considered as a candidate for the job of chief S&L regulator, the word came back to him through political channels: "If this guy really wants this job, he's going to have to sit down with Howard Baker [Reagan's White House chief of staff] and assure Baker that we can hold things together until this president gets out of town."
The Gospel Of IOZ
Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "Why is this IOZ fellow, who says he's all for the free movement of labor and capital across borders and over oceans and to distant stars and foreward and backward in time, why is this guy so down and dismissive of capitalism?" Well, this is why:
A Plaintive Question
Are there any pooches that America's elite haven't screwed?
This is the definition of "elite" in The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense by John Ralston Saul:
ÉLITE More common than a lumpenproletariat. Every society has an élite. No society has ever been without one. There is therefore little to be gained by worrying a great deal about the creation or protection of an elite. They protect themselves and someone is always ready to take their place.
The thing elites most easily forget is that they make no sense as a group unless they have a healthy and productive relationship with the rest of the citizenry. Questions of nationalism, ideology and the filling of pockets aside, the principal function of an elite is to serve the interests of the whole. They may prosper far more than the average citizen in the process. They may have all sorts of advantages. These perks won't matter so long as the greater interests are also served. From their point of view, this is not a bad bargain. So it really is curious just how easily they forget and set about serving only themselves, even if it means that they or the society will self-destruct.
March 16, 2008
Democrats.com has set up a "Fax-In" on Iraq:
March 19 marks the 5th Anniversary of Bush's disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq - yet there is no end in sight.
The costs so far are staggering: 4,000 young Americans killed, tens of thousands maimed... 1 million Iraqis killed, millions maimed... $562 billion in tax dollars stolen from our children... $3 trillion cost to our economy through veterans care, weapons replacement, higher oil prices, and the collapsing dollar. All that in just 5 years!
We elected a Democratic Congress in 2006 to bring our troops home, but they keep giving Bush blank checks. Incredibly, Congress will soon vote on another $102 billion blank check.
On this 5th Anniversary, it is time for everyone who hates this occupation to do something about it. And we're making it as simple and effective as we can.
We're calling it a Fax-In. It's like a sit-in, only you can do it from home.
For more, visit Iraqfaxin.com
March 15, 2008
The Problem With Reality Is That It's So Radical
Gerald Posner likes Obama, but now he is angry!
[Jeremiah] Wright made his comments on September 16, only 5 days after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington. He said, in part, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye....We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."...
If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright's post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there - by 9/11 they were there more than a decade - and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright's views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright's vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly.
1. As always in American (white) culture, a straightforward description of reality is perceived as "radical" "vitriol."
2. People who try to make discussions of reality taboo are simultaneously making reality much worse for most people. The more that honest examination of why were were attacked on 9/11 becomes taboo, the more Americans will die.
3. Wright obviously was nodding toward Malcolm X's description of the assassination of JFK as chickens coming home to roost. Posner wrote an entire book about the assassination. It is odd indeed for him not to bring this up here.
4. Here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Posner wrote on September 25, 2001, explaining why he'd changed his mind and now admired George Bush:
Since the murderous terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush has come alive in a way I did not think possible. It was as though the attack on America--which he rightly called an "act of war" from the start--gave him a focus and clarity I had not earlier seen...he has converted many of us to admirers, and he deserves our complete support. The entire administration, from Colin Powell to Donald Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney, inspires more confidence as we embark on this uncertain war than we likely would have had in any Gore administration.
5. The more I learn about Jeremiah Wright, the more he's one of the small number of things I like about Obama.
March 14, 2008
People: Why They're Great
On the one hand, the politics of denunciation and rejection, combined with mass resignations, is funny. We can invade another country and turn it into an abattoir (or rather, turn it from a retail abattoir into an industrial-sized one), but heaven forfend someone blurt out an impolitic thought. Our delicate constitutions can't stand it!
On the other hand, I'm fascinated by the inability of campaign surrogates to think before speaking. You'd assume, particularly given that we live in the United States of Drudge, that they'd understand the importance of this.
But they just can't manage it. Whatever else you want to say about human beings, they have a charming inability to shut up.
UPDATE: I apologize for and deeply regret everything anyone's ever said, and hereby resign from this website.
March 13, 2008
James Webb and Mark Udall Pushing Bill To Prevent Attack On Iran
Gen. William Fallon was, until Tuesday, the commander of U.S. Central Command. Last week, an article in Esquire called him the Bush administration's primary obstacle to an attack on Iran and advocate of serious diplomacy. Now, this military voice of reason on Iran has resigned, under pressure from the White House.
There is new momentum behind legislation introduced by Senator James Webb and Rep. Mark Udall that would prevent the President from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization. Senator Hillary Clinton, in a press release following Gen. Fallon's resignation, urged support for the bill. Just Foreign Policy met personally with Senator John Kerry during the Folly of Attacking Iran Tour, and he reaffirmed his active support.
The Webb/Udall bill would forbid the expenditure of money to attack Iran, which is probably the most powerful tool Congress has. You can tell your senators and representative to support it using Just Foreign Policy's email form here.
The First Sixth-Anniversary-of-the-Iraq-War Article
By Tom Engelhardt
Please don't write in with a correction. I know just as well as you do that we're approaching the fifth, not the sixth, anniversary of the moment when, on March 19, 2003, George W. Bush told the American people:"My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger… My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail."
At that moment, of course, the cruise missiles meant to "decapitate" Saddam Hussein's regime, but that killed only Iraqi civilians, were on their way to Baghdad. I'm perfectly aware that articles galore will be looking back on the five years since that day. This is not one of them.
March 12, 2008
Nir Rosen And Frederick Kagan On Surge
Oddly, the fat, pale man who doesn't speak Arabic and is paid by defense contractors thinks everything is going great, while the guy who's fluent in Arabic and has spent years on the streets of Iraq thinks it's a catastrophe. Huh. You'd assume it would be the other way around.
David Mamet Is Very Clever and Very Charming
Here's David Mamet, in an article called "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain Dead Liberal'," being clever and charming:
I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring...to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."
Here are some more people who are clever and charming:
In late October, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the Al Arabiya compound in the Al Mansour neighborhood in Baghdad, killing five, wounding dozens and destroying the channel's Baghdad office... A group called the Jihadist Martyrs Brigades took credit for the attack. In its dispatches, members had criticized Al Arabiya for giving the new Iraqi government overly favorable coverage. They called Al Arabiya a "terrorist channel" and suggested that its name, which means ''the Arab,'' should be changed to "the Hebrew."
We're lucky to live in a world filled with so much cleverness and charm.
March 11, 2008
George Bush Tied To Prostitution Ring
Bob Fertik has the details of this explosive and appalling story.
Dean Baker On Fed Bank Bailout
In a must-read, Dean Baker explains here how the Federal Reserve may have just handed over hundreds of billions of government money to America's richest banks. He also examines the reasons this is a bad idea, both the obvious and the non-obvious.
I realize this isn't as fascinating as Eliot Spitzer's wang, but it's actually kind of important. It would be nice to live in a country where we were capable of paying attention to important things.
Senate Phase II Report To Be Whitewash?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Senate Intelligence Committee is finally wrapping up its report on whether government statements on Iraq were supported by the underlying intelligence. The committee promised to do this over four years ago.
I don't know anything about it beyond the article. But based on that, it unsurprisingly seems to be a whitewash. There are two obvious problems (beyond the fact it's taken them this long to do it):
1. The committee already released a report on whether the intelligence agencies were pressured by the Bush administration. The report concluded they were not. However, they only managed this by ignoring the most glaring evidence imaginable.
The first report was issued when the Republicans controlled the Senate. The committee clearly should have reopened this question, but apparently has failed to do so.
2. The tiny bit of the report's criticism that's mentioned ignores one of the most flagrant and important lies of the entire buildup to war:
In many cases, statements that were later proven wrong -- such as President Bush's assertion in September 2002 that Iraq "possesses biological and chemical weapons" -- were largely in line with U.S. intelligence assessments at the time.
Prewar assertions about Iraq's nuclear program were problematic because they were supported by some intelligence assessments but not others.
"They were substantiated," a congressional official said, "but didn't convey the disagreements within the intelligence community."
In August 2002, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech that "Saddam [Hussein] has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." But by that time, the State Department's intelligence bureau was challenging the assumption that Iraq's nuclear program had been reactivated.
But Cheney's most important deception in that speech regarding the Iraq nuclear issue had nothing to do about "disagreements within the intelligence community." It had to do with the fact that what he said immediately after that sentence was completely false:
But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors -- including Saddam's own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction.
Cheney was referred to Hussein Kamel, who'd run Iraq's WMD programs during the eighties and then fled to Jordan in 1995. But as the Washington Post later reported, "Kamel's testimony, after defecting, was the reverse of Cheney's description." Kamel had not said Saddam had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons"; just the opposite. While the Clinton administration covered up Kamel's statements, he actually told UNSCOM that Iraq had had no nuclear program since the Gulf War in 1991. Specifically, when asked "Were there any continuation of, or present nuclear activities, for example, EMIS, centrifuge?", Kamel responded "No." (Kamel also said Iraq retained blueprints from its pre-91 program, but these were surrendered after his defection.) The IAEA later confirmed what Kamel had said:
General Hussein Kamel's [August 22, 1995] statement was compatible with statements made in the Baghdad talks, that all nuclear weapons related activities had effectively ceased at the onset of the attack on Iraq by the coalition forces.
Moreover, there is strong evidence Cheney must have known this was false. The WMD Commission report includes this citation:
429. CIA, Iraq's Remaining WMD Capabilities (NESA IR 96-40101) (Aug. 26, 1996) at p. 5; see also Senior Executive Memorandum (Jan. 12, 2002) (discussing the value of Kamil's information).
Senior Executive Memoranda are produced by intelligence agencies at the specific request of the executive branch. Thus, the White House wanted to know more about Kamel in January, 2002, at exactly the time their attention was turning toward Iraq.
Certainly this document would be examined and released as part of a serious Senate Intelligence Committee report. The evidence so far suggests it won't be, because the report won't be serious.
The Presidential Assasination Attempt That Didn't Bark
An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.
The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.
What the article doesn't mention is that apparently they also found no evidence that Saddam's regime attempted to kill George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. Nor has there been any mention of such evidence anywhere else since the invasion. All this despite the fact that we can be certain if the administration had found it, they would have let us know loudly and often.
Meanwhile, all of official Washington has become discreetly mum about this, even though they were yammering about it constantly from fall, 2002 through spring, 2003. It's almost as though none of it ever happened.
The Bad News at the Pump
The $100-plus Barrel of Oil and What It Means
By Michael T. Klare
On Monday March 3, the price of crude oil reached $103.95 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, surpassing the record set nearly 30 years ago during another moment of chaos in the Middle East. Will that new mark prove distinctive in the annals of world history or will it be forgotten as energy prices drop, just as they did following their April 1980 peak?
When oil costs are plotted over time, the 1980 oil crisis -- prompted by Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian revolution -- stands out as a sharp spike on that price curve. Both before and after that moment, however, oil supplies proved largely sufficient to meet rising global demand, in part because the Saudis and other major producers were capable of compensating for declining Iranian production. They simply increased their output substantially, dumping a surplus of oil onto the global market. Aided by the development of new fields in Alaska and the North Sea, prices dropped precipitously and stayed low through the 1990s (except for a brief spike following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990).
Nothing similar is likely to happen now. For the present surge in prices -- crude oil costs have risen by 74% over the past year -- no such easy solution is in sight. To begin with, we face not a sudden spike, but the results of a steady, relentless climb that began in 2002 and shows no signs of abating; nor can this rise be attributed to a single, chaos-causing factor in the energy business or in global politics. It is instead the product of multiple factors endemic to energy production and characteristic of the current era. There is no prospect of their vanishing any time soon.
March 10, 2008
Everyone Feels Poor
Just as presidents often complain about their lack of power and how they're being persecuted, so too do many rich Americans often feel poor because they're surrounded by people even richer. A while back I wrote about Joseph Lieberman in this regard. Now here's Tina Fey, who certainly makes $2 million a year and could plausibly make $200 million if her show ever goes into syndication, in a Parade magazine profile:
“I often feel like a complete fool,” [Fey] says. “I’m here laboring over this tiny show so much, and around me people are making money by the fistful. It’s like, ‘Oh, man, how can I turn my personality into a line of crappy products?’ Rachael Ray sells, like, spoons. I could sell pencils.”
In fairness to Fey, she's talking here in the context of time working against actresses. Still: blurgh.
THIS POST DEDICATED: To the burning comedy fires of Dennis Perrin.
ALSO: It would be nice if Fey could draw the connection between other people "making money by the fistful" and the brief working lives of actresses.
March 09, 2008
Brilliant, Original, Intelligent, POWER
Apparently I am still IOZ. Either that or he's figured out how to steal the thoughts out of my brain.
The Monster(s) Speak(s)
Until just now, I'd never bothered to read Hillary Clinton's Senate speech about her 2002 vote for war. (Thanks to Maezeppa for posting it.) As you'd expect, it's full of vulgar lies and shameless deception.
I've quoted some of it below. I'm not going to explain how exactly she was lying, because I don't have the energy. But perhaps someone will want to do so in comments.
In any case, the older I get, the less I blame people like Clinton for lying. Politicians will always lie as much as their society allows. The problem here isn't Clinton, but the layers of America underneath her. In particular I blame the upper middle professional class from whose loins I sprang. Their entire societal power derives from them—ie, doctors, scientists, managers—purportedly caring about reality. But it turns out they don't, as long as they themselves don't suffer.
Take it away, monster of our creation:
In 1998, Saddam Hussein pressured the United Nations to lift the sanctions by threatening to stop all cooperation with the inspectors...When Saddam blocked the inspection process, the inspectors left. As a result, President Clinton, with the British and others, ordered an intensive four-day air assault, Operation Desert Fox, on known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets...
[Some] argue that we should work through the United Nations and should only resort to force if and when the United Nations Security Council approves it...But there are problems with this approach as well. The United Nations is an organization that is still growing and maturing. It often lacks the cohesion to enforce its own mandates. And when Security Council members use the veto, on occasion, for reasons of narrow-minded interests, it cannot act. In Kosovo, the Russians did not approve NATO military action because of political, ethnic, and religious ties to the Serbs. The United States therefore could not obtain a Security Council resolution in favor of the action necessary to stop the dislocation and ethnic cleansing of more than a million Kosovar Albanians. However, most of the world was with us because there was a genuine emergency with thousands dead and a million driven from their homes. As soon as the American-led conflict was over, Russia joined the peacekeeping effort that is still underway.
Ho-Hum, More Massive Drug Corruption
George W. Bush’s strategy of countering Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chávez by strengthening ties to Colombia’s rightist government has been undercut by fresh evidence of high-level drug corruption and human rights violations implicating President Alvaro Uribe’s inner circle.
These new allegations about Colombia’s narco-politics have tarnished Uribe’s reputation just as Bush has been showcasing the Harvard- and Oxford-educated politician as a paragon of democratic values and an alternative to the firebrand Chávez, who has used Venezuela’s oil wealth to finance social programs for the poor across the region.
Despite the corruption disclosures – and Uribe’s failure to stem Colombian cocaine smuggling to the United States – the Bush administration continues to shower Uribe’s government with trade incentives and billions of dollars in military and development aid.
I think we can be completely certain that political and economic elites all over the world (including here) are deeply in bed with the drug industry. If everyone knew the truth, it would shock the kind of nice middle-class white people who are easily shocked. In many Latin American countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, the government basically is the drug industry. In the United States, it's merely that our biggest banks knowingly service the industry, and our biggest politicians (like the Bush family) are best friends with drug lords from other countries.
And to tell the truth, this doesn't bother me much. It's only natural: drugs are a huge industry, and huge industries tend to capture governments. Mexico doesn't have much of a military-industrial complex, but it certainly has a drug-industrial complex. The only irritating thing about it is the massive hypocrisy by right-wing governments that hold power by scare campaigns on drugs, but actually are drug dealers themselves.
In any case, nothing can be done about it short of decriminalization. Then cocaine dealers will have as much sway in the halls of government as aspirin dealers do currently.
March 08, 2008
A Racketeer for Capitalism
To me, the most interesting part of the Esquire article about Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, isn't the claims he may be fired to pave the way for an attack on Iran. Instead, it's this presentation of Fallon's view of his role:
Unlike his Arabic-speaking predecessor, Army General John Abizaid, Fox Fallon wasn't selected to lead U. S. Central Command for his regional knowledge or cultural sensitivity, but because he is, says Secretary of Defense Gates, "one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today."
If anything has been sorely missing to date in America's choices in the Middle East and Central Asia, it has been a strategic mind-set that consistently keeps its eyes on the real prize: connecting these isolated regions in a far more broadband fashion to the global economy. Instead of effectively countering the efforts of others (e.g., the radical Salafis, Saudi Arabia's Wahhabists, Russia's security services, China's energy sector) who would fashion such connectivity to their selfish ends...
Waiting on perfect security or perfect politics to forge economic relationships is a fool's errand. By the time those fantastic conditions are met in this dangerous, unstable part of the world, somebody less idealistic will be running the place--the Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, Turks, Iranians, Saudis...
The Persian Gulf right now is booming economically, and Fallon wants to harness that power to connect the failed states that pockmark the landscape to the outside world. In this choice, he sees no alternative.
"What I learned in the Pacific is that after a while the tableau of failed, failing, or dysfunctional states becomes a real burden on the functional countries and a problem for their neighborhood, because they breed unrest and insecurities and attract troublemakers very well. They're like sewers, and they begin to fester. It's bad for business. And when it's bad for business, people tend to start restricting their investments, and they restrict their thinking, and it allows more barriers, so we're back to building walls again instead of breaking them down. If you have to build walls, it means you're moving backward."
I love the stuff about the horrible, "selfish" people out there who are "less idealistic" than us. It's a good thing we're so nice, or we'd have to feel bad about running the world!
Beyond that, it's bracing to find out the highest levels of the US military view their role the same way Lenin did. It's all about cracking down on anything bad for business, anything that involves people "restricting their investments."
Or as Smedley Butler said:
I spent 33 years and 4 months In active service as a member of our country's most agile military force -- the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period 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 for capitalism.
March 07, 2008
Complicated Stupid Moves
Here's more from the excellent Vanity Fair article by David Rose about the Gaza coup:
[Khalid Jaberi, a commander with Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades] pauses. He spent the night before our interview awake and in hiding, fearful of Israeli air strikes. “You know,” he says, “since the takeover, we’ve been trying to enter the brains of Bush and Rice, to figure out their mentality. We can only conclude that having Hamas in control serves their overall strategy, because their policy was so crazy otherwise.”
And here's Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, probably at some point during the sixties:
"The genius of you Americans is that you never made clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which makes us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them we are missing."
There's a great deal of continuity in US foreign policy.
What Is And Is Not Monstrous
There are several interesting things about Obama advisor Samantha "Samwise" Power calling Hillary Clinton a monster:
"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.
Ms Power said of the Clinton campaign: "Here, it looks like desperation. I hope it looks like desperation there, too.
"You just look at her and think, 'Ergh'. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."
Clinton, of course, is a monster. She's a monster for supporting the invasion of Iraq. She's a monster for being First Lady while we strangled Iraq during the nineties. She's a monster for being First Lady while we supported Turkey's massacres of Turkish Kurds. She's a monster for dozens of other reasons, all involving mass death.
Yet these actions did not arouse such anger in Power. Why?
What Power is furious about is Clinton competing with her. This is a very, very basic part of human nature. When people are competing with you, all of a sudden what previously appeared to you as minor faults become monstrous. If Power weren't part of the Obama campaign, Clinton's tactics would have barely registered with Power at all.
Similarly, Power got extremely angry about the actions of Serbia's government during the Bosnian war in the mid-nineties. Meanwhile, as far as I know, she's never said a single word about a similar situation during the same period: the Turkish government killing tens of thousands of Turkish Kurds (and Iraqi Kurds) to suppress a separatist movement.
Why did Power get angry about one and not the other? Because the Serbian government was acting against the wishes of the US government, and thus (to Power) competing with her. And because the Turkish government was licking the boots of the US, and thus (to Power) not competing with her.
Amusingly, Power's counterparts on the Clinton campaign are exactly the same. They're furious at Obama because he's competing with them, not because of their stated reasons (he's "presumptuous"). And Clintonites got angry at Saddam Hussein because he presented competition, not for the reasons they claimed (he's a horrible dictator, etc.). (Background here.)
No one with Samantha Power's lack of self-knowledge should be allowed within a million miles of power. However, "should" and "is" are different things.
Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arouse in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
Imagine if Frodo had attempted to snatch back the ring from Samwise at this point. He would have been a MONSTER!!!
The ring must be destroyed.
March 06, 2008
Crushing The Ants
You may have heard the new Esquire article about Admiral William Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, presents him as a hero for standing up to Bush's desire to attack Iran. Chris Floyd points out the portrayal of Fallon's perspective is actually a little more complicated:
Fallon himself has long denied the story which had him declaring, upon taking over Central Command, that a war on Iran "isn't going to happen on my watch." And in fact, the article itself depicts Fallon's true attitude toward the idea of an attack on Iran right up front, in his own words. After noting Fallon's concerns about focusing too much on Iran to the exclusion of the other "pots boiling over" in the region, Barnett nevertheless keeps pressing the point the point and asks: "And if it comes to war?" Fallon replies with stark, brutal clarity:"Get serious," the admiral says. "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."
The article makes clear that Fallon's main concerns about a war with Iran are, as noted, about tactics and timing: Sure, when the time comes – no shuffling on that point – we'll crush these subhumans like the insects they are; but we've already got a lot on our plate at the moment, so why not hold off as long as we can?
Greg Grandin is author of the excellent book Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.
Fidel Castro, the First Superdelegate
By Greg Grandin
"Long ere the second centennial arrives," Walt Whitman predicted in 1871, "there will be some forty to fifty great States," among them Cuba. It was a common enough belief. From Thomas Jefferson onward, many Americans thought that, as Secretary of State James Blaine said in 1881, "Cuba must necessarily become American."
Based on its current population, if the island had become a U.S. state, it would hold about the same weight in deciding American presidential elections as does Ohio. History, of course, took a different turn; yet, over the last five decades, Cuba could still count one superdelegate.
Fidel Castro hasn't been seen in public since July 2006, when a near-fatal stomach illness forced him into semi-retirement. In the U.S., however, he remains a contender, at least in terms of the hold he has on the imagination of candidates running for the White House. Here's a short history of Castro's long run in U.S. presidential politics:
The Real News On Columbia, Venezuela & Ecuador
Below is a Real News segment on Colombia's attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador. Also, Robert Naiman examines Clinton and Obama's response to the raid here, and John Caruso pretends as though the United States could ever be treated like other countries here.
You should donate to the Real News.
March 05, 2008
The Liberal Media, Circa 1965
Above is a picture of Nguyen Cao Ky huddling with Lyndon Johnson. Ky was one of our main Vietnamese lackeys during the midsixties, first as Air Marshall and then as Prime Minister.
Therefore, from the perspective of the U.S. media, he was someone to gush over. This CBS News segment appears in an obscure documentary about I.F. Stone:
CRONKITE: Air Force Marshall Ky is a dynamic man—at 34, said to be one of the best public speakers in Vietnam. He gets to work around 7:30 in the morning, works late at night. He has broken the habits of siestas, there is none here. He doesn't even go out to lunch, but like an American businessman, he eats off the corner of his desk. Ky is a hero to the Vietnamese people. We had an opportunity to talk to him today.
KY: We need more American troops, allied troops.
From the same period, here's General Ky speaking in an interview with the London Sunday Mirror:
KY: People ask me who my heroes are. I have only one—Hitler. I admire Hitler because he pulled his country together when it was in a terrible state.
God damn that god damn liberal media!
In any case, this is why I say that Ahmadinejad's statements about wiping Israel off the map (whether he actually said that or not) have nothing to do with our policy toward Iran. All that matters is whether you take orders. If you do, you're free to say or do anything you want. Grow a Hitler 'stache while eating Hitler-flavored ice cream and screaming "I WANT TO BE THE HITLERIST HITLER OF ALL" and it's perfectly okay. Knock yourself out.
(The Ky-Hitler quote appears in the documentary, but I was also reminded of it by Rick Perlstein.)
I was concerned for a while that the Democrats wouldn't find some way to lose this year. Clearly they faced an extremely challenging environment: their opponents have destroyed the country and plan to nominate an angry gnome whose platform is "I will destroy this country harder!" It was obvious it would take discipline, hard work and more than a little luck for the Democrats to pull this one out of the fire and lose.
But you should NEVER count the Democrats out. Remember, these are the people who managed to lose to the mighty Bush/Quayle ticket in 1988. Do you believe in miracles?
March 04, 2008
Excellent Vanity Fair Journalism On Gaza Coup
For all the crappy crap clogging America's journalistic bloodstream, there's still some great work. David Rose has written a fantastic piece about the Bush administration's attempt to stage a coup against the elected Palestinian government:
On January 26, 2007, abu Dan, a student at the Islamic University of Gaza, had gone to a local cemetery with his father and five others to erect a headstone for his grandmother. When they arrived, however, they found themselves surrounded by 30 armed men from Hamas’s rival, Fatah, the party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. “They took us to a house in north Gaza,” abu Dan says. “They covered our eyes and took us to a room on the sixth floor.”
The video reveals a bare room with white walls and a black-and-white tiled floor, where abu Dan’s father is forced to sit and listen to his son’s shrieks of pain. Afterward, abu Dan says, he and two of the others were driven to a market square. “They told us they were going to kill us. They made us sit on the ground.” He rolls up the legs of his trousers to display the circular scars that are evidence of what happened next: “They shot our knees and feet—five bullets each. I spent four months in a wheelchair.”
Abu Dan had no way of knowing it, but his tormentors had a secret ally: the administration of President George W. Bush.
(Thanks to Nell for pointing this out.)
The Fire This Time
This is a recent letter in the Washington Post:
The Mideast's Real Problem
John Podesta, Ray Takeyh and Lawrence J. Korb ["A War We Must End," op-ed, Feb. 26] have confused association with causation in offering explanations for turmoil in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
The United States is not the problem in the Middle East; radical dogma and the region's tolerance of it are. As long as our freedoms are a dominant force in business and culture around the world, American values will continue to contradict the advocates of repression.
When America was more "liked" and "respected" in the Middle East -- say, when Mr. Podesta served in the Clinton administration -- I hardly remember Saudi Arabia, Iran or Jordan coalescing to demand that Iraq comply with U.N. resolutions or that the Taliban abandon its tyrannical ways.
The region's back yard harbored terrorist training camps, and little was done in those years to interfere with those who financed, planned and carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other violence.
This is James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time:
[T]his is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it...But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime...
You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it...
But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers...this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.
March 03, 2008
Penny Pritzker, Obama, And The Giant Housing Catastrophe
Who is Penny Pritzker?
Pritzker is the national finance chair of Obama's presidential campaign. She's from one of America's richest families, the founders of the Hyatt hotel chain, and is herself the 135th richest person in America.
She also has an ugly history as the former chair of Superior Bank in Illinois, which (1) was created thanks to a giant S&L bailout by the government; (2) then helped invent the securitization of subprime mortgages; and (3) then collapsed in 2001 thanks to massive financial chicanery.
Interestingly, she lives in a fancy Chicago neighborhood just a short stroll away from Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor who's one of Obama's main economic advisors. It's really quite wonderful how Goolsbee can maintain his deep admiration for the Free Market while living a few blocks away from billionaires who use massive government power to create and subsidize their businesses. (Both Pritzker and Goolsbee are, of course, graduates of Stutts University.)
Dennis Berstein: "Obama's Sub-Prime Conflict"
Earl Ofari Hutchinson: "If Obama's For Real on the Sub-Prime Crisis, He'll Dump His Campaign Finance Chair"
Bob Feldman: "Obama Campaign's Pritzker/Superior Bank S&L Scandal Link?"
Flashpoints Radio: "An investigative report into Penny Pritzker"
March 02, 2008
The Monster Must Die!
Clemenstein, or the Post-Modern Prometheus
By Robert Lipsyte
"When all this happened, the former President of the United States found me in a deer blind in south Texas and expressed his concerns, that this was unbelievable, and to stay strong and… hold your head up high." -- Roger Clemens testifying before the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee.
The genius of Roger Clemens lies in the fact that he created the monster of himself. He is both Dr. Clemenstein, inventor of a more powerful man, and Clemenstein, the age-defying result, an ogre who defines ur-masculinity today. He is a big, white Republican who makes his own rules, lies, cheats, and mixes family values and intimidation. Roger Clemens also manipulated and sacrificed associates to accomplish his mission. He was able to do this not only because scientific additions made him bigger and stronger, but because subtractions enabled him to believe in the preeminence of the creature he had become. The drugs went in and the soul came out.
Christian Science Monitor Successfully Turns Up Down
No matter how many times I see it, I'm impressed with the ability of the US media to blithely rewrite history. Here's Ilene R. Prusher, Jerusalem bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, explaining why a Palestinian billionaire is trying to reconcile Fatah and Hamas:
Relations between Fatah and Hamas, hostile for a few years, were severed when Hamas overran the Gaza Strip last June in a violent coup. Militants connected to Hamas, which swept to power in a landslide election just over two years ago, attacked all security forces and posts in Gaza connected to Fatah.
Of course, many Palestinians say they've heard it all before. At an event to launch the initiative, members of the press wanted to know why this would be any different from the Mecca Accord, in which Saudi Arabia brought Fatah and Hamas to an agreement in February 2007, only to fall apart soon afterwards.
Here in the real world, things were almost 180 degrees the opposite: relations were severed because a faction of Fatah was planning to overrun Gaza in a violent coup. More importantly from the perspective of American readers is that this coup was funded and armed by the United States and its allies. Moreover, the main reason the Mecca Accord failed was the opposition of the Bush administration. Some details are here.
You never know whether people like Prusher just have no idea what they're talking about, or are consciously reshaping reality to keep their jobs.
In any case, some far superior reporting from the Real News on the current Israel/Palestine situation is below. You can donate to the Real News here.
March 01, 2008
More Nazi Crap
Having posted pictures of the Nazi teacup that my grandfather brought back from World War II, I've been wondering what other innocuous household items the Nazis liked to brand with their logo. Were there Nazi toasters? Nazi potholders? Nazi pencil sharpeners?
In any case, here's something that has more of the traditional Nazi vibe: a dagger. My family says my grandfather's story was that this belonged to a German sniper, and he himself (my grandfather) had shot him and taken it. I have no idea whether my family is relaying this correctly, and if so whether my grandfather's version of events was accurate. But there you have it.
As you'd expect, mildly unsavory people love to trade this kind of stuff. It clearly is a common German army dagger, as you can find others online.
Here are three pictures:
#1: Dagger in scabbard, with ballpoint pen for scale. The attached stuff is some kind of belt.
#2: The dagger, while rusty, can still be removed from the scabbard. I will Nazi Stab you!
#3: Close up of the handle of the dagger, with swastika and eagle.
I don't have anything more to say about this, except that it appears this whole "World War II" thing people always talk about actually happened.