April 30, 2008
BREAKING: Dem. Senator Compares America To Hitler's Germany!!!!!! [Siren]
Rick Perlstein has posted Arkansas Senator William Fulbright's famous 1966 speech on Vietnam, usually titled "The Arrogance of Power":
The causes of the malady are not entirely clear but its recurrence is one of the uniformities of history: power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations -- to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God's work. The Lord, after all, surely would not choose you as His agent and then deny you the sword with which to do His will. German soldiers in the First World War wore belt buckles imprinted with the words "Gott mit uns." It was approximately under this kind of infatuation -- an exaggerated sense of power and an imaginary sense of mission -- that the Athenians attacked Syracuse, and Napoleon and then Hitler invaded Russia. In plain words, they overextended their commitments and they came to grief.
It's not all as good as that paragraph—in fact, Fulbright spends some time wondering how the Vietnamese people could be so "shockingly ungrateful"—but it's still amazing that a US Senator (from the South) said it all more than forty years ago.
April 29, 2008
New At TomDispatch
A Litany of Horrors
America's University of Imperialism
By Chalmers Johnson
This essay is a review of Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire by Alex Abella (Harcourt, 400 pp., $27)
The RAND Corporation of Santa Monica, California, was set up immediately after World War II by the U.S. Army Air Corps (soon to become the U.S. Air Force). The Air Force generals who had the idea were trying to perpetuate the wartime relationship that had developed between the scientific and intellectual communities and the American military, as exemplified by the Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb.
Soon enough, however, RAND became a key institutional building block of the Cold War American empire. As the premier think tank for the U.S.'s role as hegemon of the Western world, RAND was instrumental in giving that empire the militaristic cast it retains to this day...Without RAND, our military-industrial complex, as well as our democracy, would look quite different.
Alex Abella, the author of Soldiers of Reason, is a Cuban-American living in Los Angeles who has written several well-received action and adventure novels set in Cuba...The publisher of his latest book claims that it is "the first history of the shadowy think tank that reshaped the modern world." Such a history is long overdue. Unfortunately, this book does not exhaust the demand. We still need a less hagiographic, more critical, more penetrating analysis of RAND's peculiar contributions to the modern world...
Abella's book is profoundly schizophrenic. On the one hand, the author is breathlessly captivated by RAND's fast-talking economists, mathematicians, and thinkers-about-the-unthinkable; on the other hand, he agrees with Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis's assessment in his book, The Cold War: A New History, that, in promoting the interests of the Air Force, RAND concocted an "unnecessary Cold War" that gave the dying Soviet empire an extra 30 years of life.
We need a study that really lives up to Abella's subtitle and takes a more jaundiced view of RAND's geniuses, Nobel prize winners, egghead gourmands and wine connoisseurs, Laurel Canyon swimming pool parties, and self-professed saviors of the Western world. It is likely that, after the American empire has gone the way of all previous empires, the RAND Corporation will be more accurately seen as a handmaiden of the government that was always super-cautious about speaking truth to power...
How Did We Ridicule Powerful People Before The Internet?
Apparently we had to write books, which is far less effective and fun. This is from Sound and Fury by Eric Alterman:
In early November 1987, Edward Luttwak spied a photo on page one of The New York Times posing Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega beside Erich Honecker of East Germany and Poland's Wojciech Jarulzelski at the opening of the 19th Party Congress in Moscow. The photo, wrote Luttwak in The Washington Post, proved that the Sandinistas had been admitted to the "very exclusive club of governments the Soviet Union regard as permanent, organic allies," and thus "settled conclusively" the argument over "the nature of the Sandinista regime and its intent in regard to the peace plan." One of the many problems with Luttwak's analysis was that the photo did not exist, and neither, so far an anyone else knew, did the club. The Times had simply published two photos adjacently with only a tiny border between them.
April 28, 2008
Jonathan Schwarz Is Irritated By Jeremiah Wright
Jonathan Schwarz finds that a certain way of speaking pisses Jonathan Schwarz off. Jonathan Schwarz instinctively mistrusts anyone who does this. Jonathan Schwarz suspects such people are Moes, even if much of what they're saying makes sense:
WRIGHT: I stand before you to open up this two-day symposium with the hope that this most recent attack on the black church is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright; it is an attack on the black church...
You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles...
As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.
Jimmy Carter called it apartheid. Jeremiah Wright didn't liken anything to anything. My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist, that Israelis have a right to exist, as I said, reconciled one to another...
This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright...
Jonathan Schwarz has spoken.
"Military Propaganda Pushed Me Off TV"
In the fall of 2002, week after week, I argued vigorously against invading Iraq in debates televised on MSNBC. I used every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers — no real threat, cost, instability. But as the war neared, my debates were terminated.
In my 2006 book Cable News Confidential, I explained why I lost my airtime:
There was no room for me after MSNBC launched Countdown: Iraq — a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. Countdown: Iraq featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.
It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals — many working for military corporations — were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor. (I wasn’t allowed on MSNBC unless balanced by at least one truculent right-winger.)
Except for the brazenness and scope of the Pentagon spin program, I wasn’t shocked by the recent New York Times report exposing how the Pentagon junketed and coached the retired military brass into being “message-force multipliers” and “surrogates” for Donald Rumsfeld’s lethal propaganda.
The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld or the Pentagon. It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism.
No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter...
Against all odds, good journalism sometimes occurs in the United States. Be sure to read "Working Life (High and Low)" by Stephen Greenhouse in the New York Times. It's about the ever-worse working conditions for many people in America.
April 27, 2008
First Ever Cat Blugging
I have an important experience to share with anyone who has a cat.
Did you know cats could become diabetic? I didn't, until it happened to my parents' cat, Muppet. Here's a recent picture of him, protecting their household from something hiding under the covers:
I feel responsible for him because I picked him up off the streets of New York in 1996, and he lived with me for a while before I sent him off to board with my parents in a more congenial environment. He was almost full grown in 1996, so he's probably 13 years old now. He was diagnosed as being diabetic last December.
It was difficult not to be depressed by this. Beyond the dangers of the disease, he would, according to their vet, probably have to get two insulin shots every day on a tight schedule for the rest of his life. The shots part was a drag for him. The tight schedule part was a drag for my parents, because it meant they would have to arrange their lives around doing this. Everyone's quality of life took a big dip.
But poking around online, I found a site called Your Diabetic Cat. It's set up by Elizabeth Hodgkins, a vet in Southern California. Hodgkins says that feline diabetes is a completely man-made phenomenon, and in most cats can be quickly reversed through proper diet. You can read Your Diabetic Cat for details, but her main point is that cats' digestive systems aren't made to handle much carbohydrate—yet dry foods all have tons of carbohydrate filler that easily overwhelms an older cat's pancreas and makes them diabetic. However, if you put diabetic cats on an all-meat high-protein diet, the cat's blood glucose levels quickly return to normal and they usually can be completely weaned off insulin.
Based on my parents' experience with Muppet, Hodgkins is completely right. Their vet didn't know anything about her views, and initially gave them a prescription dry food for diabetics. This had carbohydrate filler, and Muppet's glucose levels remained much too high.
Then they switched him to all-meat wet food. You'd think this would be expensive, but it's not—it turns out many generic supermarket brands have no added carbohydrates and are great for diabetic cats. You just have to carefully check the five-point type listing the ingredients.
The all-meat diet worked very, very quickly. His insulin dose had to be reduced within days, and after a week he had to be taken off insulin completely, because his glucose levels were getting dangerously low. Since then his glucose levels have been completely normal. He's also thinner, happier and more energetic. Given the outlook when he was diagnosed, this has been a big, happy surprise for my parents.
So based on this experience, I advise you to listen to Elizabeth Hodgkins. (ADDED: In consultation with your regular vet, of course.) If your cat becomes diabetic, there's a lot of hope they can be cured. And, at least according to Hodgkins, you can prevent it from happening in the first place by never giving your cat dry food, especially when they're older.
Here's another picture of Muppet, who feels so strongly about this issue that it exhausted him and he had to sleep for five hours to recover:
April 26, 2008
More Goldbergian Goodness
Looking back at it now, I see that in McCain's October 11, 2002 Senate speech supporting the Iraq war resolution, he quoted Jeffrey Goldberg:
This is not just another Arab despot, not one of many tyrants who repress their people from within the confines of their countries. As New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who recently traveled across northern Iraq, recently wrote in Slate:There are, of course, many repugnant dictators in the world; a dozen or so in the Middle East alone. But Saddam Hussein is a figure of singular repugnance, and singular danger. To review: there is no dictator in power anywhere in the world who has, so far in his career, invaded two neighboring countries; fired ballistic missiles at the civilians of two other neighboring countries; tried to have assassinated an ex-president of the United States; harbored al Qaeda fugitives...; attacked civilians with chemical weapons; attacked the soldiers of an enemy with chemical weapons; conducted biological weapons experiments on human subjects; committed genocide; and... [weaponized] aflotoxin, a tool of mass murder and nothing else. I do not know how any thinking person could believe that Saddam Hussein is a run-of-the-mill dictator. No one else comes close... to matching his extraordinary and variegated record of malevolence.'
Here's more of what Goldberg wrote in that specific Slate article:
There is not sufficient space...for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected)...
The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.
Too bad McCain didn't use that.
(Goldberg aficionados may also want to read a recent article by Spencer Ackerman about Goldberg and Stephen Hayes.)
April 25, 2008
This Week In Iran Obliteration News
Hillary Clinton, this week:
[I]f Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that...we would be able to totally obliterate them.
But is this the first time high level U.S. officials have spoken about "obliterating" Iran? No!
This is from a shockingly good episode of Nightline in 1992. Richard Armitage, who later became Colin Powell's deputy during the first George W. Bush administration, was Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan:
TED KOPPEL: [T]hroughout the ’80s and into the ’90s, U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein and the government of Iraq dwarfed anything this country did for Iran...[T]here were actually U.S. contingency plans for an attack against the Iranian mainland.
Admiral Ace Lyons was commander of the Pacific fleet.
JAMES LYON, JR.: We were prepared — as I would say at the time — to drill them back to the fourth century...
RICHARD ARMITAGE: The decision was made not to completely obliterate Iran...However, had things not gone well in the Gulf, I’ve no doubt that we would have put those plans into effect.
More recently, Admiral William Fallon, then head of U.S. Central Command, said this about Iran:
"These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."
So what Hillary Clinton said wasn't anything new. We've been talking about obliterating, drilling and crushing Iran for a long time. Fortunately, Iranians know we are just a sober, sensible nation that wants only peace, and so they correctly ignore all of it.
April 24, 2008
According To Rules, Iran Now Allowed To Attack U.S.
You've probably seen that Hillary Clinton just said this:
CHRIS CUOMO: You said if Iran were to strike Israel, there would be 'massive retaliation." Scary words. Does 'massive retaliation" mean you'd go into Iran? You would bomb Iran? Is that what that's supposed to suggest?
CLINTON: Well, the question was, if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that...we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that. Because that, perhaps, will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish, and tragic.
While belligerently phrased, this was not a threat by Clinton to attack Iran first. Instead, it's a statement of deterrence. And interestingly, it's quite similar to an infamous statement by Saddam Hussein back in 1990. Here's an AFP story from that April:
President Saddam Hussein has ordered the Iraqi air force to retaliate with chemical weapons in the event of atomic attack by Israel, the official Iraqi News Agency agency reported Monday. "I gave the order to Iraqi air force and missile commanders to retaliate with binary chemical weapons as soon as they know that Israel has attacked any part of Iraq with an atomic bomb,'' he was quoted as telling a visiting U.S. Senate delegation on Thursday. It was unclear why the agency waited until Monday to report the president's comments. On April 2, Hussein threatened to "make fire burn up half of Israel with chemical weapons if it attacks Iraq.''
The difference is that (1) Saddam's statement was repeatedly used in 2002-3 as evidence for why he was a madman who had to be destroyed, and (2) the "if Israel attacks Iraq first" part was generally dropped, so it was no longer a statement of deterrence but rather a threat of naked aggression.
So by the standards we apply to others, Iran is now allowed to say Clinton has promised to "obliterate" them whether or not they attack anyone. And, since this demonstrates we're madmen who must be destroyed, they therefore are allowed to invade America.
Here are some examples of the truncated use of the Saddam statement. This is from Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:
Israel is well aware of the threat it faces from Iraq...It was Israel that Saddam threatened to "burn" half of in 1990 and that he lobbed thirty-nine Scuds at during the Gulf War. The Israelis have listened carefully to Saddam's rhetoric for thirty years and have watched carefully as he built up Iraq's strength, at least rhetorically, for an eventual confrontation with Israel.
From Lloyd's List, one of the world's oldest publications, on August 6, 2002
Oil traders make painstaking forecasts of everything from refining margins to weather patterns to safeguard profits.
Now they are attempting the impossible - trying to read the mind of a man accused of gassing his own people and who once threatened to burn half of Israel.
Barbara Amiel in the Chicago Sun-Times (and the UK Telegraph) on September 9, 2002:
If we leave this tyrant alone, he will continue consolidating his power. He will get more nightmarish weapons of mass destruction...The first endangered outpost of the West would be Israel, which Saddam threatened to "burn half of" with chemical weapons in 1990.
David Frum in Canada's National Post on September 22, 2002:
UN, Schmu-en says Schroeder -- it is German national interests that come first.
And what a set of national interests they are, too!...If Saddam ever does make good on his threat to "burn up half of Israel," the poisons he will use for this second Jewish holocaust will come from many of the same companies that supplied the gas for the last one.
Robert Lieber in the Los Angeles Times on September 29, 2002
Containment Has Run Its Course
Before his march into Kuwait, Hussein threatened to "burn half of Israel."
Tamar Miller and Tamar Morad in the Boston Globe on October 27, 2002:
[I]n April 1990, after the successful test of the Tammuz missile, Saddam threatened to "burn half of Israel"...
In the National Review on October 28, 2002, David Pryce-Jones didn't even bother to get the timing of the Saddam statement right, folding it into the Gulf War while also getting the date of the war wrong:
In the 1990-91 Gulf War he threatened to "burn half of Israel" and fired 39 Scud missiles.
Michael Scott Doran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on January 19, 2003, in an op-ed adapted from a piece in the Council on Foreign Relations publication Foreign Affairs:
In preparation for the invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad expressed its casus belli in terms of Kuwait's alleged participation in a Zionist-imperialist conspiracy to destroy Iraq. Saddam accompanied this rhetoric with bellicose anti-Israel statements, such as his famous threat to burn half of the Jewish state with chemical weapons.
Beautifully enough, the same formulation continues to be used even years later.
Here's Jeffrey Goldberg in New York Times on March 14, 2006:
Saddam Hussein had once promised to “make fire burn half of Israel”...
Yossi Melman on WashingtonPost.com on December 14, 2006:
Some 16 years later, in 1990, shortly after becoming science minister, Prof. Yuval Ne'eman who was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and party to the nuclear secret, also made declarations, which suggested that any attack on Israel would provoke an extremely serious response. The remarks came against the backdrop of Saddam Hussein's threats in April 1990 that Iraq could "burn half of Israel."
Finally, Aluf Benn in Haaretz on February 3, 2007:
In the spring of 1990, Saddam Hussein threatened to "burn half of Israel."
Given all this, I assume there won't be any whining on America's part when Iran uses Clinton's statement to whip up domestic political war fever and then attacks us. We will simply nod acceptingly and say "well, fair's fair."
Why The Pie?
All decent human beings will enjoy seeing Thomas Friedman get pied, because all decent human beings possess an instinctual understanding that he's a blithering idiot:
But why, precisely, is Friedman a blithering idiot? In Bad Samaritans, Ha-Joon Chang describes one underappreciated but hilarious example:
Toyota started out as a manufacturer of textile machinery (Toyoda Automatic Loom) and moved into car production in 1933. The Japanese government kicked out General Motors and Ford in 1939 and bailed out Toyota with money from the central bank (Bank of Japan) in 1949. Today, Japanese cars are considered as 'natural' as Scottish salmon or French wine, but fewer than 50 years ago, most people, including many Japanese, thought the Japanese car industry simply should not exist.
Half a century after the Toyopet debacle, Toyota's luxury brand Lexus has become something of an icon for globalization, thanks to the American journalist Thomas Friedman's book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. The book owes its title to an epiphany that Friedman had on the Shinkansen bullet train during his trip to Japan in 1992. He had paid a visit to a Lexus factory, which mightily impressed him. On his train back from the car factory in Toyota City to Tokyo, he came across yet another newspaper article about the troubles in the Middle East where he had been a long-time correspondent. Then it hit him. He realized that that 'half the world seemed to be ... intent on building a better Lexus, dedicated to modernizing, streamlining, and privatizing their economies in order to thrive in the system of globalization. And half of the world - sometimes half the same country, sometimes half the same person - was still caught up in the fight over who owns which olive tree'.
According to Friedman, unless they fit themselves into a particular set of economic policies that he calls the Golden Straitjacket, countries in the olive-tree world will not be able to join the Lexus world. In describing the Golden Straitjacket, he pretty much sums up today's neo-liberal economic orthodoxy: in order to fit into it, a country needs to privatize state-owned enterprises, maintain low inflation, reduce the size of government bureaucracy, balance the budget (if not running a surplus), liberalize trade, deregulate foreign investment, deregulate capital markets, make the currency convertible, reduce corruption and privatize pensions. According to him, this is the only path to success in the new global economy. His Straitjacket is the only gear suitable for the harsh but exhilarating game of globalization. Friedman is categorical: 'Unfortunately, this Golden Straitjacket is pretty much "one-size fits all" ... It is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it's here and it's the only model on the rack this historical season.'
However, the fact is that, had the Japanese government followed the free-trade economists back in the early 1960s, there would have been no Lexus. Toyota today would, at best, be a junior partner to some western car manufacturer, or worse, have been wiped out. The same would have been true for the entire Japanese economy. Had the country donned Friedman's Golden Straitjacket early on, Japan would have remained the third-rate industrial power that it was in the 1960s, with its income level on a par with Chile, Argentina and South Africa - it was then a country whose prime minister was insultingly dismissed as 'a transistor-radio salesman' by the French president, Charles De Gaulle. In other words, had they followed Friedman's advice, the Japanese would now not be exporting the Lexus but still be fighting over who owns which mulberry tree.
BUT: In Friedman's defense, he's doing the best he can, given that a strange furry parasite has attached itself to his upper lip and sucked his brains out through his nose.
Signed First Editions Of Before the Storm
Rick Perlstein is auctioning off a small number of signed first editions of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus on Ebay. Beyond being a great book, it's probably a great investment—unsigned first editions are currently selling for $150-440 at Alibris.
April 23, 2008
"U.S. News Media's Latest Disgrace"
Robert Parry explains how we got here:
So, the real question is not how widespread the ethical lapses of the U.S. news media were – both in palming off self-interested ex-generals as objective observers and for failing to demonstrate even a modicum of skepticism in publishing false articles that paved the way to war.
Rather, the urgent question is what must be done if the United States is to reclaim its status as a functioning constitutional Republic in which a reasonably honest news media keeps the public adequately informed.
Having spent most of my career on the inside at places such as the Associated Press and Newsweek, it’s been my view for many years that the mainstream U.S. news media can’t be reformed, that it is beyond hope.
Though there are still good journalists working at major news companies – and the better news outlets do produce some useful information, like Sunday’s story in the Times – the central reality is that corporate journalism is rotten at the core and won't stop spreading the rot throughout the U.S. political process.
Donate to Consortium News here.
The Great Silence
Our Gilded Age and Theirs
By Steve Fraser
Google "second Gilded Age" and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: it's a matter of déjà vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened "gilded" in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?
Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in The Gilded Age, is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsized as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroad's chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant's vice president, to loot the federal treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policy-making. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq was conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand-strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.
April 22, 2008
Bernard Chazelle, King Of All Media
More Evidence In The Eternal "Liars Or Stupid?" Debate
There's an article in the May/June issue of Mother Jones by Laura Rozen (not online) about James Woolsey's interest in clean energy. (Woolsey, head of the CIA under Clinton, is a prominent neoconservative who was sent to England by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks to find evidence Saddam was involved.)
I particularly enjoyed this:
Being a green neoconservative is becoming less lonely, Woolsey says, especially as more hawks come to see energy as a security issue. He tells a story about an argument with a friend who is a global warming skeptic. When Woolsey explained how improvements to the electrical infrastructure could make it safer from terrorists, his friend replied, "Oh, well, that's fine then—we can do all that as long as it's not because of this fictional global warming."
In other words, if this friend of Woolsey's publicly said he didn't believe in global warming, he wouldn't be lying. In many cases, these people truly believe the insane stuff they say.
April 21, 2008
Ho Hum, More Government Lies Eagerly Swallowed By America's Incredibly Liberal Media
The Times of London has gotten the British government to cough up documents on the incident last March where Iran seized British sailors and held them for several weeks. Guess what?
Newly released Ministry of Defence documents state that:
— The arrests took place in waters that are not internationally agreed as Iraqi;
— The coalition unilaterally designated a dividing line between Iraqi and Iranian waters in the Gulf without telling Iran where it was;
— The Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ coastal protection vessels were crossing this invisible line at a rate of three times a week; It was the British who apparently raised their weapons first before the Iranian gunboats came alongside
Here's an op-ed the shockingly liberal New York Times published at the time, explaining how even though the Iranians are vicious insane lying barbarians, we shouldn't nuke them immediately:
Tony Blair has been talking tough about Iran’s seizure of 15 British sailors and marines on the Shatt al Arab, the waterway between Iran and Iraq. Mr. Blair is deeply reluctant to apologize, as Tehran is demanding, for Britain’s alleged incursion into Iranian waters. Global positioning data shows that the British naval patrol was more than a mile inside Iraqi waters...for the British, this is a painful lesson. It is rash to expose potential hostages to one of the most reckless and erratic regimes in the world.
Plenty of people in Washington would say that violent provocation of this kind shows that diplomatic engagement with Iran, as favored by Britain and other European nations, is wasted motion; that only harsh sanctions backed up by the threat of force can influence the wild men of Tehran, headed by the Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yet it is hard to punish masochists...
No matter how it ends, the seizure of the British sailors is likely to be viewed by most of the world as an Iranian victory. Thus it is unlikely to be Iran’s last affront to us. It is not the American way, but only patience, statesmanship and a refusal to respond in kind to outrageous behavior offer a chance of eventually persuading this dangerous nation to join a rational universe.
After the hostages were released, the appallingly liberal Washington Post felt the most important thing to publish about the incident was this:
On any given day, one isn't likely to find common cause with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's a dangerous, lying, Holocaust- denying, Jew-hating cutthroat thug -- not to put too fine a point on it.
But he was dead-on when he wondered why a once-great power such as Britain sends mothers of toddlers to fight its battles...Not only does the Iranian president get to look magnanimous in releasing the hostages, but he gets to look wise. And we in the West get to look humiliated, foolish and weak.
Just because we may not "feel" humiliated doesn't mean we're not. In the eyes of Iran and other Muslim nations, we're wimps. While the West puts mothers in boats with rough men, Muslim men "rescue" women and drape them in floral hijabs.
The Times of London deserves credit here for carrying out something approaching journalism. Parts of the British media are less willing than the US media to amplify government lies, and in private the US and UK governments are aware of this. Here's David Manning, then British ambassador to the US, reporting back to the Blair government on a March, 2002 dinner with Condoleezza Rice:
We spent a long time at dinner on IRAQ. It is clear that Bush is grateful for your support and has registered that you are getting flak. I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.
Fortunately, managing the US press has never been much of a challenge.
(story via John Caruso)
April 20, 2008
12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt
Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here's the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the "success" of the President's surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans "say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties" and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq -- and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:
April 19, 2008
Delusions of a Psychopath
By: Bernard Chazelle
In Wednesday's Ha'aretz:
Netanyahu says 9/11 terror attacks good for Israel.
"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq."
ADDED BY JON: This, from September 12, 2001, is also worth remembering:
Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''
April 18, 2008
White House Tackles Mortgage Crisis
By: Bernard Chazelle
Finally, underwater homeowners know their fate:
Bush names former pest-control exec as housing secretary
I Agree With National Review And Noam Chomsky
Kevin O. Williamson of National Review recently critiqued something I posted at Mother Jones about the new "Newseum" in Washington. Interestingly, I largely agree with Williamson. However, I suspect he doesn't know he was largely agreeing with Noam Chomsky.
Here's National Review:
Mother Jones is having a characteristic conniption over a seven-minute video about liberal bias in the media being shown at the Newseum in Washington:So the message, while shallow, is clear: the media is liberal, and any critique that it may have a corporate or conservative bias is so ridiculous it doesn't even need to be voiced. (Juan Williams says journalists should be careful not to produce a story so it "fits an idea that may have come from you or from your news editor or your managing editor." Intriguingly, the U.S. media seems to have no owners or advertisers.
This is nonsense concentrate. What's interesting, though, is the implicit belief that a "corporate bias" (whatever that may be) is related to, or synonymous with, a "conservative bias"...even sillier is the tired trope, evergreen on the left, that corporations and their executives are particularly conservative, and that Wall Street in particular is a citadel of conservatism. This simply is not the case, as anybody with even a passing familiarity with that world knows. Wall Street barons are, for the most part, rich Manhattan cosmopolitan who have no time for such conservative fixtures as the religious right, the Second Amendment, or, in many cases, free enterprise...
Big Business often adores regulation, because it raises the cost of entry into the market and suffocates scrappy but undercapitalized competitors. You think the steel industry, agribusiness, or banks want an economy that is more free, more capitalist, and more competitive than the one we have? You think Boeing wants a smaller, leaner federal government? Their actions suggest otherwise...
The executive suites may not be quite as uniformly left-Democratic as the editorial offices, but they're not exactly the Provo Chamber of Commerce, either.
And here's Noam Chomsky:
BARSAMIAN: PBS [the Public Broadcasting Service] is sometimes called "the Petroleum Broadcasting Service."
CHOMSKY: That's just another reflection of the interests and power of a highly class-conscious business system that's always fighting an intense class war...
I don't see why we should have had any long-term hopes for something different. Commercially run radio is going to have certain purposes -- namely, the ones determined by people who own and control it.
As I mentioned earlier, they don't want decision-makers and participants; they want a passive, obedient population of consumers and political spectators -- a community of people who are so atomized and isolated that they can't put together their limited resources and become an independent, powerful force that will chip away at concentrated power...
BARSAMIAN: Both PBS and NPR [National Public Radio] frequently come under attack for being left-wing.
CHOMSKY: That's an interesting sort of critique. In fact, PBS and NPR are elite institutions, reflecting by and large the points of view and interests of wealthy professionals who are very close to business circles, including corporate executives. But they happen to be liberal by certain criteria.
That is, if you took a poll among corporate executives on matters like, say, abortion rights, I presume their responses would be what's called liberal. I suspect the same would be true on lots of social issues, like civil rights and freedom of speech. They tend not to be fundamentalist, born-again Christians, for example, and they might tend to be more opposed to the death penalty than the general population. I'm sure you'll find plenty of private wealth and corporate power backing the American Civil Liberties Union.
Since those are aspects of the social order from which they gain, they tend to support them. By these criteria, the people who dominate the country tend to be liberal, and that reflects itself in an institution like PBS.
So if Kevin Williamson wants to say the media has a "Corporate Executive and Investor Bias," then we have found common ground.
Bitter Virginians Cling to Guns
By: Bernard Chazelle
I received an email from a local student association asking me to observe a moment of silence on April 16th in remembrance of the Virginia Tech massacre. I didn't teach that day so I was in no position to order anyone into silence. But since I wanted to be part of the communal spirit, I tried to find out how much had been done to prevent the next shootout.
Judge for yourself:
In 2007 there was a 73% increase in concealed-handgun permit applications, according to the Virginia Supreme Court. That rise of more than 44,000 applications over the previous year was, gun-rights activists believe, a direct result of the bloodshed in Blacksburg.
New Dean Baker Column
This week's American Prospect column by Dean Baker is here.
April 17, 2008
Cocktail Party at the Supreme Court
By: Bernard Chazelle
The Supremes have unveiled a new recipe for that delicious 3-drug cocktail. Yes, this one:
Kentucky is one of at least 30 states that execute people by lethal injection of a three-drug cocktail. This method was meant to be humane, but it can cause inmates to feel excruciating pain.
Honestly, Kentucky should stick to killing humanely with carcinogenic fried chicken and leave the cocktail killing options to the pros.
Like Antonin Scalia.
Today, Justice Scalia announced his brand-new 3-drug cocktail to great fanfare. The cocktail is best consumed chilled, with an olive. Here's how it works:
* Drug 1 kills you;
* Drug 2 prevents your soul from being resurrected;
* Drug 3 lowers your cholesterol.
When asked if drug 3 was really necessary, Scalia reminded his audience about the solemmn constitutional duty to kill humanely.
The Real News On The World Bank And Haitian Famine
Contribute to the Real News here.
April 16, 2008
More On The Corporate Crapitude Of The "Newseum"
• Jim Hopkins: "Overby politics make strange (prison) bedfellows"
Charles Overby, head of the foundation which runs the Newseum is also on the board of Corrections Corporation of America. Jim Hopkins explains why these two things don't fit together well.
• David Essex: "How the Newsoleum Buried the Lead"
"I found the glass and stone space alienating and headachy, like a hangover in an airport waiting-room, throbbing with the feed from cable news."
I agree, although I would be less complimentary.
The Real News On Carter Meeting With Hamas
Donate to the Real News here.
The End of the World as You Know It
…and the Rise of the New Energy World Order
By Michael T. Klare
Oil at $110 a barrel. Gasoline at $3.35 (or more) per gallon. Diesel fuel at $4 per gallon. Independent truckers forced off the road. Home heating oil rising to unconscionable price levels. Jet fuel so expensive that three low-cost airlines stopped flying in the past few weeks. This is just a taste of the latest energy news, signaling a profound change in how all of us, in this country and around the world, are going to live -- trends that, so far as anyone can predict, will only become more pronounced as energy supplies dwindle and the global struggle over their allocation intensifies.
Energy of all sorts was once hugely abundant, making possible the worldwide economic expansion of the past six decades. This expansion benefited the United States above all -- along with its "First World" allies in Europe and the Pacific. Recently, however, a select group of former "Third World" countries -- China and India in particular -- have sought to participate in this energy bonanza by industrializing their economies and selling a wide range of goods to international markets. This, in turn, has led to an unprecedented spurt in global energy consumption -- a 47% rise in the past 20 years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).
An increase of this sort would not be a matter of deep anxiety if the world's primary energy suppliers were capable of producing the needed additional fuels. Instead, we face a frightening reality: a marked slowdown in the expansion of global energy supplies just as demand rises precipitously...
Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:
April 14, 2008
"Bias" At The New Newseum
Below is a draft of a piece of mine that may show up in Mother Jones. Any comments are appreciated.
Never mind. Now it's over here.
Let's Talk About The Olympics!
Now would be a good time for you to donate to the Real News.
When you're a rich, famous Washington journalist, what should you do when government officials tell giant whopping lies to your face? Yesterday on ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos demonstrated the correct response: politely change the subject and pretend it never happened.
(You can read about the U.S. attempt to use a faction of Fatah to stage a coup and overthrow the elected Hamas government in Vanity Fair.)
STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: One thing people need to recognize, he [Abbas] has called for Hamas to renounce terror. He has called for Hamas to reverse the coup where they essentially seized power in Gaza. And one of the things one has to recognize is President Abbas is doing something very difficult now. He's trying to negotiate a Palestinian state with Israel. The Palestinian administration still represents the people of Gaza. There are Gazans who are in the government of Prime Minister Fayad. Over 50% of the budget of the Palestinian administration goes for salaries and other things in Gaza. So one of the things when you're talking to Hamas, it really undermines President Abbas and the government of Prime Minister Fayad at a very critical time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the Olympics...
I'd seen the first part of this when it was in Harper's, but not the second. No wonder America's howler monkeys hate Robert Fisk so much.
The Real News On Killing Of Sadr Assistant
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April 13, 2008
Aaron Schutz On Community Organizing
Open Left is running a series of posts by Aaron Schutz, aka EducationAction. Apparently Schutz, even though he's a perfesser-type, pays attention to reality. If there were more teachers like him I might not have fled academia so speedily.
These are all worth reading, and you should keep your eye out for the rest to come:
Part I: "What is Community Organizing? What isn't Community Organizing?"
Part II: "How Do Community Organizers Think?"
Part III: "Social Class and Social Action"
Men Explain Things to Me
Facts Didn't Get in Their Way
By Rebecca Solnit
I still don't know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies. The house was great -- if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets -- a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, "No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you." He was an imposing man who'd made a lot of money.
He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."
I replied, "Several, actually."
He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"
They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.
He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"
So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority...Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.
But he just continued on his way...
I try to make this entire site like that.
April 12, 2008
I Say Friday Is Frying Day
By: Bernard Chazelle
Newsweek tells us why Americans are the reasonable sort: they love their dead bodies but just not too many, OK? Goldilocks explains:
[Americans] want the option of capital punishment, but seemingly wish to exercise it only a few dozen times per year.
Perfect! 52 times is the right number: 53? What? Saudi Arabia? 51 is how we spell "soft on crime."
So designate Friday to be Execution Day. As long as there are 52 people or more on death row, we're all set. If not, ask for volunteers.
Abe Osheroff, Dead At 92
As Abe Osheroff’s body slowly began to betray him in his 80s and 90s, one of his favorite lines was, “I have one foot in the grave but the other keeps dancing.”
That dance ended on Sunday, April 6, when the 92-year-old Osheroff died of a heart attack at his Seattle home.
Osheroff is remembered most for his rich life of political activism. From the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War to streets all across the United States, he was a master strategist, energetic organizer, and courageous fighter.
But when I think about a world without Abe, it’s Osheroff-the-philosopher I will miss the most. Conversations with Osheroff typically turned into wide-ranging philosophy seminars — inquiry into the maddening complexity of being human in an inhuman world, focused on the difficult moral and political questions that he always pursued with intellectual rigor and a demand for accountability expected from himself and others. And at the same time that Osheroff was in this relentless pursuit of more knowledge and a deeper understanding, he squeezed all the joy possible out of this life. He taught and he told stories, he learned and he loved, with incredible passion.
More on the Progressive Creed
By: Bernard Chazelle
Work and travel have gotten in the way of blogging. I could tell you some nifty new developments about "natural algorithms" but I suspect that's not why you come here. You come here to read witty, pithy, blood-curdling prose. Not this post. I'll give a collective reply to the comments readers kindly posted about my essay.
First, let's not get hung up about the words progressive, fraternity, citizenship, and patriotism.
I don't like them much either. They are ambiguous and codewords for things I loathe. But one can interpret them in ways that convey important ideas.
Progressive is condescending (presumably the opposite of a progressive is someone who wants to go back to dentistry without novocaine). Liberal is confusing -- in Europe it means the exact opposite.
Fraternity answers the question "Why should I bother?" It has to do with meaning.
Liberty, equality, fraternity might grate on postmodern ears but the mouths connected to those ears have yet to offer 3 words that better describe what political philosophy is all about.
Citizenship is the link between participating and belonging: you're not on a team if you don't get to play. How you define community is where you deal with exclusivity. Citizenship, as understood here, is not about drawing boundaries: it's about empowerment within the community.
Patriotism addresses the issue of collective self-respect. It explains why people will seek a decent society even if they don't derive any direct benefits from it. You may remember the Greeks in 1999 glowing with pride when they dispatched their rescue units to Turkey (the arch-enemy) after the earthquake there. Flag-waving patriotism is looking out and saying "mine is bigger than yours"; the patriotism I am talking about is the satisfaction of this one fleeting moment when the larger community you identify with aligns with your self-respect. (Sports victories -- and I include wars in that category -- are hollow simulacrum of self-respect if you will.)
90% of the posts on this blog address the issue of patriotism. The outrage of John Yoo is not simply that he's a scumbag. It's that I paid his salary. He spoke in my name. He worked for my government. If I go to Sweden and the locals scream "John Yoo" in my face, I cannot pretend I am not related. I am. Although I never voted for Bush and I never missed a chance to trash his name, I have to answer for Bush's and John Yoo's actions in the same way all Germans had to answer for Hitler's. Self-respect is one side of the coin. The other side is shame.
Some will say, shouldn't we be more ambitious and consider being citizens of the world as the only patriotism worth examining? We could, but this wouldn't be ambitious: it would be a cop-out.
I feel little responsibility for a mad dictator in a country I've never heard of. I might feel bad as a fellow human being for the depravity of my kind. But if I hear the CIA propped him up, then I become responsible. People who refused to connect the CIA's actions to their patriotism are simply deluding themselves about the meaning of words.
Re. the essay, I hope people will want to go through a similar exercise and try to answer for themselves: What do I believe in? What are my priorities? What tradeoffs am I willing to make? One benefit of the exercise is to realize that the answers are not self-evident. Much of the right's success since Buckley graduated from Stutts is owed to the fact that those jerks never took the answers and
their justifications for granted. People on the left believe they agree on the most important issues: they don't. They think they do because the proposition is never put to the test.
My point is that it's not enough to know what you don't want (and outrage is good for that),
but you must also know what you want, which is much tougher.
I'll take 2 examples from the essay. One is the unconditionality of welfare. I bet I am in the minority among lefties in my view that Clinton-style welfare reform is unacceptable on philosophical grounds: ie, I reject any policy that limits state help to those who help themselves. I do so because (1) it's none of the state's business to pass moral judgments; (2) it's the job of citizens to ask if the state is good enough for them: it's not the job of the state to ask if its citizens are good enough for it.
Another controversial item in the essay is the issue of justice vs security. This country has always privileged security over justice (some will say that, as a result, it got neither).
The argument against the death penalty or against excessive prison sentencing should not be
whether these are ineffective measures to protect innocent people.
Progressives should be against them even if they could be proven to save innocent lives. Again, I bet that a majority of people "on the left" would disagree with me. Why aren't these issues ever discussed on the left? These are the issues that define societies.
Some will say: "we're fucked anyway, so why bother?" (No one reading this blog, of course...)
My problem with this is, Who is "we" ? Only the least fucked have the luxury of negativity.
The more fucked, well, you know, they have to eat. Also, I find it a peculiar form of arrogance to
precondition one's actions on the assurance that they will be effective. I'd go even further. Hope should not even be a prerequisite for action. For example, everyone called the antiwar demos in '03 a failure. Yes, they failed to stop the war but they galvanized the world against Bush and what he represents, and they may turn out to have been one more nail in the coffin of imperialism. No one knows for sure. Social movements are not ping pong matches with some ref keeping score.
I like Rawls, too. The man was a giant of 20th c political philosophy, but his impact in the real world has been negligible. Even in the judicial realm, the guy who wrote the book on Justice has had
virtually no influence on American jurisprudence. (Does this contradict my previous paragraph? No.) But it didn't need to be so. Rawls was more interested in solving puzzles against Nozick than to be influential in the world at large. That's a pity but that was his choice. On the other hand, Foucault (a deeply original thinker, despite the caricature and some of the idiotic pronouncements he made about Iran) can be credited as much as anyone for the end of capital punishment in France. Not bad for a philosopher who died of AIDS when he was only 57. In this country, if the death penalty is ever abolished, the credit will go to Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun.
And if the world is saved, the credit will go to me. But there I go again, stating the obvious.
— Bernard Chazelle
April 11, 2008
Just today I learned who Peter Arnett's daughter Elsa is married to. It was a surprise.
Let Freedom Reign [sic]!
As we know, we are in Iraq merely to support the elected Iraqi government, and in all matters are following their lead. That's why we had to help Prime Minister Maliki with his attack on the Sadrist forces. So let's ask Maliki what we should do now:
ROBERTSON: This week is an important week in the United States. Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker, General [David] Petraeus giving their reports on the state of the surge -- looking ahead on what U.S. troops should do -- U.S. surge drawdown will end in the summer. They are considering a pause, maybe weeks or months to examine when they should pull all American troops out. What do you want the U.S. to do? Should there be a pause in the drawdown? Do you want it to be weeks? Do you want it to be months?
AL-MALIKI: [...] I believe the American forces can draw down. I don't believe the decision for a drawdown should be paused as long as Iraqi security forces -- based on the first agreement the more Iraqi forces move forward, the more U.S. forces move back until all security responsibilities are handed over and coalition forces remain in a support role. And in a support role, you don't need such a big number.
Here's today's top story in the Washington Post:
Bush Backs Petraeus on Indefinite Suspension of Troop Pullout in Iraq
President Bush ordered an indefinite suspension yesterday of troop withdrawals from Iraq this summer...
Fortunately Karen DeYoung and Peter Baker, the authors of the Post article, managed to write 1440 words on the subject without mentioning the views of Iraq's prime minister. Otherwise Americans might have grown confused about how much Iraq is sovereign and all that freedom is reigning.
(The only large news outlet that seems to have quoted Maliki's views when reporting on the "pause" is AP.)
Corporate Spying On Environmental Organizations
This is a great new story by James Ridgeway in Mother Jones:
A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings. According to company documents provided to Mother Jones by a former investor in the firm, this security outfit collected confidential internal records—donor lists, detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members, strategy memos—from these organizations and produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.
April 10, 2008
Charles Manson Stunned People Still Deny Helter Skelter Ordered Him To Kill
The Washington Post editorial page is extremely angry that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are criticizing the possible U.S.-Colombia trade deal. How can Obama and Clinton say these horrible things, the Washington Post wonders incredulously:
Are they each unaware of the real statistics on NAFTA's effects?
On December 3 last year, the Washington Post, in an editorial called "Trade Distortions," published these real statistics:
Not that any of the Democratic candidates seem to care, but the impact of NAFTA seems to have been both larger and more positive in Mexico than in the United States. Mexico's gross domestic product, now more than $875 billion, has more than quadrupled since 1987.
According to the IMF's World Economic Outlook Database, the Mexican GDP increased 84% from 1987 to 2007. Moreover, anyone who knows anything about economics—not much, just the amount you pick up from reading Time—would have realized without checking that the idea the Mexican economy quadrupled in size in twenty years was preposterous. But apparently people who know a bare minimum about economics are forbidden from writing Washington Post editorials about economic policy.
Back when the Post published this, I called the editorial page several times and told the person who answers the phone about their mistake. They wouldn't identify the author of the editorial, but promised to pass along email from me that included an interview request. No one ever responded, and the Post has never corrected the editorial.
As I like to say, it's a lot easier to accept the Washington Post if you think of it not as a newspaper, but instead as the church newsletter for a particularly unpleasant religion. No matter what happens out here in reality, they're going to smugly dismiss anyone who doesn't share their peculiar fantasies.
Not that any of the Democratic candidates seem to care, but there's a spaceship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp Comet that will take us on a ride if we all commit suicide at exactly the right time.
Are they each unaware of the real statistics about the hidden spaceship?
New Dean Baker Column
Dean "Hardest Working Man In Progressive Politics" Baker is writing a new weekly column for the American Prospect.
White Supremicist Satire
To your surprise and mine, it turns out there is such a thing. And as is so often the case, what begins with satire ends in actual murder and suicide.
April 09, 2008
Some Logical Questions For Ambassador Crocker
This is from the statement of Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, in front of the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday:
One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the Surge is working. This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time. It is in this context that we have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States...The heart of this relationship will be a legal framework for the presence of American troops similar to that which exists in nearly 80 countries around the world...
U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond December 31, 2008, when the U.N. resolution presently governing their presence expires. Our troops will need basic authorizations and protections to continue operations - and this agreement will provide those authorizations and protections.
The agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly foreswear them. The agreement will not specify troop levels, and it will not tie the hands of the next Administration. Our aim is to ensure that the next President arrives in office with a stable foundation upon which to base policy decisions, and that is precisely what this agreement will do. Congress will remain fully informed as these negotiations proceed in the coming weeks and months.
Both the US constitution and the Iraqi constitution require that treaties be approved by their respective legislative branches. Yet Crocker states that Congress will merely be "fully informed" about the US-Iraq agreement. And he doesn't even mention the Iraqi parliament. (It is highly unlikely that either the US Congress or the Iraqi parliament would approve this, let alone both.)
Crocker and the Bush administration justify this by claiming the agreement will not rise to the level of a treaty—that it will be a mere Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which can be concluded just between the respective countries' executive branches. However, all previous SOFAs have merely governed mundane issues, such as "wearing of the uniform, the carrying of arms, tax and customs relief, entry and exit of personnel and property, and resolving damage claims." R. Chuck Mason, the Congressional Research Service's expert on SOFAs, recently stated that a review of over 70 of them found that "none contained the authority to fight." It has always been treaties which do that. The United States does have a SOFA with Germany, but it is the NATO treaty which makes it legal for US troops there to kill people.
Thus the Bush administration position breaks completely with decades of precedent. Moreover, its extremism can be understood by the fact that it logically goes both ways: if Bush and Maliki can together agree without Iraqi parliamentary approval that Americans can be based in Iraq and kill Iraqis, then Maliki and Bush could together agree without US congressional approval that Iraqis can be based in the US and kill Americans.
So Ambassador Crocker (and other Bush administration functionaries) should have been asked this by congress:
1. Will the US-Iraqi agreement require the approval of the Iraqi parliament?
2. If not, could Bush and Maliki decide tomorrow that Iraqi troops and private contractors will be stationed in Des Moines and have the legal authority to shoot Americans?
Of course, given the administration's position on similar issues, perhaps we don't want to know the answer.
UPDATE: It turns out Crocker was asked about what would happen with the Iraqi parliament. They play such an important role in the process they may even, like 2nd graders, have it read to them:
CLINTON: Do you anticipate that the Iraqi government would submit such an agreement to the Iraqi Parliament for ratification?
CROCKER: The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the Declaration of Principles in which it was simply read to the members of the Parliament.
CLINTON: Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?
CROCKER: At this point, senator, we do not anticipate the agreements will have within them any elements would require the advice and consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.
April 08, 2008
A Handy Rule Of Thumb
Whenever the Washington press corps goes gaga over some government functionary as being a "widely-respected" "straight-shooter" with tons of "integrity," you can be sure they're an especially odious political hack. As with Colin Powell, so with David Petraeus, and many more to come.
What No One In America Knows
There's something missing from this recent AP story:
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Tuesday to lift a seven-month freeze on his Mahdi Army militia if the Iraqi government does not halt attacks on his followers or set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.
What's almost unknown in America is that al-Sadr isn't just demanding US withdrawal at the point of a gun. The Iraqis who want us to leave—ie, the great majority—have been trying to make it happen with words and the law for some time. They've followed all the rules of democracy and "won," but...we're still there.
The legal authority for the US presence is the UN mandate. The Iraqi parliament passed a law last summer requiring that they got to approve and set conditions for any extension of the mandate when it expired at the end of 2007:
Iraqi legislators led by followers of a radical Shiite cleric passed a resolution Tuesday [June 4, 2007] requiring the government to seek parliamentary permission for asking the United Nations to extend the mandate of U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
The measure was approved along party lines, with Sunnis joining the bloc loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and another disaffected Shiite party to support it, and Shiite and Kurdish backers of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in opposition...
If the government wants to extend the presence of the multinational forces, it has to come to us in the parliament to convince us first," said the Sunni parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.
Here's what al-Sadr's parliamentary allies said at the time:
Reached today by phone in Baghdad, Nassar al Rubaie, the head of the Al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's Council of Representatives, said, "This new binding resolution will prevent the government from renewing the U.N. mandate without the parliament's permission. They'll need to come back to us by the end of the year, and we will definitely refuse to extend the U.N. mandate without conditions." Rubaie added: "There will be no such a thing as a blank check for renewing the U.N. mandate anymore, any renewal will be attached to a timetable for a complete withdrawal."
But in December, 2007 when the mandate was about to expire, Maliki (in his role as Bush's mini-me) told the Iraqi parliament "Suck. On. This." and got it extended to the end of 2008 without any vote. Now, despite the fact that the Iraqi constitution gives the parliament authority to approve all treaties (and the US constitution gives the congress authority to approve all treaties) Bush and Maliki are planning to sign an "agreement" approving a permanent US occupation...without the involvement of either country's legislative branch. Moreover, since Maliki is our puppet, this essentially is the administration agreeing with itself:
A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.
The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and "sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit.
The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.
Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries.
The Iraqis who want us to leave, but are willing to work for it non-violently, can honestly ask: what else are we supposed to do? There unfortunately doesn't seem to be an answer.
April 07, 2008
Here's still more about Samantha Power, from a 2002 New York Times story:
"Our view of American power was born" in Bosnia, said Ms. Power, author of ''A Problem From Hell,'' about American responses to genocide in the last century that has prompted new debates about the moral responsibilities that go with American power.
She came to Bosnia in 1993, joining the swarms of freelance reporters drawn to the unfolding war.
The story there was shocking -- a widening arc of atrocities against victims targeted not for what they had done, but for who they were -- all taking place on a continent where genocide was never supposed to happen again. But more shocking for this 23-year-old, one year out of Yale University, was that the American government seemed unwilling to stop it.
Perhaps Samantha Power would have been less shocked by US inaction in the face of genocide if she'd known the US had recently carried out genocide in Guatemala.
Of course, it's not surprising her Yale education hadn't covered this, given the genocide was largely supervised by two Yale graduates, Thomas Enders and George H.W. Bush. That's not the kind of thing colleges like to put in the required curriculum.
People with souls may wish to read "There are No Checkpoints in Heaven" by Ramzy Baroud about the recent death of his father in Gaza.
Lawrence of Cyberia has translated an interesting interview with Marwan Barghouti.
General Entrap-Us or General Entrapped?
Democrats Should Treat Petraeus and His Surge as Irrelevant
By Ira Chernus
It was supposed to be a "cakewalk." General Petraeus would come to Congress, armed with his favorite charts showing that the "surge" had dramatically reduced violence in Iraq. He would earn universal acclaim for his plan to "pause" troop reductions from July until after the election in November -- the same plan that John McCain counts on to help him win that election.
When it comes to Iraq, though, the Bush administration's cakewalks never seem to turn out as planned. The renewed violence of these last weeks in Iraq, and the prospect of more to come, gives war critics ample ammunition for a counterattack...
Decoding the Battle over Iraq
It should have been obvious all along that the Republicans do not mean it literally when they claim that reducing violence in Iraq is their highest priority. It's not likely that too many of them care a whole lot about the killing and maiming of Iraqis. So when they speak so urgently about lower levels of violence, it's a coded way of saying something else; in fact, a lot of things.
April 06, 2008
Here's My Idea
The title of Samantha Power's book "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide comes from something Secretary of State Warren Christopher said on Face the Nation on March 28, 1993:
CHRISTOPHER: Let me put that situation in Bosnia in just a little broader framework. It's really a tragic problem. The hatred between all three groups -- the Bosnians and the Serbs and the Croatians -- is almost unbelievable. It's almost terrifying, and it's centuries old. That really is a problem from hell. And I think that the United States is doing all we can to try to deal with that problem.
The trouble with the book, of course, is that Power focuses exclusively on genocides where the United States failed to act to prevent them. Oddly missing are the genocides which America actively assisted or committed ourselves. Apparently genocides for which America is responsible are not part of "America and the Age of Genocide."
In other words, Power completely obscures the reality that genocide has not always been a "problem" for the US government. There have been times when it's been A SOLUTION.
So here's my idea: Power's next book should be about this and be called "A Solution From Hell."
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess this wouldn't win a Pulitzer Prize or the fulsome praise of Richard Holbrooke.
April 05, 2008
Joe Biden Shocked To Be Told He's Been Breathing Oxygen All This Time
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Joseph Biden, had a hearing on Wednesday called "Iraq After the Surge: Political Prospects." One of the witnesses was journalist Nir Rosen; you can read his prepared testimony here (pdf).
The best part of Rosen's appearance is when he's questioned by Biden. This exchange starts around 58:45 of C-Span's coverage (realplayer):
BIDEN: Based on what you've said, there's really no hope, is there? We should really get the hell out of there right now, right? There's nothing to do.
ROSEN: As a journalist, I'm uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. I don't think we're there for the interests of the Iraqi people. I don't that's ever been a motivation. However, I have mixed emotions on that issue. Many of my Sunni friends, beginning about a year ago, many of them who are opposed to the Americans, who supported attacking American troops in Iraq, began to grow really nervous at the idea of the Americans leaving Iraq because they knew they would be massacred. It could be Rwanda the day the Americans leave. The creation of these Sunni militias, the Awakening groups, militates against that kind of a massacre of civilians occurring because now there are actually Sunni safe zones...But I do believe that if Americans were to withdraw you'd seen an increase in violence at least temporarily, until some sort of equilibrium is reached—
BIDEN: But the good news is we wouldn't be imperialist anymore in Iraq, from your perspective.
ROSEN: (smiling widely) Only elsewhere in the region.
BIDEN: Only elsewhere in the region. I'm sure glad we invited you, I tell you. [Bloviates for ninety seconds, then turns to other witnesses.] Gentlemen, to the non-imperialist side of the witness stand...
I think we can guess Rosen won't be invited back anytime soon. After all, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets, the last thing you want is for someone to start telling the truth about America's foreign relations.
MORE UNFORTUNATE REALITY: This is from Rosen's testimony:
Driving to the Amriya district in western Baghdad last month, my friend pointed to a gap in the concrete walls the American occupation forces have surrounded this Sunni bastion with. “We call it the Rafah Crossing,” he laughed, referring to the one gates to besieged Gaza that another occupying army occasionally allows open...Our car lined up behind dozens of others which had been registered with the local Iraqi army unit and were allowed to enter and exit the imprisoned neighborhood. It often took two or three hours to finally get past the American soldiers, Iraqi soldiers and the “Thuwar,” or revolutionaries, as the Sunni militia sanctioned by the Americans to patrol Amriya was called. When it was our turn we exited the vehicle for Iraqi soldiers to search it as an American soldier led his dog around the car to sniff it and I was patted down by one of the Sunni militiamen. Not knowing I was American, he reassured me. “Just let the dog and the dog that is with him finish with your car and you can go,” he laughed.
April 04, 2008
Forty Years Later, King Still Silenced
40 Years Later, (The Late) Martin Luther King Still Silenced
by Jeff Cohen
Soon after Martin Luther King’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1986, I began prodding mainstream media to cover the dramatic story of King’s last year as he campaigned militantly against U.S. foreign and economic policy. Most of his last speeches were recorded. But year after year, corporate networks have refused to air the tapes.
Last night NBC Nightly anchor Brian Williams enthused over new color footage of King that adorned its coverage of the 40th anniversary of the assassination. The report focused on the last phase of King’s life. But the same old blinders were in place.
NBC showed young working class whites in Chicago taunting King. But there was no mention of how elite media had taunted King in his last year. In 1967 and ‘68, mainstream media saw Rev. King a bit like they now see Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
A Plea For Sanity
I'm always irritated when I hear nice white liberals refer to Martin Luther King as "Dr. King." I appreciate that in 1964, say, this was appropriate as a sign of respect when black Americans generally got no respect from whites anywhere in the United States. But here in 2008 it grates on my nerves. It always comes across to me as an unseemly way for nice white liberals to signify their wonderful enlightenment.
I wonder if I'm alone in this. Perhaps so; it's a point of pride for me to be irritated by everyone.
One Thing We Know For Sure: Hillary Clinton Wouldn't Stay In A Church Led By This Guy
Look at how this radical, angry black preacher hates America!
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
I think if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would tell you to donate to the Real News.
April 03, 2008
Dennis Perrin examines new advances in comedy-based race relations in Detroit.
Five retired NATO generals (from the US, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands) recently released a report with the Center for Strategic and International Studies called "Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing the Transatlantic Partnership." It details new and terrifying threats the world has never faced before (p. 27, pdf):
In addition to the ongoing threats posed by international terrorism by non-state or proxy-state actors, acts of war can be committed by individual nation states or allied states by abusing the leverage that other resources bring. China and Russia today are economic powers that might be tempted to deter other nations with the weapons of finance and energy resources. This kind of deterrence by non-military means represents a new phenomenon and has never been a part of traditional military thinking. To appreciate such cases strategically will demand a much broader conception of strategy than we have hitherto employed...
On the one hand, I thank God the United States and Europe have never stooped to using the "weapons of finance and energy resources." But how will innocents like ourselves know what to do when confronted with such nefarious enemies?
ALSO: Note the slippery change from one sentence describing other countries committing "acts of war," to the next sentence, where these countries merely are "tempted to deter other nations." This belief, that it is unacceptable and essentially an act of war for other countries to have the power to deter us from doing whatever we want, runs deep in US strategic thinking.
A good example is in this little-known January, 2001 memo from Donald Rumsfeld. As you see, Rumsfeld is concerned about "regional powers" possessing WMD. But the problem isn't that they'll use them to attack us in a first strike, but rather that WMD will allow them to deter us and therefore deny us "access" to rest of the planet:
The collapse of the Soviet Empire has produced centrifugal forces in the world that have created new regional powers. Several of these are intensely hostile to the United States and are arming to deter us from bringing our conventional or nuclear power to bear in a regional crisis...
The post-Cold War liberalization of trade in advanced technology goods and services has made it possible for the poorest nations on earth to rapidly acquire the most destructive military technology ever devised including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons...
These universally available technologies can be used to create "asymmetric" responses that cannot defeat our forces, but can deny access to critical areas in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia..."asymmetric" approaches can limit our ability to apply military power.
Another example is found in a September, 2002 speech by Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission and author of the 2002 National Security Strategy, about the threat posed by Iraq. Once again, this threat is not that Iraq will attack us, but that their WMD will make it possible for someone to deter us (and Israel):
I criticise the [Bush] administration a little, because the argument that they make over and over again is that this is about a threat to the United States...
Now, if the danger [from Iraq] is a biological weapon handed to Hamas, then what’s the American alternative then? Especially if those weapons have developed to the point where they now can deter us from attacking them, because they really can retaliate against us, by then.
So watch out, world: you having the power to deter us from attacking you is the same thing as you attacking us. Not only that, but if you may be able to "attack" us like that in the future, we'll attack you for real, right now.
If They Were Klingons
Thanks to The Zach, we now know what Regis and Kathie Lee, Ernie of Bert & Ernie, and Barack Obama would look like if they were Klingons.
(Thanks to Kate for pointing this out.)
April 02, 2008
A Progressive Creed
By: Bernard Chazelle
A few months ago, Jon featured an interesting post by The Scanner about the ideological vacuum on the left.
I mostly agreed with The Scanner's insights, but I thought I should try and figure out why things are so bad and what can be done about it.
SAVING THE AMERICAN LEFT: THE CASE FOR A NEW PROGRESSIVE CREED
by Bernard Chazelle
The American left is in the throes of an existential crisis. Some say it's a failure of nerve, others a loss of belief. It is the latter. Neoliberalism has sucked the oxygen out of the left by deflating the political sphere to...
To what? Click here to find out.
Down In The Mass Grave With A Calculator*
Christopher Hitchens is very, very angry at Hillary Clinton:
[W]hat had happened to the 1992 promise, four years earlier, that genocide in Bosnia would be opposed by a Clinton administration?...
Let me quote from Sally Bedell Smith's admirable book on the happy couple, For Love of Politics:Taking the advice of Al Gore and National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Bill agreed to a proposal to bomb Serbian military positions while helping the Muslims acquire weapons to defend themselves—the fulfillment of a pledge he had made during the 1992 campaign. But instead of pushing European leaders, he directed Secretary of State Warren Christopher merely to consult with them...The key factor in Bill's policy reversal was Hillary...The United States took no further action in Bosnia, and the "ethnic cleansing" by the Serbs was to continue for four more years, resulting in the deaths of more than 250,000 people.
I can personally witness to the truth of this, too.
Whatever the truth of the Clintons' behavior, the actual number of people who died during the Bosnian War was about 100,000, or 40% of what Smith states.
I feel ill just bringing this up, but as the noted political writer Christopher Hitchens says:
It may be distasteful, even indecent, to argue over "body counts," whether the bodies are Armenian, Jewish, Cambodian, or...Timorese. But the count must be done, and done seriously, if later generations are not to doubt the whole slaughter on the basis of provable exaggerations or inventions.
On the other hand, it's not like Hillary Clinton can complain about Smith getting this wrong. Here's Clinton herself, in her speech justifying her 2002 Iraq vote:
We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s.
All those people in Bosnia were probably sad to die...at first. But later I bet they felt it would all be worth it if their deaths could provide fodder for American polemicists to bludgeon each other with.
*The phrase "Down in the mass grave with a calculator" (c) Dennis Perrin.
Empire or Humanity?
What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me About the American Empire
By Howard Zinn
With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.
However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home...
When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called "The Age of Imperialism." It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years...
I recall the classroom map (labeled "Western Expansion") which presented the march across the continent as a natural, almost biological phenomenon. That huge acquisition of land called "The Louisiana Purchase" hinted at nothing but vacant land acquired. There was no sense that this territory had been occupied by hundreds of Indian tribes which would have to be annihilated or forced from their homes -- what we now call "ethnic cleansing" -- so that whites could settle the land, and later railroads could crisscross it, presaging "civilization" and its brutal discontents...
April 01, 2008
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding And BUY THESE SNEAKERS
Telling the New York Times that William Kristol is a lying propagandist and expecting them to fire him is like telling Tony Dungy that Peyton Manning has the second highest passer rating in NFL history and expecting Dungy to fire him.
"For God's sake, Tony, don't you understand? I've clearly demonstrated through the marshaling of overwhelming evidence that Manning's one of the greatest passers ever! Why haven't you gotten rid of him?!?"
I wrote a profile of Iraqi peace activist Raed Jarrar that should be out soon in Mother Jones. You may have seen his blog Raed in the Middle, or heard about him being prohibited from flying from New York to Oakland because he was wearing a t-shirt with Arabic script.
In any case, as I found out, he's an extremely interesting and impressive guy. You should check this stuff out:
Jarrar and Joshua Holland: "Five Things You Need to Know to Understand the Latest Violence in Iraq"
Jarrar interviewed about the current conflict on Antiwar Radio.