May 31, 2008

Molehill WFB

By: Bernard Chazelle

My problem with William F. Buckley is that I could never get past the precious affectation, that upper-crust American affliction that regards snobbery as the most valuable European import. (Go to 02:47-02:52 for a particularly drippy sample.)

To be fair, no one can win a debate against Chomsky. But it's still astonishing how unequipped Buckley is for the fight. This is Mike Tyson pummeling a scrawny 6th-grader.

And to think Buckley was the intellectual godfather of American conservatism.

I accept that it went downhill with Hannity, Coulter, and Limbaugh. But I hadn't quite realized from what a tiny molehill the descent started.

My favorite exchange:

Buckley: "We haven't occupied them [The Dominican Republic]"

Chomsky: "We never occupied the Dominican Republic? We sent 25,000 troops in 1965."

Buckley: "Now, I think you're being evasive."

— Bernard Chazelle


Posted at 09:30 PM | Comments (9)

Iraq Moving Further Away From Bilateral Agreement With US

The UN mandate allowing US troops to occupy Iraq expires on December 31, 2008. So the Bush administration desperately wants to sign a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government before that happens. Without one our presence will be blatantly illegal, without even a figleaf of international legitimacy, creating all kinds of trouble.

The problem for Bush is there's more and more Iraqi resistance to signing anything, even among Nouri al-Maliki's main supporters. Bob Fertik looks at the evidence here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:28 PM | Comments (5)

Jeff Cohen On McClellan

Glenn Greenwald interviewed Jeff Cohen about Scott McClellan's book and Cohen's experience at MSNBC in 2002-3 here (mp3).

Also:

McClellan and the Media 'Enablers'
by Jeff Cohen

No sooner had Bush’s ex-press secretary (now author) Scott McClellan accused President Bush and his other former collaborators of misleading our country into Iraq than the squeals of protest turned into a mighty roar.

I’m not talking about the vitriol directed at him by former White House colleagues like Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer. I’m talking about McClellan’s other erstwhile war collaborators: the movers and shakers in corporate media.

The people McClellan refers to in his book as “deferential, complicit enablers” of Bush administration war propaganda.

One after another, news stars defended themselves with the tired old myth that no one doubted the Iraq WMD claims at the time. The yarn about hindsight being 20/20 was served up more times than a Rev. Wright clip on Fox News.

Katie Couric, whose coverage on CBS of the Iraq troop surge has been almost fawning, was one of the few stars to be candid about pre-invasion coverage, saying days ago, “I think it’s one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism.”

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:11 PM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2008

GYYYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

John Caruso:

One of my favorite things about FAIR is reading the careful, measured formulations they have to use in order to maintain an air of unbiased professional detachment, because you can practically feel the author doing everything in their power to restrain themselves from writing something like, "HOLY FUCKING JEHOVAH! HAVE THESE TOE-SNIFFING TURDS EVER EVEN CONSIDERED DOING JOURNALISM FOR ONCE IN THEIR LIVES INSTEAD OF KISSING GOVERNMENT ASS 24 HOURS A DAY? GYYYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" And that's why you should give lots of money to FAIR: so they can pay for the megadoses of Valium it takes to keep from going insane as they immerse themselves in this dreck day after day.

The rest.

I agree you should buy Valium for FAIR.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:13 PM | Comments (1)

No Torture. No Exceptions. Just a Few Qualms.

I'm really happy Nell Lancaster of A Lovely Promise is cross-posting this, and I have high hopes she'll appear here much more in the future—Jon

By: Nell Lancaster

A recent post by Digby alerted me to two pieces of good news. One is that Scott Horton hasn't followed through on his announced intention to abandon his excellent blog. Fans of Billmon in the olden days should be wise to the phenomenon: references to imminent closure of the Whiskey Bar were often followed by a torrent of especially good posts.

The other, even better news is the existence of a national initiative called No Torture. No Exceptions. The goal of the campaign is to get both major political parties to adopt comprehensive no-torture planks in their platforms at this year's conventions. These proposals (quoted in Digby's post) are strong and absolute. I support them unreservedly, and long to live in a country in which they represent the commitment of at least the governing party, if not both major parties.

But...several other aspects of the campaign as presented at the site make me uneasy.

1. The initiative completely accepts and adopts the framework of the "war on terror".

This is a false and dangerous construct, a political creation of the Bush administration with horrendous implications for foreign policy and our constitutional system. It obscures and undermines the legitimate effort to prevent terror attacks in the United States.

2. The arguments against torture are entirely pragmatic/consequentialist (and all are related to the "war on terror").

That's a perfectly good tactic when dealing with politicians, and it's fine for the 'talking points' section. But nowhere on the site is there even a nod to the fundamental reason why torture has been outlawed and must be rejected: that it is morally wrong, among the gravest crimes against humanity.

3. The "history" section is selective to the point of dishonesty.

Sanitizing past involvement of the U.S. government, military, and non-military operatives with torture is another tactical choice. It accomplishes several things, at a cost of some integrity (but then, this is an effort to influence our actual political parties):

• It maintains the future focus of the campaign: stopping torture from here on out.

• It creates the strongest possible contrast with the current administration, encouraging the belief that this period is an aberration (even if a serious one) and thus capable of being completely corrected.

• It reinforces belief in American exceptionalism and "American values" as the basis for rejecting torture, rather than commitment to universal human rights.

4. The effort to make No Torture, No Exceptions a nonpartisan challenge to both parties is admirable in principle. But this part, from the 'About Us' section, is just wrong on several levels:

The initiative's circle is growing larger, from its seed in the concern of two citizens, a 79 year old and a 27 year old, agonized by our country's use of torture in the war on terror. To list each name already involved would give the impression that this is an organization, which it is not, [and that] the circle is closed, which it is not.

First, a campaign unwilling to make public its originators and supporters is not likely to persuade skeptics of its nonpartisan nature. Second, an initiative that frames an issue of universal human rights completely in national security terms, much less in the false and dangerous construct of a "war on terror", is in no position to ask others to put themselves on the record while the authors remain anonymous. It is an organization, not a movement. Third, the "closed circle" bit is not only nonsense, but new-age-speak nonsense likely to repel the very people the "war on terror" language and consequentialist arguments are designed to attract.

I'm not a purist. I've made the case for using pragmatic arguments when dealing with elected officials, in comments on this very blog. In tackling a touchy issue, I appreciate the benefits of meeting Americans where they are rather than where one might wish they were. This makes understandable the efforts of the No Torture, No Exceptions site to address Americans' concerns about preventing terror attacks, and to keep the focus on what they value (American ideals, self-image, and effectiveness) rather than what they fear (the actual human beings who have been tortured).

In fact, I've written exactly the same kind of appeal myself. In the fall of 2002, in preparation for a local Veterans Day event, a group of us working to build opposition to the impending war on Iraq saw the need for a flyer to pass out that would make the case against the war entirely on patriotic and national security grounds. This is the result.

At the time that was written, only a year after the attacks of September 11, the "war on terror" was a much more powerful concept than it is today. No major mainstream politicians had questioned its assumptions, and the public had only gotten a glimpse of the actions by the Bush administration that would discredit it. Yet we saw that it was being used to promote a wider war, to hijack our grief and fly it into Iraq (h/t: Freeway Blogger). Indeed, it was clear that that was a vital part of the purpose of the phrase.

Those of us who feared the worst about the domestic and foreign-policy consequences of the way in which a "war on terror" fused the paradigms of war and law were determined not to legitimize the term. So we carefully avoided using it in favor of wordier but more accurate constructions like "the effort to end terror strikes from al Qaeda". At the time this seemed like an important distinction, more than mere hairsplitting, because our formulation didn't necessarily involve military action at all, much less "war". [see Note at end]

Now, six years later, with all the evidence before us of the administration using "war on terror" as a way to expand unchecked executive power to the functional equivalent of dictatorship, as a cover for multiple wars of aggression, and as a political stick with which to beat electoral opposition and policy dissent, it is beyond disappointing to find the promoters of a desperately needed initiative to end U.S. torture adopting it as the core of their argument.

Please don't let this stop you from urging your members of Congress, governor, and any other delegates to the national party conventions to commit to adopting the No Torture, No Exceptions platform. Just use your own words.

Note: Preceding sentence added for clarity, 6:10 pm 1 June.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 02:34 AM | Comments (17)

Obama Now Nearly As Candid As Emperor Hirohito

Barack Obama last week, explaining US foreign policy in Latin America:

I’m going to take this opportunity to speak about Cuba, and also U.S. policy toward the Americas more broadly...What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it...At our best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the Americas. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that at times we’ve failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner.

Emperor Hirohito in 1945, explaining why Japan was surrendering:

Despite the best that has been done by everyone...the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:50 AM | Comments (29)

May 29, 2008

New Excerpts From What Really Happened

Dennis Perrin has exclusive new material from Scott McClellan's book:

*Karl Rove's ghastly halitosis which, in McClellan's words, "inspired President Bush to reminisce about the Mexican prostitutes he frequented in his youth, speaking in a strained Spanish accent while dancing around Rove, snapping his fingers."

*Ari Fleischer gargling with peroxide before each press briefing, having McClellan pinch his nipples for luck while clapping his hands and saying, "Groovemaster's comin' to get ya!"

*Barbara Bush disrupting a cabinet meeting by letting loose her pet Gila Monsters, Candy and Spank, on the conference table, warning Colin Powell and Condi Rice that the lizards loved "dark meat" before serenading her "babies" with a strange lullaby about sun-baked rocks.

And there's more!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:29 PM | Comments (1)

New TomDispatch

link

McCain (Mis)Speaks
How the Senator Won the War of Words in Iraq (again and again and again…)

By Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky

The Iraq war was a disaster for Iraq, a disaster for the United States, a disaster for the Middle East, a disaster for the world community, but most of all, it was a disaster for the experts...

[T]he presidential candidate-cum-expert of genuine interest is Senator John McCain.

At first, we were impressed by the senator's statements in Republican primary debates about how he had actually opposed the Bush administration's conduct of the war from the start. As he told CNN's Kiran Chetry, in August of 2007, "I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three-and-a half years."

Well, having dug into those missing years a bit, here, for the record, is what we found to be Senator McCain's typical responses to some of the key questions posed above:

How would American troops be greeted?: "I believe… that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators." (March 20, 2003)

Did Saddam Hussein have a nuclear program that posed an imminent threat to the United States?: "Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon." (October 10, 2002)

Will a war with Iraq be long or short?: "This conflict is… going to be relatively short." (March 23, 2003)

How is the war going?: "I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical." (September 10, 2003)

How is it going (almost two months later, from the war's "greatest critic")? "I think the initial phases of [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise." (October 31, 2003)

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:51 PM | Comments (2)

What Women Love

A New Yorker profile of infamous Republican dirty-tricker Roger Stone includes this important information:

Although Stone shares many of Nixon’s resentments, his own tastes have always tended to more Rabelaisian pleasures than “champagne music” and Salisbury steak. Not long ago, Stone went to the Ink Monkey tattoo shop in Venice Beach and had a portrait of Nixon’s face applied to his back, right below the neck. “Women love it,” Stone said.

Gentlemen! I urge you not to get left behind in this area. A Nixon tattoo is a good start, but there's so much more Nixon-themed body modification you can do to please the ladies. Here are just a few more examples that women love on men:

• Scarification to create silhouette of Spiro Agnew

• Foot-binding that gives you tiny feet that look like G. Gordon Liddy

• Shaving your pubic hair into caricature of Henry Kissinger

Pearling that spells out in braille "I am not a crook"

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

Jessica Yellin: Reporters Were "Under Enormous Pressure" From Corporate Executives To Support War

This will come as a shocking revelation to everyone under age two.

CNN's Jessica Yellin appeared on Anderson Cooper last night to discuss Scott McClellan's new book. When asked to respond to McClellan's statement the media was "too deferential" to the Bush administration in the run-up up to the invasion of Iraq. Yellin explained that during this time, she and other members of the media came under "enormous pressure from corporate executives" to present the war positively and "put on positive stories about the president."

Yellin worked for MSNBC at the time. Yesterday the Washington Post ran a story with a headline stating that MSNBC has been "Leaning Left."

Here's the Yellin transcript and video:

COOPER: Jessica, McClellan took press to task for not upholding their reputation. He writes: "The national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The 'liberal media' -- in quotes -- didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."

Dan Bartlett, former Bush adviser, called the allegation "total crap."What is your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't go that far. I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president. I think, over time...

COOPER: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

YELLIN: Not in that exact -- they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:24 AM | Comments (6)

May 28, 2008

So Much Treason So Close To Home

According to MSNBC, the Bush White House is calling Scott McClellan a "traitor" for his new book:

O’DONNEL: Quickly Kevin, a White House staffer said to you on background — they used the word “traitor”?

CORKE: “Traitor.” Absolutely. And I raised my eyebrows, and he said, It is what it is.

In every country on earth, when the governing junta accuses someone of "treason," they are actually accusing them of "telling the truth." So I like to keep track of examples of this. For instance, Hussein Kamel (Iraq), Mohammad al-Khilewi (Saudi Arabia), Anthoy Zinni (United States) and Mordechai Vanunu (Israel) all turned out to be traitors in the standard sense. Details are here. Now McClellan has joined their treasonous company.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:18 PM | Comments (7)

The Similar Governing Philosophies Of George W. Bush And Saddam Hussein

From the Politico story about Scott McClellan's new book:

Bush was “clearly irritated, … steamed,” when McClellan informed him that chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from $100 billion to $200 billion: “'It’s unacceptable,’ Bush continued, his voice rising. ‘He shouldn’t be talking about that.'”

From the CIA WMD report:

Advisory groups [Saddam] established generally assumed Saddam already had a preferred position [on issues] and commonly spent time trying to guess what it was and tailor their advice to it. More conscientious members of the Regime sought to work around sycophantic or timid superiors...

Saddam ignored his economic advisors in the Ministries of Finance and Planning with respect to strategic planning. For example, Saddam entered the Iran-Iraq war heedless of Ministry warnings about the economic consequences. He had no plan or strategy for how the war was to be financed.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:20 PM | Comments (1)

George The Famous

By: Bernard Chazelle

When I was 10 or so, a man named Lucien Leger kidnapped a boy of my age. His body was found dead and mutilated a few days later in the same park where I used to play with my friends. None of us knew anyone involved but, needless to say, we were quite shaken. But here is what struck me the most. When Mr Leger was caught, he was asked: "Why did you do it?" He replied: "To be famous."

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tells us in his memoirs:

In Iraq, McClellan added, Bush saw "his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness," something McClellan said Bush has said he believes is only available to wartime presidents.

— Bernard Chazelle

ADDED BY JON: I see Lucien Leger is still in the news. You can even watch a webcast featuring him at a hearing. Ever since the arrival of the internet, there is no such thing as "lost in the mists of time."

Posted at 05:52 PM | Comments (7)

May 27, 2008

The Conscience of a Mathematician

By: Bernard Chazelle

David Mumford is one of the giants of 20th century mathematics. He has made fundamental contributions to algebraic geometry.

What's that? If you don't care, please skip this paragraph. A field is a bunch of "numbers" you can add, subtract, multiply, divide. It can be finite or infinite. The natural numbers do not form a field (because 2 divided by 3 is not a natural number) but the rationals do (because 2 divided by 3 is a rational; more generally, if you divide any two nonzero rationals you get another rational). If you consider a bunch of linear equations in many variables, any question you can ask (like how many solutions does it have over a certain field?) has an easy answer. If you consider one polynomial equation in one variable, then any question you can ask over a field has an easy answer. But if you now combine both objects and consider a bunch of polynomial equations in many variables, then all hell breaks loose. It becomes very hard to answer the simplest questions. That's algebraic geometry. It's without a doubt the most difficult area of mathematics to get into.

David Mumford has won just about every prize in math. This year he got the highly prestigious Wolf prize.

The American mathematician David Mumford, co-winner of the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics, announced upon receiving the award yesterday that he will donate the money to Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah, and to Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement.

David goes on to explain what research in academics is all about.

"The achievements I accomplished in mathematics were made possible thanks to my being able to move freely and exchange ideas with other scholars," he said. "It would not have been possible without an international consensus on an exchange of ideas. Mathematics works best when people can move and get together. That's its elixir of life. But the people of occupied Palestine don't have an opportunity to do that. The school system is fighting for its life, and mobility is very limited."

There is a long tradition of political activism and social consciousness in mathematics, from Evariste Galois to Bertrand Russell to Laurent Schwartz to Stephen Smale to Bill Thurston, etc. I wish I could say the same about computer scientists, but their political consciousness tends to begin and end with Open Source...

I'll have more to say about the Palestinian conflict. Stay tuned.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:32 PM | Comments (13)

New TomDispatch

link

Entrenched, Embedded, and Here to Stay
The Pentagon's Expansion Will Be Bush's Lasting Legacy

By Frida Berrigan

A full-fledged cottage industry is already focused on those who eagerly await the end of the Bush administration, offering calendars, magnets, and t-shirts for sale as well as counters and graphics to download onto blogs and websites. But when the countdown ends and George W. Bush vacates the Oval Office, he will leave a legacy to contend with. Certainly, he wills to his successor a world marred by war and battered by deprivation, but perhaps his most enduring legacy is now deeply embedded in Washington-area politics -- a Pentagon metastasized almost beyond recognition.

The Pentagon's massive bulk-up these last seven years will not be easily unbuilt, no matter who dons the presidential mantle on January 19, 2009. "The Pentagon" is now so much more than a five-sided building across the Potomac from Washington or even the seat of the Department of Defense. In many ways, it defies description or labeling.

Who, today, even remembers the debate at the end of the Cold War about what role U.S. military power should play in a "unipolar" world? Was U.S. supremacy so well established, pundits were then asking, that Washington could rely on softer economic and cultural power, with military power no more than a backup (and a domestic "peace dividend" thrown into the bargain)? Or was the U.S. to strap on the six-guns of a global sheriff and police the world as the fountainhead of "humanitarian interventions"? Or was it the moment to boldly declare ourselves the world's sole superpower and wield a high-tech military comparable to none, actively discouraging any other power or power bloc from even considering future rivalry?

The attacks of September 11, 2001 decisively ended that debate. The Bush administration promptly declared total war on every front -- against peoples, ideologies, and, above all, "terrorism" (a tactic of the weak). That very September, administration officials proudly leaked the information that they were ready to "target" up to 60 other nations and the terrorist movements within them.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:05 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2008

Happy Funeral!

By: Bernard Chazelle

Or, as they say, Happy Memorial Day!

I grew up in a French household where no anti-American word was ever uttered. Both of my parents suffered greatly in World War II and spoke only with reverence and gratitude about the US for its sacrifices in the war.

But the 1940s were the last time the US military liberated anyone. In the last 60 years, it has killed millions of innocent people. It has not defended the United States against any enemy. Not once. It has not protected anybody's freedom. Just the opposite, in fact.

I feel great compassion for the soldiers whose lives have been wasted by war. But my compassion is for the human beings behind the soldiers. The exhilaration of soldiering is the stuff of boys' dreams. I was once a fan of Napoleon. (Who wasn't?) I loved it how he moved his armies across the plains of Europe and all the Germans who got in his way just went to sleep. War is great fun. My most vivid memory from May 1968 was when de Gaulle flew to Germany to consult with the French troops stationed there. My grandfather, who was visiting us in Paris at the time, became livid and muttered to himself, "Oh my God, this means war." My reaction was, "Yeah!" My heart filled with joy. High school vs war! It's not even a fair contest.

The juvenile glorification of war is embedded in the military tradition. And "juvenile" is the key word. When Chris Matthews swoons at the sight of General Petraeus in his uniform all bedecked with rows of ribbons, all I see is a stiff buffoon whom I want to heckle, "Grow up, kid, get these silly doodlings off your chest!"

Leaders have their own reasons to send their armies to war. But the juvenile glorification of war is a necessary ingredient to suck people into the meat grinder. To die and to kill is the currency in which respect is traded in the military. And many people join the army to get the respect they don't receive in civilian life. What makes it juvenile is that it's a game in the end, just like football or baseball. Except that people get hurt.

I am not a pacifist. Some wars must be fought. The glorification of war, however, is based on a fraud. Anyone who kills, even for the worthiest of causes, is still a killer.

The New York Times opposes the Iraq war. Therefore,

This page strongly supports a larger, sturdier military.

Which makes sense. The Times wants a larger military to fight all the wars it opposes.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:34 AM | Comments (16)

Yes, Blood For Oil

Whenever I hear people chanting "No Blood for Oil!" I always imagine Dick Cheney looking irritable and responding: "Yes, Blood for Oil."

I hope and pray, without much optimism, that by Memorial Day 2009 we will have reached the beginning of the end of this hideous war.

I also hope and pray "god" will have mercy on the soul of anyone who hasn't done all they possibly could to stop the war. Because if she/he/it doesn't, I'm in big trouble.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:22 AM | Comments (6)

May 25, 2008

How Monsters Perceive Themselves As Martyrs

Dear god almighty I hate Hillary Clinton. She's clambered to her current position over a million bloody corpses.

On the other hand, she's being treated with tremendous unfairness, unfairness that's often ugly, hysterical and sexist.

The thing about politics is that everyone who makes it to the top is a monster, and everyone who makes it to the top is treated with tremendous unfairness. Even Saddam Hussein was lied about, had his words taken out of context, blown out of proportion, etc.

I suspect this is how the monsters who rule us live with themselves. They face both an enormous amount of legitimate criticism and an enormous amount of illegitimate criticism. But the illegitimate criticism is always louder—anyone with the power to criticize loudly doesn't bring up the legitimate criticism, since they themselves are probably guilty in that area too. So the monsters, late at night alone in the dark, obsess over the illegitimate criticism...and thereby make the case to themselves that all criticism of them is illegitimate.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:06 PM | Comments (41)

May 24, 2008

Iranian TV: Sistani Forbids Longterm US Basing Agreement

Press TV, the satellite channel funded by the Iranian government, has just run this story:

Iraq's most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a 'security accord' between the US and Iraq.

The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with "the US occupiers" as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.

The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday.

The remarks were made amid reports that the Iraqi government might sign a long-term framework agreement with the United States, under which Washington would be allowed to set up permanent military bases in the country and US citizens would be granted immunity from legal prosecution in the country...

The mandate of US troops in Iraq will expire in December 2008 and al-Maliki's government is under US pressure to sign 'a mutual security agreement' which would allow the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq.

And just two days ago the AP reported this:

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia...

So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.

I have no idea whether any of this is accurate, but obviously if it is it's extremely important. The UN mandate which gives the US occupation a figleaf of legitimacy could only be extended to the end of 2008 when Maliki brazenly ignored the stated wishes of the Iraqi parliament. It's unlikely he can do this again, so it can't be extended into 2009, at least without conditions set on the US presence.

This means the US must get a bilateral agreement with Iraq to keep troops there. The Bush administration had hoped to sign such an agreement directly with Maliki—ie, without the involvement of the Iraqi parliament or US Congress. The chances of this happening were already low, and if Sistani truly is making a move now, they're probably close to zero.

I don't know what I would do if I were the Bush administration or the next president. Iraq may finally have gotten away from them, in the sense they'd no longer be able to continue the occupation in the current half-assed way. They may have to chose between getting out, or ramping up the ultra-violence.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:55 PM | Comments (13)

112 Years in Prison

By: Bernard Chazelle

270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

Don't get me wrong. I am a law-and-order kind of guy. When Maradona scored against England with his "Hand of God" in the 1986 World Cup, I had one and a half nanoseconds of sympathy for Her Majesty's team. When Bush violated international law by bombing Iraq, I had dreams of the Decider and his VP sharing bunk beds in The Hague. That's who I am. The law comes first.

OK, I believe in civil disobedience. Unjust laws should be broken. But laws that are merely bad should be changed democratically.

This is not the issue, however. America doesn't have any particular impulse to enforce laws (it breaks them routinely in Gitmo). Rather, it needs to indulge a pathological urge to lock up human beings in overcrowded prisons.

I've done the numbers before on this site, so let's not go there again. When it comes to incarceration, in both absolute and per-capita numbers, the US is off the charts.

Patriotic conservatives justify this by arguing that Americans commit more crimes and that high crime rates have no socio-economic causes. In other words, "patriots" believe that Americans are the world's worst innate scumbags, which is exactly the sentiment you would expect from a patriot.

What horrible crime did our 270 immigrants commit? They worked 14-hour shifts in a meatpacking plant without proper documentation. The nerve! You know what fun it is to get the meatpacking gig. So relieved to hear that while they rot in jail, a new batch of 270 true-blue Americans will have to take their place and enjoy the pleasure of beheading chickens and slaughtering livestock.

Bonus material: It's a kosher meatpacking plant. Which means that animals are bled to death. Leviticus is rather sketchy as to whether the meat is still kosher if the bleeding is done by an illegal Guatemalan.


Posted at 11:31 AM | Comments (12)

May 23, 2008

How Is Jeffrey Goldberg Embarrassing His Fellow Homo Sapiens Today?

Jeffrey Goldberg began his new blog at the Atlantic with a very specific goal: each day he hoped to say something that would make all other human beings embarrassed to belong to the same species as him.

"We obviously know that, as primates, we tend to flee from reality into a bizarre dreamscape of self-justifying delusion," Goldberg imagined the world's population saying to themselves as they read his blog, "but we had no idea we were THIS bad."

Goldberg's blog has already had great success creating shame among his fellow humans. Now here's his latest effort:

Those of us who have a hard time believing that even the most irrational Iranian leader would actually sacrifice Persian civilization on the altar of anti-Zionism ought to pay attention to this story, about the tendency among Islamists toward national suicide.

The story Goldberg recommends is by Israeli politician Amnon Rubinstein in the Jerusalem Post, titled "Suicide, the path to national salvation":

Islamist national suicide are not uncommon...

The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest by allowing UN inspectors to search for (the apparently non-existent) weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted. Yet Iraq's ruler opted for war, knowing full well that he would have to face the might of the US.

The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000, who after the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks had two options: continue talking to Israel - under the leadership of Ehud Barak, this country's most moderate and flexible government ever - or resort to violence. He chose the latter, with the result that all progress toward Palestinian independence was blocked. The ensuing loss of life, on both sides, testified to Arafat's preference for suicide over compromise.

The third case is that of the Taliban. Post-9/11, their leadership had two options: to enter into negotiations with the US, with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden, or to risk war and destruction. The choice they made was obvious: Better to die fighting than to give up an inch.

In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts: Dying is preferable to negotiating with infidels.

There's so much bizarre primate self-justifying delusion here that you have to make a list.

(1) Neither the Saddam Hussein regime nor Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority was "Islamist." (The Taliban, of course, was.)

(2) Even if the Iraqi regime and the Palestinian Authority had been Islamist, Rubinstein would still be bonkers.

(a) As anyone knows who spent any of 2003 conscious, Iraq did in fact let UN inspectors look for WMD "wherever they wanted." Beyond that, we now know the perspective of the Saddam regime at the time, thanks to the final CIA report on Iraq's WMD programs:

Saddam assembled senior officials in December 2002 and directed them to cooperate completely with inspectors, according to a former senior officer. Saddam stated that the UN would submit a report on 27 January 2003, and that this report would indicate that Iraq was cooperating fully. He stated that all Iraqi organizations should open themselves entirely to UNMOVIC inspectors. The Republican Guard should make all records and even battle plans available to inspectors, if they requested. The Guard was to be prepared to have an “open house” day or night for the UNMOVIC inspectors.

[High government official] Husam Amin met with military leaders again on 20 January 2003 and conveyed the same directives...Amin told them that the government would hold them responsible if UNMOVIC found any WMD in their units or areas, or if there was anything that cast doubt on Iraq’s cooperation with UNMOVIC.

(b) After the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000, Yasser Arafat did continue talking with Israel. This was what led to the Taba negotiations in January, 2001. (Thus, the Taba talks could not have, as Rubinstein states, failed "in 2000.")

Moreover, the Taba negotiations were halted not by Arafat, but by Ehud Barak. Here's the press release from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Prime Minister Ehud Barak has decided today (Sunday), Jan 28, 2001, not to continue the diplomatic contacts with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and his people until after the elections in Israel.

Here's the joint Israeli-Palestinian statement at the time, again from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

The sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.

After Barak lost, he emphasized the new Sharon government could ignore the Taba talks:

Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak clarified this evening that the ideas which were brought up in the course of the recent negotiations conducted with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, including those raised at the Camp David Summit and by President Clinton towards the end of his term in office, are not binding on the new government to be formed in Israel.

And indeed, Sharon did ignore the negotiations and did not restart them.

(c) Rubinstein is closest to reality when claiming the Taliban failed to "enter into negotiations with the US, with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden"—but even here he's still in an imaginary universe.

To start with, here's what the 9/11 Commission report said about the perspective of the Taliban on the 9/11 attacks before they occurred:

Although Bin Ladin's top priority apparently was to attack the United States, others had a different view...From the Taliban's perspective, an attack against the United States might be counterproductive. It might draw the Americans into the war against them...Bin Ladin countered that Mullah Omar lacked authority to prevent al Qaeda from conducting jihad outside Afghanistan.

On September 20, 2001, George Bush delivered an address to Congress containing an ultimatum to the Taliban. Bush stated they must hand over "all the leaders of al Qaeda" to the US, plus "every person in their support structure," and "give the United States full access to terrorist training camps."

Bush added: "These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion."

On September 21, Taliban official Abdul Salam Zaeef stated that they would not hand over bin Laden "without evidence," but that "if America has proof, we are ready for the trial of Osama bin Laden in light of the evidence." Zaeef also called for an investigation of the attacks by the UN and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. On September 25, the UK Independent reported (via Nexis) that "[Zaeef said] it was 'good news' that the US intended to produce its evidence against Mr bin Laden. This could help to solve the issue 'otherwise than fighting.'"

On September 30, Bush chief of staff Andrew Card repeated Bush's stance from his September 20 address:

The president has said we're not negotiating...We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing. They've got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over but all of the operatives of the al Qaeda organization.

On October 3, the UK Telegraph reported this:

A SECRET plan to put Osama bin Laden on trial in Pakistan has been blocked after President Musharraf said he could not guarantee his safety, it was disclosed yesterday.

Suggested by the Taliban's closest allies in Pakistan, it was a last-ditch attempt to satisfy Western demands for bin Laden's surrender while averting a war and ensuring the fanatical regime's survival...

The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America.

Nothing more came of this, and the US invasion of Afghanistan began on October 7.

3. Even if the Iraqi regime and the Palestinian Authority had been Islamist, and Iraq, Arafat and the Taliban had refused negotiations, Rubinstein would still be bonkers.

Jeffrey Goldberg's thesis is that somehow the cases of Iraq, Arafat and the Taliban suggest Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons, even though it knows this would cause its own obliteration.

But Iraq didn't attack the United States. Rather, Iraq was attacked by the United States. Nor did Arafat attack Israel. Rather, Palestinian land was being occupied by Israel. (The Taliban could be said to have attacked the United States, but as noted above, the 9/11 Commission found it was mostly the doing of Al Qaeda by itself.)

In other words, even if Rubinstein were right about everything he's wrong about, the correct prediction to draw from his examples wouldn't be that Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons. It's that Iran won't negotiate with the US, and then we'll attack them.

* * *

Whew, that's exhausting. But dealing with the bizarre self-delusions of homo sapiens always is. It's really, really embarrassing.

MORE EMBARRASSMENT FOR HUMANS: Amnon Rubinstein used to be the Israeli Minister of Education.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:28 PM | Comments (12)

To Be Fair

Here's Hillary Clinton, explaining why it makes sense for her to still be in the race:

My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it.

The analogy to 1968 actually is somewhat accurate, in the sense that in June, 1968 Hubert Humphrey was far more likely than Robert Kennedy to get the nomination. And I'm sure that's what Clinton had in mind; ie, that she, not Obama, is playing the role of Kennedy here.

Still: bad idea.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:48 PM | Comments (13)

May 22, 2008

New TomDispatch

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River of Resistance
How the American Imperial Dream Foundered in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz

On February 15, 2003, ordinary citizens around the world poured into the streets to protest George W. Bush's onrushing invasion of Iraq. Demonstrations took place in large cities and small towns globally, including a small but spirited protest at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Up to 30 million people, who sensed impending catastrophe, participated in what Rebecca Solnit, that apostle of popular hope, has called "the biggest and most widespread collective protest the world has ever seen."

The first glancing assessment of history branded this remarkable planetary protest a record-breaking failure, since the Bush administration, less than one month later, ordered U.S. troops across the Kuwaiti border and on to Baghdad.

And it has since largely been forgotten, or perhaps better put, obliterated from official and media memory. Yet popular protest is more like a river than a storm; it keeps flowing into new areas, carrying pieces of its earlier life into other realms. We rarely know its consequences until many years afterward, when, if we're lucky, we finally sort out its meandering path.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:06 PM | Comments (8)

New At The Dirk

There's a lot of new funny stuff at Dirk Voetberg's site The Dirk. I particularly recommend:

Pee Limit Sign Defaced

J. W. Westerfield Candies Label

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:29 AM | Comments (0)

Roslyn Zinn

Howard Zinn's wife Roslyn died last week:

Ms. Zinn, who was always the first and most important reader of her husband’s many books and essays, died May 14 in their home in the Auburndale village of Newton. She was 85 and had continued to climb the stairs to her studio and paint until the last days of her life...

“The woman exuded love and openness,” said James Carroll, an author and columnist for the Globe’s opinion pages and a friend of the Zinns. “I felt it, but everyone who met her felt it. She was just an affirming person.”

He added: “Radical politics could be intimidating and frightening because the questions are so hard, but Roz Zinn made it all seem like the most natural thing in the world to ask the tough questions. She took the threat away.”

Blending the arts with activism, Ms. Zinn worked for many years as a social worker and was an actor and musician. While her husband rose to prominence as a writer and a professor at Boston University, hers was the unseen hand shaping sentences that inspired his readers and students.

According to HowardZinn.org condolences sent to admin[at]howardzinn[dot]org will be forwarded to him.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:45 AM | Comments (1)

Dean Baker Interview & Profile

To the Baltimore Sun's credit, they recently ran a short profile of and interview with Dean Baker about his prescience about the housing bubble. It's called "The Man Who Told You So."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:23 AM | Comments (0)

Short-Term Problem Solved

PROBLEM: Broken laptop fan causes laptop to overheat and shut down, often after mere minutes of use. Looming deadline makes lengthy fan repair time unfeasible.

SOLUTION: Block of frozen spinach placed under right rear of laptop near processor.

GLOBAL WARMING: It is my fault.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:43 AM | Comments (16)

May 20, 2008

New TomDispatch

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Torturing Iron Man
The Strange Reversals of a Pentagon Blockbuster
By Nick Turse

"Liberal Hollywood" is a favorite whipping-boy of right-wingers who suppose the town and its signature industry are ever-at-work undermining the U.S. military. In reality, the military has been deeply involved with the film industry since the Silent Era. Today, however, the ad hoc arrangements of the past have been replaced by a full-scale one-stop shop, occupying a floor of a Los Angeles office building. There, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense itself have established entertainment liaison offices to help ensure that Hollywood makes movies the military way.

What they have to trade, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, is access to high-tech, tax-payer funded, otherwise unavailable gear. What they get in return is usually the right to alter or shape scripts to suit their needs. If you want to see the fruits of this relationship in action, all you need to do is head down to your local multiplex. Chances are that Iron Man -- the latest military-entertainment masterpiece -- is playing on a couple of screens.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:14 PM | Comments (17)

Blowing The Lid Off The Whole Damn Thing

The moon landing was faked...ON MARS.

ALSO: In Our Kampf, Michael Gerber and I are the first researchers to solve the mystery of Area 51. What crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947? The government claims it was a weather balloon. Others say it was aliens. Who's telling the truth?

The shocking answer: they both are. It was an ALIEN WEATHER BALLOON.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:20 AM | Comments (5)

May 19, 2008

Rumsfeld Told His Media Committee Our Enemies Are So Dastardly That They Have Media Committees

Among the documents the New York Times pried loose from the Defense Department for their story on TV military analysts are the records from a December 12, 2006 meeting some of the analysts had with Donald Rumsfeld. It includes this Rumsfeld complaint:

RUMSFELD: [Iraqi militias] know the center of gravity of the thing is here in the United States. It isn't out there. And they're designing their attacks to have maximum effect politically, to weaken the will of the American people. Doing a pretty good job. Hell of a lot more skillful at it than we are. Have a lot greater flexibility. They can lie. Don't have bureaucracy. They have media committees that they operate to manipulate the media. And they do it very skillfully.

(mp3)

It would be wonderful enough for Rumsfeld to say this publicly, but it's truly beautiful that he did so to his own media committee. The only thing missing is Rumsfeld angrily denouncing Iraqis for being named Donald Rumsfeld.

(The entire hour-long briefing is available as a wav sound file or a pdf transcript. This section is on page 3, and starts at about 5:50.)

PREVIOUSLY IN WORLD-WITHOUT-IRONY NEWS: Dick Cheney tells Larry King:

CHENEY: I think there's a special obligation on major news organizations, when they're dealing with what can sometimes be life-and-death matters, to get it right.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:48 PM | Comments (10)

May 18, 2008

New At Tomdispatch

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Globalizers, Neocons, or…?
The World After Bush

By Mark Engler

Picture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.

It's easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% -- historic lows -- it would not surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.

More surprising, however, might be the number of people in the crowd drinking finer brands of champagne. Amid the populist gala, one might well spot figures of high standing in the corporate world, individuals who once would have looked forward to the reign of an MBA president but now believe that neocon bravado is no way to run an empire.

One of the more curious aspects of the Bush years is that the self-proclaimed "uniter" polarized not only American society, but also its business and political elites. These are the types who gather at the annual, ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and have their assistants trade business cards for them. Yet, despite their sometime chumminess, these powerful few are now in disagreement over how American power should be shaped in the post-Bush era and increasing numbers of them are jumping ship when it comes to the course the Republicans have chosen to advance these last years. They are now engaged in a debate about how to rule the world.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:39 PM | Comments (2)

Clueless-In-Chief

By: Bernard Chazelle

Bush's astonishing ignorance about Israel would be funny if it were not so tragic.

Mr. Bush asked if Arabs and Jews dated one another, or went to dances.

“No dances?” he asked, sounding surprised.

Posted at 11:14 AM | Comments (5)

May 16, 2008

"Before You Die, Just Two Words: You Stink"

By: Bernard Chazelle

While tens of thousands of Chinese are burying their dead, while parents are clinging to the dead bodies of their single children, while thousands are buried alive under the rubble, waiting to die, the New York Times finds the time just ripe to tell us why the Chinese are so annoyingly inferior .

To be fair, we're informed that the Chinese did invent something important: toilet paper. (I guess Americans reinvented it and called it "The New York Times.")

There was never to be a Chinese Newton or Galileo.

Hmm, wonder who's the American Newton? Fig Newton! Newton Gingrich!

Historians have long debated why the Chinese so signally failed to exploit their early promise.

Now that's a tough one. Let me think. Oh yes I know! Maybe they're just stupid.

Why, if the Chinese had come to know so much about earthquakes so early on in their immensely long history, were they never able to minimize the effects of the world's contortions at least the degree that America has?

Oh, that's an easy one: Because we're such smart, beautiful, special people.

Today [China's] wreckage stands as a tragic monument to a culture that turned its back on its remarkable and glittering history.

I guess poverty has nothing to do with the fact that its buildings could not sustain a 7.9 earthquake. (Japan has the world's most advanced earthquake protection codes, and yet the Kobe tremor, 5 times less powerful than the one in China, still managed to killed 5,000 people.)

Then I checked the letters to the editor: It was the usual "Why can't these savages produce great civil engineers like we do." How can that crappy Great Wall compete against the superb New Orleans levees?

But my favorite was this one:

a child may be a parent's best hope for a retirement free from penury.

It's bad to lose a child. It's even worse to lose a single child. But the horror is that it really screws up your retirement package.

— Bernard Chazelle

PS: My friends are OK, but they tell me that several of their students (who attended my lectures during my visit) have lost relatives. This would be Xi'an university and City University of Hong Kong.

Posted at 08:26 PM | Comments (19)

Right Wing Hackery The Same The World Over

Who else is attacking their domestic political opponents for failing to wear a flag pin? Lawrence of Cyberia has the extremely enjoyable answer here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:49 PM | Comments (7)

New At Tomdispatch

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Kiss American Security Goodbye
15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of Insecurity

By Tom Engelhardt

Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi -- until, that is, I realized I would never locate my "chi." At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me -- that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath -- and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke -- that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself...

When the history of this era is finally written, based on the Tai Chi Principle, Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so -- not to put a fine point on it -- stupidly and profligately as to send the planet's "sole superpower" into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms. In this lies a bleak but epic tale of folly worthy of a great American novelist (wherever she is).

In the meantime, consider the following little list -- 15 numbers that offer an indication of just what the Tai Chi Principle meant in action these last years; just where American energies did and did not flow; and, in the end, just how much less safe we are now than we were in January 2001, when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office:

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:10 AM | Comments (4)

May 15, 2008

Midwest Teen Sex Show Breaks Out Of Midwest

There's a new Midwest Teen Sex Show, on "Sex, Drugs & Alcohol":

They also were profiled recently on Nightline, which is the kind of thing that makes me think the world is worth saving. It's now a place where a little group of friends from the middle of nowhere (media-speaking), with few resources except their talent and determination, have in just one year gotten a significant online audience plus attention from the biggest outlets. Even better is that when distributed via blogg, their work and ABC are experienced in almost exactly the same way, with no indication that ABC has more authority. (Note the director of MTSS makes a point of their high production values.)

MTSS on Nightline

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:48 PM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2008

$100

The US political system has been completely broken my whole life. And for my whole life, nice liberals have been telling me the reason is that there's too much money in politics. We need campaign finance reform to get the money out of politics, and all will be well.

I'm now convinced this is completely wrong. The problem isn't that there's much too much money in politics. It that there's much too little.

Politics costs money. It always has and always will. Moreover, the money spent on elections may be the least important part. There's also media, long-term party building, organizations outside of parties like MoveOn and the NRA, and "Impeach LBJ" buttons. Even if running for office cost nothing, progressives would still be at a profound disadvantage, because officeholders would be operating in an environment created by Big Money.

So what's the answer? I'm convinced it's for lots and lots of people to give little amounts of money—not just to candidates, but to the whole machinery of politics.

Getting people to do that, of course, is the trick. But there's a plausible solution. In William Greider's book Who Will Tell the People, he suggests every US adult should get a government voucher for a certain amount of money—say, $100—that they would be free to give to any political organization they want. This could be Mike Huckabee, or the ACLU, or a local soup kitchen, or even teeny-tiny websites named after something George Orwell said.

To put this in perspective, the 2008 presidential campaign will cost over $1 billion. That sounds like too much money in politics! But if all of America's 200 million adults allocated their $100, that would be $20 billion spent on politics every year (not just every four). From that perspective, $1 billion sounds like much too little.

I'd welcome thoughts on this, because I'm going to write a big piece soon about why this is important and how it might work. In the meantime, here's an interesting paragraph from a new piece in the Atlantic about Barack Obama's fearsome fundraising machinery:

In a sense, Obama represents a triumph of campaign-finance reform. He has not, of course, gotten the money out of politics, as many proponents of reform may have wished, and he will likely forgo public financing if he becomes the nominee. But he has realized the reformers’ other big goal of ending the system whereby a handful of rich donors control the political process. He has done this not by limiting money but by adding much, much more of it—democratizing the system by flooding it with so many new contributors that their combined effect dilutes the old guard to the point that it scarcely poses any threat. Goren berg says he’s still often asked who the biggest fund-raisers are. He replies that it is no longer possible to tell. “Any one of them could wind up being huge,” he says, “because it no longer matters how big a check you can write; it matters how motivated you are to reach out to others.”

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:54 PM | Comments (35)

New TomDispatch

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"Me, I'm a Camera"
African Women Making Change

By Ann Jones

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo -- The last time I was back in the U.S.A., everyone was talking about "change." Change seemed to mean electing Barack Obama president and thereby bringing all Americans together in blissful agreement. But real change isn't like that. Didn't the guy who's got the job now promise to be a "uniter"? Real change has content and direction. It's driven by courageous people unafraid to speak up, even -- or perhaps especially -- when it's risky.

Anyway, there are plenty of Americans I'll never agree with, so I'm in self-imposed exile in Africa where I work with women who teach me a lot about real change and the risks involved in going for it. The women I work with live in the aftermath of civil wars -- in the midst of a continuing war on women that's acted out in widespread sexual exploitation, rape, and wife beating. They've had enough.

As a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), I go from country to country, running a simple little project dreamed up by the IRC's Gender-Based Violence unit. (GBV is the gender-neutral term for what I still call VAW: Violence Against Women.) The project -- dubbed A Global Crescendo: Women's Voices from Conflict Zones -- is meant to give women a chance to document their daily lives, their problems, their consolations and joys. It's meant to give them time and space to talk together and come up with their own agenda for change.

Digital cameras are the tool. I arrive with them and lend them to women, most of whom have never seen a camera before. I teach them to point and shoot -- only that -- and then I turn them loose to snap what they will. I ask them to bring me some photos of their problems and their blessings. They work in teams, two or three women sharing a camera and very nervous at first. (Some women actually shake.) It takes the whole team to snap the first photos: one holds the camera, another points, another shoots. The teamwork they build is a step to solidarity.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:57 AM | Comments (2)

Lunch With Donald Rumsfeld

As part of their story on TV military analysts, the New York Times pried an incredible amount of crap loose from the Defense Department. Amongst the crap was a recording of a 2006 lunch with Donald Rumsfeld and many of the analysts. Jfxgillis at Newsvine has listened to the whole hour, and excerpted the best parts.

Among the highlights are Donald Rumsfeld sadly stating that Nouri al-Maliki doesn't measure up to South Korean fascist Syngman Rhee. This kind of digging is exactly what I think bloggs should be doing, so I highly recommend it.

(via Avedon Carol)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:58 AM | Comments (7)

May 13, 2008

I Feel Your Pain

By: Bernard Chazelle

To honor the sacrifice of US soldiers killed, maimed, blinded, disembowelled, decapitated, castrated, rendered insane, and otherwise shattered by the war in Iraq, President Bush made the solemn announcement today that he was giving up... golf.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:48 PM | Comments (9)

Presidential Candidates Respond To China Earthquake

Dennis Perrin has the views of McCain, Obama and Clinton here. For instance:

HILLARY CLINTON: This earthquake is a lot like Senator Obama's campaign -- selfish, vain, elitist, and out of touch with hard working white Americans. The news reports tell us that over ten thousand Chinese citizens have died, but if Senator Obama were president, that death toll would easily be tripled. I am the only candidate with serious foreign earthquake experience. I know how to assess Richter scale numbers and will keep up to the minute with revised body counts and estimates. That's what hard working white Americans, and those black people who for whatever reason still support me, want and deserve in their president, which I already am, and have been for some time.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:01 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2008

Politico's Roger Simon Rewites Own History To Fluff McCain

It's not news that much of the corporate Washington press corps feels a burning love for John McCain. But it's still enjoyable to see the lengths to which they'll go for their political cuddlebunny. Take Roger Simon, chief political columnist for the Politico. Simon isn't just willing to rewrite history on McCain's behalf; he's willing to rewrite history he himself wrote.

In 1999 Simon was working for US News & World Report, for whom he produced a long, mostly glowing piece about McCain's first campaign for president. Here Simon explains why the press was smitten with McCain:

At 63, one of the oldest candidates in the race, he is a bundle of energy, powering through as many as eight speeches a day. Except when he sleeps, he is virtually never silent...It may be a high-risk way to run, but his whole campaign is high risk. "I decided that the planets were aligned and I had a shot at it," he says. "Not a very good shot, but a shot. I'm not going to be driven by a fear of losing. I'm going to have fun and enjoy it because I'll never do this again."

Obviously McCain did run again, but at the beginning of 2007 even his prospects of getting the Republican nomination looked uncertain. And so Simon wrote a bizarre, moony article imagining how McCain could still become the 44th president: with another campaign "about authenticity." In the new piece Simon reused almost all his McCain quotes from 1999, including the above section. Simon did, however, make one small change. See if you can spot it:

[McCain] would run again because he had faced that terrible dread that kept many from ever running: the humiliation of defeat. “I’m not going to be driven by a fear of losing,” McCain told his staff. “I’m going to have fun.”

There are so many funny things about this that you have to make a list.

1. It's funny that McCain, in order to explain how he was able to be so damn honest, said something that turned out not to be true.

2. It's even funnier that, in order to explain why honest John McCain was running again, Simon quietly excised that McCain had said to Simon that he wouldn't.

3. It's funniest of all that, in the original 1999 article, Simon had reported that journalists loved McCain so much that at one point on the Straight Talk Express a reporter "begged McCain to shut up and protect himself." But apparently this isn't necessary; McCain can say anything, and reporters will retroactively have him un-say it. (It's also odd that this reporter goes unidentified. It's hard not to wonder whether this is because his name was Roger Simon. In any case, it's an interesting example of press corps omerta, in which they rigorously eliminate any information their audience could actually use.)

Still, don't think for a minute Simon isn't deeply concerned about the way reporters tend to suck up to the powerful. As he recently wrote:

It is not surprising that so many politicians have such a low opinion of the media; we make it so easy for them to do so.

And why was Simon so unhappy with his colleagues? For the most obvious reason imaginable: because the media has given Barack Obama a free pass on Jeremiah Wright.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:23 PM | Comments (4)

Grief in Asia

By: Bernard Chazelle

It's been a rough ride for Myanmar and China.

What have the poor Burmese people done to deserve both a horrific cyclone and one of the vilest dictators on this side of the Milky Way? At least, General Than Shwe is showing a Churchillian capacity to stand tall in the face of adversity. "Cyclone, what cyclone?" No, what's got him all agitated right now is this May 10 referendum that had to be postponed in parts of the country. You see, dictators are more sensitive than the rest of us. While I'd be quite happy to be elected with 99.99998% of the votes, a true dictator will not rest until enough heads roll to bring the percentage to 99.999999.

The China earthquake has a personal angle for me. I was in that part of China 2 weeks ago. I've tried to contact my friends there all day, but so far no luck. As a little boy, after seeing a stupid movie I began to have a recurring nightmare that I was stuck in the rubble of an earthquake. It's still hard for me to imagine anything worse. The Chinese are amazingly good at quick, large-scale projects and I hope they'll use their organizational talents to rescue as many people as quickly as possible. My heart goes out to them and to their Burmese neighbors.

— Bernard Chazelle


Posted at 08:49 PM | Comments (2)

People Need Money

People doing worthwhile things always need money. If you can, you should give it to them.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting need $10,000 more to make their spring fundraising goals. Donate here.

Arthur Silber could also use money for himself and cat care.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:36 PM | Comments (0)

Raed Jarrar, Interesting Guy

A short profile I wrote of Iraqi exile, blogger and activist Raed Jarrar is online here. He's an impressive person.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:53 AM | Comments (2)

"The Terrifying New Speed Of Global Warming"

Writer and environmental activist Mike Tidwell writes about how easy and inexpensive it was to reduce his Maryland home's carbon emissions 90% here. The Washington Post also wrote about his house. In a new article, Tidwell explains why this matters:

RECORD HEAT and wind and fire displace nearly one million Southern Californians. Record drought in Atlanta leaves the city with just a few more months of drinking water. Arctic ice shrinks by an area twice the size of Texas in one summer. And all over the world—including where you live—the local weather borders on unrecognizable. It’s way too hot, too dry, too wet, too weird wherever you go.

All of which means it’s time to face a fundamental truth: the majority of the world’s climate scientists have been totally wrong. They’ve failed us completely. Not concerning the basics of global warming. Of course the climate is changing. Of course humans are driving the process through fossil fuel combustion and deforestation. No, what the scientists have been wrong about—and I mean really, really wrong—is the speed at which it’s all occurring. Our climate system isn’t just “changing.” It’s not just “warming.” It’s snapping, violently, into a whole new regime right before our eyes. A fantastic spasm of altered weather patterns is crashing down upon our heads right now.

The only question left for America is this: can we snap along with the climate? Can we, as the world’s biggest polluter, create a grassroots political uprising that emerges as abruptly as a snap of the fingers? A movement that demands the clean-energy revolution in the time we have left to save ourselves? I think we can do it. I hope we can do it. Indeed, the recent political “snap” in Australia, where a devastating and unprecedented drought made climate change a central voting issue and so helped topple a Bush-like government of deniers, should give us encouragement.

But time is running out fast for a similar transformation here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:36 AM | Comments (11)

May 11, 2008

Nate The NeoConservative

Swiped from Ruben Bolling here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:31 PM | Comments (4)

New From TomDispatch

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The World at 350
A Last Chance for Civilization
By Bill McKibben

Even for Americans, constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start -- even for us, the world looks a little Terminal right now.

It's not just the economy. We've gone through swoons before. It's that gas at $4 a gallon means we're running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It's that when we try to turn corn into gas, it sends the price of a loaf of bread shooting upwards and starts food riots on three continents. It's that everything is so inextricably tied together. It's that, all of a sudden, those grim Club of Rome types who, way back in the 1970s, went on and on about the "limits to growth" suddenly seem… how best to put it, right.

All of a sudden it isn't morning in America, it's dusk on planet Earth.

There's a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA's Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we'll pass if we don't get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer's insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:25 AM | Comments (2)

We Own The World, So We Naturally Get Angry When Others Visit Without Being Invited

John McCain in 1999:

McCain's mood can also quickly turn from sunny to stormy without warning. With his shades on and looking out through the bus window at water-skiers crashing through silver waves under a golden sun over Lake Winnipesaukee near Laconia, McCain begins talking about his captors. They are living in Hanoi, he says, except for the Cuban, the man he called "Fidel," who would beat the American prisoners with an automobile fan belt. "He was particularly cruel," McCain says, his mood darkening almost imperceptibly. McCain says he has the CIA looking for "Fidel," and a reporter innocently asks why. "He was from a foreign country!" McCain says, his voice rising. "He had no business coming to Hanoi and killing my friends! And I'd love to bring him to justice!" And just as quickly, the storm passes. McCain adjusts his glasses a little and says, "It was a long time ago. I almost never talk about it." He looks from one reporter to another. "Really. There was a lot of humor in prison. A lot of funny stories."

Here's all you need to know about the Vietnam War:

HAVE NO BUSINESS: Foreigners who come to Hanoi to torture people who've dropped five million tons of bombs on a country the size of Oregon

HAVE LOTS OF BUSINESS: Foreigners who come to Hanoi to drop five million tons of bombs on a country the size of Oregon

THE DIFFERENCE: Swarthiness

ALSO: This involves a lot of funny stories

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:57 AM | Comments (12)

May 10, 2008

Nir Rosen On Lebanon And Middle East

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When Israel was bombing Lebanon in 2006, killing its civilians and destroying its infrastructure, Condoleeza Rice celebrated this as the "birth pangs of the new Middle East," a phrase that lives in infamy in Lebanon. The events of the last 24 hours in Lebanon were the death throes of the Bush plan for the new Middle East...

In Lebanon, the Americans view Hizballah as a terrorist threat and have pressured their Sunni proxies not to compromise. Hizballah, the most popular movement by far among Lebanese Shiites, and very popular among other groups (not to mention throughout the region) was demanding a national unity government so that it could have a more equitable share of political power, but Hizballah, despite its military power, was not even asking for a a larger share for Shiites but instead it sought a larger share for its non Shiite allies in the opposition. This was in order to have a say in strategic issues and prevent the weapons of the resistance from being threatened, while also maintaining Lebanon outside the American and Israeli sphere of influence...

The Americans thought that they could pick a proxy and get him to rule Lebanon. But Lebanon is too complicated for them, and they didn't know that no single group can rule Lebanon. The Americans along with their Saudi allies backed the creation of sectarian Sunni militias in Lebanon, some of whom were even trained in Jordan. Their ideology consisted of anti Shiite sectarianism. But these Sunni militiamen proved a complete failure, and America's proxies in Lebanon barely put up a fight, despite their strident anti Shiite rhetoric. Now it is clear that Beirut is firmly in the hands of Hizballah and nothing the Americans can do will dislodge or weaken this popular movement, just as they cannot weaken the Sadrists in Iraq or Hamas in Gaza...

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:29 PM | Comments (2)

May 09, 2008

IMPORTANT: Do Not Write Down Anything About This Website's Secret Plan To Rule The World

I highly recommend The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet. It's about the highly-creepy yet little-known "Christian" "Family" to which many powerful politicians, in America and elsewhere, belong. It was consciously modeled after the Communist Party, complete with cells, secrecy, cult-like devotion, etc.

And as with most creepy organizations, it's concerned that outsiders will learn what it's up to, and so members write to each other stressing the need to never write anything down. Here's a Family memo Sharlet dug up in the Billy Graham Center archives:

[The Family's political initiatives] have always been misunderstood by 'outsiders.' As a result of very bitter experiences, therefore, we have learned never to commit to paper any discussions or negotiations that are taking place. There is no such thing a 'confidential' memorandum, and leakage always seems to occur. Thus, I would urge you not to put on paper anything relating to any of the work that you are doing...[unless] you know the recipient well enough to put at the top of the page 'PLEASE DESTROY AFTER READING.'

This reminds me of a 1972 memo by Fred Malek, an aide in the Nixon White House, about illegally channeling federal money to administration supporters:

No written communications from the White House to the Departments -- all information about the program would be transmitted verbally...documents prepared would not indicate White House involvement in any way.

I think the lesson here is clear: high-functioning paranoids are always the same.

AND NOW: Fred Malek is currently national finance co-chair for the McCain Presidential Campaign. And while this may sound like a joke, it is not: Malek also has his own blogg.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:21 PM | Comments (8)

The Tony Snow Award For Enormity In The Field Of Noggindom

The latest Poor Man comix are even funnier than normal.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:58 AM | Comments (1)

May 08, 2008

Inside Der Clintönbunker

Written by James Adomian, put together by Dan Strange.

(from Dennis and IOZ)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:16 PM | Comments (53)

Aping

On good days, politics is 95% primate screeching and hooting. On bad days it's 100%. This is why I hate and fear politics so deeply.

In any case, the New York Times Freakonomics blogg has an interesting interview with Frans "Bonobo" de Waal that touches on primate politics:

If both monkeys got the same reward, there never was a problem. Grapes are by far preferred (as real primates, like us, they go for sugar content), but even if both received cucumber, they’d perform the task many times in a row.

However, if they received different rewards, the one who got the short end of the stick would begin to waver in its responses, and very soon start a rebellion by either refusing to perform the task or refusing to eat the cucumber.

This is an “irrational” response in the sense that if profit-maximizing is what life (and economics) is about, one should always take what one can get. Monkeys will always accept and eat a piece of cucumber whenever we give it to them, but apparently not when their partner is getting a better deal. In humans, this reaction is known as “inequity aversion.”

I actually don’t think the response is irrational at all, but related to the fact that in a cooperative system, one needs to watch what kind of investment one makes and what one gets in return. If your partners always ends up getting a greater share, this means that you’re being taken advantage of. So, the rational thing to do is withhold cooperation until the reward division improves.

This holds an important message for American society which is becoming less fair by the day.

De Waal also points out other species besides humans have a sense of rhythm; for instance, cockatoos. Watching the below video, I'm seized with the desire to tape myself mimicking this dancing bird as closely as possible. I'd like to get a white suit and white headdress and then put them on and try to reproduce his moves exactly. Among other things, I'd have to keep my hands clasped behind my back and not bend at the knees.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:21 PM | Comments (8)

More On Purported Bush Sr. Assassination Plot

When the Pentagon released a study about Iraq's terrorist activities under Saddam, I thought it was interesting they hadn't mentioned anything about Saddam's supposed attempt to assassinate George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. But I missed this article by Michael Isikoff at the time, on exactly this subject:

[C]uriously little has been heard about the allegedly foiled assassination plot in the five years since the U.S. military invaded Iraq. A just-released Pentagon study on the Iraqi regime's ties to terrorism only adds to the mystery. The review, conducted for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, combed through 600,000 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents seized after the fall of Baghdad, as well as thousands of hours of audio- and videotapes of Saddam's conversations with his ministers and top aides. The study found that the IIS kept remarkably detailed records of virtually every operation it planned, including plots to assassinate Iraqi exiles and to supply explosives and booby-trapped suitcases to Iraqi embassies. But the Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. "It was surprising," said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, "you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot]."

But it turns out absence of evidence still isn't evidence of absence:

"It would not have surprised me at all if the Iraqis expunged any record of that—it was an utter embarrassment for them," says Paul Pillar, the CIA's former top analyst on the Middle East.

You bet. Likewise, given the utter embarrassment the CIA felt when its remote control mechanism failed to crash Flight 93 into the Capitol on 9/11, I'm not surprised they've expunged all references to it from their records.

EARLIER: The FBI chemist who tested the explosives recovered in Kuwait describes how his report was falsified.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:45 PM | Comments (6)

New From TomDispatch

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Portrait of an Oil-Addicted Former Superpower
How Rising Oil Prices Are Obliterating America's Superpower Status
By Michael T. Klare

Nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world's other superpower. Yes, the USSR as a political entity stumbled on for another two years, but it was clearly an ex-superpower from the moment it lost control over its satellites in Eastern Europe.

Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel crude oil roared past $110 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the $3.50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped $4.00. As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the USA will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation's economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower-in-the-making.

That the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the erasure of the Soviet Union's superpower status was obvious to international observers at the time. After all, the USSR visibly ceased to exercise dominion over an empire (and an associated military-industrial complex) encompassing nearly half of Europe and much of Central Asia. The relationship between rising oil prices and the obliteration of America's superpower status is, however, hardly as self-evident. So let's consider the connection.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:29 PM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2008

Stop it, Amy!

By: Bernard Chazelle

I wonder how long it'll be before we get to read the obituary of this immensely talented woman.

— Bernard Chazelle

PS: I assume I was the last one to notice this. Jonathan is becoming quite the celebrity.

PPS: Nonstop travel has kept me from posting. Sorry.

Posted at 06:17 PM | Comments (7)

What An Amazing Accomplishment

It's September 12, 2001. You're sitting in front of a TV, watching footage of the World Trade Center collapse over and over and over again.

All of a sudden, someone from seven years in the future walks out of a tiny temporal vortex, and tells you: George W. Bush is going to fuck this up so badly that in 2008, the United States of America will likely elect as president a black man whose middle name is Hussein and whose father was Muslim. Oh, and he also admits he's used cocaine.

I think it would have been easier to convince me of the reality of time travel. "No, no, I believe you really are from the future. But the other stuff, that's CRAZY."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:14 PM | Comments (23)

God Damn Little Man

Thank you to this by Mimi Smartypants for mentioning this cartoon, or whatever it is.

Thank you to grendelkhan for mentioning cartoonist Tim Kreider and this specifically. I note that here Kreider refers to "John Ralston Saul’s indispensable book Voltaire’s Bastards."

Thank you to Jesus/Buddha/Mohammed/DARPA for inventing the internet.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:27 AM | Comments (6)

May 06, 2008

I Wonder When The Mission Changed

This is from a new article about David Petraeus by Spencer Ackerman:

While commanding the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, David H. Petraeus famously mused to journalist Rick Atkinson, "Tell me how this ends." Asked today by The Washington Independent how he would answer that if one of his own division commanders posed it, Petraeus replied by phone from Baghdad's Camp Victory, "I would just reiterate what our objectives are, and that is what we're trying to help the Iraqis achieve. And that is: an Iraq that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors; and can defend itself; that is a democracy in Iraqi fashion -- I would also say a government that is represent of and responsive to all its citizens."

This is George Bush on March 6, 2003:

Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, millions of Americans can recall a time when leaders from both parties set this country on a mission of regime change in Vietnam...What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change...But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:21 PM | Comments (5)

May 05, 2008

Poll: 68% Want Troops Out Of Iraq Within Six Months

A new poll by ICR found 68% of Americans want Congress to use the power of the purse to bring all troops home from Iraq within the next six months. This is up from 54% last September.

While this was paid for by Democrats.com, ICR is a straight and narrow polling company. These are valid results:

Should Congress:

Give President Bush 100 billion dollars to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the rest of 2008 and beyond
13.4%

Give President Bush 170 billion dollars to keep U.S. troops in Iraq in 2009 and beyond
9.8%

Give President Bush 50 billion dollars to bring U.S. troops safely home within 6 Months
16.8%

Require President Bush to use existing funds to bring U.S. troops safely home within 6 months
51.2%

Don't know
5.8%

Refused to answer
3.0%

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:45 PM | Comments (15)

New From TomDispatch

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The Last War and the Next One
Descending into Madness in Iraq -- and Beyond

By Tom Engelhardt

The last war won't end, but in the Pentagon they're already arguing about the next one.

Let's start with that "last war" and see if we can get things straight. Just over five years ago, American troops entered Baghdad in battle mode, felling the Sunni-dominated government of dictator Saddam Hussein and declaring Iraq "liberated." In the wake of the city's fall, after widespread looting, the new American administrators dismantled the remains of Saddam's government in its hollowed out, trashed ministries; disassembled the Sunni-dominated Baathist Party which had ruled Iraq since the 1960s, sending its members home with news that there was no coming back; dismantled Saddam's 400,000 man army; and began to denationalize the economy. Soon, an insurgency of outraged Sunnis was raging against the American occupation.

After initially resisting democratic elections, American occupation administrators finally gave in to the will of the leading Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and agreed to sponsor them. In January 2005, these brought religious parties representing a long-oppressed Shiite majority to power, parties which had largely been in exile in neighboring Shiite Iran for years.

Now, skip a few years, and U.S. troops have once again entered Baghdad in battle mode. This time, they've been moving into the vast Sadr City Shiite slum "suburb" of eastern Baghdad, which houses perhaps two-and-a-half million closely packed inhabitants. If free-standing, Sadr City would be the second largest city in Iraq after the capital. This time, the forces facing American troops haven't put down their weapons, packed up, and gone home. This time, no one is talking about "liberation," or "freedom," or "democracy." In fact, no one is talking about much of anything.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:10 PM | Comments (3)

Cinco De Arturo

Happy birthday to Arthur Silber, who turns sixty today. I suspect he wouldn't say no if you were moved to send him some money.

CINCO DE WHY-O?: Three years ago I wrote a post about the geopolitical origins of Cinco de Mayo, which are pretty damn interesting in their own right as well as relevant to our situation in America today.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:32 PM | Comments (4)

Words: Do They Mean Anything?

I dig Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic. First, he's pretty funny, which goes a long way with me. And second, he's an interesting and encouraging case study in recent structural changes in America's political economy. Not long ago, there would have been no room at fancy magazines for someone with his perspective. Now things have changed enough so there's a teeny-tiny foothold. If he were fifteen years older he would have either had to change his perspective in order to have a career, or keep his perspective and have no career.

And because I dig Yglesias, I found this, from the beginning of his new book Heads in the Sand, to be discouraging:

[O]ne should avoid unwise extremes and hew to a soundly moderate course of action...

Unfortunately...though backed by the teachings of Aristotle, the Buddha, and Goldilocks alike, [this view] offers little in the way of practical guidance. In a world where one conservative author's proposed response to Islamic violence is to "invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" and a non-trivial number of people are committed to blanket pacifism, the middle ground turns out to be an extraordinarily broad patch of terrain.

To begin with, the ritualized execration of the Dirty Fucking Hippies is gross. But what's worse is that it's completely untrue that "a non-trivial number of people are committed to blanket pacifism." Or at least it is if words have any meaning.

I assume what Yglesias is trying to say is that a fairly large number of Americans believe in non-interventionism; ie, that the United States shouldn't attack other countries and should generally stay out of their affairs. But that's not pacifism. Pacifism, people with access to dictionaries know, is

1: opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes; specifically: refusal to bear arms on moral or religious grounds

2: an attitude or policy of nonresistance

In other words, pacifists don't just refrain from attacking others. They also don't defend themselves (violently) if attacked.

So how many genuine pacifists—ie, people who wouldn't resist if the United States were invaded—are there in America? I'm not sure, but I bet they could all fit in my apartment.

To get a sense of how extreme this position is in US politics, let's ask Noam Chomsky whether he's a pacifist. Noam?

CHOMSKY: I'm not a pacifist.

I don't think there are a non-trivial number of people committed to a political perspective to the left of Noam Chomsky. What I do think is that hundreds of years of imperialism have damaged our understanding of what words mean. ("Pacifism is extreme and crazy! America not attacking other countries is pacifism! America not attacking other countries is extreme and crazy!")

It's too bad Yglesias is contributing to this, rather than using his talents to combat it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:22 AM | Comments (24)

May 04, 2008

"In Praise Of Palestinian Steadfastness"

I have literally never in my life read something like this in an American news outlet:

In praise of Palestinian steadfastness
Despite 60 years of hardship, real achievement, too.

As Israel celebrates 60 years of statehood this month, Palestinians are taking the opportunity to remember the catastrophic shattering of their society in 1948. It is not simply a question of recalling the past; they continue to struggle for self-determination and to have their rights recognized under international law.

Yet it is a mistake to consider the past 60 years as simply a story of unmitigated disaster for the Palestinian people. There have also been significant successes and achievements – and it is a story worth telling. This is all the more remarkable, given the extent to which the society was devastated in 1948: Israel destroyed some 400 villages as 85 percent of Palestinians in what became Israel were dispossessed.

In spite of everything, Palestinians have not only survived but won international recognition for Palestinian statehood thanks to unflagging persistence. Often bereft of allies, they have struggled to make substantive political gains. But Palestinians inside Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the diaspora have resisted Israeli domination – and refused to just "go away."

The rest.

Congratulations to the author, Benjamin White, for getting this published in the Christian Science Monitor, and congratulations to the Christian Science Monitor for running it. I feel like I've fallen into an alternate universe in which human beings aren't tribalistic lunatics. Help!

I strongly encourage anyone who cares about this issue to write to the Christian Science Monitor as well as to their opinion editor directly to say thank you. It's safe to say they'll be getting a fair amount of correspondence unhappy with them.

(Thanks to Dennis Perrin for sending me this.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:23 PM | Comments (7)

The Shadow Elite

Paul Rosenberg is writing a series at Open Left on the extremely important yet little-examined phenomenon of the creation of "shadow elites":

While the notion of Fox News as "populist" is a ludicrous rightwing perversion in one sense, it is quite accurate in another sense we dare not ignore--and that is, quite simply, that it reflects the truest test of elite power--the ability to define the essential contours of populist thought, and to cast someone else as the dreaded "elite".

This is a very old game, and it's way past time we got a better handle on it.

That's from Part I. There is also a Part II.

The only flaw is that Rosenberg fails to mention the real elites who control all unseen: The Rotarians.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:31 PM | Comments (1)

We're Going To Lose

Here's "Jesus Made Me Puke" by Matt Taibbi, an excerpt from his new book The Great Derangement:

Fortenberry began to issue instructions. He told us that under no circumstances should we pray during the Deliverance.

"When the word of God is in your mouth," he said, "the demons can't come out of your body. You have to keep a path clear for the demon to come up through your throat. So under no circumstances pray to God. You can't have God in your mouth. You can cough, you might even want to vomit, but don't pray."

The crowd nodded along solemnly. Fortenberry then explained that he was going to read from an extremely long list of demons and cast them out individually. As he did so, we were supposed to breathe out, keep our mouths open and let the demons out.

And he began...

"In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of incest! In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of sexual abuse! In the name of Jesus..."

"In the name of Jesus," continued Fortenberry, "I cast out the demon of astrology!"...

"In the name of Jesus Christ," said Fortenberry, more loudly now, "I cast out the demon of lust!"...

"In the name of Jesus Christ, I cast out the demon of cancer!" said Fortenberry...

"In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of handwriting analysis!" shouted Fortenberry...

"In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I cast out the demon of the intellect!" Fortenberry continued. "In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of anal fissures!"

It's things like this that make me convinced progressives, whoever we are, will ultimately lose and mankind will destroy itself.

That's because incest, sexual abuse, astrology, lust, cancer, handwriting analysis, intellect, and anal fissures are genuine problems for people. Anyone who suffers from them naturally wants to know WHO'S RESPONSIBLE.

Bad political movements provide easy answers in the form of all-encompassing worldviews: it's the demons, or the Joos, or the filthy Arabs, or the dirty Mexicans, or the capitalist swine, or Jane Fonda. (Or all of them working together.) Cast them out and all your problems will vanish.

By contrast, good political movements cannot provide easy answers, or in most cases any answers at all. What we think we can do is get us all $4 an hour more, plus health care and a little more control over our lives. What we can't do is end human suffering.

Rationally speaking, this would be a giant improvement, particularly since the likely alternatives involve the deaths of billions. But irrationally speaking, we don't want to just suffer less, we want to stop suffering. And this is something honest movements can't offer.

That's the problem. We'll need to go to the barricades just to solve the problems that can be solved. But the larger problems will remain, and in the end, everyone will have to deal with them alone. It's hard to get people to the barricades on this platform.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of a slight increase in pay
Plus a little bit less teasing for teenagers poor or gay
And a crappy little state for Palestinians someday
And that is all we've got
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
And that is all we've got

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:18 AM | Comments (14)

May 02, 2008

Jeffrey Goldberg Battles Manfully Against Internet's Glaring Flaws

Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg has a new blog at the Atlantic.

This is great news, because Goldberg is one of the few people anywhere willing to grapple with the horrible weaknesses of the internet. For instance, here's Goldberg writing in Slate in October, 2002 in support of the Iraq war:

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.)

Yes—Goldberg would have demolished the ridiculous arguments against invading Iraq, if only there were enough space on the internet. Man, he would have ripped them to shreds! But that's the problem with the online world, one that no one but Goldberg is willing to face: the internet has an extremely limited space for words.

Goldberg ran into exactly the same roadblock in one of his first posts:

I was telling Andrew about an on-line mugging I experienced at the hands of a person named Matt Haber, who is associated with the New York Observer...What bothered me about Mr. Haber's post was not its insults (a couple of which were funny) but that he repeated a discredited accusation made by an ethically-challenged journalist about my reporting without having sought my comment.

You can understand how frustrated Goldberg would be by this. Matt Haber had quoted Ken Silverstein of Harper's saying that Goldberg's pre-war Iraq reporting "relied heavily on administration sources and war hawks (and in at least one crucial case, a fabricator)."

God, it would be SO GREAT if there were some invention that would give Goldberg enough room to demonstrate with evidence that Silverstein is ethically-challenged and his claim has been discredited. Even better would be if this invention allowed Goldberg to easily direct readers' attention to such evidence elsewhere, thereby "linking" his post to it.

Perhaps someday science will provide us with such a glorious new means of communication. Certainly if it ever exists, Jeffrey Goldberg will make full use of it. He hates being forced to baldly assert things as fact and expect everyone to take his word for it. But given the internet's terrible shortcomings, he has no other choice.

IT'S A COMMON PROBLEM: Other people who desperately wanted to explain themselves but just didn't have the space include Madeleine Albright and Saddam Hussein.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:54 PM | Comments (15)

Nir Rosen On Selling A War With Iran

link

This same American alliance with the so called "moderate" Sunni Arab countries, which are in fact dictatorships with gruesome human rights records, is backing Sunni militias in Lebanon and nearly succeeded in a coup attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas in Palestine and install Fatah thugs in their place. Iran indeed has a strategic alliance with Hamas and Hizballah, groups that the United States condemns as terrorists but millions of others view as national liberation movements who also provide for and protect their people. Why assume that the Bush administration's interests are more legitimate than those of the Iranian regime's? What is wrong with Iraqi resistance groups that oppose a foreign military occupation that has killed and imprisoned thousands of innocent civilians while bringing only ruin an already tortured country?

It is true that some Iraqi militias use Iranian weapons, but they also use American weapons, Soviet bloc weapons, Austrian weapons and anything else they can purchase. And the Mahdi Army actually often uses weapons originating with the Americans and given to the Iraqi Army and Police. Mahdi Army men also purchased weapons originating in Iran from offices of the Supreme Council and Badr in southern Iraq. Iranian weapons are smuggled into Iraq. In a region with porous borders and rife with corruption this does not make it a state policy. Iraqis do not need arms, the country is awash in them, and they need little help in being violent, as we have seen.

Most of those who fight the Americans in Iraq do so not at the bidding of a foreign power but out of genuine and sincere opposition to the American occupation. The Americans never grasped this and always assumed it was about the money, or al Qaeda, and now part of a silly Iranian conspiracy. After at first siding with Iraq's Shiites much to the consternation of America's so called "moderate" Sunni allies, the Americans are now targeting Shiites and perhaps even Shiite Iran as Bush prepares for once last war on his path to the "New Middle East." But without the help of an acquiescent media supplicating to Bush administration and US military officials they might not be able to go to war once again.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:05 PM | Comments (3)

Vile Iranian Propagandists Caught Red-Handed Stealing Our Propaganda Technique

1. In spring, 1990 Saddam Hussein threatens to "make fire burn up half of Israel with chemical weapons if it attacks Iraq.''

2. American propagandists use this quote relentlessly for the next 13 years, while carefully excising the "if it attacks Iraq" part, in order to turn it into a straightforward threat.

3. Hillary Clinton states "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...we would be able to totally obliterate them."

4. Iranian propagandists begin using the Clinton quote, while carefully excising the "If Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel" part, in order to turn it into a straightforward threat:

Iran strongly condemned presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton late Wednesday for threatening to attack and "totally obliterate" the country if it uses nuclear weapons.

Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, called an April 22 statement on ABC by the New York senator, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, "provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible" and "a flagrant violation" of the U.N. Charter...

Danesh-Yazdi's letter used a partial quote that did not mention an attack on Israel. It said Clinton "unwarrantedly and under erroneous and false pretexts threatened to use force against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

5. Normal Americans, Iraqis, Israelis and Iranians finally figure out how this works and spit on their own propagandists whenever they venture outside (pending).

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:00 AM | Comments (6)

May 01, 2008

The United States And Food

William "Blurbed by bin Laden" Blum points this out:

American writer Henry Miller (1891-1980) once asserted that the role of the artist was to "inoculate the world with disillusionment". So just in case you -- for whatever weird reason -- cling to the belief/hope that the United States can be a positive force in ending or slowing down the new jump in world hunger, here are some disillusioning facts of life.

On December 14, 1981 a resolution was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly which declared that "education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development are human rights". Notice the "proper nourishment". The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote.

A year later, December 18, 1982, an identical resolution was proposed in the General Assembly. It was approved by a vote of 131-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote.

The following year, December 16, 1983, the resolution was again put forth, a common practice at the United Nations. This time it was approved by a vote of 132-1. There's no need to tell you who cast the sole "No" vote.

These votes took place under the Reagan administration.

Under the Clinton administration, in 1996, a United Nations-sponsored World Food Summit affirmed the "right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food". The United States took issue with this, insisting that it does not recognize a "right to food". Washington instead championed free trade as the key to ending the poverty at the root of hunger, and expressed fears that recognition of a "right to food" could lead to lawsuits from poor nations seeking aid and special trade provisions.

The situation of course did not improve under the administration of George W. Bush. In 2002, in Rome, world leaders at another U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit again approved a declaration that everyone had the right to "safe and nutritious food". The United States continued to oppose the clause, again fearing it would leave them open to future legal claims by famine-stricken countries.

Much more from Blum's Anti-Empire Report here.

I mostly agree about the US and food, but not completely. For more, see an article on food aid I wrote last year.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:16 PM | Comments (3)

Five Years Later

Today's high school seniors, who are about to graduate next month and are now old enough to join the military, were in seventh grade on Mission Accomplished Day.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:58 PM | Comments (3)