February 28, 2009

New Tomdispatch


After the Green Economy, Green Security
How to Build Resilient Communities in a Chaotic World

By Chip Ward

Now that we've decided to "green" the economy, why not green homeland security, too? I'm not talking about interrogators questioning suspects under the glow of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or cops wearing recycled Kevlar recharging their Tasers via solar panels. What I mean is: Shouldn't we finally start rethinking the very notion of homeland security on a sinking planet?

Now that Dennis Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, claims that global insecurity is more of a danger to us than terrorism, isn't it time to release the idea of "security" from its top-down, business-as-usual, terrorism-oriented shackles? Isn't it, in fact, time for the Obama administration to begin building security we can believe in; that is, a bottom-up movement that will start us down the road to the kind of resilient American communities that could effectively recover from the disasters -- manmade or natural (if there's still a difference) -- that will surely characterize this emerging age of financial and climate chaos? In the long run, if we don't start pursuing security that actually focuses on the foremost challenges of our moment, that emphasizes recovery rather than what passes for "defense," that builds communities rather than just more SWAT teams, we're in trouble.

Today, "homeland security" and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that unwieldy amalgam of 13 agencies created by the Bush administration in 2002, continue to express the potent, all-encompassing fears and assumptions of our last president's Global War on Terror. Foreign enemies may indeed be plotting to attack us, but, believe it or not (and increasing numbers of people, watching their homes, money, and jobs melt away are coming to believe it), that's probably neither the worst, nor the most dangerous thing in store for us.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:02 AM | Comments (3)

February 26, 2009

Bach's Lullaby

By: Bernard Chazelle

Call it the Bach paradox. The man composed music of high mathematical sophistication -- Goedel, Escher, and all that. Yes, it's really quite awesome. But in the end it's not the awesomeness that does it for me: it's the gentleness, the humility, the innocence, the deceptive simplicity, the sublime beauty of Bach's melodies. This final chorus from St John's Passion is a Bach melody to die for (this being a passion, literally so, I guess). Its tenderness and poignancy are physical.

Bach is not much into "mood" and "attitude." All that Sturm und Drang stuff will have to wait for later generations. His fancy footwork, dazzling counterpoints, canonic figures, and fugal runs are not meant to impress but to honor. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his two passions. But here's the thing: his lofty peaks so often, and so uniquely, segue into exquisitely melodic child-like voices. With Bach, you're getting King Lear and Goodnight Moon, all rolled into one.

Ruht Wohl ("rest well") is a lullaby. Officially, it's Jesus in the tomb being mourned but, if you listen carefully, you'll realize it's actually a baby being gently rocked to sleep. The 3/4 meter is a giveaway. Just as dance is the art of making the shortest path from A to B anything but a straight line, the essence of Bach's music is its curves - if you want angles, listen to Beethoven. And so there we have Jesus being laid to rest to a dance tune. (Think New Orleans.) The passion is a cycle, actually a palindrome. (No technical words in this post, so I'll spare you the explanation.) Ruht Wohl is the key turnaround of this large-scale piece: it brings it all back home. And so at this most solemn juncture of the most solemn hour of the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, what do we get? A sweet dance! That's what true genius is about. For dance is the essence of music and Bach understood that better than anyone. When he returned from a trip to discover that his wife had died, he was so devastated that he immersed himself into the composition of his monumental Partita in Dm in her memory. And what does the mournful Partita consist of? 5 dances.

Bach's famous toccata (which Keith Olbermann loves/hates so much) is always presented as Exhibit A for the "seriousness" of classical music. Baloney! The toccata sounds pompous because it was composed specifically to test-drive new organs. Literally. So it had to sound as full-throated as possible to get all those windy intertoobz blowing. For Bach it was nothing more than mindless goofball noodling. But he could be a very serious man, too, as when tragedy struck. He would then sit down and write really serious music, you know, dance tunes. Virtually all of Bach's music has a soft jazzy swing. Little wonder it's never ceased to inspire jazz musicians.

It's worth pointing out that Bach chose not to end his passion on that note. He added one final, upbeat chorale. Why did he do that? I think, being Easter, he did it to remind his Leipzig parishioners that Goodnight Moon has no meaning unless we're assured that the child will wake up the next day to say Hello Sun. Bach lost as many as 10 of his children in infancy and the record suggests it is with them in mind that he composed Ruht Wohl.

Conducted by the amazing Masaaki Suzuki and performed by his superb "Bach Collegium" ensemble.

Medical Warning: If you're new to Bach's passions, be warned that prolonged exposure to this music will renew your faith in humanity and make your eyes watery. Failure to display such symptoms might be an indication that you are clinically dead.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:17 PM | Comments (19)


My brain is too tired to come up with things to yammer about on its own. What do you think it should yammer about?

Perhaps it could blather on about George R.R. Martin's short story "A Song for Lya," and why it's one of the greatest works ever written about the problem of being human. Please don't disagree with me on this, because you would be wrong.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:19 AM | Comments (30)

February 25, 2009

New Tomdispatch


A Planet at the Brink
Will Economic Brushfires Prove Too Virulent to Contain?

By Michael T. Klare

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a "lost decade," the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals.

Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations -- none as yet in the United States -- your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you're a gambling man or woman, it's a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:31 PM | Comments (3)

February 24, 2009

Rupert's Pledge

By: Bernard Chazelle

Rupert Murdoch's latest reaction to the crisis:

Our competitors will be sorely tempted to take the easy beat, to reduce quality in the search for immediate dividends. Let me be very clear about our company: where others might step back from their commitment to their viewers, their users, readers and customers – we will renew ours.

And to prove his commitment to serious journalism, Murdoch pledged not to move the Page 3 girl to page 1.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:10 PM | Comments (3)

Well, That Settles That

By: John Caruso

The U.S. government has investigated the U.S. government and, shockingly, determined that it's not doing anything wrong:

The U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp currently complies with the Geneva Conventions' standards for humane treatment, a top U.S. Navy officer concluded on Monday in a review ordered by President Barack Obama.

Vice-Admiral Patrick Walsh led a team of investigators on a 13-day visit to inspect the camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba and said he had found no violations of the Geneva treaties' ban on cruel, humiliating or degrading treatment.

As usual, though, some misinformed malcontents refuse to accept official self-exoneration:

[The Center for Constitutional Rights'] report, "Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo: Still in Violation of the Law," covers conditions at Guantánamo in January and February 2009 and includes new eyewitness accounts from attorneys and detainees. The authors address continuing abusive conditions at the prison camp, including conditions of confinement that violate U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law.

"The men at Guantánamo are deteriorating at a rapid rate due to the harsh conditions that continue to this day, despite a few cosmetic changes to their routines," said CCR Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. "They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more abuse and keeps them in isolation. If they are going to be there another year, or even another day, this has to end."

Despite President Obama’s executive order of January 22, 2009, requiring humane standards of confinement at Guantanamo and conformity with "all applicable laws governing the conditions of such confinement," including the Geneva Conventions, attorneys assert that detainees at Guantanamo have continued to suffer from solitary confinement, psychological abuse, abusive force-feeding of hunger strikers, religious abuse, and physical abuse and threats of violence from guards and Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams.

So we're left with a simple choice: we can either trust the U.S. government, which only has our best interests at heart and hasn't lied to us within at least the last 8 picoseconds, or believe some grant-grubbing nogoodniks at the so-called Center for so-called Constitutional Rights.  I think the choice is clear.

This does unavoidably raise one question, though: why does Pardiss Kebriaei hate us for our freedoms?  We can only speculate, but I have to think it's for our freedoms.

— John Caruso

Posted at 02:19 PM | Comments (11)

February 22, 2009

New Tomdispatch


Tough Times in Troubled Towns
America's Municipal Meltdowns

By Nick Turse

When Barack Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, to push his $800 billion economic recovery package two weeks ago, he made the former "RV capital of the world" a poster-child for the current economic crisis. Over the last year, as the British paper The Independent reported, "Practically the entire [recreational vehicle] industry has disappeared," leaving thousands of RV workers in Elkhart and the surrounding area out of work. As Daily Show host Jon Stewart summed the situation up: "Imagine your main industry combines the slowdown of the auto market with the plunging values in the housing sector." Unfortunately, the pain in Elkhart is no joke, and it only grew worse recently when local manufacturers Keystone RV Co. and Jayco Inc. announced more than 500 additional job cuts.

In a speech at Elkhart's town hall, Obama caught the town's plight dramatically: "[This] area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent when it was 4.7 percent just last year… We're talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place… That's what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis."

Elkhart, as it happens, is but one of countless towns and small cities across the U.S. that have proven particularly vulnerable to tough times simply because their economies relied on just a few major employers, or a single industry, or even a single company that has gone under or cut back drastically. Places like Elkhart are feeling the pain in ways most of the country isn't -- yet; and even worse, from the out-of-work to local officials, no one knows how to stop the bleeding.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:46 PM | Comments (3)

February 21, 2009

A Helpful Clarification

By: John Caruso

Howard Jacobson offers a canonical illustration of the point I made a few days ago, in an article titled "Let’s see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is".  He begins with this plaintive cry that hints at his central point:

But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, "criticism" of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing orthodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question.

(Like all totalitarians, Jacobson sees the fact that groups of marginalized protesters are allowed to express opinions opposed to his own—albeit all but shut out from mainstream or official expression—as proof that there's a "dictatorship of the one-minded" arrayed against him.  But to his credit, despite being one of the last pro-Israeli voices in the entire United Kingdom, he keeps marshaling on.)

At the end of the article he finally gets to the heart of the matter:

This is the old stuff. Jew-hating pure and simple – Jew-hating which the haters don’t even recognise in themselves, so acculturated is it – the Jew-hating which many of us have always suspected was the only explanation for the disgust that contorts and disfigures faces when the mere word Israel crops up in conversation. So for that we are grateful. At last that mystery is solved and that lie finally nailed. No, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are.

Well, that settles it: if you criticize Israel you're an anti-Semite, period.  Whether you recognize it or not, the only possible motivation for your criticism is a deep and abiding hatred of Jews.  And of course, the critical implication of this is that the only way to purge yourself of the scourge of anti-Semitism—and to avoid the charge from Jacobson and his fellow travelers—is to never, ever criticize Israel, no matter what it does.  This is no guarantee that you'll finally free yourself of your acculturated Jew-hatred, of course, but it's a necessary condition.

I'm actually happy to see this line of reasoning finally making its way to the surface, because it makes it much easier for people to see just how absurd and manipulative it is.  And so I wholeheartedly encourage Israel's groupies to keep pulling out this ad hominem whenever they get the chance—even (no, especially) when it's entirely unjustified by the argument they're attacking.

— John Caruso

Posted at 03:15 PM | Comments (55)

Meet Israel's Next Prime Minister


Ten days after inconclusive national elections, Israeli President Shimon Peres formally asked Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday to form the next government.

From 2002:

In audio taped remarks played on Israel TV Thursday the wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "this country can burn''...She made the comments Monday during a telephone conversation with Shimshon Deri, an activist in Netanyahu and Sharon's Likud party...

Using Netanyahu's nickname, she said, "Bibi is a leader who is greater than this entire country, he really is a leader on a national scale. We'll move abroad. This country can burn. This country can't survive without Bibi. People here will be slaughtered.''

Literally on the night of September 11, 2001:

Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''

Sweet family.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:35 AM | Comments (8)

O Wad Some Pow'r The Giftie Gie Us

What are best conservative movies of the last 25 years, according to National Review? Well, at #22, there's Brazil:

Brazil (1985): Vividly depicting the miserable results of elitist utopian schemes, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil portrays a darkly comic dystopia of malfunctioning high-tech equipment and the dreary living conditions common to all totalitarian regimes. Everything in the society is built to serve government plans rather than people. The film is visually arresting and inventive, with especially evocative use of shots that put the audience in a subservient position, just like the people in the film. Terrorist bombings, national-security scares, universal police surveillance, bureaucratic arrogance, a callous elite, perversion of science, and government use of torture evoke the worst aspects of the modern megastate.

Over to you, Jonathan Swift:

Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:13 AM | Comments (12)

February 20, 2009

Nothing Stupid And Cruel New Under The Sun

Here's baby neo-con Frederick Kagan speaking on Wednesday:

If anyone has seen pictures of Ramadi or Fallujah, they looked like Stalingrad. Not a single building standing. Streets filled with rubble. Cities absolutely crushed...

The interesting thing is that when we were fighting those battles and doing that damage, on the whole the Iraqis were not bitching about collateral damage...

For good or ill, Iraqis expect to fight in their cities. That’s where the insurgents dug in, Saddam Hussein planned to dig in to the cities or lure us into an urban fight. It’s sort of understood that the battlefield is going to be there...the Iraqis don’t on the whole say “darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses.” They sort of accept that.

Of course, this lack of Iraqi objection to being killed has often been observed by the people killing them. It goes all the way back to the British occupation of Iraq during the 1920s, as Barry Lando (relying on the work of Priya Satia) describes it in his book Web of Deceit:

"The natives of these tribes love fighting for fighting's sake," Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard assured Parliament. "They have no objection to being killed"...As one British commander observed, "'[Shiekhs]...do not seem to resent...that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs."

Interestingly, it also turned out the Vietnamese didn't mind being killed, as Gen. William Westmoreland explained in the documentary Hearts and Minds:

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

And obviously it goes without saying that Africans didn't really get sad about being enslaved, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out in Notes on the State of Virginia:

Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

ALSO: How nice to see Ramadi or Fallujah compared to Stalingrad, and thus the United States implicitly compared to Nazi Germany.

And I like the slangy Gen-X reference to potential Iraqi "bitching" about civilians being killed. If you read the whole quote, you'll see Kagan is comparing Iraqi behavior to that of Afghans, who apparently do "bitch" when their children are turned in small heaps of shredded flesh.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:57 PM | Comments (9)

Representative Democracy

By: Bernard Chazelle

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said banks were acting stupid and making it harder for lawmakers to defend them.

You may wonder if it's a congressman's job to be defending banks. Shouldn't the Congress be defending "We the people," instead?

If you're wondering, it's because you don't understand the modern incarnation of representative democracy. Yes, you know your Electoral College; sure, you've mastered your chads, pregnant, dimpled, hanging or otherwise, but still, perhaps just perhaps, you're missing the point. Indirect representation works like this:

A empowers B to elect C to serve A.

With a little diagram to highlight the subtleties:

A---------> B --------> C

Now one common mistake is to think that you're A. Nope, you're B. Who's A then? Corporate America is A. Goldman Sachs, GE, WalMart, etc; they're A. You're B. They empower you (B) to elect a government (C) whose sole purpose is to serve them (A). This leads us to the fundamental equation of indirect representation:

Corporate America empowers you to elect a government to serve Corporate America.

How does Corporate America empower you? They outsource the job to an entity called "the media." The media's mission is to brainwash you so you believe you are A. But you are B. You are the empowered delegate ("empowered" in the sense of "authorized," not "made powerful.") Why are you even needed in that equation? What's wrong with

A empowers C to serve A ?

Somewhere in that loop, someone's pocket needs to be picked and that someone is you. That's why A needs you. There's a second reason for your presence, which distinguishes representative democracy from oligarchy. It's called "legitimacy," which is just a fancy way of saying "anything that keeps the people away from their pitchforks." But let's not get too technical and, mostly it's just that: a technicality.

A few days later, the liberal Barney Frank uttered stern, harsh words. I paraphrase:

The bankers won't get extra resources unless there's a radical change in their behavior.

Notice the conditionality. Let's follow Frank's logic. Suppose the bankers don't change their behavior (which behavior is left unspecified but you can be sure that does not include "being A.") Then what? If Frank denies them the money, then who is he punishing? If he is punishing the American people, then my point is proven. The guy works for the bankers. If he is punishing the bankers but not the American people, then the money was obviously not needed in the first place, except to please the bankers. In other words, if Americans don't notice the difference whether the money is given out to the banks or not, then why give it? And if they suffer from the money being withheld, then why is Frank making their happiness conditional on the bankers' behavior? He could have the bankers fired. He could have reversed the conditionality and said: "The bankers won't get a penny until a million demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding "More Bonuses to Bankers!"

But he did not. Why? Because Frank (hardly the worst of the bunch) was elected by you to work for them! (Go back to earlier diagram if this point hasn't sunken in yet.) Why isn't Frank working for you the people? Because you the people are the delegates, and who in the world works for delegates?

Why do we need the media? Because my observations are trivial. That's why. You need communications experts, backed by deep scientists called "economists," to convince you that 2+2=5. That's hard work. That's why those people are paid lots of money and only the brightest succeed. Take "trickle down economics" for example. That's not even 2+2=5. It's more like 2+2=36376472828363828. But they pulled it off! And this very minute they're convincing you that the only way to deal with a thief who steals your money is to reward him with more of your money.

Barney Frank had more to say:

“People really hate you,” he said, imploring banks to do everything possible to avoid offending people.

When is the last time you "implored" someone to stop being offensive by stealing money from the very people they're offending and giving it to the offenders?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:50 PM | Comments (7)

February 19, 2009

Breaking Mini-Bad

This is a v. funny webisode of Breaking Bad, written by Kate Powers. You will greatly enjoy it, but bear in mind it is NSFW.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:38 PM | Comments (2)

New Tomdispatch


The Military's Expanding Waistline
What Will Obama Do With KBR?

By Pratap Chatterjee

President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.

If Barack Obama takes the Rhino Runner armor-plated bus from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, or travels by Catfish Air's Blackhawk helicopters (the way mere mortals like diplomats and journalists do), instead of by presidential chopper, he will be assigned a seat by U.S. civilian workers easily identified by the red KBR lanyards they wear around their necks.

Even if Obama gets the ultra-red carpet treatment, he will still tread on walkways and enter buildings that have been constructed over the last six years by an army of some 50,000 workers in the employ of KBR. And should Obama chose to order the troops in Iraq home tomorrow, he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts that will largely be carried out by a company once overseen by Dick Cheney.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:35 PM | Comments (4)

"Consensus" Versus Evidence

Why has the Obama administration—including Obama himself and Secretary of State Clinton—started talking about Iran's "nuclear weapons program" even though U.S. intelligence agencies don't have any actual evidence that such a thing exists? Because the politicians have reached "consensus." Charles Davis explains.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:56 AM | Comments (16)

February 18, 2009

New Tomdispatch


Burning Questions
What Does Economic "Recovery" Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?

By Tom Engelhardt

It turns out that you don't want to be a former city dweller in rural parts of southernmost Australia, a stalk of wheat in China or Iraq, a soybean in Argentina, an almond or grape in northern California, a cow in Texas, or almost anything in parts of east Africa right now. Let me explain.

As anyone who has turned on the prime-time TV news these last weeks knows, southeastern Australia has been burning up. It's already dry climate has been growing ever hotter. "The great drying," Australian environmental scientist Tim Flannery calls it. At its epicenter, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever this month at a sweltering 115.5 degrees, while temperatures soared even higher in the surrounding countryside. After more than a decade of drought, followed by the lowest rainfall on record, the eucalyptus forests are now burning. To be exact, they are now pouring vast quantities of stored carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas considered largely responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere.

In fact, everything's been burning there. Huge sheets of flame, possibly aided and abetted by arsonists, tore through whole towns. More than 180 people are dead and thousands homeless. Flannery, who has written eloquently about global warming, drove through the fire belt, and reported:

"It was as if a great cremation had taken place… I was born in Victoria, and over five decades I've watched as the state has changed. The long, wet and cold winters that seemed insufferable to me as a boy vanished decades ago, and for the past 12 years a new, drier climate has established itself… I had not appreciated the difference a degree or two of extra heat and a dry soil can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was different from anything seen before."

Australia, by the way, is a wheat-growing breadbasket for the world and its wheat crops have been hurt in recent years by continued drought.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:55 AM | Comments (8)

February 17, 2009

So Much Nicer To Be George Will Before The Internet

Perhaps you've seen that on Sunday George Will made things up so he can claim global warming isn't happening. And two days later, Will and Fred Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post op-ed page, still won't explain their behavior.

It must be hard for Will to get used to bluggs, because he's spent his entire career with total impunity. Here's a funny story of Noam Chomsky's from the book Understanding Power about a column Will wrote in 1982:

CHOMSKY: [A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called "Mideast Truth and Falsehood," about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: he said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweek—you know, four lines—in which I said, "Will has one statement of fact, it's false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down." Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek "Letters" column. She said: "We're kind of interested in your letter, where did you get those facts?" So I told her, "Well, they're published in Newsweek, on February 8, 1971"—which is true, because it was a big proposal, it just happened to go down the memory hole in the United States because it was the wrong story. So she looked it up and called me back, and said, "Yeah, you're right, we found it there; okay, we'll run your letter." An hour later she called again and said, "Gee, I'm sorry, but we can't run the letter." I said, "What's the problem?" She said, "Well, the editor mentioned it to Will and he's having a tantrum; they decided they can't run it." Well, okay.

Below the fold are the Understanding Power footnotes with references and excerpts.

50. For Will's article, see George Will, "MidEast Truth and Falsehood," Newsweek, August 2, 1982, p. 68 ("Sadat, remembered as a peacemaker, first made war. . . . Having failed to get to Jerusalem with Soviet tanks, Sadat went by Boeing 707"). On Sadat's earlier rejected peace offer, see footnote 47 of this chapter.

51. For Newsweek's article, see "Middle East: Small Blessings," Newsweek, February 8, 1971, p. 36. An excerpt:

In part, the Egyptian position [in a memorandum to U.N. special Mideast mediator Gunnar Jarring] echoed the U.N. resolution of November 1967, which called on Israel to withdraw from territories occupied during the six-day war. In exchange, Cairo promised to call an end to the state of war against Israel, respect Israel's territorial integrity and agree that Israel should have free access to all international waterways. . . . Security in the area could be guaranteed, the Egyptians added, by establishing demilitarized zones on both the Arab and Israeli sides of the frontier, zones that could be policed by a U.N. peace-keeping force made up, at least in part, of American, Soviet, British and French troops. ("On no account," responded Mrs. Meir [the Israeli Prime Minister], "will a force of that kind come in place of secure, recognized and agreed borders.") . . . [T]he Egyptian text specifically did not call for a Security Council meeting on the Middle East, a move that Cairo had been threatening and Jerusalem had warned would upset the Jarring applecart. Commented [Egyptian] Ambassador el-Zayyat: "We want Jarring's mission to succeed."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:06 PM | Comments (18)

HaCohen On Foxman On Anti-Semitism

By: John Caruso

Ran HaCohen takes his verbal scalpel to Abe Foxman's claim that a "pandemic of anti-Semitism" has been unleashed in the wake of Israel's attack on Gaza:

[M]uch like anti-Communism in the U.S. during the 1980s, anti-anti-Semitism is (Jewish) Israel's national religion. Every non-Jew is an anti-Semite, potentially if not actually – be it a bad-tempered waiter in a French restaurant or even Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Anti-Semitism is our best excuse: We do not believe in peace because all Arabs are anti-Semites. We must attack Iran because all Muslims are anti-Semites and want to annihilate us, and the rest of the world is anti-Semitic and doesn't care if we are annihilated. And of course every criticism of Israel's occupation is purely anti-Semitic.

Obviously, reports of steady or declining levels of anti-Semitism is not what Israelis want to hear: anti-Semitism should always be on the rise, to boost our national cohesion.

Of course this is a bit unfair to Foxman, who defines every criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic and is therefore 100% correct (albeit tautologically) that "anti-Semitism" is on the rise.  By the same token, the U.S. crucifixion of Iraq over the past two decades has been accompanied by a startling rise in "anti-Americanism," and Germans experienced a similarly alarming rise in "anti-Teutonism" as the Luftwaffe bombed Poland in 1939.

What is it about mass killing and destruction that unleashes latent and entirely irrational animosity toward the perpetrators?  Just think what a world of tolerance and racial harmony we'll have if we ever manage to unravel this perplexing psychological conundrum.

— John Caruso

Posted at 10:09 AM | Comments (53)

February 16, 2009

New Tomdispatch


An American Foreign Legion
Is the U.S. Military Now an Imperial Police Force?

By William Astore

A leaner, meaner, higher tech force -- that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.

Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:23 AM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2009

That's How They Get You

First, your parents (from Hannah and Her Sisters):

I went into a store, I bought a rifle. I was gonna...You know, if they told me that I had a tumor, I was going to kill myself. The only thing that mighta stopped me, might've, is my parents would be devastated. I would, I woulda had to shoot them, also, first. And then, I have an aunt and uncle, I would have...You know, it would have been a bloodbath.

Then your kids (from The Anniversary Party):

Oh God, you're so lucky you don't have kids. You can't stick your head in the oven. You can't take a handful of Percoden if you want to, or slit your wrists. You can't do yourself in. Kids rob you of that option. Trust me.

(a beat)

Oh my God, this ecstacy must be really good.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:33 PM | Comments (12)

New Tomdispatch


Iraq's "Teflon Don"
The New Fallujah Up Close and Still in Ruins

By Dahr Jamail

Fallujah, Iraq -- Driving through Fallujah, once the most rebellious Sunni city in this country, I saw little evidence of any kind of reconstruction underway. At least 70% of that city's structures were destroyed during massive U.S. military assaults in April, and again in November 2004, and more than four years later, in the "new Iraq," the city continues to languish.

The shells of buildings pulverized by U.S. bombs, artillery, or mortar fire back then still line Fallujah's main street, or rather, what's left of it. As one of the few visible signs of reconstruction in the city, that street -- largely destroyed during the November 2004 siege -- is slowly being torn up in order to be repaved.

Unemployment is rampant here, the infrastructure remains largely in ruins, and tens of thousands of residents who fled in 2004 are still refugees. How could it be otherwise, given the amount of effort that went into its destruction and not, subsequently, into rebuilding it? It's a place where a resident must still carry around a U.S.-issued personal biometric ID card, which must also be shown any time you enter or exit the city if you are local. Such a card can only be obtained after U.S. military personnel have scanned your retinas and taken your fingerprints.

The trauma from the 2004 attacks remains visible everywhere. Given the countless still-bullet-pocked walls of restaurants, stores, and homes, it is impossible to view the city from any vantage point, or look in any direction, without observing signs of those sieges.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:27 AM | Comments (3)

February 13, 2009

Lyndon LaRouche Is Wrong!

This article from the LaRouchite publication Executive Intelligence Review is completely ridiculous:

The history of the United States is dominated by the struggle of our nation to break free of the oligarchic system represented by the British Empire, and to lead the world into a new era of freedom and prosperity. This battle is not, as some would have us believe, a historical artifact, but an ongoing fight between a world which desires to be free, and a parasitic oligarchy which wishes to rule over us as if we were cattle.

"As if we were cattle"! How preposterous! The people who run the world don't see us as cattle.

They see us as SHEEP.

Here's Miles Copeland, who helped overthrow the Iranian government in 1953, explaining it:

"Most of the things that were done [by the United States] about Iran had been on a basis of stark realism, with possibly the exception of letting the Shah down," Copeland said. "There are plenty of forces in the country we could have marshaled...The Iranians were really like sheep, as they are now."

Also, note that, in contradiction to what the LaRouchites say, the people who run the world don't want to rule over us as though we're farm animals. It's just that we are farm animals, so they have no other option.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:08 AM | Comments (12)

February 12, 2009

David Cohen, America's Great Cartoonist

I'm actually surprised we haven't seen much more of this.

Then there's this, which if it appeared in the Arab media would be cited by MEMRI as evidence of anti-semitism in the mideast.

And then finally there's this, where I can't even understand what joke is being attempted.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:07 AM | Comments (20)

February 11, 2009

Charles McCarry

I'm going to be busy for a while being alive. But in the meantime, I'm wondering whether anyone who visits this site has heard of Charles McCarry. I recently read his novel The Tears of Autumn, and was mildly stunned by how good it is. Now I'm trying to read all the rest of his books.

The Tears of Autumn was published in 1974, and is about a CIA agent named Paul Christopher who believes he's figured out who shot JFK and why. This is from a section near the beginning; Patchen is Christopher's supervisor:

They were alone on the sidewalk, and when they reached Connecticut Avenue the broad street was empty of cars...

They were in front of a bar, and Patchen started toward its door. "Let's stop outside a minute," Christopher said. "You know what's involved here, David. If these politicians never know what happened, they'll do it again."

"Yes. They will."

"You don't think that's worth preventing?"

"I don't think it's possible to prevent it, Paul. You have a flaw—you think the truth will make men free. But it only makes them angry. They believe what suits them, they do what they want to do, just like the slobs we're going to find lined up at the bar in there. Human beings are a defective species, my friend. Accept it."

"But don't you want to know?"

Or as Silence of the Lambs puts it, "Problem-solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure, and we are born to it."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:21 AM | Comments (9)

New Tomdispatch


The "Best Men" Fall
How Popular Anger Grew, 1929 and 2009

By Steve Fraser

Obtuse hardly does justice to the social stupidity of our late, unlamented financial overlords. John Thain of Merrill Lynch and Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, along with an astonishing number of their fraternity brothers, continue to behave like so many intoxicated toreadors waving their capes at an enraged bull, oblivious even when gored.

Their greed and self-indulgence in the face of an economic cataclysm for which they bear heavy responsibility is, unsurprisingly, inciting anger and contempt, as daily news headlines indicate. It is undermining the last shreds of their once exalted social status -- and, in that regard, they are evidently fated to relive the experience of their predecessors, those Wall Street "lords of creation" who came crashing to Earth during the last Great Depression.

Ever since the bail-out state went into hyper-drive, popular anger has been simmering. In fact, even before the meltdown gained real traction, a sign at a mass protest outside the New York Stock Exchange advised those inside: "Jump, You Fuckers."

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:45 AM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2009

The Future Of Journalism

It's looking bright!

One of the biggest fears for holders of respected positions is the potential loss of public esteem. Therapists say the high achiever often holds self-defeating double standards, feeling sympathetic toward the unemployed while assuming that unemployment would bring him only shame.

For Michael Precker, that loss of status wasn't as grim as the fear of it. A veteran foreign correspondent and editor for the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Precker took a buyout in 2006 and now manages a high-end strip club. "I really wondered how it would feel to sever that link -- Michael Precker of the Dallas Morning News," he says. "But it has been easier than I thought. I feel lucky."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:44 PM | Comments (9)

February 09, 2009

The School

Is there some school where foreign policy elites go to learn how not to answer straightforward questions that they know they'll be asked? This is from tonight's press conference:

HELEN THOMAS: [D]o you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: ...With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate.

May 21, 2002:

RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Ari, does Israel have nuclear weapons?

ARI FLESICHER: That's a question you'll have to ask to Israel.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Do you know, does the administration know, whether they have...

ARI FLESICHER: I don't personally know.

Of course, the amazing thing is how infrequently questions about things that matter are ever asked, and hence how infrequently the people in charge have to display what they've learned in school.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:56 PM | Comments (18)

New Tomdispatch


The Icelandic Volcano Erupts
Can a Hedge-Fund Island Lose Its Shirt and Gain Its Soul?

by Rebecca Solnit

In December, reports surfaced that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pushed his Wall Street bailout package by suggesting that, without it, civil unrest in the United States might grow so dangerous that martial law would have to be declared. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned of the same risk of riots, wherever the global economy was hurting. What really worried them wasn't, I suspect, the possibility of a lot of people thronging the streets with demands for social and political change, but that some of those demands might actually be achieved. Take the example of Iceland, the first -- but surely not the last -- country to go bankrupt in the current global crash.

While the United States was inaugurating its first African-American president, Icelanders were besieging their parliament. Youtube video of the scene -- drummers pounding out a tribal beat, the flare and boom of teargas canisters, scores of helmeted police behind transparent plastic shields, a bonfire in front of the stone building that resembles a country house more than a seat of government -- was dramatic, particularly the figures silhouetted against a blaze whose hot light flickered on the gray walls during much of the eighteen-hour-long midwinter night. People beat pots and pans in what was dubbed the Saucepan Revolution. Five days later, the government, dominated by the neoliberal Independent Party, collapsed, as many Icelanders had hoped and demanded it would since the country's economy suddenly melted down in October.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:23 AM | Comments (9)

February 08, 2009

Oh Good

This is from a Time Magazine article about Larry Summers and how incredibly brilliant he is:

[P]erhaps as early as March, they'll launch their biggest lift with the beginnings of a plan to reform Social Security and Medicare, the two entitlement programs that, even before the economy collapsed, were threatening the Treasury with bankruptcy. By any standard, it is a massive three-month agenda fraught with political risk. The key to getting it all done, Summers says, is entering into a "compact" with the country "that this isn't just government as usual throwing money at things." When Obama unveils his annual budget in late February or March, Summers promises that the President "is going to describe the kinds of approaches he wants to take to the entitlement problems that have been ignored for a long time." Some options might include delaying retirement, stretching benefits and lifting the cap on taxable earnings. Could one of these prevail? "Remains to be seen," Summers says...

On that front, Republicans could come to Obama's rescue. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has told Obama in person that his party favors entitlement reform and would work for passage if both parties shared the risk.

It really required a Democratic president full of hope and change to cut Social Security.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:09 AM | Comments (41)

February 07, 2009

The Singing Detective

Why is The Singing Detective maybe the best title for a work of art ever?

I'll explain later today, but in the meantime let me know what you think.

LATER: "The Singing Detective" is the most precise and concise description there is of the beautiful side of human beings.

People all have two powerful, positive urges. One is our drive to understand the world; each of us is thrown into an existence that begins as a complete mystery to us in every way, and we spend our lives trying to crack the case. That's why so many works of fiction have a detective as the protagonist.

The second urge is our soulfulness, our desperation to express what our existence is like. Sometimes this comes out literally as singing, sometimes metaphorically. But everyone is doing it in some way.

What is a person? He/she is a singing detective.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:07 AM | Comments (29)

New Tomdispatch


Whistling Past the Afghan Graveyard
Where Empires Go to Die

By Tom Engelhardt

It is now a commonplace -- as a lead article in the New York Times's Week in Review pointed out recently -- that Afghanistan is "the graveyard of empires." Given Barack Obama's call for a greater focus on the Afghan War ("we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq..."), and given indications that a "surge" of U.S. troops is about to get underway there, Afghanistan's dangers have been much in the news lately. Some of the writing on this subject, including recent essays by Juan Cole at Salon.com, Robert Dreyfuss at the Nation, and John Robertson at the War in Context website, has been incisive on just how the new administration's policy initiatives might transform Afghanistan and the increasingly unhinged Pakistani tribal borderlands into "Obama's War."

In other words, "the graveyard" has been getting its due. Far less attention has been paid to the "empire" part of the equation. And there's a good reason for that -- at least in Washington. Despite escalating worries about the deteriorating situation, no one in our nation's capital is ready to believe that Afghanistan could actually be the "graveyard" for the American role as the dominant hegemon on this planet.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:04 AM | Comments (2)

February 06, 2009

More Lies From The Lie Factory

Charles Davis explains.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:38 AM | Comments (9)

February 05, 2009

Entire World Menaced By Better Iranian Cell Phone Reception

By: John Caruso

Things that threaten world peace:

Western countries have expressed their fears about the launch of Iran's first domestically-built satellite. The United States, France and Great Britain believe that the rocket from which the satellite was launched could also be used to fire nuclear warheads.

The satellite, dubbed Hope, will orbit Earth 15 times every 24 hours. Iran insists that it was designed for research and telecommunications only.

Things that do not threaten world peace:

Israel strengthened its foothold in space on Monday by successfully launching a spy satellite that defense officials said provided the IDF "unprecedented operational capabilities." [...]

The Ofek 7's elliptical orbit reportedly takes it over Iran, Iraq and Syria every 90 minutes.

(Ofek 7 was launched in June of 2007, and—in what I'm sure was an entirely unrelated event—Israel bombed Syria three months later.)

In a masterpiece of understatement, the UK Guardian helpfully points out that the Iranian satellite launch "does not imply Iran is on the brink of targeting Washington with a nuclear warhead."  While I appreciate this distressingly rare bow to sanity, I feel compelled to point out a few more things that would not imply Iran is on the brink of targeting Washington with a nuclear warhead:

  • Actual development by Iran of a nuclear warhead
  • Claims by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran is on the brink of targeting Washington with a nuclear warhead
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appearing on TV screaming, "We are on the brink of targeting Washington with a nuclear warhead!"

This is because there's no reason to believe that Iran's leaders are determined to commit national suicide.  And it's a testament to the discipline of the Western media that this unspoken, absurd premise of U.S. posturing over Iran's nonexistent nuclear weapons is treated seriously rather than with the derisive scorn it deserves.

(Previous contemplations of the awesome threat posed to us by Iran here, here, and here.)

AND ALSO: Hillary Clinton echoed Obama when she recently said that "we are reaching out a hand, but the fist has to unclench"; apparently threatening total obliteration amounts to "reaching out a hand" in Clinton's book.  Meanwhile, in the latest evidence of Iran's intention to keep fisting us for the next four years despite heartfelt offers of peace like Clinton's, they've just refused visas to the U.S. badminton team.  Can the targeting of Washington with a nuclear warhead be far behind?

— John Caruso

Posted at 12:11 PM | Comments (25)

February 03, 2009

"That Dark Question"

Charles Duelfer's book Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq is surprisingly sensitive and insightful. Duelfer ran the CIA's search for Iraq's non-existent WMD; here are some of his musings about Saddam and the United States:

It was not lost on us that in our positions of absolute authority over Saddam and the other detainees, we had powers that were Saddam-like. Could we become Saddam? That dark question floated silently over our work. What made Saddam extraordinary? What was in him that was not in any of us? Or was it in us, but buried?...

In one of Piro's formal sessions, Piro questioned Saddam about war crimes committed by an Iraqi tank crew in 1991. Civilians had been tied to the front of tanks as human shields. Piro was pressing Saddam about his knowledge of such tactics...

Saddam parried by questioning Piro, "How do you know this? Who told you? What was the weather like at the time?" He continued with other spurious points to deflect the line of questioning.

Piro pressed on, stating flatly that he must have been aware. "How could you not know these tactics? You are the supreme military commander at the time..."

Saddam countered, "Many times, subordinates are afraid to report to the president...Officers are particularly reluctant to report any information that is not good. They are afraid that their superiors may punish them."

This was a recurrent theme of Saddam's, and it held some truth, though it was self-serving. The terror he emanated inhibited his receipt of accurate information. The picture he saw was distorted by those reporting to him who feared for their positions and their lives either from Saddam directly or from some of the surrounding guards. Unlike Saddam, President Bush had not shot any of his subordinates, but I had to wonder if he didn't experience similar doubts about the information provided to him, perhaps especially about Iraq.

Beyond the rest of it, it's fascinating that the U.S. saw Saddam's use of human shields as particularly evil, given that our closest ally does that systematically.

(See also a previous excerpt from the book here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:29 PM | Comments (4)

February 02, 2009

More And Better Wars

Once humanity eliminates war between countries, we'll be able to focus on more pressing wars: the war between men and women, and the war between the short and the tall.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:12 PM | Comments (31)

New Tomdispatch


The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon
How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars

By Chalmers Johnson

Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment -- and that's to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal constraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency. We face a double crisis at the Pentagon: we can no longer afford the pretense of being the Earth's sole superpower, and we cannot afford to perpetuate a system in which the military-industrial complex makes its fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:37 PM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2009

The Explanation

Steve Benen is irritated that the Washington Post has recently run four op-eds by Amity Shlaes. (Shlaes is employed by the Council on Foreign Relations to lie about economic policy, the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, etc.) Steve says:

...if only someone would explain to me why the Post's op-ed editors feel compelled to publish the same misguided piece from Shlaes, making the same misguided argument every month or so, I'd appreciate it.

Here's the explanation:

The Washington Post is a corporation, required by law to make as much money as possible. In order to make as much money as possible, businesses cater to their customers. The main customers of the Washington Post are their advertisers, who are mostly other big corporations. Big corporations, for obvious reasons, like it when people are misled about economic policy, the Great Depression, FDR, etc.

That's really all there is to it. (Well, almost all.) What Steve really should be wondering about is why people like him—and me—ever fooled ourselves into believing the Washington Post has some sort of commitment to describing reality.

(Dean Baker, who clearly committed some horrible crime in a past life, takes out the Shlaes garbage here.)

P.S. It should go without saying that Shlaes graduated from Stutts University.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:28 PM | Comments (17)

New Tomdispatch

Tomdispatch is publishing two excerpts from the graphic novel based on the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Part II has just been posted. Part I from last week is here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:26 PM | Comments (3)