November 30, 2009
Still Wrapping Box of Shit on Christmas Morning
Just about everything you need to know about U.S. foreign policy is in this short post by the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:
President Obama convened a last-minute meeting of his national security team tonight to discuss the language that his administration will use to describe its new strategy for Afghanistan. Two administration sources confirmed that the meeting, which began at 5:00 pm, included cabinet officials like Defense Secretary Robert Gates...
An official said that Obama plans to try explain the interconnection between the the stability of Pakistan and the nexus of terror in Afghanistan. An explanation that the American people would accept has proven elusive.
The decision's been made. Now all we need is a reason!
November 26, 2009
Don't Make Presidents Like They Used To
This is from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness...May we be grateful for the passing of dark days...for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind.
Compare to today's warm, mushy gruel:
I encourage all the people of the United States to come together, whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place where family, friends and neighbors may gather, with gratitude for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own and to share our bounty with others.
November 25, 2009
The Moral Face of Our Country
The strangest thing about reading internal government documents is that government officials almost always sound exactly the same in private as they do in public. You'd think they wouldn't, since in public they say so many things that are completely preposterous. But the horrifying truth is they actually believe the completely preposterous things they say. So when they're speaking to each other in private, they don't have a good chuckle about the latest propaganda line they just delivered to the rubes. Instead, they repeat what they said in public, and then all nod sagely.
For instance, take this, from a secret high-level government meeting about Afghanistan:
I am not going to discuss now whether we did the right thing by going there. But it is a fact that we went there absolutely not knowing the psychology of the people, or the real situation in the country. And everything that we were and are doing in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the moral face of our country.
This sounds like a good Obama administration liberal arguing that we should leave Afghanistan now, doesn't it? Maybe Samantha Power? The kind of thing that would make left-wing American bluggers sneer with derision? ("What we're doing there actually is completely consistent with the real moral face of our country, Ms. Power!!!!")
But that was actually Eduard Shevardnadze, then the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister, speaking during a Politburo session on January 21, 1987. Yes, you wouldn't want to do something inconsistent with the moral face of the Soviet Union. Heaven forfend! (The transcript was recently published by the National Security Archive.)
Truly there's no amount of savagery a country can engage in that will persuade its leaders that they're not part of a highly moral endeavor (that sometimes makes unfortunate mistakes). In fact, the correlation always goes the other way: the louder they shriek about their moral mission, the greater their cruelty. Take it away, John Adams:
Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de tres bon foi, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul, and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God service, when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambition, avarice, love, resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety, and so much overpowering eloquence, that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience, and convert both to their party...
Learning How to Count to 350
Remembering People Power in Seattle in 1999 and Berlin in 1989
By Rebecca Solnit
Next month, at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, the wealthy nations that produce most of the excess carbon in our atmosphere will almost certainly fail to embrace measures adequate to ward off the devastation of our planet by heat and chaotic weather. Their leaders will probably promise us teaspoons with which to put out the firestorm and insist that springing for fire hoses would be far too onerous a burden for business to bear. They have already backed off from any binding deals at this global summit. There will be a lot of wrangling about who should cut what when, and how, with a lot of nations claiming that they would act if others would act first. Activists -- farmers, environmentalists, island-dwellers -- around the world will try to write a different future, a bolder one, and if anniversaries are an omen, then they have history on their side.
The Pentagon Garrisons the Gulf
As Washington Talks Iraq Withdrawal, the Pentagon Builds Up Bases in the Region
By Nick Turse
Despite recent large-scale insurgent suicide bombings that have killed scores of civilians and the fact that well over 100,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in that country, coverage of the U.S. war in Iraq has been largely replaced in the mainstream press by the (previously) "forgotten war" in Afghanistan. A major reason for this is the plan, developed at the end of the Bush years and confirmed by President Obama, to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010 and withdraw most of the remaining forces by December 2011.
Getting out of Iraq, however, doesn't mean getting out of the Middle East.
November 24, 2009
I believe the federal government could achieve significant cost savings by getting rid of presidential speechwriters and replacing them with a Mad Libs-like form.
Barack Obama today:
"I will be making an announcement to the American people about how we intend to move forward [in Afghanistan]...it is my intention to finish the job."
George W. Bush on June 18, 2005:
"We're moving forward [in Iraq]...When America says we'll do something, we are going to do it and finish the job."
November 23, 2009
I Wonder If Harry Reid Has Told Obama This Story
This is an interesting story from Harry Reid's autobiography The Good Fight:
...on the evening of Kennedy's death, I sat with Congressman Baring of Nevada as he nursed his drink. And I was shattered. Then Baring said something that I will never forget. He was a conservative Democrat, reactionary actually, one of those guys for whom there was a Communist behind every bush. Fluoride was a Communist plot. And Kennedy, too, had been leading us down the path to Communism, Baring told me. It was probably a good thing that he was murdered.
I don't know anything about the Kennedy assassination, and I probably never will unless I live to be 10,000 years old and have some spare time. But I do think the standard left-wing position—that it would have made no sense for right-wing elements in the government to kill Kennedy, because he was pretty right-wing himself—is wrong. Making sense has nothing to do with it. There was a big section of the U.S. elite in 1963 that was genuinely insane. For them, if you didn't want to reinstitute actual slavery and then launch a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, you might as well have been named Vladimir Lenin. And they haven't changed that much since.
(I learned about Reid's story from this, which is interesting on its own.)
November 22, 2009
I remember that in November, 1988, Time or Newsweek had an article about John F. Kennedy being shot with the headline, "25 Years Ago, America's Head Was Blown Open."
In any case, I'm amazed that for four and a half decades the powers-that-be in America have been able to cover up the truth, which is that JFK committed suicide.
November 20, 2009
Did Rumsfeld Tour KGB Torture Museum to Pick Up Useful Tips?
Where has the CIA tortured people? ABC has just reported that one place was Lithuania:
The CIA built one of its secret European prisons inside an exclusive riding academy outside Vilnius, Lithuania, a current Lithuanian government official and a former U.S. intelligence official told ABC News this week.
Where affluent Lithuanians once rode show horses and sipped coffee at a café, the CIA installed a concrete structure where it could use harsh tactics to interrogate up to eight suspected al-Qaeda terrorists at a time.
But here's the lighter side of the CIA-Lithuania torture story, which ABC didn't mention: Donald Rumsfeld visited Vilnius in 2005, where he took the time to tour the KGB torture museum there. Then the U.S. embassy in Vilnius released an "Open Letter to People of Lithuania" from Rumsfeld:
I also had the chance to spend an enjoyable and educational Sunday morning walking through your historic, old town district and visiting the KGB museum. The museum was a stark reminder of the importance of preserving our liberty at all costs...
"Enjoyable and educational." Yes, sounds about right.
American Academia, Bastion of Disinterested Inquiry
Elizabeth Warren seems pretty great, doesn't she? Given the financial industry came very close to creating another Great Depression, we could really use someone in a position of power whose main concern is the well-being of the middle class.
OR COULD WE?!? Here's some guy named Thomas Cooley to explain why we're so wrong:
She suggested a Financial Product Safety Commission in a 2007 article in the magazine Democracy. President Barack Obama proposed it to Congress in June as the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
Warren won’t discuss whether she may be a candidate to lead the authority, which would have the power to regulate $13.7 trillion of debt products. A Warren nomination would tell banks that Obama is determined to force reduced checking-account fees and limit lender claims in mortgage advertising, among other measures the industry opposes, said Thomas Cooley, dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“She is an ideological crusader,” Cooley said in an interview. "She is a person who will stir up a lot of trouble.” In a column in Forbes magazine, Cooley accused her of "waging a self-righteous holy war."
Thomas Cooley...where have I heard that name before? Oh yeah:
NYU Stern announced today that alumnus John Paulson (BS ’78), founder and chairman of hedge fund Paulson & Co., Inc., has given a gift of $20 million to NYU Stern. John Paulson’s gift will endow two faculty chairs – the Alan Greenspan Chair in Economics and the John A. Paulson Professor of Finance and Alternative Investments...
"We are extremely grateful for John’s support,” said Thomas F. Cooley, dean of NYU Stern. “His generous gift will not only further strengthen Stern’s research capability...it will also help us provide our students with a modernized learning environment..."
Mr. Paulson is a leading financier and founder of New York-based Paulson & Co., one of the largest alternative asset managers in the world.
John Paulson (no relation to Hank) famously made $4 billion dollars for himself (and $20 billion for his hedge fund) betting against the mortgage market, Lehman Brothers, etc. (He also hired Alan Greenspan as a consultant in early 2008, so presumably Greenspan has personally made a lot of money off the financial panic.)
Anyway, when you've made $4 billion thanks to lack of regulation, I'm sure it's worth spending 0.5% of that to buy a yappy little poodle to whizz all over the shoes of anyone who advocates regulation.
(For an example of another particularly well-behaved New York City poodle, see here.)
The Afghan Speech Obama Should Give
By Tom Engelhardt
Sure, the quote in the over-title is only my fantasy. No one in Washington -- no less President Obama -- ever said, "This administration ended, rather than extended, two wars," and right now, it looks as if no one in an official capacity is likely to do so any time soon. It's common knowledge that a president -- but above all a Democratic president -- who tried to de-escalate a war like the one now expanding in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, and withdraw American troops, would be so much domestic political dead meat.
This everyday bit of engrained Washington wisdom is, in fact, based on not a shred of evidence in the historical record. We do, however, know something about what could happen to a president who escalated a counterinsurgency war: Lyndon Johnson comes to mind for expanding his inherited war in Vietnam out of fear that he would be labeled the president who "lost" that country to the communists (as Harry Truman had supposedly "lost" China). And then there was Vice President Hubert Humphrey who -- incapable of rejecting Johnson's war policy -- lost the 1968 election to Richard Nixon, a candidate pushing a fraudulent "peace with honor" formula for downsizing the war.
Still, we have no evidence about how American voters would deal with a president who didn't take the Johnson approach to a losing war. The only example might be John F. Kennedy, who reputedly pushed back against escalatory advice over Vietnam, and certainly did so against his military high command during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In both cases, however, he acted in private, offering quite a different face to the world.
November 18, 2009
Paying Off the Warlords
Anatomy of an Afghan Culture of Corruption
By Pratap Chatterjee
Kabul, Afghanistan -- Every morning, dozens of trucks laden with diesel from Turkmenistan lumber out of the northern Afghan border town of Hairaton on a two-day trek across the Hindu Kush down to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Among the dozens of businesses dispatching these trucks are two extremely well connected companies -- Ghazanfar and Zahid Walid -- that helped to swell the election coffers of President Hamid Karzai as well as the family business of his running mate, the country's new vice president, warlord Mohammed Qasim Fahim.
Some of the trucks are on their way to two power stations in the northern part of the capital: a recently refurbished, if inefficient, plant that has served Kabul for a little more than a quarter of a century, and a brand new facility scheduled for completion next year and built with money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Afghan political analysts observe that Ghazanfar and Zahid Walid are striking examples of the multimillion-dollar business conglomerates, financed by American as well as Afghan tax dollars and connected to powerful political figures, that have, since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, emerged as part of a pervasive culture of corruption here.
November 16, 2009
Here's a crucial insight from Sarah Palin's new book:
If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?
This is exactly why I eat people.
UPDATE: Weaver points out this joke was made long ago by Flanders and Swann, which I should have known considering I listened to "At the Drop of the Hat" 1,000+ time growing up. Also, I see the cannibalism joke had already been made several other places today. This whole thing is a fiasco.
Dolchstosslegende IV: A New Beginning
Great choice of words, U.S. defense official:
A U.S. defense official said the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, feels he was "stabbed in the back" by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
Three months ago, Eikenberry supported McChrystal's request for more troops, but last week it was revealed he sent a classified cable opposing it until Karzai shows that he can be trusted.
What we really need to win in Afghanistan and worldwide is simply to apply our will. Let's make a black and white documentary about that.
[T]he stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies...
The stab in the back first gained currency in Germany, as a means of explaining the nation's stunning defeat in World War I. It was Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg himself, the leading German hero of the war, who told the National Assembly, "As an English general has very truly said, the German army was 'stabbed in the back.'"
Like everything else associated with the stab-in-the-back myth, this claim was disingenuous. The "English general" in question was one Maj. Gen. Neill Malcolm, head of the British Military Mission in Berlin after the war, who put forward this suggestion merely to politely summarize how Field Marshal Erich von Ludendorff—the force behind Hindenburg—was characterizing the German army's alleged lack of support from its civilian government.
"Ludendorff's eyes lit up, and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone," wrote Hindenburg biographer John Wheeler-Bennett. "'Stabbed in the back?' he repeated. 'Yes, that's it exactly. We were stabbed in the back.'"
November 15, 2009
Mark Your Calendar
I just came across this old column by Mark Steyn from February 27, 2006 that begins with this question:
In five years' time, how many Jews will be living in France?
That's about fifteen months from now. I think I'll set my computer to remind me, assuming I haven't succuumbed to dhimmitude by then.
In the lead-up to the February 15, 2003 worldwide demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, I remember feeling very strongly that everyone was fighting not just to save Iraqis, but also to save ourselves. Of course, that perspective was absolutely unspeakable in the U.S., since it was such soft-minded weak-willed naive appeasement goo.
Now Johann Hari has written a long article about British ex-jihadis that suggests it was correct:
Every one of them said the Bush administration's response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former HT organiser, tells me: "You'd see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?"
But the converse was – they stressed – also true. When they saw ordinary Westerners trying to uphold human rights, their jihadism began to stutter. Almost all of them said that they doubted their Islamism when they saw a million non-Muslims march in London to oppose the Iraq War: "How could we demonise people who obviously opposed aggression against Muslims?" asks Hadiya.
We'll never know how many, if any, specific acts of terrorism have been prevented by visible Western opposition to U.S. policy. But for Americans who care whether they live or die, this suggests how important it is to keep trying to end these hideous wars, whether or not we succeed by this time next week.
Here's more from the article, about Maajid Nawaz, the former high-level member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. First (according to him) he had some success recruiting Pakistani military officers training in England. Then he went to Egypt to find recruits there:
"Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."
Then, at 3am one morning, a cadre of soldiers smashed into Maajid's bedroom bearing machine guns and grenades. He was taken, blindfolded and bound, to an underground bunker below the state security offices in Cairo. There were around 50 other men penned in. For three days, he kneeled, and heard the men around him being tortured with electric cattle prods...
...when his family were finally allowed to see him, they told him he had a new defender. Although they abhorred his political views, Amnesty International said he had a right to free speech and to peacefully express his views, and publicised his case.
"I was just amazed," Maajid says. "We'd always seen Amnesty as the soft power tools of colonialism. So, when Amnesty, despite knowing that we hated them, adopted us, I felt – maybe these democratic values aren't always hypocritical. Maybe some people take them seriously ... it was the beginning of my serious doubts."
You should read it all. (As I'm excerpting it here, it comes across as too much of a just-so story for anti-American America-haters like us, but there's a lot more to it.)
P.S. Strong Horse!
The Palin Effect
How Sarah Palin Made Herself Indispensable While Destroying the Republican Party
By Max Blumenthal
Sarah Palin's heavily publicized book tour begins in earnest this Monday, but weeks before, her ghostwritten memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, had already vaulted into the number one position at Amazon. Warming up for a tour that will take her across Middle America in a bus, Palin tested her lines in a November 7th speech before a crowd of 5,000 anti-abortion activists in Wisconsin. She promptly cited an urban legend as a "disturbing trend," claiming the Treasury Department had moved the phrase "In God We Trust" from presidential dollar coins. (The rumor most likely originated with a 2006 story on the far-right website WorldNetDaily.)
In fact, a suggested alteration in its position on the coin was shot down in 2007 after pressure from Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Nonetheless, Palin did not hesitate to take up this "controversy," however false, since it conveniently pits a tyrannical, God-destroying, secular big government against humble God-fearing folk. In doing so, of course, she presented herself as this nation's leading defender of the faith.
In a Republican Party hoping to rebound in 2010 on the strength of a newly energized and ideologically aroused conservative grassroots, Palin's influence is now unparalleled.
November 14, 2009
Here are some things I learned about the Pentagon from House of War by James Carroll:
• The building that now holds the State Department was built in the late thirties to house the Department of War. But by the time it was finished the War Department had already outgrown it, so they had to find another location. Since American "diplomacy" and American wars have been essentially the same thing since then, it's a nice accident of history.
• The Pentagon was designed by the architect George Edwin Bergstrom, who also designed the Hollywood Bowl. American show business and American war: two great tastes that taste like unexploded bomblets together.
• Construction of the Pentagon was overseen by Leslie Groves. Groves had spent part of his childhood in the home of famed Indian-killer General Nelson Miles while growing up at Fort Apache, Arizona. Since the U.S. government is now operating on the assumption that the entire world is "Indian Country" this is gratifying historical continuity. (Groves would later also be in change of the Manhattan Project.)
November 13, 2009
Once Again Adam Smith Betrays the Principles of Adam Smith
Several finance professionals just co-wrote a column for the New York Times saying this:
American workers are overpaid, relative to equally productive employees elsewhere doing the same work. If the global economy is to get into balance, that gap must close...the recession shows that many workers are paid more than they’re worth.
Here's Adam Smith, describing columns like this in The Wealth of Nations in 1776:
In reality high profits tend much more to raise the price of work than high wages. Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.
Once of the strangest things about the American overclass is the way they cite Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations all the time. He's supposedly their great intellectual champion, justifying everything they do. For instance, here's some DC place called "The Leadership Institute":
Dubbed by Time Magazine "the neckpiece of conservative Washington"...Adam Smith ties honor the great Scottish free-market economist who published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. Conservatives in the Reagan White House wore Adam Smith ties as a sign of the faithful. The tie is now the club tie of the conservative movement.
But in reality Adam Smith was extremely skeptical of businessmen, so much so I doubt he could write a column for any major U.S. newspaper today. Everything he wrote would be constantly attacked by places like the Leadership Institute for not understanding the insights of Adam Smith.
I'm not exactly sure how this works. I assume these people just never read anything.
Drone Race to a Known Future
Why Military Dreams Fail -- and Why It Doesn't Matter
By Tom Engelhardt
For drone freaks (and these days Washington seems full of them), here's the good news: Drones are hot! Not long ago -- 2006 to be exact -- the Air Force could barely get a few armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the air at once; now, the number is 38; by 2011, it will reputedly be 50, and beyond that, in every sense, the sky's the limit.
Better yet, for the latest generation of armed surveillance drones -- the ones with the chill-you-to-your-bones sci-fi names of Predators and Reapers (as in Grim) -- whole new surveillance capabilities will soon be available. Their newest video system, due to be deployed next year, has been dubbed Gorgon Stare after the creature in Greek mythology whose gaze turned its victims to stone. According to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, Gorgon Stare will offer a "pilot" back in good ol' Langley, VA, headquarters of the CIA, the ability to "stare" via 12 video feeds (where only one now exists) at a 1.5 mile square area, and then, with Hellfire missiles and bombs, assumedly turn any part of it into rubble. Within the year, that viewing capacity is expected to double to three square miles.
Welcome Home, War!
How America's Wars Are Systematically Destroying Our Liberties
By Alfred W. McCoy
In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could "reverberate for generations," warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil. Yet surprisingly few Americans seem aware of the toll that this already endless war has taken on our civil liberties.
Don't be too surprised, then, when, in the midst of some future crisis, advanced surveillance methods and other techniques developed in our recent counterinsurgency wars migrate from Baghdad, Falluja, and Kandahar to your hometown or urban neighborhood. And don't ever claim that nobody told you this could happen -- at least not if you care to read on.
November 12, 2009
Tra La La La
New York Times today:
Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry...Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.
It is now time to act to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power ... Regime change is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
Dennis Kucinich on Meet the Press, February 23, 2003:
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, you made a very strong charge against the administration and let me show you what you said on January 19. "Why is the Administration targeting Iraq? Oil." What do you base that on?
REP. KUCINICH: I base that on the fact that there is $5 trillion worth of oil above and in the ground in Iraq, that individuals involved in the administration have been involved in the oil industry, that the oil industry certainly would benefit from having the administration control Iraq, and that the fact is that, since no other case has been made to go to war against Iraq, for this nation to go to war against Iraq, oil represents the strongest incentive...
MR. PERLE: It is a lie, Congressman. It is an out and out lie.
Richard Cohen, February 25, 2003:
"Liar" is a word rarely used in Washington...So it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face...
Kucinich himself seemed only momentarily fazed by Perle's sharp right to his integrity and went on, indomitable demagogue that he seems to be, to maintain that the coming war with Iraq will be fought to control that nation's oil...How did this fool get on "Meet the Press"?
[S]omething truly awful has happened. The looming war has already become deeply and biliously ideological. By that I mean that the extremes on both sides -- but particularly the war's opponents -- no longer feel compelled to prove a case or stick to the facts.
November 11, 2009
Rupert Murdoch Memory Lane
Surprisingly, however, no one seems to have remembered this intriguing observation by Murdoch last year:
[Murdoch] remains a militant free-marketeer and is still pro-war (grudgingly, he’s retreated a bit). And there was the moment, one afternoon, when over a glass of his favorite coconut water (meant to increase electrolytes) he was propounding the genetic theory that the basic problem of the Muslim people was that they married their cousins.
That's an interesting possibility, but I feel it's more urgent to investigate the basic problem of old white billionaires.
November 10, 2009
People Are Funny
Here's Ehud Barak in 2002:
[Palestinians] are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as "the truth."
And here's Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1921, writing to his brother about splits in the Zionist movement between the German-American Jewish community (who were more assimilated and powerful and less interested in establishing a state) and the Zionist movement in eastern Europe:
The Zionist [clash] was inevitable. It was one resulting from differences in standards. The Easterners—like many Russian Jews in this country—don’t know what honesty is & we simply won’t entrust our money to them.
Or as my grandfather the historian liked to say:
The hostility of those who have power toward those who can be called inferior because they are different—because they are others, the strangers—has been a historical constant. Indeed, at times it seems to be the dominant theme in human history.
November 09, 2009
Bach's Double Violin Concerto (Allegro)
By: Bernard Chazelle
This being a children's blog, I can't use the reproductive imagery needed to reveal the true magic of this amazing piece. I could argue that Bach's music is so great because it was written by Bach, but that might be a bit circular. After sex and Bach, the next best thing, of course, is chocolate mousse.
0:00 The waiter is talking you into ordering the chocolate special. By the end of the segment, the word 'chocolate' is blinking inside your head like bright neon lights. You now understand what Patrick Henry meant when he said: "Give me chocolate mousse or give me death!"
0:39 The mousse arrives, a feast for the eye. While you explore every nook and cranny of this promising lump of sweet darkness (the snobs call it "melody") you're by now a slobbering Newfie ready to pounce. Your dining companion's mousse has arrived, too, which does little to stop the drooling.
1:14 Finally, you take your first bite. The universe explodes and rearranges the laws of physics: up is down, in is out, front is back. The two violinists switch roles with the orchestra, which now takes over the melody, while the two soloists accompany it with high double stops in sixths and octaves. Bach the Lutheran always does that: he'll unexpectedly pulverize the military order of the orchestra just to remind you that all hierarchies will die with us. The effect of this abrupt change is stunning. Swallowing that first bite of chocolate makes the Big Bang sound like a damp squib. Needless to say, the Pavlovian conditioning from 0:00 to 1:13 is essential, for role reversal won't mean a thing to you unless you're told about the roles in the first place. Once in a while, a great piece of music is all about 8 seconds of ultimate perfection: you just need preparation for it.
1:23 The food goes down your stomach. The descent is gradual and, Bach being Bach, nonlinear. Chung and Lin play the sort of dissonant chromatic runs that everyone stole from him afterwards.
1:29 Chung's post-chocoital solo reprises the lovely melody you heard earlier.
Although the mousse was prepared in Dm, by the time it hits your tastebuds, its flavor has morphed to C major (1:13). The chord progression at 1:14 is C-A7-Dm-E7-Am. Bach takes the downwind cycle A7-Dm-G but rejects the VII-i cadence (the Beatles wouldn't) and replace G by its relative minor Em. But Em-Am is a weak cadence that 16th century Italians outlawed. The fix is to raise the third and lower the seventh for the contrary counterpoint of V7-i, ie, E7-Am. Voila.
The audio is awful but the soloists are excellent. Chung plays Bach as she would Brahms. It's unorthodox but cool. Good for her to ignore the purists. That said, I still prefer Perlman-Zukerman. If you want to purchase the double concerto for the holidays, avoid the late Stern versions: there are several of them. I hate to sign off on a negative note but I will. The violin is among the least fault-tolerant of instruments. (There's no such thing as a mediocre quartet ensemble: it's either excellent or insufferable.) The ear-to-hand coordination it requires at that level is so formidable it's really a young person's game. Late Stern is pretty sad. Perlman, my all-time favorite violinist, is now a shadow of himself. He should stick to master classes. Or maybe conducting? I sound callous, but actually I can't imagine how depressing it must be for such fine musicians to see their motor skills decline, as they always do with age. Of course, Mozart never had that problem. Dying young has its benefits.
— Bernard Chazelle
Owl in a Box
I would much rather have an eblo about owls than about politicians, but owls don't have nuclear weapons. (If I'm wrong about this, please tell me and I'll switch subjects immediately.)
Get That Man a Place on Mount Rushmore
Here's an overlooked part from a scary new article by Seymour Hersh about Pakistan's nuclear weapons:
A retired senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who worked with his C.I.A. counterparts to track down Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said..."My belief today is that it’s better to have the Americans as an enemy rather than as a friend, because you cannot be trusted," the former officer concluded. "The only good thing the United States did for us was to look the other way about an atomic bomb when it suited the United States to do so."
The Pakistani intelligence officer is talking about actions by the Reagan administration. Usually we hear about this from U.S. sources, but it's interesting to have confirmation from the other side. There's a good summary in a Consortium News article about the movie Charlie Wilson's War:
[S]urely the most glaring omission in the film is the fateful trade-off accepted by President Ronald Reagan when he agreed not to complain about Pakistan’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability in exchange for Pakistani cooperation in helping the Afghan rebels.
On page 463 of his book, Crile characterizes this deal or understanding as “the dirty little secret of the Afghan war” –- General Zia al-Haq’s ability to extract not only “massive aid” from Washington but also to secure Reagan’s acquiescence in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program via a congressional waiver of U.S. nonproliferation laws...
[T]his history remains a taboo topic for many within the Washington Establishment, especially those who look back favorably on the Reagan presidency.
And there's more: the Pakistani bomb was probably funded by Saudi Arabia, just as the Iraqi nuclear program was during the nineteen eighties. The Reagan administration was aware of it in both instances, but had other priorities.
The Reagan administration and its foreign policy is truly the gift that keeps on giving to America.
November 08, 2009
Why Obama's Iran Policy Will Fail
Stuck in Bush Mode in a Changed World
By Dilip Hiro
While the tone of the Obama administration is different from that of its predecessor, and some of its foreign policies diverge from those of George W. Bush, at their core both administrations subscribe to the same doctrine: Whatever the White House perceives as a threat -- whether it be Iran, North Korea, or the proliferation of long-range missiles -- must be viewed as such by Moscow and Beijing.
In addition, by the evidence available, Barack Obama has not drawn the right conclusion from his predecessor's failed Iran policy. A paradigm of sticks-and-carrots simply is not going to work in the case of the Islamic Republic. Here, a lesson is readily available, if only the Obama White House were willing to consider Iran's recent history. It is unrealistic to expect that a regime which fought Saddam Hussein's Iraq (then backed by the United States) to a standstill in a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s, unaided by any foreign power, and has for 30 years withstood the consequences of U.S.-imposed economic sanctions will be alarmed by Washington's fresh threats of "crippling sanctions."
Too Big to Fail?
Why All the President's Afghan Options Are Bad Ones
By Tom Engelhardt
In the worst of times, my father always used to say, "A good gambler cuts his losses." It's a formulation imprinted on my brain forever. That no-nonsense piece of advice still seems reasonable to me, but it doesn't apply to American war policy. Our leaders evidently never saw a war to which the word "more" didn't apply. Hence the Afghan War, where impending disaster is just an invitation to fuel the flames of an already roaring fire.
Here's a partial rundown of news from that devolving conflict: In the last week, Nuristan, a province on the Pakistani border, essentially fell to the Taliban after the U.S. withdrew its forces from four key bases. Similarly in Khost, another eastern province bordering Pakistan where U.S. forces once registered much-publicized gains (and which Richard Holbrooke, now President Obama's special envoy to the region, termed "an American success story"), the Taliban is largely in control. It is, according to Yochi Dreazen and Anand Gopal of the Wall Street Journal, now "one of the most dangerous provinces" in the country. Similarly, the Taliban insurgency, once largely restricted to the Pashtun south, has recently spread fiercely to the west and north. At the same time, neighboring Pakistan is an increasingly destabilized country amid war in its tribal borderlands, a terror campaign spreading throughout the country, escalating American drone attacks, and increasingly testy relations between American officials and the Pakistani government and military.
November 07, 2009
Stop Making Apologies for Murderers
By: Bernard Chazelle
We're not sure yet but we're not exactly going out on a limb by assuming that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was, indeed, mighty upset to be part of a group, the US military, that measures the safety of our nation by the number of Muslims it bumps off. We can draw one of two conclusions:
1. Either Hasan is a mental case who snapped; or
2. Hasan applied the skills he learned in the military to kill the "militants" who are a threat to his coreligionists. His action was regrettable but necessary.
Me, I go with 1.
The media, they go with 2. Naturally, they'll remind you that Hasan killed 12 militants for only 1 civilian, a 1/12 ratio which is as good as it gets in that line of business. US drones kill "10 or so civilians" for every militant. So Major Nidal Hasan did an outstanding job limiting civilian casualties. He didn't pulverize a wedding party after all. Take note, CIA.
I know I am in the minority here, but I find that kind of talk disgusting. Hasan's objections to US foreign policy may be sound and legitimate but that's no reason to mow down random people. Why is the media making apologies for the guy? Yes, almost all victims were potentially dangerous "militants." Yes, the base harbored people with the blood of thousands of innocents on their hands. So what? They were still human beings with families and friends, no? So just because Hasan is a US soldier makes it OK to kill random people he viewed as a threat? The media's reflexive defense of the murderous actions of its government is sickening.
OK, I'll admit I haven't read the news. I only assume this will be the media's reaction because Hasan is a government employee who did exactly what our government does every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no one in the MSM has ever called our government "a mental case." Hasan's shooting spree was just another CIA day over Waziristan so I expect the media to make excuses for the slaughter. As usual.
Of course I could be wrong.
— Bernard Chazelle
November 06, 2009
"Bring the Noise"
By: Bernard Chazelle
Public Enemy's political voice may have obscured the enduring brilliance of their work. It's been 21 years since the release of "It Takes a Nation" and it's hard to believe how fresh, innovative, and emotionally powerful that album still sounds. The raw energy of Chuck D's booming voice, trading rhymes with Flavor Flav, is channeled through a layered mix of swirling scratches, quick beats, and funky James-Brown samplings. It's only when you listen to the old masters like PE and Run-DMC that you realize how much the current generation (Kanye and the rest) are in their debt. And, who knows, perhaps gangsta rap will even prove to be a short-lived commercial aberration.
You may know Chuck D from his Air America radio show and perhaps less from his status as one of rap's great MCs, along with 2Pac, Nas, Jay-Z, etc. The "noise" in the title is what the pop world thought of hip-hop in the early days. Chuck D welcomes the slur. Yes it is "noise," he is rapping, our kind of noise, and if you don't like it, tough. As in much of black music, of course, there is an underground "elitism" there meant to shoo away the white establishment. The "noise" played the same gatekeeping function as the jarring harmonies, forbidding virtuosity, and asymmetric rhythm of bebop did 40 years earlier. It didn't help matters that Seamus Heaney (a poet I admire enormously) praised the poetic power of hip-hop. Heaney was right, of course, but to declare hip-hop safe for the establishment was the last thing hip-hop needed. (Everyone was probably too busy listening to Britney to hear Heaney.)
Some quick historical perspective. In my view, one pop figure dominates, nah, towers over everyone else. Nothing the Brits did comes anywhere close. Same with Elvis. No one can claim his musical breadth, creativity, and influence. That person, of course, is James Brown. And yet there was always something missing. Brown was always so far ahead of everyone else he ended up talking to himself. And you can't formalize a new language when you only talk to yourself. Hip-hop is Brown's legacy as an autonomous musical genre, its culmination if you will. It's a genre that never ceases to amaze me. It's not musical in the traditional sense of the word. But there's an emotional intensity to it, a rhythmic richness, and a verbal brilliance that have no equivalent in pop music. I love it.
— Bernard Chazelle
White Skin Privilege is Sweet! SWEET!
There are many great things about being part of the white majority, but one of my favorites is that I don't have to release a statement condemning it every time some white guy somewhere shoots people.
Violent Lunatics the Same All Around the World
I read this back in July when the Saddam transcripts were first released, and assumed it would be picked up and mentioned in news stories around the world. Nope.
Anyway, it's pretty funny, at least as much events that involve the deaths of millions can be funny.
The invasion of Kuwait was accomplished within two and a half hours, equivalent to that previously estimated. Hussein stated it should have taken no more than one hour. He believes it should have occurred more quickly than originally estimated due to support from the Kuwaiti people. Hussein reiterated a previous statement to the interviewers that Iraq was asked by the Kuwaiti people to invade their country in order to remove the Kuwaiti leadership. When asked to clarify how the Kuwaiti citizens communicated their desires to the Iraqi government prior to the invasion, Hussein stated some, not all, Kuwaitis felt this way. He added, "We felt they were asking."
"What reaction do you expect from the Iraqis to the entry of U.S. force in their cities?" Bush wanted to know.
"The Iraqi will welcome the U.S. forces with flowers and sweets when they come in," volunteered Makiya ... The other two [Iraqis] agreed that American troops would face immediate jubilation.
Bush was ready to believe this.
We may not have a perfect understanding of how Saddam Hussein thinks, but one thing we know for certain is that he does not think like an American president... Assuming that Saddam Hussein will think and act like a Westerner -- indeed, like anyone but himself -- can only lead to disaster.
In the World's Richest Country
By: Bernard Chazelle
Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.
"The current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes," Stanford pediatrician Dr. Paul Wise wrote.
The analysis is in line with other recent research suggesting that more than 40 percent of U.S. children will live in poverty or near-poverty by age 17.
It's not all bleak. Thanks to Bush and Obama, the children of Wall Street bankers can still afford their private Polo lessons.
— Bernard Chazelle
November 04, 2009
Beliefs, What Beliefs?
By: Bernard Chazelle
David Corn on NY23:
An ideological civil war probably won't be good for business for the GOP—though these conservatives clearly believe that right-wing purity is the best path for a Republican return to power.
Markos's take on it:
These conservative activists are approaching things differently -- they'd rather lose general election races than make gains in Congress with (in their eyes) less-than-perfect Republicans. That's a weird way to build a majority.
Both embed NY23 within a narrative of power and strategy. As good liberal pundits, they only see a story of suicidal conservatives displaying Palinesque levels of stupidity. They'd rather lose a seat than compromise their principles. Hahaha! Now how dumb is that? Surely no liberals would commit such a sin. They'll go with Blue Dogs and Green Hyenas if that's the road to power. The word "principle" is too well-pedigreed so the preferred putdown in the liberal commentariat is the derisive "purity."
My point is not to argue that conservatives have principles (many do, but that's not my point). I only wish to bring up the fact that liberal pundits lack the genetic makeup, or the intellectual category if you will, to bring up the issue of principles, even if only to dismiss it with a giant laugh.
When, in fact, NY 23 taps into a deep, widespread anger at the establishment (in that case the GOP). Beck and Palin are such inviting targets it's irresistible for liberals to dismiss the whole thing as "the Freak Show of the Retards." But it's missing two important facts: the first is that the anger is legitimate. The Bush-Obama plan to rescue the criminals on Wall Street on the back of ordinary Americans will not be soon forgotten. The visceral opposition to HCR among many can be traced to it. The second fact is the appalling condescension of these liberal elites toward conservatives who have principles they care deeply about. I happen to detest virtually every single one of these principles. And, yes, Beck is a dangerous demagogue. But there's still something to be said about a political movement that would rather lose an election than its principles: a concept completely alien to the liberal establishment.
— Bernard Chazelle
November 03, 2009
Failed War President or the Prince of Peace?
By Nick Turse
When the Nobel Committee awarded its annual peace prize to President Barack Obama, it afforded him a golden opportunity seldom offered to American war presidents: the possibility of success. Should he decide to go the peace-maker route, Obama stands a chance of really accomplishing something significant. On the other hand, history suggests that the path of war is a surefire loser. As president after president has discovered, especially since World War II, the U.S. military simply can't seal the deal on winning a war.
While the armed forces can do many things, the one thing that has generally escaped them is that ultimate endpoint: lasting victory.
Welcome to 2025
American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early
By Michael T. Klare
Memo to the CIA: You may not be prepared for time-travel, but welcome to 2025 anyway! Your rooms may be a little small, your ability to demand better accommodations may have gone out the window, and the amenities may not be to your taste, but get used to it. It's going to be your reality from now on.
Okay, now for the serious version of the above: In November 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), an affiliate of the Central Intelligence Agency, issued the latest in a series of futuristic publications intended to guide the incoming Obama administration. Peering into its analytic crystal ball in a report entitled Global Trends 2025, it predicted that America's global preeminence would gradually disappear over the next 15 years -- in conjunction with the rise of new global powerhouses, especially China and India. The report examined many facets of the future strategic environment, but its most startling, and news-making, finding concerned the projected long-term erosion of American dominance and the emergence of new global competitors. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor [in 2025]," it stated definitively, the country's "relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained."
November 02, 2009
Alan Grayson $$$
Alan Grayson is an oasis in the vast desert that is the Democratic party. But like every oasis, he needs money. I just contributed to his moneybomb today, and I urge you to do so as well.
If he can't raise money online and loses next year, it will have a genuine chilling effect on a party whose temperature is already near absolute zero. But if other members see that someone like Grayson can raise lots of money, survive and thrive, it will have the opposite effect. Please give early and often.
I also appreciate that, unlike every other member of Congress, Grayson doesn't dress like a Wells Fargo Assistant Vice President.
November 01, 2009
Between You and Me, We're Committing Securities Fraud
The big McClatchy story today about Goldman Sachs is great:
"The Securities and Exchange Commission should be very interested in any financial company that secretly decides a financial product is a loser and then goes out and actively markets that product or very similar products to unsuspecting customers without disclosing its true opinion," said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor who's proposed a massive overhaul of the nation's banks. "This is fraud and should be prosecuted."
But for straightforward admissions of guilt, the recent long Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis about AIG is even better:
Cassano agreed to meet with all the big Wall Street firms and discuss the logic of their deals—to investigate how a bunch of shaky loans could be transformed into AAA-rated bonds. Together with Park and a few others, Cassano set out on a series of meetings with Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and the rest—all of whom argued how unlikely it was for housing prices to fall all at once. “They all said the same thing,” says one of the traders present. “They’d go back to historical real-estate prices over 60 years and say they had never fallen all at once.” (The lone exception, he said, was Goldman Sachs. Two months after their meeting with the investment bank, one of the A.I.G. F.P. traders bumped into the Goldman guy who had defended the bonds, who said, Between you and me, you’re right. These things are going to blow up.)
The amazing thing about human beings is that, even when they're organizing death squads or creating multi-billion dollar swindles, they can't stop talking about it.
Steven Levitt, Easy Grader
This is from a long, detailed review in the Boston Globe of Superfreakonomics:
A similar problem arises in another instance when the authors call carbon dioxide’s role into question. At one point Dubner and Levitt write, “Nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth: ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, not the other way around.”
In the endnote for this passage, the authors cite a 2004 blog post written by Jeffrey Severinghaus, a professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, summarizing ice core research he did on the beginning and end of ice ages. The fourth sentence of that blog entry reads, “Does this prove that CO2 doesn’t cause global warming? The answer is no.” Severinghaus has not read “SuperFreakonomics,” but when the passage was read to him over the phone, he called it “flat-out misrepresentation.”...
Asked over e-mail about the use of Severinghaus’s research, Levitt responded, “The sentence may be poorly written, but I do not think it is factually inaccurate.” He also defended the citation on the grounds that, while Severinghaus may not think his finding supports their point, it does not clearly disprove it, either. “Severinghaus says that this is not definitive evidence against CO2 warming the earth; he certainly can’t argue that this is definitive evidence that CO2 does warm the earth,” Levitt wrote.
Hopefully all professors at the University of Chicago are like Stephen Levitt.
PROFESSOR LEVITT: None of the citations in your paper actually support the points you're making.
STUDENT: Maybe so...but my supporting citations don't definitively prove that I'm wrong.
PROFESSOR LEVITT: A+!!!!!
The War on Drugs Dealt by People America Isn't Friends With
Deal opium and don't do what the U.S. government tells you to do? Instantaneous death from above!
The Obama Administration has also widened the scope of authorized drone attacks in Afghanistan. An August report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee disclosed that the Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List—the Pentagon’s roster of approved terrorist targets, containing three hundred and sixty-seven names—was recently expanded to include some fifty Afghan drug lords who are suspected of giving money to help finance the Taliban. These new targets are a step removed from Al Qaeda. According to the Senate report, “There is no evidence that any significant amount of the drug proceeds goes to Al Qaeda.”
Deal opium and follow orders to our satisfaction? Knock yourself out!
The inclusion of Afghan narcotics traffickers on the U.S. target list could prove awkward, some observers say, given that President Hamid Karzai’s running mate, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and the President’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are strongly suspected of involvement in narcotics. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, who has written extensively on military matters, said, “Are they going to target Karzai’s brother?”
Will this massive hypocrisy and brutality generate more than a question or two on the Sunday D.C. talk shows (if that)? Nope.
If the U.S. political class will swallow this, is there anything they won't eat? Would they make trouble if the federal government set up concentration camps on the National Mall? I'm guessing no.
AND: From George Tenet's book At the Center of the Storm:
The Agency had...been rocked by false allegations in 1996 that some of its members had been complicit in selling crack cocaine to children in California. The allegations were ludicrous, but even attempting to refute them gave legs to a lurid tale.
I like to believe he dictated that while signing off on the next delivery of cash to Ahmed Wali Karzai.