I’ve got a new Think Again column called “No News Is Bad News” here and a new Nation column here, “Iraq: The Democrats' Dilemma.” I did not include a discussion of the Feingold FISA fiasco, but it fits….
Wanted: More Convincing Liars, (Quote of the Day): "We're hoping to unleash the power of the Internet, unleash the power of the blogosphere, to get through these documents and give us a better understanding of what was going on in Iraq before the war," said Hoekstra, chairman of the House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Here. (What, is Stephen Hayes chopped liver?)
All hail the KR D.C. bureau.
Name: Alan Breslauer
Hometown: Los Angeles & California
Have you heard whether former Supreme Sandra Day O'Connor kept a straight face when she stated that she was "against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning"? The hypocrisy of this statement, coming from the woman who is singly responsible for the most partisan reasoned document in the history of the country, cannot be overstated. Maybe Mrs. Swing Vote's memory went the way of her conservative states' rights philosophy when she attached her name to Bush v. Gore which was so partisan and unreasonable that it was accompanied by the highly irregular disclaimer limiting the decision to that one case. In addition to making mince meat of O'Connor's conservative ideology, Bush v. Gore had the practical effect of disenfranchising 51 million Americans. Where was O'Connor's concern for the constitution then? And it is difficult to interpret O'Connor's recent rulings on the Court as a defense of civil liberties or the constitution. In fact, her majority opinion in the Hamdi case significantly weakened civil liberties despite restoring limited habeas corpus rights. And for someone so worried and carrying around such a large burden on their shoulders, why did O'Connor choose not to make her speech available to the public? Additionally, if O'Connor's fears are heartfelt, her abdication of her swing vote on the Court during these perilous times is borderline immoral. While O'Connor may have a case of buyer's remorse, her concerns appear more selfish than genuine. Like many Republicans, she is more likely attempting to free herself of future responsibility for the ugly aftermath of Bush's policies without completely jumping ship. Unfortunately, O'Connor helped put in motion a tidal wave that has already grown so fierce that no one is likely to escape its destruction.
Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
I am dismayed but not surprised that so few Democrats are willing to stand with Senator Feingold and his censure resolution. All "progressives" continue to be disgusted with the timidity of the Democratic party; for this writer, this fearfulness no longer passes any test of reason. First, the Democrats need to realize that no matter which Democratic politician or position is in question - they or it WILL be slimed. If we ran a member of the Third Reich, the Fox/Limbaugh propaganda apparatus would scarcely cease using its favorite epithet "liberal." We must get used to this, because a lot of money was spent to erect said propaganda machine. It has been quite successful, and it is not going to suddenly go away. Currently, Democrats have the enviable if never-utilized advantage of being able to counter any criticism of any advocated position with the simple "Where has the current policy gotten us?" Has there ever been a better time to take on the raging talking heads of the right? Next, and closely connected to the preceding, is the idea that even trying to be in the political center - if that's the best these cowards can do - does not mean using centrist tactics. The American people are, if polls are anywhere near accurate (somehow it's only those darned Ohio exit polls that seem so inaccurate), more than ready to hear "the frauds and felonies" of Bush & Corp. described forcefully and honestly. I believe we are also ready to see dramatic tactics used, even if we do not currently have the power to do more than that. All of this is by way of saying the Republicans have played hardball, every day and on every issue, for a long time. The sooner the Democrats stop treating this as a local beer league softball game, the sooner we understand that they are never going to like us or say good things about us, the sooner we can begin to try to correct some of the disasters that represent the Bush Administration's legacy. If we must use negative campaigning and monotonous propaganda, so be it. We certainly aren't short of material for negative campaigning, are we? If we are afraid of the likes of Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, or for that matter Bill Frist, how can we expect the American people to trust us against Al Qaida?
Name: Grouchy Cowboy
Hometown: Fort Rock, Oregon
Re/ Old Navy Guy: Nicholas Pisano's letter came very close to bringing tears to my one good eye! This kind of reading keeps me sane. I would have loved to serve under him, and might very well have made a career in the Navy, but regrettably, I never had that kind of inspiration. The Korea mess was different, but similar, and we just never got a handle on why the hell we were there. I hope this generation of service people don't come back as disillusioned as my group. It had me down on upper echelon military for a long time, and I still have no faith in the large majority of them. With good reason, I find almost daily. Thank God for the few who stand and deliver!
Name: Matt Clarke
Hometown: Rockland, Maine
The discussion of Bretton Woods needs to go on to point out that BW was an insufficiently democratic system for Keynsians and a plan existed to make the system democratic but it lost favor or was ignored if favor of USA and Brit hegemony. It was a good thing but it now needs re-examination and another ALTERNATIVE system of international financial architecture created that will do as well or better. Nobody is "in charge," nor is economic subordinated to the common good so the highest value realized is the good of the multinationals and that does not bode well for Earth and humans. You should cover the economists who see this like Davidson and others, and beef up the dialogue in DEPTH. Great work you are doing here! THANKS!
Name: Peter Alaimo
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
The error of the interwar years was economic isolation, not political and military disengagement. The world will always have conflict. And yes, there is a need for economic interaction in the world. But it is a non sequitur to say that requires U.S. political and military engagement everywhere. Rooseveltian foreign policy, like all U.S. foreign policy since Wilson, was utopianism backed up with force. The unspeakable bloodletting of the twentieth, and now the twenty-first, century is the result. We need a "Bretton Woods," agreed. We do not, emphatically, need an "Atlantic Charter" to send yet another generation of American young men off to be slaughtered to no point. Wilson's "War to End All Wars" started in 1918 and we are still fighting it, still uselessly sending our young off to be killed and to kill.
Name: Carl Conetta
Hometown: Project on Defense Alternatives
The Project on Defense Alternatives has just posted three Web documents that I hope you will find useful and interesting. Two are compendiums linking to hundreds of full-text articles on 1. The nature of the Iraqi insurgency; and, 2. The emerging US-India Strategic Relationship. Each encompasses a wide range of views.
The third is an essay on military transformation: "We Can See Clearly Now: The Limits of Foresight in the pre-World War II Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)".
These are "currently featured" items on the PDA home page.
Because of technical snags, possible FISA interceptions and the like, yesterday’s posting did not go up until the end of the day. So rather than lose that, today, we’ll just post Eric Rauchway’s extremely thoughtful review of a fine new work on FDR’s foreign policy. If that’s not your cuppa joe, just click here to get to yesterday’s post.
Altercation Book Club: A New Deal for the World
A New Deal for the World: America's Vision for Human Rights. Cambridge,
Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. vi+437 pp., illustrations, notes, and index. USD 35.00, cloth.
Reviewed by Eric Rauchway
Regular readers know that we at Altercation love us some Bretton Woods, or at least, we love those books that say something useful about Bretton Woods. Why? well, to the extent that the world did not fall into chaos after 1945 the way it did after 1918, it's owing largely to the successful imposition of an international order paid for by the Bretton Woods system. You wouldn't know it, of course, to pick up a textbook on U.S. history. They barely mention it — because, let's be honest here, there's more than a whiff of castor oil about Bretton Woods. It happens in the middle of 1944, and there's no shootin' in it. You could be talking about the aftermath of D-Day, the battle for Guam, or at least the Port Chicago explosion, and instead you want to talk about piddling stuff like the management of international economic relations? Please. We prefer the clash of armies to the vaporings of economists and diplomats.
Yet, of course, it's Bretton Woods that rules after 1945 (or, really, 1947: but more on that below), it's Bretton Woods that makes for an era of speedy and widely distributed economic growth in the world. It would be stretching only a little to say that it's Bretton Woods that wins the Cold War. And Elizabeth Borgwardt wants you to know that, and to know why the U.S. backed Bretton Woods, why there was something immensely moral about that choice, and what it means that we don't want to do things like that anymore.
Borgwardt's book runs through the key elements of the 1944-45 effort to establish a postwar system — the Bretton Woods agreements, the United Nations agreement, and the Nuremberg trials — all of which built on the 1941 Atlantic Charter. She makes an effective and clear case that the U.S. was trying to create in these institutions a New Deal for the world. It's a great little study, and another reason to agree with Grover Norquist that the people who beat back the Depression and the Nazis and the Commies were pursuing a single project. Of course, to Norquist that project was " un-American." But as Borgwardt notes, it's what most of the rest of the world understood, till recently, as The American Way. To the extent that you like that, along with its usual side-helpings of truth and justice, not to mention peace and prosperity, you may find Norquist's pronouncements and Borgwardt's story usefully alarming.1
1. The Atlantic Charter
When FDR met Churchill aboard ship in mid-Atlantic in the summer of 1941, the U.S. was not yet an ally, only an arms dealer, in the war against Nazism. Yet FDR knew generally where the conflict must lead. He had already told an aide "the world is getting so small" it was impossible for the U.S. to make its way without regard for what even "the people in Java" think. As Borgwardt writes, "The Atlantic Charter was part of an effort on Roosevelt's part to 'prepare' the hearts of the American public for an increasingly activist, multilateralist foreign policy." (43) Americans needed to build more and more reliable connections between nations, and diminish the ability of any one nation to do as it pleased.
Hence the importance of the Charter's key, sixth clause:
... after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they [i.e., FDR and Churchill] hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.
Have a look at that, carefully: the guarantee was made to "all the men in all the lands," not to all the governments or all the peoples or nations, but to all the men, whatever boundaries surrounded them.
Borgwardt is very good on the extent to which the Charter was a bit of theater: there was no actual Charter, per se; there was a telegram, signed on behalf of both men by FDR. It cost the Americans less than it did the British, who by signing on were committing to an ideal which meant the dissolution of the Empire, but it didn't cost either of them much. The Charter wasn't, Churchill insisted, a law.
And yet: it was a powerfully corrosive ideal, subscribed to by the two men most nearly empowered to speak on behalf of resistance to tyranny. Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi seized on the implications of the Charter for the subject peoples of the British empire; likewise W. E. B. DuBois on its implications for African Americans. Suddenly the power of the U.S. and the British Empire stood behind the rights of all the men in all the lands — even the men in the U.S. and the British Empire. This is what happens when you stick up for human rights — at least, this is what happens if you've any integrity, or shame — you've got to recognize how far you fall short of the ideal yourself.
The idea of the war against Nazism as a war for freedom from fear and want resonated throughout the world and echoed in the later treaties and charters the Allies signed. These echoes of the Atlantic Charter heralded the modern concept of human rights that would find fuller expression in the UN charter and the briefs at Nuremberg. They became rights you had no matter where you lived, and the people who had the power were prepared, at least in principle, to guarantee them.
2. New Deal foreign policy
But the New Deal as we know it wasn't about human rights, it was about solving the problems of the Great Depression. So how was the Atlantic Charter a New Deal for the world? A few ways:
As to that second point, we should emphasize "unreflective" because like the New Deal, the Atlantic Charter and its descendants enjoyed a vigorous disregard for intellectual consistency. Where do these human rights come from? You can say religion, you can say human empathy; Roosevelt didn't care much what people said, so long as they were willing to sign up.
Which is one reason why, when ideals got reduced to policies, as in the United Nations charter, the ideals took a back seat to power: despite the bluster emanating from white supremacists and our ambassador to the UN, the United Nations was (and remains) self-evidently and essentially a creature of the victors in WWII, whose Security Council authority trumps anything Kofi Annan and the General Assembly can say or do. Same goes for the Nuremberg idea of "crimes against humanity" — it only meant anything with the victors of WWII behind it.
But the lineage stretching from the Atlantic Charter to the UN and Nuremberg isn't the most interesting part of Borgwardt's narrative, though it's smart and well-written. The most interesting part is the effort to address point (3) above. The statesmen of the 1940s realized you couldn't just have armies and ideals and wars; you needed a plan to preserve and pay for the peace. The victors of WWII had to stand behind that plan, too. And that plan was called, of course, Bretton Woods.
3. Footing the bill
In Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1944, some 700 delegates from 44 countries met to establish the new economic order for the world. Their guiding principle was simply, don't let the 1920s happen again. After World War I, the U.S. was the world's great creditor. Rather than invest its resources in restoring something like the global open markets of the nineteenth century — instead, that is, of acting as Great Britain had in the Victorian era — the U.S. raised its tariffs, restricted immigration, and in the end failed to direct sufficient investment overseas. Other countries raised their tariffs; internal migration slowed; reconstruction occurred slowly if at all. Eventually this unworkable system of immovably locked parts sheared off enough gear-teeth to kick off the Great Depression.
The disasters of the previous peace ensured greater attention this time around. As John Maynard Keynes, the principal British participant at Bretton Woods, said, "after World War I, everyone had wanted to get back to the simpler, idyllic world of 1913. But in the wake of World War II, 'no one wants to go back to the world of the 1930s.'" (133) You couldn't let countries all by themselves decide what their economic relations to the world would be. You needed a system, with rules. Otherwise economic struggle would lead again to military struggle. The complex system of currency stabilization (see, I told you it was hard to make this more exciting than the battle for Guam) that emerged at Bretton Woods was the major instrument for keeping the peace.
The way to do it was to make provisions for reconstruction and for keeping economic channels open between countries. Two international institutions came of this: for reconstruction, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (better known as the World Bank), and for managing temporary hiccups in the international accounts, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Like the Atlantic Charter, these ideas dated to the late summer of 1941. And like the Atlantic Charter, they were understood differently by their British and American proponents. The British, under Keynes, wanted the IMF to create emergency money out of nothing, rather as central banks do today; the Americans, under Harry Dexter White, saw themselves having to accept this funny money for debts to the U.S. and instead proposed that the IMF operate exclusively on contributed capital.
They struggled over these concepts through the next few years, and the Americans won. Like the New Deal's crown jewel, the Social Security system, the IMF was a contributory insurance program. And as with Social Security, the IMF was a contributory insurance program not because anyone thought it would function better that way, but because people in the FDR White House thought Congress wouldn't go for any program that was more generous with U.S. resources.
As Borgwardt notes, the result of American triumphs at Bretton Woods was a typical New Deal system inasmuch as it used government power for recovery from economic disaster (the World Bank) and reform to ensure such disasters did not occur again (the IMF).
It was also a typical New Deal system inasmuch as it was "manifestly unequal to its paper mandate". (127) The New Deal at home was never really big enough — never Keynesian enough — to do its job. Assessing what Southern Democrats and Republicans would allow them to do, rather than what the economy actually needed, the Roosevelt administration fell repeatedly short of a spending program adequate to lift the country out of the Depression. Only the scale of wartime spending was finally Keynesian enough to do the trick.2
The same went for Bretton Woods: the system was too small and straitened to do its job, and the U.S. wouldn't go for more. Until, that is, in 1947 the pressures of the Cold War made greater spending seem a good idea. Then the dollars flowed out, the system became more Keynesian, and began at last to function. Americans had to spend their resources on the improvement of other peoples in their own interest, and only the advance of Communism made them realize it.
The extent to which Bretton Woods looked like the New Deal defined the extent to which, like the New Deal, it was not quite up to the job. That it later worked showed how much, in the name of its own security, the U.S. was willing to give up its unilateralist desires, and embed itself in a multinational network of rules. Standing behind those rules, the U.S. was the guarantor of orderly liberty, or the nearest thing to it, for a generation.
4. What now?
Borgwardt is quite candid, as it happens I think historians should be, about the present-day relevance of her work. She concludes by arguing that it was an "expanding conception of the national interest" that underwrote the postwar systems of international rules. Americans became multilateralists because in an increasingly interconnected world there was no way for them to protect themselves otherwise.
This is the truly conservative argument to make on behalf of revising the present foreign policy. We know that arguments made on behalf of rights will go nowhere. We know they went nowhere even when FDR was president. But arguments made on behalf of national interest might at least stand a chance of working.
Our world is an interconnected one, and our effort to disconnect ourselves from it in the 1920s led to utter disaster in the 1930s. Just as in the 1940s, we need a renewed internationalist effort to preserve our interconnected world and our place in it. "Just as even the boldest policies of the New Deal were on some level fundamentally conservative, serving as the 'savior of capitalism,' so too might the international economic institutions that grew out of the Atlantic Charter yet save globalization — if they are bold enough." (261) Preserving American capitalism in the 1930s meant setting rules that even the most powerful had to obey. Preserving global capitalism today is also going to mean setting rules that even the most powerful must obey.
The only way our interconnected world can survive is if everyone sees the benefit of staying in the game. Sticking up for our rights means sticking up for everyone's rights; preserving our prosperity means pointing a way toward everyone's prosperity. Preserving our credibility means playing by the rules. Respect for the rule of law is a political choice, and one that we should again make synonymous with The American Way, in our own interest.
¹For a non-Norquist statement about the unity of this project, see David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression andWar, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
²“Fiscal policy, then, seems to have been an unsuccessful recovery device in the ’thirties—not because it did not work, but because it was not tried.... [I]t took the massive expenditures forced on the nation by the second world war to realize the full potentialities of fiscal policy.” E. Cary Brown, “Fiscal Policy in the ’Thirties: A Reappraisal,” American Economic Review 46, no. 5 (December 1956): 857-79; 863-66, 869.
The gang that couldn't do anything straight: Moussaoui is the tip of the dirty iceberg
This is too easy. Did they think that nobody was paying attention? They've lost Bin Laden, screwed up Afghanistan, completely wrecked Iraq, destroyed our fiscal future, left us completely vulnerable on homeland security, ignored the threats to New Orleans, messed up its recovery, thrown science out the window, attacked our civil liberties, undermined freedom of the press, you know the drill. Why is anyone surprised that they are both incompetent and dishonest when it comes to seeking justice for the terrorist murder of thousands of Americans? Take a look a this L.A. Times report on the screw-ups that preceded the Moussaoui Case. Here are some highlights:
The government has seen juries reject high-profile terrorism charges, judges throw out convictions because of mistakes by the prosecution and the FBI suffer the embarrassment of wrongly accusing an Oregon lawyer of participating in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
On several occasions, top administration officials have promised more than they delivered. For example, then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft announced in 2002 that Jose Padilla, a Bronx-born Muslim, had been arrested on suspicion of "exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or 'dirty bomb,' in the United States."
Padilla was held nearly four years in a military brig without being charged. This year, as his lawyers appealed his case to the Supreme Court, the administration indicted him in Miami on charges of conspiring to aid terrorists abroad. There was no mention of a "dirty bomb."
In May 2004, the FBI arrested Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer and Muslim convert, saying that his fingerprint was on a bag containing detonators and explosives linked to the Madrid train bombings that had killed 191 people two months before. The former Army officer was held as a material witness even though officials in Spain considered the fingerprint evidence inconclusive.
Mayfield was freed after almost three weeks in custody and received an apology from the FBI, which blamed the misidentification on a substandard digital image from Spanish authorities.
In other instances, prosecutors took cases to court that proved to be weak:
- A computer science student in Idaho was accused of aiding terrorists when he designed a website that included information on terrorists in Chechnya and Israel. A jury in Boise acquitted Sami Omar Al-Hussayen of the charges in June 2004.
- A Florida college professor was indicted on charges of supporting terrorists by promoting the cause of Palestinian groups. A jury in Tampa acquitted Sami Al-Arian in December.
- Two Detroit men arrested a week after the Sept. 11 attacks were believed to be plotting a terrorist incident, in part based on sketches found in their apartment. A judge overturned the convictions of Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi after he learned that the prosecutor's key witness had admitted lying to the FBI, a fact the prosecutor had kept hidden.
Here's the beauty part:
In a recent report on its terrorism prosecutions, the Justice Department called Moussaoui's decision last year to plead guilty to conspiracy charges one of its leading successes.
Oh and a quote of the day: "I don't think in the annals of criminal law there has ever been a case with this many significant problems." — U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, overseeing the Moussaoui case.
You people sure were late in getting the news.
This is useful: Through FOIA, The Memory Hole as obtained all 12 reports from State Dept's unheeded Future of Iraq Project, which might have saved us much of the trouble in which we find ourselves today. They're here.
You can also find the GLBT Web pages that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration deleted at the request of a
Christian right group here.
Following Paul McLeary, Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, that appears in the upcoming New York Review of Books (and at TomDispatch.com on-line) offers a vivid, rolling, roiling description of journalistic life under guard and under the gun in Baghdad today. Here.
Keep in mind, this is CNN. (Otherwise, why would we care?)
Petey sent me Josh's item on the Evil Twin Theory, here. It sounds crazy, but curiously, my parents have been using that same excuse since my high school days.
You know why it's good to be HBO when negotiating with ancillary cast members of " The Sopranos?" Because you can always decide to end the talks by getting them whacked. It could happen to any of them. Even Tony's family members. Even Tony. The guy who thought this up was a genius.
Congrats to our friend and extremely occasional Altercation essayist, Sean Wilentz for this well deserved award.
It ain't easy bein' Monica.
Care about which magazine covers sell? Magazines do, here.
Two things about nothing:
- In Green Bay, they serve "cheese and beer soup." It's not bad.
- On my block this week, Adam Sandler and Liv Tyler are filming one of those movies that requires at least a dozen movie trucks. The last time I saw so many movie trucks in one place, Babs was trying to get Nick Nolte to emote about his inner child. That Sandler fellow, he's big.
Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
The Road Back Home: III
Unlike many soldiers, I do not live on a military base. I have, many times, but here in Washington, D.C., there just are not many bases with housing available.
I live on Capitol Hill. It is a pretty neighborhood, well suited to a historian, if not to an infantryman. Within three hundred yards of my house there are three coffee houses, two used bookstores, the only remaining 19th Century "market," and a nice park with a statue of Lincoln. It is a ten-minute walk for me if I want to go attend any open hearings of, say, the House Armed Services Committee or do research in the Library of Congress.
It is, in other words, about as far as you can get from where I was before. Just how far away the war actually is, however, sometimes escapes me. The other day I was reminded of the distance.
Getting off the Metro after work, I walked over to my local organic food store. The store, "YES!," is a couple of steps off my normal path. There are not a lot of people who frequent this store in full camouflage. But it is convenient, I was on my way home, and they have some things that I like. They also have beer.
I arrived at the register with just a few items; some hummus, tzaziki, pita bread, soymilk creamer, and a can of Foster's Lager. The cashier made a joking comment, asking if I was old enough for the beer. I did not quite understand him, but laughed along and said, "Yea, I think so." His intended punchline, I think, was a riff off the old theme about how our younger soldiers are, "Old enough to fight, but not old enough to drink." I do not think that he meant anything by this comment, he was just trying to be polite and make conversation. On Capitol Hill, well, periodically I perceive that my uniform makes some people feel a tad unbalanced or nervously uncomfortable. My uniform is not "normal" here.
I responded conversationally with a smile and noted that in Iraq nobody is "old enough," since the military is under blanket orders which prohibit any alcohol at all.
"Oh," the cashier responded, ringing up the last of my items and perhaps noting that I have a taste for Mediterranean/Arabic food, "well you guys [in Iraq] get out to, like, restaurants and stuff, right? Does it apply there too? Like when you go out to dinner?"
Yes, the war, even the idea of war, is very far away from this place.
CAPITOL HILL WITHIN EARSHOT:
I had friends over on Sunday for a pancake and Bloody-Mary brunch. These were men I served with in Baghdad who had arrived home earlier. Our families met, the children played, and the conversations flowed. As a byproduct our respective spouses/fiancés learned a little more about the lives their men lived in Iraq. It was nice.
Some Altercation readers might find this interesting.
You can write to Major Bob at Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com.
Name: John Goodhart
Hometown: Groveland, CA
Just wanted to say thank you to Nicholas Pisano for his comments. He is definitly one person that cannot be accused of hating the military. He has such a genuine view of the realities of military service that is so seldom heard from military personnel. Killing or being killed is serious business. It should not be entered into lightly. This administration should personally feel guilty for every American service person killed or maimed for its war. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths rest squarely on their shoulders also. When is it OK for our military to refuse to pay the price for political expedience? Our young people go willingly into this maelstrom because they believe in our country and its leaders. Then they find out that they are there for false reasons. That their sacrifices have made that nation worse off than under a dictator. No wonder they refuse to believe it. The leaders of this shipwreck should be punished for it just as a Captain of a ship who's incompetence caused his ship to go down would. Court marshal and dishonorable discharge. The Commander in Chief bears no less responsibility for the ship of state.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Dr. Alterman, in regards to the John VT-Major Bob-Master Chief Welten discussion, I just wanted to point out that of all the blogs I've seen on the net, this is the only one where I have witnessed such healthy debate about the matter that actually includes servicemen and their invaluable insights. It's been very informative and has steered clear of name calling or patriotic shouting matches (unlike many other sites) which is a credit to your readership. The most shocking thing about the 90% figure (if it's accurate) is that, to a civilian like myself, it would be an absolute tragedy to think that these men/women who are potentially laying down their lives, would be so severely misinformed. If anyone deserves a straight answer from this administration, it's these guys. It's encouraging to know that there are many soldiers out there who are still thinking critically about the motives and methods of their "superiors." Time and again we see examples of where the boss is a moron but his employees are not. It's good to see that while performing their duties admirably and with utmost loyalty, many of our servicemen are still not oblivious to the incompetence of their boss.
Name: Pern Opland
Hometown: Denver, CO
With regard to the letter by Nicholas Pisano of Destin, Florida. I read your blog almost daily, but I have never felt the need to write in until reading this former Navy officer's letter. I thought it was fantastic. I think he hits on several points not usually discussed, namely the perceived canonization of the military. I wanted to write to voice my support for Mr. Pisano's bold letter. I found immense value in his credible views. If it isn't too much trouble, please pass along my support. As well, enjoy your time with the salt of the earth people of the Badger state, where I was raised to know the true meaning of the word progressive.
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida
In response to "Mr" Pisano's recent comment, I could not have said it better myself. For the civilians out there, the military services are a reflection of the society from which they come. The basic beliefs and personalities of all service members are formed long before they put on the uniform. We are not "automans" or machines. The way I see it, my duty was to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," and that included the right of my fellow Americans, including other service members, under the First Amendment, to have a different opinion than mine. This concept is what has made America great: not money or profit. I highly doubt you could get many people to fight and die for the "bottom line." However they will fight, even against horrendous odds, for their buddies and their ideals. And, to the Master Chief, Major Bob, Mr. Pisano and his sons I say, "Gentlemen: It is a privilege to have served with you" even though our posts have not been the same, and we may disagree on everything. From a retired old USAFR JAG.
Name: Larry Wilson
Hometown: Houston, TX
I knew Townes Van Zandt a bit during 71 and 72. My girlfriend, Nancy Baldwin, the First Lady of the Montrose area, was good friends with Townes and Lightnin' Hopkins, and we'd go down to the Family Hand Restaurant in Houston and watch them almost every week, or go into the black clubs and watch Lightnin'. It's been years since I've heard Townes' name, and it is heartening to see Townes finally get the respect that he's been due. Imagine my surprise when KPFT, in its fundraising drive, started talking about this new movie! I had no idea that anyone knew who Townes was. (Also, no one I know remembers Don Sanders, either - a great songwriter and a really funny guy; wrote a song about waiting for his coffee to boil.) I won't go see the movie; the way I remember Townes is not the way I hear him depicted now. He was always a gentleman around Nancy and I, and I'd rather remember him as I knew him back then. Townes - rest in peace, bro.
Why Does Sandra Day O’Connor Hate America?
(and why is it in a foreign newspaper?)
This seems important. Sandra Day O’Connor, a conservative Republican ex-Supreme Court Justice spoke at Georgetown last week. The only reporter present was NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Nobody else covered the speech, but here’s what she said: attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.
And while she didn’t name Tom Delay, you could not mistake her target. She quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ one-time-only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor.
It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with, as Texas senator John Cornyn suggested after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. For more, you can listen to NPR or go to an um, foreign newspaper, here. [ed note: that link appears to be down, the NPR link is here.]
If you remember my Sundance post, you might remember that Kiehl’s was one of the only corporations present to take the opportunity to do the world some good. Now, as part of a campaign having something to do with Ultra Facial Cream, which was tested in May 2005 on the Greenland Expedition sponsored by Kiehl’s and led by Robert Anderson, Kiehl’s is partnering with the NRDC to save Greenland. They’ve created a Web site here (will be live April 22) and with this Web site, Kiehl’s will donate for the first 500,000 clicks on the site to save Greenland. Visitors to site are invited to “Just click and Kiehl’s will make a donation on your behalf to save Greenland." Nothing I like better than cheap grace. Thanks Kiehl’s.
I gotta fly to Green Bay so that’s all for today.
What’s Shakin? And Great Lost Singles:
I’ve been listening to two wonderfully, almost crazily eclectic collections from the early days when folk and white blues music met psychedelia in the person of Jac Holzman founder of Elektra Records, and while nothing, exactly, went right back then, the stuff sounds like a blast today. The first record What’s Shakin’, a long-out-of-print 1966 anthology that featured the Lovin’ Spoonful, Eric Clapton’s Powerhouse (featuring Steve Winwood, Manfred Mann and Paul Jones, produced by Joe Boyd), Al Kooper, Tom Rush and the Butterfield Blues Band. The historical circumstances that led to this record are pretty weird but you can read about them once you get it. Then there’s Great Lost Elektra Singles, Vol. 1 featuring The Beefeaters (comprised of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark, precursors to The Byrds), The Stalk-Forrest Group (the band that mutated into Blue Oyster Cult, and featuring songs penned by Richard Meltzer, Albert Bouchard and Allen Lanier), plus rare non-album singles by Judy Collins, David Ackles, Eclection (featuring Sandy Denny’s husband Trevor Lucas), Phil Ochs and Judy Collins. You can read all about them, here and here. (My only complaint: At only 32 minutes, the singles collection coulda been much longer.)
Name: Bill Heber
Hometown: Torrance, Calif.
Hi Eric; As I read Andrew Sullivan's response to Krugman's article, several phrases seemed to leap out at me. Phrases like "But some of us, in the days after 9/11, did not immediately go into partisan mode,..." and "...knee-jerk response immediately after 9/11 was to blame America, and whose partisanship, like Krugman's, was so intense they had already deemed Bush a failure before he even had a chance." and on and on. Apparently, to Mr. Sullivan, everybody who opposed the war whose political philosophy was to the left of Attila the Hun did so out of liberal/anti-Bush prejudices. Not because we could see why Bush's father didn't take out Saddam in '91. Not because Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda. Not because we wanted the UN inspections completed before any other actions be considered. Not because we wanted Afghanistan fought properly with the full devotion of our manpower and resources. Nope, we just hated Bush. We couldn't possibly have understood the perilous unforeseen consequences of this war. To Sullivan, we must be too stupid to have thoughts like that. That would require "first rate minds".
Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, FL
Old Navy guy here. I just returned from interviewing and meeting returnees and refugees from the devastated part of the United States on no one's mind formerly known as the City of New Orleans (and environs) but more on that at another time. I write in response to John from Vermont, Major Bob and the good Master Chief. As a retired senior Navy officer I have some direct experience with military topics. My continued involvement comes in many ways. Most significantly my son recently left the Marine Corps and was in both the Afghanistan invasion and the drive into Baghdad. My son-in-law served in Iraq as a "ground pounder" in the Army, having been called up from the Guard. He's an inactive reserve member and is being called up again to the end of his obligation to be sent back to Iraq.
Military members are like everyone else, especially a professional military in times like this one, in which national survival is not at stake. I can hear the howls now-but I challenge anyone to tell me how a well-financed terrorist organization of a couple of thousand members can threaten the nation to such an extent that an extraordinary and unprecedented consolidation of power in the executive and the violation of political rights and civil liberties (apart from the lies, corruption and abuse of power that seem to go hand-in-hand with these other actions) are necessary compared to, say, the Cold War where we faced the old Soviet Union with its sophisticated intelligence infrastructure, modern military and nuclear weapons that could (and we did come to the brink) wipe us off the map in a matter of minutes? Or how it compares to World War II where both Japan and Germany-two of the largest economies and military powers in the world at the time-were dedicated to our destruction and waged total war against us?
This is a fake war manufactured by cowards to hide their insecurities and to make money. Nor do military members have the inside track on virtue or truth (which should be self-evident). Only in fascist countries is the military held to a higher level of respect or position than a citizen. When I served I was doing a job. It was one that I felt required the highest ethical and moral conduct since the authority given me as a senior officer was quite weighty: one that flowed from the laws of the land. It is a necessary discipline because we all are only people-other citizens---and possess the same weaknesses, which-apart from all of the other stupidities to which one can become susceptible-includes the ability to be corrupted by power. There are military people who try to do the right thing, who obey the laws of the land, are professional and compassionate-like Major Bob and the Master Chief. But there are also those who commit crimes, abuse their authority and lead reprehensible lives. This is aside from the run-of-the-mill idealists, bootlickers, politicians, opportunists and careerists. Like the society that creates it, the military is generally representative of that society in terms of human frailties and virtues.
These common sense observations should go without saying, but a mystique seems to have grown around our military placing its members beyond criticism, especially convenient to those who would use it for questionable ends. The members of certain political and economic classes have aligned themselves with the military and, as a result, have through that alignment attempted to appropriate this mystique for their own gain. Some military members have been all too happy to oblige, further compromising their own legitimacy. Thus I think it is time to talk about the military tradition concerning the concept of accountability that seems to have been forgotten.
To the general public (and to the non-Sea Services) this is often and sadly a hard concept to grasp, but it is a necessary one for those who are given responsibility for decisions that can make the difference between life and death. After all, the sea is unforgiving. One who is given unique authority over others who falls short of what it takes needs to be removed from doing any more harm than he or she may have already caused. You can delegate responsibility to someone to achieve a particular goal but you, as a Commissioned Officer (or a President), cannot escape the judgment of accountability. For example, when you are given the "con" on a U.S. Navy ship, you are accountable for everything that happens during your watch. No special pleading about conditions that may have existed before your assumption of that position will save you from harsh judgment should you run the ship aground, hazard your vessel unnecessarily or collide with another vessel. You voluntarily took the con and are expected to understand all important conditions prior to assuming command. Without accountability power lacks legitimacy and we are left with official lawlessness and despotism. The Master Chief, of all the writers, should know better and is being disingenuous when he shifts blame for 9/11 and other lapses of judgment and offenses committed by this Administration to previous ones. I fault the 9/11 Commission for the same dishonesty. The 9/11 attack, the cooked evidence for the Iraq invasion, the Katrina debacle, the abuse of power in domestic spying involving hundreds of thousands of Americans with no connection to al-Qaeda, the widespread corruption involving billions of dollars in misappropriated funds all occurred on the watch of this President. Some of these involved unforgivable acts of omission and others were acts of commission involving the abuse of power.
No one forced George W. Bush to be President. He pursued that office and insisted on taking it even when all indications were that such a claim lacked democratic legitimacy. He sought it a second time through artifice and ruthlessness, cynically knowing that the perspective of time and discovery would be too late to stop him from continuing to pursue these acts. The judgment of the President's acts will play out in the political sphere, but there is another concern that I believe it is imperative that we understand. That is, it is time for this standing and institutionalized volunteer military-which increasingly is being manipulated and used as a pawn by economic and political elites through a presumptuous executive branch-be brought back into the fold of democratic government through reform before it is too late and we suddenly realize that we have reason to fear it.
Hometown: Portland, OR
Unmitigated disaster Against the backdrop of Pres. Bush's recent round of speeches seeking to "shore up support" for the Iraq war (isn't this about the eleventh such round in the past three years?) is this article. A couple key points jump out. One is that the men and women in the military are remarkably brave to take on this fight, and ingenious in their responses. The other one is what an unmitigated disaster this war is. Just by the administration's own metrics, how can they claim any success at all in the "war on terror" if attacks have doubled from 2004 to 2005? Over 40 Americans a month are getting killed and maimed over there. What difference does it make if the victims of terror attacks are over there or over here? Americans and their families are still being attacked. In fact, please tell me how this war is making anyone anywhere safer. Heckuva job, Georgie.
Hometown: Indy: Blue in a sea of Red
Hi Dr. Alterman... What with all of President Bush's "please be patient" message with the failing Iraq War, the Guardian sums things up pretty neatly. Entitled, "When the cheerleaders admit they were wrong, we'll move on" the article's author, Madeleine Bunting, points out the shifting blame-game the Bush/Blair administrations are playing. By casting Iraqis as unstable and warring tribes, they will absolve themselves (and our countries) of any wrongdoing, and thus absolve themselves of manipulating the government, misleading citizens and circumventing the kinds of checks and balances our democracies once embraced and held dear. It will allow them to move on, and exhausted from the mess, we'll be inclined to move along with them -- and right into the next disastrous tragedy. Re: Townes Van Zandt. I sorta like the guy's work, but feel like everything I need to know was summed up in Lucinda's "Drunken Angel."
Good news for Bush: Armageddon
It seems his utter failure to deal with the potential (!) nuclear threat from Iran -- except by helping to turn Iraq into a partial Islamic theocracy and thereby exacerbating it -- turns out to have been a smart move politically. Of course the downside could be war, Armageddon, etc., but hell, we liberals will always find something to whine about.
Here’s how Time’s White House source puts it here: “With little hope of getting much legislation passed in an election year, Bush plans to stay relevant through an aggressive schedule of fund raising and rally stops for Republican candidates, most of whom are still eager for presidential visits. One Bush adviser sees political promise for the President in a nuclear peril. ‘Certainly, there's going to be a serious showdown on Iran,’ he said. ‘He's very relevant on that, and that may help his numbers a little bit.’ Through the challenges, the President has kept his human touch….”
PEJ State of the News Report is here.
The KR sale to McClatchy (it’s apparently a best-case scenario but still too early to tell) here.
Fukuyama vs. BHL here. Get it while it’s hot
On Johnny Cash here.
More on Krugman’s direct hit, and the personal history it is inspiring some to rewrite, here. (I would link to the entire response, but it’s so sad, it would make you cry, and this ain’t that kind of blog.) Also, he takes up McCain here today, offering further evidence that I am unnecessary.
I’ll be speaking at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Wednesday morning, at 10 on “How Liberalism Became a Dirty Word.”
Townes Van Zandt and James Hunter
Townes Van Zandt - Be Here to Love Me here.
By Laurel Cook
"I want to write a song so good that no one understands it, including
me." Townes Van Zandt
Why do we read biographies and watch bio-documentaries of great artists? Don't great works of art stand on their own? I have mostly managed to avoid them when it comes to writers. About dead or long-lost songwriters I am less disciplined. In the last few years I have watched Inside Out: Warren Zevon, Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, and now, Be Here to Love Me, a documentary on the stunningly talented songwriter Townes Van Zandt (on sale March 14). I'm not an expert on Van Zandt, but I saw him in 1976 in Denver, alone with his guitar in a small club, before a very small audience. I leftbefore the concert was over. He was okay as a performer (I guess I know why now). It's his songs that fly: If I Needed You, Poncho &
Lefty, To Live is to Fly Along, Waitin' Around to Die, Flying Shoes, on and on. In Be Here Now substance abuse and mental derangement are Townes' constant companions. In the new movie, friends and fellow songwriters tell some long tedious stories about him, but these
stories sound different when they turn into songs.
The effects of his madness on his loved ones are seen in interviews with his children, especially the sad video of his daughter Katie Bell singing along with a Townes record and Steve Earle who is genuinely upset recounting some of Townes' crazy antics. In time those images will fade. Watching the doc did lead me to listen to all my Townes Van Zandt CDs. That was a real pleasure. He was a great songwriter.
James Hunter - PEOPLE GONNA TALK here.
By Sal, NYCD: First listen made everyone here at NYCD say "What the hell is this great '60s soul record, and how have we not heard it before?" The answer is because it's a new record by a 43 year old British guy. With a voice like Sam Cooke's and songs and arrangements right out of the Stax-Volt studio in Memphis, "People Gonna Talk" is an album that reaches back 40 years for its sound and style, but the singing, playing and songwriting are so good and spot-on that it never sounds gimmicky.
Name: Tom S
Hometown: Miami Beach, Florida
Eric: Brad is correct in pointing out that US citizens and assets were attacked worldwide throughout the last several administrations and that there had never been a public outcry for action prior to 9/11. But, Brad, you win arguments one point at a time. I was responding to Don Welten's statement: "And I would like to hear ANY member of the loyal opposition acknowledge the fact that the homeland hasn't been attacked since 9/11 - and that it's not "luck" or good karma - someone is doing something right somewhere..." This is a point made frequently by conservatives like Charles Krauthammer to justify aspects of the 'war on terror' or generally support Bush. Its part of the 'we fight them over there, so we do not have to fight them here' theme. Of course there is a greater global context, but instead of modifying the question, I addressed his point head on and limited my response to 'homeland attacks.' My goal was to expose his point as pretty meaningless because one could apply similar logic to Clinton's record yet, as I noted, the 9/11 Commission found fault with both administrations. Maybe I should have been more explicit. If Commander Master Chief Welten (and I apolgize to him for my sloppiness) would like to respond and expand the discussion to attacks on US citizens and assets worlwide, that would be weclome. Then we can compare what is currently going in the US, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere (including attacks on our allies), compare it to recent history and see what progress, if any, has been made and discuss how to change course. Finally, I would note that Don Welten ignored the Pillar piece, took umbrage with being called immature by another respondent and proceeded to call Richard Clarke a name. (If you do not use this in the blog, please forward it to Brad if its not difficult)
Brad from Arlington is basically right about Bush's culpability for 9/11. In retrospect, there were things that could have been done, but they wouldn't have had much support. Fiscal conservatives would have worried about how much they cost; libertarians wouldn't have wanted to give the government more surveilance power; progressives would have seen it as beating up on dark-skinned people for political gain; and so on. The political climate really did change radically on September 11. What Bush does deserve blame for is all the disastrous news since then: OBL on the loose, Iraq in crisis, deficits forever, Katrina response, Constitution under assault, and an administration with utter contempt for anything resembling debate, transparency, our accountability for its own actions. No aftereffects of the Clinton era explain these problems. Being "at war" (with or without an actual declaration) doesn't explain them. Negative media coverage doesn't explain them. And you don't need "irrational Bush hatred" to explain why a citizen might be frustrated or dismayed this this kind of performance in his or her president. Bush may have done some good things, and not everything bad in the world or the country is his fault. But he has done some *staggeringly* bad things, and he and his supporters have responded with nothing more than character assassinations of his critics.
Hometown: Toledo, OH
Eric, Does Brad from Arlington know why Tom S from Miami Beach stated that the US was not hit by foreign terrorists from 2/93 through 9/01 (The Clinton Years)? Tom was responding to Commander Master Chief Welton's belief that Bush's good policies are the reason the US hasn't been hit by foreign terrorists since 9/11. Tom S was simply using the same standard to conclude that Clinton's policies were better (US homeland hit by foreign terrorists: Clinton=0, Bush=1). Tom stated, "maybe someone, somewhere did something right during the Clinton years." I believe Tom is aware of the attacks against US interests throughout the globe during Clintons years, as I'm sure Chief Welton acknowledges all of the Al Quida attacks throughout the globe since 9/11 (such as: Al Quida in Iraq killing US troops).
However the Chief and Tom were specifically talking about the US Homeland being attacked. Brad appears to have taken this debate out of context so that he could ruminate about how Tom and other anti-Bush Americans are ignorant rubes brainwashed by new cycles and thus unaware of reality. Brad got on his high horse and said: "I do not blame any administration for failing to act, because prior to 9/11, there was no massive public outcry or support for substantive action against terrorism. The vast majority of Americans merely chose to be shocked for a news cycle at each event and then continue on in its collective ignorant bliss, secure in the belief that no one could really hate the US."
To borrow a phrase, Brad "appears to have a short memory regarding several rather important events during that time period". Let me refresh Brad's memory about the lack of public outcry prior to 9/11 and the reason for what he calls the "ignorant bliss" of Americans regarding threats to our way of life. Prior to 9/11 the US was embroiled in a ridiculous impeachment of President Clinton because he had a girlfriend. When the USS Cole was attacked, Clinton has a national address and then launched an attack against Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Why no national outcry or further retaliation? Because the US media, and Congress, continued on with their impeachment shenanigans and referred to Clinton's counter-attack as "wagging the dog." (let's all say it together: what liberal media?). If Clinton would have invaded Iraq in retaliation of the USS Cole bombing then even the authors of PNAC would have mocked him.
The US public was being "wagged" by the Conservative behemoth run by Limbaugh and Hannity and Ralph Reed. These fellow conservatives of Brad's, who are now so indignant at what they perceive as Clintons "appeasement" of Islamofacism, were too busy saving the world from blow jobs and brainwashing Americans into sharing their contempt to have shared in Clinton's reaction to the attack.
Hometown: Schroon Lake, NY
I think David Joyce made a couple errors in his note. If a league is 3 miles then 20,000 leagues is 60,000 miles not 60,000 feet. The radius of the earth is approx. 4000 miles. The diameter is twice that. His last sentence ("This system will destroy a vehicle (like perhaps a cruise missle), or a ship, or perhaps 10 times the area of the firestorm attacks in WWII, anywhere, anytime, and with merely the flick of a switch, all possibly in the hands of depraved criminals like Cheney or Bush.") contains no errors of fact or judgement as far as I can tell.
Name: Scott K.
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Eric, After reading the Krugman/Wells essay, I'm still afraid even most news people won't touch the taboo subject that modern healthcare pricing has absolutely no relation to the underlying costs. This article in the Times points out some of the most endemic problems in the drug industry, but this affects medical supplies across the board. Only in healthcare does the price increase in usage of the same product over many years regardless of any change in the substance of the product. Take the simple MRI for example, which most hospital's typically raise the price on at about a 5% markup a year (which is usually is actually an across the board increase in all prices). The machinery for performing these has been around for years, yet the price of getting one done always goes up for the average consumer, even the insurance company, but still the procedure gets more and more popular. One of the glaring problems in the healthcare industry is the artifical limits on the supply-side that allow companies to keep prices high for years beyond what they would be if they were in a different market. Compare the development of a consumer product like the television, to any medical technology product, and you can see the difference. The television started out as an expensive commodity, but after the supply base widened, even very high end models become cheaper and cheaper every year. Until some imagination and involvement by the government, of which there is virtually no hope, can help force the medical supplies business to widen its production base, healthcare costs are going to rise across the board every year with virtually legitimate no true rational other than that people will continue to pay it.
Hometown: Cincinnati OH
Stanley Crouch is a controversial and divisive figure (and a failed musician) with reactionary tastes and a tendency to go on drunken rants that haunt him later. As far as the music of John Coltrane is concerned, the only 'aesthetic abyss' is in Crouch's mind. "Jupiter Variation", as a particularly digestible example from the late period, is an uncompromising piece that nonetheless shows profound lyricism and linear sensibility, and just kicks ass, but Crouch apparently can't handle it. In the post Coltrane/Dolphy/Ayler/Cecil Taylor age, a litmus test for "swing" and dated styles of harmony -- whether bebop, "modern", or modal -- makes as much sense as slamming Hendrix for not tap dancing over rhythm changes while flashing pearly whites.
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