God is a concept ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Remember, when you see a headline that reads "Attacks in Iraq at Record High, Pentagon Says," here, you need to remember that these numbers are almost certainly under-reported. The Iraq Study Group pointed to one day last July when U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. "Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence," it said.

"The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases." It said, for example, that a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack, and a roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count, either. Also, if the source of a sectarian attack is not determined, that assault is not added to the database of violence incidents. More here.

Police state update. Official censorship, unrelated to security concerns ...

This is America. We use our money for wars against countries that present no threats against us, not to help the heroes who risked their lives on 9-11 as their own government lied to them about the health effects of breathing the air there. So quit whining ...

The McCain Suck-Up Watch continues, here.

One reason liberals are morally superior to right-wingers; We don't pretend to give you political advice like we give a shit. We don't. We want you to do stupid things and lose, just like you've been doing lately. You want the same things for us, but write this crap instead. Give us a break ...

A few words about God and politics:

I was walking across Central Park on my way to Bible-study class around 8:30 Saturday morning -- take that, Red States -- thinking about God's role in history. Long story short: I think it's zip, nada, null set, etc. Why? Look at Ahmet Ertegun. What kind of God would have killed him BEFORE the Stones show at the Beacon, rather than after? OK, look at the Holocaust, Cambodia, AIDS in Africa, honor killings for Islamic homosexuals, George W. Bush being the leader of the most powerful nation in human history, half the world living on less than $2 a day ... etc. Is there any justice on this earth? The only possible answer can be: Not that any of us can figure out. And if God is just (and merciful) then clearly, he's not around, or not interested, or non-existent. I don't profess to know whether God exists -- personally I think so, because I believe in a kind of intelligent design as the source of the order of the universe -- but that is, I think, as far as it goes. What's the upshot of all this deep thinking? Just this: If someone, say, George W. Bush, tells me that he is doing something or has done something because God willed it, I'd tell him to fuck off. Nobody knows God's will or can explain why the universe operates the way it does if the spirit they follow is, in fact, a benevolent one. (And if it's not, well, then it should be resisted as forcefully as possible.) In any case, most of the people throughout history who claim to know God's will have tended to get a lot of the rest of us killed, burnt, raped, tortured, pillaged, thrown out of planes (see below), and the like. The crucial distinction in political culture in the world today is between God and the Enlightenment; that is imposed theology or reason. Bush, Osama, Pat Robertson, and Fidel Castro are all on one side of this argument. (Marxism/Leninism is an ideological form of "God.") Those of us who think for ourselves are on the other. I'm all in favor of "religion in politics." This is after all, a religious country, and the most popular religion -- Christianity -- happens to be on my side in most things. Just don't tell me you know what "God" thinks about anything. You don't. For all you know, he thinks you should go to hell ...

Some more on Pinochet/Kirkpatrick

To: H-Diplo from Andy Kirkendall, Texas A&M University:

I have always been convinced that history ends up being more complicated than ideologues try to make it, and so I look forward to more useful discussions of these issues. I am puzzled that many seem to think that if one does not see Pinochet as having accomplished quite what people say he did (and ignoring, above all, Chilean history), one must therefore support Castro.

But let us make the Cuban comparison. I would agree that Cuba was, in many ways, more successful economically than most Latin American countries in the 1950s. It had a high literacy rate, and I have seen it ranked as high as #4 in GDP in Latin America prior to Castro's triumph in 1959. (Cubans had particularly high rates of ownership of radios and televisions and cars; they still have those same cars.) All well and good, and I don't feel any need to praise Castro's "stewardship" of the Cuban economy. But it cannot be said, in any case, that Cuba had a vibrant democracy prior to 1959 in the way that Chile certainly did (thus Pinochet could not have created a liberal democracy). Its democracy before Batista took over a few years before had been troubled at best, marked by violence and corruption; many Cubans had become disillusioned by the experience of democracy. If Cuba does become a dynamic and pluralistic democracy one day, as I hope that it will, I wonder to whom we will give historical credit.

On a not altogether unrelated point, since many in the press have portrayed Daniel Ortega as the equivalent of Castro (and I am not any more of a fan of Ortega than I am of Castro) and if his government could therefore not change, how can we can explain the fact that he chose to abide by the unforeseen results of the election of 1990 (as did, after all, in somewhat similar circumstances, Augusto Pinochet)?

To H-Diplo from Eric Alterman, CUNY

Rob MacNichol is at best imprecise and in my view, incorrect when he writes, "I believe all subsequent investigations into the 2000 Florida elections shows that Bush indeed won a majority in Florida which gave him the necessary Electoral votes to be elected to the Presidency." He is imprecise because there is no agreed-upon method of vote-counting; a process I remind him that was deliberately thwarted by the Supreme Court lest it conflict with the result of their decision. It is incorrect, in my view, because of the six different ways one could have chosen to count the votes, Al Gore won, minimally, five of them. Bush did win one -- thanks, undoubtedly to illegal disenfranchisement of many eligible voters as well as the clearly mistaken votes for Pat Buchanan by elderly Jewish residents who misunderstood their "butterfly" ballots -- only one of these. Typical of the incompetence of the Gore campaign, their lawyer, David Boies happened to pick the one counting method in which the campaign would have lost. This accounts for the misleading press coverage of the recount, but it does not support the view that Bush actually won a majority in Florida. In fact, if one takes the intent of voters as evidenced by the number of Buchanan voters in Jewish districts, the argument is simply untenable. If the will of a majority is reason enough to support a coup, then Chile -- or anyone else -- would have been within their rights to overthrow the Bush regime in 2001.

I have always had a soft spot for AJP Taylor even though he was wrong about a lot of things, because he wrote so well and operated with such independence of mind and spirit.

I saw Sean Penn give a speech about impeaching Bush and Cheney last night. Let me say without reservation, as a political analyst, Sean is a great, great actor. (Did you see Mystic River?) Oy vey, here it is.

From the Benton Foundation:

PTC WEIGHS IN AS FRIEND OF FCC [SOURCE: Broadcasting & Cable, AUTHOR: John Eggerton]

The Parents Television Council, filing for Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and citizens for Community Values, among others, has asked the U.S. Appeals Court for the Second Circuit in New York to uphold the FCC's cussing crackdown. PTC says the Commission has taken "affirmative steps for "decency" and community standards in the face of an "assault" by broadcasters. PTC concedes that indecency can be "difficult at times to define" in light of a nationwide community standard, but contends that a line must be drawn somewhere. In fact, says PTC, "if the FCC had ruled on the merits of each of the thousands of complaints which were in essence plea bargained away in the recent and various FCC consent decrees [including a November 2005 $3.5 million settlement with Viacom over all non-Janet Jackson complaints], both broadcasters and the public would have better guidance about what is or is not indecent." PTC alleges that networks rate their programs inaccurately on purpose so that advertisers won't be scared away from fare that is "too sexually charged or otherwise indecent." It also calls "utter rubbish" the contention that indecency law impinges on creative freedom, saying that most programmers have cable and other digital platforms to program with "indecent" material if they chose.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dan
Hometown:
Bloomsburg, PA

Thanks for your reference to one of the perennially topical songs by The Clash, the band that sparked my political awakening in the early 1980s. Since hearing of Pinochet's death the line "Please remember Victor Jara in the Santiago stadium..." has been echoing in my head.

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown:
Crestwood, NY

Darn, there it was again. Apparently things are much, much better in Israel than these anti-Semites like President Carter are letting on. First, we had the piece in the Washington Post excoriating Carter for using the word "apartheid," because it's well-known, to the writer though not to anyone else, that the settlers have been thoroughly discredited, and that the vast majority of Israelis are not going to let those jokers get away with their tricks for much longer. I suppose this Lieberman guy in the government will soon have to find another line of work. Well, that settles that, no pun intended of course.

And then today, we get this Larry Birnbaum fellow writing in, criticizing Mearsheimer for daring to suggest that Israel would use the Iraq War as a cover for continuing to grab more land. You know, sort of like continuing to expand settlements while negotiations are going on? As if that could ever happen! Mearsheimer better apologize to AIPAC, and make it snappy.

Name: Anthony Greco
Hometown:
New York, NY

Larry Birnbaum faults Eric Alterman for not mentioning Mearsheimer's "strident" warning about possible ethnic cleansing by Israel under Iraq war cover. But Birnbaum fails to mention that Mearsheimer was among nearly 1000 U.S academics who signed a letter expressing that concern, a letter initiated by Israeli scholars. One can certainly disagree with Mearsheimer's reasoning, but there was nothing "strident" in the quotes cited in the article Birnbaum linked to. As Benny Morris among others has shown, the idea of the "removal" of Palestinians from the land of Israel has a long Zionist pedigree.

Name: Douglas Wright
Hometown:
Fort Worth

Michael Richards has it about right. The Vietnam war protests were always about much more than the Vietnam war, and in retrospect they alienated vast segments of the American public who probably otherwise would have come to oppose the war.

"Law and Order" was the catchphrase in national elections from around 1966 through the 1970s, and that was often code for "elect me, and these hippie yippie commie bastards are toast."

Name: Terry
Hometown:
Cheyenne

Mr. Richard's observations could use more thought, deliberation, and footnotes. There were many questions leveled at the American public by polls during the war, such as should military operations "gradually broaden and intensify;" should there be an "all-out crash effort to try to win the war quickly," even in light of the fears of China or Russia entering the war; should the U.S. stay the course; or should the U.S. "discontinue the struggle and begin to pull out of Vietnam gradually in the near future." The answers to these queries by age group at varying times during that war would probably be very surprising to many now, but such considerations deserve better than the opinions offered by Mr. Richard.

I can't accept that "Johnson's problems stemmed from his liberal domestic policies, not from his war," either. It was the Vietnam War that was his political and personal undoing, not the expansive, popularly-supported legislation he shepherded through Congress. Unprecedented strides were made in education, civil rights, and Medicare was invented. Safety nets were provided the poor and disadvantaged. It took a very long time to "starve" those "beasts," to coin a phrase of derision so enjoyed by the right. Untold lives were saved and improved by those great legislative victories. It would be wonderful to see the numbers of people educated, fed, and given basic medical care.

It was after the 1968 Tet Offensive that American public opinion began to shift about the Vietnam War. And I'm old enough to remember when many of the Americans I was among who "worked hard and played by the rules," hardly "left-wing, Hollywood and Broadway or college" woke up to the horrors of the war on a variety of levels. CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, hardly an American subversive, broke the ranks of objective reporting to make the editorial comment of his career against the Vietnam War.

To this day, I'm thankful to all who stood against the travesty of our lying, failed policy and war in Vietnam, and I believe the war ended sooner because of those protest efforts. We are once again in the throes of a lying, failed foreign policy in Iraq, and the sooner our orchestration of and involvement in this fiasco ends, as far as I am concerned, the better.

If the less impassioned contempt for the Iraq War reflected in U.S. public opinion polls now brings the Iraq War nightmare to an end better and sooner than the Vietnam War, may it be so. Comparisons of the shifting public opinions during both wars might deserve a better examination.

Name: Joe Raskin
Hometown:
Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Alterman:

While Isiah Thomas deserves to be fired (and not just for what happened on Saturday night), his firing will not matter. Cablevision and the Dolan family still own the team.

2006 marks the 49th and last year that I have been a passionate Knicks fan. When I became a fan, players like Richie Guerin and Willie Naulls were in the line-up. They were good players; unfortunately, the rosters of the other teams included the names of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson. They didn't win a lot of games, but they played like they cared, and it made me appreciate the wonderful teams of a decade or so later all the more.

The Knicks will not be a force again until there is a complete housecleaning. Unfortunately, I won't care. For the first time since Julius Erving left, the Nets interest me.

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