Slacker Friday

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column, here, called "Iraq: The Sequel?"

Oh, and I should have mentioned this earlier: I'll be moderating the opening panel of Amnesty International's conference "Navigating Between Scylla and Charybdis: Confronting Terrorism as a Human Rights Issue," in Vanderbilt Hall at NYU Law School, tonight from 5:00-7:30, with lots of terrific people. The conference continues tomorrow, and more info can be found here.

Matt, you insufferable enfant terrible.

Stolen from Matt's comments board, here:

As long as we're talking Kirchik [sic], isn't it odd that he has the *exact same* print mannerisms as Peretz? Marty has a number of horrid tics that make his indefensible opinions unreadable: too-cute alliteration, clumsy transitions via coordinate sentences, the investment of hundred-dollar words in places that won't return commensurate value, and an evident disdain for complex grammatical structures. Kirchik, who graces us frequently at the Plank, shares most of Marty's stylistic quirks, to the point that I've wondered if Marty's assistant even exists (his focus on gay issues, never much of a focus for Marty, says yes).

[...]

I think the Examiner owes us a follow-up piece that will reveal, finally, the specs of Peretz's cloning device(s).

I can hardly keep up with this crap, but Ezra tries, here.

It's true. Soros helped the Nazis as a 14-year-old and now is helping JetBlue cause air traffic delays. (Didn't Clinton cause air delays? Didn't Soros fund Clinton? Isn't Clinton a Nazi? Didn't Hillary write the Protocols of the Elders of Zion before she became a vampire? Isn't Al Gore hot -- I mean, cool? Just asking ...) From the world's greatest blog, here.

Retire Already, David Broder, continued, here.

From our sponsors:

McCain Suck Up/Matthews Man-Crush Watch, here.

Only idiots need apply, here.

From TomDispatch today: The second half of Roger Morris' remarkable meditation on catastrophe, his history of Donald Rumsfeld, "The Power and the Glory, The Undertaker's Tally (Part 2)."

Here's one of a hundred classic Rumsfeldisms: "We do have a saying in America: if you're in a hole, stop digging ... erm, I'm not sure I should have said that." In Part 2 of his historical excavation of the life and world of Donald Rumsfeld (not to speak of the worlds of both President Bushes, the neocons, the U.S. military, the GOP, and an indolent media), Roger Morris, already deep in that hole, just keeps digging away. In doing so, he offers us the rest of Rumsfeld's long march to power, his lasting legacies, and the costly lessons of this comeback kid. So much that went unheeded in the years in which Rumsfeld once again scaled the heights of power is now, thanks to Morris, compactly on the record.

"The absence of evidence is not necessarily the evidence of absence" is another infamous Rumsfeldism. How true. And in Rumsfeld's absence, the evidence of how he changed our world for the worse will be with us to consider for years to come. Here is but a taste of Morris and what he considers the Rumsfeld legacy:

As no other cabinet officer in history, he turned over crucial, self-sustaining functions of his department to privateers and private armies. He surrendered vital supply and commissariat services for the American military to profit-plundering contractors for whom U.S. forces were neither fellow warriors, nor even share-holders, but captive 'customers' to be treated with the offhandedness afforded by guaranteed contracts. He ceded security and combat functions essential to the national mission to a corps of thousands of hired guns whose qualifications, standards of conduct and ultimate loyalty -- all integral to the safety and success of American forces -- were beyond effective governmental control or measure.

Slacker Friday:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Hometown: Washington, DC

In the past, on this site and a few others where I periodically write, there has been speculation that I am actually part of a nefarious plot from within the Pentagon to manipulate the public. Once it was even put forward that I may not exist at all, but that "Bob Bateman" was actually a PR consortium of evil genius types deep in the bowels of the Pentagon. My rejoinder to such is to point out the cold, hard fact that we (in the military) are just not that competent. In fact, we pretty much suck at trying to convey information, let alone persuade anyone of anything.

There are a host of reasons for that. Our press officers, for example, when they do academic training and internships "with industry", have to work with PR firms because news organizations won't take them on. The upshot is that our Public Affairs officers learn the culture of flak-dom, not journalism, and so the mutual misunderstandings continue, year after year. But they don't learn enough to actually work as PR, and so they are sort of bastardized between those two cultures. (Not to mention the laws extant since the backlash of the 1920s, to domestic "propaganda.")

Nowhere was this basic inability/liability better demonstrated than in Baghdad last week. That was when MNF-I (that is "Multinational Force-Iraq") headquarters apparently laid out their case that Iran is supplying weapons and munitions to combatants inside Iraq. The presentation, as it appeared here in the news, was a comedy. Apparently the Public Affairs people trotted out "experts," but the experts could not give their names, and way too much was "off the record." The Public Affairs folks and the "experts" then provided the assembled journalists with PowerPoint presentations laying out their case, but would not let the journalists keep the presentations ... well, you get the picture. All in all, it was a very lame exercise in "Trust Me, I'm With The Military" ... which is something that one should do only very sparingly, if at all. I am inclined to "never" myself.

But this news item, coming from Baghdad as well, is different. It is a story that has not appeared, so far as I know, in the US press. But it is kicking up dust in Europe, Austria in particular.

For those unfamiliar with guns in general and high-performance sniper rifles in particular, I'll note a few things.

High performance sniper rifles are made to an extreme tolerence. They are stamped, all over, with serial numbers. Why? So that you do not mix the upper reciever of one rifle with the bolt of another or the lower reciever of a third. The rifle would (probably) still work, but the minute differences would mean that it didn't work *perfectly*, which when you're shooting long range .50 caliber rounds out to about 1,500 meters, makes all the difference.

The 100 sniper rifles apparently found in Baghdad the other day have serial numbers. If, as seems might be the case, these match those of a lot of 800 of this exact type of rare high-powered sniper rifle sent to Iran from their Austrian manufacturer in 2005, it would be one of those truly rare cases of, well, a smoking gun.

That does not mean that I know or think that the evidence presented in the Baghdad briefing the other day is any better than it was when it was presented. It does not mean either that I know, personally, what is going on there. All it means is that, if the serial numbers do match what the Austrian maker says they sent to Iran, the situation is complex.

Meanwhile, a few who know me know that I am a 7th Cavalryman. I commanded in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, years ago. This young officer, well, I would have been proud to have commanded him. He represented what is good.

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

The best American political novels are, in order: All The King's Men, The Last Hurrah, and The Gay Place, Billy Lee Brammer's forgotten Texas masterpiece. Interestingly, these novels -- based on Huey Long, James Michael Curley, and LBJ, respectively -- are fictionalized versions of pols who are also the subjects of what are arguably three of the finest political biographies ever: T. Harry Williams on the Kingfish, Jack Beatty's The Rascal King about Curley, and Robert Caro's ongoing masterpiece about Lyndon. Also, all of these books are about Democratic politicians, which says something, but I don't know what.

In terms of establishing a unique universe that is both precise in its details and hazy in time and space, The Crane Wife by The Decemberists is the closest thing to Music From Big Pink that I've heard since Little Feat's magnificent debut album. And I don't even mind the Sunday-go-to-meetin' grammar, the obvious debt "The Perfect Crime" owes to "Psycho Killer," or that instrumental break early on in the Side One suite that sounds like Thick As A Brick-era Tull.

Crazy Bill Donohue reminds me of all those sweaty mesomorphs that we used to see at Church -- the guys who spent all Saturday night at the sleaziest dives imaginable doing God alone knew what only to show up to take their sainted gray-haired Ma's to 7 o'clock Mass. Since I do have to play the role of House Papist here from time to time, let me assure the Democratic presidential field that they can pretty much ignore this guy, and they can ignore the Jesus-Is-My-CEO crowd at Fidelis, too, while they're at it. In addition, this Kirsten Powers, who goes on with O'Reilly and works her beads, you don't have to return her phone calls, either. Listen to me when I tell you -- THERE IS NO "CATHOLIC VOTE."

OK? Don't go looking for it, because it isn't there. You see, we Catholics are not the monolithic megachurch type. Nobody leads the great mass of us. A lot of us were liberated by Vatican II and we determined, quite on our own, as the great Garry Wills put it, to live the Council and not argue about it. Hell, we've been telling one pope or another to go whistle up a tree on birth control since Humanae Vitae hit the stands in 1968, More recently, we've come to consider much of our institutional church to be a conspiracy-after-the-fact without being concerned in the least what the Crisis Magazine gang thinks of us. They're loud, but that's all they are. An awful lot of us think Monaghan The Pizza Guy's Catholic enclave in Florida to be a festival for fruitcakes. Nobody's listening to Crazy Bill. He has a mailing list, not a constituency, and just because that scares editors, and delights the teenage bookers working for cable news operations, that doesn't mean John Edwards -- or any other evolved primate -- should care. Pax vobiscum, kids. Go with God.

P.S. Just a note to MoDo: If you're going to crack wise ($) at Barack Obama for being on the cover of Men's Vogue, it's better that you not do it around anyone who still has nightmares about that photo of you in Rolling Stone, sprawled across a staircase like Blanche DuBois' inner child, with a come-hither look somewhere between Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby and a Mako shark. Just sayin'.

Name: Bob Mutch
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

I'm late on this, and Eric Alterman and Eric Rauchway have already recommended what probably are the two best modern American political novels (All the King's Men and The Last Hurrah). But here are a few more suggestions.

Henry Adams, Democracy (published anonymously in 1880) Not the first American political novel, but the first good one. and historically maybe the most important.

Billy Lee Brammer, The Gay Place (1978) Texas politics, LBJ-style.

A British classic is Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (1875).

Charles Dickens, Chapter 13 of The Pickwick Papers (the election in Eatanswill shows dirty tricks used on both sides of the Atlantic).

Name: jordan
Hometown: seattle

Eric,

This is Obama in October 2002, while Clinton, Edwards, Kerry and Biden were voting for the war -- case closed:

Now let me be clear -- I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

Name: asullivan
Hometown: Washington DC

The press still misses the story on so many issues in this town, and I can't tell if it's the reporters or the editors.

1. Coverage of the debate on Iraq in the House; the reporters clean it up so it appears like a genuine exchange of ideas. Granted, the republican "chief" says he has two (contradictory) arguments, that the resolution is worthless and that it'll hurt the troops. But if you actually listen, the Republican argument amounts to this: since we're already there -- gratis to our President's colossal and arrogant actions -- we can't leave. That would be (take your pick) cowardly, wrong, irresponsible.

The coverage of this floor debate does not make much of the arguments of Dems and even some Republicans that staying is wrong, expensive, and destructive to us and to the Iraqis. Nor does it carry the argument that just because we were hoodwinked into the wrong conduct, we don't need to continue it.

2. Or the North Korean deal: because, as you point out, reporters have a knee-jerk need to "balance" an issue, they cover blowhards like Bolton and rightwing chickenhawks like Abrams. These are the same people who created the current Administration's brilliant foreign policy of refusing to talk to people whom they consider morally offensive. Perhaps, before giving voice to every nut who reaches a microphone, the press could consider whether their opinions are worth any weight?

3. Or Iran: Newsweek finally carried a story about all the times this Administration deliberately ignored opportunities to open up dialogue with Iran, and even some acts by Iran to help us. We are once more hurtling toward W's elected battles, without any discussion of why W gets us in these pickles. Will we never learn?

4. And finally, this city: For the past six years, Karl Rove has been quietly seeding every sector of the federal government with his loyalists. These people are not chosen for their expertise, and indeed, many have no competence for their assigned posts. Indeed, many of these people are not in the usual political posts. They're everywhere, and they're undermining and driving out trained and competent civil servants.

This is far worse than nepotism. It's a deliberate effort to hamstring and corrupt the modern federal government created by FDR -- probably particularly because it was created by FDR.

If we somehow manage to survive the next two years without even greater war and insurmountable national debt, Rove et al can leave the White House confident that they have riddled the government with folks whose main purpose is to deconstruct it -- all in plain view with nary a peep from the press.

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