Though I spend a lot of time on Cold War history, particularly its domestic corollary, I try hard to avoid the specifics of the Hiss/Chambers case because I fear madness lies down that road. So many people have so much invested that if you question any particular detail, they set on you like a pack of wolves. I once did a little investigating of one particular "smoking gun" alleged to have been found by Chambers partisans and discovered that the fact that the code name "Ales" had been referred to three times in three separate places, was actually, contrary to claims being made at the time, irrelevant, since all three footnotes referred to the same Venona document and that document identified Hiss only three decades after the fact and was clearly mere speculation, anonymously annotated, and hence "proved" nothing. And though there's plenty about the case in When Presidents Lie -- and will be plenty more in my history of postwar liberalism, some day -- I still do not take a position on who's lying and who's not, which makes me kind of a hold-out among people who've studied it some. My answer is I just don't know.
That said, Kai Bird purports to have made a discovery, and I trust Kai as a scholar, and so I think the ball has swung back quite a bit towards Hiss' innocence. And that said, I'm still not taking a position, and all of that was just a means of clearing my throat to point out the following. I hear a lot about how nasty liberals are, but I see precious little evidence for it, compared to conservatives. I submit as my primary exhibit of the day, this article by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr on Bird's discovery, titled "The New McCarthyism." Take a look at how nasty and un-scholarly its language is. (Note also, by the way, that the authors term Kai merely a "contributing editor to The Nation" rather than a "Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer.".) Note also that instead of posting it in a place where it could be reviewed by scholars, it appeared on the website of Max Holland, who just happens to be Bird's ex-writing partner and ex-best friend who hates Kai so much he makes Joe Klein look like my girlfriend. Ron Radosh's posts and articles in The New Republic are also quite nasty, as are, it almost goes without saying, Marty Peretz's. Kai's 17,000-word article, which will appear on the website of The American Scholar, contains none of this kind of language. It is entirely a scholarly matter. And neither, for the point of comparison I'm seeking to make here, do the keynote speech at the NYU conference by Victor Navasky or his article on the conference that appeared in The Nation. You can read those here and here and ask yourself: Who are the real scholars here, and who are the people who are interested in protecting their turf and smearing their opponents?
Did you notice this?
Lawyers for two men charged with illegally ejecting two people from a speech by President Bush in 2005 are arguing that the president's staff can lawfully remove anyone who expresses points of view different from his.
Can you believe who's running this country?
And what's up with this, and why isn't it receiving more attention? Nothing good, I'm guessing. I'm informed that: "Israel's foremost Israeli Arab pol, Azmi Bishara, is accused of corruption & spying by the Shin Bet, who's thrown a gag order over the whole proceeding. Israeli media prevented from reporting on the substance of the case. Bishara also hindered from responding. I'm the only blogger working the story & breaking material not widely known. AP broke the first story yesterday & it was very vague. More needs to get out to pressure the Israelis to honor democratic values. Here are my six posts."
I'm going to be in DC this weekend, but I gave away my invitation to the White House Correspondents' dinner. I've got nothing against parties -- I'll go to those -- but the idea of dragging my tux to eat crappy food and watch these guys salute themselves, suck up to the Evil One, and provide dinner-theater-level entertainment because that Stephen Colbert was so mean to everyone last year makes a root canal sound like a Springsteen concert ...
(And shucks, I see I'll be missing Reverend Moon up there on the podium as well. Hey, TNR, the first (and one of the few) articles I ever wrote for you guys was on Moon, back in 1986, I think. I wanted to call it "Bad Moon Rising," but Kinsley, unaccountably, preferred "In Moon's Orbit." How about putting it up? Or do you guys not like Jews ...)
Fora.tv, here, is really worth your attention.
New books I would favorably review if I had more time available (and may someday):
- Thomas W. Evans, The Education of Ronald Reagan (University of California)
- Naftali Bendavid, The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution (Doubleday)
- Dean Baker, The United States Since 1980 (Cambridge) (Dean's got a great blog, too, here)
- Robert B. Parker, Hundred Dollar Baby (Putnam)
- Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Between the Numbers (Basic)
- James C. Cobb, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity (Oxford)
- Steven E. Aschheim, Beyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad (Princeton)
- Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned Presidential Power into a Threat to America's Future (FSG)
- Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State (reissue with a new preface) (Princeton)
- Alex Halberstadt, Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus (Da Capo)
- Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs (Second Edition) (Illinois)
- Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life (FSG)
Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro reminds us that the "Iraq War" has largely been fought against a Sunni minority insurgency. Now, it threatens to spread to the Shiite majority as, in a desperately dangerous game of chicken, the American military tries to take out parts of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- elements of which were engaged in street battles last week in Diwaniyah to the south of Baghdad, while Sadr's followers peacefully protested for the end of the American occupation of the country in a vast march in Najaf.
Hiro offers a much-needed reminder of what the Bush administration is actually up against in the highly publicized Muqtada al-Sadr and in a crucial figure who, these days, gets very little print at all -- Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, against whose wishes, in crucial moments in the past, the Americans have proven remarkably helpless.
While refraining from participating in everyday politics, Sistani intervenes on the issues of paramount importance to the Iraqi people, as he sees them. Western journalists, who routinely describe him as belonging to the "quietist school" of Shiite Islam (at odds with the "interventionist school"), are therefore off the mark. Given Sistani's uncompromising opposition to the presence of foreign troops in Iraq, his staunch nationalism, and the unmatched reverence that he evokes, particularly among the majority Shiites, he poses a greater long-term threat to Washington's interests in Iraq than Muqtada al-Sadr; and, far from belonging to opposite schools of Shiite Islam, Sadr and Sistani, both staunch nationalists, compliment each other -- much to the puzzled frustration of the Bush White House.
What must worry Washington more than the massive size of the demonstration on April 9 was its mixed Shiite-Sunni composition and nationalistic ambience. The prospect of Sadr's appeal extending to a section of the Sunni community, with the tacit support of Sistani, is the nightmare scenario that the Bush administration most dreads. Yet it may come to pass.
Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Hey Doc --
Would I be gauche if I wondered why none of the campus-shooting retrospectives I've seen on my electric TV have mentioned Kent State and Jackson State in 1970, or Southern University in 1972?
Eric replies: Hey, Charles, it's a good thing I don't believe in the same kind of God that Bush's friends Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell et al do, or I'd postulate that their God sent us this mass murderer to awaken America to the consequences of their invasion of Iraq, which results in about one Virginia Tech mass murder a day, if not more. But I actually don't believe in that kind of God, and so I consider it just a human tragedy.
I am sick of stories about guns, and how the blessed Founding Fathers wanted every little patriot baby to grow up with a Kentucky long-rifle over the mantle. It is a lie. It is a myth. The very idea is a concoction by people who want to believe something, regardless of the facts, and the fact that the lie has deep roots does not make it any more accurate.
I am sick of stories about people who claim that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Bullshit. You do not see 70+ people, or even 40, or 20 ... or, (you get the picture) randomly gunned down in any of the countries where the tools of violence are confined to the authorities.
I am sick of idiots with an agenda pretending that what happened at Virginia Tech is not because we have too many damned guns in this country. Muzzle-loading blackpowder rifles, single-shot breech-loading hunting rifles, and single-barrel breech-loading shotguns, and that is about it, are all that should be allowed. Those tools can be used, legitimately, to hunt. You want more, move. Leave the United States to those who know the difference between something that is useful for hunting, and something that replaces the manhood you never attained. If you want more, join the Army. If you can't do that, and if you still want something that reloads quickly and gives you plenty of shots, BUY A DAMNED BOW!
But what really puts me over the top is one particular brand of NRA stupidity. That is the myth of the Wild West. In other words, if I hear one more stupid gun-loving sonuvabitch talk about how, "Well, if they just had allowed all those students to have guns, this lunatic at Virginia Tech wouldn'ta got far," I am going to slap his dumb ass on the first plane smokin' for Iraq, where I would like to personally drop him off, with as many guns as he would like, in Dora (that's a particularly nasty South Baghdad neighborhood with which I am familiar).
Yes, Dora would be perfect. In my mind's eye I am imagining plopping said gun nut off outside the blue-painted major police sub-station, just about six or seven blocks from another walled-in compound which is now a police barracks (or, at least it was, last year.). As a microcosm, Dora should be the NRA's dream town, as it perfectly matches the NRA "Wild West" theory of what is needed in a society: honor is important to the individual; the family is the most important part of society; all of the inhabitants are very religious (except for when they are not); and absolutely everyone has at least one gun.
In fact, I would very much like to personally place the CEO of the NRA, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, there right now. What'ya say, Wayne? Want to experience a world where everyone has a gun? C'mon, buddy, I'll even let you hump the pig.
(That means, "Carry the M-240 7.62 mm machine gun," people. Get your minds out of the gutter.)
OK, I'm calmer now.
This story makes me a little bit nervous. We already have enough trouble with our Public Affairs Officers trying to act like Public Relations flacks as it is, so we do not need this added complication. Personally I think that the line at the end of the story gets it right. Nobody will believe them. This is bad. It may also be inevitable.
On the Green side of things: I am not usually inclined to give kudos to the USAF. Call it professional jealousy, call it a conflict of philosophies. Call it what you will, but in this case I have to cede that they are doing something good. Generating 1/3 of the power for a massive sprawling base like Nellis AFB, is not a small thing.
And on a final note from this bunker, I would say that LTC Gentile and I are in complete agreement. The media has been covering Iraq well, and accurately, and honestly, and the rising inclination of the US military (fueled in part by fear mongering by one of the political parties) to blame the media is not only wrong, it is dangerous.
DC WITHIN EARSHOT: I entered another decade yesterday, surprising most of the people who have known me for any length of time. Forty doesn't feel old, though. What made me feel old was meeting my oldest daughter Morgan's first serious boyfriend a few weeks ago, and then accidentally seeing them walking hand-in-hand in the mall later.
SIDEBAR NOTE: Pierce mentioned Wounded Knee yesterday, and while I hate to quibble, I prefer accuracy in my history. The next issue of Military History magazine has a feature article on that sad chapter and black mark to my regiment's history. Rather than wax on here, you can see that essay for the proverbial "rest of the story."
Why is it OK to excuse Elvis Costello's youthful indiscretions into bigotry and not Eminem's?
They were about the same age when they committed their worst excesses. If anything, Eminem came from a less cosmopolitan environment and was better reflecting both his community's and audiences prejudices.
I hope the real difference to you is not that you really really love Costello's music and don't much care for Eminem.
But I think you missed the overall point while making the admirable case that the bigoted statements of Costello, Mathers, et al., do not matter as much as that of Imus.
We should expect artists to be irresponsible. We should not be satisfied when they cross the lines of decent diction. But we should be neither surprised nor particularly worked about it.
Artists are supposed to both reflect and change the world around them.
Imus is not an artist. He is not a comedian (and has decades of jokes to prove it).
Imus ran one of the most influential public affairs programs in our lifetimes. He offered a platform for ill-informed and all-too-conventional political rhetoric. He had a responsibility to be responsible. He had a responsibility to raise the level of discourse and awareness in America.
Eminem has no such responsibility.
Despite that difference, I would posit that both Eminem and Elvis Costello have done more to change minds and motivate people toward a more just world than the cynical Imus ever did.
Eric replies: While I agree with Siva's larger point about the responsibility of artists, when I wrote my item, I was under the impression that Eminem did not make one foolish, drunken statement three decades ago, but has created a body of work that is permeated with misogyny and prejudice. If I'm wrong about that, then I do, in fact, apologize to Mr. Mathers. If I'm not wrong, well then, my original point stands, with the caveat that it still doesn't make any sense to compare him to Imus.
Nader may not realize what his role was in the 2000 and 2004 elections, but the Republicans sure did. Shortly before the 2003 Iowa caucuses, I came out of my doctors office which happened to be next door to a facility where Cheney was going to appear. One of several young college types working the crowd came up to me, clipboard in hand, and asked, "Would you like to sign a petition to get Ralph Nader on the ballot so he can steal votes from Kerry?"
You are one of the few writers on the Left that pays attention to the WSJ. You have noted occasionally but always correctly what any thoughtful person would see: that the editorials of the WSJ are often, even usually, contradicted by their own stories. The WSJ is a great newspaper if you omit the editorial pages.
There was a rich case in point in paper the other day. On page A15 Ari Fleischer of White House fame gets top billing on the suffering of the rich as the "Taxpaying Minority." While making a concession at the very end to the principle of progressive taxation he actually parrots one of the Republican Party memes for the twilight of the Bush Administration and the next election -- it is unfair that the rich pay more than the poor so something must be changed or the rich will strike (he says the system will fail).
On page B6 in an excellent new feature section covering articles in other publications (how do they decide what to cover...), the WSJ summarizes a study by economists published in The Boston Globe with the headline "Burden Shifts from Rich, Flattening the Tax System." This study, at least as summarized first by the Globe writers and second by the WSJ, refutes Ari and confirms your excellent theory and metaphor of "working the refs."
I thought that you might be able to use this in your next column. Forward this to Mr. Klein. Keep up the good work and listen to more Hot Tuna.
I read your posts daily and am surprised (and dismayed) that you've not mentioned the passing of Kurt Vonnegut. Or did I miss it? Maybe he wasn't, to paraphrase Mark Knopfler, what you call Rock and Roll.
Eric replies: To be honest I was actually ducking intentionally. I loved Vonnegut in 10th grade but I felt like I was done with him by 12th grade. And personally, I found him to be kind of standoffish to me the three or four times we were introduced. I don't think my opinions about him and his work are terribly important. I'm sure he was a fine person. His friends obviously liked him and so, too, did many writers and critics whose opinions on literature I hold in higher esteem than my own. But that's the reason. (Fox, on the other hand, is filled with idiots I've never even heard of, here. Have you?)
While the inestimable Charlie Pierce is right about Wounded Knee (There are also massacres of and by Mormons in history, along with various race riots), he leaves something out: It's not even the worst school massacre in US history. The Bath School Disaster, perpetrated by a radical anti-tax activist in 1927, killed 45.
Sid Rosenberg said that vile disgusting thing about Kylie Minogue, not Sheryl Crow.
Eric replies: Apologies for my error.
While I agree with your high opinion of Rosanne Cash, I really must protest your aside that Elvis Costello "may just have clunked through this material" without her presence at the Rubin show. As someone who has seen Mr. C over a dozen times and at all kinds of venues since his blistering show at The Ledge at Rutgers University (just before "This Years Model" hit the stores), and who has spoken with friends who've seen plenty of other EC shows, I can attest that an Elvis Costello concert is the closest thing to a sure bet you'll find in music. As far as I can tell, he never sloughs off a show. He's not big on between-numbers yak-yak, but he's a generous and canny performer who gives plenty of value, in terms of both time and performance level.
Eric replies: That was Sal, not Eric.
I'm a big fan and I'm looking forward to your book on the history of American liberalism. I've been doing some reading lately on this subject (mostly on how the liberal consensus splintered -- books like The Disuniting of America and Chain Reaction). Can you recommend some other books on this subject? What books are you principally relying on for your work?
Eric replies: For the record, I am publishing another, shorter, book on liberalism -- for which I'm having a hell of a time coming up with a title -- that will precede the history. It's a defense of contemporary liberalism and it's turning out pretty well. The working title shifts between "Liberal without Apologies" or "Arguments for Liberalism." Suggestions welcome.
Two terrfic books I'd like to recommend on liberalism however are: Vicent J. Cannato, The Ungovernable City: John Lindsey and His Struggle to Save New York (New York: Basic Books, 2001) and James P. Young, Reconsidering American Liberalism: The Troubled Odyssey of the Liberal Idea (New York: Westview Press, 1996). I never heard of either author before I read the books, but they are both terrific in their own way. Cannato is a straightforward history with a slight neocon bent, but not one that is too annoying. Young's is an amazing piece of work that traces the idea of liberalism throughout all history. It's the kind of book it takes an entire lifetime to write, in a way. It's incredibly odd that almost nobody I know has ever heard of the guy and the book is rarely if ever mentioned or cited. I found it in an Amazon subject search. I re-recommend Tom and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction, which you mention. Anyone who wants to understand the difficulties liberals need to overcome to return to power anywhere in this country needs to read that book.