What is it good for?

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Sy Hersh maps out, as best as is possible, the contours of the coming attack on Iran. Here's a highlight:

The adviser said that he had heard from a source in Iran that the Revolutionary Guards have been telling religious leaders that they can stand up to an American attack. "The Guards are claiming that they can infiltrate American security," the adviser said. "They are bragging that they have spray-painted an American warship -- to signal the Americans that they can get close to them." (I was told by the former senior intelligence official that there was an unexplained incident, this spring, in which an American warship was spray-painted with a bull's-eye while docked in Qatar, which may have been the source of the boasts.)

"Do you think those crazies in Tehran are going to say, 'Uncle Sam is here! We'd better stand down'? " the former senior intelligence official said. "The reality is an attack will make things ten times warmer."

I think the piece understates Iran's ability to retaliate through acts against U.S. targets, including civilians, in the Arab world, in Europe, and in the United States. I think these people really are planning a decades-long "war of civilizations," in which they make the world an unsafe place to be an American. They are not conservatives; they are revolutionaries, no less convinced than the Bolsheviks that they alone possess the truth, irrespective of evidence. Their power to make their dystopian vision a reality is perhaps the worst catastrophe that has befallen this country since the end of slavery.

And by the way, like General John Abizaid, the eminent Israeli historian Martin van Creveld argues in the Forward:

"The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran"

He notes: "In case Bush does decide to attack Iran, it is questionable whether Iran's large, well-dispersed and well-camouflaged nuclear program can really be knocked out. This is all the more doubtful because, in contrast to the Israeli attacks on Iraq back in 1981 and on Syria three weeks ago, the element of surprise will be lacking. And even if it can be done, whether doing so will serve a useful purpose is also questionable.

Since 1945 hardly one year has gone by in which some voices -- mainly American ones concerned about preserving Washington's monopoly over nuclear weapons to the greatest extent possible -- did not decry the terrible consequences that would follow if additional countries went nuclear. So far, not one of those warnings has come true. To the contrary: in every place where nuclear weapons were introduced, large-scale wars between their owners have disappeared.

General John Abizaid, the former commander of United States Central Command, is only the latest in a long list of experts to argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran. Their views deserve to be carefully considered, lest [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's fear-driven posturing cause anybody to do something stupid." It's all here.

Just before The New York Times ran this story, I read another one by Phil Weiss in The American Conservative, which is not yet online, that focused on the implications of the Jewishness of the funders of Freedom's Watch. Think about it. They are extremely wealthy and they are agitating for war by comparing Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler. "If Hitler's warnings were heeded when he wrote 'Mein Kampf,' he could have been stopped," said Bradley Blakeman, 49, the president of Freedom's Watch and a former deputy assistant to Mr. Bush. "Ahmadinejad is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us, and the region -- he wants the destruction of the United States and the destruction of Israel."

Excuse me, but what's Israel got to do with this? Why are you arguing that something is bad for Israel when it's Americans you are seeking to convince?

Oh, I see: "The idea for Freedom's Watch was hatched in March at the winter meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Manalapan, Fla., where Vice President Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker, according to participants."

Also, why is it being so secretive about its donors? "One benefactor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was hoping to raise as much as $200 million by November 2008. Raising big money 'will be easy,' the benefactor said, adding that several of the founders each wrote a check for $1 million. Mr. Blakeman would not confirm or deny whether any donor gave $1 million, or more, to the organization. Since the group is organized as a tax-exempt organization, it does not have to reveal its donors and it can not engage in certain types of partisan activities that directly support political candidates."

Call me a Nervous Jewish Nellie, but I don't like it when enormously wealthy Jews use their enormous wealth exactly the way anti-Semites have historically tried to accuse them of doing. This administration has lied us into one war with the help of some of these same people and it has inspired what many insist are a spate of anti-Semitic accusations against Neocons and others. Just what do they expect from this one? We are at war with Iran and they are striking back at us through terrorist acts the world over? How are people supposed to distinguish their dishonesty about Iraq and Iran from their commitment to protecting Israel? Oh, right, I forgot. There is no such thing as a conflict between U.S. interests and Israeli interests, period. Well, that settles that.

To tell you the truth, I'd feel a lot better if these rich folk were volunteering their children to fight in Iraq and Iran rather than just using their money to ensure that other people's children will have to fight and die there...

Speaking of Jews, and we often are here, I'll admit, it appears that, sometimes, Dylan comes as a man of Chabad. No, really.

This just in: "While in Atlanta for a September 22 concert with Elvis Costello and Amos Lee, Dylan (ne Robert Zimmerman) attended the Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia's Yom Kippur services, where he was called up to the Torah and recited the blessings in Hebrew, the organization reported."

Also in the Forward -- or at least the Forward online -- was a symposium of short statements in honor of my old professor Arnold Eisen's installation as the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. I found reading the whole thing, here, pretty interesting, but I've copied the two below that I found to be the most provocative.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads

Douglas Rushkoff

The best thing Conservative Judaism can do is return to its true and evermore urgently needed competence as the "brains" of this religion. That's right: I see Conservatives as the nerds of Judaism in the best sense -- the people who actually read Torah, understand it, and thoughtfully apply its teachings to their daily lives in the quest to make the world a better place. It's the hardest of the paths, along with Reconstructionism, because it requires individuals and communities to wrestle with the text themselves, and confront legend and law from the bottom up. Conservatives are unique in Judaism because they are required to be literate, but not required to obey. This makes them uniquely qualified to shepherd Judaism's continuing evolution through contentious times.

If Conservatives surrender, as did their sister movements, to the seemingly pressing but ultimately transient matters of racial fidelity and international politics, they will have abandoned the true calling of this movement, and left the rest of Judaism to flounder.

[...]

Jay Michaelson

Outgoing chancellor [Rabbi Ismar] Schorsch was right that Conservative Judaism is suffering from malaise, but 180 degrees wrong on the remedy. For Schorsch, wissenschaft remains the answer: more rational, moral Jewish thinking and sober textual reading. But American religion today -- Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and otherwise -- is not about rationality.

First, we live in an age of terror and unprecedented change, and the religions that are responding effectively to those conditions are the ones which get us in our kishkes -- in the non-rational, spiritual, primal, mythic and even mystical aspects of ourselves.

Second, American Jews today are pragmatists: They want what works. Meditation works; serious, lively text study works (for educated elites, anyway); drum circles work; spirituality works. Rattle-your-jewelry Judaism, old clichés about antisemitism and Israel, and the sober, boring conventionality of much of Conservative Judaism just doesn't work. Nor do dead theologies and dogmas which no one believes anymore.

Finally, the Conservative movement spent so much energy worrying about whether gays could be good Jews that they forgot to ask why anyone would want to be. Now it needs to ask, "What do we provide that nothing else does?" The answer isn't community, ethics or culture; Jews can get those elsewhere. But the spark of divinity, the charge of holiness, the power of myth -- these are treasures that we can't get anywhere else. We just have to dare to embrace them.

OK, finally, one more thing:

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day:

Marty Peretz, 9/29/06:

Now you have a new paradigm in many Western countries. Muslim immigrants arrive -- some because they are needed to make up population deficits among the indigenous people caused by "planned parenthood;" some because they want to abandon the stifling controls of the Islamic world. In the end, they add to the numbers of unemployed, causing an enormous drain on the social budget and exacerbating the strains on strapped societies. In the end, too, they don't want to abandon the suppressive habits of their old homes. They desire instead to have these quaint and lovable customs -- like arranged marriages, suppressed women, disdain for the other -- survive and flourish. They certainly don't intend to adapt to the habits of the West, in which offense to religions -- Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Jewish -- is just another aspect of the First Amendment that also guarantees freedom to these faiths.

Posted by M. Duss.

From TomDispatch: (Also about America's Jewiest city)

Nick Turse, TomDispatch associate editor and author of the upcoming book, The Complex, on the new military-industrial-everything complex, was one of almost 2,000 demonstrators arrested, many unlawfully, at the Republican Convention in New York City in 2004. This piece is framed by his account of how he recently settled his lawsuit, one of hundreds, over his illegal arrest that day (for sitting on a subway with a WAR DEAD sign around his neck) -- with a payment and an apology from the city of New York.

But the heart of this piece is his exploration of how, since 2004, the Big Apple has been transformed into an Escape From New York-style "Homeland Security State-let" -- filled with new surveillance technology, stealth helicopters, mobile "Sky Watch" towers, and "zero-tolerance" law enforcement policies. It's a striking account of how New York became a city increasingly watched over (in the most literal sense) by a secretive, corruption- and crime-ridden police force, eager to shut-down dissent, that is anything but New York's "finest."

In practice, this is part of what the Global War on Terror has meant here -- the granting of an endless license for the draconian to become part of normal life, of what passes for a world of "safety" and that involves techniques and technology once associated with Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984.

Turse lays out how this has happened and what it means in vivid detail. He concludes: "In the eerie afterglow of 9/11, haunted by the specter of terrorism, in an atmosphere where repressive zero-tolerance policies already rule, given the unparalleled power of Commissioner Kelly -- called "the most powerful police commissioner in the city's history" by NYPD expert Leonard Levitt -- and with a police department largely unaccountable to anyone (as the only city agency without any effective outside oversight), the Escape from New York model may indeed represent Manhattan's future."

Alter-reviews:

On a decidedly goyish note, I was lucky enough to see a wonderful Loudon Wainwright show at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Saturday night. Though Loudon moved to LA to be a movie star, he still has a house on Shelter Island and so, when he plays on the Shore, he is always greeted by lots of friends -- friends who like to drink and often leave their wives at home so they can yell and scream from their seats without getting yelled at about it later. Even given, or perhaps because of this, it was a terrific show. Loudon responded to the warmth and enthusiasm of the crowd and played with great verve and wry humor. There were sing-alongs on "The doctor" and "Dead Skunk," which he stopped briefly to complain would have put the fans of Brewer & Shipley's "One Toke Over the Line" and Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" to shame had any other of 1972's big hit-makers been performing instead of him. He accepted my suggestion that he play "I Don't Think That Your Wife Likes Me," and the crowd laughed so hard that two strangers at my table actually thanked me for my inspiration. If only there were more WASPS like Loudon, families would be no less screwed up than they are now -- perhaps more -- but we'd have fewer wars and stuff. Anyway, I think I mentioned this during the summer, but his soundtrack to Knocked Up, which is called "Strange Weirdos," is pretty great. More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: R. Erickson
Hometown: Ames, IA

Charles Pierce's idea that a Democratic president would be pilloried for using the president's expanded powers is probably true. Personally, I'll caucus* and vote for the first Democrat that vows that, on their first day in office, they'll detain Bush and Cheney and use those enhanced interrogation techniques on them until they confess. If they'd run on that pledge, you'd see those powers disappear overnight.

Name: Cheryl H.
Hometown: Albuquerque

Dear Dr. Alterman,

Thank Charles Pierce for articulating what I've been telling people for at least the last year: No Democrat will ever inherit Bush's hypertrophied take on the presidency.

Did Bush inherit the Clinton administration's ability to be SUED for trivia, while he was in office? NO. In fact, any and all limitations on constitutional powers have been simply ignored by Bush -- and as a rule, not enforced by the Congress, the judiciary, or (as you've noted many times) the "watchdog press." (Whatta dog.)

But -- let a Democrat try any of these things and WOOF! The right-wing noise machine springs into action.

If Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency in 2001, the Republican Congress and accompanying noise machine would have had him impeached within the month. Maybe they'd have impeached him EVERY month.

The amount of good President Gore could have done under the circumstances would have been extremely limited, particularly with all the pundits and talking heads braying about how boring he was and how he lied about the Internet.

The deal is, control of Congress and the presidency may change -- but as long as the right-wing noise machine predominates, things won't actually change. They won't be able to.

Name: Geraldo
Hometown: Winnipeg

Out of nowhere, this bizarre slam on ferrets! Why not an anteater or a hermit crab? At least they aren't known for "ferreting things out"...

Name: Don Collignon
Hometown: Chicago

You do realize, don't you, that outside of your parochial little East Coast rivalry, the rest of the county is waiting to see if the Chicago Cubs can bring the world one step closer to Armageddon by making it to the World Series?

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

I may be able to help Siva understand the professional sports television blackout rules, which are extremely complicated.

The reason that he can't see the local broadcasts of Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox games in Charlottesville is because those teams do not hold the rights to broadcast their games in Virginia. Major League baseball teams own the rights to broadcast their games locally, but not nationally. The national broadcast rights are owned by MLB. Each Major League team has a designated broadcast territory. DirecTV subscribers who live within the Yankees' broadcast territory can see the YES game broadcasts of Yankees games. But DirecTV subscribers who live outside the Yankees' broadcast territory cannot see the broadcasts, even if they receive the rest of the YES programming schedule. DirecTV is required to black out the Yankees game broadcasts to subscribers who live outside the Yankees' broadcast territory.

The only way around this is to purchase the MLB television package. DirecTV buys the national rights to those games from MLB, not from the individual teams. If Siva were to purchase the MLB package, he would be able to see most Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox games. However, if the Yankees were playing the Red Sox, he would get either the YES broadcast or the NESN broadcast, but not both. And if that same Yankees-Red Sox game were to be broadcast on ESPN or Fox, Siva would only be able to see the ESPN or Fox broadcast. The national telecasts always take precedence over the local telecasts. Complicating matters further is the fact that the MLB package does not include local over-the-air telecasts, meaning that Mets games on Channel 11 and Yankees games on Channel 9 would not be available to someone in Siva's situation.

The NFL is another matter altogether, because the rights to all NFL regular season and postseason games are owned by the NFL, not by the individual teams. If Siva were to subscribe to DirecTV's NFL package, he would be able to see every Buffalo Bills game and every New England Patriots game. The catch is that he has to be a DirecTV subscriber, because the NFL has decided to give DirecTV exclusive rights to the package.

College football is far more complicated, because the rights to those games are all over the place. National rights to most NCAA football games are held by CBS or NBC or ABC/ESPN, while rights to other games are owned by the Fox Sports channels. There is a package called ESPN Game Plan which includes "out of market" games (i.e., games not being aired in the viewer's local market), but that package includes only a dozen or so games each Saturday.

Getting non-sports local and network programming on DirecTV and Dish Network is an entirely different issue. The broadcasts of local network affiliates and local independent stations are available to satellite subscribers in most of the country, but not everywhere. It appears that Charlottesville is one of the areas where local broadcasting is not yet available via satellite. DirecTV and Dish also offer a package which includes network broadcasts from New York City and Los Angeles, but FCC rules limit that package to viewers who cannot receive their local network affiliates over the air. The solution to Siva's situation may be to subscribe to basic cable for local and network programming and also subscribe to DirecTV for the sports programming that he wants to receive.

Name: Ric Leo
Hometown: Haverhill, Ma

The Turk???? Jeter was named after The Turk??? Odin wept. What's a Red Sox fan to do?

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