Welcome to my nightmare

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I've got a new Think Again column here called, "The Blackwater Scandal or The More Things Don't Change... " and a new Nation column, "The Liberal Hawks' Lament," here.

On the one hand, the following column by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek is welcome and bracing and important. On the other, it is what many of us have been saying for years now, and for which we have been pilloried. So we have a right to be annoyed for ourselves and angry for our country. But anyway, read it. If Fareed says it, the Establishment is allowed to think it. (Whether it has the nerve or the ability to act on it, of course, is a whole 'nother story...) Here it is:

At a meeting with reporters last week, President Bush said that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." These were not the barbs of some neoconservative crank or sidelined politician looking for publicity. This was the president of the United States, invoking the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "like Hitler ... a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism." For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

[...]

Last year, the Princeton scholar, Bernard Lewis, a close adviser to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal predicting that on Aug. 22, 2006, President Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, "is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to 'the farthest mosque,' usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world" (my emphasis). This would all be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

The following was in my weekly press release from Time:

William Kristol: Three Reasons Why "Happier Days May Lie Ahead For the G.O.P."
TIME columnist William Kristol gives three reasons why "happier days may lie ahead for the G.O.P" in this election cycle: 1) "The Democrats' takeover of both houses of Congress...turns out to have been a mixed blessing ... It hasn't been easy for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to keep the party's liberal base and its new supporters happy at the same time"; 2) History suggests that "winning control of Congress doesn't necessarily signify much about the next presidential contest"; and 3) "Watching the Republican candidates ... I wasn't filled with dread about the general election."

Look, William Kristol is a Republican Party strategist, not a journalist. Murdoch may pay him to edit a magazine, but that does not give him any journalistic credentials. As a political prognosticator, his judgement has proven to be worse than almost anyone else in the punditocracy. Why in the world is Time turning over this valuable space to him? And where is his Democratic Party propagandist equivalent? Don't tell me, it's Michael Kinsley. Nobody would believe that? If Time insists on publishing Kristol, they really ought to give a column to Howard Dean as well.

Speaking of neocons, here are some excerpts from Arthur Schlesinger's recently published diaries that were excerpted on The Economist's website.

On Marty Peretz:

January 9th 1975:

When I was chatting with Gil Harrison before [Walter Lippmann's memorial] service, he confided that he had just resigned as editor of the New Republic. I said that I thought Gil had been assured editorial control for three years in the sales agreement. The assurance had not been strong enough, however, to block [Marty] Peretz, and Gil said somewhat enigmatically that money had talked. He well remembered that I had warned him against Peretz, who has always seemed to me an unprincipled egomaniac. When I first heard that he was after the New Republic, I wrote Gil saying that, if he ever got hold of it, he would destroy it.

On Norman Podhoretz:

January 10th 1982:

[When he moved in a neoconservative direction, Pat Moynihan's] great friends became people like Irving Kristol, a likable and intelligent ex-radical, and Norman Podhoretz of Commentary, an odious and despicable ex-radical.

On Charles Krauthammer:

December 11th 1986:

Last night I appeared on ABC's Nightline (Ted Koppel), leaving an entertaining dinner party given by Ahmet and Mica Ertegun for Irving Lazar. My combatant on the show was a fellow named Charles Krauthammer who writes particularly obnoxious neo-conservative trash for the New Republic and other rightwing journals. His special line is that a mature power must understand the vital need for an imperial policy and for unfettered executive secrecy in the conduct of foreign affairs. He argues this line with boundless self-righteousness and sublime ignorance of American history... The puzzle is that there are people who take Krauthammer seriously as a deep thinker.

Did you see this column on the demise of free speech in the Bush era in the Times by Adam Liptak? It begins as follows:

The American commitment to free speech is the most robust in the world.

Of course that's nonsense. But even in the news (!) pages of The New York Times (!) a reporter has to write that flowery, unproven, and untrue rhetorical crap before he can get to the actual cases in which he's interested. Take a look:

Two cases pending in federal court in Manhattan will soon test how far the government can go in keeping Americans safe from what a State Department manual calls the "irresponsible expressions of opinion by prominent aliens."

[...]

The spirit of the old law, the McCarran-Walter Act, was revived after the Sept. 11 attacks. The USA Patriot Act of 2001, for instance, allowed the government to deny visas to people who had used their "position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.

The government invoked that law in 2004 when it denied a work visa to Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss philosopher and Muslim intellectual. As a consequence, Professor Ramadan had to give up a teaching appointment at, in the words of The Guardian newspaper, "that hotbed of Muslim extremism, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana."

In the three years preceding the denial, Professor Ramadan had visited the United States 24 times, lecturing at Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton -- and the State Department.

Three academic and literary groups sued the government last year over the denial, saying they had a First Amendment right to hear from Professor Ramadan. ... After the suit was filed, the government changed its rationale for excluding Professor Ramadan, now saying that he had contributed about $1,300 to a charity in Switzerland from 1998 to 2002. That charity, later designated a terrorist organization by the Treasury Department, in turn made contributions to Hamas, which had already been designated one. Professor Ramadan's second-hand contribution amounted to material support for terrorism, the government said.

Excluding Professor Ramadan "in no way restricts speech," government lawyers wrote in a brief in the case in May. He remains free to say what he likes, they continued, and Americans remain free to hear what he has to say. Just not in person in the United States.

[...]

Lawyers for the defendants in the television case, Javed Iqbal and Saleh Elahwal, say the case against them, similarly, is "nothing less than a full frontal assault on the fundamental values inscribed in the First Amendment." The men are charged with providing material support to Hezbollah, the radical Islamic Shiite group in Lebanon, by making its television station, Al Manar, available in the United States.

In a brief filed in July, the government said, in an echo of the Ramadan case, that the satellite case was only about business dealings and "has nothing to do with speech, expression or advocacy," adding that "the defendants remain free to speak out in favor of Hezbollah and its political objectives." But they may not transmit Al Manar's message.

Defense lawyers noted that Fox News and CNN had also broadcast material from Al Manar.

"There is a vast difference," the government responded, "between airing excerpts of footage from Al Manar to illustrate a news event and providing equipment and facilities which allow for the uninterrupted transmission of Al Manar's broadcasts." Fox News, moreover, "did not fully broadcast the audio" and "talked over the video."

Ezra Klein remembers our friend Paul Wellstone on the fifth anniversary of his death.

From The National Priorities Project:

With the Bush Administration's recent request for an additional $45.9 billion in war spending for fiscal year 2008, the total proposed war spending would rise to $611.5 billion, according to the National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit research group. NPP has updated its website to include:

"These local numbers bring home the impact of this extraordinary level of war spending," said Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project. "We hope taxpayers will use them to tell Congress to bring an end to it."

The National Priorities Project (NPP) is a 501(c)(3) research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent. Located in Northampton, MA, since 1983, NPP focuses on the impact of federal spending and other policies at the national, state, congressional district and local levels. For more information, go here.

From TomDispatch:

In a groundbreaking piece, Jack Miles, Pulitzer-Prize winning author and fellow for religious affairs with the Pacific Council on International Relations, takes up one of the least considered subjects in the American mainstream media world: the fate of Iraqi oil in the context of a reassertion of Iraqi sovereignty.

He begins dramatically: "The oil game in Iraq may be almost up. On September 29th, like a landlord serving notice, the government of Iraq announced that the next annual renewal of the United Nations Security Council mandate for a multinational force in Iraq -- the only legal basis for a continuation of the American occupation -- will be the last." If that was the first Iraqi shoe to fall, Miles suggests that terminating a little noticed companion Security Council mandate on Iraqi oil may be the second.

As Miles writes, the political half of the Bush administration's gamble in Iraq has already been lost, but it "has proven adamantly unwilling to accept the loss of the economic half, the oil half, without a desperate fight." He then offers a unique exploration of what may be a kind of "slow-motion showdown" between the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which has, in the "Blackwatergate" affair and other matters, suddenly been flexing muscle that no one previously imagined it had. As Iraqi oil legislation -- that "benchmark" of both Congress and the White House -- flounders terminally in the Iraqi parliament, the question is: Will a fragmenting Iraq take back sovereignty over its oil resources, even on a regional basis? As Miles puts it, will "a new, Iran-allied, oil-rich, nine-province Shiite Iraq... match Kurdistan's deal [with Hunt Oil] with one of its own, perhaps even with ready-and-willing China. Will any combination of American military and diplomatic pressure suffice to stop such an untoward outcome?"

Miles concludes: "The eerie silence of the Bush administration about oil grows all the more deafening as the price of crude climbs toward $100 a barrel. Blood for oil may never have been a good deal, but so much blood for no oil at all may seem a far worse one."

Alter-reviews by Eric, in which we continue our efforts to highlight small label blues and American albums with which readers might not otherwise become familiar.

South of the Snooty Fox -- Sterling Harrison

This is a near perfect orthodox blues CD by the geographically named - never before widely heard, Sterling Harrison, and was discovered by a music producers at the M&M Soul Food in South Central, just south of the Snooty Fox Motel. The album was later recorded there over a one-week period at the end of 1999.

Prior to the recording, Harrison had only recorded a handful of singles and a few unnoticed albums over his forty-year singing career, which ended two years ago when he died of cancer. An incredible find, highly recommended by yours truly was released by Hacktone Records, and more information is available here.

On the Jimmy Reed Highway -- Omar Kent Dykes & Jimmie Vaughan

A project originally started only by Omar Kent Dykes, the album is a tribute to the harmonica-driven blues of Jimmy Reed, the blues musician of the '50s and '60s responsible for "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," and "Big Boss Man."

Dykes, the frontman of Omar & the Howlers, invited a wide array of artists to contribute to the tribute album, including Gary Clark Jr. and Jay Moeller, but when he brought Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, formerly of the Fab T-Birds and also a great album with his late, lamented bro, into the studio, the two apparently hit it off musically, and Vaughan was quickly added on for the rest of the album, released by Ruf Records. See here for more information.

House Rockin' and Blues Shoutin': Celebrating 15 Years of The Rhythm Room

Travelin' the Dirt Road -- Dave Riley and Bob Corritore

House Rockin' and Blues Shoutin' is 15 years of music at Phoenix's Rhythm Room put onto one disc. It features performances from the likes of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the late Robert Lockwood Jr., and Floyd Dixon, among others. All 14 tracks were recorded live, and include a good deal of audience interaction.

Bob Corritore, owner of the club, harmonica player, and producer of the record, also has an album out with guitarist and singer Dave Riley, called Travelin' the Dirt Road. Riley wrote eight of the tracks, and the other two are by the late John Weston. The album is billed as a musical journey through the Delta, with Riley's Mississippi vocals and Corritore's harmonica playing. The album was released by Blue Witch Records, which has more information here.

Another CD from a small, tasteful label, this one more "Americana" than blues, is Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez Live from the RuhrTriennale -- October 2005

This live recording, released Oct. 2, was made two years ago at the RuhrTriennale Festival in Germany during the festival's "Century of Song Series." The duo performs some of their own hits -- "Let's Leave This Town," "Laredo," and "Red Dog Tracks," but also come Chip Taylor hits, such as "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." Guitarist Buddy Miller joins in for the former track, which closes out the CD. The duo goes on to perform classics such as "Today I Started Loving You Again" by Merle Haggard and The Chieftains' "Long Black Veil." For more information on the album, released on Train Wreck Records, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

Eric:

Did you see this?

Yankee Fan Giuliani Backing Red Sox

BOSTON (AP) -- Sounds like a baseball flip-flop. Rudy Giuliani, a lifelong New York Yankees fan, said Tuesday he's pulling for their most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, to win the World Series over the Colorado Rockies.

"I'm rooting for the Red Sox," the Republican presidential contender said in response to a question, sparking applause at the Boston restaurant where he was picking up a local endorsement. ...

Oh. My. Gosh.

Clearly, this is a man without even one core moral principle.

Is it a coincidence that New Hampshire is Red Sox country and that Rudy knows he can't ever again win New York?

I hope my Sox-supporting friends (and wife) will say, "Thanks, but no thanks, Rudy."

Go Rockies!

Name: Matthew Saroff
Hometown: 40 Years in The Desert

I must object to your categorization of the New York Sun as a "Newspaper".

It reminds me of a story, recalled from an old WaPo article on Otis Chandler and how he made the LA Times a respectable paper.

A noted editor was on a train, and asked the purser for a newspaper, and he was brought the LA Times.

The publisher's thought was, "Poor Man, he must be illiterate."

For those of you too young, or too eastern to recall, the LA Times was an astonishingly bad newspaper before Otis Chandler came on board.

Name: Victoria Steinberg
Hometown: New York

Eric --

Since it sounds like you'd agree that loyalty does in fact count for everything, and money basically nothing, could you possibly try to give Yankee fans, loyal through years of disappointment (I'm counting most of the '60s, much of the '70s and '90s, plus all of the '80s here), a break?

If you love your team, you just love your team -- and you don't particularly care what happens to any other one (unless, of course, it's those annoying, madly mythologizing Red Sox (or at least their ridiculous fans)).

Go Rockies!

Eric replies: I agree. If you're a fan of Evil, you're a fan of Evil. What can you do? (But you should still have to take some shit for it, no?) But actually, I did not say "everything" and "nothing." I said or meant to say "not everything" and "not nothing." But anyway, I don't feel like getting Siva all angry again. If someone that smart doesn't get the Yankees' gaming of the system, the argument is hopeless (though still true ...).

Name: Lionel Artom-Ginzburg
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

The classic argument that's brought forth by Bush and his defenders on the subject of torture relates to the ticking bomb scenario-- that, given a narrow time frame in which to save innocent life, it's acceptable to torture.

While reading some contemporary Italian history, I came across an interesting quote. People under the age of 35, maybe even 40, probably don't remember the Aldo Moro crisis. Aldo Moro was a several-times prime minister of Italy who was kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists in 1978. After about 50 days, in which the terrorists alternately interrogated Moro and let him write letters to the outside world begging for his life, he was murdered. Maybe "several-times prime minister" doesn't do his stature justice -- imagine, G-d forbid, that something similar happened to, oh, Bob Dole or Dick Gephardt. An important politician widely recognized as a national leader, taken by terrorists making outrageous demands who could kill him at any moment. Short of an actual nuclear bomb, that's one of the worst things imaginable in a democracy.

At one point in the crisis, General Dalla Chiesa, the head of the team trying to unravel the kidnapping, was asked permission to torture a Red Brigades sympathizer who was in jail, for information that might free Moro. His response? "Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture." (from the prologue to the CONADEP report, detailing the disappearance and torture of people during the Argentinian Dirty War)

The US is going to have to make a lot of hard choices in the post-Bush years. Perhaps the hardest, and the most important, is whether the members of his government who flouted the law and human rights will be brought to justice. If they aren't, I'm afraid General Dalla Chiesa's worry for Italy will come true for the United States.

Eric adds: Go Sox!

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