Distant cousins from down the line ...


My appearance with Comrade Colbert on the program last night is here. The book, once again, is here.

This story is an important one:

Since Hamas took over Gaza last June, routing Fatah, Hamas sermons and media reports preaching violence and hatred have become more pervasive, extreme and sophisticated, on the model of Hezbollah and its television station Al Manar, in Lebanon.

Intended to indoctrinate the young to its brand of radical Islam, which combines politics, social work and military resistance, including acts of terrorism, the programs of Al Aksa television and radio, including crucial Friday sermons, are an indication of how far from reconciliation Israelis and many Palestinians are.

Hamas's grip on Gaza matters, but what may matter more in the long run is its control over propaganda and education there, breeding longer-term problems for Israel, and for peace. No matter what Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agree upon, there is concern here that the attitudes being instilled will make a sustainable peace extremely difficult."

"If you take a sample on Friday, you're bound to hear incitement against the Jews in the prayers and the imam's sermon," said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University here. "He uses verses from the Koran to say how the Jews were the enemies of the prophet and didn't keep their promises to the prophet 1,400 years ago."

Mr. Abusada is a Muslim and political independent. "You have young people, and everyone has to listen to the imam whether you believe him or not," he said. "By saying the same thing over and over, you find a lot of people believing it, especially when he cites the Koran or hadith," the sayings of the prophet.

What is missing from the piece, however, is the context of what is being done by the Israelis to inspire much of this hatred and also to make sure that true peace is impossible as well. Of course nothing quite so indefensible as this kind of incitement to hatred and murder -- at least not officially -- but Israel consistently acts in a fashion explicitly designed to make sure that peace never happens except on terms that no people could ever find acceptable. Settlements on stolen land are growing, in direct contradiction of commitments Israel made to the peace process. Fifty checkpoints were opened last week, thanks to Condi Rice, but the mere necessity for this -- and the sheer impossibility of living a normal life on the West Bank, much less Gaza, because of the impossible conditions imposed on it -- are surely an important part of this story as well. It's not as if Gazans hate Jews for no reason, as so many American Jews and right-wing Christians might like to imagine. Too often, newspapers that prize objectivity treat context as bias. But here is one of myriad potential illustrations as to why a lack of context can confuse more than illuminate.

George Zornick writes:

It begins: We recently noted there wasn't much attention being paid to the upcoming congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who will try to frame events in Iraq over the past several months as worthwhile progress. Well, that's about to change -- via Politico, in a story titled "GOP to Go On Iraq Message Offensive," we see that "House Republicans are launching what they call a 'full-fledged assault on the misinformation campaign promoted by Democratic leaders,' whom they accuse of trying to "legislate defeat' by calling for troop withdrawals." Leading up to next week's testimony, the GOP plans a "steady stream" of "op-eds and editorial board memos," an "aggressive" TV and radio operation and an effort to "engage conservative bloggers," according to a strategy memo obtained by the Politico.

I was going to write that I hope anti-war Democrats are going to push back, but I see that actually they are -- several paragraphs into the story, the reporter mentions that "in the run-up to Petraeus' testimony, Democrats are expected to launch an aggressive message push of their own, arguing that the war continues to stretch the military dangerously thin and that its costs imperil the economy." Why only the GOP effort was worthy of the story's headline or lead I'm not sure, but in any case, it's clear that a crucial battle is unfolding. Both sides will be working to control the media narrative on Iraq. While I'd like to be optimistic that the facts will prevail, the media's spinning of the surge as a successful strategy (see our recent Think Again here), along with the prevalence of pro-war voices in the mainstream discussion (Think Again again), and the slanted focus of this very story don't leave me with much hope. But it would nice to be proven wrong in this case.

Yesterday, Eric noted a story in Newsweek showing that the United States stacks up pretty poorly when you compare our health care system to the rest of the Western world. This likely isn't news to doctors: a poll released yesterday shows that, along with the American public, doctors "now favor switching to a national health care plan, and fewer than a third oppose the idea." More here.

From The Nation Institute:

The Nation Institute and The Fertel Foundation are pleased to honor the winners of the 2008 Ridenhour Prizes:

Bill Moyers is awarded the 2008 Ridenhour Courage Prize in recognition of his fierce embrace of the public interest and his advocacy of media pluralism, and for contributing an unyielding moral voice to our national discourse.

James D. Scurlock is awarded the 2008 Ridenhour Book Prize honoring an outstanding work of social significance from the prior publishing year. Scurlock's book, Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit, is a disturbing account of America's unsustainable relationship with debt, revealing the vulnerability of the average person to the predatory and unethical lending methods of banks and credit card companies.

Matthew Diaz has been awarded the 2008 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. Diaz is a former JAG officer who, while stationed at Guantánamo Bay, was the first person to release the names of the prisoners at the detention camp. In early January 2005, on the last night of his tour, he mailed a list -- with the names and corresponding serial numbers of the 551 prisoners -- in a Valentine's Day card to a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Diaz hoped that his actions would help lawyers file habeas corpus petitions on the prisoners' behalf.

The prizes will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 3.

The Ridenhour Prizes seek to recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society. The prizes memorialize the spirit of fearless truth-telling that one-time whistleblower and lifetime investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career. Each award carries a $10,000 stipend.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Roger Stone
Hometown: Miami Beach Florida

John F. Kennedy was not in any way a liberal. Despite his campaign pledges he appointed segregationist judges and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the fight for Civil Rights. He reneged on his pledge for a Fair Housing Bill and a Voting Rights Bill. He was a far stronger Cold warrior and Anti-Communist than his opponent Richard Nixon, effectively running to Nixon's right in 1960.

Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt knew he was no liberal and opposed his nomination because of it.

In 1958 he voted for the Southern Amendment that required that civil rights violations be tried in front of local (all White) Juries -- thus effectively gutting the 1958 Civil Rights Act.

Jack was many things but liberal was not one of them.

Name: Michael Rapoport


Kudos on your New Yorker piece. I'll admit I was a little frustrated at times reading through it, thinking, "well, he's putting forth the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo as potential replacements for newspapers, but they don't and can't do a lot of things we need newspapers for" ... until I realized that was precisely the point you were leading up to. Good job.

The point you made that most bears reemphasizing, I think, is the extent to which blogs and other news-oriented Internet sites depend on the material generated by quality newspapers. A site like TPM is great at what it does, and it's a welcome part of any news diet, but they're not going to field a team of professional correspondents in hot spots around the world, nor are they going to cover town-council meetings and city-hall scandals in thousands of communities across the country. Right now only newspapers do that, and even their commitment to that sort of comprehensive coverage is ebbing. When and if we do lose newspapers, as you suggest, we're going to be losing an essential ingredient of what we need for a well-functioning democracy, and it's going to be very hard to get back.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Wow, Eric, you have a groupie! I admit that I was on the verge of sounding that scattered at Borders a couple of weeks ago, but something restrained me. Thanks again for your kind words.

And yes, Bush was roundly booed last night at the opening of our new ballpark. Why did he feel the need to throw out the first pitch? Is he seriously so clueless as to think that he would have been cheered? It wasn't a handpicked audience. Anyone could come into the park. I was hoping for Cheney-level booing, but it was close enough. Probably the only ballpark where Bush would encounter any level of cheering (at least no booing) is San Diego. And then he stunk it up in the booth with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Hello Eric,

Old Navy Guy here in the Land of Enchantment where Big Bill had to shave his beard before becoming Carville's Judas.

Today McCain made the following statement as reported by "The Caucus" in the NYT: "Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans" Mr. McCain said on his campaign bus as it rolled through downtown Meridian, saying that the move showed independence but that he had expected the military to focus on Mosul. "I just am surprised that he would take it on himself to go down and take charge of a military offensive," he said. "I had not anticipated that he would do that."

I guess most people missed the portion of Bush's "defining moment" speech of 28 March where he said: "one of the early questions I had to the Prime Minister (Maliki) was would he be willing to confront criminal elements whether they be Shi'ia or Sunni. Would he in representing people who want to live in peace be willing to use force seeking to bring to jus-tice those who...you know...take advantage of a vacuum or those who murder the innocent. His answer to me was: 'Yes I will.' I said, 'You'll have our support if that is the case if you believe in even-handed justice."

So what Bush revealed is that the offensive into Basra was initiated by the Administration using Iraqi surrogates. Given Cheney's visit to Baghdad, the timing lines up. The Administration tried to give itself cover should the move against the Shi'ia militias head south, which it appears it has. Given that Sadr has been largely responsible (along with the Sunni militias) with the cease fire in allowing the Administration and Republicans to repeat the mantra "the surge is working" (though casualties only settled to 2005 levels) one must again question the competence of Bush and his foreign policy people.

It seems from an objective standpoint that the Administration is still seeking to provoke a reaction on the ground that will lead to a war with Iran under any pretext. That this ideologically blind policy will destroy any vestige of good will that may still reside in the hearts of the Iraqi people for Americans seems to be beside the point, especially when you are a small boy in a man's body playing the role of war leader.

Name: Jason
Hometown: Santa Rosa, CA

Dear Dr. Alterman,

I was struck by a Roll Call list the Washington Independent (thanks for the turn-on!) pointed to comparing the list of K Street Lobbyists who have openly endorsed a Presidential candidate, here.

It's hard to ignore that Senator Clinton has received over three times the number of Lobbyist endorsements than Senator Obama. This coupled with the relative difference in each candidate's donor base supports Senator Obama's contention to be running a different (although not completely) kind of campaign.

I also thought it interesting where the $ people seem to be placing their bets: Dems = 87 endorsements, McCain = 31 (although his was updated last on 3/4/08)

Name: Aaron Derrick
Hometown: Dallas, Oregon


Caught you at Powell's last Thursday, and very much enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for taking the time.

Speaking of time, I didn't have enough to get in a question about Hillary. It strikes me as odd that as much as I follow this silly election coverage I don't know that I've heard anyone ask about Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Should it not offend Americans to be "ruled" by the same two families from 1992 until at least 2012? I'm not saying I'd discount Hillary strictly because of this, but it certainly seems like a further drift towards elitism if we can't find any other worthy families.

As always, keep up the great work.

Name: fred
Hometown: SF bayarea

How can we deal with right-brain dominated thinking in the Democratic Party? Where is the logic?

My co-worker's brother and friends in Texas are strong Clinton supporters, but if she doesn't get the nomination, they say they'll vote for McCain because they don't want an angry black man for President. They don't seem to care about the real issues, just voting on emotion (and prejudices) like so many others ... very sad.

What can we "really" do to deal with this attitude? It seems you can talk until you're blue in the face, and it won't make a difference to them.

My fear is that many more feel this way, but won't admit it. But when it comes time to vote, then it will come out.

Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: http://dailyrevolution.net

A fellow named Cohen at WaPo wrote a review today about Nicholson Baker's history of WW2, Human Smoke. Cohen, unfortunately, appears to have read only the afterword and drew his conclusions about the entire book from that.

Well I've read all of Human Smoke and agree with Chalmers Johnson that this is one of the more important books you may ever read, especially now, at a time when we are facing a regional war threatening to become something global and more horrific than can be imagined. Baker lets his own exhaustive research tell the story of how a regional conflict focused on a local despot turned over a decade into "the war to end all wars."

Maybe Mr. Cohen is uncomfortable with the halos being torn off the heads of the archangels FDR and Churchill, just as many in our contemporary media squirm at the thought of Bush and Blair as anything but peacemakers and defenders of freedom. But to read Human Smoke as an endorsement of Hitler or of allowing tyrants to run geopolitically amuck is to sell this extraordinary book way short and to deny a future (and hopefully wiser) American government the chance to learn from the past and exploit the opportunities that were missed by another generation.

Fortunately, the Times posted the first chapter of Human Smoke here, so readers can decide for themselves what this remarkable piece of narrative portraiture has to teach us about our own era.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.