Why We're Liberals
by Eric Alterman (Viking)
Alterman spends a lot of time clearing away the falsehoods spread by both right-wing and mainstream media figures, but the core of the book is a vigorous defense of liberalism as a credo -- a credo, Alterman argues persuasively, that most Americans actually subscribe to in its constituent parts. Acknowledging that liberalism is notoriously difficult to define, he nonetheless provides an extensive and nuanced analysis of its substance.
Take a look at the front page of today's Times, and you have to wonder how in Hell any candidate can possibly expect to win an election without fully and completely repudiating every single policy professed by the Bush administration. We have a story about the housing crisis it ignored spreading around the world and causing a global recession; exploding co-payments for prescription drugs following its insane Medicare giveaway that destroyed the program's long-term solvency to put money in the pockets of corporations; terrorist tactics against union leaders in Colombia for a trade pact designed to further enrich those who are paying the murderers; and massive spending on $10 million apartments and private jets for the extremely wealthy, who are doing just fine, thanks (though some of them are apparently too stupid not to have themselves photographed as examples of conspicuous consumption). You have to turn to page 6A to learn of the 1,300 fired Iraqi soldiers and members of the security forces who refused to fight in the Basra debacle, and of course, there's no room for a story of the administration's catastrophic environmental policies, or its failures in the Middle East, vis-à-vis Iran and North Korea, etc, but you get the point. John McCain should thank his lucky stars that his base is the MSM, rather than the Republican Party.
Also in the current Atlantic, we find in Jeffrey Goldberg's long article on Israel, the following observation of its relatively hawkish, relatively conservative prime minister, Ehud Olmert:
I recently watched Olmert address a small group of American Jewish leaders, including some who, unlike the majority of American Jews, are dubious about Olmert's embrace of moderation, and his willingness to negotiate the future of Jerusalem. "I know everyone is very sensitive and very curious about Jerusalem," he said. "Sometimes when I hear people talking to me about Jerusalem, I say, 'Hey, excuse me, what exactly did you build in Jerusalem, that you are preaching to me? Who built more in Jerusalem and did more to protect the unity of the city of Jerusalem than any of those who are wasting lots of energies and spending a lot of money in order to try and overswarm my position?' " (Olmert later told me that unnamed American Jews are "investing a lot of money trying to overthrow the government in Israel.")
It reminded me of that drunk comic on HBO the other week or so -- I think I quoted him here -- who did that wonderful riff about the drunken idiotic American morons who go around saying "We rescued France," or "We beat the Nazis." Well, you gotta ask. When was that? We picked up the beer. We ate all those wings. We fired up the bong a few times. Maybe I passed out. But I don't remember kicking any Nazi ass or liberating France. ... Or something like that.
Oh, and Gene Lyons reminds me that, believe it or not, I owe Bill O'Reilly an apology. It's true that O'Reilly is just about as big a jerk as is humanly possible and he has slandered me on his program a few times, but the one time I appeared on it, he was unfailingly polite, as Lyons notes; he was to Gene as well. He is much better mannered with his guests, therefore, than is Laura Flanders, and it was wrong of me to imply the opposite. (I don't know about Limbaugh. I don't think he ever invites liberals on his program, which, I guess, also demonstrates better manners than invitations followed by personal abuse ...)
You may be familiar with the case of Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who has been held without charges by American forces in Iraq for two years. Hussein was hired by the Associated Press to cover events in his country as a stringer who could move about more freely than many Western reporters, and he took some dramatic photos of the assault on Fallujah in November 2004 that were part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning package. Apparently the Army believed, but has yet to prove, that Hussein was getting the help of insurgents in taking his photos, an accusation loudly repeated by the right-wing blogosphere.
The news this week is that Hussein was finally ordered released by an Iraqi judicial committee who cleared him of any wrongdoing -- although the United States may fight the order. The AP and various journalist-rights groups have long taken up the imprisoned photographers cause, and are demanding his immediate release; the head of the Associated Press went so far as to proclaim that Hussein's imprisonment "stands as a sad black mark on American values of justice and fairness."
The larger issue here is the Army's attempted stifling of news coming out of Iraq. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes that "Hussein's detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last four years, dozens of journalists -- mostly Iraqis -- have been detained by U.S. troops... some for weeks or months." Iraqi stringers are crucial to newsgathering efforts there, as Iraq becomes increasingly unsafe for Western journalists to move about without the Army's guidance. Even without being detained by the Army without charges, the job is tough enough for the Iraqi stringers -- nine out of 10 journalists in Iraq say their local staff cannot carry anything that identifies them as cooperating with Western news organizations, including even notebooks, and 57 percent of journalists say a local staff member has been murdered or kidnapped in the past year. See our "Think Again" on the issue for more, here.
"From the beginning, George W. Bush has frequently been ridiculed for his speaking style. Now, seven years later, he's credited with some of the most eloquent and visionary speeches ever delivered by an American president." - Brett Baier, Fox News, George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish.
Yes, Fox deserves every bit of what John Oliver gives them, here.
McCain Suck-up Watch: "On Hardball, Tim Russert said of Sen. John McCain: '[T]he perception right now of McCain is someone who's experienced, someone who they see not of the Republican brand or the Bush brand, but of the maverick brand.' Russert did not acknowledge the media's role in promoting that 'brand,' much less the role of Hardball host Chris Matthews -- who, the next day on Today, called McCain 'a maverick. People think of him as a maverick.' " More here.
Rebecca Solnit first arrived at TomDispatch (where she is now a regular) in May 2003 in a moment of relative silence -- soon after the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq and millions of protesters had gone home in despair -- with a piece entitled "Acts of Hope," which later became the core of her book, Hope in the Dark. Solnit reminded those of us ready to listen that "activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark." It was, she wrote, too soon to tote up the "score" or declare matters over on the invasion of Iraq or much else. None of us, she suggested, should pack our bags and go home, or fall silent.
Historically speaking, this was especially striking coming from a woman in a world where women had long taken silencing as their experience in life. Today, Solnit turns, in her own irrepressible way, to the silencing of women -- as experienced first in her own life.
She begins, amusingly, with an encounter she and a friend had with a Very Important (and well to-do) Man who proceeds to tell her knowledgeably about a book she's actually written herself and then can't quite grasp that the book is hers. She adds; "That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless -- for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we've never really stopped."
She adds: "Yes, guys like this pick on other men's books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.
"Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence."
Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
"Ain't no lion or tiger, ain't no mamba snake/Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake."
Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Black Night" (Dr. John) -- Once again, I failed to use my Hindoo hypnotic spells to make Joe Scarborough dress like Irma Thomas as a statement to how much I love New Orleans.
Slacker Friday -- Special Monday Edition (Take the rest of the day off. You've earned it.)
Part The First: It's been a great couple of weeks. First, the NPR show of which I'm a part gets a Peabody. And then, this happens to one of my favorite people, and one of the best editors who ever touched my copy. And he gets one the same year as The Master does. Yea, heavy, and a bottle of bread!
Part The Second: For you kids watching at home. This is how you use Mr. Google to kick somebody's arse around the block.
Part The Third: This is just dumbassery. I will always love Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments as sheer, unsurpassed cheese. And I had no use for Chuck's later shilling on behalf of the gun crazoids among us. But dammit, in 1963, lining up with Dr. King anywhere was not close to being the safe play. (J. Edgar Hoover was compiling dossiers on anyone who ever walked past King on the sidewalk, for pity's sake). Heston didn't have to go to the March. The smart move was not to go. He stepped up. I would note that neither Kennedy brother did. Ex post facto lefty snarking 45 years on aside, that's Game Over. Or it ought to be.
Part The Fourth: Welcome to our local nightmare. Oddly, neither this local station, nor the other one that ran this story, used the useless piece of slime's name. It's Hal Turner, who many of you may recall as Sean Hannity's onetime BFF. I can't for the life of me figure out why the stations buried the moron's identity.
Part The Last: On the other hand, this is even greater dumbassery. One of the reasons I agree with Greenwald here is that I have been a working journalist for almost 30 years. I do not approve of morons defacing my craft. I also do not approve of tiny little otherwise unemployable wonk-babies, cosseted in the masthead of a respected magazine that wouldn't have allowed them in the door 40 years ago, telling me my business, or what The People want. Look, toots, you have two choices. Go somewhere and actually report something. Or thank the living god that made you that "opinion journalism" has approximately the same standards of employment as the monkeyhouse at the zoo.
I was away from the Intertubes for several days and, therefore, I am just now catching up to the whole "Bittergate" controversy. (I actually heard a TV drone say that.) I also am just now catching up with the fact that the president of the United States is proud to have hosted meetings in which specific techniques of torture were discussed in the presidential mansion. Forgive me if I am not yet up to speed on the two stories, but having a candidate for the presidency say something that virually anyone who's spent any time in the region in question knows to be true -- which, I will admit, leaves out almost all of the people covering national politics these days -- seems to me rather less of a story than the fact that a giggling unemployable spent time pretending to be Henry VIII down the hall from a gathering of bloodsoaked, pathetic wannabe tough guys. (I mean, lord save us, but is there a more obvious dweeb than Douglas Feith?) I have no illusions about the dirty deeds that were plotted and executed in the Executive manse down through the years, but this thing? Smarmy little bureaucrats exchanging their favorite episodes of 24, the way the late Chris Farley used to host "The Chris Farley Show" ("You remember when Jack shot the guy in the kneecap? That was awesome.")? CIA guys brought in to "demonstrate" the subleties of each method? This wasn't national security. This was porn, plain and simple. Everyone of these criminal bastards should have been wearing a raincoat.
p.s. -- "It's another thing for a presidential candidate to claim that WE [my emphasis] 'cling to...religion' out of economic frustration." Do you suppose anyone at the NYT noticed that's the funniest single pronoun ever to be printed in English? Exactly who do you mean by "we," you honorarium-fattened, silver-spooned, legacy-suckled, ideological affirmative-action hunk of smug, overfed mediocrity? Run along now and get the blood off your hands before some devout, bitter Pennsylvanian in a Cat hat gives you the wedgie you so richly deserve.
What caught my eye though, and has largely fallen out of the news cycle, was LTC Bateman's reference to Haditha in his May 2007 post.
For those who have lost track of the proceedings against the Marines charged with various crimes relating to the death of 24 Iraqi civilians what seems like ages ago, a brief update is in order. Of the four enlisted men alleged to have committed murder or manslaughter, three have had the charges dropped and the other is scheduled to face a court martial sometime later in the year. This despite at least one Marine no longer under threat of punishment, admitting he shot several children.
Of the four officers charged with not properly conducting an investigation into the events, charges have been dropped against two of them. The most senior officer charged will face his court martial beginning next week. His defense seems to be that he told the chain of command about a significant number of civilian deaths in Haditha, but since they did nothing, he didn't either. The other, a junior officer, may be tried later in the year.
It remains to be seen if the military justice system is able to render any meaningful response to the death of the 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005. So far any conclusion based on past performance would appear to indicate that it will not.
This is just an aside, as I believe Altercation and most Altercators have stood to the side of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright fracas; still, I do believe it is worth saying in defense of the right reverend that his post 11 September 2001 sermon was not "anti-American" as it has been categorized. It was a warning to America that a nation cannot export death and not expect death in return.
Newton might describe this through his Third Law of Motion, condensed as, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction", but no matter how it is phrased, the meaning remains the same.
It saddens me to see how this Vietnam-era veteran has had his name dragged through the mud and mostly by the same sons of privilege who chose not to volunteer as Wright did and/or developed multiple causes for deferments of the draft.
I'd like to second Don Cybelle's emotion regarding that ridiculous Kirchick piece in the Advocate. I read Altercation daily and have never felt a single homophobic vibe here. In fact, I will say it in a more positive way: I appreciate your treating Mr. Sullivan just like you would treat any other writer who posts the drivel that he does. He should not receive special, kid-glove treatment because he is gay and HIV positive.
As I said, I read Altercation daily and enjoy it immensely. However, be warned that that could change if we have to go very many Fridays without hearing from the mighty Pierce.
Too right, Rachel Maddow is "also terrific"! If you haven't heard her show, you owe it to yourself to at least sample it by podcast.
I used to listen to Randi Rhodes' local show (on WJNO) when I lived in the West Palm Beach area. I admire her passion, but her style was always hyperbolic verging on hypergolic. In addition, she was always a bit vulnerable to the conspiratorial fringe. Plus which, she always seemed to have some sort of dispute going with her bosses... which seems to be part of what's happening in this recent kerfuffle.
Sorry to hear about apparent misbehavior at Air America. I haven't listened much since Al Franken left but did listen to Randi Rhodes a lot for about two years. While very brash, it seemed to me she always did her homework and knew of where she spoke.
I support Obama but have been refusing to get into any Hillary hatred. Her recent "no bitters" campaign has been really hard to take though. Still Randi should take it back. Hillary is not a fucking whore, just a terrible disappointment.
I hate disagreeing with you Eric (again), but AAR was WRONG in suspending Randi Rhodes. And why did The Goddess of Radio refer to Hillary in those terms? RICHARD MELLON SCAIFE. He was the moneybags behind every single crackpot Clinton theory in the 1990s. Scaife called Hillary a lesbian, an adulteress, and a murderer. Hillary should have given Scaife the back of her hand, rather than a distraction from Scaife's own messy life. Randi Rhodes never said a bad word about Hillary on the air until the day after that meeting. And while I agree that asking Chelsea questions about Monica is out of bounds, it is not out of bounds to ask her questions, such as "why did your mother meet with a man who accused her of murdering Vince Foster?"
Eric replies: We disagree, alas.