Same-as-it-ever-was Slacker Friday


We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Nowhere-istan," here, about coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan, and a new Nation column, "I Read the News Today, Oh Boy," about the alarming state of the newspaper business.

From today's Wall Street Journal editorial page: "The Washington Post has criticized this as obstinate, and Democratic foreign policy analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution reacted this way: 'To say you're going to get out on a certain schedule -- regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground -- is the height of absurdity.' " Which leads me to wonder if, when people like the editors of The Wall Street Journal, Michael O'Hanlon or the editors of The Washington Post (among many, many, many others, of course) attack Barack Obama's plans for Iraq, it might be a good idea -- for the sake of fairness and intellectual honesty -- to preface their remarks by saying: "Of course, it was the judgment of people like me who caused this catastrophe, and nothing I predicted before the war has actually turned out to be true, while Obama was not only correct about its likely effects, but also prophetic. Still, for reasons I can not even begin to explain, much less justify, I feel qualified to instruct him that ..."

From TomDispatch:

Nick Turse ("The Iraqi Oil Ministry's New Fave Five") offered some tips to mainstream reporters who finally -- only five years late -- made it to the Bush administration's role in Iraq's oil story. Now, in part two of his series on what the mainstream media misses when it comes to our oil wars and the energy story, he turns to Washington and that gas guzzler par excellence, the Pentagon. The ties that "the Complex" -- the term Turse gives the old military-industrial complex in his superb book on how our everyday lives have been militarized -- has developed with an allied petro-industrial complex are so taken for granted that mainstream reporters seldom think they add up to a story. It's like being on the science beat and filing stories about how we breathe. As a war-making society, though, our breathing's been a little labored lately and he suggests that perhaps it's time to take another look at everyday energy activities in the Pentagon.

Recently, the New York Times revealed that Hunt Oil -- a company with close ties to George W. Bush himself -- made an oil deal with the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq that undermined U.S. policy -- and the State Department actually encouraged it. So far so good. At the same time, however, Hunt Refining, Hunt Oil's corporate twin, got more than $70 million from the Pentagon in a fuel contract and nobody so much as noticed.

As Turse writes: "While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon's hunt for oil remains a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon guzzles fuel, it's a chronic blind spot in media energy coverage." As an example of the Pentagon's life as a massive energy user, he then follows the Hunt Refining story -- and the ever larger rewards the company has reaped from the Department of Defense on our tax dollars since the President's Global War on Terror was launched.

He concludes: "This is how the government now works and it should be a story -- and Hunt Refining should be part of it. But don't count on that. It's taken the mainstream media five years to make it to the oil story in Iraq. How many more before it notices that everyday oil operations in Washington are worth a look? ... Until the mainstream media begins to tease out the close-knit relationships among Hunt, other energy corporations, and the Pentagon that enable our military to function on a daily basis, key aspects not just of major scandals but of how our world works will remain hidden, even if in plain sight."

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Rosemary, on the gallows, she didn't even blink/The hangin' judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: Caravan (Cassandra Wilson) -- Once again this week I failed to prepare a barbecue lunch for 900 members of the elite political press corps so they'd spend the next year massaging my feet and writing stories about how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First: If you're keeping score at home, the following twin-killing, as recounted by MoDo in last Sunday's column -- "As Margaret Carlson told Mike Barnicle on 'Hardball' " -- was recorded by the famous double-play combination of Inept-To-Corrupt-To-Lunatic. There will always be a place for this kind of talent in baseball.

Part The Second: Look, Public Broadcasting makes A funny. I think I know where they can stick their tote bag.

Part The Third: The woman needs to be hospitalized. Soon. And, if she really believes this -- "But he seems like a guy who can be teased harmlessly" -- I dare her to try it.

Part The Fourth: No worries, Federal Appeals Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson tells us that "We may never know," he said, "whether we have struck the proper balance between liberty and security, because we do not know every action the executive is taking and we do not know every threat global terror networks have in store." Meanwhile, this is the most important interview of the week. I would like to add that the When Will Jane Mayer Appear On Meet The Press? clock is now ticking.

Part The Last: My goodness, ludicrously overpaid second-place teams can make some people so giddy. I think I remember what that was like.

There simply is no reason to take Newsweek seriously any more -- not with the Rev. Meacham at the helm, anyway -- but last week's affair was so shot through with utter worthlessness that it deserves individual examination. (Dahlia Lithwick may leave the room. This does not concern her.) The lead piece is a bulging sack of sonorous banality and pestiforous god-bothering on the subject of Barack Obama's "beliefs." In it, we got yet another ride on the Jeremiah Wright Tilt-a-Whirl, some brow-furrowing about the "difficulty" that Obama's having at shaking the notion that he's Muslim, and the astonishing assertion that "Presidents such as Lincoln and Jefferson were unorthodox Christians." Well, Lincoln, maybe, but, if the word has any meaning at all, Jefferson was no more a "Christian" than Nehru was. This is followed by a Q&A in which Obama is asked the following preposterous question by people purporting to be journalists:

"What do you think about the Kingdom of God? Is it attainable on Earth by humans?"

Well, yeah, but book early. It's the busy season.

And the Reverend leaps in with some meeping about spiritual journeys in which he makes Polonius sound like Sam Kinison.

Elsewhere, the occasionally reliable Jonathan Alter checks in with a column saying that, having dispensed with, rap music, and the Fourth Amendment in pursuit of "moderate" unicorns, Obama should now take a whack at the teachers' unions. (Sooner or later, some pundit is going to suggest that Obama simply belt in the chops individually any Democrat to the left of Evan Bayh.) In it, Alter gives every impression of having spent the last two decades on the Planet Mongo. The people who declined to fund No Child Left Behind sufficiently to monitor progress in thousands of schools will fund it sufficiently to monitor the progress of tens of thousands of teachers, as long as power is struck from the hands of their unions? Yeah, right. Once we bust tenure, then there will be more money paid to good teachers? Class size doesn't matter? And calling New Orleans merely "reform-minded" is rather gilding the lily. Alter was the leader in the clubhouse for Sap of The Week, and then Stuart Taylor came along with this thing. Apparently, the only way to get people to admit to committing crimes is to assure them that they will pay no criminal penalties. How did that work out in the case of the Iran-Contra pardons? This piece is so proudly, gloriously unmoored from the reality of anything that happened in the past seven years that one wonders if the Rev. Meacham has taken to editing in tongues. Of course, back in the day when the constitutional order faced genuine threats from blowjobs and meritless lawsuits, Taylor was rather tougher.

Pax vobiscum, kids. Do better, OK?

Name: Myles Reilly
Hometown: Salt Lake City

The net is beating the printed page because of its timeliness and convenience. Not content, not news. Somebody has to answer the questions: What were the sirens about last night? Who won the game? What are the facts?

Net people comment on the news, but they get it from the poor schmucks getting canned now.

Reporting is and will always be a "boots on the ground" job.

Imagine Drudge without links, it's just a blank page. The future.

Name: Kirby Warnock
Hometown: Dallas, TX

Your reference to Lee Abrams caused my eyebrows to raise. Back in the late 70s, a consultant by the same name (I'm sure it is him) caused the demise of FM rock radio stations. He sent out his recommended playlist to stations in all of the major markets telling them which rock songs to play and which ones to avoid until we have our current situation where every FM rock station plays the same thing except the local traffic report. Lee Abrams single-handedly ruined FM rock. Now he's out to ruin newspapers.

The McDonalds-ization of America continues. Every town will soon look alike. It all started with radio.

Name: Martin E. Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT

Wow! And people thought Clinton could parse a term!

Douglas Feith: "Removal of clothing is different from naked."

Imagine all the arguments in court cases involving "adult entertainment," or discussions with police on nude beaches, where there is a new authority to cite.

It boggles the mind.

PS: If you give an investigator unrestricted authority to "remove [someone's] clothing," doesn't that mean that he can strip the suspect naked? If not, how not?

Name: Derrick Gibson
Hometown: Miami, FL

The key takeaway from the great New Yorker Magazine Caper of 2008 came when McCain went on television mouthing the same words as the Obama campaign with respect to the cover: "offensive."

What was in this offensive cover? Why, all of the anti-Obama talking points the crazed right wing loves to espouse: Obama is a secret Muslim; he is part of a plot hatched by Osama bin Laden to take over the White House; Obama is not patriotic; Michelle Obama is a Black Nationalist, etc. These messages recirculate from email to radio to television and back, and the New Yorker captured all of them in one cover.

But now, McCain is on record from his own mouth as saying that the cover -- and the images it contained were -- were offensive. What will he do when the 527 organizations take up one or two or all of those images and convert them into their ads during the fall? What will he say when confronted with those ads during a debate -- will he shy away from his supporters or will he be forced to "reject and denounce" them?

Had Obama ignored the cover or attempted to shrug it off, his campaign would have fallen into the same trap that John Kerry did, who attempted to rise above it all with an air of -- "unpatriotic? I have a Purple Heart, for goodness sakes!"). Instead, by denouncing the cover immediately, he forced reporters to put the question to John McCain and get him on the record too.

What could McCain have said but ape the talking points the Obama campaign had made? "I think the cover raises questions that should be answered" or "Where there is smoke, there must be fire -- I just didn't know it was a flag burning!" or "No one will ever confuse my name with the most hated terrorist in the world." None of those work in the presence of a strong denunciation as the joke is made clear and supporting those images -- or supposing some portion of truth in them -- is laid bare as a falsehood.

Looks like Obama is playing chess where other campaigns are playing checkers.

Name: Pat Vaughan
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Dr. Alterman:

Regarding the post "Things I learned reading 'Iraq Case Sheds Light On Secret Contractors' ($) by Siobhan Gorman and August Cole in today's Wall Street Journal," item #4 stated "The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a broad bill tackling a wide range of intelligence policy issues, including tightening oversight of such contractors. It would force intelligence agencies to keep Congress better informed about their use." I have a better idea. Why not legislate that any government contractor with at least one employee stationed in either Iraq or Afghanistan must report the nature, length, size (number of employees), and value of the contract to the Congress. Failure to comply means imprisonment of the corporate officers and the refund of all payments made to the contractor under the terms of the contract.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Am I the only one who does not fully understand the Washington Post's current series on who killed Chandra Levy? It is sad she was killed, and it must make everything more difficult for her family and friends that no one has ever been convicted of the murder. But every single day, especially in Washington, D.C., people are murdered in cases that are never solved. And most of those murders go unsolved and receive nothing more than a blurb buried someplace in the Post.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

It always is a good day when I can criticize both The Washington Post's once-reputable editorial page and Joe Buck in the same breath, so here goes.

The Post's editorial is a reminder of that paper's sorry history on wars. Few seem to remember today that under an excellent if essentially closed-minded editor, J. Russell Wiggins, The Post was one of the most ardent supporters of LBJ's policies in Vietnam (while The New York Times under the much-underrated John Oakes's editorship was one of the leading editorial doves). Wiggins was, as David Halberstam beautifully described him in The Powers That Be, the kind of old-fashioned man who could not believe that his government would lie to him. That begs a question: what excuse does Fred Hiatt have? And what excuse does the Graham family have for countenancing this daily outpouring of lies and disgrace?

Which brings us to Joe Buck. He recently told a talk show host that he isn't all that interested in baseball. Actually, his entire broadcast style is a forced irreverence and unforced boredom designed to show that he is interested in something other than the event he is covering and that he knows something about popular culture. He is a far cry from his father, the late, great Jack Buck, probably the greatest modern baseball broadcaster next to Vin Scully, who once had a lovely line about George M. Steinbrenner III -- or, as Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Red Smith used to call the Yankees owner before age and the loss of historical awareness softened him and the media's perceptions of him, George III. Buck claimed to have been to Steinbrenner's yacht and said it was "a beautiful sight, with all 36 oars working in unison."

Name: Bob Tallman
Hometown: Crestwood, KY

As a RI-born Red Sox fan I had to laugh at the Yankees' idea of a grand finale to the All Star pre-game festivities, one Geo. Steinbrenner.

I had been looking forward to a replay of the 1999 Fenway All Star pregame introductions and wondered who NY would choose to honor in the finale -- Willie Mays or, more likely, the greatest living Yankee Yogi Berra. I was happy to see both enjoy sustained ovations from the NY crowd.

Whereas the Sox capped off a memorable event by highlighting the greatest hitter who ever lived, the Yankees rain George down upon the national audience, spoiling what up until then had been an impressive parade of baseball's immortals.

Like I said, as a fan of the World Champion Red Sox, I had to laugh.

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

Without defending the Yankees or Steinbrenner, I disagree with Eric B from NYNY about letting the man into the Hall of Fame. It's not the "Hall of Baseball People Who Were Nice and Decent Human Beings." Even if you see Steinbrenner as a villain, sort of baseball's Darth Vader, he had a clear influence on the game over decades. For the same reason, I think it's silly to ignore Pete Rose's playing career because of the very poor decisions he made later. If Ty Cobb is in there, it's kind of hard to argue anyone else should be disqualified on moral grounds.

Name: Ron Curtiss
Hometown: Studio City, CA

Eric: I just have to compliment you on your use of song lyrics to introduce your column. Being an old proghead and seeing "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends" from Emerson, Lake and Palmer does my heart good. Amazing how apropos they all are to the madness that exists around us.

Eric replies: Thanks. Sometimes it's a lot of work, but yesterday was one of those days where magically, what was on worked.

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