We've got a new Think Again column called "The Bush Legacy: War on the Press, Continued," here, which is part II of last week's column here, and a new Nation column called "Refs Worked (Redux)" about CBS and The Washington Post, which is here.
We've been repeatedly calling attention (here, here, and here) to the case of Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT grad and mother of three who the U.S. government claims is the new face of Al-Qaeda -- but her lawyers say Siddiqui has been essentially kidnapped by the CIA and tortured possibly to the point where she's mentally unfit to stand trial. (She was also shot and nearly killed at Bagram -- the military says she grabbed a soldier's gun and he fired in self-defense).
Who's telling the truth? We haven't really been able to say, as the American MSM has almost completely blacked out the story. The last major paper to write anything on Siddiqui was The Washington Post, which gave her case three sentences in a news briefing compiled from wire services, according to Nexis.
But Der Spiegel, the German magazine, has written a fantastic and lengthy story on the case, here, and it presents details that have never before appeared anywhere in the American MSM, so far as we're aware. Why a chilling account of what the American government may be doing has to appear in a German magazine, we're not sure, but it's worth a read -- especially if you happen to be an editor or producer stateside. Feel free to send it to one.
And speaking of fantastic, lengthy stories, here is yet another reason for the indispensability of The New York Times. It's only No. 9 on the most emailed list, and you don't win extra advertising for a story like this, but it's a big reason newspapers matter, and it will be more the pity when we lose this kind of thing, as it's all but irreplaceable. Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up here. I wonder if anyone in the MSM will ...
Who today in any camp on the left can have the optimism to believe that capitalism is capable of reforming itself? And who today can look forward with confidence to any outcome from the present chaos short of the establishment of a socialistic society -- not like the Russian: how could it be?
Yet these liberals, who presumably aim at socialism, still apparently pin great hopes on the capitalists. They draw up schemes for "planned economies" which are designed to preserve the capitalist system while eliminating some of its worst features-though so far as one can tell from what they write, they haven't the ghost of an idea of an agency to put even these into effect. The liberals of today are not a part of a progressive movement like the liberals of the Wilson-Roosevelt era. One can only suppose that they are hoping for some such movement, though it is not clear where it is coming from nor why, ... For one feels, as one reads them today, that, in spite of their expressions of moral and esthetic dissatisfaction, they are still sold like other middle-class Americans on the Values of the middle-class world which they criticize. You look in vain in any of their recent utterances for any really damaging attack on these values. ...Without, no doubt, being conscious of it, these writers seem unwilling to face the implications of the middle-class acceptance of the status quo-which involves at the present time the forcing-down of the working-class below the bare subsistence level in order that the owning-class may not be obliged to sacrifice comforts and luxuries -- a state of things always easy to ignore.
In fact, though they are better informed and more enlightened than the average American business man, their imagination does not extend much further nor their logic cut much deeper. Their political thinking is mediocre because their solidarity is middle-class. And this is a disappointment to one who bas read them in the past with profit. Writers of their intellectual eminence have no business to succumb to the influence of standards of living. What is at the bottom of the capitalist crisis is class-differences in standards of living with the special habits and ideas they involve and of which it is as bard for the ordinary person to divest himself as for the leopard to change his spots. It is bard for anybody; but if our professional illuminati can't break through them to some larger grasp of the world which is cracking up around us, we deserve all to be cooked together.
Get the joke yet? Well, it's here.
Interesting piece by Keith Gessen on Solzhenitsyn, Edward Said, and exile.
The funny thing about this interesting article about my favorite movie of the year, The Secrets, is this opening sentence: "It is likely to get lost in the swirl of holiday blockbuster movies about Australian cowboys, animated canines and a vampire with an identity crisis, but a quiet Israeli film that explores the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism is also likely to touch off the same deep discussion here that it did when it opened in Israel last year."
Well, yeah, it got lost in the Times review on Wednesday last week, which gave it an extremely tepid review, buried deep in the paper, below that silly Australian thing, among much else that was completely unworthy. That crappy review is here.
The 800-pound gorilla of American government that any administration must either face (or duck) is the Pentagon and its massive budget. Everything about Barack Obama's line-up of national security appointees already indicates that this administration will be ducking. In her latest TomDispatch post, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation's Arms and Security Initiative, explores just what taking on the Pentagon would mean for Obama.
She considers its soaring budgets that leave it accounting for nearing half of all global military spending, more than what the next 45 nations together spend on an annual basis, as well as who's suggesting Defense Department cuts and what they would mean. She also considers the military-industrial complex and what key defense corporations are likely to push for, even amid worldwide economic desperation.
Finally, she sums up this way: "Unfortunately, when it comes to military spending and defense, the record is reasonably clear -- Obama is not about to go toe-to-toe with the military-industrial-complex." In fact, his campaign trail pledges and plans seem to indicate that, from expanding the Army and Marines to a surge in Afghanistan and a spike in defense spending to "reset" a military force worn out by war, we can expect more of the same.
She concludes this piece -- the only one of its kind you'll find anywhere -- this way: "As a candidate, Barack Obama stirred our imagination through his calls for a 'new era of international cooperation.' The United States cannot, however, cooperate with other nations from atop our shining Green Zone on the hill; we cannot cooperate as the world's sole superpower, policeman, cowboy, hyperpower, or whatever the imperial nom du jour turns out to be. Bottom line: we cannot genuinely and effectively cooperate while spending more on what we like to call 'security' than the next 45 nations combined.
"A new era in Pentagon spending would have to begin with a recognition that enduring security is not attained by threat or fiat, nor is it bought with staggering billions of dollars. It is built with other nations. Weapons come second."
New Ryan Adams by Sal
Ryan Adams arguably hit his peak with 2001's Gold, and even that excellent release had a little too much filler compared to his (country) rock-solid debut Heartbreaker from 2000. Too many records in too little time knocked the wind out of Ryan Adams' creative sails, and since then his output, while not terrible, just hasn't achieved the "heavy-osity" of that early-millennium one-two punch. It's 2008 and Ryan Adams has matured, not to mention cleaned up. His new release, Cardinology, is his best in years.
On this new record, Ryan Adams seems focused. The first four tracks display the best of what he and the Cardinals can do- a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll. Both "Fix It" and "Magick" kick some butt in both the hook and melody department, and Adams' voice sounds reborn. There is a noticeable cohesion to the songwriting, as well as the band's attack, that seemed to be missing from the haphazard collection of songs on records like 29 and Rock And Roll. Cardinology is Ryan Adams back on solid ground.
Juno: Deluxe Edition, by Eric:
Juno was been one of the year's biggest film hits, and the same went for the soundtrack, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard digital album charts. There's no sequel for the film being planned (as far as I'm aware), but the soundtrack produced a second album already -- Juno B-Sides, which was released (digital-only, too) by Rhino over the summer. Now Rhino has pressed CDs and is releasing both soundtracks in a 34-track double-disc collection. It's a nice catch-up collection for those of us who feel too old to keep up with the young folks' music, and almost all of it is pretty good, at least. The disc also includes a 16-page booklet with never-before-seen storyboards and photos. More information is available here.
Lost -- Season 4, Blu-Ray
The shortest and most recent season of ABC's hit Lost is out on December 9 in DVD and Blu-Ray formats, in time for both the holidays and the fifth season's premiere, which is in January. I won't spend too much time talking about the intricacies of what takes place over these five discs, except to say that we finally and mercifully learn who is in the much-debated coffin. (I am actually still looking at the first season DVD, so I don't know what that means, but I plan to jump ahead...) The set also includes blooper footage, audio commentary, a look at the folks on the freighter and where they came from, plus a piece on how the crew transforms Hawaii into the deserted island we see on television. More information on the set, which is being released by Touchstone/Disney, is here.
Lyrics 1964-2008 -- Paul Simon
Simon & Schuster has released the first comprehensive collection of Paul Simon lyrics, simply titled Lyrics. The volume contains every song Simon has written, from the Simon & Garfunkel debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, through his most recent effort, Surprise. New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote the introduction, and correctly notes that, as valuable as having the beautiful words on a printed page, the book is best enjoyed by dedicated fans of the music. He writes: "What a book like this neglects, unless you have a particularly acute memory and encyclopedic ear, is the musicality of the songs. The danger of such a book is that it seems to ask the reader to consider the lyrics as verse, written for the page. But even the best songs, Simon's included, are utterly linked to the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic qualities that go along with them." More information is available here.
Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
"From the wilds of Borneo/and the vineyards of Bordeaux/Eskimos/Arapahos/ Move their bodies/To and fro."
Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Po'k Bones And Rice" (Sam And The Soul Machine) -- While my Cabinet choices may not indicate it, I am no centrist when it comes to how much I love New Orleans.
Part The First: If there is a reason why CNN International isn't part of my basic cable package, I'd like to know about it. I remember when the Big Three decided to eliminate foreign bureaus and they told us that it didn't matter because the cable nets would pick up the slack. Well, they haven't, and that was painfully obvious this week with the coverage of the chaos in India. I like the BBC as much as anyone, but there's no logic behind a U.S. cable package carrying a British international news channel and nothing else.
Part The Second: The upset winner of our Biggest Knob In Knoxville contest is not resting on his laurels. Oh, no. Not him. He begins his reign promisingly by writing the single dumbest post in the history of the Intertubes.
Part The Third: A fine argument starter for the semi-long holiday weekend. So, I'll start. These people have completely taken leave of their senses. Any list of bad announcers that does not contain a single baseball announcer is prima facie worthless. Bad baseball announcers are worse than bad announcers in any other sport. They have more opportunities in a given game to inflict their badness on the rest of us, and all of them have to talk about, well, baseball, and there is nothing more boring in sports than listening to a baseball fan talk about baseball. It's like being rolled down a hill in a barrel with a butterfly collector. As the commenters here pointed out, where in the name of Ray Scott is Tim McCarver, or Joe Morgan, for pity's sake. What is wrong with these people?
Part The Fourth: I've come to enjoy the new, chastened, Not Insane Andrew Sullivan, but, having read this, "One the worst legacies of the Vietnam boomer syndrome has been turning complex foreign policy decisions -- which should ultimately be pragmatic actions in defense of national self-interest -- into idiotic left-right, patriot-traitor, soldier-hippie dichotomies. Abandoning that is part of Obama's promise," -- from this, I am compelled to ask Andrew if he owns either mirrors or any form of long-term memory, because, you know, wow.
Part The Fifth: Just in time for the holidays, revisionism for dummies. I can't say I'm fond of this new Iron Rule Of Presidents that says you get one free massive terrorist atrocity per term of office. But all the cats 'n kittens at Bill Buckley's Compost Shed seem to love it.
Part The Sixth: Next time I see Alan Colmes, I suspect he'll be more of a baritone.
Part The Seventh: Note to all TV news directors. If your political analyst comes to you in November with a proposal to do a piece on his "Thanksgiving Turkeys," throw that idiot out the window immediately. And, if any of you make this into an "annual feature," throw yourselves out right behind the analyst.
Part The Last: Stephen Davis has a new -- and very well-timed -- history of Guns N' Roses hitting the shelves this month. However, today, I learned something I did not know -- that Davis' Hammer of the Gods, his extraordinary account of touring with Led Zeppelin during the band's High Caligula Period, began as a magazine assignment ... for The Atlantic Monthly. Today, they'd probably send out Megan McArdle, and she'd write about market forces driving up the price of sand sharks.
Tennis coaches have a great term for catching your opponent off-balance. They call it "wrong-footing," where you make the opponent try to hit a forehand from a backhand stance, or vice versa, and the opponent ends up looking like someone fending off hornets with a flagpole, eventually falling down and thereby eliciting guffaws from the various titled Eurotrash ne'er-do-well's watching in the Sponsors' Box. I get a feeling right now that wrong-footing people may be the president-elect's greatest gift. He certainly did it to everyone he ran against on the way to becoming president-elect. Hillary Clinton never got a clean return at him and, as for John McCain, his campaign was permanently wrong-footed in that it had two left ones, and one of them never left his running mate's mouth anyway. And he's doing it a bit now with the national press. There's a narrative battling to be born -- that he is simply recycling the Golden '90s and that he can't, poor fella, give us The Change We Need because, you know, circumstances are circumscribing what he's trying to do. Well, he punted this storyline for about 50 yards in his most recent press conference, when he pointedly explained that, believe it or not, he's going to be directing policy for his administration. His barely concealed impatience with narrative-concocting questions is going to be a highlight of his press conferences as we go on.
And, while I recognize the right of every author to plug his most recent book -- a right I intend to practice very enthusastically next spring, by the way -- can we give a freaking rest to the Historical Comparison Of The Week competition, please? He's not Lincoln, Doris, or FDR, Jonathan. And Parson Meacham? He's damn sure not Andrew Jackson who, upon encountering Barack Obama for the first time, would have set him to work in the fields out behind the north 40.
Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC
What do people realistically want to see happen to the Bush Administration? Do we want to see them punished for the laundry list of crimes? Or would we all be satisfied if everything (or as much as possible) became public knowledge and they had to admit publicly to what it is they did -- doing this may not punish these people in terms of fines, jail, etc. But it would leave no doubt in terms of how they are judged historically. It would also put a major dent in the Right-wing spin machine that is going to do its best to paint the Bush Administration in a positive light wherever possible, and bury everything it can't paint under the rug.
Personally, I don't think they will ever be brought to justice by a court of law. But why not force them to admit what it is they did -- start investigations, begin with the worst (lying the country to war) and work your way down. Grant total immunity from prosecution to Bush, Cheney, Rove, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, etc. Make them answer questions where the only potential criminal charges will occur if they lie. With these people, that still might not work. But I think if people really want answers for the last eight years, this may be the only way.
Also, actual charges will allow defense lawyers to put their spin on any case (see Libby, Scooter) and the Bushies to be made into martyrs. Immunity, and making them answer questions and say what they did, would undermine any attempt to portray them as victims.
In reply to Charles Hinton who thinks that there should be "a great truth telling" about what went on in the Bush presidency. Although he suggests the creation of a special commission to bring out all the hidden dirt, he misses the fact that there's already in place a quick and easy process to bring out the truth from the confessions of those Bushies who were behind the scenes: It's called big book contracts with ridiculous advances. As soon as they find out how much they can make by dishing on the Bush administration's indiscretions, the Bush insiders will make sure we're overwhelmed by the "great truth telling."
According to this story, GM employees currently make the equivalent of $73 an hour, which *appears* to be more than double what the average worker makes (and is presumably an argument for cutting Detroit loose). But that wage includes "legacy costs" such as health and retirement benefits for current workers along with benefits for retirees.
In other words, as I understand it, NOT bailing them out means the automakers will also fold on pensions for (presumably) tens of thousands of retirees (hundreds of thousands?). Let's assume we go ahead and let Detroit fold; who's going to pay for the tremendous burden all these benefit-free retirees place on existing healthcare systems (and who will be unable to pay for those related costs)? My guess is we all will be.
It may be wishful thinking to believe we can simply let the automakers quietly die from their own excesses, but it simply isn't that easy.
My assumption is that a bailout will stake the automakers with enough money to underwrite those benefits (within an existing accounting framework for that function), at least for the time being, which seems to be a better position than simply forcing all those seniors and soon-to-be retirees to fend for themselves. And if in fact automakers can outline plans for regaining stability, then that plan must include how they'll pay for those pension costs, too, which again sounds like a better position than watching them fail.
But that's where the media comes in ... isn't it?
This from Media Matters, where another right-wing radio host accuses Obama and the Democrats of an "anti-American" agenda.
The next time someone accuses anyone of anti-Americanism, will someone is the MSM please, just once, challenge the accuser's definition of what that is? What does that mean exactly? Is it treason? If so, that is not something particular to Americans. Instead, the "anti-American" charge is left out there for the target of the charge to defend when they don't even know what they are defending. It usually comes down to something the accuser vaguely does not like, but for which they have no other basis in fact. Or it is simply racism or other bigotry that the accuser disguises with the all-purpose "anti-American" charge?
Kathleen Parker, a right-wing columnist whom some right-wingers disowned for daring to suggest that Sarah Palin was unqualified for office, wrote a column about civic literacy, based on this quiz.
In turn, Thomas Mitchell, the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a right-wing daily, wrote a blog item about how literacy tests might be advisable, based on the results of this survey.
He also said he would devote his Sunday, November 30, column to this subject.
Note that the test answers include several celebrations of capitalist values. The entirely objective (ha ha) group conducting the survey is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. If the test-taker -- and I did quite well once I realized that if I gave right-wing answers to the economic questions, my score would improve -- checks the ISI, s/he finds the directors include the chairman, Alfred Regnery -- as in the company that publishes right-wing books. The other directors include Richard Allen and Edwin Meese, two of the many ethically questionable members of Ronald Reagan's administration.
Now, if we designed a quiz asking some different questions -- for example, does the U.S. have a history of trying to impose its will on other countries, or of requiring liberal policies to rescue the economy from disasters created by right-wing policies, the answers might have been different, and Parker and Mitchell couldn't write about these things, because then they wouldn't be able to argue that Americans are stupid because they--we--don't happen to believe right-wing bilge as much as we used to.
I saw Brian Wilson in concert two nights after you did, and had a similarly great time. (I defy anyone to be depressed after hearing the likes of "I Get Around" and "Help Me Rhonda" performed by the genius who wrote them.) What struck me the most was that Brian was downright chatty between songs, compared to the last time I saw him play two years ago, and dug deeper into his songbook ("Girl Don't Tell Me," "Salt Lake City") -- both of which I take as signs that this famously troubled man is getting more of his confidence back. Good for him.
It's a shame that his fine new album hasn't gotten more attention, I agree. In fact, if you take out those clunky spoken-word "narratives," I'd even defend a lot of the lyrics, which have Brian addressing his lost years ("At 25 I turned out the lights/'Cause I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes") and the loss of his brothers.
Well, it's not really my town, but I do live and work here. This week started with the grand opening of the Museum of Islamic Art, I. M. Pei's last and likely greatest creation (I've never seen a more beautiful building, inside or out). Friday, we have a concert titled "Raag Rang" by legendary Indian and Pakistani musicians Ustad Hussain Bakhsh Khan, Ustad Sajjad Ali, and Ustad Liyaqat Ali Khan. And we finish up the week with Bono meeting with 200 Education City students for the taping of a special edition of BBC's Doha Debates. And, of course, we have our usual abundance of sunshine and dust.
Eric replies: Well, I just got invited to Doha, last week, but I'm really hoping they work out that "can't get a drink" thing ...