Monday, May 31, 2010

Still looking to lose readers

Updated A flotilla of six ships carrying more than 600 people and 10,000 tons of supplies has been heading for the Gaza Strip in an act of nonviolent direct action intended to break the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade of the area.
“For over four years,” the organizers said in a statement, “Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to an increasingly severe blockade, resulting in a man-made humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”
Israel, to no one's surprise, has vowed to stop the effort, it's attempt to de-legitimize it through propaganda having failed.
Three Israeli naval missile boats left their base in Haifa late Sunday to prevent the ships from entering a 32-kilometer exclusion zone enforced by Israel along Gaza's Mediterranean Sea coast.
The Israelis demanded the ships either turn back or go to an Israeli port where the goods would (supposedly) be sent to Gaza - but of course the entire point is that would still give to Israel the power to decide precisely what of the supplies would go to Gaza and when, which is exactly what the action was challenging. (Israeli government rep Yigal Palmor said the supplies would be "confiscated and examined" before "possibly" being allowed into Gaza.) Considering that some of the supplies included cement to rebuild houses destroyed in the 2009 Israeli assault, and cemet being something that Israel flatly refuses to allow into Gaza, it is undeniable that when the Israelis claimed they were offering cooperation they were actually demanding surrender - and they knew it.

The ships in the flotilla obviously refused. So the Israelis did what, sadly, it increasingly appears is the only course the Israeli governments (the plural is deliberate as this is consistent over time) know: They attacked.
Turkish NTV, a private television station, reported early Monday that eyewitness say Israeli helicopter gunships fired on one of the vessels in international waters, killing two and wounding 30.
While it remains unclear if the ship was fired on before it was boarded, it is clear that it was boarded and that there were casualties. Reports of those casualties varied: ABC (Australia) reported 10 killed and 30 wounded (it also provided video), while CNN quoted its Turkish branch as reporting two killed and 50 wounded.

The initial response of the Israeli Defense Forces was ludicrous:
"We did not attack any boat, we merely fulfill the Israeli government's decision to prevent anyone from going into the Gaza strip without coordinating with Israel," a statement from the Israeli military said.
"Sure, it had soldiers and guns and they shot people and stuff, but it wasn't an attack. It was, um, like a traffic stop. Yeah, that's the ticket."

Of course, Israel denies there even is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, so perhaps that statement isn't as surprising as it first seems. Even so, the claim apparently was too much even for the IDF, especially after
[a]n Israeli religious medical service, ZAKA, said seven people had been admitted to hospital in Haifa, Israel's main naval base, one of them in a serious condition.
So there was also the attempt to blame the passengers, which the Jerusalem Post reported:
Passengers tried to grab weapons away from soldiers boarding the Gaza protest flotilla, starting the violence, Army Radio reported Tuesday morning, responding to accusations that Israeli commandos assaulted the ships guns blazing.
So in other words, your story is that unarmed passengers tried to defend themselves against a military assault and so it's their fault you shot them? What are we supposed to make of nonsense like that? Exactly how is it different from the wife-beater who says "Look at what you made me do?"

So it seems that wasn't good enough, either, and now the Israeli army, which admits to having killed "more than four" passengers and wounding at least a dozen, is claiming that passengers "arm[ed] themselves with knives and clubs" and that the passengers fired first. We'll see how long it take that story to escalate further into how the poor, peaceful soldiers were in terror of their very lives and only defending themselves from the vicious onslaughts of the well-armed passengers, er, guerrillas.

Two other important points come from that Jerusalem Post report. First:
Apparently, IDF attempts to prevent broadcasting from the ships were unable to block the Turkish camera crew on board one of the ships.
That was the source of the video linked above. But it's an acknowledgment that not only did the IDF attack the ship, they made conscious efforts to hide what they were doing from the rest of the world. It is, after all, easier to lie away the meaning and effect of your actions when it occurs out of sight.

And second:
The initial contact took place about 200 km. off the Gaza Coast.
This was a military assault - by all available accounts a murderous assault - against unarmed civilians on an unarmed civilian ship in international waters. This is by any rational meaning of the word a crime - a murderous crime. And you know fucking goddam well that not only will they get away with it but our great leader, he of the Nobel Peace Prize for Aspiration, won't say a fucking thing about it beyond maybe - maybe - some vague, undifferentiated expression of regret over some ill-defined "incident" combined with some blather about hopes for peace.

Footnote: Here's an area where we could use a Bob Somerby: The passengers on the ships include human rights activists and lawmakers from several European countries, along with some former U.S. diplomats and Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. But to our Paper of Record with "All the news that's fit to print," setting the tone for most of the rest of the US media, they are all "pro-Palestinian activists."

Updated to say did I call it or did I call it? This is from AP from Monday morning:
The White House said in a written statement that the United States "deeply regrets" the loss of life and injuries and was working to understand the circumstances surrounding this "tragedy."
Then there was this, from the same article:
Speaking alongside the Canadian prime minister, Netanyahu expressed "regret" for the loss of life but said the soldiers had no choice. "Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed," he said.
First, no military force engaged in an offensive action has any business making any claims they were only "defending themselves." Second, notice the escalation of claims, exactly along the lines predicted.

Speaking of things that cost me readers... the argument over Bob Somerby apparently did, here's another topic that has driven people away in the past: Israel.
US President Barack Obama welcomed a nuclear non-proliferation deal reached Friday at a UN conference but "strongly" opposed singling out Israel over talks for a Mideast atomic weapon-free zone.
In the words of Obama's national security advisor, General James L. Jones,
"We will not accept any approach that singles out Israel or sets unrealistic expectations. The United States’ long-standing position on Middle East peace and security remains unchanged, including its unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security."

Jones added that Washington had reservations about the declaration because it names Israel while ignoring Iran. "The United States deplores the decision to single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document," he said.
Did it ever occur to the WH and its acolytes on this issue that the reason the declaration might have "singled out" Israel is that Israel is the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons? And it is one of the few nations in the world that has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

What's particularly notable about the WH's expressed position is that it promises that the US will actively block (in Jones' words, "will not permit") the establishment of a 2012 regional conference to make the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone. That's because, Obama said,
"a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment."
So first, it's "we're not going to allow even the idea of talking about getting rid of nuclear weapons to be discussed until after everyone decides there's no need for them anymore - whenever that will be." Whose arsenal does that protect?

And "nonproliferation obligations?" Israel is not a signer of NPT - it has no such obligations! So who, oh who, could the Big O be referring to?

So US policy on the matter comes down to this: "Israel gets to keep its nukes as long as it wants and has no obligations under NPT - but Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons and may or may not be trying to develop them, must submit to every demand we put on it."

Because, y'see, Israel's nukes are merely defensive, just like ours which is why we don't have to submit to inspections of our facilities even as we demand others allow them. But even the possibility that Iran wants nukes is "a threat to the world."

In January 2009. in the wake of the Israeli assault on Gaza, I wrote of
the stomach-churning, spirit-destroying conviction that our new Change-ident isn't going to change a goddam thing on this and will be every bit as much an Israeli sycophant as those who preceded him.
I've found no reason to change that assessment. And if you want to question it, I'll have to insist that you answer this question: If the conference declaration had "singled out" Iran without mentioning Israel, do you think the Obama crowd would be "deploring" that?

Sunday, May 30, 2010


The top kill has failed.

Now they're going to try a new plan, a "lower marine riser package," different sort of cap from the "top hat" tried earlier.

Great. Except that Bob Dudley, managing director of BP, said today there was "no certainty" that the plan will work. And Carol Browner, WH adviser on environment and energy, said there is a risk it could make the flow worse. And even if it "succeeds," Dudley would only promise to get "a majority" of the oil and gas spewing out. And
“We’re still looking at a month before we get this thing killed,” Les Ply, a retired mud engineering consultant for the oil industry, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “I think we’re looking at a week to 10 days to get this riser and cap in place.”
Browner called this "probably the worst environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country." And we are already committed to a course that will produce more.

We are, indeed, so very screwed.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I suppose I need to take a deep breath, but still....

I know I've been very lax in posting this month. I try - emphasize "try" now - to have up two pieces a week that are worth reading, that is, that are not just a quick remark and a link. So even if I have only maybe a dozen posts a month, the majority of those will be substantive comment, hopefully on something that isn't already being well-covered and well-argued (and well-argued about) at other blogs.

I haven't been keeping up to date of late. You know the saying "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Or, as a computer program designed to translate languages (in)famously put it after the phrase was translated into Russian and back into English, "The vodka is strong but the meat is rotten." (Or, in a bit I liked and will have to run down somehow, a business plan was condemned by the line workers expected to implement it as "Shit, and we hate it" but that report got gradually changed as it moved up the corporate ladder until at the top it came out as "It promotes growth and is extremely powerful.")

Back on track, the point here is that the condition here at Lotus is the opposite: The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak. This is not just one of my (increasingly frequent? I'm not sure) dark spells, it's a feeling of being discouraged, at seeing the same old divisions on the left and hearing the same old arguments about the same old issues and facing the same old politico-corporate classes spewing out the same old crap. And when I say "old," I don't mean 2008 old or 2000 old, I don't even mean the old-enough-it-barely-registers-in-the-blogosphere Ronald Reagan years old, I mean 1960s old. I have been a political activist in some form or another for over 40 years and I have rarely felt as just plain dispirited as I do now.

One thing that brought this to the surface is the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It wasn't the corporate-produced, government-abetted lies about how much oil was flooding into the Gulf that did it, it wasn't the corruption at the Minerals Management Service, it wasn't the evidence of how BP demanded drilling continue even as the other companies involved (whose profit did not depend, at least not nearly so much, on how much oil was pumped out how quickly) resisted, it wasn't even the truly, truly foul stench arising from the attempts by BP and Transocean to shift blame onto the ordinary workers on the rig.

Rather, it was a curious echo of the Bob Somerby-Rachel Maddow intersection which was just such a source of contention here. Somerby criticized several pundits for pushing a "Why haven't they stopped the leak yet?" line without them admitting (or, perhaps, knowing) that those involved were doing what they could - because no one actually knew what to do: No one had ever tried to deal with something like this at anywhere near this depth. Maddow raised the same point but took the next step of asking why, in that case, these oil companies had even been given permits to drill in conditions where no one knew what to do if anything went wrong.

And then it happened. It was one of those Omigod! moments when something which for whatever unknowable reason hadn't really registered before smacks you in the head so hard it hurts: Maddow noted that there are already other rigs out there working at even greater depths than the Deepwater Horizon was, meaning there's even less understanding of what to do there in the event of another case of what Lawrence O'Donnell accurately called "corporate homicide."

And it hit me: That means, in practical effect and assuming perfection is still off the scale, that we have already committed ourselves to seeing more Deepwater Horizons - perhaps worse ones. Even as this one threatens the wetlands and threatens the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the people who depend on the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the social culture that depends on the people who depend on the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands - even as we stare helplessly at the environmental, the economic, the social damage being wreaked on the Gulf and the Gulf Coast and the animals and lands and people of the Gulf Coast, even as we stare helplessly at the carnage even the extent of which may not be clear for decades, we have already committed ourselves to a path that will see more of it.

As David Roberts (who I swear is Jonathan Frakes' long-lost brother) put it at Grist,
[e]ven if the flow were stopped tomorrow, the damage to marshes, coral, and marine life is done. The Gulf of Mexico will become an ecological and economic dead zone. There's no real way to undo it, no matter who's in charge. ...

Humanity has grown in power, wealth, and appetite to the point that there is no more margin of error anywhere. We're on a knife's edge, facing the very real possibility that for our children, all the world may be one big Gulf of Mexico, inexorably and irreversibly deteriorating.
The difference between us is that he still sees hope:
Perhaps if the public gets a clear taste of this, they'll step back and contemplate whether the kind of energy we use is really as "cheap" as it looks.
It's a hope in which I no longer have any faith. It's no longer a question of what will be done in the future but of what has already been done in the past. It has little to do with whether or not people can be convinced of the need for alternatives but with the sheer momentum of the present. I liken it to trying to make a sharp turn with a supertaker: Despite your best intentions and most fervent efforts, that ship is going to keep going the way you had already pointed it for some distance. You are already committed to that course for some time to come no matter what you do now. Here, everything from bureaucratic inertia to corporate greed and criminality to questions of time, resources, and money speak to the supertaker of our present situation - as does, for a particular example, the fact that
the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico
since the disaster began.
The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated ... the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling.
The point being that I don't think there was any venality here. I think it was just sheer bureaucratic momentum.

And again, again, it's not just the Deepwater Horizon. It's not even the damage wrought by the disaster. If it was, if it could be chalked up as the "accident" some would have it be, the isolated event we would like to see it as, if it had no meaning other than as an individual case, it would be different. But it wasn't, we can't, and it isn't. The simple fact that no one - no one - can honestly tell you that there will not be more of them, quite probably worse ones: because there will be. Our supertanker is already headed that way and it's too late to turn in time.

We are so screwed.

And the real thing of it, the real thing, is that it's not even just this part of the overall construct. Remember the Copenhagen summit on climate change in April? The one with all the pledges to cut carbon emissions and save the planet from the worst excesses of global warming? And remember how climatologists believe it's necessary to keep global temperature from rising less than 2oC. to head off the worst effects of climate change? Well, it turns out, according to an analysis by a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the pledges coming out of Copenhagen not only do not reach those required to achieve that goal, but there is
a greater than fifty percent chance that warming will exceed three degrees Celsius by 2100.
In fact,
“In the worst case, we could end up with emissions allowances exceeding the business-as-usual projections,” says [study co-author] Joeri Rogelj.
We are as a planet, as the nations of the world, already committed to a course that has a better than even chance of seeing 3oC. of warming by 2100. That is the direction our supertanker is heading. That is even though, again, climatologists say that limiting it to 2o is required not to head off the effects, but just the worst effects of global warming.

What could three degrees mean? Complete loss of the Arctic ice cap. Dramatic rise in sea levels, endangering coastal communities and inundating wetlands. An increase in severe storms. Significant losses in the Amazon rain forest and numerous, frequent, droughts there and elsewhere. Loss of food supplies. Millions of climate refugees. Strife and conflict from competition over resources and governments overwhelmed trying to deal with the influx of people.

That's where our supertanker is now heading. Even if we start to turn it now, even if we give our best efforts now, I have come to doubt that we can keep it from crashing into that shore. There is too much corporate-government-media momentum to overcome.

I have days when I say I am glad I will not live to see the world I see coming. This is one of those days.

We are so very, very screwed.

[Thanks to the always-useful Green Left Global News & Info for the link to the news about the Potsdam Institute study.]

Footnote: If want an example of media momentum on the issue, a momentum full of "the science is only worth reporting if we can say it's 'controversial,'" here's one:

You heard, I have no doubt, about the ginned-up "controversy" involving hacked emails which the nanny-nanny naysayers dubbed "Climategate." A Google search on the word shows over 1.2 million hits, most of the tops ones right-wing screeds about fraud, the end of global warming as an issue, etc., etc. A more restricted search on Scroogle (a "Google scraper" which avoids the privacy issues associated with the G-monster, if you don't know it) still produces results that mostly involve right-wingers screaming out headlines.

I'm sure you heard about it. But did you hear that three separate investigations, two by panels of the British parliament and one by the University of Pennsylvania, all concluded there was, as they put it in the UK, "no case to answer," that there was nothing to the charges? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised that unless you follow the issue of climate change, you haven't.

And did you hear that The Met, Britain's national weather service, issued a new metasurvey of more than 100 climate studies published since 2007 and concluded that the evidence for anthropogenic global warming is "stronger than ever?" How about the fact that according to NASA, we've just had
the hottest April on record.... More significantly, following fast on the heels of the hottest March and hottest Jan-Feb-March on record, it’s also the hottest Jan-Feb-March-April on record.
Again, I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't heard. But I bet you did see some naysayer spouting off in an op-ed somewhere or perhaps that recent so-utterly-dreadful-I-won't-even-link-to-it he-said/he-said article in the New York Times which reduced the issue of global warming to a personality conflict between former friends.

(As a sidebar, the NASA numbers are particularly important because we've been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century,” which would minimize solar irradiance as a forcing in the current temperature changes. That is, it ain't the Sun, kiddies. Period.)

Finally, if you'd like a quick overview of what the effects of various increases in global temperatures might be, this and this are parts one and two of a National Geographic podcast on just that.

Sweet dreams.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Um, Part Three? Or Part One redux?

Updated I've had an interesting exchange with Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy in comments to my post about my criticism of Bob Somerby's treatment of Rachel Maddow - interesting and long enough to move up to a post. I really didn't expect to still be talking about Somerby, but here we are. The way I'm going to do this is to put VLWC's comments in italics and my responses in regular type as well as heading them. It's all verbatim except for correction of typos. Here we go:


VLWC: I haven't delved into this chapter in any detail, but overall, I heartily agree with Somerby's diagnosis of Maddow, who presides over one of the top franchises of "progressive" media with tribal, ham-handed humor and serves up (if I may appropriate Somerby's lingo) dishonest comfort food for us rubes.

She sometimes has a worthy guest or commentary, but her program is substantially an excellent place for lefties to get disinformed in self-satisfying ways.

I don't always agree with Somerby (for example, he's been far too generous about Obama and his health-care plan, partially by giving Krugman his proxy on it [something I gather he's slowly wising up from]), but he's plainly motivated more by honesty than by tribe and popularity, something I couldn't possibly say about Maddow without my fingers crossed behind my back.

LarryE: I will simply repeat what I said: Maddow is a good liberal in the classic sense, someone who believes the government has a role to play in matters such as poverty, discrimination, etc., but who still supports the economic system and is "pro-US" on foreign policy.

She surely is no radical and I never suggested she is.

Bluntly, I think Somerby taking aim at her has less to do with anything she has actually said or done but with her popularity and his desire to maintain his "more liberal than thou" cred.

I do wonder, BTW, why you used a two-year old brief clip as a means of, I take it, criticizing her. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things in the past couple of weeks that would work better.

VLWC: Why do I reference a two-year-old clip? Because it was the last nail in the coffin of my ascribing any credibility to Maddow. It was and is an example of twisted and oh-so-easy tribalism, to join in the media's utterly fabricated "RFK-gate" wilding of Hillary Clinton. "Progressives" used to champion a media critique, now career "liberals" of Maddow's ilk are a big part of the problem, spewing utter lies without a hint of shame.

Around that time, I stopped listening to Air America and watching MSNBC, so I don't have first-hand experience of recent vintage of her lame humor, her kissing the ass of power, and her disinforming viewers.

Somerby's reportage on Maddow's sleazy "teabagger" riffs and other vacant comfort food suggests that I haven't been missing much. YMMV.

Somerby has, for years, been willing to (properly) bite the hand that feeds him, calling out the worse-than-worthless career "liberals" that pervade so-called left-of-center media. How that supports your theory that he's merely jealous of Maddow's popularity is beyond me.

LarryE: I said nothing about Somerby being "jealous." I said he targets her because she is a popular media figure among liberals and he is always concerned with proving he is a realer, truer, liberal than anyone else on the planet, most of who, in his opinion, have "low IQs" - which is a big part of the "greasily sanctimonious condescension" to which I object.

As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals.

I find Maddow useful in the same sense and way I find a lot of other media sources useful. Some, of course, more useful than others - but most news outlets, even conservative ones, can be useful if you apply the correct filters.

VLWC: "As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals."

What does this mean? Maddow has a blank check to be the dishonest, lame-humored opiate of the "progressive" masses?

LarryE: It means what it said: The reaction of "Omigod! She's acting like a liberal!" just makes me think "Well, what the hell did you expect?"

It also means that rants about her supposed "dishonesty," which by their nature contain accusations about motive as well as behavior, fail to impress me. I say yet again, she is a classic liberal and what she expresses flows from that. That can make her, given the particulars of a case, anything from insightful to bone-headedingly dense, but it does not make her "dishonest."

(Compare this with, for an obvious example, Fox, where, I believe, many of the news people - that is, the ones Fox labels as "news" rather than "opinion" - are consciously seeking to advance a political agenda. The difference between that and essentially but not consciously advancing such an agenda because of reporting arising from your own convictions may have more to do with philosophy than practical effect but it is nonetheless real and does speak directly to the question of honesty.)

It means, thirdly, that his attacks on Maddow are less substantive (about what she actually says) than personal (who, in his eyes, she is).

As a sidebar, before her it was Keith Olbermann and before him it was Chris Matthews - that pattern being part of the basis for my assertion that he is going after her because "she is a popular media figure among liberals." Whoever is in the ascendancy in that role at a given moment becomes a prime target. That is not by its nature an unfair undertaking - those at the top should get and should expect to get more critical attention than minor voices - but it should be openly acknowledged that the targets are chosen due to their popularity rather than the quality of their work. That's especially true when the critiques are to prove your own, supposedly superior, lib cred - which is what I maintain Somerby is doing.

As for "comfort food," that impresses me even less. Bob Somerby is comfort food, a constant harping on the same narrow point ("All those 'liberal' media people are clowns! And liberals are stupid!") that enables his readers to feel they have a much greater depth of understanding of media and events than the trusting rubes who read or watch those "clowns" but without actually providing any.

BTW, I don't get the "bite the hand that feeds him" bit. While his bio on his site is vague about it, the fact is he has never worked as an editor or a reporter. He has written some op-eds, but he has made his living as a teacher and a stand-up comedian. The media does not "feed" him.

I'll end with this: I do watch both KO and RM. I enjoy the shows and take from them what I find useful. (Even though I hit the mute whenever Ezra Klein comes on again.) The bottom line point is this: I will often enough come to the end of a RM show feeling pissed about some attack on civil liberties, some corporate malfeasance, or some government failure to protect the pubic interest. I come away from a Daily Howler entry feeling pissed about Bob Somerby and his over-the-top self-important screeds. There are those who think simple bile is a valuable contribution to public debate. I am not among them.

Last licks are yours if you want them.


You are strongly encouraged to check the link for the original post to see if VLWC accepted the offer for last licks and if so what was said.

Updated to say that what I take to be VLWC's last licks are in comments here. Be sure to look at them to get the complete exchange.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goodbye to all that, Part Two

Updated Updated Again On the same day as the post mentioned in my earlier post, May 12, Somerby also wrote about what he called "the race follies." This one is what really did it for me.

The post was triggered by a piece by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who was responding to recent attempts by TP leaders to portray the racists in their movement as a mere "fringe." Blow said he didn't doubt the sincerity of those leaders in their desire to remove the taint of racism from the movement,
[h]owever, widely cited polling, like the multistate University of Washington survey released last month, has found that large swaths among those who show strong support for the Tea Party also hold the most extreme views on a range of racial issues.
(Parenthetical note: When Somerby first mentioned this column a couple of days earlier, he referred to it as Blow's "latest paint-by-the-numbers column about the Tea Party" and essentially lied about the piece, quoting the opening of the column - which was "Racist. Tea Party." - without mentioning that the very next line is "Are those separate concepts or a single one? Depends on whom you ask." He ignored that to claim "Blow knows only one song" and "he sings it incessantly," that "song" being claims of racism.

In that same post, Somerby found it somehow exquisitely ironic that Blow's column pointing to evidence of racism among TP supporters appeared the day after "the whitest pol in the land" - Bob Bennett - got "blown away." In addition to being of the mind that there are whiter pols around, I'm aware of absolutely no one, including Charles Blow, who says the TP is only about race, so I frankly have no clue what the hell the point is that Somerby fantasizes he is making. What's that he keeps saying about "clownish?")

Anyway. Somerby attacks Blow and Professor Tom Schaller at (which he lazily and inaccurately calls "," which does not exist) as "rushing to embrace" the "pleasing study" cited by Blow and discussed by Schaller, claiming doing so proves "the liberal world's ... bad faith on matters of race." Because, y'see,
liberals love to call conservatives racist; we sometimes seem to love it more than life itself. ... Repeat: Liberals love calling people racists - as long as the people in question belong to The Other Tribe. It often seems that liberals know no other political move.
And then, typically, having just done what he assails others for supposedly doing - making sweeping judgments - he does it again: does what he attacks others for doing. In this case, it's ballooning the importance of points favorable to his view while dismissing with a quick word those that are not.

For example, he points to the charts at the top of Schaller's post at, saying that
[a]s Schaller presents it, this chart seems to say that only 45 percent of white Tea Party sympathizers view African-Americans as intelligent. (Though Schaller doesn’t describe the question which produced those results.) That seems like a rather low figure, as Schaller helps triumphant liberals see - until we look at the comparable figure for white Tea Party opponents. (For simplicity sake, you might call this second group “liberals.” You might even call them “us.”) Uh-oh! According to Schaller’s chart, it looks like only 59 percent of this group view African-Americans as intelligent! Yes, that is a higher number than obtained among the white Tea Party supporters. But are liberals really prepared to parade about, claiming their own moral greatness, on the basis of data like these? On the basis of such minor differences?
Great merciful heavens, how many things can be wrong in the space of a single paragraph? First, Schaller said
[t]he survey asked white respondents about their attitudes toward the tea party movement - and their attitudes toward non-whites, immigrants and homosexuals.
(Emphasis in original.)

How much more of a description did Somerby expect?

Next, I don't know where the bit about "triumphant liberals" comes from: Schaller specifically said his intent was to dispute the recent right-wing claim that TPers are "mainstream" based on their demographics rather than their attitudes, a contention Somerby does not refute or, in fact, even address by any means other than hand-waving. And what's the deal about "until we look at the comparable figure?" Right: It's a chart intended to contrast attitudes of TP supporters and opponents but there was no expectation you'd actually look at both numbers.

"For simplicity's sake?" What the hell? Yet again, Somberby commits exactly the same crime against logic of which he all but daily accuses others: Are we really to think there are no centrists who oppose the TP movement? No libertarians? Is it inconceiveable that there are even some conservatives who are genuinely appalled by a movement marked by rallies heavily bedecked with racist placards and references to Nazis? And are we equally to think that every "liberal" is a "strong opponent" of the TP, even though Somerby himself, who not only minimizes its racism but refers to it merely as "this potent political movement" while claiming to be a liberal, would appear to be evidence to the contrary?

And then there's the crux of it. Remember that Schaller was avowedly challenging the idea that TPers are "mainstream." In attempting to dismiss Schaller, Somerby lamely has to resort to describing a 14-percentage point gap as "minor." In the next paragraph, referring to white attitude toward Latinos, it's a 12-percentage point gap he treats as virtually non-existent. Do the results indicate that there is still a significant portion of the public apart from the TP that doubts the equality of blacks and Latinos? Certainly. Do they indicate that the differences between TP supporters and opponents on that score is insignificant? Bullshit.

Not satisfied with distorting the results of the survey, he also goes after the survey itself.

(Another parenthetical note: For some unknown reason, Somerby, who loves to strut about, smugly displaying his self-constructed "non-elitest" banner, finds it relevant that the study came out of "a big football school." I've really no idea what the relevance is supposed to be and unless he's suggesting that if it came out of "a big football school" it can't be taken seriously as an academic work - which would be patent and extremely elitist crap - I expect that neither does he and it was just an offhand attempt at a backhand slammer.)

He called the survey "pseudo-academic crap," "mishandled," and a "virtual hoax." He also managed to use the word "bungled" in reference to it no less than 14 times in the one column. (And yes, "clownish" appeared twice.)

He can't be bothered to defend that assertion, he just repeats it. And repeats it. And repeats it. Evidence, apparently, is for other people.

Oh, but wait, maybe he just didn't have space or time that particular day to present his surely devastating critique of this "bungled" "hoax," this "mishandled" "pseudo-academic crap." Indeed, he ended the column with this:
Tomorrow - part 3: Parker’s folly
"Parker" being Dr. Christopher Parker, lead author on survey, and "tomorrow" being Thursday, May 13. It came and went with no mention of "Parker's folly." On Friday, we got this:
Doggone it! Yesterday, we were called away from our desk again, on another mission of national import. For that reason, we will postpone our ongoing series until Monday.
But on Monday, there was nothing. Not a word about "Parker's folly." Come Tuesday, it was another excuse, another reassurance:
Like Proust, we’ve regained control of our time. Tomorrow, we expect to resume our award-winning series on race.
And so it came to be Wednesday and guess what: silence. It certainly was appearing that Somerby's grasp of the terms "tomorrow" and "resume" is shaky at best.

But now, today, Thursday, at last, we finally have: nothing.

Somerby, who excoriated Maddow for not offering a "fact-check" on what Lessig said about Greenwald and claimed she wouldn't because he is "one of the tribe," has now failed for more than an entire week to justify his own charge, a justification which - if we are to accept his argument as correct or even reasonable - he must have had in hand before he broached the topic but just needed to somehow find the time - Oh, if only he had the time! - to set it down.

What. A. Clown.

It's hard to say just what the point of his ranting and rambling is. You could try to be as charitable as possible and say he's trying to point up liberal hypocrisy about race in a way similar to the time years back when Northerners were often insisting that racism was a problem confined to the South. Except that he will also go after someone for supposedly talking too much about race. Charles Blow for example.

What's more, this is not the first time he's tried to dismiss a discussion of race and racism as a relevant political topic, a fact that becomes especially significant when you consider that he described the discussion of the University of Washington survey as an example of how "the 'liberal' world keeps showing us how liberals lose," indeed how they "conspire to lose." It's not that "liberals" talk too much about race, it's not that they love "to call conservatives racist ... more than life itself," it's that they talk about race at all.

This had lead me to reach a conclusion about what I think is going on here. I remember how in the 1990s, Alexander "More Radical Than Thou" Cockburn insisted that leftists should not attack the then-focus-of-attention rightwing militia movement; rather, we should actively embrace it, join with it, as the best current expression of "revolutionary potential." At the time, I labeled that as "revolutionary daydreaming," a judgment I think time proved accurate as the movement fizzled out and Cockburn moved on to other obsessions.

I think here that Somerby thinks liberals should endorse the TP, this "potent political movement," to make common cause with it. That is, he is engaging in his own "liberal daydreaming" about a vast, unified front of The People facing down The Man. I think that is every bit as much a fantasy and every bit as much a folly as Cockburn's reveries.

Are there issues where left and the TP overlap? Yes, there are: For one example, many of them hate Wall Street as much as we do and at the beginning there could possibly be common cause about some reforms. (All those qualifiers in there are quite deliberate.)

But if doing that requires ignoring the issue of racism, as Bob Somerby would appear to have us do, if it requires ignoring the pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose, if it requires pretending that the views of the TPers are not only mainstream (even as we acknowledge that "mainstream" does not equal "non-racist") but essentially the same as folks on the left, the price is too damn high.

So I'm done with Bob Somerby, who, it emerges, is not just a clown - he's a concern troll clown.

Footnote: Some other people did raise questions about the methodology used in the survey, some of which were addressed in a subsequent email interview Schaller did with Parker.

Updated to note that it is now Tuesday, May 25, nearly two full weeks after Bob Somerby launched a really nasty attack on that University of Washington survey in a column which ended with a promise to justify the attack the following day. Not only has he not justified it, he's ceased even to promise that he's just about to do so - in fact, he hasn't even mentioned it for an entire week now.

This could be used as a summation of why Somerby is off my list of reliable media critics: Just consider how fiercely and repetitively Somerby would have savaged some "liberal" media pundit who did the same thing.

I'll repeat what I said here: There are those who think simple bile is a valuable contribution to public debate. I am not among them.

Updated Again and for the last time to report that it is now Friday, May 28, and still no discussion or even mention of the "bogus" "pseudo-academic crap" that it was so important to demolish. This despite the fact that yesterday, the 27th, he mentioned Rachel Maddow's interview with Rand Paul and claimed that
We liberals love to call people racists. It’s a way of pimping our own moral greatness....
That would seem to be a perfect opportunity to re-visit Professor Parker's "folly" - but he didn't take it. I wonder if he still remembers having raised the claim in the first place.

As a sort of Footnote to the Update, I note that Somerby raises some decent questions relating to government regulation of the economy but then, after the "love to call people racists" bit, says:
On the other hand, we liberals have proven that we’re no goddamn good at building winning political frameworks. A winning framework could emerge from our nation’s recent string of disasters - but only if we set aside our self-pleasuring instincts and talk about the events which might help average people see a larger picture.
"If only you'd concentrate on what I think makes 'a winning framework,' we'd be golden!" As I have suspected all along, the problem with "liberals" in Bob Somerby's mind is that they are not Bob Somerby.

Goodbye to all that, Part One

This was going to be a single post but it got long enough that I've broken it into two.

At the top, I have to say this: I still think "Daily Howler" Bob Somerby's notion of "the script," an overall media concept of a story or a set of political developments into which all subsequent coverage must be made to fit, is one of the best tools for media analysis going. In fact, you could see the script in operation in the coverage of the primaries on Tuesday: Arlen Specter lost to someone to his left. A moderate conservative Democrat beat a more conservative Republican for the late John Murtha's House seat. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff with a challenger to her left. All of these were described as based on local factors, individual issues, and the like. But Rand Paul winning that primary? Important demonstration of a national trend!

However - I also have to say that Bob Somerby is now finally and permanently out of my media-search orbit. I simply can no longer abide his greasily sanctimonious condescension toward anything and everyone not 100% Somerby. His post for May 12 was the last straw, or, more exactly, the last two straws.

Straw one (straw two will be the next post) was his attack on one of his now-favorite targets, Rachel Maddow, who, he has written, "must be the world’s biggest hustler." (Just for context, my view of Maddow is that she clearly is no radical but she is a solid liberal of the old school when "liberal" actually meant something.)

Maddow on her May 10 show had a segment about the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagen to the Supreme Court. First up was Glenn Greenwald, with what she called "the case against Kagen," followed by Lawrence Lessig with "the case for Kagen." It was the exchange with Lessig that blew away Somerby's always-fragile self-control:
This is how she closed Monday’s segment - kissing establishment keister, as always:

MADDOW (5/10/10): Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School, I have to tell you, the Supreme Court nomination process, in my view, has become a process where nominees try to prove how conservative they are, either small "C" or large "C," depending on who’s president.

Talking with you and Glenn tonight just makes me really wish that it was a big fight amongst liberals and centrists. I think it could be really, really interesting to get in to all this stuff in great detail. I really thank you for your time tonight.

LESSIG: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Thanks.

Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Maddow, a prime self-promoter, has never met a useful keister she wasn’t prepared to kiss, often loudly. ... Lessig had just filled viewers’ heads full of smack about Greenwald - and, to a lesser extent, about Kagan. Rachel thanked him for his brilliance, falling all over herself with praise for how “interesting” it had been.
(Emphasis in original.)

The sneering and hyperbole in that passage secure their own convictions on the charge of "choking on your own spleen." But consider how Somerby characterizes Maddow's closing: What he hell is he talking about? I saw the show, watched the video to check my recollection, and had to read Somerby's flailing rant twice before I realized what's going on: He is imagining - the word is chosen deliberately - that she's saying that what Lessig said was "really, really interesting." But it was clear to me then and clear to me now (and to, I expect, any other sentient English-speaking person who is not Bob Somerby) that she was saying that having the argument about the Kagen nomination be "a big fight amongst liberals and centrists" about her record to see if she's liberal enough is what "could be really, really interesting" - and a refreshing change from recent times. I find no rational way to interpret it the way Somerby did.

Then consider what Somerby didn't: Her exchange with Glenn Greenwald. (Somerby mentions just more or less in passing that Greenwald was on and that only to set the stage for the above quote.) Greenwald had as much air time as Lessig and had equal latitude to make his arguments.

And this is how Maddow closed her segment with him, quoted from the video of the show: columnist, former Constitutional lawyer himself, Glenn Greenwald, whose criticism early on of the potential, and now current, Elena Kagen nomination has been a real focus for people in terms of sorting out her record and what is worthy of discussion about it. Glenn, thank you very much, as always, for your insights; it's good to have you on the show.
If what she said about Lessig was "falling all over herself with praise," what new level of superlative would we have to invent to describe what she said about Greenwald?

One of Somerby's favorite slams is "clownish" - at times it seems like he can't get through a column without using the term or some variation of it. But quite frankly, he is the one who has become a clown.

Some vaguely-related addenda

A few relatively-recent items that relate to the concerns raised in the previous post.

- At a recent Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Seymour Hersh said that the purpose of his Abu Ghraib stories "was to take it out of the field and into the White House." It's not that they knew just what happened, he said, it's that they allowed it to happen.

He then added this:
And I'll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan. They're being executed on the battlefield. It's unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn't necessarily get reported.
There's a reason for that....

- Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that some officials in the Obama administration are drafting classified guidelines to allow the government to hold terrorism suspects outside the US indefinitely without a trial or even charges. Reportedly, the guidelines are a matter or debate within the White House but the very fact they are being considered is significant.

- Early this month, Jeremy Scahill reported in The Nation online that reports are appearing suggesting that US military intelligence aircraft were involved in locating Faisal Shahzad.
A US Special Operations Force source told me that the planes were likely RC-12s equipped with a Guardrail Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) system that, as the plane flies overland "sucks up" digital and electronic communications. ... The source added: "It sucks up everything. We've got these things in Jalalabad [Afghanistan]. We routinely fly these things over Khandahar. When I say everything, I mean BlueTooth would be effected, even the wave length that PlayStation controllers are on. They suck up everything. That's the point."
If the reports are true, why in hell are those planes flying over US territory? And why was a WCBS report about the involvement of the military, posted to its website, scrubbed of any reference to the issue less than an hour later?

(Thanks to Dan at Pruning Shears for that link.)

- On May 6, the Pentagon banned four journalists from covering trials at Gitmo on the grounds that they reported the name of a former military interrogator - a name which has been public knowledge for years; in fact, the interrogator himself had given a media interview using his own name.

- In an interview aired on "60 Minutes" on May 9,
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Pakistani government has been warned that if a terror operation like the failed Times Square bombing were to be successful and found to be originated in their country, "there would be very severe consequences."

Clinton also acknowledged Pakistan's increased cooperation in the war on terror, but said the U.S. wants and expects even more from the Muslim nation.
What the hell does "very severe consequences" mean? Clinton specifically refused to say. Notice she didn't say if such a plot was traced to the Pakistani government, but merely to have originated in Pakistan. Spoken in the context of a statement that we "want and expect even more" "cooperation," that sure sounds like a threat to me: "Do what we want or else."

And just by the way, do other nations get to make such demands - "You will act in accordance with our foreign policy objectives, what you may see as your own interests be damned" - or is that privilege reserved for the US?

Face up to it folks, and special praise for the first Obamabot to openly admit it: When it comes to foreign policy, to "the war on terrorism," to "national security," and to related presidential powers, we have the administration of Barack Hussein Obambush.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some reasons why you shouldn't be surprised

As everyone knows, Barack Obama has nominated US Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court - nominated, that is, a woman with a disturbingly broad notion of executive authority any time the magic phrase "terrorism" or "national security" is invoked.

I just said we shouldn't be surprised he nominated a person with such views. Here are some recent reasons why:

Just a month ago, on April 15, federal prosecutors indicted Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency, on charges of lying, obstruction of justice, and "willful retention" of classified information. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

His actual crime? He was, apparently, a whistleblower who blew the cover off massive mismangement and bungling at the NSA, including in its secret, massive, and illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
The indictment suggests the Obama administration may be no less aggressive than the Bush administration in pursuing whistleblowers and reporters’ sources who disclose government secrets. In a little-noticed case last December, a former contract linguist for the F.B.I., Shamai Kedem Leibowitz, pleaded guilty to leaking five classified documents to a blogger.
(It's unclear what the documents in that case relate to, but the Threat Level blog at suggested it had to do with the revelation that Rep. Jane Harman had been heard on a legal [amazingly enough] NSA wiretap "engaging in a quid-pro-quo conversation with an Israeli agent" and the charge that the Bush DOJ declined to prosecute in order to secure her on-going support for the NSA's warrantless domestic spying. And while it's not proof of anything, I admit to finding it suspicious that what the story about Leibowitz and possibly Harman revealed was immediately swamped by not actually irrelevant but still distracting, change-the-subject type questions regarding how he could have gotten the security clearance he had.)

DOJ assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer defended the charges against Drake, asserting that "national security demands" that any disclosure of classified information "be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously." Meanwhile, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said the indictment would and is intended to have a chilling effect but added that it was "encouraging" that prosecutors do not appear to have subpoenaed any reporters.

She shouldn't have been so sanguine: Less than two weeks later, federal prosecutor William Welch subpoenaed New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his sources for the account in his 2006 book State of War about a CIA attempt to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program that may have wound up giving Iran important information about how to build a nuclear bomb. Risen fought a previous subpoena issued by the Bush DOJ until it expired. What's important to note here is that according to department rules, Attorney General Eric Holder must have personally signed off on this one.

About 10 days after that, TPMMuckraker discussed how
[t]he Obama Administration is applying an old exception to the Miranda rule in a new way in order to interrogate terrorism suspects before reading them their rights....
At issue is the "public safety exception," a carve-out from Miranda rules created by a Supreme Court decision in 1984. Under that exception, police may "ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety." Information obtained is admissible at trial. The thing is, it's supposed to refer to issues of immediate safety. As explained by Todd Foster, a criminal defense attorney and former FBI agent and federal prosecutor,
You're typically looking at something that's done at the instance of arrest for a very short period of time - just a couple of questions: "Where's the gun?" "Do you have anything sharp in your pocket?" Not like, "Let's go through your pawn shop receipts for the last weeks."
In fact, in the 1984 case that created the exception, the question was, quite literally, "Where's the gun?" An accused rapist, described as armed, was tracked to a grocery story where the arresting officer noticed the suspect had an empty holster.

However, the Obama DOJ has expanded that meaning and that understanding to the point where, at least as soon as the word "terrorism" is even whispered, Miranda all but ceases to exist: Umar Abdulmutallab was questioned for nearly an hour before being read his rights; in the case of Faisal Shahzad it was three or four hours.

Claiming that sort of time frame for the public safety exception appears to be unprecedented - as does the open public embrace of that expansive reading by the administration.
At a Senate hearing Thursday[, May 6], Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the use of the exception in an exchange with Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA)

"There are exceptions to Miranda and that is one of the ways in which we conduct our interrogations of terrorism suspects, it's what we did with Abdulmutallab, it's what we did with Shahzad," Holder said.

As Holder went on to note, the Supreme Court ... has never laid out how long questioning can last under the exception.
And last Sunday, the administration went for the gold. Appearing on "Meet the Press," Holder invoked the magic incantations of "terrorism" and "flexibility" to propose that Congress enact legislation carving out a broad new exception to Miranda which would essentially render it meaningless. In response, Sol Wachtler, professor of constitutional law at Touro Law School and the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the very man who wrote the appeals court decision that became the public safety exception to Miranda, said yesterday that to do as the administration wants
would be to go down a road toward the eventual nullification of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
But that prospect doesn't seem to worry the BO crowd. So, it appears, anything goes (including the Constitution out the window) as far as they are concerned. And if you're still trying to convince yourself this is all 11-dimensional chess, I commend to you the words of Prof. Jonathan Turley:
Obama’s record on civil liberties has long been attributed to a rather cold calculus that liberals have no where to go and that he should continue to play to the middle and right of the political spectrum. I am not so certain. There is no evidence that Obama actually believes in some of the principles that [retiring Supreme Court justice John Paul] Stevens fought for, particularly in the area of terrorism. What is clear is that he has selected someone who will honor that legacy by dismantling a significant part of it if her testimony before the Senate last year is any measure.
One last thing: I want no responses that in any way translate to "Oh, you'd rather McCain won." Because the answer is "At least then all this would not be largely enveloped in our collective silence."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's Kagan!

What, you're surprised? You really thought there was a chance that Obama would pick one of the actual, identifiable liberals whose names had been tossed about? You really thought there was a chance that he would be willing to get into a real fight for what we are supposed to think are his principles?

You're surprised that he picked someone who, as a Clinton advisor, was a trimmer who repeatedly urged cutting back and cutting deals rather than fighting for a program or a principle? You're surprised he picked someone who is largely a cipher, being apparently more interested in giving the reactionaries the fewest points of attack than in advancing justice?

You really thought there was a chance that he would not pick the person who, of all the names mentioned, was thought to be the or at least among the least liberal/most conservative, the person who, it is predicted, will leave the Court more to the right than it is now? Most particularly, you really thought there was a chance that he would not pick the person who endorses an extremely expansive view of presidential powers?

You're surprised? Disappointed? Why? How? Hasn't it sunk in yet that this is Barack Obama? Way back in the late 1960s, I described a "Cold War liberal" - classically described as "liberal on domestic policy and conservative on foreign policy" - as someone whose belief system was "hooray for justice, beauty, truth, and Kill Commies." Substitute "terrorists" for "Commies," leave the first part as mostly words with few actions, and add a majorly ginned-up vision of his own authorities to the second half, and you have the presidency of Barack Obama.

This is what you voted for. And some of us knew it beforehand. You can be frustrated, you can be angry. You can say "lesser of two evils." But if you were paying attention, you can't say you're surprised.

Jonathan Turley is not a DFH

On Monday, Jonathan Turley had a post about Hugo Chavez hiring 200 people to tweet for him. Now, yes, the idea of the famously-long-winded Chavez confining himself to 140 characters is amusing and the idea of hiring 200 people to tweet for him is downright funny.

But that wasn't enough for Turley: He had to, just had to, refer to Chavez's output as "totalitarian tweets" - a sentiment accented by a frequent commenter who called Chavez an "authoritarian militaristic dictator."

Oddly, in the same post Turley referred to Globovision, calling it the "only critical TV channel" still operating in Venezuela. Leaving aside the fact that calling Globovision "critical" makes FauxNews look like an Obama sycophant by comparison - Globovision once actually called for violent overthrow of the government - I have to wonder how a "critical TV channel" exists and operates openly in a "totalitarian" state.

I do think that to the extent that authoritarianism is a real threat in Venezuela, to that same extent unremitting foreign hostility is only going to encourage moves in that direction: Call it an example of living down to expectations or, more properly, a version of "Damned if you do and damned if you don't, so you might as well do."

I respect Jonathan Turley for his expertise on, and commitment to, free speech (even if in the case of corporations I think he takes it farther than is proper or envisioned by the First Amendment). But I have to say that on other topics, he is let's just call it not useful.
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