Sunday, December 31, 2006


When I watch old movies on TCM, I'm struck by the prominence given to journalists and newspaper editorial rooms in films from the thirties and forties.  Journalism seems to have been the latest attraction on our national cultural scene, soon overlapped by, and eventually eclipsed by psychoanalysis.

That's an interesting, harmless observation.  But when I switch to a news channel, which is either CNN or The News Hour, I'm immediately assailed by a much less pleasant observation, which is that the American media isn't half as pugnacious now as it was in its heyday on film.

Some readers will point out that pugnacity has moved to the internet, but how many voters balance what they get on TV with on-line commentary?

This morning, Chris Matthews, who thinks he's still playing hard ball, couldn't keep his brilliant panel from dismissing Obama.

Never mind that when he walks into a room, as one observer put it, you can feel the electricity.

Never mind that he's the only candidate with real life experience of the wider world.

Or that his approach to religion is one which born-agains and atheists could both live with - given the pressing issues of global warming and terrorism.

Apparently, it's more fun to play guessing games as to whether Hillary could win, or Giuliani could get the nomination, carefully balancing comments on the chances of the lesser runner.  It will be more difficult - and hence less audience attracting - to do this when Obama emerges as the unstoppable front runner.

I remember how George McGovern was savaged by the media in 1972.  We're still paying for that.  To dismiss Obama before the first primary vote is even cast, is an equally shameful act by a profession that was once so proud of its pugnacity that it's enshrined for all to see on cellulose.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Will somebody please explain to me why we leave the streets of Baghdad unattended at night, when all the mischief is going on?

A news report over the weekend noted that every morning the Iraqi police get up and go out to collect the bodies of people assassinated during the night.

Is this a joke or what?

There's an idea that has been wanting some air for quite some time: could it be that we're deliberately bungling the occupation so we can claim the Iraqis just can't handle independence?

Another news item over the weekend would seem to fit right into this theory: we're told that the Saudis are "reading the riot act" to their erstwhile friends the Bushes and that things are so serious that the cosy family relationship may never be the same again.

Given the smell of oil, that sounded like so much spin.  Then it occurred to me that it's worse than spin - they're deliberately misleading us!  Consider this:  the Saudis are Sunnnis; those in Iraq who are not cooperating are the Sunnis, who are the minority but have always been on top until now.  The Saudis said outright that they would provide support to the Iraqi Sunnis if they're not given a fair shake in the government.

Do they expect us to believe that we would give up Saudi oil AND Sunni-controlled Iraqi oil?

I'd say it's more likely that the kidnappings and assassinations serve to demonstrate that the Shia (same as Iranians) should not rule Iraq, and we have to put the Sunnis, friends of the Saudis, back in control.

That would mean ignoring the fact that Al Qaeda is a creature of Sunni Wahabbism, while the Shias (including Ahmadinejad) are all about meeting the needs of the people.

The inconvenient ideological difference between Sunnis and Shias truth is systematically glossed over by our media.

Friday, December 15, 2006


My kids always hated me for being right;  one of them still does.  Often,  like today, I'd rather be wrong.

After writing, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we were being occupied by our own troops, what do I hear on Democracy Now but that the immigrant workers who were arrested at Swift plants across the country were subjected to a veritable invasion by uniformed immigration police in battle fatigues jumping on tables, brandishing weapons and quite brutally separating people out.  Maybe these troops just wanted to show that they can be as intimidating as those fighting in Iraq.  Apparently, 13,000 people were arrested, although less than 200 were suspected of using stolen identities.  Children were left in school with nowhere to go, one of those arrested was a nursing mother.

Serendipitously (it's so often like that), the latest issue of Harpers arrives in the mail with Chalmers Johnson's piece on where this is all leading: I'm always pleased when recognized observers confirm my convictions: According to "Republic or Empire, a national intelligence estimate on the United States," on the historical evidence, the choice being made in favor of empire to the detriment of democracy  is likely to result in economic and politics collapse, sooner  rather than later.

Why do so few people see this?  I think Barak Obama does, and I think he's the only one who has the inborn stature to perhaps turn things around.  The other day, Jack Cafferty asked listeners what Obama has that the other candidates don't have.  My answer is: that je ne sais quoi that makes a true leader, which we haven't seen in I don't know how long.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The first thing I hear on CNN this morning as part of the question whether we have enough troops to increase the numbers on the ground in Iraq, is that there are 400,000 troops IN THE U.S.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound very kosher to me.  Why does our government need to station 400,000 troops in its own country?

Is it to deter Americans from camping out in Washington until the government goes, as patriots in other countries around the world have done recently?

Add to this the fact that when Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin tried to take a petition to the Pentagon THEY WERE ARRESTED, Cindy Sheehan being dragged across the ground, and you really do have to wonder.

All this is what Thom Hartman calls the undeclared war on the middle class, in his important new book: "Screwed".

"Screwed" is an excellent primer for anyone who skipped US history in school  - or whose high school program didn't include it.  It rehabilitates the progressive movement, buried by McCarthy. It resuscitates Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from the "dustbin of history" and explains why we need trade unions and single payer health care, among other things.

Hartman astutely avoids using the expression "the people", which has been associated with socialism and communism.  He uses "We the people" throughout his book, associating it with the "middle class".

Now "We the people" is actually being taken up by sanitized pundits.  I heard a few of them even pronounce the words "working class".

If this continues, even the expression "mob rule" may finally be exposed for what it is: a disincentive for respectable members of the American poor and disenfranchised, in other words "the people", to take to the streets, as thousands have done elsewhere.  Until Americans can do that, they will, no doubt continue to be screwed.

Which is probably why there are 400,000 US troops stationed here at home.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


It's the season when all self-respecting cultural communities offer "The Nutcracker", a ballet where children in their party best dance around a Christmas tree.

The talk-show tree that sophisticated commentators are dancing around isn't green, it's metallic.  And the dancers are pretending to be blind. Instead of an oil rig, they'd like us to believe they're dancing around the Statue of Liberty.  It's not about Christmas giving, but about protecting the Easter /golden egg.

And not a single journalist out there - not even Amy Goodman! - to pull back the curtain and shine the spotlight on what's really on the dancers' mind: control of Iraqi oil via nationalization and contracts handed out to the oil majors.

The eminant citizens who write "The Iraq Panel Report" must have know they could spell out the administration's plan without the slightest risk that the fourth estate would shine their projectors on it: they're well trained in the pirouettes that are a classical element in every pas de deux.

Friday, December 8, 2006


Didn't there used to be a picture called "The Thief of Baghdad?"  If not, there's one now: it's described in the Iraq Study Group report which recommends privatizing Iraqi oil and handing out contracts for its exploitation to the oil majors, under the aegis of a central government.  And to make sure the message is clear, the panel is emphasizing in interviews that its recommendations should be taken as a whole, not, in Baker's words, "cherry-picked".

And here is where the elves come in: in her book "The Reckoning", Middle East specialist Sandra Mackey notes that under Saddam Iraqis were so cowed that cruising police cars were enough to make sure there was no civilian violence.  I can't get that sentence out of my mind.  What are all those occupation troops doing anyway, if wicked elves are allowed to kidnap, torture, kill and hide people?  I've heard they pretty much stay inside the Green Zone, the urban wilderness being too dangerous to even patrol.  But is that what an occupying army is supposed to do?  Stay indoors?  And if that's what they're doing, could this be a way of establishing that there is no central government capable of "defending and sustaining itself"?

We hear, sotto voce, that the U.S. is building a number (I think it's fourteen) of permanent bases in Iraq.  Could there be a link between the bases, an occupation strategy that appears designed to show that Iraq can't govern itself, and the ISG's recommendation that oil be turned over to the majors?

It all comes together when we're reminded, by political activist Antonia Juhasz (on Democracy Now), that among other "coincidences", Jim Baker's law firm's clients include those companies.

What we need over there is a good fairy.

Friday, December 1, 2006


I've already mentioned Sandra Mackey's extraordinary book: "The Reckoning, Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein".  Now that I've finished reading it, I must mention it again: it should be reissued, because it contains all the information our politicans apparently didn't have when they made the decision to invade Iraq.  The book was available, but it was a voice in the wilderness.  Maybe now that they know they made a monumentally wrong decision, they will study it, to try to pick up the pieces.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to know why things have gone so wrong.

Another voice in the wilderness is ex-president Jimmy Carter.  He actually has to justify the title of his new book, "Palestine, Peace, not Apartheid", when presenting it.  He is waging an uphill battle to educate the American public about the wrongness of U.S. unconditional support for Israel and the all but totally ignored plight of the Palestinian people.  Carter isn't afraid to puncture the myth that people fighting for their freedom are terrorists.  I'm willing to bet that if anyone asked him whether he made any decisions he regrets when he was president, he would probably say that he didn't know nearly enough about the Middle East when the Iranian revolution took place.  Whatever history decides about his presidency, it will acknowledge him as the most meritorious ex-president.

Speaking of Iran, my bet is on Ahmadinejad for Time's Person of the Year.  It will probably be a toss up between the Iranian president and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.  Both of them are acknowledged leaders among the populations of a Third World, which we will probably continue to blow off until it's too late: they are the majority in this world, the developed countries are the minority, and the United States is, if I may abuse scientific terminology, is the absolute minority.  Which is why we need to bring voices in from the wilderness.