Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here we have it: sycophantic, reprehensible, and completely dishonest. Kudos to the students who tried to hold her feet to the fire.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bob Herbert is right: “This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.”
For the first time I am genuinely impressed by something Maureen Dowd wrote.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It is official: Condoleezza Rice was a war criminal, too. They are talking about the torture of Abu Zubaydah, to whom she readily assented in 2002. And if there is any more doubt that our government legally codified torture as an anti-terrorist and intelligence-gathering method, we also have this.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

It’s time we owned up to the sober facts facing the news industry: first among these is that the very medium that has sustained it and given life to accountability, transparency and community ties among Americans is not only on its way out but is dying quickly.

Some dispatches that were gleaned from today’s issue of the Newspaper of Record:

AbitibiBowater, “the world’s largest newsprint maker,” has filed for bankruptcy; a few pages later we read that Gannett “reported a 60 percent decline in first-quarter profit … and said its advertising was continuing to fall.” The New York Times itself “plans to eliminate several weekly sections” to save rapidly hemorrhaging costs and a similar ad shortfall.

A.O. Scott, their lead film critic, couldn’t help but notice the antiquity of newspapers in the new Crowe-Affleck film “State of Play”:

A breaking, earthshaking story makes its way from computer screen to newsprint. The plates are set, the presses whir, sheaves of freshly printed broadsheet are collated, stacked on pallets and sent out to meet the eyes of the hungry public. Truth has been told, corruption revealed and new oxygen pumped into the civic bloodstream.”

Scott is being sentimental but his point is valid. We’re losing more than pulp here. The question is will the transition, all but inevitable now, to the digital press engender a similar spirit of investigation, truth-seeking and muckraking that the best moments of our print media have seen. The answer has not yet been written.

In the interim, Sen. Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced a bill that would make newspapers tax-exempt entities (link here).

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mold the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations” (Joseph Pulitzer, 1904).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Remember when protesting was anti-American, or worthy of ridicule? Only when the left does it; when the right does the same thing, it is the epitome of nation-loving. The so-called TEA (taxed enough already) parties are not spontaneous; they were closely coordinated and sponsored by a group called FreedomWorks, given free publicity by extremists in Fox Views, and so full of irony and disingenuous appeals one cannot even begin, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

You wonder: where were these people when a Republican president saddled them with unsupportable debt and reckless spending? When people took to the streets to oppose government policies they opposed — say, illegitimate foreign military misadventures and warrantless wiretapping, or even torture — these very people would have ruthlessly denigrated them for their lack of patriotism. Marc Ambinder provides a fair description of what seems to be going on.

I conclude with this thought, captured in the aphorism below: “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross” (Upton Sinclair).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What remains of the right wing (for lack of a better way of putting it) is spinning out of control, lost in a hysterical, inflammatory morass of hyperventilating rhetoric — which contributes to its own loss of credibility and embarrassment toward itself. Rick Moran, a disillusioned right-of-center observer, comments:

[Glenn] Beck worries me. Conservatives worry me. I worry about myself. I feel trapped in a huge ball of cotton, trying gamely to make my way out but don’t know which direction to start pushing. I am losing contact with those conservatives who find Beck anything more than a clown — and an irrational one at that. Same goes for those who worship at the altar of Rush, Hannity, Coulter, and the whole cotton candy conservative crowd. I can’t take those people seriously. The fact that they are popular mystifies me.

It should mystify anyone concerned with the future of democratic discourse. The fact is, and it is one of those blunt statements, the figures that Moran is talking about are almost openly anti-Enlightenment — that is, anti-rational — opposed to reason, and the attendant value of fairness. This is not hyperbole. There is always room for well-reasoned and thoughtful dissent; it is a necessity. Pure and simple reaction, however, is not meaningful or useful, and militates against the norms of discussion and debate. It is also flies in the face, very contemptuously, of standards of evidence and argument. These are dismissed as irrelevant; conviction is what matters.

In the mainstream sphere, Fox News is the most visible culprit, as both a hyper-partisan ideological cocoon and a massive exercise in fraud. Its leading blowhards engage in a postmodern game in which they consistently promote themselves as the head of the pack of media wolves; at the same moment, they maintain they are outside the entire media entity. Another sleight-of-hand trick is introduced with the use of projection, in which the just-folks multimillionaire opinionator-reporters blithely accuse their enemies for their incitement, their inflammatory and irresponsible pretensions to analysis, and their absurdity. A plausible analogue would be a child who steals a cookie and calls his mother a thief for catching him.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

But how do we know that the CIA has stopped running its secret prisons (just announced)? On the say-so of the new CIA director, Leon Panetta? Is there any way to verify this?

Monday, April 06, 2009

“Israel cannot find peace by behaving in the Middle East as if it were the American Wild West of a century ago. Reprisal is abhorrent, it punishes the innocent with the guilty. The predictable effect has been to inflame enmity in a fresh spiral of hatred.”

I. F. Stone’s Weekly, 5 December 1966 (vol. 14, no. 39)

“Zionist immigration is out to establish itself in Palestine on lines of its own choosing. On the other hand, those lines are foreign, unintelligible, and antipathetic to the mentalities of the Arab communities that represent the large majority in the country. If no bridge is built, how can these two existing, and mutually repellent, social states grow side by side without endless friction?”

—Owen Tweedy, Atlantic Monthly, October 1930

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009

After reading the chapter on demagogy (specifically pp. 389-90) in Gordon Allport’s book The Nature of Prejudice (1958), I immediately thought of Glenn Beck (and others) — minus the antisemitism, which is not apparent. It also brings to light the hatreds toward Obama’s “radical agenda” (see Hannity, Sean). If you take out the antisemitism and racialism, it’s a living mirror to what we see right now coming from the Right:

“In their volume Prophets of Deceit, Lowenthal and Guterman have analyzed a large number of similar speeches and tracts. There is a sameness of protest and hatred in all of them. What the demagogue is saying seems to boil down to the following points: You’ve been cheated. Your social position is insecure because of the machinations of … New Dealers, communists, and other agents of change. Sincere and plain folk like us are always dupes. We must do something.

“There is a widespread conspiracy against us. It is being engineered by devils — by Wall Street, … internationalists, the State Department. We must do something. The conspirators are sexually corrupt too. [e.g., O’Reilly et al constantly deplore the “gay agenda” and decry gay marriage and other affronts to Christendom] They ‘roll in wealth, bathe in liquor, surround themselves with the seduced daughters of America.’ ‘Oriental exotics debauch youth for the purpose of wrecking gentile morale.’ Aliens enjoy all the forbidden fruit. Our present government is corrupt. The two-party system is a sham. Democracy is a ‘trick word.’ ‘Liberalism is anarchy’ [or mob rule, or a mental disorder]. Civil liberties are ‘silly liberties.’ We cannot be universalistic in our ethics. We must look out for ourselves. We can’t trust the foreigners. Internationalism is a threat. [see the debate on immigration — Beck, among others, warns that a “North American Union” is coming and the borders will be opened and the demographic nature of America will change]

“But we can’t trust our own government either. Alien termites bore within. Washington is a ‘Bolshevik rat’s nest.’ Our enemies are low animals: reptiles, insects, germs, subhuman. [there was an editorial cartoon in the Columbus Dispatch in 2007 depicting Iranians as roaches] Extermination is called for; we must do something. There is no middle ground. The world is divided. Those who are not for us are against us. It is a war between haves and have-nots; between true Americans and ‘foreigners.’ … [Hannity, a few nights ago, seriously asked, “Why do we care so much about what the rest of the world thinks of us?”] … But with disaster around the corner what can you do? [“I’m sorry (weeping); it’s just I love my country, and I fear for it”—Beck] Poor, simple, sincere people need a leader.

“Behold I am he. It isn’t the American nation that is wrong; it is the corrupt men in office. Change the personnel. I am available. I’ll change the whole smelly mess. You’ll have a happier and safe life. The situation is too urgent to permit the luxury of thought. Just give me your money, and I’ll tell you later what to do. Everybody is against me. I am your martyr. The press … [and] the stinking bureaucrats are trying to shut me up [see the “conservative” talk radio hostility to the Fairness Doctrine]. Enemies plot against my life, but God will protect me. I’ll lead you. And I’ll ignite the public mind everywhere. ... Maybe we’ll march on Washington. ...” [and throw “tea parties”]