Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Governor Goodhair (But No Brains) Channels His Inner Dubster

Governor Goodhair (But No Brains) has mobilized the National Guard of Texas and ordered them down to McAllen, TX on the border. Their function will be to repel the hordes of children who have fled (most sans parents) the violencia in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Obviously, these jihadists, who range from infancy to adolescence, are a threat to national security. Goodhair (But No Brains) donned his Clark-Kent-eyeglasses while announcing his unilateral action to save the nation. Interestingly, this "surge" of Guard troops will cost Texas taxpayers $17.1M daily. The Texas AG, Greg (Hotwheels) Abbott — who lives to sue the federal government — has pledged to replace the state funds with Fed money. Good luck with that, Hotwheels. In the meantime, the lamestream media has breathlessly reported this non-event as if it equaled The Dubster's "Mission Accomplished" show after the fall of Iraq. As Borowitz notes, Goodhair (But No Brains) has ordered the mobilization of the Guard to the border without a "defined objective, mission, or exit strategy." In other words, a clusterf*ck. If this is (fair & balanced) political theater (at $17.1M per diem), so be it.

[x The New Yorker]
Perry Boosts Presidential Stature By Using Troops For No Reason
By Andy Borowitz

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An aide to Rick Perry is confident that the Texas Governor proved he “has what it takes to be President” with his decision on Monday to send troops somewhere for no reason.

By deploying a thousand National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border, Perry has shown that as President he would be “ready and willing” to use troops without a defined objective, mission, or exit strategy, the aide confirmed.

“Sending troops someplace with no clear idea of why they are going or what they are supposed to be doing once they get there is a key part of the Presidential skill set,” said the aide, Harland Dorrinson. “Rick Perry has just shown that he’s got that nailed down.”

Dorrinson acknowledged that the gold standard for using troops for no reason might have been set by Perry’s predecessor in Texas, George W. Bush, but added, “If anyone can beat that record, it’s Rick.”

According to the aide, Perry’s “extremely Presidential response” to the immigration crisis is already winning him the praise of G.O.P. voters. “Nothing unites Republicans more than standing up to children,” he said. Ω

[Andy Borowitz is the creator the "Borowitz Report," a Web site that is a lot funnier than the stuff posted by Matt Drudge and his ilk. Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears regularly in The New Yorker. He is the first winner of the National Press Club's humor award and has won seven Dot-Comedy Awards for his web site. His most recent book (and Amazon's Best Kindle Single of the Year) is An Unexpected Twist  (2012). Borowitz is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College.]

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Up! Up And Away!" Don't Work Here Anymore

In 1960, Norman Mailer wrote about JFK in "Superman Comes To The Supermarket." Today, we feature Hayes Brown's musings about POTUS 44 and the Man-of-Steel metaphor. Just as it is true that there ain't no free lunch, it's also true that there ain't no Superman. The Dumbo litany that the POTUS 44 is a 90-lb. weakling depands on the Superman mythology. And if there is one thing beloved in the US of A, it the myth. The myth of Exceptionalism and the myth of U.S. superpower have great appeal to the viewers of Faux News and Dumbo/Moron voters everywhere. The truth is that no POTUS — from Washington to Obama — has been a Superman. If this is (fair & balanced) myth-breaking, so be it.

[x The Week]
Obama's Superman Problem
By Hayes Brown

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"Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger," then-Senator Barack Obama joked in the fall of 2008. "I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-El, to save the planet Earth," he continued, referring to the iconic origin story of Superman, the first modern superhero.

Nearly six years later, Obama is the most powerful man on the planet, commanding history's most advanced military, and steering the world's largest economy. But much like Superman, Obama — and by extension the United States — is frequently faced with the paradoxical limits that come with its superpower.

On Friday, the U.S. sought to reassure its allies that it was moving swiftly to respond to Russia sending another ten tanks across the Ukraine border. The previous day, Obama stood at the White House Briefing Room's podium to pledge further military support for the beleaguered Iraqi army against the militants allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The day before that, the U.S. promised more support for the Central African Republic, where violence continues to rage unchecked between Christian and Muslim communities.

The United States, as the documents revealed last year by Edward Snowden showed, has for years been developing the ability to see and hear, if not everything, a massive percentage of the world's total communications. Its satellites orbit the planet, capable of capturing troop movements, burning villages, fleeing refugees. But though it may try, its ability to respond to every one of those calls for help remains beyond its reach.

In a recent storyline, Superman returns to his home city, Metropolis, after an extended absence. A woman in the gathered crowd actually slaps the hero, demanding why he was unable to spot her husband's cancer with his X-ray vision, and prevent his death. When a nearby reporter chides her, noting that even Superman can't be everywhere at once, the woman in her anguish laments: "But you were nowhere."

Though his powers have fluctuated wildly over the years, the Man of Steel is always depicted as having in his arsenal both super-hearing and super-vision. Depending on the writer's view of just how his powers work, the constant barrage of screams for help constantly assault Superman's sensitive ears, leaving him forced to shut them out or be driven insane.

So too the U.S. finds itself with a glut of information, but lacking the ability to take on so many of the world's crises, no matter how heart-wrenching the pleas or gut-wrenching the sight of the dead stacked together may be. It's just outside its ability to solve all of the world's problems at once.

There's also the problem that comes with being as physically powerful as Superman. There are few villains out there who require his full strength to handle, meaning he has to constantly fret about accidentally killing them. "I feel like I live in a World of Cardboard," a version of the character once said, "always taking care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment or someone could die." Superman delivered this speech before finally unleashing his full ability to defeat the villain threatening the world, seeing that his opponent could actually handle the assault.

But as seen — to many fans' concern — in his most recent film incarnation "Man of Steel," the collateral damage around Superman can be devastating when he cuts loose. The United States frequently finds itself facing the same dilemma. Its aircraft can deliver payloads capable of wiping out city blocks at a time. It possesses the atom bomb. Should it actually channel all of its resources against a challenge, as in World War II, the sheer manpower and economic might of the U.S. could defeat almost any conceivable foe. But only if it's willing to pay the cost — both economically and in terms of the lives we'll have taken and lost in the process.

It's this problem we currently see in confronting Russia. On paper, the United States could win any war with Russia over Ukraine. But would it be worth it?

For Kal-El, the answer is often "no." But that's not a surprise. Among his many monikers, Superman is often referred to as "The Big Blue Boy Scout." For decades, Superman has been seen as the guiding compass for morality in the DC universe. From the beginning, he has been described as fighting for "truth, justice, and the American way." If he believes an action is just, the vast majority of the time he is proven right.

But despite his best intentions, there are always those who fear him, such as his archnemesis Lex Luthor. In most versions of the character, Luthor is convinced that Superman is a threat to humanity, a possible dictator-in-the-making, and not to be trusted. Though Luthor is in the minority, there have been times when he's managed to convince the public that Superman has gone rogue and must be stopped.

While the U.S. can't be said to have the same track record of moral judgment as Superman, there's still the fact that being the most powerful in the world makes people naturally suspicious of your motives. If it intervenes in Iraq's latest crisis, the U.S.'s intention will be to stop ISIS as a service to the region and the world. That likely won't stop the calls, however, of "American tyranny" and suspicious whispers about oil and conquest.

These comparisons leave us with some lessons that the United States can draw. The first, that even if it did decide to try to take on all the world's ills — and succeed — there would always be those who resented the U.S. and tried to break free. In the classic 'what if?' series Red Son, instead of landing outside of Smallville, KS, Kal-El's rocket lands in the Soviet Union. There Superman, an adopted son of Stalin, eventually grows up to spread his rule across most of there world as a benevolent dictator, ending famines and strife for most of humanity. But in doing so, he eventually realizes that he's stripped the world of its free will and so retreats to allow humanity to decide its own fate.

That said, not to borrow too heavily from the thesis of Robert Kagan's recent essay "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire," the U.S. isn't in a place where it can cut off from the world entirely. There is no Fortress of Solitude in which it can hide. Nor can it just fly off into space for awhile. The world needs it and it needs the world.

But that doesn't mean it has to go alone. Since its first incarnation in 1960, Superman has been able to rely on the help of members of the Justice League when things get rough. Though no one member is nearly as powerful as Superman, together they boost him, and drawing on each other's strengths they've saved the world (and the universe). When facing down threats around the world, it's tempting to think that the mighty United States can take them all on alone, but it will always need allies and alliances — be they bilateral team-ups or organizations like NATO or the United Nations — to help it get there.

Obama is a fellow nerd. As a kindred spirit, I hope he turns to the comics books and sci-fi of his past to find solace. I like to imagine him sitting at the Resolute Desk, thinking back to his 2008 joke, wishing that he really were the Man of Steel. But if he understands the character at all, he knows that even being the Last Son of Krypton wouldn't grant him the power to fix all of the world's ills — no Kryptonite required. Ω

[Hayes Brown is National Security Reporter at "Think Progress," covering international affairs and U.S. foreign relations. His work has appeared at Foreign Policy, UN Dispatch, and he has appeared on the BBC, MSNBC, CBC, and other media outlets discussing matters of national and international security. Hayes graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in international relations.]

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Breaking News? Hell No, The News Is Broken!

Today's "This Modern World" 'toon features Biff and Wanda, the two blow-dried anchorpeople of the "Action McNews" newscast, who deliver "news" that is little more than PR spin. A Biff and Wanda strip almost always ends with a cut to a commercial break ("Now, these messages!"). Tom Tomorrow looks at TV news and finds it wanting... aubstance? If this is a (fair & balanced media critque, so be it.

[x This Modern World\
Breaking News
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gimme That Ol' Time Open-Carry Religion

Today's Wiley Miller 'toon of choice whick posed size-problems for inclusion within today's blog post may be seen here. The post itself features a bemused meditation by Eags on religious fanaticism in our time. If this is (fair & balanced) consideration of religious atavism, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Faith-Based Fanatics
By Timothy Egan

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He’s had a busy summer. As God only knows, he was summoned to slaughter in the Holy Land, asked to end the killings of Muslims by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, and played both sides again in the 1,400-year-old dispute over the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

In between, not much down time. Yes, the World Cup was fun, and God chose to mess with His Holinesses, pitting the team from Pope Francis’s Argentina against Germany, home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Well played, even if the better pope lost.

At least Rick Perry was not his usual time-suck. The governor proclaimed three days of prayer to end the Texas drought in 2011, saying, “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this.’ ” The drought got worse. Two years ago, Perry said that God had not “changed his mind” about same-sex marriage. But the states have. Since Perry became a spokesman for the deity, the map of legalized gay marriage in America has expanded by 50 percent.

Still, these are pillow feathers in a world weighted down with misery. God is on a rampage in 2014, a bit like the Old Testament scourge who gave direct instructions to people to kill one another.

It’s not true that all wars are fought in the name of religion, as some atheists assert. Of 1,723 armed conflicts documented in the three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars (2004), only 123, or less than 7 percent, involved a religious cause. Hitler’s genocide, Stalin’s bloody purges and Pol Pot’s mass murders certainly make the case that state-sanctioned killings do not need the invocation of a higher power to succeed.

But this year, the ancient struggle of My God versus Your God is at the root of dozens of atrocities, giving pause to the optimists among us (myself included) who believe that while the arc of enlightenment is long, it still bends toward the better.

In the name of God and hate, Sunnis are killing Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa. A jihadist militia, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, boasts of beheading other Muslims while ordering women to essentially live in caves, faces covered, minds closed. The two sides of a single faith have been sorting it out in that blood-caked land, with long periods of peace, since the year 632. Don’t expect it to end soon. A majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful, but a Pew Survey found that 40 percent of Sunnis do not think Shiites are proper Muslims.

Elsewhere, a handful of failed states are seeing carnage over some variant of the seventh-century dispute. And the rage that moved Hamas to lob rockets on birthday parties in Tel Aviv, and Israelis to kill children playing soccer on the beach in Gaza, has its roots in the spiritual superiority of extremists on both sides.

The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery.

The current intra-religious fights are not to be confused with people who fly airplanes into buildings, or shoot up innocents while shouting “God is great.” But those killers most assuredly believed that their reward for murder is heaven.

Of late, God has taken a long break from Ireland, such a small country for such a big fight between worshipers under the same cross. There, the animus is not so much theological as it is historical. If the curious Muslim is wondering why Protestants and Catholics can’t just get along on that lovely island, take a look at the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, when about 20 percent of the population of present-day Germany fell to clashes between the two branches of Christianity.

Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.

And so do Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Butcher Asks The Existential Question O'The Day: Where Are We, Exactly?

As the news from today's Iraq brings back memories of Saigon in 1975, (Cue the helicopter sounds), The Butcher (Frank Rich) takes a survey of the fault-line known as the "liberation of Iraq." 'Tis not a pretty sight to see how so many were wrong then and are still wrong now. A pox on the hawks, neo-cons, and their sycophantic cheerleaders, then and now. If there is a Hot Place, may they all burn there for eternity. If this is a (fair & balanced) hairshirt — wear it.

[x NY 'Zine]
Iraq Everlasting
By Frank Rich

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When Michael Hastings was killed in a single-car crash in Los Angeles at age 33 last June, journalism lost a rare specimen of the breed it needs most: a reporter who doesn’t care whom he pisses off. Hastings was the hothead whose 2010 Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” led to the dismissal of the Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, for the infraction of trash-talking his civilian bosses. Hastings, too, was pilloried after the piece—by his own journalistic peers, in a manner that would prefigure some of the profession’s more recent hostility toward Glenn Greenwald. “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has,” said Lara Logan of CBS News.

We now know that Hastings served both his country and profession with more honor than Logan, who later maimed her own career and "60 Minutes" by perpetrating a Benghazi hoax. And his service isn’t done yet. After Hastings died, a former colleague at Newsweek, where he worked as an intern and war correspondent from 2002 to 2008, sent his widow, Elise Jordan, the draft of a novel he had finished just before his 2010 embed with McChrystal. Titled The Last Magazine, it is being published this month on the anniversary of his passing.

We’ll never know how Hastings might have revised this scrappy debut effort or whether it would have led to a career as a novelist. But as a provocative piece of thinly fictionalized nonfiction, it’s a posthumous mission accomplished. The Last Magazine—set at a fictional newsweekly called The Magazine that might as well go by Newsweek—tells the story of the run-up to the Iraq War from a perspective that many of his colleagues would like to forget or suppress: as an embed deep inside the so-called liberal media, much of which cheered on the war with a self-­righteous gravity second only to Dick Cheney’s. Hastings’s book is a message in a bottle that has belatedly washed up on shore to force us to remember how we landed where we are now.

Where are we, exactly? As President Obama implicitly reconfirmed in last week’s West Point address calling for a restrained American role abroad, the massive blunder of Iraq remains the nation’s inescapable existential burden two and a half years after our last troops departed. Indeed, the war continues to pile up collateral damage and defeats daily. Without America’s wrong turn into Iraq, perhaps the Taliban would be extinct rather than resurgent in Afghanistan as we head for the exits to meet Obama’s new 2016 pullout deadline. Without the taint of the Iraq debacle, a war deceitfully carried out in the name of 9/11, perhaps ticket sales at the new 9/11 museum would not be moving so slowly that one can imagine them ending up at the half-price booth; perhaps even George W. Bush might have dared to show up for the museum’s opening rather than plead a “scheduling conflict.”

As for Iraq itself, the just-completed election (few photos of purple fingers this time) all but guaranteed a third term for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a mercurial autocrat like the other leaders America sponsored after 9/11, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. Under Maliki, Iraq is an ally of Iran, its partner in supporting the criminal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. And though Iraq was not a terrorist stronghold when “shock and awe” toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, it is today. The Anbar-province city of Fallujah, liberated by American forces in our country’s bloodiest warfare since Vietnam, fell to Al Qaeda earlier this year. As Mark Danner summarized in his ongoing assessment of the war’s origins and legacy for The New York Review of Books, “The Sunni-Shia struggle set in motion by the American invasion of Iraq has become the vortex of a violent political struggle that stretches from South Asia to the Gulf.” Iraq itself has become a one-stop-shopping jihadist laboratory for car bombs, IEDs, and kidnapping scenarios like the one enacted by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Iraq’s legacy in America goes well beyond the steep toll of casualties, injuries, and billions wasted on corruption and folly. Of the 2.6 million Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than half have physical or mental-health problems and give the government low marks for meeting their needs, according to a Washington Post–Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in March. Barely a third of the public—and only 44 percent of post-9/11 service members—believes the Iraq War was worth fighting, according to CBS News and Post-­Kaiser polls. Such is the bipartisan backlash to both post-9/11 wars that a Pew survey last fall found that 52 percent of Americans want their country to “mind its own business internationally”—a record high in the poll’s five-decade history.

It’s the default position of liberals to lay the blame for this apocalyptic legacy—a failing Iraq, unchecked international jihadism, a neo-isolationist America—on the Bushies, who deployed cooked evidence and outright lies to sell the country on the war and then executed their own strategy with breathtaking recklessness and incompetence. The Iraq War cheerleaders on the right, whether think-tank-funded neocon armchair generals or flag-pin-bearing bloviators at Fox News, are also easily identifiable culprits in this story. So are those reporters and editors in the mainstream press who at best failed to vet and at worst jingoistically inflated Bush-administration propaganda about Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

What tends to be swept under history’s rug is the leading role that the liberal Establishment played in this calamity. A majority of Senate Democrats voted to authorize the war, including the presidential aspirants Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and John Edwards. Most of the liberal pundits and public intellectuals who might have challenged the rationale for the invasion enlisted in the stampede instead, giving the politicians cover. They are the target of Michael Hastings’s rude little book.

For those who don’t instantly recognize the principal characters in this roman √† clef, a minute of Googling will decode it. Sometimes Hastings tosses in actual names, including his own, the 22-year-old protagonist bouncing among the higher-ups succumbing to war fever in their lofty midtown-Manhattan offices. The titular magazine is a relic from a time capsule—when newsweeklies had millions of ­subscribers and covers that could move markets and the world. But if print news­magazines have been slouching toward extinction ever since, the culture Hastings captures—like some of the specific Iraq enablers he skewers—is alive and well. The slippery prewar bellicosity at The Magazine (one cover is ingeniously headlined “The Case for War?”) seems as contemporary as ever, as does the disingenuous backpedaling once public opinion starts to go south (another cover: “How They Got It Wrong [And What They Can Do to Make It Right]”). The herd mentality, situational ethics, and fear of standing up to authority depicted in The Last Magazine survive today on op-ed pages, at panels where elite thinkers meet in the mountains of Aspen and Davos, on thumb-sucking talk shows of lofty policy pretensions, and, yes, sometimes in magazines. It’s a bubble where career advancement, as measured through television ubiquity and the sales of books pandering to received middlebrow opinion, matters more than actual thought or intellectual integrity. When the “Michael Hastings” of Hastings’s novel reads a new book by one of the two senior editors competing to be The Magazine’s new editor-in-chief, he doesn’t expect to learn what his boss is really thinking, only what the boss has “pretended to think” to advance his personal brand.

In a post he wrote for the now-defunct site "True/Slant" in 2009 (around the time he was finishing his draft of The Last Magazine), Hastings anticipated his novel’s themes. “Supporting the Iraq War was the smart career move, the savvy play,” he wrote, adding that he witnessed “this career pressure at work, first-hand” when, between the summer of 2002 and the start of the invasion in March 2003, “the views of a number of big names at Newsweek flipped like light switches.” Why did they? A big incentive, he wrote, “was the pressure to stay relevant. Being for the war was seen as the cutting edge of thinking. If you were against the war, you were marked as some kind of left-wing throwback, or an isolationist, someone who didn’t get it.” And, as Hastings marveled in 2009, “the consequences for getting it wrong” were “zip.” Indeed, many of those who got it wrong, in his estimation, had become more successful after the war spun out of control. Some have just slunk away from the ruins of the fiasco they supported as if they bear no culpability or responsibility for the wreckage. Now and then, they write lovely pieces thanking those Americans who fought the war for their service.

A month before the invasion in 2003, Bill Keller, then a Times op-ed columnist, took a census of the “I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club” he unexpectedly found himself in. It was a large group that included “op-ed regulars at this newspaper and the Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek.” Contrary to Hastings’s harsh view of their motivations, the liberal hawks all claimed their stands were based on the merits of the case. They believed that Saddam, indisputably a mass murderer of his own people, could be taken out in a surgical military action (“rapid, accurate and dazzling,” in Christopher Hitchens’s formulation). Some believed, as the Bush administration hectored, that Iraq’s arsenal was a ticking time bomb threatening America. Paul Berman imagined that an invasion might “foment a liberal revolution in the Middle East.” Thomas Friedman argued that “America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world” in addition to Afghanistan to puncture the “terrorism bubble” and tilt the region “onto a democratizing track.”

When these rationales started to collapse, most (though not all) of the original liberal hawks started to scatter. Slate smartly convened periodic online symposia in which its nearly united caucus for war could publicly reconsider. But as the blogger Matthew Yglesias would write at "ThinkProgress" in 2010, it remained puzzling why the war’s liberal supporters were “so slow to turn against it.” Yglesias had been a mere college student when he supported the invasion, but he was still wise enough to figure out that things were going “badly amiss” when Bush and Tony Blair “pulled the plug on the inspections process” and when, a few months later, it became clear that “there was no scary WMD program and also that there was no real plan for what to do.” Yet, as he wrote, it took “until 2005–2006 for ‘this was a mistake’ to become a conventional view even though no really important new information became available during the interim.”

There were exceptions to this groupthink, of course. Among the boldest was the Slate military-affairs columnist Fred Kaplan, who joined his colleagues in coming down in favor of the Iraq War after hearing Colin Powell’s presentation on Saddam’s alleged WMD before the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. Kaplan pulled back a mere month later—two weeks before the invasion began—after reading a piece by another liberal hawk, George Packer, in the Times Magazine, reporting that at a meeting with Iraqi exiles, Bush revealed his ignorance of the Sunni-Shia division in the country he intended to remake. “I knew immediately they were going to fuck it up,” Kaplan recalled recently. (Packer stayed the course until 2005.) A few other prominent liberal writers—a short list led by Danner, James Fallows, Michael Kinsley, John Judis, and Paul Krugman—opposed the war from the start, for a variety of prescient reasons. Why did so many more, seeing the same evidence that the skeptics did, get it wrong?

The liberal hawks’ explanations are fairly similar: They were bamboozled by the WMD “evidence.” They never imagined that the Bush administration would have gone to war with no plan for the morning after Saddam’s fall. Some pinned the blame on the Brookings Institution fellow Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst, whose book The Threatening Storm (2002), a compendium of errant intelligence, was the go-to case for war. (It is now out of print.) By 2004, the libertarian magazine Reason was seeing a “neat arrangement of responsibility by the liberal hawks: all the blame falls on the president, none on themselves.” Or, as the late British historian Tony Judt put it two years later, most liberal hawks (“Bush’s useful idiots,” he labeled them) “focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution.”

What made some of the liberal hawks offensive was their swaggering assumption of moral (and intellectual) superiority to those who challenged their thinking. Many of them slurred the present and former United Nations weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, who contradicted the Dick Cheney–Judith Miller case for Saddam’s WMD. Hitchens belittled war opponents as leftist “masochists.” Peter Beinart, then editor of The New Republic, accused the war’s critics of “intellectual incoherence” and “abject pacifism.” Dan Savage labeled them “squish-brains,” and Jacob Weisberg, then editor of Slate, wrote that Democratic war critics failed “to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously.” To their credit, some of these hawks, however tardily, owned up fully to their mistakes and excesses. “I was wrong,” wrote Beinart—simple words that eluded so many others. Andrew Sullivan, who had impugned the patriotism of those who disagreed with his post-9/11 effusions, became a tireless writer on the crimes revealed at Abu Ghraib and more recently went so far as to publish an e-book titled I Was Wrong [PDF] containing almost his entire hawkish output. He admitted that he had become “enamored” of his own morality, and likened his support for the war to that of “a teenage girl supporting the Jonas Brothers.” Dan Savage, in his inimitable way, said in 2013, “I was not just wrong. I was an asshole about it, and I was an asshole to the people who were right.” After Iraq, he stopped writing about foreign affairs altogether.

A few liberal hawks have also conceded Hastings’s point—that they went along with the pack for reasons that may not have been entirely based on an independent, empirical weighing of the case for war. “The first thing I hope I’ve learned from this experience of being wrong about Iraq,” Weisberg wrote in 2008, “is to be less trusting of expert opinion and received wisdom.” Les Gelb, the longtime foreign-policy hand and commentator, said with notable candor [PDF] that his “initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the ­foreign-policy community, namely the disposition and incentive to support wars to retain political and professional credibility.” Bill Keller wrote that it was “surely relevant” that his I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk cohort was “exclusively a boys’ club,” and observed that Samantha Power, the writer who had written more eloquently on the case for American humanitarian interventions than anyone, had chosen not to join it. In his lengthy mea culpa, Keller’s most telling self-observation may be that he had wanted “to be on the side of doing something, and standing by was not enough.” After all, using one’s perch to try to slow down a precipitous rush to war could hardly qualify as action in the feverish, testosterone-thick atmosphere of post-9/11 America.

Some liberal hawks—editorialists and op-ed columnists at the Washington Post, most conspicuously—never recanted. Others conceded their mistakes with so many caveats, so much blame-shifting, or in such soft whispers that it hardly mattered. They just kept marching on as if it were all blood under the bridge. Even as Iraq tumbled into chaos, the “only people qualified to speak on the matter,” Tony Judt marveled in 2006, were “those who got it wrong initially.” That’s largely the case with foreign affairs today. And, as Krugman wrote on the tenth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, so few lessons have been learned from the debacle that an “exaggerated and inappropriate reverence for authority” now infects so-called serious debate on domestic policy, too. The apocalyptic debt crisis constantly trumpeted by Washington’s bipartisan Establishment for the past several years has proved as illusory as Saddam’s phantom nuclear warheads.

“We live in a world the Iraq War has made,” Danner wrote last December. For the time being, we are defending ourselves against that reality with denial. The public doesn’t want to hear more about the war from anyone, period. That the latest round of Department of Veterans Affairs scandals arrived as a shock to much of Congress, the news media, and the populace shows just how deaf we’ve been even to the longtime complaints of our wounded warriors. All of Hollywood’s serious 9/11-Iraq-Afghanistan movies except one have struggled to find audiences, with "The Hurt Locker" proving to be the lowest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winner in movie history. (The one hit has been "Zero Dark Thirty," which told of our sole clear-cut victory, the killing of Osama bin Laden.) When foreign-policy debate sporadically erupts on the campaign trail or in Washington—whether over Libya, Syria, Egypt, or Russia—the public tunes it out.

That debate, if it can even be labeled as such, is paralyzed at its core by the specter of Iraq. In both political parties, the talking points rarely get beyond the question of whether Barack Obama is enough of an Alpha Dog in his saber-rattling rhetoric and actions—an empty exercise in intellectual vamping given that the country wouldn’t support the hawks’ inchoate prescriptions for Putin-esque action by an American president even if Obama signed on to them. The Vietnam syndrome, supposedly buried after the first Gulf war, is back. When the same liberal hawks who sped us into Iraq call for intervention in Syria, the public shrugs them off just as it does the discredited Bush-Cheney and neocon claques. Little short of another attack on America will rouse the citizenry to enlist in any battle that cannot be waged with drones. But the potential consequences of the public’s disengagement from the global arena extend well beyond matters of war and peace. At a time of seismic change, the last thing America needs to do is “mind its own business internationally.”

Over the long term, there may well be a reckoning: Should the aftershocks set off by the Iraq invasion continue to unravel the world, or a large chunk of it, history will look back at the liberal and conservative hawks alike as having flunked the biggest judgment call of their time. They will be seen not just as counterparts to the bipartisan promoters of the Vietnam quagmire but as frivolous sleepwalkers akin to those who a century ago greased the skids for the catastrophe of World War I.

Over the short term, the domestic political fallout of this failure is still very much with us. Obama’s West Point speech was regarded by many as a riposte to the lengthy recent cri de coeur from the ­foreign-policy analyst Robert Kagan in The New Republic warning of dire consequences should a war-weary America continue to retreat from the world now as it did in the post–World War I 1920s. But even if Kagan’s fears are justified, he is oblivious to how flawed a messenger he is, as a major proponent of the Iraq War. And he underestimates how hard it will be to mobilize the country to mount any kind of military horse again after the disaster he did so much to cheer on.

Americans may have soured on President Obama since 2008, but they still do agree with him on this point, at least: Iraq was a “dumb war.” That distinction is not the least of the reasons they chose him over Hillary Clinton and John McCain. What both the liberal and conservative elites fail to appreciate as they express continued bafflement over the unexpected rise of a foreign-policy renegade like Rand Paul is that he shares this distinction with the president. Like Obama, he may wield it against his hawkish presidential-primary opponents, and, should it come to that, against Clinton as well. The ironies in this are both so wicked and profound, and so rooted in the epic liberal failure exhumed in The Last Magazine, that it’s all the more tragic that Michael Hastings won’t be here to hold everyone to account. Ω

[Frank Rich joined New York magazine in June 2011 as Writer-at-Large, writing monthly on politics and culture, and editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. Rich joined the magazine following a distinguished career at the New York Times, where he had been an op-ed columnist since 1994. He was previously the paper's chief drama critic, from 1980 to 1993. As a theater critic, he was known as "The Butcher On Broadway." Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Be Careful — That Might Be A Jehovah's -Witness- Jihadist At The Door

The Deadline Poet — Calvin Trillin — brings some needed drollery to this blog with today's offering. Trillin saw a news item about rampaging "Radical Buddhists" in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Evidently rampaging Buddhists set The Deadline Poet to thinking. If Buddhists could engage in mindless violence, what about other deeply reigious folk? So, we get a new group of violent protesters — The Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Amish. This blogger shudders at the thought of radicalized Scientologists or Unitarians. The possibilities are endless (unlike this blog post). If this is a (fair & balanced) exercise in whimsical religious studies, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Religious Misunderstanding
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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Radical Buddhists rampage against Muslims in Myanmar.
—News reports.

Because we thought Buddhists were such peaceful guys,
The riots in Burma were quite a surprise.
A bloodthirsty Buddhist! That has us perplexed.
We find ourselves wondering what could come next:
Will violence flow from some Quaker disquiet?
Should we be expecting a Mennonite riot?
Are we going to see, bounding over the heath,
An Amish jihadist who’s armed to the teeth? Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Reading Suggestion: Anything By James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's most recent (35th) novel — Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel — went on sale on July 15, 2014. This blogger has read most of JLB's work and it is uncommonly good. (An H/T to a friend Up North for calling attention to Burke's crime fiction.) If this is a (fair & balanced) guide to good reading, so be it.

[x Esquire]
James Lee Burke: What I've Learned
By Cal Fussman

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Burke has been writing crime novels since the 1970s and has been short-listed for the Pulitzer. He also has worked as an oilman, a land surveyor, and a social worker on skid row.

Interviewed October 25, 2012

There's no such thing as bad food in south Louisiana. It's on a level with heroin.

My father used to say, "If everybody agrees on it, it's wrong." Or, as Dave Robicheaux, the protagonist in some of my books, says, "Did you ever see a mob rush across town to do a good deed?"

The boos always come from the cheap seats.

I was teaching back in the sixties. I remember a lot of kids had this in-your-face attitude, as though it were a testimony to liberation from convention. Well, there's a reason for convention. We use signals to people to indicate emotions that we can't verbally state or express. There's a reason you take off your hat when you walk into somebody's house.

I'm not a historical admirer of Andrew Jackson because of the things he did to the Indians, but I have to concede that Jackson put a pistol ball in a guy after he insulted his wife. Can you imagine somebody in — what was it, 1806? — making ugly remarks about Jackson's wife the way people do about Michelle Obama? Jackson would be on the guy's doorstep the next day with a blunderbuss.

If you learn anything with age, it's that ultimately you don't solve the great mysteries. I don't know why the good suffer. I'm a believer, but I don't understand the nature of God. I don't understand the nature of evil. I sometimes look around and think maybe we're not gonna make it as a species. I sometimes wonder if there isn't some active force that is intent on destroying the earth.

Deep-fried crawfish has got enough cholesterol in it to clog a sewer main.

Pearl and I met in a graduate seminar, British Romantic Poetry. She didn't have a textbook. I lent her mine. We'll be married fifty-three years in January.

Maybe there are younger people today who find it's just easier to dissolve a marriage rather than work through the problem, but I'm not judging them for that. I mean, it's better than waking up with someone's throat cut.

There's no substitute for loyalty.

Respect involves accepting people for what they are without revising or marginalizing or objectifying them — or even elevating them.

The great lines are in the dialogue that's around us all the time; it's just a matter of hearing it.

We gain no wisdom by imposing our way on others.

My book The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published by Louisiana State University Press. When you get thoroughly rejected — and I mean thoroughly rejected — you realize you do it for the love of the work. And you stay out of the consequences. I developed one rule for myself: Never leave a manuscript at home more than thirty-six hours. Everything stays under submission. Never accept defeat.

Every guy who covers the police beat knows the reality of what goes on in these southern police stations. You learn this as a reporter: If you ever see in a police story written in the passive voice "The subject was subdued," that means he got a baton upside the head or he was thrown down an iron fire escape.

People talk about the violence in my work. I've never written anything that I don't believe I can defend. The last couple of books in the Dave Robicheaux series deal with the abduction and the abuse of women. Those things happened. And part of the theme of the books was the indifference toward the deaths of these women. They were all killed in one little area, about sixty miles from New Iberia, and that's the point. Everyone thinks it's just something a crime writer made up. No. It happened. There was just no news follow-up at all on the deaths of these young girls. They were all marginalized people.

Let me tell you something about violence: I turn on cable TV, and the stuff I see there is unbelievable. I can't even watch it.

America is the most creative place on earth because of the dynamic mix of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds, and the tensions those create. Tension is always created by opposition. Standardization is the enemy of invention.

My wife is Chinese, and she says one of the surviving graces of the Chinese peasantry, the working class, was always their sense of humor. I knew that, even as a child, about people of color. They had this great sense of humor; otherwise they wouldn't have survived. It's an irony that the people who laugh the most are those who have suffered the most.

A time that I write well but briefly is when I'm really tired. Because that's when things come out naturally. The problem is I just can't stay with it. Fifteen or twenty minutes of that and I'm shot.

If I learned any truths in life, it's this simple: It's family and friends. That's it.

I have to admit I laugh a lot while I'm writing. I just don't know that anyone laughs with me. Ω

[Cal Fussman is a contributing editor for ESPN The Magazine and Esquire, where he has interviewed Jimmy Carter, Robert DeNiro, George Steinbrenner, Rudy Giuliani, and LeBron James, among many others. Fussman received a BJ from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.]

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