State of the Union

Concerned Citizens

Freddy Gray wonders whether any video of George Monbiot’s attempted citizen’s arrest of John Bolton has surfaced. Apparently not, but our (okay, my) favorite media lefty, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!,  interviewed Mr. Monbiot this morning about the incident. 

Also notable is this annoyingly brief interview with Gore Vidal, where he performs a bit of public service himself, reminding us all that JFK was actually a fairly lousy president we foisted upon ourselves in no small part because his ineptitude as a PT captain was transformed by Joe-opted journalists into heroic mythology (not to belittle the very real bravery of Lt. Kennedy and his men after he managed to wreck his command and strand his crew). Vidal also disses his old nemesis, the New York Times, for past slights.

Media manipulation, martial glory mythologized to serve power, scions of wealth out of their depth, the paper of record an object of contempt; plus ca change…

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Lukacs on Contradiction

Tom Piatak, in his post of May 23, has already commented on the peculiar last paragraph of John Lukacs’s review of Pat Buchanan’s book on World War II. Piatak notes that, contrary to Lukacs, it isn’t unusual for someone to think a regime evil, yet oppose waging war against it; Lukacs himself held this combination of attitudes toward Communist regimes. I think that Lukacs’s remark is even odder than so far noted. Lukacs contends not only that one shouldn’t oppose waging war against a regime that one thinks evil, but that it is a contradiction to do so. Of course it is not: there are any number of reasons why one might oppose war against an evil regime, e.g., that doing so will strengthen an even more evil regime, that one believes pacifism a correct view, etc. Suppose that none of one’s reasons is correct. It still does not follow that one has embraced a contradiction: not all wrong views are contradictory. Lukacs’s remark displays his characteristic ineptness in logic. He imagines himself a gifted philosopher, but he often is guilty of elementary fallacies in reasoning.

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Silly Season

It’s officially silly season, when newspapers, mags, and web-hacks–not to mention group bloggers–have to make up all sorts of false controversy and harmless gibberish to fill up their pages. Here’s a good example of the latter.

The Sunday NYT, apparently inspired by the photograph of Obama holding a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, has asked various writers to recommend books to all three presidential candidates. The list will appear in print in this Sunday’s special NYT Summer Reading supplement.

It’s typical journo filler, but some suggestions are quite amusing, such as Garry Wills’s:

I commend, to each of the busy finalists of this year, an essay by Samuel Johnson.

For McCain: The Rambler No. 11, on anger in old age.

For Obama: The Rambler No. 196, on the illusions of young hope.

For Clinton: The Rambler No. 79, on demonizing one’s opponents.

The top prize, however, surely goes to Gore Vidal (who we know, thanks to Clark, has been reading Bill Kauffman):

I can only answer in the negative: I want them not to read The New York Times, while subscribing to The Financial Times.

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Ho Hum

In the Corner, Kathleen Parker affects boredom over the Scott McClellan kerfuffle:

But what about, you know, Scott McClellan? Who? Oh, yes, Scott. Dear fellow. Whatever happened to him? He left the White House two years ago when it became clear that he was unable to speak coherently at the podium and, well, that was that.

Somebody said he wrote a book. More breaking news to come . . .

But after devoting a column to McClellan, along with other posts to the Corner, including one directly below the one I link to above, it’s a bit late for Parker to pretend to be bored by the former press secretary. The Cornerites are obsessed with him, devoting numerous posts and columns to his treachery.

I don’t know why. When the story broke, two things occurred to me. The first is that it is conventional wisdom now that the Bush administration misled the country into war against a nonexistent threat in Iraq. The second is that McClellan was a terrible spokesman for the Bush administration; perhaps because he was making statements that he knew or suspected to be untrue.

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War is Peace

Let’s not bash the United Nations for the sake of it, but isn’t this video off-putting, smug, even sinister?

I especially don’t like the bit when Clooney, with a knowing flick of his brow, says, “Peace is certainly more than a celebrity endorsement”–go away then George, leave us in peace. It’s not just that, though. There is something unnerving about the linking of peace with militarism and the attempt to expand the meaning of the word peace:

Peace is a full-time job: it’s protecting citizens, overseeing elections, and disarming combatants… peace, like war, must be waged.

Isn’t this saying peace is just war? (Just in the traditional sense). It brings to mind Orwell’s 1984: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”. (That is, admittedly, a harsh comparison).

Peace is the absence of war, or something divine, but it’s not multilateral intervention in the undemocratic world.

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Scott McClellan: The Manchurian Candidate?

Was Scott McClellan brainwashed? This interview with Ari Fleischer which is clearly part of the White House’s spin/damage control seems to promote the notion that “this is not the Scott McClellan that we knew.” This point is being repeated by the Usual Suspects again and again. Fleischer and Company provide us with two “explanations” for the strange behavior of their former comrade. First, there is the idea that the publisher/editor of his book may have changed his original draft and inserted all the terrible stuff about Bush. But then there seems to be the implication that if that didn’t happen, well, perhaps…who knows…did the guy go nuts? Is it money? Mm…or maybe we have here a case of all the anti-war types applying the Ludovico technique on poor Scott. Mitt Romney could provide us with some insights about all of this based on his dad’s experience.

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Down the Tube

Brendan and Dan say that Boris Johnson’s recent edicts show a disappointing bossy streak in London’s new mayor. Quite right. But it’s hard to feel upset about the booze ban on the Underground, especially if, like me, you have had drunks wet themselves in the seat next to you, or seen them vomit on another passenger’s lap, or pour lager on a sleeping tramp. Besides, the people who drink on London transport are almost always Australian or yobbish–usually both. Lock ’em up.

Mind you, I can’t decide if I prefer Washington’s curiously Stalinist Metro to London’s shoddy system, even though it is much, much faster.

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Czar Boris

Writing at Reason online, Brendan O’Neil criticizes what he sees as new London mayor Boris Johnson’s authoritarian tendencies. Johnson has banned drinking on London’s subways and buses and wants to take away juvenile offenders’ travel passes. “Like a Stalinist thug, he’ll deny internal freedom of movement within London to any youngster who fails to behave in a Boris-approved fashion,” O’Neil says. He finds this behavior ill becoming in a man who once denounced Blairite commissar Polly Toynbee as “the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness and health’n’safety fascism.”

What may be most surprising to an American is that you can drink at all on London’s public transportation system. Here in the People’s Republic of Washington, D.C., you can’t eat or drink anything, much less alcohol. Ostensibly this regulation is to fight off vermin — rats and roaches, that is — but there never seems to be any shortage of rats in the D.C. subways anyway.

As far-out as the idea of boozing up on the Metro might seem to us long-housebroken Americans, O’Neil cites numbers that back up his claim that alcohol consumption in the public transportation system doesn’t pose any real threat. “Last year there were a whopping 1.6 billion passenger trips on the London Underground, and only 1,806 reported assaults. That is one assault for every 449,690 commuters, which makes London’s tube system safer than Perth railways in sunny Australia.” It may well be safer than the D.C. Metro system, too.

There’s no public clamor for cracking down on bus and subway drinking, and there’s no spike in crime to serve as a pretext for other security-state (security-city?) measures Johnson is taking. The liberties he’s attacking are not ones to which Americans are accustomed, but O’Neil is right — Czar Boris is behaving like the busybodies he once denounced. Like many an American Republican, “in power, Boris has ditched the anti-authority posturing in favour of pushing through his own authoritarian agenda.”

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Justice Is Not An Option

Following Scott’s indirect suggestion that we hang the men behind the Iraq war, we learn that George Monbiot, a Guardian columnist, has tried to execute a citizen’s arrest on John Bolton at a literary festival in England. He failed.

I can’t find footage of the stunt, but if the video is out we should put it on this blog asap.

Monbiot also intends to go after Tony Blair. Good luck to him.

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Washington’s Princely Guards

It’s good to be a Prince.

That way, when your company’s employees are accused of killing unarmed civilians – including children – and selling weapons to terrorists, and avoiding taxes, you can keep on getting your multi-million dollar contract from the government.

This week, several Iraqis were in Washington to testify in federal court about the horrific incident in which private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide, founded and run by Erik Prince, allegedly shot up 17 civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle on Sept. 16, 2007. By all reports at the time, the carnage was devastating. In once instance, guards were accused of shooting into a car, killing a mother and infant inside. Then they torched it – fusing the baby’s body to hers. In another, a grieving Iraqi man described identifying his wife and son’s bodies, both had been shot in the head – their skulls torn apart.

Witness accounts say the Blackwater guards not only fired first, but were the only ones shooting that day (officials for the company still say they were acting in self-defense), and initial findings from our US military back-up the civilians’ story. But because the law is so “fuzzy” and there was some kind of Coalition Provisional Authority decree, which by all reasoning should be useless now, saying foreign contractors in Iraq were immune from prosecution, the Blackwater guards may never be brought to justice there.

So, the Iraqi witnesses brought to DC this week were called to testify before a grand jury so that federal attorneys can determine whether those guards can be charged here in the US. But the State Department seems to have so much confidence that its favorite armed security squad won’t be tainted by the case that it renewed the company’s current contract for another year in April. The official reasoning? Blackwater has been on its best behavior since the September incident, and it shouldn’t be “pre-judged” before the FBI concludes its investigation (note: the Sept. 16 incident may have been the deadliest, but it isn’t the only case in which Blackwater guards have been accused of murder).

Meanwhile, Blackwater is also under investigation for reports that illegal weapons smuggled by its guards in Iraq ended up in the hands of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which have been accused guerilla attacks against the Turks on the Northern Iraq/Turkey border and are considered a terrorist group by the US.

Blackwater is also accused of avoiding $50 million in taxes by asserting its employees are “independent contractors” rather than full-time workers, thus avoiding paying federal withholding taxes like every other honest employer in the US.

Erik Prince is the scion of a powerful Republican businessman and philanthropist who helped to establish the Family Research Council. His ties extend from the CIA, to the White House and State Department, which has been giving Blackwater lucrative contracts since former Iraqi viceroy L. Paul Bremer apparently needed a security detail to match that of a Saudi royal back in 2003. Prince has been accused by Iraqis and American military alike of hiring cowboys who have treated Iraq like one big Deadwood. Nonetheless, his once tiny enterprise has racked up some $1.2 billion in government contracts since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

And it should come as no surprise that the money keeps on coming, despite the fact that Blackwater has become such a dark symbol of US authority among Iraqis — I personally interviewed ex-GIs who told me that the behavior of private security goons put them at risk among civilians who didn’t distinguish between US military and the men with black hats and sunglasses. But like Halliburton/KBR, Blackwater has powerful friends and lobbyists on Capitol Hill: golden-tongued and high-priced attorneys, former defense guys and other beltway bandits working to ensure its place at the trough. Blackwater contracts keep growing and growing – they were even hired and deputized to patrol the streets of New Orleans after Katrina hit!

The US judicial system may ultimately find the Blackwater guards accountable for the crimes of Sept. 16. It may very well set a precedent in how contractors can be effectively prosecuted in the future. But as for now, these high-paid guards will still be strutting around with their heavy weaponry on the taxpayers’ dole, and the message will be clear: justice comes to those who pay, now hapless Iraqi, get out the way.

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