See how they roll ...

Over and over of late, I've had the experience of reading something by the excellent independent historian Gareth Porter and wondering how he is able to unearth so much important information that goes all but uncovered in the MSMS. Consider this: If you're Dick Cheney, and want to strike all of Iran's (known) nuclear facilities, but know that many top military and civilian officials won't go for it, what do you do? Porter reveals the plan at IPS News: argue for a much more limited and ostensibly more justifiable attack, knowing that it will lead to counterattack and escalation, thus providing cover to go ahead and carry out strategic bombing of Iranian targets.

The background, essentially, is that, as Joe Klein reported a year ago, President Bush proposed an attack of Iran's nuclear sites in December 2006 to the Joint Chiefs, and he was rebuffed. And after becoming head of Central Command, Adm. William Fallon made it known he wasn't on board with bombing Iran.

But Cheney did not relent. As J. Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told Porter -- the first insider to confirm these facts -- Cheney then simply proposed striking the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, because of alleged involvement and interference in Iraq, a fact reported by McClatchy last August. As Porter reports, this wasn't a compromise on Cheney's part, but rather “appears to have been a strategy for getting around the firm resistance of military leaders.” Cheney anticipated much less resistance from the Pentagon for such a narrow attack, tied to the Iraq war, but apparently held the private belief that Iran would launch a counterattack, which could lead to a full air war with Iran, which could of course allow for strategic bombing of (known) nuclear sites.

This bears repeating. The Bush administration at the highest levels -- the same people who failed to anticipate strong Iraqi resistance before the invasion -- both anticipate and invite escalation with Iran in order to achieve their “strategic” goals.

The Pentagon, according to Porter's reporting, has to date thwarted Cheney's plan by explicitly raising the escalation issue as a counterargument, with “some DoD and military officials suggest[ing] that Iran had more and better options for hitting back at the United States than the United States had for hitting Iran.” Cheney's plan has been bottlenecked.

We don't know where this all stands now. We do know that Fallon is gone and Petraeus is in his place -- and Petraeus is on the record supporting the so-called “limited” strikes on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Shouldn't some -- actually, a lot -- of reporters be digging into this? We know the elections are important and that the White House is basically keeping a low profile and staying out of the news. But these guys aren't sitting around playing pinochle, and seven months is a long time.

Speaking of things that are vastly more important to the course of the United States over the next few decades than Obama's current popularity among suburban women voters, etc., we learn this, also from Mr. Porter:

Two key pledges made by the George W. Bush administration on military bases in its negotiations with the government of Iraq have now been revealed as carefully-worded ruses aimed at concealing U.S. negotiating aims from both U.S. citizens and Iraqis who would object to them if they were made clear.

I think Porter is being pretty generous by characterizing them as “carefully-worded ruses.” The agreements say “no permanent bases in Iraq,” but they don't contain any explicit expiration dates, so that leaves the entire matter of how long the U.S. will keep military bases in Iraq hinging on the meaning and interpretation (by the United States) of the word “permanent.” And Sen. Jim Webb extracted this predictable answer from a Pentagon official during recent congressional testimony: “As far as the department is concerned, we don't have a worldwide or even a department-wide definition of permanent bases.”

A pretty schoolyard-esque tactic, wouldn't you say? Seems like a real softball for an enterprising reporter, say, one at the major networks. Any takers?

George Zornick writes: We learn, in this Washington Post story about Laura Ingraham's ongoing battle with her radio syndicate over her contract (they've literally locked her out of the studio until it's resolved), a little more about this syndicator, Talk Radio Network, which also carries the likes of Michael Savage, Monica Crowley, and Tammy Bruce:

Talk Radio Network is owned by Roy Masters -- a British-born author and commentator who also created the Foundation for Human Understanding, a Christian organization -- and his two sons, including Mark, the company's CEO. Roy Masters moved the foundation from Los Angeles to Grants Pass, Ore., in 1983, sparking fears by some residents that the town would become the site of a religious cult.

In a 1992 open letter, Roy Masters said he was a former Jew who founded a ministry that some unfairly viewed as New Age because of “often mean-spirited media coverage.” Masters is the author of such books as “How Your Mind Can Keep You Well,” which promotes “a very special form of meditation -- a rediscovery of an ancient science that provides the answer to the serious problems of our time.”

The foundation once published New Dimensions magazine, which described homosexuality as an “illness” caused by “trauma-induced conditioning,” published photos of aborted fetuses and accused the media of engaging in “hysteria control” by “selectively editing and diluting certain terrifying information” about AIDS.

Battles like these, between Ingraham and Talk Radio Network, are like when I watch the Jets and Patriots play. Can't they both lose?

McCain Suck-up Watch: Roll Call wrote that the “official outfitter” of Sen. Barack Obama's campaign “is maintaining Obama's online store, which sells a $12 DVD of the candidate's speeches, $10 lapel pins -- though no American flags -- and $50 fleece jackets, perfect for those chilly Iowa winters.” But Roll Call did not note that Sen. John McCain's store doesn't offer American flag lapel pins, either. Here.

And MSNBC goes for some good old-fashioned Gore-bashing, 2000-style, here: Morning Joe aired an excerpt from Al Gore's endorsement speech of Sen. Barack Obama, in which Gore said, “After the last eight years, even our dogs and cats have learned that elections matter.” Joe Scarborough then stated: "[H]e lost me with the dogs and cat thing." But MSNBC edited out the part of Gore's comments that provided the context for his “dogs and cats” remark. ... Gore said: “If you bought poisoned, lead-filled toys from China or adulterated medicine made in China, if you bought tainted pet food made in China, you know that elections matter," before adding, “After the last eight years, even our dogs and cats have learned that elections matter.”

Quote of the Day: “If I had to watch the news that you have over here in the United States, I would blow my brains out because it would just drive me nuts.” Lara Logan, last night on The Daily Show.

From TomDispatch:

John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, faces three of the largest dots (or blots) in our world today: soaring energy prices, soaring food prices, and extreme weather stress, and mixes them together in a striking way. In the process, he also offers a remarkable new interpretation of a 1990s agricultural catastrophe in North Korea that drove much of its population to starvation levels (and many to death). He begins this way:

Gas prices are above $4 a gallon; global food prices surged 39% last year; and an environmental disaster looms as carbon emissions continue to spiral upward. The global economy appears on the verge of a TKO, a triple whammy from energy, agriculture, and climate-change trends. Right now you may be grumbling about the extra bucks you're shelling out at the pump and the grocery store; but, unless policymakers begin to address all three of these trends as one major crisis, it could get a whole lot worse.

Just ask the North Koreans.

In the 1990s, North Korea was the world's canary. The famine that killed as much as 10% of the North Korean population in those years was, it turns out, a harbinger of the crisis that now grips the globe -- though few saw it that way at the time.

In fact, despite its crackpot Communist dictator, North Korean agriculture was not “backward,” but among the most advanced in Asia. Highly mechanized, it was highly dependent on the use of modern fertilizer (a petroleum product) and cheap energy (subsidized by Communist allies China and the Soviet Union). When those subsidies ended in the early 1990s, the North Koreans faced an energy/agriculture/weather triple whammy not unlike the one now facing much of the world -- with disastrous consequences.

This piece is, in fact, a powerful discussion of why Mother Earth's “triple whammy” must be dealt with in tandem, if it is to be dealt with successfully at all. As Feffer writes, “After the attacks of September 11, 2001, 'We are all Americans' briefly became a popular expression of solidarity around the world. If we don't devise policy choices that address energy, agriculture, and climate, while replacing the idolatry of unrestrained growth at the heart of both capitalist and communist economies, the tagline for the 21st century may be: 'We are all North Koreans.' ”

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John Martin
Hometown: Chicago

Dear Mr. Alterman,

I emailed MM earlier in the day before I had read your piece about Bret Stephens' article. I informed MM that Hussein Ali al-Shalan, quoted by Stephens in his piece, has been dead since June of 2007. He died in the al-Mansour hotel bombing. I find it incredulous that Stephens would give his readers the impression that al-Shalan spoke recently during a meeting with Stephens and other tribal leaders. I sincerely hope you will find the time to call Stephens out on his misleading representation. Perhaps the al-Shalan Stephens quoted is a son of the deceased, but this is Bret Stephens and the WSJ. I hope you can get to the bottom of this.

Keep up your good work.

Name: David Fuller
Hometown: Peotone, IL

Hi Dr. A.,

How in the world is John Yoo a laywer, much less a professor of law?

I mean, I'm not a lawyer, and I can see 5 or 6 things that are totally, completely, 100% wrong in his editorial just based on pure facts. For example, he alludes to the writ of habeas corpus, then goes on to conflate the President's powers with them thusly:

“The Boumediene five also ignored the Constitution's structure, which grants all war decisions to the president and Congress.”

The power to actually declare war notwithstanding, errrr, no, John -- the ability to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is quite clearly stated in Article 1 of the Constitution, (which details the legislative powers), and does not enumerate that the writ has anything to do with “war decisions” by the President. Incidentally, Lincoln received Congressional approval when he suspended it.

He goes on to say that, "...these five Justices have now defied the considered judgment of the president and Congress for a third time, all to grant captured al Qaeda terrorists the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court." Ummm, except that the decision doesn't do that, because they are still subject to the military tribunals.

There's more that this untrained eye could point out, but I'm sure your readers will see at least as many as I did, if not more. But I shudder to think that there are legal minds in this country that might actually agree with Mr. Yoo, too.

As always, please keep up the great work you do, Dr. A., and thanks for being a voice of reason.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


There is a good reason why the Wall Street Journal would use the frightening phrase “suicide pact” in relation to the Supreme Court decision granting some rights to Guantanamo prisoners.

Fear, and its close relative anger, are the two most vital ingredients to propaganda -- hence it being stock in trade for the Fox/Limbaugh apparatus. Even as poorly educated as most Americans are about the origin and nature of their rights, they will not simply surrender them without being manipulated.

When Bush says, as he repeatedly has (and been echoed ad nauseam, even by some who should know better), that the president has no greater responsibility than keeping the American people safe, he may actually be dumb enough to believe this, or he may be a willing participant in the propaganda campaign.

For the record, the president takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Our Constitution is not predicated upon, nor is it a guarantor of, anyone's safety -- even acknowledging that physical safety is a very basic right. It is, in this context, best understood as a guarantor that government cannot go so far trying to keep you safe that you end up detained by it without charge or recourse.

Government can solve any problem it is asked to, provided it is given enough power. But go past the Bill of Rights and government will sooner or later inflict upon you the very things you asked it to protect you from when the “extra” power was granted.

Name: Gabriela
Hometown: Capitol Hill, DC

LTC Bob Bateman warned his readers about the Kaboom blog, but I chose to ignore him. I started skimming the blog and three hours later I was still reading. This smug, over-educated Washingtonian discovered that she knows SQUAT about what is going on in Iraq. Thank you for the lesson in humility.

Name: Mark Frei
Hometown: St. Louis

The water fueled car story didn't pass my smell test either. One issue with Will Hilley's comments. Lithium, as described, is not a catalyst. Catalysts are not consumed in reactions. It is just another fuel source and it takes a lot of energy to make pure lithium.

p.s. I bought your autographed book for my dad while you were on your book tour in St. Louis.

Name: Stephen Veoli
Hubbardton, Vermont

Regarding Brian Donohue's comment: Look, I'll grant that Woods may be the greatest golfer ever. But that hardly makes him the best professional athlete. I've seen many Pro Am golf tournaments where athletes from other sports compete with golfers. I have yet to see a single golfer play a single down in an NFL game, or a minute of an NBA game, or an at-bat in a Major League game, or a second of an NHL game. Please.

Name: Tom Arsenault
Hometown: Asheville, NC

I'd have to add in one Lance Armstrong to the greatest athletes ever. Why? A lot of us know the story, but let's repeat.

Elite athlete, in his prime, stricken down with cancer. Gets treated, almost dies, goes into remission, comes back and wins the hardest athletic event in the world 7 times in a row (le Tour de France). Add in a world championship win, podium spots at the Olympics, a few wins in the early Spring Classic races in Europe, and he's done quite well for himself.

I know he's not a stick and ball kind of sportsman, and this is why folks forget about him.

Name: Matt
Hometown: NYC

Yes, Williams, Ted, DiMaggio, Joe, Jordan, Michael, and Woods, Tiger are great, but you forgot the two greatest. They are Ruth, Babe, and Gretzky, Wayne.

Ruth was the greatest hitter who ever lived, and one of the great pitchers. Gretzky SHATTERED every record imaginable in his sport. And I almost forgot Orr, Bobby. Watch his highlights and then talk to me about Tiger Woods. Golfers don't rate when we're talking about athletes.

Name: Brian Donohue

The only qualification I would add to my Tiger-claim would be in the matter of verb tense: he's 32, has about 20 years of competitive productivity left in him. That's another couple dozen majors, kids -- what are we arguing about? So the proper statement would have been: he will be the greatest professional athlete ever. And that's about as sure a prediction as “Bush will be the worst president closed.”

Eric replies: You continue to dig your hole ever deeper, sir. We don't close cases on the basis of evidenceless assertions here at Altercation. We don't even close them at all. This happens to be a case that is purely subjective, and so you are being doubly, perhaps triply, silly and stubborn. And while I think it pretty clear that George W. Bush has done more damage to the United States than any other president in our history, I'm not sure that's the same thing as being the “worst” president, which remains, alas an open case. And given McCain's current policy prescriptions, he could easily be worse than McCain. So really, cut the crap. I don't want to have to do this again.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

I finished your book “Why We're Liberals” (sorry it took so long). I am planning on buying numerous copies of the paperbacks to send to the rest of my Republican family. Thanks for writing it.

Eric replies: Thanks, bub.