Welcome to my nightmare ...


We are starting to mix it up a bit over at the TPM Café Book Club on Why We're Liberals. In addition to yesterday's entry by Joan McCarter, Ed Kilgore and Brink Lindsey were good enough to weigh in on the book, and I wrote a reply to all three this morning, which is up here. The links to Ed's and Brink's extremely useful critiques are embedded in my response.

I see that "former [U.K.] Times editor Robert Thomson was named managing editor of the Wall Street Journal last night as Rupert Murdoch tightened control of the world's top selling business newspaper. Thomson's new role is the top editorial position at the Journal. He replaces Marcus Brauchli, who quit last month amid signs of discontent over the speed of change at the paper since it was taken over by Murdoch's News Corporation in December." That's here.

Did you know, per the incredibly valuable Alan D. Mutter, that Rupert Murdoch, "who banked $32.1 million in wages, benefits and other compensation at News Corp." last year, "enjoyed a 24% raise over his 2006 pay, [while] the value of his company's shares slid 8% in 2007." P.S. The New York Post loses an estimated $30-$50 million a year as well, according to one of the mini-Murdochs who was in charge of running it for a while. The man's an absolute genius, I tell you ...

The last time I saw Ted Kennedy, we were both late for a reception for a mutual friend, during the hoopla surrounding Nancy Pelosi's inauguration as House speaker. I had brought the kid on a road trip to give her some lessons in feminism and spend some quality time with her old man. As Kennedy and I walked in together, we said hello and I introduced her. He stopped in his tracks, turned us around, and invited us back to the van that had brought him there, and brought out his dog, so she could be introduced to him too. I took an extremely grainy photo that I'm guessing will loom as large as any in our respective collections (mine and the kid's) as long as we both are here. Nice guy, Ted Kennedy, in addition to everything else. Here's to you, sir.

I met Mark McKinnon about a year ago at a confab at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School. He struck me as a real gentleman, but I had a hard time squaring this with both his profession and the people for whom he had labored in the past. Now he's proven it, at significant cost to his own pocketbook and personal advancement. What a rare and wonderful thing to see, and we salute him for it. Liberals and conservatives need more of his kind.

In light of the apparently successful White House attempts, so far, to deny an Israeli report that President Bush was preparing to order an attack on Iran before leaving office in eight months, at least as an issue, I note a depressing lunch I had with the Israeli historian Benny Morris yesterday, who had not yet heard this most recent round of reporting and denials, here, but came pretty close to convincing me, entirely independently, that Bush and Cheney, despite denials, have probably already promised Ehud Olmert to attack Iran after the election if Obama is elected. If McCain is elected, they can afford to take their time and let him do it, since he certainly will. Morris also came pretty close to convincing me that absent an American attack, an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran is not unthinkable. I was kind of speechless for much of this, but there it is. Israelis are convinced that Iran is undeterrable and if it gets a bomb, it will use it on Israel. Whatever the horrible effects are of any of the above scenarios, they pale in comparison to that.

The always thoughtful Bernard Avishai thinks deeply about all this here.

From Eric Boehlert:

Why is TV talking head Karl Rove being held up as a paragon of political analysis at the very moment the Republican president he helped mold, and the Republican Congress he helped steer, are both in complete free falls? Read more here.

From Tom Dispatch:

Iron Man is not only the box office hit of the year so far -- taking in a staggering $222.5 million domestically (and $428.5 million worldwide) in its first three weeks -- but has been labeled the "best-reviewed movie of 2008 so far." A.O. Scott of the New York Times has called it "an unusually good superhero picture," and Roger Ebert, "a swell one to have." Robert Downey Jr. has been hailed for his "winning performance" as Tony Stark, weapons maker by day and superhero in his after hours, and the first Oscar buzz is already in the air.

Only one problem, as Nick Turse, author of The Complex, points out in the first biting critique of the film to be published anywhere, Iron Man has a strange knack for taking the worst imprisonment and torture acts of the Bush administration -- and arms-dealing acts of previous administrations and dumping them all on a set of al-Qaeda stand-ins in Afghanistan. It is a particular strangeness of our moment, for instance, that the signature torture of the Bush administration -- waterboarding -- is, in Iron Man, performed not by American Tony Stark, but on him (something reviewers have somehow managed to largely ignore).

Oh, and then there's the simple fact that the U.S. Air Force, whose F-22A Raptors perform fabulous aerial acrobatics fighting Iron Man in the film, receives a giant get-out-of-jail-free pass from the filmmakers for offering much support, equipment and advice. As Air Force Times noted in its popcorn-crunchin' review of the movie: "The script ... will surely have the flyboy brass back at the Pentagon trading high fives -- especially the scene in which Iron Man dogfights in the high clouds with two F-22 Raptors."

As Turse concludes:

Coming on the heels of last year's military-aided mega-spectacular Transformers, the Pentagon is managing to keep a steady stream of pro-military blockbusters in front of young eyes during two dismally unsuccessful foreign occupations that grind on without end. In his Iron Man review, Roger Ebert called the pre-transformation Tony Stark, "the embodiment of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against in 1961 -- a financial superhero for whom war is good business, and whose business interests guarantee there will always be a market for war."

Here's the irony that Ebert missed: What the film Iron Man actually catches is the spirit of the successor "complex," which has leapt not only into the cinematic world of superheroes, but also into the civilian sphere of our world in a huge way. Today, almost everywhere you look, whether at the latest blockbuster on the big screen or what's on much smaller screens in your own home -- likely made by a defense contractor like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba -- you'll find the Pentagon or its corporate partners. In fact, from the companies that make your computer to those that produce your favorite soft drink, many of the products in your home are made by Defense Department contractors -- and, if you look carefully, you don't even need the glowing eyes of an advanced "cybernetic helmet," like Iron Man's, to see them.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, your citing of that Atlantic article as being heartbreaking/tough is quite accurate. The only flaw in it -- the author assigns the blame equally (to the schools, parents, government) when I've long felt that it stems from employers deciding that certain jobs now require college, when targeted post-secondary training courses would suffice.

I hate to do it, but the execrable Charles Murray actually got one thing right in a WSJ Op-Ed last year: "It is a screening device for employers. ... That you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything."

Oh, and my paperback title entry:

"Why We're Liberals: Win Valuable Prizes"

Name: David Macrary


Are you aware that Julius Epstein, co-writer of the "Casablanca" screenplay, has said many times that the overwhelming success of the film totally amazed him, and that he couldn't believe so many people overlooked its fundamental flaw?

That flaw being the whole "letters of transit" device. A regime that invades foreign countries, violates treaties, murders people, engages in genocide, seeks to overthrow the world, etc., etc., yet behaves as if it's powerless in the face of some dumb documents that protect a dangerous enemy of the state?

I liked "Casablanca" too. But Epstein's point is valid.

Suggestions for what to call the Pentagon military analyst propaganda scandal:

Name: Paul
Hometown: Vancouver, BC

Zornick asked: By the way, can anyone come up with a catchy name for this mess? "Propaganda program involving retired military analysts" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Since the whole SomethingGate expression has been more abused and overplayed than the Britney Spears song catalog, my vote would be MilScam. It's a cross between MilSpec and Abscam, and pretty succinctly describes what happened.

Name: Mike Stagg
Hometown: Lafayette, LA

"Talking Head Embeds" aka THE's.

Name: Martin E. Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT

Your question suggests its own answer. I would propose "Officers' Mess," which works on several levels: The (retired) officers found a meal ticket. The program messed with the press and the public, and its revelation created (yet another) mess for Bushco.

Name: Mark
Hometown: Highlands Ranch, CO

(By the way, can anyone come up with a catchy name for this mess? "Propaganda program involving retired military analysts" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue).

Operation Misinformation.
General Nonsense.
Operation Get Hipwaders.
General Bullshit.
Operation Bullshit.
America, this is General Brown. I have a load for you.

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Baltimore

Trojan Whores

George Zornick replies: Thanks, folks. I think Talking Head Embeds is my early favorite. I like "Operation Bullshit," but really, to what Bush administration scandal can't that be applied...

Suggestions for the Why We're Liberals paperback subtitle:

Name: Ron Robertson
Hometown: Petaluma, CA

Because ideas matter

Because ideals matter

Because reason matters

The cure for irrationality

Clear thinking in a cloudy world

Because irrationality must stop

Clarity in an age of conservative mythology

A rational antidote to conventional wisdom

How conservatives have failed America

Slicing through conservative mythology

Name: Nina
Hometown: Winthrop, ME

Dr. Alterman,

Just a thought. How about:

Why We're Liberals: Compassion Is Not Conservative

Name: Jack Phillips
Hometown: Kansas City

for a permanent, progressive plurality.

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