One way out ...


My response to the review of Barbara Ehrenreich's new collection, This Land is Their Land, in this Sunday's New York Times by Eve Fairbanks, which was so egregious in ways both trivial and significant that I felt compelled to write a column about it, is my new Think Again column. It's called "Money for Nothing," and it is here. I also have a new Nation column here, called "Obama and the Politics of 'Presumptuousness.' "

It's become political wisdom of late to argue that since John McCain has advocated a different policy position than President Bush on the conflict in Georgia, it's a good thing for him. Doubly so because Barack Obama is much closer to Bush's position. Candy Crowley made this point last night on CNN , noting that "what's interesting is that top foreign policy advisers to Obama are arguing that Obama is much closer to George Bush than John McCain is," and then sagely observing "and, as you know, this is a campaign that is trying to tie John McCain and George Bush." Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, derided Obama on Hardball last night, saying "Senator Obama's program, at the moment, sounds a lot more like another four years of George Bush's present policies." And Mark Halperin wrote on his weekly scorecard that "The Vladmir Putin-backed conflict with Georgia was a three-fer for John McCain: it reminded voters how dangerous the world is, allowed the Republican nominee to distance himself from the more accomodationist Bush administration and let him reinforce his maverick image."

It goes without saying -- or should -- that the reason the Bush administration has been a spectacular failure in foreign policy, and is reviled by voters at home and by people around the world, has absolutely nothing to do with it being accomodationist; it's actually the exact opposite. This is evidence of the mindless political dialogue going on right now: these pundits and reporters have grasped that McCain needs to distance himself from Bush, but without any actual comprehension, it seems, of why he needs to do that -- what policies McCain should be seeking distance from. By being even more dangerously aggressive than even Bush is not a good thing. It's like if a judge told someone to stop acting like a car thief and so he became a bank robber.

McCain appears to be reverting to the Bush line on virtually every important matter -- taxes, immigration, social issues, so on -- without the mainstream press really saying boo. But when he gets even crazier than Bush, he's "reinforcing his maverick image." McCain proposed more dramatic and damaging tax cuts than Bush did, too, making Grover Norquist even happier than he was before, alas.

Spend some time enjoying this video of Media Matters' Paul Waldman filleting Jerome Corsi, author of The Obama Nation book mentioned yesterday, on Larry King Live.

It's very satisfying to watch Waldman decimate Corsi's arguments, as it's been satisfying to read numerous press accounts of the book today basically do the same. But I have to think it's all beside the point to Corsi and the Republican machine (the book is being published by a Simon & Schuster imprint headed former Cheney aide and Republican operative Mary Matalin).

Corsi hilariously told The New York Times that it's "nitpicking" to challenge his citation of a article for the claim that Obama attended a controversial sermon by Jeremiah Wright on July 22, 2007. In fact, conservative Times columnist Bill Kristol, who cited the Newsmax article in repeating the claim about Obama's purported attendance, issued a correction after citing this report, writing, "The Obama campaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error." But I think it really is nitpicking to them -- it doesn't matter whether the factual argument over Obama's "continuing drug use" or secret Muslim ties is won, and I don't even see how they could expect to win -- but the fact that there is any debate, any argument, is the goal here. It's fun watching Waldman and even Larry King beat up on Corsi, but at the end of it, after realizing this took up 17 minutes of prime time television, after watching countless sound bites of Obama insisting "I am not a Muslim," that Corsi has in some sense won.

That's not to say the book shouldn't be battled at every turn. That's the best strategy, and some Americans will surely see it for the desperate, dumb political ploy that it is. But the whole ugly affair is, in the end, a lose-lose for both Obama and reasonable discourse.

More details on the case of Aafia Siddiqui -- this is the woman the New York Daily News dubbed a "Qaeda Queen" yesterday, telling readers she was prepared to carry out a suicide bombing in the city. Newsday's Anthony DeStefano and Tom Brune spoke with Siddiqui's lawyers, who say their client has been tortured in U.S. custody and that the list of New York City targets was "planted on her." The reporters also cite "one federal official briefed on the case" who believes this list "contained no credible terrorist threat."

The gulf between what the government charges and what Siddiqui's lawyers say is enormous. Media outlets are starting to give voice to her lawyers -- they were quoted similarly in the Associated Press and other accounts. It's funny, though -- this story isn't really getting wide national play. If what the government charges is true, I'd think it absolutely would -- unfortunately, the press just may not be taking these things very seriously any more, after all the flim-flaming that the government has done in cases like this.

The great Israeli poet Haim Gouri mourns the death of the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish here. It's a lovely piece, and it points to the moment when Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian citizens of Israel, as they prefer to be called) participated fully in Israeli politics to the benefit of both peoples.

Just for fun, let's check in on our favorite blog, The Spine, by that classy fellow Marty Peretz -- he of zero accomplishments save the dispensation of his second wealthy ex-wife's inherited fortune. Oh look, he's whining not only that Darwish is being mourned but also about Edward Said; we have always enjoyed Marty's obsessive envy -- well-deserved, if we might add. He writes, "Said, with his natty tweeds and mournful demeanor from a mid-century English novel, is just about over, his theories now left to a few thuggish intellectuals at Columbia University and their graduates students, by now also aging professors at the State University of Whatever, professors whose acolytes can no longer get jobs." Need we point out that Marty, of no books, no scholarship, and no article he didn't pay himself to have printed -- with said ex-wife's inherited funds -- should not really be mocking professors and authors who have achieved everything at which he has so richly failed? Really, doesn't he have a shrink or an editor for this kind of thing (or is the young pathological liar Jamie Kirchick enough)?

Bacevich, I: This week on Moyers:

Is an imperial presidency destroying what America stands for? Bill Moyers sits down with history and international relations expert and former U.S. Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich, who identifies three major problems facing our democracy -- the crises of economy, government and militarism -- and calls for a redefinition of the American way of life. "Because of this preoccupation with the presidency," says Bacevich, "the president has become what we have instead of genuine politics, instead of genuine democracy." Respected across the political spectrum, Bacevich has contributed to The Nation, The American Conservative, and Foreign Affairs, among others, and his latest book is The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Bacevich, II: From TomDispatch:

To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation's capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In part two of his series at TomDispatch, adapted from his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, historian and retired colonel Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren't so blinded by the idea of our "global reach," by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission.

That is the heart of his latest piece. As he writes: "America doesn't need a bigger army. It needs a smaller -- that is, more modest -- foreign policy, one that assigns soldiers missions that are consistent with their capabilities. Modesty implies giving up on the illusions of grandeur to which the end of the Cold War and then 9/11 gave rise. It also means reining in the imperial presidents who expect the army to make good on those illusions. When it comes to supporting the troops, here lies the essence of a citizen's obligation."

In this striking post, Bacevich also lays out the wrong lessons that our leaders have drawn from Bush's wars and they all spell trouble: first, that the challenges posed by Iraq and Afghanistan define not only the military's present but also its future, the "next war"; second, that the corrective to civilian arrogance and misjudgment is obvious -- that the civil-military balance should be tilted back in favor of the generals, untying the hands of senior commanders; and third, that the All-Volunteer Force needs to be junked altogether.

Bacevich's latest piece represents an incisive analysis of the way lessons drawn will determine our future. This post is a warning against "lessons" of the Bush era that will lead to perpetual war -- from a man who knows his business.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mary Whitmore

Having just read Eric Alterman's review of Eve Fairbank's review of "This Land is Their Land"; I could not agree with him more. Ms. Fairbank's elitist views could not possibly be construed as "Liberal," at least not "Progressive Liberal." I read Ms. Ehrenreich's book last week and found it spoke to my lower middle class heart like none other I have read recently. I have read somewhere around 30 titles in the past 4 months including Ron Suskind's book, "The Way of the World," this week. Her humor helps ease the stab of the unfairness and injustice of the Neocon/Theocratic Right. Ms. Fairbank would seem to have sensibilities closer to Barbara Bush than Barbara Ehrenreich. I do believe that we are going to return to the sensibilities of "We The People" after this coming election.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

Ms. Fairbanks appears to have decided to occupy the body of Maureen Dowd, unless Dowd has occupied Fairbanks' instead. The review ranks with today's Dowd column on the Clintons, which, near as I can tell, is based on everything but facts.

Name: Dennis Croskey
Hometown: Kansas City, MO

Has there ever been a more brazen case of chutzpah than President Bush lecturing the Russians on their invasion of Georgia? On Monday he told White House reporters: "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century." Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

In the last few days, we've seen an invasion of a sovereign nation despite near unanimous world outrage, news that corporations pay virtually no taxes, news that the Endangered Species Act is to be gutted by executive order, and news that the Department of Justice won't pursue the case of illegal political influence in their hiring practices. Mix in a little torture and an inept response to national emergencies, and you have the entire Bush administration in one paragraph.

Name: Ed
Hometown: Arlington, TX

I wonder what sort of confrontation with the Russians all these pundits envision. God forbid any shooting starts between us, because then we could have war in the sea lanes. I hope the Navy has plans in place to convoy oil shipments all the way from the Persian Gulf to ports in the U.S. and Europe, as the Russian navy and air force have the ability to attack shipping anywhere on the globe.

Name: Steve Milligan
Hometown: Colorado Springs CO


We are going to exert "maximum pressure" on Russia with all our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? I'm reminded of Lear's admonition to his daughters: "I shall have such revenges on you both, that all the world shall -- I will do such things -- what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth." We all know how that turned out.

Name: Mike Dickenson
Hometown: Bluff City, TN

Shouldn't someone correct Bill? He has said that we are already in WWIII against the Moslems. Wouldn't the Russian attack trigger WWIV?

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, in your noting of Senator Lieberman's not being satisfied merely to question Barack Obama's commitment to Israel, but now adding:

"one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first ... and one candidate who has not.''

It has always seemed to me that Samuel Johnson's famous quote "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" needs a corollary; perhaps it could be: "Questioning other people's patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel."

Name: Joseph Nobles
Hometown: Dallas

Corsi's book is debuting at No. 1 on NYT Bestsellers list. Did you know that he's been appearing on the Alex Jones show pumping 9/11 conspiracy theories?

Here's a short video (3:02) that I did with audio from the AJS with Corsi. Corsi has appeared a few times on this show. With all the other heinous comments Media Matters has dug up on Corsi, the 9/11 CT stuff should be more weight around his neck.

George Zornick adds: See also Corsi's collected musings at FreeRepublic.

Name: Jim
Hometown: Swanzey, NH

I heard about this Corsi book on NPR Wednesday and was outraged (as usual) that they couldn't bring themselves to describe it bluntly as a political hit piece by a proven liar. In reference to your question, the reason it debuts at number one is "bulk sales," a factor that the NY Times would, if they had any guts, use to deny the book any listing.

Name: Andrew Kurdila
Hometown: Blacksburg, VA

I just watched the "coverage" of the new book by Corsi on Lou Dobbs. It was a shameful advertisement for the book that did not discuss anything about the book content. It actually dismissed the idea of critiquing the contents of the book and focused on the book's potential "political impact" instead of the facts.

Name: Richard Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Altercator Sandy Goodman makes some good points, but he goes too far when he says "If I had to choose, I'd believe the Enquirer" regarding the tabloid's claim that John Edwards is the father of Rielle Hunter's baby. The salient point is that even if the Enquirer ultimately turns out to be correct on the issue of paternity, the paper could not possibly have known it to be factual when the story was published and cannot know it to be factual today. Indeed, it is not even certain that Ms. Hunter knows for sure who the father is (which might explain why she is refusing DNA testing). The Enquirer is entitled to surmise and speculate, but the paper printed as fact something which cannot be known to be a fact, and that is a journalistic sin.

Name: Roberta Kelm
Hometown: Sunnyvale CA

Steve Zeoli has a great idea -- just say "no" to seat licenses and stay home -- but the NFL gets the fans coming and going; just ask any Oakland Raiders fan who rarely gets to see a home game on TV because of the blackout rules. Sure, the team blows most seasons (does Al Davis have the Grim Reaper trapped in a tree?) but it would still be nice to see them on TV other than when they're on the road. And it might not be too many years before both SF Bay teams get blacked out -- can't expect the 49er fans to remain patient forever.

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